Friday, March 30, 2012

A Lone Wolf Turned TV Actor

"When I first got to Stanford University," says Wolfe Perry, the talented and handsome 25-year-old black actor of Up and Coming and The White Shadow fame, "I had no idea what career I would take. So I took general studies and just took a bunch of classes and was hoping that one would strike my fancy. Fortunately, drama did."

Wolfe came to Stanford in 1975 by courtesy of a four-year basketball scholarship but the future actor became disenchanted with the sport. "I was miserable the whole time," says the former star of the Stanford Cardinals in a telephone interview from his father's house in Oakland, California, "because I think I'm too selfish a person to play basketball. I was ready to quit when I was at Stanford because I had found something else to turn onto and that was drama. I was forced to play basketball in order to keep the scholarship. I liked basketball but I didn't like to play it every day. I had a lot of trouble with teammates. I felt that the best person should shoot the ball and I always thought I was the best person."

Wolfe now regards his choice of basketball as a career goal as "another dumb choice I made in my life." (In 1979 he had been drafted by the Utah Jazz and while in their training camp, he had decided to drop out in order to pursue an acting career.) "It [basketball] was at one time fun but the higher up you go, the fun diminishes. It just wrecks your body," explains Perry.

As it turned out, the National Basketball Association's loss became--with some disappointment to his family--television's gain. "I'm sure they would much prefer to see me as a professional athlete but I'm the one who has to wrap the bandages and set the ice packs," says the six-foot-two, 170-pound actor.

During his "four rather studious years" (when he wasn't on the basketball court), Wolfe appeared in some 25 campus productions. The plays ranged from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. Does he plan to pursue further dramatic training? "I think I [have] enough knowledge," says Perry, "to put some of it to work." (He has a B.A. in drama.)

His dramatic knowledge must have been quite impressive because when he auditioned at Stanford for the part of Kevin Wilson, the 17-year-old high school basketball star in Up and Coming, the casting director hired him on the spot. What's more, Wolfe was the last one to be auditioned that day. (Up and Coming is a half-hour public television dramatic series about Frank and Joyce Wilson and their three children who through hard work and sacrifice move from a low-income black neighborhood to a middle-class, integrated one in San Francisco. The show, which premiered in the fall of 1980, lasted only two seasons.)

When Up and Coming was on hiatus, Wolfe went to Los Angeles in search of an agent. When he found one, he was sent that same day to a White Shadow audition. He landed the part of Teddy Rutherford, a scholar-athlete from a black middle class family who decide to send him to a ghetto school in South-Central Los Angeles to raise his black consciousness. Wolfe considers his work on The White Shadow to be "a pretty good learning experience in that I got to work with some really professional people on their level and also learned how to work very, very fast because that's what's necessary in television production."

To some degree, Wolfe Perry is similar to the Rutherford character. He has always been a straight A student and he has "always been intrigued and fascinated by the whole schooling process."

Perry, like Rutherford, loves to read. His reading consists of biographies and love stories. His other leisure time activities are watching old movies on television ( Humphrey Bogart is his favorite actor), playing dominoes, and going to the racetrack.

Wolfe is such a loner that if you try to get him to go out and do a bit of socializing, you've got a major task on your hands. "I hate going out," he says. "I go out to try to socialize and end up having a horrible time. Usually, I go out with one of my buddies. I just camp out at a table somewhere and try to get as drunk as possible. My life is almost a disaster socially. Most of my spare time I spend either looking at television or dreaming about girls. And that's about it [he laughs]. That's the excitement. That's the flavoring in my life."

His shy, quiet manner causes people to ask him if he's OK. "I've always been like that. Off to myself and not bothering anyone. That's why it's kind of strange to have [fans] approach me because I'm not use to that type thing at all." (A recent fan magazine article in which he spoke of being lonely brought 15,000 letters from adoring female readers.)

