25 milestones in Arizona’s LGBT culture that predate Echo
By Marshall Shores – Sept. 25, 2014
For 25 years Echo has been a mouthpiece for equality, a curator of headlines, an ambassador of progress, a community biographer and a platform for pioneers and, in some cases a trailblazer in its own right.
While our archives are as extensive as they are colorful, here’s a look at 25 milestones, facts, dates, names and places in Arizona’s LGBT culture that predate the pages of Echo Magazine.
Choo Choo Clarissa ran an establishment called The Prospector, just off 4th Avenue, in one of Tucson’s famed red-light districts. She was a strong-willed lesbian who catered to the desires of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, gender benders, and those that like to keep their company. During the dry times of Prohibition the booze flowed freely, 24 hours a day, along with live music and performances.
The first year for Masque of the Yellow Moon, an annual event that ran until 1955, that had, at its height, 3,000 to 4,000 high school students performing a show comparable to any Super Bowl half-time spectacular, featuring dance, skits, music and large scale sets. A former student said that he and some buddies would sneak in and steal part of the set, taking it to a friend’s backyard and producing outdoor theatrical plays for fun.
The word lesbian was mentioned in the most sensational murder case in Arizona’s history, that of Winnie Ruth Judd’s two roommates, Annie and Sammy. Judd took a train trip from Phoenix to Los Angeles with her roommates, but they rode in four trunks. She was found guilty, then innocent, then placed in the Arizona State Mental Hospital for 40 years, escaping seven times for up to six years at a time.
Where could men go to find the company of other men? One active area that continued to be popular into the 1980s was the “Fruit Loop,” a circuit located near downtown Phoenix encompassing Roosevelt, Third, Portland, and First streets.
What’s the best name for a lesbian bar ever? Kaye’s Happy Landing Buffet, of course, which opened its doors on south Central Avenue in 1941. During WWII, happy landing could have been a double entendre. Kaye Elledge was a rather short and gruff woman with the opposite taste in girlfriends: She liked the femme lipstick lesbians. She operated the bar for some 25 years and passed away in 1977.
Rae Bourbon (right), a full time female impersonator, traveled the country performing “outrageous” and “risqué” monologues at early gay bars, such as Kaye’s Happy Landing Buffet and Roy’s Buffet in Phoenix, and the Cotillion Room and La Jolla in Tucson.
The women of the Ramblers, including Dot Wilkinson, won their third national championship. Throughout the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, women’s softball was a popular sport in Arizona with teams such as the Ramblers, Holsum Maids and Queens. It’s no wonder that these games were the place to be for any lesbian about town, given that the players were required to wear lipstick at all times, uniforms of either shorts or skirts and only fashionable hair dos (never bobs).
In the early ’50s one of the most talked about clubs in town, 307, moved from its original location at 307 E. Roosevelt St. (where it opened around 1940 as Roy’s Buffet) to 222 E. Roosevelt St. Despite going through a variety of owners and name changes, the name 307 and the cabaret-style lounge’s reputation for drag queens stuck. Even a few of today’s well-known performers, such as Barbra Seville and Celia Putty, worked there.
Today the building is home to GreenHAUS, a gallery and boutique, as well as covered and protected murals by one of Arizona’s most famous artists, Ted DeGrazia. The story goes that even before the 307 days, this was his neighborhood bar and the owners let DeGrazia paint the walls to pay off his bar tab.
Ralph Parachek, a local architect, began designing and selling men-centric clothing as Parr of Arizona was started by. Now called Nu-Parr, the retailer is still in business today, specializing in hand made and custom swimwear, underwear and pants. nu-parr.com
George Quaintance (1902–1957) was a gay American artist, famous for his stylized homoerotic images that appeared on covers of ’50s beefcake magazines, such as Physique Pictorial. Near the end of his career, he lived in Phoenix and took inspiration from his surroundings. Wild West settings were a common motif, and his artwork was instrumental in creating the modern stereotype of the “macho stud.”
Rusty Warren, sometimes billed as the “mother of the sexual revolution,” recorded her first album, Songs for Sinners, at the Pomp Room in Phoenix. Her comedy was known for being bawdy, direct and appealing to females’ sense of humor. She hit it big in the early ’60s with a song called “Knockers Up.” After that she moved from central Phoenix to Paradise Valley into what she called “the House that Knockers built.” Now she is readying her archives for the Library of Congress.
