Jack Kabin/"John Taylor" June 9, 1994
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2016. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Jack Kabin in his West Village apartment in New York City in June 1994. At that time he indicated that he wanted me to use a pseudonym, “John Taylor,” in my published work, but when I contacted him in June 2013 about posting the interview transcript online he indicated that it would be fine for me to use his real name; he said that since he was retired he no longer had concerns about negative responses at work. Kabin originally contacted me via postcard in November 1993, when he responded to an announcement about my Philadelphia-based research in the newsletter of Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), a New York social service agency that served the needs of older gays and lesbians. I arranged for the publication of that announcement because I knew that SAGE had sponsored a significant oral history research project and I hoped that some of SAGE’s New York members might have come from Philadelphia or lived in Philadelphia during earlier parts of their lives. Before the taped part of the interview began, Kabin provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 29 September 1925
Place of Birth: Philadelphia
Place of Mother's Birth: Poland
Mother's Occupation: Housewife
Place of Father's Birth: Poland
Father's Occupation: Tailor
Religious Background: Jewish
Class Background: Middle Class
1925-49: Philadelphia (29 N. 59th St.)
1949-94: New York City
1944-46: Sergeant – U.S. Army
1946-53: Student at Temple, Columbia, and New York Universities
1953-80: Elementary School Teacher (Port Washington)
Marc Stein Interview with Jack Kabin – 9 June 1994. Transcribed by Marc Stein and Lisa Williams.
MS: Could you say a few words about the kind of family that you grew up in and something about your early childhood years?
JT: Well I grew up in a conventional middle-class family. My father had his own shop in West Philadelphia. I had a brother and two sisters. The neighborhood was mixed black and white, because in those days if you lived north of Market Street it was pretty much a black neighborhood, but if you went south of Market Street it was white. And it was a line that was very rigidly observed, to the extent that in the two neighborhood movie theaters that I can recall, the Cross Keys and the Mayfair, which were on Market Street, in the Cross Keys black people were only allowed to sit upstairs in the balcony. In the Mayfair they weren't even allowed in at all. Nevertheless my father's business was half a block north of Market Street, which meant most of his patrons were black. On the other hand, all I had to do was walk a half a block to Market and cross over and I had many white, predominantly Jewish, friends, who lived south of Market Street. But I got along with everybody. I had a relatively happy childhood.
MS: What was your father's business?
JT: My father had a tailor shop.
MS: Your parents were immigrants from Poland?
JT: Yes, they were immigrants. But my father made a nice living and was able, in 1933, to build a bungalow in Bucks County, where I spent all of my summers from 1930. This area in which he built the bungalow was previously a camp. And so I can recall that from 1930 or 1931 or 1932 up until 1944 or 1943 I spent most of my summers in Bucks County at our little bungalow.
MS: Do you know when your parents emigrated?
JT: No, I really don't, but it must have been in the first decade of this century. My sister was born in this country.
MS: She was the oldest?
JT: Yes. And if I was born in 1925, she was born in 1914, so my parents had to have been married before that.
MS: Where did you fall in the four children?
JT: I'm the youngest. I'm the baby.
MS: Did they treat you like that?
JT: Yes, even to this day, I'm the baby. Some baby: sixty-eight.
MS: Do you recall your first awareness of sexual feelings?
JT: Well, like so many gay men, I was pretty much effeminate when I was a kid and I can recall being unhappy about such things. I would have loved to have been a good ball player. I guess all of us would have. But I never was and that caused a certain amount of concern. Nevertheless, I wouldn't give any undue emphasis to that because I remember having lots of friends. And through elementary school, through junior high, through senior high, I was relatively very popular. Everybody liked me. I was well-liked, even though I was not an athlete. I was not so inclined. Still, I compensated in other ways I guess.
MS: Was it just not being an athlete that made you perceived by some as effeminate?
JT: Well no, I probably was effeminate, probably was a little sissy.
MS: Do you mean in appearance or your interests?
JT: I don't know that it was my appearance, but probably my voice inflections. I can recall before I was ten or eleven playing with paper dolls. I can recall getting dressed up in my mother's fur coat when nobody was in the house. All the standard things that I share with so many other gay men. Nothing new there.
MS: Do you recall any particularly hostile incidents from your childhood?
JT: Nothing that stands out that was traumatic. I probably had my share of being called sissy, but then I also had benefactors, people that liked me and would look after me.
MS: White friends and black friends?
JT: I had black friends. One of my very best friends was my next-door-neighbor, who was three years or so older than me, who was always very good to me. I used to go into his house and play with his electric trains and his erector set. Got along marvelously.
MS: And he was black?
JT: He was black, yes. In fact, he even visited me here in New York. He served in the military as his career.
MS: First sexual experiences?
JT: Well I was precocious. I had the usual experiences with a girl, playing doctor, and with other boys. “You show me yours, I'll show you mine.” But I can pretty much recall my first really homosexual experiences. One was in the country, walking down the country road and having a car stop, an older man, and having a sexual experience. Today that would be called child abuse, but I didn't look upon it as such.
MS: How old were you then?
JT: Probably twelve or thirteen.
MS: And when you say he was older, how old?
JT: Oh who knows? He could have been twenty-two or forty-two. Probably he was in his thirties. Who's to know? But I remember it. I remember it very well. That probably was one of the very first experiences I ever had.
MS: You don't think it was abusive at all?
JT: Oh of course not.
MS: You were totally willing?
JT: I was more than a willing participant, I can assure you. And then, when I returned to the city, I was thirteen at the time, I discovered, quite by accident, the park in the neighborhood. It was called Cobbs Creek Park, 63rd Street it was, beginning at Market and extending back into the golf course. Part of this park was a very wild, wooded area, heavily shrubbed. And I discovered at thirteen that if I went there I could be picked up and have a very pleasurable sexual experience. I'm always amused because I recall going there on roller skates after school in the daytime, very seldom at night, in the daytime or early evening. And this went on when I was thirteen and fourteen. When I was just about fifteen, I recall somebody picking me up and asking me whether I would go with him to the baths. And I agreed. And he took me to the Bellevue Baths, which was located behind the Bellevue Stratford Hotel off Walnut Street. I don't recall the name of the little street behind the hotel, but that's where it was.
