"Mark Kendall," January 14, 1993
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2009. All rights reserved.
I interviewed "Mark Kendall," who requested that I use a pseudonym, in January 1993 at his apartment near Rittenhouse Square in Center City, Philadelphia. Tommi Avicolli Mecca had earlier conducted an interview with "Kendall," which I transcribed and hope to make available in the future, but in this case the pseudonym used was "Marvin Fleishner." My interview with "Kendall" was the first I conducted for my Ph.D. dissertation on Philadelphia lesbian and gay history. I was encouraged to contact "Kendall" by an administrative staff member at the University of Pennsylvania, an African American gay man who knew "Kendall" through their mutual involvement in a local chapter of Black and White Men Together or Men of All Colors Together. "Kendall" made a number of corrections (mostly related to the spelling of proper names) to the interview transcript I sent to him; I have incorporated many of these corrections into this edited transcript. Before the taped part of the interview began, "Kendall" provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 26 March 1928
Bold textlace of Birth: Philadelphia
Place of Mother's Birth: Russia (migrated to the United States in 1913)
Mother's Occupation: Textile Plant Worker before Marriage; Housewife after Marriage
Place of Father's Birth: Russia (migrated to the United States in 1911)
Father's Occupation: Post Office Clerk
Religious Background: Jewish
Class Background: Middle Class
1945-60: Philadelphia (916 Pine St.)
1960-63: Philadelphia (2017 Spruce St.)
1963-68: Philadelphia (216 N. 35th St., Powelton Village)
1968-69: Philadelphia (519 W. King St., Germantown)
1969-70: Philadelphia (1727 Vine St., Center City)
1970-71: Philadelphia (1519 Pine St., Center City)
1971-72: Philadelphia (602 S. Washington Square, Center City)
1972: Philadelphia (1532 Naudain St.)
1972-75: 5736 Wynnefield (not Philadelphia)
1975-76: Philadelphia (1801 JFK Parkway)
Late 1940s and Early 1950s: Typist
Late 1950s: Office Manager
1960-65: Computer Programmer
1965-81: Federal Government Worker/Social Security Administration
When I attempted to send a letter to "Kendall" in February 1995, the Post Office returned the letter because "Kendall" had died, which I confirmed through our mutual acquaintance.
Marc Stein Interview with "Mark Kendall" - 14 January 1993. Transcribed by Marc Stein and Abby Schrader.
MS: How and when did you come out?
MK: Well I actually didn't come out, clearly as out, until I was thirty-four years old in 1962. Of course I was aware of my sexual inclination from probably before teenage days. But like many people, especially of my generation, there was an almost schizophrenic split in terms of how I identified myself and how I thought of myself in terms of the world. So of course it was a question of staying in the closet. And even though there was only the same sex fantasized about during masturbation, I still did not identify myself in that fashion and as a teenager dated and was apparently the same as my friends.
MS: You dated girls? You dated women?
MK: Yes, who were all straight.
MS: And you were born in 1928, so we're talking about the '40s.
MK: Yes. I didn't actually come out until 1962, though there were a couple of gay encounters prior to that. And I knew some gay people and actually went, every now and then, with them to one of the gay bars, very early for their existence here in Philadelphia.
MS: When were those?
MK: The first one I remember going to was in 1950. It was called the New Look. It was near Broad and Spruce. It later had a different name. I think it was Bradford's. And then it became the Allegro, which was its most famous name and operation until it closed.
MS: So how did you end up going to this bar in 1950 if you weren't identified as gay.
MK: That's a funny story. I was married briefly in 1950. And when I proposed to my ex-wife, it was with disclosure. I told her I had homosexual inclinations. And she told me that she would not agree to marry me unless I did something about that in terms of having homosexual encounters because, as she put it, otherwise I'd be only half a person and she wanted to marry a whole person. She talked a very good game. And so we were engaged and of course we had premarital sex. We both agreed that that was important. And I was able to do it, not that that's any enormous accomplishment. And apparently she was satisfied. And I proposed in May of 1950. Early in July that year, we took a week's vacation together, she from her job and I from mine. And we went to Atlantic City, where we registered in an Italian hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Mark Derosi. That was her idea because Derosi has eros in it and blah blah blah. So we stayed there and we had sex like crazy during that week.
MS: Were you there getting married?
MK: No, no, no. That was pre-marriage. We didn't get married until September.
MS: I see.
MK: And I mean some of us did do that terrible thing of having premarital sex even way back in 1950.
MS: I don't think you were alone.
MK: I'm sure. In fact I know I wasn't. So that was the last night of our vacation, a Saturday night. We had gone to one of the amusement piers in Atlantic City. It was called Hammond's Million Dollar Pier. And just under the ferris wheel, in sort of a shadowy area, we kissed. And then we left that pier, walking back toward the hotel, which was on the other side of Convention Hall in Atlantic City from where the pier was. And as we had left, after we left the pier, we're walking down, Margaret said to me, "There's somebody following us." I said, "What do you mean somebody's following us? There are hundreds, thousands of people following us. There are essentially two directions you can walk in." She said, "No." She said, "Somebody saw us in the pier and followed us out." So we got to Convention Hall and there was a kind of rotunda, a semi-circle, an arc at the beach end of the boardwalk just opposite Convention Hall. And there were sections with railings and there were pillars separating the sections. We walked into that and stopped to look out, as it were, to the sea. And somebody walked past us and Margaret said, "See, that was the person following us." And I didn't really see. And I said, "You can't be sure." So we left, continued on, and sure enough there was a man, apparently the one who had followed us, standing at the next little section. And it was clear that he was aware of us because one could see his back stiffen as we walked by. Well we got to the end of that section. Apparently it was a homosexual trysting spot because there were maybe a dozen men hanging around.
MS: And did he have his eye on you?
MK: Well apparently. And at that time of course I was twenty-two. And my ex-wife had sort of a very well filled out figure. And so I guess I seemed to be appealing from that point of view. So there was a very noticeable stirring among the fellows hanging around there. And we had gotten about twenty feet past them when Margaret suddenly let go of my hand and said, "I want you to go back and pick one of them up." I could have fallen through a crack in the boardwalk. So I said, "We better go talk about this." We went about a block farther down, stopped at a boardwalk-type luncheonette coffeeshop, and had a coffee. And I agreed that I would go back and look for the person that followed us because he was the one that seemed most interesting to me. But I would give her my wallet and watch. I was so totally inexperienced. I didn't know what I would be letting myself in for.
MS: You were afraid of being taken advantage of?
MK: Yeah, or robbed or whatever. And of course it was a kind of sub-transference of my fear of the act itself, of that kind of encounter. I agreed to do it only (she wrote very well by the way) if she would spend that time back in the hotel room writing a short story about a homosexual encounter. Because I wanted to make sure that the reality of what was happening was clear in her mind as well. So I went back to that spot and everyone was gone. I thought for a moment I was saved. And then somebody came up and in a very original approach asked me if I had the time. I didn't have my watch on. And it turned out it was the man who had followed us and we started talking. And he had a hotel room and I agreed to go back to his hotel room with him. And of course everything was very much sub rosa. Our behavior, our walk, there was nothing to indicate that there was anything untoward that would be going on. And we stopped in a little store. We wanted to pick up a container of milk. After we talked for awhile, he dropped the American accent. He was British, from Britain. And so he felt free enough to speak naturally to me. And he was an actor with a summer stock company. And we went back to his room. And I couldn't receive comfortably. I was so tight. Afterwards I got up and sat by the window, just staring out and sort of trying to sort things out. The thing wasn't at all satisfactory to me. I thought it was too much of what later was called a "bam-slam, thank you ma'am" kind of thing. We didn't really know each other. There was no foreplay. I was aware at the time, thinking about it, that this was not a good representative sample of what the type of encounter more ideally could be.
MS: Was he a similar age to you?
MK: No, he was about ten years older. He woke up and was very nervous when I wasn't in bed, wondering if I was going to steal from him apparently. I was by the window. And by the time I got back to he hotel where Margaret and I were staying, it was daylight. Of course I got dirty looks from the people in the hotel. Margaret had been born in Europe and had lived in Italy from the time she was three to twelve and spoke fluent Italian among other languages. Of course the people in this Italian hotel just loved her. And so I was the bad boy, obviously out all night. And I went back to the hotel room. She looked up at me. And I asked her if she wrote the story. And she said yes. She asked me. I told her I met this person whose name was Frank. And I said, "Before we talk or do anything else, let's have sex." I felt that we each had to know that we could relate to each other in that fashion after it. And that worked fine physically. And it was the first time I started to realize that it didn't really satisfy me fully. The physical thing, of course, one has an orgasm so there is a certain sensation that inevitably accompanies that. But psychologically, as I'm sure you're aware, it's not satisfying. So we did that and I read her story, which was excellent and indicated a kind of understanding that was surprising. But she's very talented.
MS: So then later, she was still willing after that to get married.
MK: Yes. We got married September 24th that year.
MS: That's actually my birthday.
MK: Oh how interesting. Well obviously you're twenty-nine so you were born in 19...
MS: '63. A little bit later, right. You got married in 1950, then?
MS: And how long were you married?
MK: Just until the end of the year we stayed together. For one thing, after we married, she changed. I realized that she was the most mendacious person I'd ever met. She had, for example, told another couple and me one night back in the spring about what she had suffered in a concentration camp and had the three of us in tears. And after we were married I found out from her father that none of them had ever been in a concentration camp.
MS: Oh wow.
MK: They left Italy in 1940 at about the time when Mussolini was forced by Hitler to take care of the Jews, who up until then had been living very nicely in Italy. And they lived in Portugal for almost two years. And then they lived in a displaced persons camp in Jamaica. And certainly a displaced person's camp is not a concentration camp.
MS: Right, right.
MK: So that was one thing. And she lied about so many things. And it got to the point where I just couldn't stand that, as well as the fact that I was living a lie. Because while we were having sex, I was fantasizing that some man was doing to me what I was doing to her.
MS: Did you have specific men in mind? Do you remember?
MK: No. Well sometimes it was somebody I saw in the street or somebody I barely knew. But usually it was just someone imaginary.
MS: Now you had started to talk about going to the bar.
MK: The person, Frank it was, moved to Philadelphia that fall. Or actually it was in the winter. It was just about the time that Margaret and I separated. And he was in Philadelphia proper for about a month or so. And then he took a job in Norristown. And he was the one who took me to the New Look.
MS: That was still in 1950?
MK: That was in 1951. I guess that would have been January or February of 1951.
MS: Do you remember anything about walking into the bar, what you saw?
