Dorr Legg, Los Angeles, October 6, 1976
Introduction: Mostly closely associated with ONE Magazine in the 1950s and 1960s, Dorr Legg came from an economically and educationally privileged background. His interview describes something about gay life in Michigan and Florida during the 1930s and 1940s, before he moved to LA, including the deep racism in the society and the challenge this posed for black gays and for interracial relationships. He discusses some pre-Mattachine organizational efforts in LA, as well as the early Mattachine and the work of ONE. Legg stands firm in the view that ONE was more willing to challenge the established order of things and established authorities than either Mattachine or Daughters of Bilitis]
Born Ann Arbor, Mich.—close to campus. Well-educated milieu but also farming community. Went to University of Michigan. Family was there for several generations, Dorr family.
Went to NYC after school—the Depression, early 1930s. Degrees in music and urban planning. Pursued it in NY. Then taught at Oregon State University, Corvallis Oregon—urban planning and professional work on side. World War II - enrollment dropped. Took a leave of absence from teaching.
Getting bored with teaching. Returns to Michigan. Father has long illness. As teacher, found himself becoming adviser to his students on personal problems, including homosexuality.
Father was a piano manufacturer; then real estate and insurance. Both parents well-educated, claims 17thcentury antecedents on both sides. Migrants from New England to Western NY to Michigan by mid 19th Century. Sunday “salons” of intellectual and political discussions from childhood, Chamber music.
Roaming through university bookstores and libraries while in high school. Started college at age 16. Out of school after junior year (19 years old) in Orlando, Florida with family. Had been reading psychology on homosexuality for years, but spoke to no one about it.
Discovers cruising in Orlando park - approaches man on park bench and connects. Begins working in Tampa, much larger city. Interesting gay community—men of all ages meeting socially at homes, beaches. “a community, an underground into which people were inducted.”
In NY, rarely went to bars: ongoing series of private parties. First contacts with blacks came in gay subculture (his family was “aggressively tolerant”). Back in Midwest in 1940s, became involved with young (1st lover) black man. Drawn into the black community through his lover.
Wanted to be in as open and unprejudiced an environment as possible. Search out possible places to live: decide on Los Angeles, the best choice.
“Had been through terrible traumas of prejudice and hatred…”—family hassles. Couldn’t live together in Michigan. Detroit Black gay community friendly and open. Heard Billie Holiday in black gay after-hours clubs. The contact with blacks first made him aware of civil rights issue—for blacks and for homosexuals.
LA symbolized openness and freedom after WWII for many who migrated there. Came to Los Angeles in 1949 or 1950, unsure which, with his lover, who now lives in SF. Again, in black community. Blacks in LA still small (50,000), several generations old—far less discrimination than today.
Legg meets Merton Bird [?], as much of an originator of movement as Hay: should be an organization of homosexuals and lesbians for mutual support, emotional, social, and material. Key idea—to integrate families of gays with homosexuals and lesbians. Approaches Legg who says yes.
Legg went to first meeting. [Bird also one of incorporators of ONE] called Knights of the Clock—incorporated in Calif. Lasted 4 or 5 years. Social events, sometimes 200, Homosexual and Lesbian, parents, little children etc. Interracial—another key aspect. Interracial gay couples “would be stopped on the streets.”—assumption of criminality by police. Bird president 1st year; Legg president 2nd year.
Legg heard about Mattachine through a coworker. Thinks it was mid 1951. Entirely different from Knights. “more professionally organized.” Level of education higher for members. “Ostensibly there was no organization.” But Legg not taken in. Knew there had to be “somebody arranging something.” Soon realized that discussion groups “were all over town.”
Approached by someone after a few meetings who tells him about organization. Invited to become 1st order member (there were 5 orders: 5th = Mattachine Foundation, small) “was inducted in a very impressive ceremony” totally secret for security reasons.
1st order guilds responsible for discussion groups. 5th order “always looking for people who were vocal”—approached by Bob Hull. All liaison done in a chain of command. Hierarchy.
Attended more than one discussion group “illegally.” Eventually invited into 2nd order—also went to one 5th order. Guilds didn’t meet often - most frequently when new member inducted and higher order representative attended. Guilds more or less on their own.
Had responsibility to pick out Discussion Group participants for membership, more responsibility. Guilds wrote up reports on outstanding Discussion Group participants.
Spread of Mattachine—not sure that even today gay lib is as large. Spread “like a forest fire... because it met a need.” Also because of “Barbary Coast openness” of LA, after hour clubs; dance halls with orchestras. NY and Chicago had nothing like it.
Backlash in LA: madam arrested, exposes corruption and payoffs throughout city govt. 1950-51. Papers filled with stories for weeks. Clean-up campaign: William S. Parker brought in as police chief. An almost instant change: gay places close suddenly. “There were enough of us who had seen the promised land and we were not about to give it up. But we didn’t know how to do anything about it. So the Mattachine Discussion Groups became protest meetings about these things.”
