Monday, October 24, 2016

Gay Gotham

The Museum of the City of New York is currently showing "Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York," a multi-media exhibit that "brings to life the queer creative networks that sprang up in the city across the 20th century."

It's a show worth seeing. I was most intrigued by a collection of small photographs taken on the streets of New York by an anonymous photographer in the 1960s. They show men walking, cruising, and meeting other men, mostly around 42nd Street.

The wall text references a 1960 New York Times article decrying the "decay of 42nd Street," thanks in part to homosexuals, at a time when the city wanted to attract tourists for the upcoming World's Fair.

In the article, reporter Milton Bracker hits the street to see the decay for himself.

"In two weeks of studying the area, virtually at all hours," he wrote, "this reporter encountered several of the most extreme types. One was a Negro who wore fluffed-up hair and heavy black make-up on his brows and lashes."

"Another obvious deviate," Bracker wrote, "was a white youth with thick blond hair and handsome features who wore make-up on his eyebrows. This youth wore a wind-breaker (sometimes called a 'tanker jacket') and tapered black trousers of the the style known as 'continentals.' His wavy hair was combed straight back and he spoke effeminately and shifted his hips and legs as he spoke."

When the blond boy walked with his friends into a cafeteria, he "attracted a great deal of attention and many contemptuous remarks." But he was not arrested. It was getting harder to tell the homosexuals from the beatniks, so police were making fewer arrests for "committing a crime against nature."

Bracker concluded, "He may have been a subject for a psychiatrist; he was not one for the police."

The article goes on to describe loiterers, drifters, perverts, prostitutes, purveyors of knives and itching powder, sailors, Murphy Game operators, and players of Fascination.

Vivid scenes from a lost 42nd Street, finally defeated in the name of tourism.


Scout said...

Fascinating stuff. I haven't seen so much package so prominently displayed since they closed Rounds.

Suomi.Rager said...

I remember well the cafeteria mentioned, tho' I forget its name. Its reigning queen was a short, stocky man we called Mother Camille. She was a genius at inverting reality to suit her gay vision: mousy little queens were for her actually undercover cops she called Lily Law; whereas big bruisers were all secretly gay.

Anyone else remember her? And of those who do, does anyone know what became of her? Also, can anyone tell me the name of the cafeteria and where exactly it was located; my memory says it was on the south side of 42nd St. west of 6th Ave., tho' I w'dn't be surprised to find that was 7th Ave. instead.