MK: Yes I do. Well, the bar was on three levels. And the first level there were all these men standing around and we sort of stopped on the second level. And I listened for awhile to the people talking and I was very much turned off. They were what was later called a bunch of piss elegant queens. And there was affected mannerism. And to me they all seemed clones of one another. They all sounded alike and looked alike. And I was really turned off. And they were all so many of them trying to be so terribly clever. And there was little that was relaxed or natural about it. So that didn't help me feel any more relaxed about it. In fact, it just got me more defensive.
MS: Was there dancing there?
MK: Not then, no. This was 1950. No, not in Philadelphia. Dancing was absolutely illegal.
MS: Is that right?
MS: Did you have a sense that the bar might be raided.
MK: The bars were raided, in fact, fairly regularly.
MS: Any one that you were ever in in the '50s?
MK: Not at the time that I was ever in one. I was not in them that often through the '50s. Maybe a handful of times. Or not much more than that. Of course later on, I went during the '50s a couple of times with a friend, someone I knew from high school who was gay, to a bar called Maxine's that had a rather good restaurant as part of it. I went sometimes with him and perhaps one or two others to the restaurant.
MS: Where was that?
MK: It's where Raffles is now. It's on Camac Street between Spruce and Locust.
MK: And for many, many years, it was Maxine's. And for many years it was the bar in Philadelphia. And of course it was the piss elegant.
MS: So I'm curious about the people who were in both the New Look and Maxine's. Was it all men? Were there lesbians?
MK: It was all men and they were all white.
MS: I know this might call for some speculation, but if a lesbian or if a black gay man tried to walk in the door?
MK: Well I know from finding out later on that blacks were absolutely discouraged from going there. In fact there was a kind of line of demarcation for many years, even into the '60s, where black gays only went north of Market and south of Pine or Lombard. There were a few hidden away, almost private type places for black gays on South Street and below. And there were certainly, from the '50s, a couple of bars north of Market Street.
MS: But you didn't know about them?
MK: I didn't know about them at that time.
MS: I have another question about that actually. It seem there's some evidence that there was a drag parade down South Street.
MK: Yes there was. There's not some evidence, there actually was. On Locust Street.
MS: Locust Street?
MK: Yeah, it was from 13th Street going east on Locust at Halloween.
MS: Now how early do you remember that?
MK: Oh, I remember that from the '40s, when I was in my teens. But it was stopped, I guess, around '62, '63 by Captain Ferguson.
MS: Right, yes, I've read some stories about that. But it's the parade in the '40s and '50s that I haven't seen any material about.
MK: Well it was very well-known. In fact, I think it was known internationally, because my understanding is that there were people who came to Philadelphia from all over the world pretty much especially for that. And the outfits, some of them were very expensive. It was not uncommon to see mink coats on some of the people who were in drag.
MS: And it was always on Locust Street?
MK: It was always on Locust Street as far as I know.
MS: Right. Do you remember going as a teenager?
MK: I remember hearing about it. I didn't go as a teenager. I'm not sure what year was the first time I saw it, but it was probably not 'til the mid- to late '50s.
MS: Did it have a name?
MK: Not that I recall, no. It may have.
MS: The name I've heard has been Bitches Christmas.
MS: Bitches what?
MS: Bitches Christmas.
MK: Christmas? I don't remember it on Christmas. I remember it on Halloween.
MS: No, it was on Halloween. What was it like. Was it a long parade?
MK: Well it seemed like it was at least two blocks long for all the people.
MS: And it was all drag?
MK: It was pretty much all drag.
MS: And was it straight men dressing up?
MK: There's no way of knowing. But the impression was that it was mostly gay men, if not exclusively.
MS: Interesting. And now why don't we go back to the '50s and the bars. You said you were in them a couple of times. Mostly they were all white gay men.
MK: Yes. I don't remember at that time any women. Back in the '50s, there was a lesbian bar in Center City. I think it was called the Surf. And that was on a little street just east of Broad. And I guess it was between Spruce and Locust.
MS: And you were saying that you never were in a bar when there was a raid. Did any of your friends ever have trouble with the law?
MK: Well I heard about it. In the '50s I didn't have that many gay friends. The friend that I had from high school, he moved. He was a musician. He won a kind of fellowship to be a protege of Pierre Monteux who was then conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. And I guess it was in 1950 or so that he went out there. And then two years later he came back and he lived in Philadelphia for awhile. And then he moved to New York. And he came back frequently for visits. And it was mainly through him that I went to Maxine's.
MS: How did he ask you or you ask him if you were closeted?
MK: Well he tried to have sex with me and I only went part of the way. And I did not open up to him.
MS: When did that happen?
MK: It started at first in the late '40s.
MS: So while you were in high school. Was this while you were in high school?
MK: No it was after high school.
MS: And do you remember what happened?
MK: Well he made it clear what his inclinations were. And I would let him sleep up close to me when he had an erection but we didn't really do anything.
MS: I see.
MK: I guess he didn't want to push it. And he thought that maybe I'd like to become more flexible. And I might have if I had been more attracted to him.
MS: Right. Did he ever or did Frank ever have trouble with the law? Or the friends that you had in the '50s?
MK: I didn't really stay good friends with Frank. I thought he was a little too aggressive with younger fellows who were not all that certain as to which road they wanted to travel on.
MS: Well maybe we should shift gears and move into the '60s, when you came out.
MK: Sure. Yeah well that was in 1961, I guess. And it was through the intervention of a straight friend, interestingly, who was then living in Italy. And he was a very close friend. In fact, we're still good friends. And I had told him about my feelings, which I had not really acted out, except every now and then by accident it would sort of happen as a chance encounter. And a friend of his was visiting, a straight man who was a lay psychoanalyst and who apparently knew some of the people in the Mattachine Society. And so my friend, Don, suggested to this fellow that he call me when he got back to Philadelphia and introduce himself as somebody that Don had suggested he contact me and invite me out to a Mattachine thing. And Mattachine was having a kind of open house.
MS: By any chance was his name Bertrom Karon?
MS: Dr. Bertrom Karon.
MK: No, no, no, no. It was Harold Stern.
MS: That was the British doctor.
MK: No, no, he wasn't a British doctor. He was American. A Philadelphian, in fact. A lay analyst.
MS: And was he gay himself?
MK: No, no, he was not.
MS: He was just going to Mattachine?
MK: Yes. I don't really know why. Harold had many strange notions about things. But anyway, that worked well for me. He took me out to an open house. The president of the Mattachine was a woman, Mae Polakoff.
MS: Mae Polakoff?
MS: That was in 1961 that you went to a meeting.
MK: Mmhm [assent]. It was in her house in Southwest Philly that she shared with her lover, another woman whose nickname was Joey, I think Josephine, but I don't remember her last name. And the two of them shared the house.
MS: O.K., I have some addresses here. Maybe it was one of these places.
MK: It was on Upland Street.
MS: What street?
MK: It was on Upland.
MS: Upland Street?
MK: Upland Way, yeah.
MS: I've read somewhere, in one of the newsletters I think, that the officers in early '61 were Mae Josias.
MK: No, no. It was Mae Polakoff.
MS: They must have been using false names.
MS: Then I have Harold Stern.
MK: That was '61. I was an officer in '62-63. I was a vice president.
MS: You were?
MS: And then I have Joan Fraser and Ralph White.
MK: It was Joan Friedman.
MS: That was her real name?
MS: And then Ralph White, does that ring a bell?
MK: No, I don't know who that was.
MS: So you went to this first meeting on Upland Street with Harold Stern.
MK: Yeah, he took me there.
MS: How many people were there?
MK: Oh it was a kind of open house buffet type thing. It wasn't a meeting, It was more of a party. And I guess there were about thirty people there.
MS: Do you remember what time of year?
MK: Well I think it was May.
MS: Mostly men? Mostly women?
MK: It was a mixture.
MS: Would you say pretty even?
MK: It was pretty close to even. And the membership at that time was pretty evenly mixed.
MS: And was it also mixed racially?
MK: Well there was one black woman there and there was one black man.
MS: But that's all you remember.
MK: Yes. There were two black men who occasionally came to a meeting or were on the fringe and then there was one who I think was of mixed ancestry, I think was black and Italian.
MS: Can you describe for me what happened at this open house?
MK: Well the open house itself, it was just very social. They were interested in me, of course. I was a new face. And they gave me the information as to the next meeting. They met once a month, as I recall, at that time. And I went to the next meeting. I went to several meetings. I went through the summer. And I didn't say anything. There were discussions and so forth. And one of the more masculine-type lesbians, her nickname was Rocky, and well she was down-to-earth. Most of the people were really very nice. And I liked them. They were totally different from the pretentious groups that I saw in the bars. And I felt much more comfortable with these people. And at one point finally, I guess it must have been October of '61, Rocky finally came out and asked me. She had me pinned literally to the wall, as it were. I guess there were maybe a dozen people at the meeting. She said, "[Mark], you've been coming around." She said, "Tell us once and for all: are you or are you not gay?"
MS: And what did you say?
MK: I hedged and said, "Well I've been coming here." I still could not directly answer it.
MS: Why do you think it was she who finally asked you that?
MK: I don't know why it was she. She tended to be more aggressive than the other people. And she tended to be less patient with social protocol.
MS: Do you think also it was a little safer because she wasn't a man and you might have interpreted a man....
MK: No, no, I don't know if it was that. I think she was more aggressive than most of the men that were there. And it was she who had the black lover, a very striking black woman named Tiffany, who was I think studying law at the time.
MS: Do you remember Rocky's full name?
MK: No I don't.
MS: So can you tell me what those first few meetings of Mattachine were like?
MK: For awhile there was a discussion, because apparently the main group that was in California had asked all the local groups to change their names. They wanted to be divested. They wanted them divested from the main group. And New York never changed. And Washington never changed. And a number of other places never changed. But we in Philadelphia had a contest and it was decided that we would pick Janus.
MS: Do you remember who suggested the name?
MK: Yeah, it was Joey, in fact, Mae's friend.
MS: And do you remember her full name?
MK: No I don't.
MS: And do you know how she came up with the idea?
MK: Oh I don't know. She actually was a factory worker. She was not a highly educated woman. And Mae wasn't either, but Mae worked professionally as a public stenographer. She had an office in what was then the Fox Building at 16th and Market.
MS: Stenographer, you said.
MK: Yeah, she was a public stenographer. She had her own office.
MS: I see. And you said her last name was Polakoff?
MK: Polakoff. P. O. L. A. K. O. F. F.
MS: And so she suggested this at a meeting?
