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ix Acknowledgments “Well, it’s about fuckin’ time! ” In the early stages of research for this book, I phoned playwright Doric Wilson for an interview. I had barely announced my intention to write a biography of Vito Russo when the above response came booming back through the receiver. Doric’s endorsement, though more bluntly phrased than most, was typical. For the past four years, I have been astounded by the generosity of people who had never heard of me but trusted me to tell the story of this beloved gay icon. I never met Vito. But I was fascinated by him by the time I was seventeen. As a closeted and frightened freshman at American University, I spent innumerable hours in Bender Library, secretly researching my two favorite topics: homosexuality and film. In September 1987, The Celluloid Closet’s second edition arrived at Bender just as I did. Studying the book’s spine, I was savvy enough to understand the “closet” allusion, and Vito’s Italian names made me feel a kinship with him. When I took the book off the shelf and saw the subtitle, Homosexuality in the Movies, stamped on its cover, I slid to the floor and spent the next several hours hypnotized. I’d had no idea of the damage that Hollywood had done to gays and lesbians. Some of the titles that Vito mentioned were familiar; most went right past me. That afternoon I received my first inkling that some gays not only liked themselves but fought like hell when insulted. Three years later, as an out and proud senior, I opened a copy of the Washington Blade and felt a rush of tears sting my eyes. “Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo dies at 44.” It was like losing a favorite uncle. Flash-forward fifteen years. At the 2005 Northeast Modern Language Association conference in Boston, Damion Clark chaired a panel on the Closet’s relevance to film studies today. I delivered a paper that I hoped might grow into a journal article. Angling for a personal perspective on Vito and his work, I wrote a letter to Vito’s best friend, Arnie Kantrowitz, and Arnie’s partner, Larry Mass. Both men gave me hours of phone time and insight. Larry also gave me an inadvertent grail. “It’s nice that you’re writing an article on The Celluloid Closet, but somebody really should write a full biography of Vito.” The notion seemed heaven-sent, but I was very nervous. Vito was a onename phenomenon. He knew everyone in gay culture and politics. He numbered Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler among his friends. He epitomized two generations of gay activism, from Stonewall through the first decade of AIDS. And he had any number of colleagues far more qualified and knowledgeable to write his story. Trying to muster self-confidence, I applied for fellowships under the careful guidance of David Román and my dear friend Robert Gross. I then spent several months poring over Vito’s papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library (NYPL), where Arnie had deposited them ten years earlier. (Yale wanted them, too. Bless Arnie for giving first dibs to the scholars of Vito’s favorite city.) There I received boundless help from head of manuscripts processing Melanie Yolles; reference archivists Laura Ruttum and Thomas Lannon; archivists Don Mennerich, Megan O’Shea, and Susan Waide; and technical assistant John Cordovez. These people know from primary sources, and they know how to advise in the friendliest, most efficient manner imaginable. I am also indebted to Lodi Memorial Library’s Barbara Frank and Artie Maglionico, who introduced me to local history that brought Vito’s adolescence to vivid life. At Fairleigh Dickinson University, Okang McBride, director of Alumni Relations, and Professor Martin Green, chair of English, gave me detailed background on Vito’s undergraduate career. I must thank Suzanne Dmytrenko, university registrar of San Francisco State University, for shedding light on Jeff Sevcik’s training as a poet. I offer deep gratitude to Maxine Wolfe and Marwa Amer of Brooklyn’s Lesbian Herstory Archives, a peerless resource where I received my first glimpses of Our Time and the 1973 Gay Pride debacle. Before digging deeply into Vito’s life, I never expected to learn much about his earliest education. His elementary-school days at Holy Rosary were nearly fifty years past, and his NYPL files contained no papers from his childhood. To my amazement, Holy Rosary (renamed Mt...


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