MS: And they let you in?
JT: They let me in all right, strange as it may seem. I remember that we had our sexual experience. And then he left, but I stayed on and I remember returning to the Bellevue Baths frequently.
MS: By yourself?
JT: By myself. I would save up my money and go on Saturday night. I also remember that I encountered the owner's brother in the office, who was a schoolmate of mine in junior high school. I can even remember his name, but I won't go into that. With him, it was strictly business and he had the good sense never to say anything. I also remember at the time frequently being picked up by automobile drivers. I used to take piano lessons in Center City and I would go down to Market Street or Walnut and put my thumb up. And invariably I would get a lift home. In those days, a lot of people hitched. I wouldn't say that everybody who picked me up was gay, but I had a lot of experiences with men picking me up and trying to arouse me by talking about girls. Mind you, I was only fourteen or fifteen years old.
MS: Maybe we could go back to pick up a few things that I’m curious about. Cobbs Creek Park?
JT: Cobbs Creek Park. Yes, it was very gay.
MS: Would you have sex in the park or would you go off to other places?
JT: In the park, in the bushes.
MS: Was it always the same kind of sexual experiences? Would it vary much?
JT: It was fellatio. I was the recipient.
MS: That was the standard?
JT: That was the standard. That was the sex I had.
MS: Was it as racially mixed as your neighborhood?
MS: These were white men?
JT: It was mostly white men. But I had no bones about having sex with a black man.
MS: How about the baths? Was it an all-gay bathhouse as far as you could tell?
JT: All gay. Of course it was all gay.
MS: Can you describe the layout? Do you remember it?
JT: Yes I remember. You took an elevator up to the fifth floor, let’s assume it was. You went into the locker room and you undressed and got into a towel wrapped around you.
MS: The fifth floor of the hotel?
JT: No, no, no. It was an office building. The Bellevue Stratford Hotel was on the corner of Broad and Walnut and I'm talking about going from Broad to 15th Street. Behind the hotel was an office building. It was a little street and an office building. Again, fourth, fifth, sixth floor, one of those floors was the Bellevue Baths, which was pretty well-known.
MS: I've seen it listed in some guides.
JT: I don't know whether it still exists or not, but it was well-known then. It had three, as I recall, relatively dark rooms. There were no private alcoves or cubicles. It was strictly sex in the open. If somebody saw that you were having sex with somebody, they would come over and join in. And most people wanted that. It was a multiple sexual experience when you went to the gay baths. That's what it was in the Bellevue Baths. That’s what I recall. It was only later, when I went to baths in New York City, that I saw there were private cubicles. But the Bellevue Baths did not have them.
MS: Were you unusual for being as young as you were?
JT: Pretty much I would think.
MS: There were a few other young people?
JT: Perhaps, perhaps not.
MS: Were you more interested in younger teenage guys or older ones?
JT: I liked guys about twenty-years old, college boys, when I was about fifteen. I did have one gay friend, now that we’re thinking about it, from junior high. I was in ninth grade, so that would have put me about fourteen or fifteen-years old. And he was the one who steered me to Rittenhouse Square. He told me that if I were to go to Rittenhouse Square, I would meet people, and he was very right.
MS: Could you first tell me about him? Were you friends from the neighborhood?
JT: Yes, but not really. We shared the same homeroom in our junior high and I do remember we both had volunteered to stay after school to help the teacher, which kids did in those days. And I remember being in the cloak room with him when we were finished and I remember him grabbing me and kissing me. And it was very nice. And we became very friendly after that. He became my friend and more than a friend. We had sex together and I remember other people of my own age, but I'm not sure that they were gay or they were just experimenting with doing this sort of thing. But this one, Alex his name was.
MS: Did you have sex with him regularly?
JT: Yes, for a time.
MS: For a number of years?
JT: Yeah, well I guess so or whatever it lasted. I don't think he went to the same high school. I don't recall staying all that friendly with him after I left junior high, but perhaps a year or so.
MS: What was the junior high? Do you remember the name?
JT: Holmes Junior High. Oliver Wendell Holmes.
MS: What was the high school that you went to called?
JT: Overbrook High School.
MS: Tell me about Rittenhouse Square when you first discovered it.
JT: I first started going there only in the afternoons, after I would finish my piano lesson. I would go for my piano lesson after school and that lasted an hour and then I'd run over to the Square. The Square is just what it is, a square that you could walk on all four sides inside the square. And gay people would sit on the benches. And you would walk or you would sit on a bench until you made eye contact with somebody and then you'd start talking and very frequently the types that I was interested in would be living near Rittenhouse Square, so that was my first experience going to somebody's apartment. I can recall that from thirteen to fifteen, while I had a lot of sex in Cobbs Creek Park, I did not realize there was gay life. I thought that, well, who knows what I thought? I thought that I would outgrow what I was doing or I was alone in what I was doing. But it wasn't until I was about fifteen, when I discovered Rittenhouse Square, that I discovered there were, as I could put it, nice people, because you didn't really meet the greatest types in the park. You didn't meet young beautiful boys there. You pretty much met all older men who were preying on young boys who liked to be preyed upon. But when I got to Rittenhouse Square, that's when I started meeting people who were more substantial: college boys, teachers, guys in the professions. And it opened up a whole new life for me. From the time I was fifteen until the time I was drafted when I was seventeen, which isn't really very long, only two years, but it was a full two years and I was very popular. I was pretty much a willful young man. I could go out and my parents would say, “Where are you going” and I would say, “Out,” and get away with it. I would get a lot of telephone calls for dates to do things.
MS: Did your parents ever say anything in those years about it?