MK: It was her friend Joey who submitted it, along with the names that were submitted.
MS: And how was it decided?
MK: Well we took a voice vote. And I don't remember any of the other suggestions.
MS: Were there people who wanted to keep the name Mattachine?
MK: There were a few, but most of the people who had a voice, that was Mae and I--I was not an officer yet at that point--Joan Friedman, who was a secretary, and a fellow named Irwin. I can't think of his first name. Irwin was his last name. And Bill Moldowney. He and his friend Frank Stoller [later] lived at 1500 Locust. And a few others. It was most of the regulars. We decided that we'd just as well change the name. So that was when we decided on Janus.
MS: What sort of things did the Mattachine Society and then the early Janus Society do aside from hold meetings?
MK: Well we really had, as far as I was aware and even at the time that I was an officer, no real contact with the main office. And in 1963, it was decided to have a kind of convention. And the acronym was ECHO for East Coast Homophile Organizations. And it was with the New York Mattachine, New Jersey Daughters of Bilitis, and the Philadelphia Janus and the Washington Mattachine.
MS: When you say New Jersey DOB, was that Barbara Gittings's group out of New York City.
MK: No, no. Well the two women who were very active in it then we knew lived in New Brunswick.
MS: I see. Do you remember their names?
MK: No I don't.
MK: Aside from the convention, because I've read a good amount of material on the convention itself, I'm wondering what else the Mattachine and the early Janus did. Were there public talks that you remember?
MK: No, there weren't. But there was something you must have heard about: the article in the Philadelphia Magazine.
MS: "The Furtive...."
MK: "The Furtive Fraternity." And I was among the about seven or eight people who were interviewed for that by Gaeton Fonzi.
MS: And how did that article happen?
MK: Apparently Gaeton Fonzi had the idea of doing this. And he got in contact with Mae, who was president and asked for volunteers. Explained he was doing this article. And several of us met with him. And decided that he was honest and trustworthy.
MS: And were you satisfied with the article?
MK: Yes. We were. Though, as an aside, I can tell you about the famous or infamous Clark Polak, who was just arriving on the scene then. He kept us anonymous, as he promised to. The article was excellent. It was really at that time a breakthrough. And the Philadelphia Magazine had a much smaller circulation then. And I believe it was distributed largely gratis to many Philadelphia businesses and companies. So it was an important magazine for that type of article to appear in. And we felt it was fine and it was a breakthrough. It was in '63, toward the end of '63, when Mae decided that she didn't want to run for office anymore. Joan had had personal problems. Joan had been head of the English department at a high school in New Jersey and somehow it got out about her being a lesbian and she was fired.
MS: Is that right?
MK: Yeah. And she had difficulty getting a job. And finally she did get a job.
MS: Did the fact that it came out have anything to do with her involvement with Mattachine?
MK: No, no. I don't think so. I mean she continued to be involved with Janus. But it took awhile, at least six months, perhaps more, before she actually got a job. And that was in Pennsylvania, I think in one of the Montgomery County high schools. But of course she started as a teacher. I mean she couldn't start as the head of the English Department, which she had been. So she was getting less active. Mae decided that she didn't want the headache of being president anymore. I decided I had sort of given back to the Society what they had given me. Because they had helped me really come out. And I didn't want to do it anymore. Beside, they had started me out as coordinator for ECHO. And I drove up to New York and down to Washington. And the people in New York, who had had a great deal of experience with conventions, were totally unhelpful. And I was totally green. I had no idea about how to organize such a thing or how to contact people. I didn't know anything and the people in New York weren't at all helpful to me. And I realized after awhile that there were two fellows who were lovers who were alternately president and so forth in successive years.
MS: In New York.
MK: Of the New York Mattachine. And they were so typical of a number of others that I met later, even after I was not in any organization, who had their egos involved. They were really mediocre people who had not achieved much success in the world at large and they were very happy to be big fish in a little pond.
MS: What were the two New Yorkers' names?
MK: One was named Curtis.
MS: Curtis Dewees?
MS: Was the other Albert De Dion?
MK: Yeah. So I resigned. And I had driven up to New York several times. I had driven down to Washington. Frank Kameny was as helpful as he could be. He was involved with the Washington group. And I threw my hands up and I said I can't do this.
MS: You had been vice president.
MK: I was vice president but they had made me coordinator of ECHO. And nobody else took it and New York had promised they would help me and they didn't.
MS: When was this?
MS: So this was leading up to the Philadelphia conference.
MK: Yes it was, which was in September of '63, at the Drake.
MS: Right. So when did you resign that?
MK: I resigned as coordinator, I guess, in June, later June.
MS: Was it Joan Friedman who picked up?
MK: Yes, yes, Joan. But she did get a lot of help from the New York people. Finally they came through and arranged for an awful lot. And so it was actually a quite successful affair. But it was near the end of '63 and Mae no longer wanted to be involved and I didn't. And Clark had just come in. And one could see that, whatever was motivating him, he was an "opportunist." And so I thought I would fill him in on a number of things. He had a house that he was doing over, building over, on Naudain, or one of the little streets there.
MS: Was it on the 1500 block of Pine Street maybe?
MK: It wasn't on Pine. But I think it was the 1500 block of Naudain. It was below Pine definitely and it was a little street. And it still had some open areas in the house, I remember, when I went there. And I took him my copy of the Philadelphia Magazine that had that "Furtive Fraternity" article in it. And he promised that I could get it back in a week or so, which I did.
MS: Which you did?
MK: I did. But his comment about it I thought was very revealing. He didn't think much of the article because it didn't tell him anything he didn't know. And I tried to point out to him that the article wasn't written for him and it wasn't written for gay people. But that didn't penetrate.
MS: What did you know about his background before he got involved?
MK: Not very much.
MS: Was he from Philadelphia?
MK: Frankly I wasn't interested enough to find out. And Mae wasn't. And some of us felt that we were leaving the Janus in not very good hands. But some of the more dependable people were no longer coming around anyway.
MS: Let me just ask you about this. The earliest trace I have of him is that he was actually arrested in 1957 for disorderly conduct. Does that ring a bell?
MK: No, I know nothing about that. I never knew anything about that.
MS: I also know that he seems to have helped organize a lecture that Cory gave here in January of '63 that a lot of people came to.
MK: January of '63?
MS: Does that ring a bell?
MK: Donald Webster Cory?
MS: That's right.
MK: The man who wrote The Homosexual in America?
MS: I remember where I read this. When Polak was running to be the president of Janus, it's one of the things that he said that he had done.
MK: It would not have been in January '63. It would have been in January of '64 that he was running for president. Because in January of '63 and through '63, Mae was still president and I was still vice president.
MS: But could he have been helping out?
MK: Not very much. And I don't really remember Donald Webster Cory. We did have several speakers that we arranged. There was a speaker, I remember we used the Essex Hotel, for the man who was the gay minister, I think, of the Riverside Church in New York. It was a gay congregation.
MS: What I have notes for is in '61 a talk that Robert Sherwin, who was a lawyer, gave at the East End Club. And then another talk that Bertram Karon, who was a psychiatrist, gave in January of '62. That's the earliest stuff that I've seen. And the Cory lecture, I think it was also held at a big city hotel.
MK: I would have remembered that, I think, because I think I had already read his book.
MS: Right. O.K., well maybe we should just go back then to Polak. So I know that he ran against someone named Marjorie Miller. Any recollection of who she is?
MS: It's possible, I think, that it was Marjorie McCann using a different name.
MK: I don't remember that name because I was pretty much out of it by the time and so was Mae and so were several of the others. But that wouldn't have been before 1964.
MS: Right. So you were saying that you didn't have the best impressions of Polak. Can you say something more about that?
MK: Well I was suspicious, and so were one or two others, of what might have been motivating him. I was really at that point more involved in actually my own acting out much of what I had repressed for so many years.
MK: And I had gotten into the bar scene. And I was not that aware of much of what was happening with the Janus. I remember there were a couple of people who were not alarmed exactly but a bit apprehensive about Clark taking over and asked me if I would run for president. I said no.
MS: Why were they suspicious?
MK: There was something. He just didn't come through well in all the meetings and some of his ideas seemed to be quite inappropriate. And the one thing I know of where his reaction was inappropriate was what I quoted to you about his reaction to that article. I mean, if nothing else, that indicated that his head was certainly not screwed on right as far as being the leader of a gay organization, especially then, when so much of what was going on was still in the closet. Remember this was even pre-'64 and the Civil Rights Act in general. Bars were still being raided. The vice squad was still very active. The vice squad was active into the '70s. MS: Right, right. Did you have any strong impressions of the magazine Drum that Polak started putting out?
MK: I never read it.
MS: I know there were big debates about his using physique photography and then nude photography.
MK: Well, as I said, I think his judgment left a bit to be desired.
MS: O.K., well maybe we should get back to the life that you were leading in the '60s. You were saying that you were going out the bars more.
MK: It was actually some of the people in the Janus who really helped me come out. They took me around to several bars. Some of them I knew about. I knew about the Pirate Ship. And I'd known about it from its early stage because of a funny coincidence. Back before it was the Pirate Ship, it was a place called the Locust House and it was straight. And in the late '40s, mid to late '40s, there was a group of us who used to stand in line Saturday nights to go up to the amphitheater in the Academy of Music for the Saturday night concert. And we would later repair to a restaurant. Frequently it was either Robert's on 13th Street, a deli, or Latimer's, on 15th Street. But occasionally we would go to the Locust House. The Harvey House then was at 15th and Locust. It was where Winston's is now, where Winston's used to be. And it was long before 1500 was built. The Locust House was a bar. We were too young to be served alcohol but we had hamburgers and the like and soda. And that was one of the places where we enjoyed eating. They were never busy and we could really talk there. Well of course when we got to be eighteen, nineteen, the crowd dispersed. People went away to college and some went in the army. This was a mixed group, men, girls, a straight group, except for the one I knew from Central, from high school. And so I hadn't gone in there for several years. And one day I walked in by myself and it was the Pirate Ship.
MS: When was that?
MK: In the '50s. And it was wall-to-wall men. And I didn't want to turn around and walk out. I felt like I was really running the proverbial gauntlet. And I walked through to the back. And apparently they had only recently changed ownership and changed clientele. And I found a little booth, just one that could only seat two in the back and sat down. And one of the waitresses who still worked there, who had waited on us years before at the Locust House, came up. And she nearly dropped whatever she was carrying when she saw me there. And I ordered a scotch. And she brought it and I said, "This place certainly seems to have changed its clientele." And she said, "I'll say it has and we don't like it very much and we're going to get rid of them." And I thought to myself, "Ahah, the Locust House never had it so good."
