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May 8th, 2022

Gay History…Hollywood’s Version

As long as Facebook keeps allowing the gay history pages I follow to stay up, I reckon I’ll keep using Facebook. This came across one of the pages I follow the other day…

I had no knowledge of this bit of American history. So I did a little more digging

Lester Callaway Hunt, Sr. (July 8, 1892 – June 19, 1954), was an American Democratic politician from the state of Wyoming. Hunt was the first to be elected to two consecutive terms as Wyoming’s governor, serving as its 19th Governor from January 4, 1943, to January 3, 1949. In 1948, he was elected by an overwhelming margin to the U.S. Senate, and began his term on January 3, 1949.

Hunt supported a number of federal social programs and advocated for federal support of low-cost health and dental insurance policies. He also supported a variety of programs proposed by the Eisenhower administration following the Republican landslide in the 1952 elections, including the abolition of racial segregation in the District of Columbia, and the expansion of Social Security.

An outspoken opponent of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign, Hunt challenged McCarthy and his senatorial allies by championing a proposed law restricting Congressional immunity and allowing individuals to sue members of Congress for slanderous statements. In June 1953, Hunt’s son was arrested in Washington, D.C., on charges of soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer (homosexual acts were prohibited by law at the time). Several Republican senators, including McCarthy, threatened Hunt with prosecution of his son and wide publication of the event unless he abandoned plans to run for re-election and resigned immediately, which Hunt refused to do. His son was convicted and fined on October 6, 1953. On April 15, 1954, Hunt announced his intention to run for re-election. He changed his mind, however, after McCarthy renewed the threat to use his son’s arrest against him. On June 19, Hunt died by suicide in his Senate office; his death dealt a serious blow to McCarthy’s image and was one of the factors that led to his censure by the Senate later in 1954.

I did not know about any of this. And you can suppose that if tinpot dictators like Ron DeSantis and the rest of the MAGA crowd in government have their way no one will ever know it happened. But it instantly put me in mind of something. A movie from the early 60s, from a time when even a brief reference to The Homosexual in passing was considered extremely daring for any filmmaker, and in some parts of the country might even get your movie confiscated by the local authorities.

The movie was Advise & Consent. Released in 1962, it was directed by Otto Preminger who was a powerful opponent of the Hays Code, and was based on the 1959 novel by Allen Drury. The story concerns the nomination process of a candidate for US Secretary of State, who may or may not be a communist. As the political battle heats up, it gets dirtier.

The movie’s claim to fame was broaching the subject of homosexuality when the Hays Code was still a thing and Preminger was a force for contesting it. There’s this cringe worthy scene toward the end of the movie where the clean cut all American senator with a secret, Brig Anderson of Utah, visits the stereotypical Hollywood gay bar of all stereotypical Hollywood gay bars to confront the long ago lover he was now being blackmailed over…

Who among us has never been to this bar?

In his book The Celluloid Closet Vito Russo eviscerates the movie for virtually canonising Anderson as a Good Homosexual, because he eventually married a woman and began a family, versus the Bad Homosexuals who lurk in the homosexual underworld and gather in piss elegant bars that play Frank Sinatra songs all the time.

Wait…Don’t Go…Maybe the jukebox has some Village People too!

Dury’s novel was published in 1959. Hunt’s suicide happened in 1954. Dury always maintained that his novel was not based on any actual people or events, but was merely made of composites meant to illuminate the realities of Washington politics. But this falls a little too pat. While senator Hunt was not himself a homosexual, it was blackmail over his son’s homosexuality, blackmail effected so as to stop his attacks on McCarthy, that brought him to suicide, and which as it turned out was a key event in turning the senate against McCarthy. The entire story reads to me now, like as of a second rate draftsman tracing over a portrait, and simply changing the hairstyle of the subject, and calling it an original work.

Because the most…interesting…part of all this to me now is how Dury reversed the motivations of the players in that drama. It was a bunch of hard right republican red baiters, including McCarthy, that blackmailed Hunt to the point of suicide. In Dury’s telling, it was democratic communist sympathisers that blackmailed the clean cut all American senator from Utah who had a regrettable secret, so they could install a communist as the head of the State Department. I don’t think all that was merely to lift the specifics of history into the realm of art. I think he was trying to rewrite history into a form he found more palatable.

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