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Hal Call

Hal Call, San Francisco, November 16, 1976

Introduction: Based in San Francisco, Hal Call was a key figure in the history of the Mattachine Society from 1953 until the mid-1960s. He lays out very clearly the kind of strategy and tactics that he favored – respectability, assimilation, de-emphasizing difference – and describes some of the moments of conflict within the organization: for example, the conflict between the radical founders and some of the members in the early Mattachine, and conflict between the New York chapter and the national office in San Francisco.

 

Interview:

Side #1A

First heard of Mattachine in February 1953at Berkeley campus, discussion group being held. Attended a discussion group and joined. Rod McKuen an early member. Quickly started in San Francisco. Within 3-4 months, 3 or 4 chapters.

Attended April and May conventions. September 1953—1st San Francisco newsletter published—Call edited it.

Gerry Brissette in charge in Berkeley. “Enthusiasm” of meetings spread. 25-40 people involved at meeting. In SF, 35-40 would attend—first held in apartment on Larkin St.  Also, “Ida Bracy” a leader.

Immediately got involved with publicity—saw “an immediate need.”  He and Finn wrote original “Aims and Principles” leaflet.

Early chapters by function:

Public discussion forums

Public Relations work—outreach to professionals from beginning. AFSC sympathetic—made meetinghouse on Sutter St. available for public discussion forums.

General talk about purposes; wanting acceptance, an end to ostracism, law enforcement. Homosexuals “fair game for every cop who wanted to make his arrest record better. He could always go out and arrest some queers.” Examiner printed name, address and employment of those arrested.

A few months earlier, 1952, arrested in Chicago, in a park. “Completely and utterly corrupt.” Paid money to an attorney, never appeared in court, had charges dismissed.  “Pure and simple bought and paid for kind of justice.”

Lost his job as a national advertising representative for Kansas City Star. Moved to San Francisco. Got job with insurance advertising agency.  May 57—resigned to spend full time with Pan Graphic Press and Mattachine—big cut in salary, $45.

1954—with Don Lucas and others in Mattachine, form Pan Graphic to do Mattachine literature. Private commercial firm, separate from Mattachine. Had been working on proposals to start a Mattachine magazine. January ’55—Mattachine Review.

All kinds of conflict with LA officers who wanted to see every word.

Had grown up in Midwest. 56 months in Army—30 months in Pacific.

1953 Convention:

April—had learned there was a secret 5th order whose members were unknown. McCarthy era. Wanted to know who was behind it - were they people who would make “pawns” of the members. Wanted to see “democraticprocess put to work.” April was mostly drafting for a constitution. Time ran out - committees set up to continue. Called a second session for May. Burns chosen to chair committee and May meeting.  

Finn made accusation that Mattachine Foundation members were members of Communist Party. Threatened to turn info over to FBI. “An emotional outburst.” [He’s not sure which session Finn did this.]

John Loy and his lover—very active from LA. Rowland, Hay, and Maxey he remembers.

Coordinating Council set up after May: every 2 weeks meeting in LA—expensive and time consuming.

Preamble: Every word debated. In Southern California, a strong desire to create a homosexual subculture in society.  “We wanted to see homosexuals made a part of total society because our feeling and certainly my feeling was that it wasn’t positive to create a subculture within the total culture… homosexuals were a product of heterosexual families and there was nothing unique about them. They were a product of total society and we should work on total society rather than trying to create a homosexual subculture.”

“A strong suspicion of Chuck Rowland. None of us trusted him… the rumors were that… he was a communist student organizer.” [Invective against Rowland.]

Ken Burns: “tremendous personality… a young man, sexually attractive.” Good speaker. Had been a seminary student (Episcopalian), safety engineer for Carnation Company. “had an ability to get people to quiet down and let their emotions cool.” Also a good parliamentarian—could handle Robert's Rules.

SIDE #1B

Recruiting for Mattachine: talked it up in gay bars in SF: Black Cat, Dolans, 356 Taylor, Paper Doll, Uncle Billy’s Place on Polk St.

May Convention—“read out of the roll-call most of the founding members”

Call’s background: degree in journalism from Univ of Missouri. Worked with Midwest newspapers. “I knew the power of the press…I knew that we needed to get the word out. We needed our own publications to reach other homosexuals and publications that could be read by non-homosexual people that would educate them… that homosexuals came from ordinary families… and needed to be treated like human beings.”

Nov 1953 Convention: To continue with constitution.  “We felt that everyone involved in that room should be willing to profess his loyalty…”

Loy, Burns, Call, and a fourth (Loy’s lover) signed the articles of incorporation—accepted by state of California in March 1954. Call “strongest leader” in SF.

Primarily concerned with publications. Knew what should go in them. LA group wanted to approve everything—conflict over it. 4,000 copies printed of 1st issue of Mattachine Review.

ONE directed toward homosexual subculture. “irreverent”

Reason for Mattachine Review: “we knew that in order for homosexuals to get ahead and for laws ultimately to be changed and for police departments and politicians and other people to stop using the homosexual as a scapegoat, we knew we were going to have to make the homosexual look just like everyone else except for the difference in sex object.”