MS: The waitress was straight?
MK: Yeah. And I don't think any of them lasted very long.
MS: What do you think changed? Do you think the owner wanted it to be gay?
MK: I think it was a new owner. And I think that probably there were connections with the gay community. And there was a real need. There were so few gay bars around at that time.
MS: But there's a lot of talk that says that a lot of the gay bars were owned by organized crime.
MK: If it was so, I don't know that. I have no idea about it then. I remember hearing talk about a couple of the places in the '70s, like the Steps. There was a rumor that there was a part of the New York Mafia that owned that. But no, you hear things and there's no way of confirming that. When I was taken around to the different bars by a couple of the people in the Janus Society, at some of them they sort of introduced me.
MS: Who were the two who took you around?
MK: There were two fellows who lived together on Walnut Street who were named Max and Steve. And they were very nice people who were not terribly bright.
MS: Were they lovers?
MK: Yeah. And open with it, too, because they used to each fool around. And they would bring people back to their place. They had I think pretty much the whole second floor in the 2100 block of Walnut.
MS: Did they ever bring you back?
MK: Not me, but they would bring somebody back with me for me.
MS: I see.
MK: And I could not ever really function like that. Also the ones they tended to pick up were more or less the hustler type. And it just didn't sit with me. But I was just learning about it. But one day, in the winter, they took me to the Ritz. That was a bar on 13th Street, 13th and Commerce, just north of Market. And it was the first time I was in a truly interracial bar. And we were there only for a drink and I got a feel for the atmosphere. I thought, "Ah this is for me."
MS: It was black and white men?
MS: Were there women there as well?
MK: Hardly any, no. Well back then, there wasn't really very much mixing with women. I was happy with the Janus that there were men and women with it. But there was still a lot of hostility between the two. Many gay men didn't like women at all and didn't like lesbians. And many lesbians wanted to have nothing to do with gay men.
MS: Can you talk about why, what you think was going on?
MK: I think it was just the ordinary type of xenophobia. There was lack of familiarity, lack of contact. Like many of the race problems that still exist are, I think, largely because there isn't enough social contact. And there wasn't social contact between gay men and lesbians.
MS: But you were saying that Janus and Mattachine was an exception.
MK: I would say it was certainly an exception.
MS: And as far as race was concerned, the Ritz was an exception.
MK: Yes. Now there was another bar where it was mixed, around the corner. It was on Filbert Street, called Track 7. But that catered more toward hustlers.
MS: That was racially mixed?
MK: That was not as well-mixed as the Ritz. So that was, I guess, probably January of '62.
MS: That you went to the Ritz.
MK: That they took me to the Ritz. It took me until June of '62 to get the courage to go there by myself.
MS: Can you describe the scene at the Ritz? What did it look like?
MK: Well it was a long, narrow bar. The bar was accessible on two sides. Very narrow. It extended all the way to the back. There were a few stalls at right angles to the length of the bar at the very front near where one came in. And then across, I guess about six, seven feet of space, from the bar, were five booths running along the wall, the largest of them, which was semi-circular, at the very last booth. It had a very relaxed and convivial atmosphere, as I remember, aside from the fact that, for one thing, it was not fancy. It didn't have those cheap doo-dads that some of the bars that considered themselves elegant had.
MS: Did it play different music?
MK: No, it was pretty much the same music on the jukebox, as I recall. I wasn't all that interested in jukebox music. MS: That was not why you were there. So can you describe the first time you went by yourself.
MK: Oh yes, very, very clearly. It's etched. Of course it took me a long time to get around to doing it. And even though I lived at the 2000 block of Spruce, I drove over there and parked on Arch Street and therefore went in Track 7 first, though I knew I really wanted to go to the Ritz. And I stopped in Track 7 and had a drink. And it was getting fairly late then. It was Friday night, June 2nd, I think.
MS: You remember the day? June 2nd?
MK: I think it was June 2nd. Early June, I believe it was a Friday night. I can later check to see if that year was '62. Anyway, I saw a fellow come in, a light-skinned black fellow, very nicely dressed. I guess it was fairly cool that night for early June. He had a topcoat and a hat. And I noticed him but he was apparently looking for someone. And he just came in the front door. I could see him because I was seated. It was a rectangular bar where one could sit around the four sides of it in there. And I was at the narrow far end where I could face the door. And he looked around and then left. So I finally got myself over to the Ritz and I sat at the bar near the back. And I guess I wasn't there an hour, hour and a half or so. It was getting on toward closing.
MS: When did it close?
MK: Two o'clock. And while I was sitting near the back, the same fellow that I'd seen walk into Track 7 came in. That sounds almost like fiction. And he ordered two six-packs of beer to go. So I couldn't resist. We hadn't met of course. I said, "Who's gonna' drink all that beer?" And he turned and gave me a look and said, "Why we are." And so then he explained that he was with people, that he would have at least to give them one of the six-packs. And then we had a discussion. He had a car and I had a car. But he didn't live in Philadelphia. He lived in the suburbs. So we decided we would go in my car to go back to my place. So we went back to my place.
MS: Where were you living again then?
MK: 2017 Spruce. And my mother was out of town for the summer. She had gone early that day.
MS: So you were still living with your family then?
MK: With my mother, yes. No, I didn't divorce her until '63. So it didn't work out that well that night, but we exchanged numbers. And I talked to him again in July. And we had a thing near the end of July up until around October. I saw him every Saturday night?
MS: Romantically? Saw him romantically?
MS: I mean were you dating? Were you seeing each other?
MK: Yeah, but I told him I was not being monogamous. I explained that I was just out. And I wasn't ready to settle down. And he was five years older. I was thirty-four, he was thirty-nine. And he had been out for twenty years. And he had some friends who had houses with many bedrooms. So we would go there. It was really very nice. There was a friend of his who lived on Haverford Avenue in West Philly who had a five-bedroom house. And there was another friend who lived on the 5900 block of Arch Street who had a four-bedroom house. And on different Saturday nights, we went either to Haverford Avenue or to Arch Street.
MS: So they would just open up their houses?
MK: Oh, yes.
MS: Do you think that was common among Philadelphia gay men?
MK: Not that common, but among some, yes. But these were both black men. And they were very hospitable. And so much so. One of them, there was one bedroom, a middle bedroom, that was always reserved for Herbie and me for Saturday nights.
MS: That was his name, Herbie?
MK: Yeah. Herbie Lewis. He a few years later committed suicide.
MS: Is that right?
MS: His last name was Lewis?
MK: Lewis, yeah. There was a night stand next to the bed and very thoughtfully a tube of KY in the top drawer. But also the next day, Sunday, there would be a big brunch, all kinds of wonderful food.
MS: And did a lot of people come by?
MK: Not that many. Maybe half a dozen or so.
MS: Other black gay men?
MS: Other gay men though.
MS: Now you had said that when you walked into the Ritz, you felt like it was your kind of place because it was interracial.
MK: Because it was interracial. One thing, I was always strongly opposed to prejudice of any kind. My father worked for the post office. And he had black friends. And there was a black friend of his that used to come to visit, one of his co-workers, to play chess with him. And in fact that's how I learned to play chess, probably when I was about three, simply from watching. At the age of three, or as a child, like many children, I had a virtual perfect memory. It's not that uncommon for very young children. So I was able to pick up the game. I picked up the moves simply by watching them. And I realized when I was still pretty young that my family was a bit different from other Jewish families that I met in school and so forth in that they also had Gentile friends. And we visited Gentile friends and they visited us. And the family was not only vocally opposed to prejudice of any sort but lived that way. So I was raised that way. And I was always upset and angered by any kind of prejudice anywhere. And one of the things I really objected to, later on in the gay community, was prejudice. And as an aside, I found it interesting the number of gay men I met who were prejudiced differently. They were attracted only to blacks. And they automatically assumed that that was true with me. And it wasn't. I was attracted to a particular type, which I could not ever really name exactly, except that being masculine was perhaps the chief or most immediate discernible attribute. And of course the Ritz was such a far cry from Maxine's and the Drury Lane, which I know had opened by then, and the Allegro and so forth that I was drawn to it. And also there was the lack of pretentiousness there. And so after that June in '62 when I met Herbie Lewis, I went there almost nightly. And I met quite a few people there, some who became very good friends. Not sexual partners but friends. And it was interesting that I met people there from all walks of life. There were people, very accomplished people, who didn't have to prove anything to anybody. There were doctors and lawyers as well as ditch-diggers and warehouse people. There were some ex-convicts, not many at that time. Of course back in the '60s one didn't have to worry about drugs, nor even really being ripped off. That was a rarity.
MS: Did you have friends who were ex-cons?
MK: I met a few.
MS: Did they ever talk about homosexuality in prison?
MK: I remember asking them about it. And they said that it was rampant.
MS: And did any of the friends that you made at that point have trouble with the law?
MK: There were some. I remember I somehow missed the raids. But there was one night, back in the '60s, I guess in '64 maybe, somewhere around then, when I was there on a night it was raided. And I was among the people they didn't take.
MK: They did not take everybody.
MS: How do you think they picked?
MK: Well I think they were going largely by age and maybe general appearance. Also I tended, I'm a bit old-fashioned, I virtually always, except in the summertime, wore a shirt and a tie and a jacket.
MS: When you said age, do you mean...?
MK: I was older.
MS: So they were arresting younger people?
MK: Yes, yeah.
MS: And can you describe the experience of watching the police come in and what happened?
MK: Well it was outrageous.
MS: How many police came in?
MK: There were perhaps as many police outside as the ones who came in. There were only about four, maybe five who came in. Apparently there were more outside. There were at least three large patrol wagons outside.
MS: How many people did they take away?
MK: More than twenty, I guess. Probably thirty to forty. It was a crowded night.
MS: Mostly white, mostly black, or both?
MS: But mostly young, you said.
MK: Mostly young and I was not really looking at it from the point of view of seeing whether they were taking more blacks than whites. It's just that those of us who were left afterwards were generally thirty or older. And there were several black men who weren't taken who were still there who were thirty-ish, forty-ish.
MS: Did the police say hostile things while they were doing this?
MK: No, no. Only very roughly they'd tell you "line up over there" or ask for identification.
MS: Did they ask for your identification?
MK: No. No, they didn't ask for my i.d. So that was the only time.
MS: Did they take away any of the bartenders or waiters or waitresses?
MK: Yeah, they took one of the bartenders. They always, apparently the procedure was to take one bartender.
MS: Is that right?