JT: No, no. My father and I, as with so many gay boys, didn't have much of a relationship. He was a very hard-working man. He meant well, but he wasn't a modern man. I came to appreciate my father for the virtues he had many years later, but when I was in my teens it was a very difficult relationship. I was the apple of my mother's eye and I could pretty much get away with what I wanted to get away with. And so I did.
MS: Your siblings never suspected anything during those years?
JT: Well that's another story. Perhaps they did. It did come out. I think it didn't come out until I was home from the Army, but they pretty much knew. But nobody ever said anything. Not then anyway.
MS: During your teenage years, then, was there any trouble with the law? Were you ever in danger of being picked up as a minor or being picked up by the police?
JT: Well I remember once somebody telling me he was a policeman. I have my doubts, but perhaps he was. But he let me go.
MS: Where did that happen?
JT: In a men's room on the elevated trains that ran along Market Street. They were very wild.
MS: Is that right?
JT: Oh my goodness. They were as wild as they could be.
MS: In all the stations? Any particular stations?
JT: Mine, 60th Street, certainly was and perhaps a few others. But mine, you would go in and there again you could always have sex. It was in there that somebody said, “You get out of here.”
MS: I would think that the station in your neighborhood would be dangerous because you could easily run into someone who you knew.
JT: They had a peephole.
MS: So you didn't necessarily see who you were with?
JT: No, no. I mean they had a peephole from the door to people who would come in. And I guess if I saw somebody coming in I would just walk out. You didn't do anything until you were pretty sure that whoever you were with wanted to do something. I met a lot of nice people, too, people that I know to this day, in those men's rooms. College boys.
MS: So Rittenhouse Square opened things up to a larger gay world for you?
JT: Yes, absolutely.
MS: What do you actually mean by that? I know you said that you went to people's apartments.
JT: I met older guys who were more substantial, who were more presentable. It built up my self-esteem. Before that time when, as I said, you're so young, you don't know. You know what you want, but you don't know that you're part of a larger community. But when I met these people, it was equivalent to coming out, to understanding that there was a gay life. I never really had too much trouble after that accepting the fact that I was gay and enjoying it, enjoying every moment of it.
MS: Is that the word you would have used then?
JT: Coming out?
MS: Or gay.
JT: Oh gay, of course.
MS: Any other words that you remember from that time?
JT: No. Gay was used for my whole life. Don't think that gay is a new word by any means.
MS: Would you have used homosexual then?
JT: We preferred gay. Gay was the accepted, approved word. Everything else was derogatory. Queer, fairy, fag, they were all derogatory terms, but gay was always acceptable.
MS: How about literature? Do you ever remember reading anything about homosexuality in those years when you were a teenager?
JT: What can I remember? Finistere, I sort of remember that book. Finistere, the end of the world. I can’t remember too much. Whether Well of Loneliness goes back to that period or not, I can't recall.
MS: Do you remember reading The Well at some point?
JT: Yeah, yeah, sure. I have those two books upstairs. There may have been others.
MS: And Finistere?
JT: It was a gay book.
MS: Do you remember anything about it?
JT: Nothing, not a thing, just the title.
MS: Did you read any of the medical literature?
JT: No. I do remember when I was in college and having Psych I, the absurdity of some of the statements about homosexuals that appeared in that book were ludicrous to the extent that our physiognomy was different than other people. All sorts of nonsense that people accepted. “One can always tell.” One cannot always tell. One can be built just like a prizefighter.
MS: How did you tell in those years who was gay and who wasn't?
JT: Well, it takes one to know one and there really is no explanation. I assume it's eye contact. If you walk along the street and you look, you're always looking, and if the eyes do not move apart but hold, then you know. It was that way then and it's that way now. I can walk down today and every now and then I will meet somebody and I will know and he will know immediately.
MS: You were still a teenager, so I'm assuming that you didn't go to any gay bars during these years.
JT: But I did. I'm trying to think of them and I can't. As I say, there was a very famous one and it lasted for many, many, many years. When I used to return to Philadelphia, it was always there. I know it was about a block and a half east of Broad Street and between Locust and Spruce, I think.
MS: There was the Drury Lane.
JT: I've heard of it.
MS: There was the Forrest.
JT: I remember the Forrest, but that's after my time. That was near the Forrest Theater. That’s after my time.
MS: The Westbury?
JT: That's after my time, too.
MS: The Allegro?
JT: No. That's not it. This was very famous back in the ‘40s. It was lovely. They had a piano player who played show tunes and beautiful songs. It was just a lovely bar. Later on, or maybe even then, they had a dining room up on the second floor. That was very popular and a lot of my friends went there.
MS: Do you remember the first time you walked in to the bar? Who would have brought you there?
JT: I really don't remember.
MS: Did you have trouble because of your age? Did you have to show false ID or did they not care?
JT: They didn't care apparently.
MS: Were there other underage people?
JT: I'm sure. I don't even know if I drank. I probably had Cokes. I never was much of a drinker.
MS: Was it a men's bar or mixed lesbians and gay men?
JT: Men's. There was no such thing as a mixed bar. I don’t remember those. Strictly gay. Gay men and gay women did not really mix well together.
MS: Did you have any awareness of gay women in those years?
MS: Do you remember the first lesbian you met? Would it have been later?
JT: Later, during my first year in New York, I met a lot of gay women. And I'll tell you something else. I married one. I remained married to a gay woman for two years and then we had an annulment.
MS: What years were they?
JT: ‘51 to ‘53.
MS: Was it understood that you were gay and that she was gay?
JT: Of course. She was a lovely lady.
MS: Why didn't it work out then?
JT: It's like mixing oranges and apples. Those things really don't work out. She had her own life to live. I had my own life to live. But it really broke up because she did meet another girl and the other girl was extremely possessive and didn't want this kind of a relationship.
MS: Why did you get married in the first place?
JT: Family. Family pressure.
MS: Did you have sex together?