“Make it something that Mom and Dad and the average citizen could buy.”

“Trying to reach particularly people in the professions and in politics and in places of influence.” 

“We were searching to ride on the shirt tails of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a clergyman, a lawyer.” They were the ones who influenced opinion.

On the claim that Mattachine not an organization of homosexuals: “we felt we had to say that as a kind of palliative, a sop…to be just an organization of upstart gays, we would have been shattered and ridiculed and put down and read out.”

Sent Mattachine Review to professional associations, academic departments, individual professionals. Sold at City Lights Bookstore. Newsstand in Salt Lake City—for years, they took 10 copies.

Transferred headquarters to San Francisco—1957. Heartbeat of organization became Mattachine Review.  No hard feelings between LA and SF. But great rivalry between NY and SF. Didn’t like being a “branch” office.

Fanned by lawyer Ken Zwerin, a good lawyer who took on gay cases. Helped set up leadership in NY. Hostility between Zwerin and Call. Zwerin attracted to Call; also to Joe McCarthy in NY - fomented trouble. No real issue.

Chapters: NY didn’t like sending portion of dues to national office. Other chapters felt same way.

Denver convention - police didn’t like the press coverage, set up a watch, bust librarian.

Never had sufficient financial resources to develop full branch offices. Harry Bateman had idea of calling special meeting of national board, knowing NY couldn’t attend, to dissolve the branches. “Mattachine was a name that caught on”

 

Side #1A [second listening and note-taking]:

1st heard of Matt in 2/53—started in Bay Area in Berkeley. Went to a meeting there—another early member was Rod McKuen. Next week began in SF. Within a few months, several chapters.

Attended both April and May 1953 convention.

Around Sept 53, San Francisco Area Council began publishing its own newsletter which Call edited.

Gerry Brissette—quite active; also Ida Bracy. Meetings were enthusiastic: 25-40 people. In SF, apartments would be packed.

Call quickly organized a publications chapter—leaflets, etc. He and Dave Finn wrote “Aims and Principles.” Early chapters along functional divisions: public forums, public relations work; in early days trying to influence professionals—but most wouldn’t touch Mattatchine.

American Friends Service Committee made their meeting house available for meeting.

Wanted to see better acceptance and understanding of homosexuals by society; erase ostracism, discrimination, opprobrium. Homosexuals were fair game for every cop needing an arrest. SF Examiner published names/addresses of arrestees.

In 1952, Call arrested in Chicago—paid sum to an attorney, never saw a judge, charges dismissed. Pure bought-and-paid-for justice. Call asked to resign from his job as advertising rep for Kansas City Star. Moved to SF. Got job with advertising agency.

1957—resigns for f/t work with Pan Graphic and Mattachine—$45/week. Pan Graphic created in 1954—mentions names: Lucas, others. Call worked on proposals for a Mattachine magazine —Mattachine Review, 1955. Coordinating Council wanted to see every piece of copy before publication. Had no road maps for what they were doing.

April 53 Convention: Knew there was a secret 5th order of Mattachine Foundation—McCarthy era—wanted to know who was behind Mattachine: were members being used was the fear.  Wanted to see democratic process at work, know who everyone was. Rowland, Hay, Maxey, Legg, Slater there. Lots of drafting of proposals, constitution - ran out of time. Committees set up, 2nd session called.

Finn makes accusations that some members of Mattachine Foundation were either communists or working for other organizations. Threatens to turn names over to FBI—an emotional outburst. Doesn’t remember when, but thinks it was April session. Caused many people in S. Calif to line up against pushy N. Calif. Doesn’t remember if Burns was moderator in April.

May 53—coordinating council chosen. Burns appointed chairman. John Loy very active—S. Calif. 

“Highly ethical homosexual culture.”

Every word of preamble debated.

In S. Calif. strong feeling to create a homosexual subculture within society. In N. Calif didn’t buy it—wanted H understood and accepted as part of total society. Homosexual a product of heterosexual family, nothing unique about them.

Strong suspicion of Rowland—no one trusted him—rumors that in late WWII he was a young Communist student organizer at U of Minn—not about to be led and manipulated by him. Rumors were never resolved.

Ken Burns—great personality, young, sexy, good speaker; had ability to calm and quiet people down. Good at Robert’s Rules of Order.

After convention, in San Francisco, held twice monthly public discussion forums. SF always did good organizing and public relations work. Mattachine moving like a prairie fire, reaching out to gay people.

 

Side #1B

Talked Mattachine up in the gay bars, among gay friends. Idea caught on and people rallied to it. Unanimity in Bay Area, but 1953 convention did read out most of LA founders.

Call’s background is journalism and publishing—started and worked for many papers. Knew the power of the press. Needed to get the word out, not just to homosexuals but to whole public.

Decide in May 53 to meet again to complete process in 6 months. Worry about use of word “homosexual” in constitution and by-laws—would it be accepted by State for incorporation? Words and phrases elicited highly emotional reactions. Doesn’t remember loyalty oath passing at Convention 11/53.