MK: Yeah. Now one of the owners was there, I'm sure. There were two fellows who owned the Ritz. Their names were Oscar and Bill.
MS: Were they both white or both black?
MK: Both white. Both white and both Jewish. And they were very nice. They were very friendly with their customers. In fact, many of the customers I think had sometimes borrowed money from them.
MS: And they did this as their full time work, do you think?
MK: No, no, no.
MS: On the side?
MK: Yeah. One of them owned, I believe, a business where they sell textiles, drapery material, things like that. The other one, I'm not sure.
MS: Did any of your friends borrow money from them?
MK: Not that I know of. I knew that other people did. Also I never had trouble. If I ran short of money, they would always cash a check for me.
MS: Did they help people out when they were arrested, do you think?.
MK: I don't know. But I do know that they did regard a number of their regular customers in a rather paternal or at least avuncular fashion.
MS: Were they older?
MK: Yeah, yeah.
MK: Yeah, '50s I think.
MK: When I made friends at the Ritz I learned about those line of demarcation I was mentioning before, where the blacks were discouraged from entering any of the regular gay bars. It wasn't until the late '60s, I'm not sure just when, that blacks started going more to some of the bars. I think the Allegro was the first bar that attracted them. The Allegro was about the only bar that was among the first to have a disco or any kind of dancing.
MS: Did you ever go to any of the primarily black bars in those lines of demarcation?
MK: No I didn't know about them then and I only heard about them later. And some I heard about from my former lover who was black whom I didn't meet until 1965.
MS: So you were involved with Herbie, then, for a little while?
MK: No, no, only 'til the fall of '62. It was just a few months. And I told him that he was starting to act in a kind of possessive way. He was apparently smitten. And I wasn't and I didn't want to hurt him. He came from I guess what you might call an upper class black family in terms of money. His father was the richest black man, it turned out, in Doylestown.
MK: Yeah. Herbie once invited me up to his place. He lived with his father and sister in Chalfont, Bucks County, not far from Doylestown. And he gave me directions. And I drove up. And it was funny. When I turned off the road onto the side road, I realized after I'd driven the equivalent of just under a block that this was a private road. And then as I made a little turn there was a barn and in the distance beyond that was a house. Not a large house, but definitely the house. Then Herbie came out from behind the barn with this sheepish grin. It was a big surprise. Their place had thirty-nine acres.
MS: Did his father know about him?
MK: I don't know. His father was not there. And his sister wasn't there. But I'm sure they didn't really know. Because we didn't sleep together there. I mean nobody else was in the house, but he had us sleep in separate bedrooms. MS: Now you said that you met someone who you were involved with for a long time in '65.
MK: Yes, in '65.
MS: What was his name?
MS: And you were together how long?
MK: Off and on 'til 1977.
MS: And did you live together most of that time?
MS: And how did you meet him?
MK: In the Ritz.
MS: Can you describe meeting him?
MK: Oh, sure. I had gone down with somebody who was staying temporarily with me, a fellow named Ozzie, who lived in New York, who was a very talented artist and who was thinking about trying to expand, wasn't making it in New York. I had driven up to New York and brought back a number of his paintings. I was living in Powelton Village then. It was almost two years after I had divorced my mother. And I had a four-room apartment there, two bedrooms. And so I had a lot of wall space and had hung Ozzie's paintings all over the place and had a couple of little parties to invite people to have a look at the paintings. But he only made a couple of sales. Anyway, he had gone down with me one night. He was meeting someone or thinking of meeting someone at the Ritz. So I went down and was sitting in a booth and Billy had come in with an older white man. And somehow the person Billy had come in with, this older white man, and Ozzie were making eyes or something. And they got together and they left. So Billy was by himself and I went over to talk to him. And that first night out Billy told me that he had no encumbrances, that he had been living in New York for a number of years but had only a couple of months ago moved back to Philadelphia and he was living in his mother's house.
MS: Where did he live? Where did they live?
MK: In North Philadelphia in a very small house. On a little street in North Philadelphia. And so I invited Billy back. And there was something about him. We clicked. And I had not ever really been a snob, but I thought it would be nice if people had some mutual interests. And he said he hadn't gone to school past high school. Of course I never had finished college, although I had been in and out of it so I had read a great deal. This was a Monday night when I met him, April 12th, 1965. And the second night, the Tuesday, he had called. And I said, "Of course you may come. But I am expecting a couple of people that are going to look at Ozzie's paintings." He had seen them the night before. And so he said if he was still welcome he'd like to come. And so Ozzie was there and Billy came up and we were expecting someone else. And I said I was going to put on some music and unless anyone objected I was going to put on an opera, "Faust." And Billy said, "Is that Gounot's Faust?" And I was surprised, because aside from the fact that he knew the name of a composer, he knew that more than one person had written a "Faust." And then it turned out that he loved classical music. And he had been born in the South and didn't come up to Philadelphia until he was sixteen. And in the South the only exposure to classical music was the Firestone Hour on Sunday nights on the radio. And one of his great discoveries in Philadelphia was the Music Department of the Philadelphia Library, where he would go and listen to records.
MS: Now was he your age?
MK: Two years younger. Two and a half years younger.
MS: So this was an interest that you shared.
MK: That and he liked movies and plays. But also the thing that got me most was that he was a very nice person. There was a goodness there. And that was, I think, the thing that was most important. It was odd. It was just a couple of years before that that a friend I had made in the Ritz, who at that time was editor of the Independent, which was one of the black newspapers in Philadelphia. It was the good one. I mean he would never have allowed the grammatical errors that appear in the Tribune regularly.
MS: So it was a gay man who was the editor?
MK: Yes, right. And Richard, Richard Henderson, had been from Indiana from an upper-class black family. He was an accomplished pianist and had won the Indiana state piano competition when he was sixteen. And Richard was a bit older than I. And of course to say that a black person was that accomplished on the piano at the age of sixteen says a lot about his family background. Because who had pianos? And Richard was very, very well read. I remember I met him in '62, that first year that I was out. And we got to be good friends. I remember, oh maybe in '63 or so, that I was tired of my acting out all my years of being in the closet, because I had been what I felt was very promiscuous. In the first year, I'd had maybe fifty different sexual partners.
MS: In the first year?
MK: Yeah. And I really wanted to settle down. I said "I'd like to meet somebody pretty much on my own level of intelligence." Richard started to laugh. He said, "You're so naive." He said, "For one thing, how many people have you met in general on that level?" He said, "Aside from that, how many jerks have you met with high IQ's?" He said, "Are those the qualities that you really want?" So, anyway, he was wise and I realized that of course much more important than the person's level of intelligence or educational or social background was the kind of person. And Billy fit that bill very nicely. He was one of the nicest people I've ever known.
MS: Now, did you two make a home together?
MS: You did. And you have to remind me, where was that again?
MK: Well he first moved in with me when I was living in Powelton Village. And we lived there together until 1968. He also was an alcoholic. And his drinking got to the point where there were just too many problems. And we separated in 1968. And that was when I moved temporarily to Germantown and then later back into Center City on Vine Street. In the meantime, Billy tried to straighten himself out. He went to Eagleville, where they have an alcoholic rehabilitation program. He was there for three months and then went to a half-way house for six months. By that time it was early 1970 and we got together again.
MS: And then you lived together in Center City?
MK: Yeah. We took an apartment first at 1519 Pine. And then we moved to the Hopkinson House. From there, we bought a house on Naudain Street. It didn't work out, so we bought a house in Wynnefield and we sold the house on Naudain Street. And we lived in Wynnefield very nicely. He had learned to drive. He had got the first lesson or two from driver's school and I took up the rest and finished teaching him to drive. So he became a rather good driver.
MS: Maybe here I should ask you about some of the feelings that you had about the different neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Did you have a sense that there was a gay neighborhood?
MK: No, not way back then. Now Center City did, even back in the '40s, tend to attract gay people, largely because of the density of the population and the ease of remaining anonymous. And also the only gay clubs that I knew of way, way back then were in Center City. Also, Rittenhouse Square was well known as a trysting spot.
MS: So would you say it was a gay neighborhood, a gay and lesbian neighborhood, a white gay neighborhood?
MK: It was mostly straight and it was virtually exclusively white. From Pine Street to Walnut. Not quite from river to river. There were some blacks who lived in what is now called Society Hill.
MS: So the gay community, the gay neighborhood was white?
MK: There was no gay neighborhood per se, not at all really. There were gays who would come to Center City.
MS: Do you think that Philadelphia ever developed a gay neighborhood?
MK: Well they consider Center City, in a sense, the gay ghetto, but there are still, I think, more heterosexuals living in Center City than gays.
MS: So what do you think people mean when they say it's a gay neighborhood?.
MK: I don't think they're accurate.
MK: Also, the same thing, I don't agree with the concept of the gay community. What community? I mean as far as I'm concerned, there is no gay community. It's the same kind of lumping of groups together that is done in general.
MS: But you would say that you are a gay man.
MK: Well I would say that I am. Yes, certainly. I'm an individual. And if you ask me, that has to do with my sexual orientation, so of course that is my answer as an individual.
MK: But when you say gay community, I mean it's the same thing. Of course I grew up as a Jew, when there was much more anti-Semitism than there is today. And I remember one time, well for some reason I frequently have not been taken as Jewish by many of the people who had certain notions about who or what a Jew was or looked like or acted like or what have you. I remember the first time I worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. I was a typist. Everybody started in the typing pool there, the way they had it. And it was only after I had been working there several weeks or a month that somehow it came out that I was Jewish. And apparently in a department of 105, I was only the second Jew who had ever been hired there and they didn't know it, apparently, when they hired me.
MS: I see.
MK: Then all of a sudden people came around. They would say, "What do you Jews think about this or that?" How silly. There wasn't even agreement in my own family. I had both Republicans and Democrats in my family. "How do you Jews feel?" And of course logic would tell one that that is not proper thinking.
MS: When you were moving around and buying homes....
MK: Billy and I never ran into any problem about two men living together.
MS: Is that right?
MK: No. The closest came when I was the one who went. I didn't want Billy showing up because I thought there would be a problem, still, when moving into the Hopkinson House.
MS: Because of racism?
MK: Because of racism. But we were taking a two bedroom apartment and I had mentioned to the manager, who showed me the apartment, "There are two of us." And he said he was glad we were taking a two bedroom apartment. He said they cannot refuse to rent a one bedroom apartment to two men, but they really preferred....
MS: What did you do when the real estate guy said that?
MK: I said, "Well we are taking a two bedroom apartment."
MK: So it wasn't really an issue.
MS: Did you entertain in your homes?
MS: You had people over?
