Clark Polak

Clark Polak, Los Angeles, October 5, 1976

Oral Histories Clark Polak 1

Introduction: a Philadelphia-based activist in the 1960s, Clark Polak was a dissenter from the mainstream of the homophile movement.  Not at all interested in respectability politics, he had an outlook that emphasized sexual liberation and freedom and that looked forward in some ways to the Stonewall-and-beyond era.  His interview reveals differences and tensions in the homophile movement, around sexuality, around gender, and around public image.  He also provides a sense of how hard it was growing up with a sense of being gay in the 1940s and 1950s, and how important a book like The Homosexual in America, by Donald Webster Cory, was.




Born 1937 in Philadelphia; raised there, middle-class family. Grew up in Philadelphia, went to Central High School (all boys). 1½ years at Penn Stateflunked out. Worked for a pet store, then a department store. Got fired (one of many jobs he was fired from). Had been in therapy since flunking out. Gayness always there, omnipresent in his thinking – since he was 5 years old.

“Looking for a way to get thrown out of the house,” he told his father he was homosexual. Father says your mother and I have suspected this for some time. The beginning of his becoming sane:  

“It was like a curtain going up.” Had been having sex with his peers from the age of five. Everyone said he was “queer” during high school.

Donald Webster Cory: found his book, The Homosexual in America, while in high school.

“The very fact that the book existed, the title was enough; I used to fantasize that I was the only one. To find a book. ‘Our members are legion!’ I knew what that word meant. It was cataclysmic.” 

Living with a lesbian friend in center city Philadelphia. She told him about the Janus Society—began as Mattachine Society Philadelphia, lesbians running it, most active—May, president, and Joey (lovers). 

New York Mattachine Society a real organization. Janus not functioning. Two topics of conversation: Isn’t it a shame so few? How to get more? We could do so much. And, where to hold next meeting.

Fall of '62:  Polak got involved just at time “Furtive Fraternity” published. Two or three months before. Already brewing; Janus had already been interviewed.Gaeton initiated it, not Janus.

Joan Fraser and Marge McCann (lovers) already in Janus, very involved, there from the beginning. Dick Gayer also involved at the time. (Went to high school together.)

Blames inactivity on fact that lesbians dominated organization. About 40-50 members when Polak elected president. Got office, telephone. Defeated Marge. Elected because he was male.  

Women drop out after Polak elected. Became virtually a one-man organization—Polak didn’t know how to work with others. 

Polak eliminates newsletter. Brings storm of protest. Reinstitutes it. Decides to turn it into something better. 1) Make it more presentable, professional looking. 2) Make it into a magazine, sell it on newsstands to make more presentable—does it—25 copies—all sold. Begins printing more. 3) Dealer suggests pictures.



First works of art. Then dealer says pictures of boys. Muscle magazines beginning to circulate at this time. Polak saw them. Physique magazines. Lynn Womack doing it. (Meanwhile, Janus had basically fallen apart as an organization.) 

Polak decides to do a “real magazine”—the first issue of Drum—says elected president in January; Drum by summer. Published by Janus, but not an organizational mouthpiece. Wanted it to be national, to compete with ONE. “A gay Playboy

“I wanted to put the sex back into homosexuality. I always felt it was important to affirm the sexual aspect. Homosexuals have sex! I didn’t want to deny this.”  Reaction: “resented it on every level”—“inconsistent with everybody’s idea of what the movement should be.” “They really resented the pictures.”

Drum—the name came from the Thoreau quote about a different drummer. 

ECHO—involved before he was president of Janus. Polak got booed when he gave 8/66 SF speech. ECHO didn’t exist when Polak joined Janus—it started soon after that. Got involved in 1962, probably became president in 1964. 1st issue of Drum dated October, but written five months earlier. 

Polak had already stopped going to ECHO before he was expelled for Drum. “Tremendous antipathy to me as an individual”—Polak only had good personal relationship with Frank Kameny. Didn’t get along with Barbara Gittings at all. Bad feelings between him and Dick Leitsch over Polak’s criticism of him in Drum.

Oral Histories Clark Polak 2


Except for Morris Kight, coalition has not ever existed or succeeded.

Polak went to Kansas City meeting, February 1966.  Making arrangements for space—in a physique studio—free.  “The very notion of it was inconceivable. That’s dirty. We’re clean. They looked at it as a physique studio; I looked at it as a free place.”

Big issue at Kansas City was whether the word homophile should be used. Polak’s reaction—changed Janus to Homosexual Law Reform Society—movement was “consumed with irrelevant window dressing.”  Kansas City a “bull shit” conference. “I didn’t have a program either”; not one of the brilliant thinkers of the movement.  “Kameny did the thinking. What came out of his mouth made sense.”  Kameny “abrasive, difficult, and humorless... but smart, a good thinker, and good phrasemaker.”

August 1966 San Francisco meeting:  said movement had to cease being passive, had to become active, get involved in the political process. NACHO “never existed”—a terrible waste of money—“apparent action instead of real action”—thousands of dollars spent in traveling. 

(Polak sent every single scrap of paper from Janus, Homosexual Law Reform Society, to Kinsey Institute) Polak stipulated that names be guarded. Upset to learn that not available to researchers.

Homosexual Law Reform Society: Held public lectures in Philadelphia. Advertised. Fight with papers to put ads that used word “homosexual.” Sheraton Hotel cancelled. “Eternal problem”—finding a public meeting place.

Cory; Gervassi; debated Albert Ellis in public.

After 1966, mostly active through speaking, public appearances and writing.

(Extensive clipping file with his papers at Institute for Sex Research)