JT: No. No. Family pressure and we felt it would be better for both our careers. This was the uptight ‘50s. I don't know if you've heard too much about the uptight ‘50s, where one could spend all Saturday afternoon deciding what tie you were going to wear to the cocktail party you were invited to that night. Sport jackets were all right for cocktail parties, but if you went to the theater, you had to wear a suit. This was the uptight ‘50s. So we got married.
MS: Just to get back to this bar, in case I can track down the name, can you remember the precise location?
JT: I'm trying to think. Like I say, it was about a block and a half east of Broad Street and I'm pretty sure it at Locust Street, between Locust and Spruce. I cannot think of its name.
MS: There's long been a complex of bars right around there. Was it on Camac Street?
JT: It could have been Camac. It could very well have been Camac. I can’t think of the name. Since you called me, I've been trying to think of its name and it will not come into my head.
MS: That was your regular bar, but you went to a few others?
JT: Yes. There were other bars at the time. I think there was one a half a block away on Locust Street. Maybe it was called the Locust. I’m not sure. But that was the only one I ever felt comfortable in. That probably was because it was an elegant bar, which always pleased me. This was a place you dressed to go to and you listened to this beautiful music. But for me, bars were never, never a good place to have a sexual encounter. They were more social for me than they were for a lot of other people.
MS: Why do you think that was for you?
JT: Well, number one, I don't drink very much. I do drink, of course, but I don't drink very much. And after the second beer I couldn't get another one down. And then the smoke would bother me. I didn't even smoke until much later. They were nice for a while, especially if you went with somebody, but if you wanted to go to bed with somebody, this was really not the place to go.
MS: Would you go to the bar with friends?
MS: Or would you go by yourself?
JT: Both, both.
MS: And was it an all-white bar? Do you remember it being mixed racially?
JT: I don't remember, but I would assume it was all-white. I don't think there was too much mixing.
MS: Did you have sex with non-white men in your teenage years?
JT: I’m sure I did, but I don’t recall. Yes I did.
MS: Where would you have met those men? The same places you already talked about, because you described Cobbs Creek as being mostly white and the baths as mostly white. You were saying something about a black neighbor.
JT: He was about a year or so older. He was black and I used to carry on frequently with him. I had no prejudices against black boys, going to bed with them. That didn't bother me.
MS: You described Cobbs Creek as mostly oral sex. Was that true for the partners that you met elsewhere?
JT: Yes. My gay experiences have 99% been oral sex. For which I'm very thankful in 1994 because I am convinced that the scourge of AIDS is due mostly to anal sex and not to oral sex.
MS: Were you always the recipient during your teenage years?
JT: No, of course not. No way.
MS: Did that change pretty quickly after you started having the experiences in Cobbs Creek?
JT: I'm sure. Once I started meeting people that I was attracted to and they were handsome and young, then I can recall wanting to have a full sexual experience.
MS: Did you have girlfriends in your high school years?
JT: Always, always. That was de rigueur. One had to do that. You couldn't get away with not. Of course I had dates almost every Saturday night. I went to every prom in high school. I went to many, many, many college proms. I had girls that I dated regularly. I got myself involved when I shouldn't have gotten involved. Girls wrote to me in the Army and then it was embarrassing trying to get out of it. But that's what one had to do. I can be sophisticated today, but in those days, you better have had a girlfriend. I mean how could you face your family and your straight friends? Of course all this time I had a lot of straight friends. I had cousins that were my own age that wanted to double date with me all the time. I had straight friends from the neighborhood. You didn't live a hundred percent gay life. You ran away to the gay world, but you spent a great deal of your time, in fact you probably spent the majority of your time when you were in your teens, with straight people.
MS: Did you have any kind of sexual experiences with the girls that you were dating?
JT: No, no, I never did. Oh well, I had the usual petting of course. Most gay guys went with girls and necked and you did the usual things you do with girls. But I never actually penetrated. First of all, in those days, the girls wouldn't let you anyway, but you could do heavy petting and I did. And it was exciting in those years, exciting to the point that I can recall having orgasms as you pet because this was exciting. This doesn't mean in any way that I ever thought of myself as being heterosexual. It's just that it was sexual and I could do it. I guess there are some gay boys who could not, but I could. I could easily. But it very quickly became obvious to me that my real object of desire was a guy, not a girl.
MS: Did the girlfriends ever suspect?
JT: Maybe, but I don't know.
MS: Well so then you were drafted when you were seventeen, so that was 1942?
JT: No. I was drafted in 1944. I was drafted in May of ‘44. I guess I was eighteen, wasn’t I? I was eighteen in September of ‘43. That’s right. I was eighteen in ’43 and I was drafted when I was eighteen in May of ’44. And I was discharged in May of ‘46 while I was still twenty. So I came home from two years Army experience not yet twenty-one. Eighteen to twenty, that's what it was.
MS: Had you already graduated high school or you were just graduating?
JT: I graduated high school in February of ‘43. I went to Drexel and hated it.
MS: Can we pause for a second and talk about the World War Two years, those two years. You were in the Army?
MS: Where were you stationed?
JT: I went to Anniston, Alabama, for my basic training. Seventeen weeks of basic training.
MS: Where did you go from there?
JT: In October I was sent to France. If I recall, there was a law; you could not be sent overseas until you were nineteen. So I was nineteen at the end of September and in October I was sent out. In those days, all they really wanted was infantry replacements. So while I had started out being trained for something else, they quickly took it away from me and put me right back into the infantry. So I was sent to France to what we called a repl depot, which means a replacement depot, and within one day or two days after I arrived in France, I found myself in an infantry unit in Alsace-Lorraine in combat. Right away. We were walking along the road and we were attacked. I lost a friend who I had met on the ship that took us over. He didn't even last a week. That's it.
MS: You saw a lot of combat in those weeks and months?
