Cut Liberace a Little Slack
To the Editor:
In his review of Behind the Candelabra [Sept.-Oct. 2013 issue], Colin Carman remarks that he was born after 1977. That could explain his misguided remark about Liberace’s lifelong “dishonesty” about his sexuality.
Those of us from the Midwest and born long before 1977 remember when being gay was absolutely not an option. We saw people even suspected of being gay publicly and privately ridiculed, fired from their jobs, disowned by families and friends; we saw careers ended. We were conditioned from childhood to believe homosexuals were all perverts or mentally ill, or worse. So of course Liberace denied being gay in the British lawsuit. In England as in many places in the United States it was not only completely socially unacceptable but also illegal to be gay. You could go to jail or be sent to a mental institution for “treatment”!
I was born in that era and was in my forties when I carefully and slowly came out, and still at the cost of some family and friends. I conducted myself no differently, but in some cases just knowing that I was gay made it an issue for some people. Mr. Carman needs to check his history books before judging the decisions of intelligent people from a different era.
Richard D. Newman, Clio, MI
Reality Check on Harvey Milk the Writer
To the Editor:
In the last issue [Sept.-Oct. 2013], you ran a brief review of a newly published book from the University of California Press titled An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings. Included in the 45 pieces of Milk’s output are interviews, press releases, letters, and ten reprints of columns he submitted to San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter in the 1970s. The manuscripts of these columns are still in existence: they are stashed somewhere in a back bedroom closet [in my home]. Needless to say, they were not consulted for verification.
Harvey Milk had a column in the Bay Area Reporter until the week of his death, and I was his editor. Harvey Milk was not a writer—neither an essayist nor a scholarly thinker. The column was important to him because of his need for continued exposure and its prominent position in the paper. He had little concern for the end product, save that it appeared. His copy was always rushed, sloppy, and almost embarrassingly repetitious. He never complained about my heavy editing of his work.
However, there was a more disturbing feature: what Harvey turned in was not always his own work but was instead the work of cohorts, supporters, staffers, and flaks. The pieces not written by Harvey were usually neater, of greater substance, and more presentable. The Berkeley scholars [who edited the book] have something to answer for here. They may well be promoting material as Harvey’s output that was not his own.
If the University of California plans to be the repository of the Milk memorabilia, it’s off to a shaky start. As I’ve said, Harvey Milk left little in the way of a literary trail because he was not a writer, and he was no memoirist. Besides, he was only getting started when he was cut down, not finishing a memorable career. Harvey was interested solely in the present and the future. History meant little to him, and he wasn’t concerned about legacies, including his own. In his own lifetime his celebrity was brief and local.
Now that his renown is international and he’s the subject of film and TV biopics along with presidents and movie stars, he has become the vehicle for any enterprising aspirant, including restless academics, in search of a personality to immortalize. Harvey Milk apparently fits the bill, but this does not make him a “philosophe.”
Paul Lorch, Guerneville, CA
An Actor Is Not the Role She Plays
To the Editor:
Not to be picayune, but it irks me when critics fail to make a distinction between actors and the characters they play. It is time to return to the age-old tradition in movie or play reviews of referring to the character when one talks about that person in the play and to the actor when taking about the performance.
Case in point: Nathan Smith [in the July-August 2013 issue] referring to “Elizabeth Taylor’s rants about [Bette] Davis’s contemptuous ‘What a dump’ line in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” It is not Elizabeth Taylor who’s making the comment but instead the character she’s playing, Martha, whose lines have been supplied by the playwright Edward Albee. (Uta Hagen and others who have played Martha might be a little put out to find that only Miss Taylor said these words.) What Elizabeth Taylor thought about Bette Davis and her acting can probably can be found elsewhere.
Mashey Bernstein, Santa Barbara, CA