Bugging, police with transmitters on their bodies in cruising areas, apartments smashed in by police, surveillance and photos through windows, dossiers being collected. Atmosphere in which Jennings case occurs.
Legg gets involved in Matt when Jennings case underway. Credits Hay with originating minority group concept for Homosexuals before Donald Webster Cory.
High political content to Discussion Groups - not just personal discussion. Many of 5th order had Marxist background—“had the fantasy they were going to weld these two social concepts together.” Heard it but didn’t believe it. Lots of rumors - tag phrases picked up by participants who were familiar with Marxism. Hay called before HUAC twice, refused to answer.
ONE Magazine: discussion Group meeting at Legg’s home. Talking about police practices, saying it should be exposed - someone says why not publish a magazine. Meetings begin, 10/52…“unusual combination of people” made it possible to launch the first Homosexual magazine on a monthly basis. Don Slater never really involved in Mattachine—Legg gets him involved in ONE. ONE independent from Mattachine from the beginning—not an outgrowth of Mattachine. “A protest,” “a polemic from the very start.”
[inaudible] [later, extremely faint] [About the Mattachine Conventions]
Legg elected treasurer of Mattachine at Convention. Hal Call a trained journalist—main reason why Mattachine moved to SF. Impact of convention and change in structure—at time, didn’t seem to have a major impact—meetings went on. But starts to decline.
ONE initially totally co-ed. After founding of DOB, “a conscious lesbian movement which began to differentiate itself.” At time, “we” didn’t see it would be a “divisive” thing. Women began “drifting away.”
“That FBI threat was enough to just send people with county jobs, teachers, and so on running to the hills, running, hundreds of them, and they never came back.”
ONE opens its public office in downtown LA, Nov. 1953. “Everybody said, ‘you won’t last long!’” Real fear that the police might come, might be evicted through complaints of other tenants. “we had to stand shoulder to shoulder” when the movement was so small “because we knew we had to protect each other.” “The unifying factor was this rage!”
1961 Bill of Rights Convention—DOB opposition. Later Mattachine: “always trying to be conciliatory. To the professionals and all the churches.” Wore neckties everywhere. Preoccupation with their by-laws.
“There was this absolute mania for erasing every possible trace of the original Mattachine, everything, the language and everything else, everything had to be different…they just wanted to eliminate and never have any mention that there was such a thing even.” “It was a break, a total break.” Mattachine had “a non-position.” Hal Call – public relations, advertising man: his approach. Different from founders who were Marxists, concerned with “radical, societal change.”
“A whole mass of people totally rejecting the principles of the Mattachine... they still believed something needed to be done but they weren’t quite sure what.”
Jennings—first editor of ONE: “an activist.” Felt sole issue was legal change. “Completely back in the closet now.” “instantaneously resigned for reasons unknown.”
Eve Elloree involved in ONE—did the cover. August 1953.
Educational aspect of ONE comes into focus gradually—ONE Institute formed, October 1956—much of it through the guidance of Dr. Thompson. Kepner on original committee of ONE Inc.
ONE created the concept of homophile studies. Had to define the area of study—defined it as a separate field of studies “very consciously defining a field.” Began scheduling classes - turnout small and would dwindle during cycle until 5-6 involved at the end of a class. 6-8 now and even back then. Turnout always has been small. Were discussing homosexuality from a sociological perspective from the very start, 1956.
Social Service Division of ONE: from the start, phone calls and visits from gay men in trouble, even before a special division. Rowland especially concerned about it. “extremely good in taking kids who were more or less unhireable, and just training them… and getting jobs for them.”
Later, Rowland leads Church of One Brotherhood. “Has to be viewed as the forerunner of MCC”—he decided that “this was the way to do it.” Religion a central concern of many gays. After, he became “a complete psychiatric case, a total breakdown. From a very strong person, he just collapsed.” [Rowland]
Social Service wasn’t planned or expected in advance—it just happened—obviously met a need for the community.
ONE’s anti-expert stance: “just by simple observation we had observed that the people who presented themselves as professionals knew very little. So it wasn’t very difficult to say that we would be the experts because we found the whole thing so contemptible in the inconsistencies, the absurdities, the complete mythology that you were reading in the books. And we had read all the books!” “The utter insanity of most of them as well as the total inconsistencies.”
“We wouldn’t tolerate this. We read them all out.” But—pro Evelyn Hooker, Kinsey: there were a few good people doing things right. Claims that ONE’s work and presence has had an important impact on scholarship and research.
Mattachine and DOB against ONE’s anti-expert: “they had no self-confidence, they had a degraded self-image. They don’t know it. But they say ‘who are we?’ Well, who is anybody?”
“An expert is a person who has studied something.”
ONE’s extension courses—SF, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, NYC.