Police raids were not uncommon for establishments that catered to homosexuals. These raids resulted in patrons being arrested and taken to jail and, in some cases, having their names mentioned in the local paper. One such raid occurred at the Eighth Day Private Club, which was just south of Roosevelt.
Don Bachardy, a portrait artist and life partner of writer Christopher Isherwood, hosted a solo show at the Phoenix Art Museum. I always thought it was interesting that a gay upstart artist was brought to Phoenix in 1963.
Mr. Conservative, former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, was the Republican candidate for the presidential election. While he lost the election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, he would declare that the military should lift its ban on gays almost 30 years later (18 years before President Obama would lift the ban).
This year the Grammy Award-winning, and often lip-synched gay classic, “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” was recorded by Nancy Sinatra. The hit song was written and produced by Lee Hazlewood, a 2011 Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee.
Andy Warhol filmed Lonesome Cowboys at Old Tucson Studios. Intended to be a satire on Hollywood westerns, with a plot loosely based on Romeo and Juliet that included the erotic confrontations of an outlaw gang and the townspeople, the production was run out of town due to the soft-core porn antics performed and filmed while the studio was open for tours by the public. Entire families would stumble upon the actors in various states of undress and interaction. It featured Warhol superstars Viva and Joe Dallesandro.
The now-historic neighborhood of Coronado became Phoenix’s first – and likely only – gay ghetto, as middle class gay white men from the suburbs moved in and started renovating homes.
Sandra Bernhard graduated from Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School. The comedian, actress, singer, and author went on to portray one of the first openly lesbian characters on TV in the sitcom Roseanne.
A giddy couple applied for a marriage license. They were over 18 and had the money to pay the fee. The clerk at the Maricopa County Clerk’s Office summoned her supervisor, and since there was no law against it, the couple, Sam Burnett and Tony Secuya, received a marriage license. Later the issued license was found to be a legal error.
The first gay and lesbian dance, organized and advertised by an Arizona State University student group, took place on Valentine’s Day. Open to the general public, the dance received coverage by a local TV station and earned the condemnation of some ultraconservatives in the state legislature.
John Water’s film Desperate Living, starring the Valley’s own Liz Renay, was released. She ran away from home at age 13, won a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest, became a showgirl and then a “moll” to mobster Mickey Cohen.
Harry Hay (1912– 2002), the “father of gay liberation,” was a prominent gay rights activist. He was also a founder of the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights group in the United States. His interest in Native American spirituality led to his co-founding the Radical Faeries, a loosely affiliated gay spiritual movement. In 1979, the first Faerie gathering was held about 40 miles outside of Benson, Ariz.
Originating as a production of one-act plays in Phoenix, entitled An Evening of Gay Theatre, was such a huge success that it soon developed into the Janus Theatre, eventually moving into the historic Mormon School that is now the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. The troupe performed gay themed productions that, at the time, no other company would touch. After 35 productions, the company disbanded in 1987.
Howdy, pardner! Arizona was the fifth state to host a gay rodeo. First, Tish Tanner (right) won the title of Miss Reno National Gay Rodeo, then the Charlie’s Phoenix location opened, and shortly thereafter, the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) was born. The first rodeo was took place at a unique facility on the south side in Laveen: Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds. The 30th ARGA Rodeo is scheduled for Feb. 13-15, 2015. agra-phx.com
American artist and social activist Keith Haring’s career was on a meteoric rise when he came to town for a drawing workshop with youth at the Phoenix Art Museum and commented on the city’s lack of public art. As a result, he planned a mural for the boarded-up windows of the former Hartfield’s Dress Shop at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Adams Street (now a parking lot abutting Hanny’s). The City Council paid for the paint, and 60 students were on hand to work on the mural. Haring free handed the entire 125-foot design and the students, who were simply tasked with filling in between the lines with solid colors, started making dots, initials and other designs. The organizers were concerned, but Haring said they were doing what youth should do: making it their own. The non-permanent mural (on the untreated plywood that boarded up the building’s windows) remained on display for five years before it was taken down.
As part of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Phoenix, he conducted a 75,000-person mass at Sun Devil Stadium and took part in a parade through central Phoenix. The bar Cruisin’Central sold hot dogs to the waiting crowds (this bar would relocate and become Cruisin’ 7th due to light rail construction). e
Marshall Shore, Arizona’s Hip Historian, shares his passion for the weird, wonderful and obscure treasures from our past as well as the semi-forgotten people, places and events that have made us who we are today.