JT: A lot of combat. I saw combat from October until the following spring in the infantry. On New Year's Eve, the German Army pushed into Belgium and that was known as the Battle of the Bulge. I think the Third Army did not hold and so it was a bulge. It just so happened that the Army I served in, the Seventh Army, we held, so we got very little publicity. But it was nonetheless a very hard-fought battle on New Year's Eve 1944. And I came through it. In early 1945, my older brother was serving in the same Army unit, by coincidence, as was my brother-in-law. We were all not very far from each other. My brother-in-law was sent back to New York. Excuse me, he was sent back to Philadelphia because he had served so long he was entitled to some time off. My brother was still there. My brother was an officer. I have no qualms about saying this. I told him, “You know, you can use any influence to get me a better job, get me the hell out of here.” And actually he was able to. So about a month before the war ended, I was transferred from my front-line infantry outfit back to Army headquarters, where through his influence I was assigned as a clerk typist.
MS: Where was Army headquarters?
JT: Army headquarters was in a town called Augsburg, Germany. This was about March of ‘45. The war ended May 6th of ‘45. I saved myself about six weeks. I could have saved my life also. But the whole marvelous part is that now I'm in Army headquarters. Now I'm no longer a number. Now I am a human being again. The war ends and I am sent for a furlough to the Riviera with a stopover in Paris. I have marvelous, marvelous, marvelous memories of that experience. I returned to Augsburg and the Army, not knowing what to do with so many veterans, opened up two universities, one in Biarritz, France, and one in a little town called Shrivenham, which is outside of London. My outfit was assigned somebody to go to the school. None of the other guys wanted to go to school. They were all shacking up with German girls. So I was given the opportunity of going to Shrivenham University, where I went to school for two months. And then, when the two months were over, I was able to effect a transfer to the university where I worked in the office, being a good typist. And then, when they shut down the university in December of ‘45, I used a gay colonel that I had met, and he got me assigned to London to the military police, where I served at Grosvenor Square from January to May of 1946. And this year, from June or July of ‘45 to May of ‘46, was truly one of the most exciting experiences a young gay boy could have. Being in London. War was over. I was handsome and I was very popular. And it was thrilling.
MS: If I could back up a second and ask about your first year in the military.
JT: Terrible. I don't like to talk about it.
MS: Did you...?
JT: Have any sexual experiences?
MS: Sure, if that's the question that came to you.
JT: If that's what you're going to ask, one or two, yes. It was not very easy to have them. And certainly I never had any in combat. Nothing, nothing, nothing. One was too concerned with staying alive. It was the furthest thing from my mind. And when I took basic training, that also was very, very difficult and I was exhausted. But I may have had one or two.
MS: Do you remember being asked when you were drafted and went for your physical any questions?
JT: No. Perhaps I don't remember. If they did ask me, of course I would have denied it. One would have in those days. And of course I would have.
MS: O.K., well the second year, though, it sounds like was a different story.
JT: It was marvelous.
MS: Most of it you spent in London?
MS: Did you also have gay experiences in Paris and the Riviera?
JT: I think so.
MS: But it stands out less in your memory than London? Tell me about London.
JT: Well London was marvelous. Every Friday, I would get on the train at Swinden and arrive at Paddington Station in London and go right to the dorms that were set up for soldiers. And London was very, very, very gay. There were gay clubs. They had private clubs, but the military was always invited. I don't have any false modesty. I was a very handsome nineteen-year old. And I had no problems at all in having an absolutely marvelous gay time.
MS: And Brits as well as Americans? Mostly Brits?
JT: Let's say anybody who was good looking. I was a little bit of a whore. I was a little bit of a gold-digger. I didn't really have much money. When I was in the infantry, I had no use for money whatsoever and so I had the Army send my salary home. And so I had to get some money somehow. I wanted to enjoy London and there were always plenty of officers who were perfectly willing to take me to dinner or to the theater and I was perfectly willing to accept.
MS: Was part of the dynamic that you were a Yankee, so for the Brits you were even more desirable because you were American?
JT: No, I don't think that had anything to do with it. But I do remember that I went with a lot of officers. That's funny.
MS: Were you aware of extensive gay networks in the military?
JT: Well, I don't know what you mean by gay networks. I remember it wasn't very hard for me to find the gay clubs. After a while I met somebody who lived in London who was extremely good to me. I was stationed at Grosvenor Square. It was very difficult. I used to have to work at night sometimes and tried to sleep during the day. He gave me the keys to his apartment and I remember using this gorgeous apartment in London. People were very good to me. People were very nice to me. It was a lovely year. I saw lots of theater. I saw Noel Coward in his first show after World War Two. Who is around today that can say they saw Sigh No More? I met Hermione Gingold on the last night of her show Sweeter and Lower. Being so interested in the musical theater, as you can see if you look around my apartment, I had marvelous experiences. All those are theater books, all my records. It was a marvelous year.
MS: Some people have talked about a lot of drag shows in World War Two.
JT: Don't recall any.
MS: That wasn't something that you went to?
JT: No, no. Perhaps it was just not within my ken.
MS: What about parties in addition to the clubs?
JT: Yes, oh yes, oh yes, yes. I was invited to parties in London, sure. Gay parties.
MS: Was that something that you had done in Philadelphia? Had there been gay parties?
JT: Oh yes. But the gay parties really started for me after I came back to Philadelphia after the war was over. Then ultimately all my friends were gay and they were all, this is after the Army now, my age, which made things easier. And we had lots of parties.
MS: So tell me about coming home from the war. I imagine your family welcomed you home?
JT: Oh yes. The banners were out, “Welcome home.”
MS: This was ‘45 or ‘46?
JT: This was May of ‘46. And I did nothing. Well I got a little job and then I started Temple University in September of ‘46, where I went until August of ‘49 when I got my bachelor's degree. And those three years were very gay. I had a lot of gay friends.
MS: What was your major at Temple?
MS: How were things different from what had been your life in your teenage years?