MS: Mostly gay men?
MK: Not all, no. I still have a number of straight friends. And we had straight friends over.
MS: Any lesbian friends?
MK: At that time, we hadn't yet met many. But Billy tended to be much more social than I. He liked parties. He liked giving parties. And we met through some other friends a number of lesbian women. And we sometimes had some later on, not at the Hopkinson House nor Naudain Street, but in Wynnefield we had a nine room house. And then when we lived at what was then Penn Towers, we had a very large apartment there, an 1800 square foot apartment. And we had large parties at both Wynnefield and at Penn Towers, where several times we had as many as 150 people.
MS: Is that right?
MK: And they were about almost even in numbers, men and women.
MS: When were these? Late '60s?
MK: No, no. By then it was the '70s.
MS: Do you think the changing times had anything to do with that?
MK: No, I think many of the people that Billy had known that he reacquainted himself with were professionals. There were many that I personally really didn't like too much. They were very materialistic. They were concerned with their houses and their cars and their clothes and their trips and so forth. Things that bored me. Anyway, they were very concerned with appearances. So, as far as parties were concerned, it was for convenience, I guess, that at first it developed that gay men and lesbians got to know each other and attended parties together. It was good for appearances.
MS: You mean appearances to neighbors?
MK: Yes, the neighbors and so forth. Also then some of the people had formed a couple of clubs. One was, I think, called the Westside Club, and these were mostly black men and women who were members.
MS: Black lesbians?
MS: It was called the Westside Club?
MK: One of the clubs was called that. And the other one was called Mox Nix.
MS: How do you spell that?
MK: M. O. X. N. I. X.
MS: Where did that come from?
MK: I have no idea. I guess it makes no difference.
MS: So these were clubs that didn't meet in the bars?
MK: No, exactly. And most of the lesbians we knew rarely went to bars, even when there were lesbian bars. They had a very well-developed social network and they entertained in each other's homes.
MS: Were there many lesbian homes that you went to?
MK: Yes, quite a few. One weekend, Billy and I went with two women we knew who were then together and lovers for a large weekend n the mountains, a place called Hemlock, I think, that had nothing to do with anything suicidal or even Socrates. But there were several hundred women there, lesbian women, and Billy and I were I think among five men who were there.
MS: When was this?
MK: It was in the early '70s.
MS: So was it basically a primarily lesbian vacation place?
MK: Yes, yes.
MS: And where was it?
MK: No, no, no. I think they reserved the place for that. I think they catered to gays and lesbians, but that particular weekend it was reserved for the lesbians.
MS: Where was this again?
MK: Upstate Pennsylvania.
MS: You don't remember the town?
MK: No, no. At that time I let Billy do most of the driving. And they shared it. Billy did some of the driving and Ruth, one of the two women, did most of the other driving, though Carol also drove and I drove.
MS: I'm curious, you had said that you felt that earlier on, in the '50s and the '60s, most gay men and most lesbians had very little to do with one another?
MK: Well my impression was that the coming together in the Janus Society was the rarity.
MK: And I remember, at the gay bars, the feeling was that women, even lesbians, were not particularly welcome.
MS: But it sounds like something changed, right?
MK: I think a great deal changed in the '60s. Now a lot of people seem to think, I remember, I had gone through this similar type of interview with Tommi Avicolli.
MS: Oh, really.
MK: A few years back. Yeah. And he expressed the feeling, as did a lot of people and I think a lot of the younger gays feel that much of the change occurred with and after Stonewall. And I think that there is no way of establishing it, but I think that the Mattachine Society, the Janus, the Daughters of Bilitis, many of those groups really helped to lay a good deal of the groundwork for much of what happened later. As a historian, you certainly know the problems in trying to understand the beginnings of any kind of social change, even if you go back to the French Revolution.
MS: You do seem to have a sense that things changed before Stonewall.
MK: Yes. I think that the roots of what was more clearly manifest after Stonewall started before Stonewall.
MS: Including lesbians and gay men working more together.
MK: Yes, yes. I think that the fact that it occurred in the Mattachine Society and of course what we here called Janus. And of course there was a good feeling of cooperation back then in the early '60s between various of the Mattachine chapters and various of the Daughters of Bilitis chapters. There were a number of chapters of Daughters of Bilitis.
MK: And my experience was that there was a feeling of cooperation.
MS: And it sounds like even in your own social life.
MK: Later, in the early '70s, there certainly was.
MS: Things changed.
MK: Now these were mostly blacks. And there were a number of interracial couples as well that Billy and I mingled with where there were the lesbians socializing with the gays.
MS: So do you think there was more mixing among blacks than among whites?
MK: I think so. I think some of that is understandable. Because oppressed groups tend to feel more of a kinship or more of a bond. And I think one might feel a bit paranoid being gay, especially years before in the society, where it was important to be furtive, covert, and in the closet. But also I know from a number of black friends, straight friends as well, that there isn't that same degree of comfort with whites. And if you go back to earliest childhood experiences, it's certainly understandable. Now I have had some good black friends, who I think spoke more candidly with me than they might have with many other white people that they, perhaps, didn't feel quite so comfortable with. But I remember one black friend saying that a black person had to develop antennae at a very early age and have those antennae be ever more sensitive. So I think that it's understandable that it might have been easier for black lesbians and black gays to feel kinship or get along better together or have less hostility because they perhaps could feel united in the face of a common enemy, so to speak. But my experience had been that. And whether this is universally true, I don't know.
MS: Maybe I should go back and check over some of the areas that I wanted to make sure that we covered. And maybe the rest of the questions might jump from here to there. But that might help me a lot. Maybe to ask some more questions about your home life, you talked about your divorce from your mother before. Did you come out to your family?
MK: No, no, not at all.
MS: So that wasn't the grounds for the divorce.
MK: And my mother was a terrible person in many ways. Her father had been a philanderer and she never forgave him for it. In Russia, they lived in a small town, a village. And there were no cultural activities there. And my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, had a fur business. And he only had to work half of the year, so to speak, and he had employees. So he had a lot of free time. And there was a town where there were relatives, not too far away, that had a symphony orchestra and a theater and so forth. And the people in my mother's family would go there for their cultural activities. And my mother had gone there, for one period, when she was ten years old. And the family that she was with had taken her to the concert. And she saw her father there with another woman. And it was clear what it was. My grandmother, by the way, told me all this to help me understand. She had known about her husband's philandering. She told me that after my mother had come back from that visit, my grandmother was aware that there was a big difference and that she saw my mother's reaction to her father. My mother had worshiped her father prior to that. My grandmother suspected what had happened and she got my mother to speak about it. And my mother made the pronouncement, the pronunciamento, at age ten: "I'll never trust another man as long as I live, especially a brilliant one." So my mother was a hard person in many ways. She was hard to my father, especially, to her father, to my father, and to me. But she was very good to many, many other people, and very open and understanding.
MS: Did your father die at an early age?
MK: He died in 1950.
MS: So your mother never....
MK: Oh she never remarried.
MS: Did she ever know that you were gay?
MK: Oh she figured it out. Sure she knew. I understood that in the latter years, she would say with venom, "My son's a faggot."
MS: When were the latter years?
MK: Well, she died in 1971.
MS: So the rest of the '60s.
MK: In the '60s, yeah, after I had come out and after I had committed a lese majisty because I moved away from her.
MS: Did you have siblings? Did you have brothers and sisters?
MK: No, I was the only child. So she took it all out on me.
MS: Did you ever talk with any of your other relatives about being gay?
MK: No, no, but they accepted it, because after my mother died and Billy and I were together, without ever anything being said, they treated us like a couple. And they always invited both of us to family affairs.
MS: Is that right? Like what sort of family affairs.
MK: Well, a bar mitzvah, up in Medford, just outside of Boston. My aunt and uncle lived in Medford.
MS: And they invited both of you?
MK: They invited both of us.
MS: When was this?
MK: This was 1974.
MS: So your extended family really accepted you.
MK: Oh, there is no question. And in fact they were very fond of Billy.
MS: How about Billy's family?
MK: His mother knew about him and his mother, to a degree, accepted me. But his mother was a difficult person also. And she had problems with Billy and his drinking. And he didn't have much of a family here. His mother and the half-brother and the half-sister, and they were never really close.
MS: I see.
MK: It's interesting with my mother. When we were at 916 Pine, we had that as a rooming and apartment house. We rented out rooms and a few apartments. And it must have been 1947. At that time, with friends I met through concerts at the Academy, they would come in Center City and we'd spend hours roaming through town. There were a number of Horn and Hardart's and Linton's, then, where you could just sit and have a cup of coffee. And we would talk, philosophizing and all that until the wee hours. And of course we went through Rittenhouse Square. And we saw a group that was frequently there who were obviously gay. And we didn't know them. But with the wonderful kindness of teenagers, we had nicknames for them. One was Pimple Face and one was Black Raincoat and so forth. Well, back around then, too, around '47, there was a gay fellow. I was nineteen in '47. He was two or three years older than I was. He was twenty-one or twenty-two. And he had a room on the fourth floor in our place. And he was obviously gay. And one night, it was a Sunday night, late, about one o'clock, my father and mother were asleep and I was up and there was a knock on our apartment door. It was a tenant who lived on the side of the building, right by the fire escape. She said, "'Mark,' you better wake your father and call the police, there must be dozen men on the fire escape." So I said, "Grace, are you sure?" And I opened the door and I curse on the way. So I went back to my parent's bedroom and woke my father and also called the police and then went to open the front door so that the police could come in. And I foolishly stuck my head out. I believe that we were at the corner; 916 Pine is at the corner of Hutchinson and Pine. So I stuck my head to look down Hutchinson Street, at the fire escape, to see if I could see anything. And didn't. Within minutes the two policemen--there was a police station at 12th and Pine then--came with their guns drawn, very Hollywood, dramatic. And I said, "It's upstairs." They start running up the stairs. And my father started after them. So I started after my father. Well they had gotten up to the fourth floor by the time I was not quite to the third, my father was at the third. And the police called down and said, "Mr. 'Kendall,' you're the landlord here. You better come up and see if you can identify some of these men." And my father went up there and he waved me back down. And there must have been about a dozen men in George's room, they had come up by way of the fire escape, who were at that point in various stages of undress.
MS: And you saw this?
MK: I didn't see them in undress. But I was down at the bottom of the stairs when I watched them mincing defiantly out the door. It was a long hallway from the stairs to the front door. And one of them was Black Raincoat. And I was thinking, "Black Raincoat in my house?" And the last one out was George, the tenant. He had paid his rent in advance. They paid by the week for rooms. And he had apparently paid two, three weeks in advance. And my mother, by that time she had gotten upstairs and she was walking behind George. And she was saying, "I'll give you back your rent, but I want you out of here tomorrow."
