Mann (Wisecracker, 1998, etc.) intriguingly chronicles the experience of gay men and lesbians in Hollywood during the studio era: “a haven for homosexuals, a place to thrive and, within parameters, live and work with a degree of personal authenticity.”
While the Hollywood studios from the 1920s to the ’60s were hardly committed to gay rights, writes the author in this engrossing study, they did provide a milieu in which gays and lesbians worked as actors, directors, writers, costumers, decorators, and journalists, openly during the best of times, and never less than an open secret during the bad times. Mann sets the homosexual subculture within the larger social context: the freedom of the ’20s, the crackdown by the self-appointed ethics police and the imposition of the Production Code of the ’30s, the burgeoning of a gay community and consciousness during the war years, the anti-progressive lunacy of the ’50s, and the liberation of the ’60s. Working from primary sources and thousands of interviews with gay and lesbian movie people and their families, Mann’s analysis is complex but illuminating: he is at home discussing the class (and predominantly white) circumstances of gay expression as he is with shaping the notion of gay sensibilities at work in design and costuming. He handles with ease the gay subtexts in George Cukor’s work, the tangy feminism of Dorothy Arzner, the evolution of a gay culture with its own language, customs, and folk history. He treats with intelligence and without mercy both the sorry result of Catholic reformers getting their fingers into Hollywood in the post-Prohibition years, as well as the equally pathetic reason gays and lesbians were not more prominent on the blacklists: “The discrimination gays faced at the hands of the Communist Party.”
A unique and sophisticated understanding of Hollywood’s indispensable gay and lesbian culture.