JT: Because now, as I say, going to college, I pretty much dropped whoever I knew that was straight. And all my friends were gay and they were all presentable to the point where they could come to my home and meet my mother and my father and my sisters and brothers. I used to come up to New York for weekends and I met a marvelous gay set of friends who were in New York and they would come down to Philadelphia and some would stay in my home and they were all very presentable. All of them were very good-looking, nice, young, my age.
MS: Were you ever having sex in your family's home or was it always elsewhere?
JT: Oh I had sex when nobody was around. Sure, absolutely, yes. It was always hard to find a place to have sex, so if my family was going away and I knew the house was empty, sure, I would take advantage, of course.
MS: Were there things going on at Temple itself? Gay places or parties?
JT: As I say, I met friends, we always had parties, but at Temple? I don't really remember too much going on in terms of gay places at Temple.
MS: So your social life was still based in Center City and West Philly?
JT: Not West Philly, no. Center City.
MS: But you were living at home?
JT: I was living at home. I might have gone away to college, but I was such a good son. My mother had two sons and a son-in-law. I didn't have the heart to tell her I wanted to go away to college so I was perfectly willing to stay home for those three years. But when the three years were over and I graduated, then I made the break, which every gay boy should do.
MS: And that’s when you went to New York?
JT: That’s when I went to New York. Not too far. You could still get home for weekends if you wanted to.
MS: You said something before; you alluded to your siblings suspecting during those years?
JT: Yeah afterwards, I think so. I think in my college years. I think my brother-in-law, my eldest sister's husband, asked me and I said, “Of course.”
MS: How did he ask you? Do you remember what word he would have used?
JT: Well I think it came up. He said that somebody he knew saw me at this gay bar whose name I can't recall. Somebody was working there and my brother-in-law was very wise to the ways of the world.
MS: Could it have been the Surf?
JT: No, it was not the Surf. And I didn't deny it. I said, “Well you know I am.” “You know I am,” I probably said to him. He said, “Well all of us have suspected.” I said, “Well, that's the way it is.”
MS: What did you take “all of us” to mean?
JT: My two sisters and my brother. If my mother and father ever knew, it was never discussed. It's different today. It’s different. I'm sure it's very hard for young people today to tell their parents, but there's so much on television today. There's so much in the movies. There's so much in the media. You have to remember that in 1946 it took a tremendous amount of courage to let anybody know you were gay. I didn't mind telling. They knew, but I didn't want my parents to know. There was no reason for my parents to know.
MS: Did they say anything negative? Your brother-in-law or the others?
MS: Did you ever talk about it with your other siblings?
JT: No. Until the day she died, my oldest sister, who I was extremely fond of and who visited with me all the years, we had a marvelous relationship, still you just could not talk too much about gay life. I mean she always knew. I'd take her to gay parties. I would have her for dinner with five gay people. I mean it was always understood, but it was never very easy for me or anyone in my family to actually formulate it into words. It was just something that was known, understood, and accepted and it was part of life. I didn't ask them about their sexual life and they didn't ask me about mine. It was easy as that. None of their business.
MS: You were still dating girls?
JT: Oh no! When do you me?
MS: After you came back from the war?
JT: Yes, I’m afraid I think I did. Yes I did.
MS: So there was still that kind of cover?
JT: Yes I did. Sure I did. I've got pictures of myself at proms. Until I moved to New York. I guess when I moved to New York, that was the end of the pretext.
MS: Where were the places that you were going in those three years, ‘46 to ‘49? Was it still Rittenhouse Square? Was it still the bar scene? Was it still the park?
JT: Everything that I said, yes. Can't recall anything else.
MS: You said there were more parties.
JT: Oh yes. Some of my friends had access to Center City apartments. I met people who had apartments who would entertain us.
MS: Would they be dinner parties or cocktails?
JT: Cocktails, but mostly after-dinner evening parties.
MS: Would there be ten people, fifty people?
JT: Not fifty. Ten would be more like it. Ten, twelve, fifteen.
MS: Did you have a regular crowd who you saw?
JT: Yes. I did have a regular crowd. As a matter of fact, I had different crowds. I'm sure everybody's like that. Even today you have friends from over here and they don't get along too well with friends from over there.
MS: What were the differences between the circles? Do you remember? Maybe that would give me some kind of flavor of the different parts of your life in the late forties?
JT: I guess if you were college educated, you tended to travel with people who were also college educated. And if you met friends from elsewhere and they weren’t, if they didn't mix, then they didn’t mix, but you could like them both. If they don't mix, you don't even try to. But I remember having different sets of friends, yes. But your whole life, you go through life knowing different people. I always liked to mix my friends and usually it ended up disastrously. You never learn your lesson.
MS: Did you find that the gay men you were socializing with fit either a more masculine type or a more feminine type or were things not divided so much that way?
JT: I can't recall that. They were just gay, that's all. This business of body beautiful didn't exist in the forties. The only people that had the body beautiful was Charles Atlas. The emphasis more was on a nice looking face and a presentable body. Not that it's wrong today. It's very nice to see boys who work out all the time, but that didn't exist then. And most of my friends were not feminine because I recall being able to bring them home. And most of them, those who I was attracted to as friends, came from the same kind of middle-class Jewish background. It may have been gay life, but you sought your own as if you were heterosexual. If you were heterosexual, if you came from a certain background, you wouldn't socialize with somebody from the Main Line. You wouldn't have anything in common with them. You would look for somebody who had your interests and had your background. And it worked that way with gay life too.
MS: So mostly Jewish?
JT: Almost all my friends were Jewish. That's not to say that I didn't have friends who weren't Jewish. I did. As a matter of fact, that probably existed all my life.
MS: Did you have any steady boyfriends during those years? Anyone who you really saw for a longer period of time than anyone else?
JT: No. Most of my friends were social friends, but this is not to say that I didn't have friends who were sexual partners also. It was not a one-night stand. It went on for a number of years, but not to the extent that I didn't see other people, because I did. I didn't see anybody exclusively.
MS: Was that what you understood was the way gay life was or were there a lot of couples?