Wolfe is presently seeking financial backing for a production company he wants to start. It's not that he's tired of acting--"I plan to continue acting with the projects that I produce"--it's just that he is "dissatisfied with the way things are done in L. A." TV and movies, says Wolfe, "are wasting a lot of money with bad scripts, bad projects. So I want to do something with some quality. Something good." He has already written two feature film scripts. "I've talked to some people who know what writing is, whose opinion I respect highly and they said, 'very good'."

"My desire," says Wolfe, "is to get as much work as possible as an actor. I'm really in love with the whole art of it. I'd like to get as much experience as possible." If Wolfe's past efforts are any indication, it's a sure bet we'll be hearing as well as seeing much more of this talented and ambitious young actor.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (January 15, 1983).

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Cornucopia Of Gay & Lesbian Facts

Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, edited by Lynn Witt, Sherry Thomas, and Eric Marcus (Warner Books)

Out in All Directions is a smorgasbord of information that is so exciting and pleasurable, it's difficult for the reader to know what to read first. As the reader browses the 600-plus pages, all sorts of illustrations, articles, lists, and marginalia vie for immediate attention.

Divided into 10 chapters, the themes in Out in All Directions include: "Myths and Facts," "The Material World" (among the topics are: "Owning Our Own: Gay and Lesbian Bookstores," "Queer Groups at Work," and "Gay Money: What Is It? Who Has It?"), and "We Are Everywhere" (the topics in this chapter include: "Gays in the Fashion Industry," "Queers in the Church," "Out of the Closet, Into the Newsroom," and "Sports Are for Sissies, Too.")

The editors have made a special effort to be inclusive, hence there is much information by and about people of color, for example.

The stated aim of the editors is to "uncover history, illuminate gay and lesbian life, explode myths, and break new ground."

One flaw in the book is the listing of famous people as gay or lesbian without corroborating evidence. How does Jim Kepner know for sure that the scientist George Washington Carver or the composer Harold Arlen were gay men? What are his sources?

Out in All Directions belongs in every gay and lesbian home library despite that flaw because it contains genuinely important information we all--gay and straight-- should know about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Imitating Tennessee

I'm reading Christopher Bram's hard-to-put-down Eminent Outlaws (Twelve, 2012) which is about influential gay writers (Capote, Baldwin, Isherwood, et al). Bram notes Tennessee Williams's constant complaints about being "exhausted and ill." That reminded me of film critic Rex Reed's humorous imitation of Williams. Whenever Reed inquired about Williams's health, the stock reply, delivered in Williams's Southern drawl, would be "Oh, baby, I'm sick."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Assotto Saint's Videotape Erasure

Other than poet Assotto Saint and his life partner Jan Holmgren, I am probably the only person to have viewed a videotape of our mutual friend Dave Frechette's final moments as he lay in a hospital bed.

Dave, a very gifted writer and journalist, died of AIDS-related complications at New York's Roosevelt Hospital in 1991.

As he lay dying, Assotto and Jan recorded him up to the point when he took his last breaths. At the moment of death, Assotto is seen trying to close Dave's eyes. But they wouldn't stay closed.

Assotto, shortly after showing me the tape in his Chelsea apartment, accidentally erased it. An avid fan of the soap opera, All My Children, he recorded an episode of the show on the tape containing the video of Dave's death. "Can you imagine," he lamented to me, "erasing the tape for a soap opera?" Apparently, he did not label the cassette or punch out the little plastic tabs at both ends of the cassette to prevent such a catastrophe. Unfortunately, that tape is now forever lost to gay history. ( There was a recording of Dave's funeral service, which I also viewed at Assotto's home, but I don' t remember if it was on the same cassette.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Virginia Apuzzo Speaks Her Mind

This archival interview took place in the offices of the then New York-based National Gay Task Force in 1983. Virginia Apuzzo was the executive director at the time. The interview was published in whole or in part in USA Today and the New York Native, a gay and lesbian weekly newspaper. The following is an excerpt from the interview.

