Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Judy Garland, the Stonewall and Mr. wOw ~ Our Mr. wOw looks back at June 28, 1969.

06/26/2010 12:00 am

Monday, June 28, is the 41st anniversary of the famous Stonewall riot, an event that changed history – gay people battled their way out of the closet – with bricks and uprooted parking meters and a defiance so shocking it scared the men of the NYPD. And despite many challenges, they have never gone back in.Now, unlike many gay men of my age who lived near and/or hung around Greenwich Village in 1969, Mr. wOw will not claim to have been a participant in the riot, an observer or even having been at the Stonewall earlier that night. He wasn’t in the Village that night. He had, however, been downtown the night before, and attempted to get into The Stonewall. The Stonewall was my very first bar – so exciting with its two jukeboxes and the little dance floor in the back that looked like a chessboard, lit from below. But the bouncer who usually allowed 16-year-old Mr. wOw onto the premises was away. No amount of eye-batting or promises of more could dissuade this dragon at the wooden door to allow me in. "How old are you?" I swore I was 19. "You look 15. Go away!" I wanted to argue that I’d been let in when I was 15, but better to wait for the friendly bouncer another night.So Mr. wOw wandered off, found a few similarly displaced acquaintances and spent the hot summer night camped (and camping it up) on various stoops, loitering outside other bars and making general teenaged nuisances of ourselves.At six o’clock AM on the morning of June 28, Mr. wOw and his pals were standing on Sixth Avenue right off Christopher Street. We were about to go our separate ways, when Mr. wOw said, "Wait, girls, today’s the last day Judy’s laid out, we should go up and see her!" (Back then, if you weren’t overtly masculine, you talked like that. Later, I dropped my "Oh, Mary’s" and "Miss Things." A guy I met around that time said, "I thought you were really cute, until you started talking! Why do think that’s necessary?") Now, the funny part was I wasn’t even much of a Judy Garland fan. No fanatic, at any rate. I knew who she was, what she supposedly represented to gay audiences, I was aware of her many dramas, suicide attempts, tales of her ruined voice, the "scandal" of her new much younger husband, Mickey Deans. I loved her MGM musicals, especially "Presenting Lily Mars." And of course I’d seen "A Star Is Born." I didn’t think then, and don’t think now, it was her finest hour. But, yes, of course she deserved the Oscar over Grace Kelly. But I’d never seen her perform live, and had never listened to any of her later recordings. (My one memory of her ill-fated TV series was visiting relatives on Sunday – there was Judy on the tube, in stark black and white, and looking rather fascinating to me. "Eh, she’s drunk," said one of my uncles, switching to "Bonanza.") So, I knew nothing of the thrall she held over audiences, gay and straight.Still, we all decided that going to see Judy Garland laid out at Frank Campbell’s would be a "fun" thing to do. (I know – but now you tell me about how sensitive you were at 16.) So, we boarded an uptown bus and pretty soon there we were in front of Frank Campbell’s – five motley, long-haired, fey boys in jeans and tee-shirts. There was still a line of mourners traipsing past Judy’s open casket. (The funeral would begin in a few hours.) While we stood there, I thought I’d impress my friends with my vast knowledge – "Rudolph Valentino was laid out here." Nobody was impressed. They didn’t know from the Sheik of Araby.

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