MS: So while you never experienced a problem where you were living....
MK: But anyway, this isn't the end of that story. Apparently, the police only kept them a few hours. And the next day, we had a maid, Josie, a black woman, who worked for us, cleaning, changing the linen in the rooms, and doing general cleaning. And also she and my mother had gotten to be friends, too. They used to go out to bingo together. Anyway, George gave Josie a sob story saying he really didn't want to move. He had never had such a nice landlady and so forth. So he softened Josie until Josie said, "Well Mrs. 'Kendall' is alone now. Go down, maybe you can talk to her." Well, Mrs. "Kendall" wasn't alone. I was at home also. But I was in the kitchen, which was beyond the living room. My mother was in the living room and George came down and asked her if he might stay. And I listened to my mother agree to have him stay provided he had only one boyfriend at a time. And there was an older man, he was maybe forty, who used to come to visit. My mother suggested he stick with him because he was a gentleman and, if he stuck with him, he'd never go wrong. So my mother was very open. Now this was 1947. Very open and she was accepting of that with everyone except her son, as it turned out. So my mother was also an exceptional landlady. She several times let people who were down on their luck stay for a while without paying rent. But in other areas and with me, she was very bad. And she never accepted that in me. In fact, after my mother died, it was a couple of months afterwards, Billy and I were picking up something. And we were not too far from one of my aunt's houses. And I called and said we were nearby. She said, "Well come over." They already knew that Billy liked ice cream. She said, "We have ice cream." We came over. And they were so nice. Gave us ice cream, coffee. My aunt said to me on the side, "Maybe it's brutal to say it, but I will. Now that your mother is gone, why don't you and Billy stop by sometime?" From that point, the family made it clear that we were very welcome. The family was such that their feeling was that what happened behind bedroom doors was nobody else's business. And it was never discussed. Any type of that sort of thing was not in good taste to talk about. So I'm sure the family all knew what the relationship was. In fact, the closest anyone came was another aunt, who at one point, when somebody, there was a connection with my ex-wife–it was after my mother had died--and was wondering about inviting her to something. And my aunt knew something about Margaret that I hadn't. And my aunt called Billy into another room and said, "You don't want to invite that bitch." And she patted Billy on the knee, and said, "As long as you and 'Mark' are happy, that's all that counts."
MS: So that's the way your family was.
MK: That's the way they were.
MS: Now in the homes that you had after you....
MK: There was never any problem. When we lived on Naudain Street, it was Center City. There was at least one openly gay man that had a house on that block. Billy got friendly with him. We were not particularly friendly with the other neighbors, but Center City, a lot of times, people don't get to know each other that well. There was an elderly black couple who had the house next to us. We didn't socialize with them, but we were friendly enough. But there was no problem in buying the house in both our names and getting the mortgage in both our names. And the same thing was true with the house in Wynnefield.
MS: Was there anything that you think that was different about your house because you were two gay men living together? Different about the way you lived your lives in your home? I'm wondering if there was anything unique about it?
MK: I can't see that there was. When we lived and had the house in Wynnefield, we were friendly with straight neighbors on both sides. We had a twin. Those who lived across the breezeway from us were younger. They were around our age, a married couple with a teenage son who was away at school. And the couple on the other side of the twin from us were an older couple. He was a retired lawyer. In fact, I was probably the only white person on that block. And there was never any problem. We were not friendly with other people on the block except our immediate neighbors and I'm sure they were aware of what our relationship was. And I'm sure that at least the people across the breezeway knew or could see that many of our friends were male and so frequently saw two men coming together. They must have known. But we had them over to several straight parties that we had and there was never any problem ever indicated.
MS: What about at work, at the jobs that you had?
MK: I was always in the closet. I think there probably is no reason now for me to be anonymous, except that it's like a habit for many, many years. I never was open anywhere in public really.
MS: Were you aware of other lesbians or gay men at your jobs?
MK: Oh sure.
MS: Did they know about you?
MK: Well some of the gay men did, when we ran into each other at the bar.
MS: Do you remember any incidents like that at work or in the bars, running into someone you knew from work?
MK: Oh yeah. Oh sure. I started working for Social Security in 1965, in September of '65, and I was going to the Ritz. Billy and I, this was one of the times we were separated. We separated in October '65 and were separated until April '66 in the same neighborhood. It was the drinking. And so after I started working for Social Security, I was going to the Ritz more for several months. And it turned out a fellow that I knew, one of the control clerks, who used to bring work around, I saw him in the Ritz. It was no big deal.
MS: Did you say anything to one another?
MK: Well we spoke to each other. Sure, we said hello but there was no problem with that. Then about two years later, there was a fellow who was in my section, when I moved into a section. I started Social Security as a claims authorizer trainee and it was a two year training program. So after the two years I moved into a regular claims section. And there was somebody who had started only a few months before me, a bit younger than I. And I sort of knew, sensed it about him, and then I saw him in the bars. We were in the same section. His name was Dave Hernandez and we went out to dinner a number of times. We both enjoyed good restaurants.
MS: So you really socialized together?
MK: So we socialized together. And after we had been doing this a few months, one day he was out sick, and he had called in and he spoke to his secretary. And he told the secretary, "Oh tell 'Mark' we're related." And I couldn't figure out how we were related. It turned out that on my father's side of the family, one of his cousins had married a Hernandez, a Cuban. And he was raised Jewish. And he remembered that my mother had been to his bar mitzvah. I remembered when we were talking he found out that my father had worked for the Post Office and that we lived on Pine Street in Center City and my father had died. He said it all came together and so we were fourth cousins.
MS: That's something. I want to ask a couple of questions about things that you read. Do you recall reading much gay material in the '50s and '60s?
MK: I thought about that. It's funny how things have changed. The first novel I read that had to do specifically with that was, of course, from my generation, among the first that anyone had read, and that was Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. The love that dare not speak its name. And that was so true, that it was the love that dare not speak its name. Actually apparently the mother, I think, of one of my school friends had the book and he read it. This is a straight friend. So he talked about it so I got a hold of it, either from him or from somewhere, and I read it.
MS: It's interesting to me that that book is about lesbians and that you were a gay man and that you obviously identified with it in some way.
MK: Well I knew about lesbians. I mean it's being attracted to members of the same sex. If you're going to talk about the generic, it's that. Not only that, what was her name, Stephen?
MS: Stephen Gordon?
MK: Yeah. The way her problems, I mean it was so easy to identify with her. Then I noticed at that time, around 1950, '49-'50, there was Robin's Bookstore on 13th Street, just north of Market. And I remember noticing that occasionally they had books that looked like gay books there. So when I saved up money, from various working jobs, the first book I bought of that type was Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar.
MS: You read that pretty much after it came out? It came out in '48.
MK: Within two years after it had come out.
MS: And you identified with that?
MK: I didn't identify all that much with it. I didn't like it. Of course, the tragic ending.
MK: And also, I already had had some kind of feel for literature and for what was good writing and what wasn't. And of course I understood the need to put that terrible ending in it, but it was strictly melodramatic. I mean the motivations had not really been fully developed for that. I mean it was just too abrupt and there was no proper preparation, as it were, for that. But I understood that. Then there was, I forget the exact sequence of it, another, a book I liked, that was called The Divided Path, that I also bought and read. Then, of course, there was Charles Jackson's The Fall of Valor, which also had a gruesome ending.
MS: Did you read any of the gay magazines or newsletters that were coming out in the '60s?
MK: I don't recall them coming out.
MS: Mattachine Review?
MK: These were the books that were from the early '50s. If there had been available to me, or if the groups that were later to flourish, were around and I had known about them, I might have come out a lot earlier than I did.
MS: But you didn't know about them?
MK: I didn't know about them. And like so many others, I felt alone. I didn't like what I saw in the gay bars. And I didn't meet anybody that I could identify with well enough. And really part of it was my own fear, of course, my own defensiveness, that wouldn't allow me to do what I would have understood even mathematically would be so. That if you go enough times and meet enough people, the odds increase in terms of meeting people that one could. Certainly I knew enough math to know that, but I didn't abstract. I guess it was a combination of my own fear and what I saw and what I heard turned me off very much.
MS: Do you remember reading anything about the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge in the '50s?
MK: Well every now and then there were some controversy about Walt Whitman.
MS: But you don't remember that specifically?
MK: I don't remember that specifically.
MS: Do you remember anything about the coffeehouse raids in the late '50s?
MK: Well I used to go to coffeehouses, but they were straight largely.
MS: So you never went to like the Humoresque?
MK: No, I never even heard of the Humoresque.
MK: All I know is that it's a piece by Dvorzak. No, there was the Gilded Cage and the Artist's Hut and the Cafe Rodin, and these were straight.
MS: When did you go there?
MK: In the '50s. And these were with straight friends that I went there.
MS: So through the '60s, then, you didn't read any specifically gay publications.
MK: Every now and then I guess I might have seen one or two. But they didn't appeal to me.
MS: You mentioned Robin's. Were there other "gay businesses"?
MK: I don't know that it was a gay business, exactly, but I did see books that had to do with gay topics, because I did buy The City and the Pillar there, The Fall of Valor there, The Divided Path there, and also a book called The Gay Year.
MS: Right. Were there any other businesses that you can think of that you ever went to that had that feel for you, that had gay owners or gay workers?
MK: No, no there weren't.
MS: No other bookstores.
MK: None that I was aware of. I guess I just happened to be in that area more. I happened to pass by that bookstore and they had those displayed in the window.
MS: So in the '60s, it was pretty much bars, those were the gay places.
MK: In the '50s, yeah.
MS: And in the '60s as well?
MK: Yeah. Well I only went to bars a few times through the '50s, as I've said. And then I never met anybody back then in the bars. I had a few little encounters. One was, as I mentioned, with Frank in 1950 and once or twice again in early '51 with Frank. In 1953-54, I met someone at a party and we somehow got connected. Also, one time, earlier than that I guess, earlier in 1950, a little bit before my father died, the wife of a friend of mine, they were just married, and used to go to an interracial dancing school, a ballet school. It was called the Judimar.
MS: What was it called?
MK: The Judimar. It was run by a woman named Marian Cujet, who had at times passed for white. She was blonde, blue-eyed. And there was a couple of parties. There was one party where somebody very boldly invited me into a bathroom and I hardly knew what was going to happen and something happened where we had the bathroom door locked to the point that a couple of people got impatient.