Charles Michael Smith: What type of gay rights legislation do you want to see enacted?
Virginia Apuzzo: First of all, the issue of legislation unfortunately is one that is not clear and clean in terms of how we divide our responsibilities in the gay and lesbian community. Legislation on the federal level has traditionally been the jurisdiction of the Gay Rights National Lobby and I co-chaired that organization from its inception [in 1967] till [the spring of] 1978. But among those things that are on our legislative agenda right now is certainly all of the appropriations legislation that has to do with AIDS. And you see it's the nature of the American system that the budget gets presented and then the Congress approves the budget and then as we needed additional appropriations that emanates from the House and goes to the Senate for confirmation. So we have a legislation that relates to appropriations around AIDS. That's one category. Two, immigration. The National Gay Task Force has had immigration as one of its key concerns since we began. I think there are few people who realize the unfairness of immigration. A person like Elton John or Quentin Crisp can come into the country because they are of high notoriety and are successful and [have] acknowledged sexual preferences. Carl Hill tried to get into the country [and] did not bode as successfully.
The Carl Hill case was the case we just won out in the San Francisco Federal [9th] Circuit District [Court]. The Carl Hill case was decided in our favor that the federal government could not keep him out. That could conceivably be appealed. I'm not sure. We sent a letter to [U.S. Attorney General] William French Smith urging that it not be appealed and also urging that they take the rationale that was confirmed and affirmed by the courts and utilize that to look again at the question of immigration and how they might be much more realistic as far as we're concerned.
CMS: Describe the Carl Hill case briefly.
VA: Carl Hill was from the United Kingdom, Britain, and attempted to come into the country and had a button that identified himself as a homosexual and was stopped and was detained and we predicated our case on utilizing that button to keep him out and his homosexuality is a violation of First Amendment rights. You might also take note of the fact that in the State of California there was a Pacific Telephone case which was litigated and it was determined that coming out is a political act. That therefore the whole question of First Amendment to homosexuality is something we've got to look at very, very carefully. I think that we're in the embryonic stages of the federal government finally beginning to deal with that.
When homosexuality was considered a disease, the [U.S.] Surgeon General could have jurisdiction over saying the person could be kept out because he or she was mentally ill. That's why people have to understand why the American Psychiatric Association and its [statement that homosexuality was not] an illness was so important. It was because the federal government could no longer predicate its argument against [allowing homosexuals into the country] on that argument.
CMS: How active will you be at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco next year?
VA: Very active. It's not just the Democratic Convention. The proper question is, if I may, how active will the gay and lesbian community be in the presidential election in 1984? That's the larger question because we have gay Republicans.
CMS: Does association with the Democrats hurt gays?
VA: No. No. I think that it's important that the gay and lesbian rights movement recognize that our diversity also includes Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians, Independents. We're in every conceivable political party. My sense is that to the extent that gays and lesbians talk across party lines about the issues that concern us and that's important.
CMS: Is AIDS the biggest issue in the gay community?
VA: No. I think AIDS occupies a lot of our energy and our time but you must understand some things that putting AIDS in its context it certainly has commanded our undivided attention. But we lose 2,000 gays and lesbians a year to alcohol-related deaths. We are suffering from the same health care problems that the rest of America is suffering whether it's Alzheimer's disease or diabetes or hepatitis. We lose people every year to hepatitis. I think what AIDS ought to underscore for us is the dismal state of health care in America today. Sure, my consciousness has been raised through AIDS but my consciousness isn't fenced in by AIDS. AIDS ought to get us to think about all other issues.
CMS: Do you feel the government has done enough to solve the AIDS epidemic?
VA: No, obviously I don't. I've been yelling at them for about a year now. I think government is reactive government. That's probably my chief complaint. It's reactive. It walks an inch and you have to push it to say "That's not the mile, that's an inch." Government only reacts to pressure. So there's the necessity to keep that pressure escalated.