Loy, Call, Burns, and one other (Loy’s lover) signed Articles of Incorporation. Herb Selwyn drew them up. No rivalry between LA and SF branches.

Call describes himself as strongest leader at the time—mostly concerned with getting out publications—a “compulsion.” Some conflict over approval and submission of materials.

Decide on Mattachine Review because ONE directed at gay subculture, too irreverent and upstart, not acceptable to general public. Felt something more respectable needed - to make homosexuals look just like everyone else—something that Mom and Dad and ordinary citizen would buy. Also trying to reach professionals, people of influence—law, government, church, behavioral sciences.

Searching to ride on shirt-tails of experts. Felt they were the most important since they influence the society. “Mattachine not an organization of homosexuals”—a palliative, felt they had to do it—to achieve a certain status, viability. To be just an organization of upstart gays would be ignored.

Mattachine Review publicity—tried leafleting bars if they’d allow it—but their existence precarious. By end of ‘56, obvious that heartbeat of organization was its magazine, that better leadership was in San Francisco: National office moved to SF. Always had a high turnover of membership—people came and went.

NY and SF: NY people naturally feel that NY should be headquarters of everything. Rivalry fanned by Attorney Ken Zwerin; closeted and uncomfortable gay. Zwerin wanted to control and lead Mattachine—Call resists—Zwerin sets up stronger leadership in NY, courts Joe McCarthy in NY (McCarthy very attractive), manipulates leadership against each other. (leaned over backwards to appear prim and proper at meeting). NY had no issues. Just wanted control. Also didn’t want to be sending money to SF.

1959 Denver Convention—got good press but police didn’t like it. Set up a watch, eventually catch Librarian who has pornography. Did a job on Mattachine there. Everyone runs scared.

National headquarters never had resources to administer branch offices - not enough money for phone, or time for letters. Harry Bateman suggests calling special convention to dissolve Mattachine Society - simply couldn’t cope with it—no cohesion, energy or resources. Created a monster they couldn’t cope with, kill or bottle up. Eventually SF gets over its possessiveness about name.

Mattachine in mid 60s in SF very active along with Glide Memorial Church in getting Office of Economic Opportunity money for central city and gays.

SIDE #2A

For a long time, no inroads with city government and police. Treated badly by Examiner, but okay by other papers.

1959 Mayoral Campaign—Bill Brandhove, good personal friend, describes it as a double-double cross. Helped get Christopher re-elected. Major newspapers wouldn’t touch Wolden’s charges—had to appear in a throwaway. Police investigate Mattachine. Backfires on Wolden - gets smallest vote of any major candidate for mayor in two decades. Gets major publicity for Mattachine. Institutes $1 mil suit- gets 8-column headline in papers.

Mattachine came out with flying colors—really launches Mattachine in SF—starts making lots of contact with professionals, churches, agencies, colleges.

Call says Brandhove didn’t do it to sabotage Mattachine—motive had to do with local SF politics. Wanted to get Christopher back in—done with knowledge of Republican politicians to beat the Democrats. Publicity doesn’t lead to increase in members or revenue. But does make Mattachine better known. Almost the beginning of gays in politics.

Police harassment of gays and gay bars in SF. After 1959, police—especially watchdog unit—keep in consultation with Mattachine. First line of communication between gays and high-place people in police dept.

Main factor inhibiting growth of Mattachine was fear: SF Examiner editor Wren ordered reporters to list names/addresses/employment of homosexuals arrested on the front page. Made rank and file gays loathe to join - except many of those who already had had conflict with law. (Changes accomplished since 50s more than they ever dreamed.)

Dissolution of Mattachine gave impetus to formation of other organizations. “Diaspora”

Call wasn’t president, but was effectively in charge of Mattachine. Wanted strong, experienced paid staff with Board of Directors - not subject to whim of members. Needed steady stable leadership. Bill Plath strongly against - wanted reliance on volunteers. But Call believed competence and skill more important. Paid staff.  Others felt leadership of Mattachine too entrenched—leads to formation of SIR.

Always had good relationship with DOB. For a while shared office space with them at 693 Mission. But male homosexual problems were always in forefront—Lesbian and Homosexual parallel, but not congruent, problems. Mattachine had more clout than DOB—more members. Different priorities for L and H, e.g., children; women’s rights generally. Women also not as motivated for cruising. DOB aware of women’s issues long before women’s movement.

 

SIDE #2B

Evaluation of Mattachine role: most important thing was calling attention to homosexuals: that they existed, were in large numbers, couldn’t be outlawed, eradicated or cured, homosexuals were human beings. Only difference between homosexual and heterosexual was choice of sex object. Did groundwork that helped lead to spread of gay organizations and gay movement.

Glad that there are as many organizations and publications as exist now. Mattachine also helped weaken censorship. Fought for sexual freedom. Never advocated going beyond responsible limits.

Mattachine current work “good for mental health”—used standard, acceptable modes of public relations—never tried to rub people’s noses in something; not trying to offend.