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129 5 “Professional Movement Flash and Trash” Shortly after the 1973 gala, John Paul Hudson reflected on GAA, the Continental Baths, and the Bette Midler craze. He decided that the scene had the makings of a spicy comedy-thriller. The result, coauthored with playwright Warren Wexler, was Superstar Murder? A Prose Flick (1976), a sexy, spoofy roman à clef detailing the apparent murder of “Bess Mittman,” principal chanteuse at the “Cosmopolitan Baths.” One of the Cosmopolitan regulars is “Guido DiCostanzo,” a fierce Mittman loyalist who works for the “Film Museum” and describes himself as “what they used to call a Movie Queen before Stonewall.” Guido is the most sympathetic character in a rogues’ gallery of opportunistic crazies. Sporting Lambda T-shirts and jewelry, he is a perennially sunny activist with “bright spaniel eyes” and a “smile so broad it appeared that he had more teeth than came with a standard model.” This self-proclaimed “sissy” fills his answering machine with Gay Power sloganeering (“I love you, whoever you are—especially if you’re gay”) and puts himself in considerable danger to track down his beloved Bess, who—spoiler alert—turns out to be a drag queen. Bucking for a movie sale, John Paul and Warren suggest in the novel’s epilogue that Guido be played by Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy. Vito loved Superstar’s elevation of him and the baths to icon status. In reality, though, he had tired of the Continental, which was imploring patrons to maintain a “positive image” out on West 74th Street, where they should “not impose unbecoming conduct on the public at large.” Vito railed to Steve Ostrow that the Continental’s patrons were also public citizens whose public behavior was none of Ostrow’s business. But the fight almost didn’t seem worth the effort. Vito considered the club’s pricey sixteen-dollar cover charge an insult when increasing numbers of heterosexuals were admitted to see Bette as well as Tiny Tim, opera star Eleanor Steber, and Barry Manilow, whose own career was starting to take off independent of Midler’s. Realizing that straight audiences often came to ogle gay patrons, Vito resented being treated as an unwitting spectacle, especially when straights attacked gays who dared to dance nude on their own turf. Gyrating alongside Vito, Arnie squirmed to find himself “part of the freaky zoo décor” and mused, “Which side of the bars are the spectators on in the zoo?” Bella Abzug might still campaign for the gay vote at the Continental, where she was shocked to find some of her most passionate supporters wearing Bella buttons and nothing else, but the baths were going irretrievably mainstream. The bloom was fading from the movement as well. Barbara Gittings attributed the demise to “zap” saturation; observers were becoming progressively “turned off by strident shoutings.” Arthur Bell concurred, stating flatly that the “gay lib movement, as we knew it in ’69–’72, is dead.” Shock tactics no longer tantalized a Watergate-weary audience. The malaise also lay within GAA itself. Too many attended dances or even meetings without incorporating activism into their daily lives. In Arnie’s vivid phrasing, “Licking envelopes is useful, but it isn’t as liberating as telling your mother you lick the genitals of the same sex.” GAA was permanently supplanted by the newly formed National Gay Task Force (NGTF), an organization whose corporate scope far outreached that of its scrappy predecessor. As Ronald Gold, NGTF’s first communications director, put it, “Gay liberation has become a nine-to-five job—there’s no other way to do it.” Vito never had much interest in a traditional office job, even one dedicated to his favorite cause. He retreated to an oasis fifty miles southeast of Manhattan. By the early seventies, Vito was no longer a scared kid running to Fire Island in secret flight from New Jersey. He didn’t need to escape a closeted work environment or a homophobic family. But he still viewed the island as a netherworld where traditional social rules did not apply. It reminded him of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954–55), whose Forest of Lothlórien was an enchanted realm of perfect peace, with total immunity to outside evil. During the midsixties, Vito had witnessed Meat Rack raids in which terrified young men clad only in bathing suits (if that) were herded into police speedboats and locked in Suffolk County jail cells. Shortly before Stonewall, however, mass entrapments came...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299282332
Related ISBN
9780299282301
MARC Record
OCLC
757736367
Pages
366
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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