JT: No, there were couples. I knew couples at that time. Even at that point there were boys that were coupled up.
MS: Would you say that Philly in the ‘40s had a gay neighborhood?
JT: Yeah, Rittenhouse Square, very definitely, absolutely. All through there was gay. That's why you could go to Rittenhouse Square because so many people lived within walking distance of the Square.
MS: That's what a gay neighborhood meant to you, that a lot of gay people lived there?
JT: Yes. That was a gay neighborhood, very definitely.
MS: Gay and lesbian or gay?
JT: I have nothing to tell you about lesbians. It was another world.
MS: Why do you think there was such a separation, because there wasn't necessarily later on.
JT: Who's to know? I never knew girls. I'm into guys and I think I'm typical. I absolutely do think so.
MS: For your age group or any age group?
JT: As I say I did meet a lot of girls when I moved to New York and I got involved with a lot of girls in 1949 and ’50, but prior to that I did not know any girls.
MS: Do you think maybe it was more separated in Philly than New York?
JT: Don't know.
MS: I know this is a very specific question, but did you know anything about the publication of the Kinsey study in 1948?
JT: Yes. Oh sure.
MS: Was it big news?
MS: Talked about a lot?
JT: Yes, it was discussed.
MS: Do you remember reading the stuff on homosexuality?
JT: I remember hearing about it, sure, ten percent of the population, is that what it said in those days, something like that? Absolutely.
MS: Were people in Philadelphia aware that it was published in Philadelphia?
JT: No. Oh I don’t know. I couldn't answer that.
MS: One other specific question: there used to be a Halloween parade in Center City, drag queen parade on Halloween night.
JT: Don’t remember. Do not remember that at all.
MS: It was organized out of the bars in Center City.
JT: I don't remember that at all. I can’t remember that.
MS: Did you have any sense of who owned the bars?
JT: I understood they were mostly gangster owned, but that was only hearsay. I had no idea.
MS: That’s what people would say. Would you ever see the police in the bar?
MS: The bars that you went to, would there be drags in the bar?
JT: May have been. I don't remember.
MS: Were there any kind of gay restaurants in Center City?
JT: I remember Child's. There was a Child's on Chestnut Street, I believe, between Broad and 15th. I don't know whether it still exists, but in Philadelphia on Saturday night, bars closed at twelve, but people didn't want to go quite home yet. And I remember people going to Child's for coffee on that particular Chestnut Street address. There was a very famous Horn and Hardart’s on Broad and Locust, but that wasn't so much gay as it was the Philadelphia intelligentsia, although I'm sure gay people went there. That was very famous, that particular Horn and Hardart’s. That was the most famous chain of restaurants in Philadelphia and also here in New York. They were everywhere. And they had three different kinds. There was the cafeteria, the waitress service, and the very famous automats, where you put a nickel in the slot.
MS: But the one at Chestnut and Broad was more gay.
JT: Yes. But now, when we're talking about Horn and Hardart's, I don’t know why, but you haven’t asked this question and this was a very important meeting place when I was still in high school, so we have to go back pre-Army. There were movies. There were movies. And the one that I recall the most was called the Family. It was on Market Street right across from Wanamaker's. It was grim, but it had the gamut. You could meet people in there from bums to really very nice.
MS: What would happen?
JT: And when you’re very young, when you're fourteen and fifteen and sixteen, at that point I didn't have all that many friends and I found it very exciting. You'd go to the Family and you would have sex in the theater with a raincoat over your lap, so to speak.
MS: Was this happening throughout the theater or in particular areas?
JT: No, throughout. It was a small enough theater. Mind you, if you weren’t gay, it was a straight movie house, but a lot of gay people knew that if they went there and they sat next to somebody and you pushed your foot up against their foot, the next thing you knew, you could have mutual masturbation. It was fun.
MS: Did you ever leave the theater with anybody?
JT: I don't remember ever leaving the Family with anybody. It wasn't that type of place. But I remember seeing my high school teacher there, who would never acknowledge me. I should think he would have been very frightened, but he had nothing to be frightened about from me. I was too sophisticated.
MS: Were there any other movie houses?
JT: There probably were, but I can't recall right now. I just remember the Family. There probably were others.
MS: Any other restaurants? You mentioned Child’s and Horn and Hardart’s.
JT: I can't think of any.
MS: And were those restaurants popular with gay men or gay men and lesbians?
JT: Don't recall. I don't even remember very much about Child's, because that Child's goes back to when I was about thirteen or fourteen and I really don't remember it very well. It’s in my head that it existed then, but I remember nothing whatsoever about it. But I remember it was gay. I remember there was that place there.
MS: Any other bathhouses other than the Bellevue Baths?
JT: No. I can only remember that one.
MS: You mentioned before that we should talk about New Hope.
JT: Well New Hope was an art colony and there were a lot of antique shops and the theater, the Bucks County Playhouse, and across the river, the Lambertville Music Fair. So obviously it was going to attract a lot of gay people.
MS: When did you first start going there?
JT: It couldn't have been before I was sixteen because I would have not been able to drive the car, so it was probably when I was sixteen and seventeen and when I returned from the Army when I was nineteen and twenty.
MS: What kind of gay scene? Was it just a matter of walking down the street?
JT: There was a bar and you'd also walk. This town was absolutely gorgeous. Probably still is. You'd meet people, you'd walk around, and sometimes you'd go into an antique shop and the owner would give you the eye or whatever. You'd meet. You would take a drive in the car out in the country.
MS: Would you go up there with friends or by yourself or both?
JT: I had been there with girls. When I was dating girls, I took them to dinner there and to the theater. But as I say we had a place that wasn't too far from there so I would run up there in the afternoon and spend an hour or two, seeing if anything could happen and it sometimes did.
MS: Were there other places in Bucks County?
JT: I can't remember them.
MS: Any other suburban bars that you remember? Any place other than Philly?
