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Gay History – January 19: Alexander Woolcott, Janis Joplin, and Hubert Humphrey

Today in Gay History – January 19

1887 – American theatre critic Alexander Woollcott (January 19, 1887 – January 23, 1943) is born in Phalanx, New Jersey. He was an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine, theater critic for the New York Times and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table.

Woollcott was one of the most quoted men of his generation. Among Woollcott’s classics is his description of the Los Angeles area as “Seven suburbs in search of a city”—a quip often attributed to his friend Dorothy Parker. Describing The New Yorker editor Harold Ross, he said: “He looks like a dishonest Abe Lincoln.”

Woollcott was renowned for his savage tongue. He dismissed Oscar Levant, the notable wit and pianist, by observing, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can’t fix.” He often greeted friends with “Hello, Repulsive.” When a waiter asked him to repeat his order, he demanded “muffins filled with pus.”

His judgments were frequently eccentric. Dorothy Parker once said: “I remember hearing Woollcott say reading Proust is like lying in someone else’s dirty bath water.’ 

The origin of the 10-year lunches lies in a June 1919 gathering at the Algonquin Hotel. The occasion was to welcome columnist Woollcott home from the war, but the tribute, studded with barbs, quips, puns, wisecracks, and repartee, was something more akin to a roast. A tradition was established. The round table replaced a long rectangular one a year later, though the group always preferred to call their clique the Vicious Circle

Members of the Round Table included:

Wollcotte was the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside, the main character in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, and for the far less likable character Waldo Lydecker in the film Laura (1944). Woollcott was convinced he was the inspiration for his friend Rex Stout’s brilliant, eccentric detective Nero Wolfe, an idea that Stout denied.

1901 – New York Times reports story of Tammany Hall politician Murray H. Hall (1841 – January 16, 1901). Murray (born Mary as it turned out) lived as a male for decades, married women twice, and was found to be female-bodied only after he died of breast cancer. Murray Hall was a New York City bail bondsman . The headline reads: “Murray Hall Fooled Many Shrewd Men – How for Years She Masqueraded in Male Attire – Had Married Two Women.”

Hall was buried in women’s clothes in an unmarked grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

1943 – Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) is born in Port Arthur, Texas. She was an American rock singer and songwriter and one of the biggest female rock stars of her era.

Friend and neighbor Peggy Caserta claims to have had an affair with Janis over several years.

Peggy on her relationship with Janis Joplin:

“It worked for what it was. We had a lot of fun. We made a lot of love. It wasn’t a relationship that people think of or look at today as a ‘lesbian relationship.’ It was not like that at all. We were compatible and young and wild and interested in each other.

Joplin’s official cause of death was a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. On August 8, 2014, the United States Postal Service revealed a commemorative stamp honoring Janis Joplin, as part of its Music Icons Forever Stamp series during a first-day-of-issue ceremony at the Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park.

1974 – A Lesbian Conference is organized by Gay Women’s Collective and held at the Montreal Women’s Center. The small group of women who take part agree to hold a major conference for lesbians in North America the following year. 

1976 – Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey becomes one of the first nationally known politicians to endorse gay and lesbian rights.

Via PBS:

Humphrey left behind a legacy few presidents can match. As a soldier of the New Deal and the Great Society, he amassed one of the most prolific legislative records in senate history, sponsoring hundreds of bills—from Medicare to the Peace Corps to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. But Humphrey’s most enduring achievements were in the areas of civil and human rights. Propelled to party prominence during the 1948 Democratic National Convention, the 37-year-old mayor of Minneapolis delivered an historic speech directly challenging the racist leadership of the U.S. Senate. Almost two decades later, Humphrey’s extensive network of church and civil rights leaders helped him to break the longest filibuster in senate history, resulting in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

*Many thanks to Ronni Sanlo for compiling this timeline from multiple sources including Back2Stonewall.com, Quist, Lavender Effect, DataLounge.com, Arron’s Gay Info, All Things Queer, RS Levinson, Amara Das Wilhelm, Safe Schools Coalition, and/or Wikipedia

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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