MS: Was this a black man?
MK: Yeah. And so I guess that was my first encounter with a black man. Frank was not. And someone I met at the party a few years later, I saw one time afterwards.
MS: Did you ever see a psychiatrist or psychologist?
MK: Yes I did. In 1949, 1950, '51. Herman Rudnick.
MS: In the northeast, you said?
MK: In the northeast. I didn't go to him because of sexual problems. There were other psychological problems. I was, among other things, an under-achiever. I quit high school my senior year. I had phobic problems and so forth. I went to him. He was recommended by somebody in the family. And he was terrible. And his whole thing was to promote adjustment in terms of very stodgy, middle class values. I'd be cured and fine if I got married and had a split level house in the suburbs.
MS: Did homosexuality every come up?
MK: Oh sure, I told him about my feelings. But I hadn't done anything. And then in 1950, in early 1950, January or February, it was winter, one night I went to the News Theater. It was one of the all-night theaters near 13th and Market. And somebody started fondling me.
MS: What was it called, the News?
MK: The News, yeah. They showed news, mostly, and of course old movies.
MS: Right. And someone sat next to you.
MK: Sat next to me. It was a pick-up place. The News and the Family. The News was on the south side of Market, just east of 13th, and the Family was on the north side of Market, just west of 13th. And I had gone to the News. And I had been there several times. And a couple of times somebody would stroke my calf or something. But I never did anything. This one night, I did. I went out with this fellow. We left together. And he lived with his family in a private house in Center City at 4th Street near Spruce. We went down there. And I met his sister and mother. And we had coffee. And then we went up to the fourth floor. And we had sex.
MS: With the family downstairs?
MS: Did they know what was going on?
MK: I guess they must have. And he was quite handsome.
MS: How old was he? About your age?
MK: A bit older. I was not quite twenty-two. And I guess he was in his late twenties. And so that was on the weekend. And I guess I saw Dr. Rudnick on Tuesday, a few days later. I told him what had happened. And what he said to me I could quote almost verbatim. He said, "Well if you're going to act out like that, I can't treat you." See I was having problems. And I had long since before that known that the man was not good, that he was not a good psychiatrist, that he was not good for me. But I was not able to break it off or stop it. I was afraid. And that statement just turned me off. For one thing, anybody who would really have been interested in my development as a human being would have encouraged me to express myself. To call it acting out, the psychiatric term, indicated his lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity. But also when he said "I can't treat you," well this pompous, smug way in which he had rationalized this very questionable field of psychiatry. As if treating you, the same way you give someone a shot of penicillin for something. You treat a physical ailment. Do you treat psychological problems? So he was totally rejecting of my expressing myself sexually, if it were homosexual.
MS: Did he in fact stop seeing you?
MK: No, no, no, no. The money was good.
MS: That's right.
MK: But my father was dying of cancer at that point. And there were a lot of bills that had run up. This was long before medical insurance covered much. And we had gotten in debt. And I couldn't afford to see him three times a week, as I had been.
MS: You saw him three times a week for a few years?
MK: For over a year, at that point it had been. And so I mentioned that the money was lacking. So what he did was cut down the number of visits, not reduce his fee. And then, when I got engaged and so forth and I told him about that. I could see his reaction was like he had cured me. And so I stopped seeing him about that point. And then I got married in September of 1950, as I told you. In January of '51, Margaret and I were already separated. And I filed for a divorce. And it was somewhere in January-February, I couldn't find all my records, so I called him to find out how much I had paid him in 1950 for income tax purposes. And he was very jolly on the phone. And he said, "How's the wife?" There again, this wonderful, original language. "How's the wife?" One of the boys talking. So I said, "Oh, we're separated and I'm filing for a divorce." And you could hear an "oh" reaction. I had one time seen a psychiatrist who might have been really good. This was earlier. After I'd had several bad experiences, psychic traumas, I saw this Dr. Pearson, who was considered one of the best in the city. A close friend of mine was in medical school. He was planning to go into psychiatry. And he knew something about it. So he had arranged for me to have the appointment. I had already been seeing somebody at the Child Guidance Clinic, who had apparently sent his notes and so forth onto this Dr. Pearson, who was at 49th Street, the Institute there. And Dr. Pearson, I was impressed with him, because he had taken the time, apparently, to read all this before I even got there. He recommended that I go to the University of Chicago. They had the Heidelberg system. He felt I could go at my own speed. I had trouble in school all along because I was bored. I was never a good student. I didn't study. So I think he really felt I would get away from my mother. And there was a great aunt and uncle who offered to finance this. But my mother said, "No, if he's so sick that he needs to see a psychiatrist, he's too sick to leave home."
MS: Did your homosexuality ever come up with any other psychologist or psychiatrist?
MK: Yeah, well the first one in the Child Guidance Clinic. I was still eighteen and I told him about my feelings. But that wasn't the main problem, it seemed. I just couldn't adjust to school. I quit school in 12th grade. And so that was not that much. It had not come up. The only psychiatrist after that first one at the Child Guidance Clinic that I had seen was Dr. Rudnick.
MS: Right. Did you ever hear or know of people who saw Samuel Hadden at Penn or Joseph Wolpe at Temple?
MK: Never heard of them.
MS: They were quite prominent. So I'm trying to find out if they were as prominent locally as they were in the published record.
MS: Samuel Hadden had group therapy groups for gay men.
MK: Never heard of him.
MS: Interesting. Let's see, I asked you about the law. Maybe I'll just finish up with some more questions that I have about politics. I'm really curious about what we were talking about before, the early Mattachine Society and the early Janus Society. And you were saying that it was one of the few places where lesbians and gay men had a lot of interactions.
MK: Yes, that I was aware of or that I encountered.
MS: Right. Can you describe anything specific about things that were talked about or said that makes you feel that way?
MK: Well even ten years later, even in the '70s, I heard a lot of gay people I know say that they didn't like lesbians or didn't trust them. And lesbians that I stayed friendly with who said that there were still a number of gay men that they didn't feel comfortable with. There was definitely a division that many felt, even into the '70s. And one could see, in some of the bars in Center City, the Venture Inn and it was then Maxine's and then became Raffle, there was definitely a tightening in the atmosphere if women came in. And even today I don't know of any place where there is open mixing to a large extent. There are lesbians of course who occasionally go to the Venture Inn for dinner.
MS: It's funny because you do see it in the bookstores, in the political groups and some of the social groups outside of the bars. Sort of what you were saying about the early Mattachine. And it sounds like there were women who were officers of that group.
MK: Well sure, Mae Polakoff was the president and she remained president during the two terms I was vice president. And Joan was secretary.
MS: You said two terms. Was that one year or two years?
MK: Two years.
MS: Two years.
MK: The discussions in general were about problems in society, problems at work. When Joan was fired--she had been head of the English Department, as I mentioned–a number of us were upset by that, of course. We were talking about how even if one thought about being more open about one's lifestyle, it was very risky. And certainly so in terms of one's occupation.
MS: And that was something that would affect gay men and lesbians?
MS: A lot of people say, though, that the police were more a problem for gay men than for lesbians.
MK: Well there were very few lesbian bars. There was the Surf Club, way, way back when. And I guess that was raided sometimes. But no, there were always more gay bars than lesbian bars. And the gay men were much more visible.
MS: Why do you think that was?
MK: Because they tended to congregate in Center City more visibly. One could see groups of what were clearly gay men walking together on the streets, in Rittenhouse Square, in Washington Square, and at the gay bars. And of course the gay bars represented an obvious target for the police. There was also the vice squad that was out. And they would haunt Rittenhouse Square, the public bathrooms, Suburban Station, 30th Street Station, and all that. And of course the bathrooms that they went into were men's bathrooms. And women were not known to solicit each other in the same way that men did. So they were less subject to the police. [Interruption.] I didn't have the problem that some people say where they felt they were all alone in the world. I knew I wasn't all alone. I'd read enough certainly to know that. But I couldn't really come to grips with it in terms of myself until 1950. I was seeing Dr. Rudnick, but he didn't understand. And I was determined that I might really try something. A lot of this isn't germane so I'll just try and get the actual expression. This is Sunday, January 1st, 1950 [in MK's diary]. Some of this is just related to my philosophical speculations, which are not connected with sexuality. At that time, especially since I was seeing a psychiatrist who was more or less oriented along Freudian lines, not particularly his approach, but the approach of others, I knew from what I read, was to stress the reality principle before the pleasure principle. And so what I was saying here, I was talking in terms of what I might do with my life. And I was saying: "I must protest that I do not consider it fair that for me there is more involved than the usual case of accepting the reality principle before the pleasure principle. And I don't know whether I can actually negate and bury those inclinations which I have, so that I can step out into the light of 'normal society.' I realize obligations to my family, friends, society, but how far must I bend. It strikes me that it is I who do all the bending and the others not at all. This, they say, is the world, our world, yours as well as mine. We frown upon, we condemn, and we trample upon perverts. How can I meekly say that I shall do all you order me to do, that I work on the reality principle in the hopes of gaining greater pleasures when there is no indication except to the contrary that I will ever gain the pleasures I want. I can try to feel that my values, my inclinations, will change. But nothing proves to me that it will operate that way. And I could not, if given a real choice, say that it is intelligent to choose the half-world, the restless hodgepodge of neurotic misfits who live in more or less open rebellion to the tenets of society. It is not matter of choice. On the one hand, it is said 'to thine own self be true' and 'be honest with yourself' and so forth. 'Do not try to be that which you aren't.' And then on the other hand, they turn around and say, 'But do not be different from us. You be what we say you must be or else we shall frown upon, we shall condemn, and we shall trample upon you.'" And then I say, "I do not, at least consciously, now this first day of 1950, know on what road I shall choose to travel or if a choice is actually involved. But I have determined I shall attempt the beginnings of that road before the new year ends."
MS: That's beautifully expressed.
MS: I said that's beautifully expressed.
MK: Well even in writing for myself, I did not feel free to speak fully openly, as is clear. But that is certainly an honest statement of how I felt at the time. Also my reflection of how I felt that I was out of step with society.
MK: And that it would only lead to unhappiness. And of course I did not know enough or hardly any gay accomplished people who had worked things out. So all I saw was a hodgepodge of misfits. The twilight zone. That was another book, by the way, that I had bought and read way back when. Andrew Tellier. I moved here by the way a month ago.
MS: Oh really.
MK: I was putting things together and I picked this up and looked at it.
MS: And remembered what you were feeling back there. Well is there anything else you want to finish up? Anything else you want to add?
MK: Nothing I can think of unless there's some specific question that you may have.