JT: No. In those days no, just going down to Atlantic City. I can't remember too much about Atlantic City. There were gay bars and there were gay places to stay at and it was very easy to meet people in Atlantic City. Very easy because you all congregated in the certain area and if you sat on the railing in the evening or at night, somebody was bound to come along and stand alongside you and say, “What a beautiful night,” and then you were off.
MS: Where was the gay beach you mentioned before?
JT: In front of the Claridge Hotel.
MS: And you said something about a whole group of Philadelphia people?
JT: Oh yes. Atlantic City was mostly Philadelphia people. Don’t they still go there now?
JT: Sure. The beach for Philadelphians was Atlantic City. Sixty miles away, as I recall. I think it’s sixty miles or seventy perhaps.
MS: So you mostly remember that beach. Do you remember bars as well?
JT: There were. There was a bar called Louise's. I’m pretty sure that's what its name was. That just popped into my head. I don't remember much more than that. Mind you, Marc, we're talking fifty years ago. I can't remember all that much.
MS: You've remembered a lot.
JT: Yes, I remember a lot because I have an excellent memory, but I can't remember all these details. This is ‘94 and we're talking about ‘44.
MS: You said something about Drexel before.
JT: There's nothing to say about Drexel. I went there in engineering and did not like it and managed to quit.
MS: You went to Temple after that?
JT: Yes. Temple was much more my speed. I enjoyed Temple.
MS: So you decided to move to New York in ‘49?
JT: I got my Master’s at Columbia.
MS: Why did you decide to leave Philly?
JT: For the same reason that any self-respecting gay man would. You have to establish a gay life. You want to live a gay life.
MS: And that could only be done in New York?
JT: That could only be done in another city, in a different city. I didn't say New York, but New York was a mecca. Why not New York for anybody who loved the theater, the arts, the cultural life it afforded, and the gay life? And I already had friends in New York. Many friends I had already established here. So I moved to New York.
MS: Could we talk a little bit about Philly on your visits home in the ‘50s? Do you remember much about what things changed? Did you go home frequently and have much of a gay life when you went home?
JT: Well I went home at least once a month, but I didn't have much of a gay life there. No. I may have visited one or two friends. I probably did, but that would be it. I don't remember very much about anything else. I can’t help you there.
MS: Nothing much stands out about Philly in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
JT: No, nothing. I can only help you with when I was growing up. Afterwards my life was concentrated here in New York.
MS: Do you want to say a little bit about what your life in New York was like in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
JT: I led a very productive life. I have no regrets about my life. I taught school. I was an excellent schoolteacher. I'm objective. I did a very fine job and I was very highly respected. I retired with lots of honors from my colleagues and from students. So I felt that I was a contributing member of society. If that sounds very pedantic, so be it. I enjoyed teaching and I was very happy when it was all over and I can enjoy my retirement. I felt that I had a productive life. I was fortunate enough to meet somebody in 1951 and he moved in three weeks after we met and we lived together until the day he died. I took care of him and he died in 1986 after almost thirty-sex years, from ‘51 to ‘86. We built up a lovely life together. We managed to have a lovely apartment in New York, an apartment in Fire Island, an apartment in Puerto Rico, always an automobile. I do a tremendous amount of traveling. The only thing that happens with me is that these years I do not have too many friends, which is sort of sad. But AIDS has been such a scourge in my life. I have lost anywhere from fifty to a hundred friends, some of whom were very, very close and most of whom had been my guests in my home for either cocktail parties, regular parties, or dinner parties. It's had a terrible effect on my life. Other friends, I'm afraid, have moved to warmer climes and so I don't see them anymore. But I was fortunate enough to meet somebody else and that one person is really all you need when you're older. That’s about it. That about winds up my life.
MS: Well thank you very much for agreeing to do this.
JT: Fine. Anybody who reads this book and knows me will surely know who I am. Nevertheless, I prefer to use a pseudonym.
MS: Thanks. [Pause.] I just want to pick up a couple of other things. You were saying something about comparing gay life then and now.
JT: I just wanted to say that when you grow up in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, when things were made very difficult for gay people, especially in the years of the McCarthy period, when to be known as gay, you would be fired from your job if you held a certain type of job, it was always very difficult. One had to be extremely circumspect. My lover was investigated by the FBI because he worked for the government. And I, as a schoolteacher, could certainly never come out like the schoolteachers do today. And so life was very difficult in that respect. On the other hand, because of difficulties, gay life was much more inbred and a little more exciting. If you wanted to meet somebody, it almost was easier then. The bars were dangerous and at some point in New York we didn't have bars. They were closed down by Mayor Wagner. So people were very anxious to meet each other and you just left your apartment and walked up the street and fifteen minutes later, if you went to the area where the gay people went, you met somebody charming. And I was never frightened to bring people home, never had any bad experiences. I was always very careful who I met. Life could be very exciting under the adverse conditions of the ‘50s and ‘60s. There were compensations. And of course you had lots of parties, you had lots of friends, and you did lots of things together.
MS: More of a community?
JT: Today boys are so involved with themselves and there's such an ego trip. And there's so much attitude today. Maybe this sounds like an old man complaining about the youth, which I'm not meaning to do. Let everybody be happy and enjoy them, but in my youth, and of course it goes without saying that we didn't have the fear of a terrible disease, we had more fun. Let me end it at that. I think we had more fun.
MS: I do also want to ask you about the whole gays in the military flap that's been going on in the last year or two because you were a World War Two veteran and we just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day so I’m sure that’s on a lot of people’s minds. What did you make of the whole recent debate given your experiences?
JT: We've reached 1994 and while gay life is open and accepted, there are still millions out there who will never accept us. It was very difficult for Clinton to just ram it down Middle America. I have great sympathy for him and gay people rightfully want to be able to say “I'm gay” and serve openly in the military. In my day, we served in the military and you got used to the kind of life you lived. It's better today to be able to say you're gay. Believe me, I'm all for gay liberation, but I also understand the difficulties that are involved. I wish it could be different.
MS: Thanks again.