CMS: Has the press informed the public adequately about AIDS?
VA: The press has made a lot of headlines about AIDS. But one area that I would like to see the press look at is the worried well. Do you know what it's like for gay men who have fear all their lives about their sexual identity and having come to grips with that now have to fear their sexuality? That fear is a frantic fear. We've got a problem around stress and AIDS that hasn't begun to be dealt with. There's also some young men with AIDS who have stabilized their condition I think there ought to be more attention to that so that a person who gets diagnosed today doesn't feel like the only outcome is death. The third thing I don't think the press has paid enough attention to is [the fact that] there are 144 women with AIDS. We never read about those women. 54 percent of that group fall in no known risk category.
CMS: What are lesbians doing to fight AIDS?
VA: [There is] a program in which the lesbians in San Diego called Blood Sister donate blood so that gay men who could no longer give blood or were refraining from giving blood would not be left vulnerable. I'd like to see that catch on a lot more. There's a group called Women's AIDS Network nationally that's set up to deal with our concerns about AIDS, It's not exclusively a male phenomenon. But certainly women have been involved in this issue. I've probably talked more about AIDS than just about anybody around nationally.
CMS: Has AIDS strengthened gay solidarity?
VA: I think unfortunately the human being and the community of human beings do come together closer when there is a catastrophe. I think the gay community has done an enormous reassessment of how important it is to itself and to each other.
CMS: Writer Dennis Altman, on a radio show, said that he can't understand any gay or lesbian joining the military. What are your thoughts?
VA: People say that to me all the time. And that's my personal opinion. But we live with certain socio-economic realities in this country and for some people going into the military is a step up. We have to be about choice, about affording people the choices in their life. I wouldn't subscribe to the military but for some people it's the only way out of the situation. We can't judge other people's decision. We can only support them in their choices.
CMS: What did you think of Village Voice writer Anna Mayo's article about federal AIDS research?
VA: I think it ["Grandstanding on AIDS," Voice, November 1] was a homophobic article and it was a sexist article. It was also an article that seemed much more concerned--I think Richard Goldstein answered the article well this week in the Village Voice ["Acquired Mayo Deficiency Syndrome," November 8]. I think it was an absurd article. If Anna Mayo feels that I treated the federal government unfairly, then I would hope that where she feels the federal government treats gays unfairly, she will be equally as volatile in her response to them. But clearly it doesn't bother Anna Mayo that the federal government is the largest single discriminator against gay people and lesbians around. It doesn't faze her at all. The article was a trashy article. It was. I stand by it. If I had an opportunity to do it again, the only way I would alter it is to be more emphatic in my tone.
CMS: Mayo wrote: "[Congressman] Walker (R-Pennsylvania) tried to pin Apuzzo down on her charges of homophobia. Walker asked her--since she had gone on record with such very serious charges--to please name names and identify specific incidents of antigay discrimination in the health field so that he could personally see to it that such discrimination did not continue."
VA: She said I sputtered and I squeaked and if anybody knows me, they know I never squeaked in my life. When I want to say something, I say it pretty out front. The question of institutional or systemic racism or sexism or homophobia is not a ludicrous response. It is a response that underscores the fact that when something like racism or sexism or homophobia is so deep-rooted, people have it as part of the baggage that they carry with them, their perspective, everything about the way they see these populations is viewed by that underlying prejudice. That is my statement and I stand by that statement. And if there are gay people and lesbians who feel that the federal government is not homophobic, well, fine, let them step forward. But in dealing with this issue as in dealing with every other issue, I found institutional homophobia to be a major part of the resistance on the part of the federal government, just as I have found institutional racism and institutional sexism to be the determination in why things are not functioning at a more rapid rate in dealing with issues.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Peek Behind The Broadway Curtain

The "[r]atings for [NBC's Smash] writes New York Daily News TV critic Richard Huff, " are not smashing" but nevertheless it's "a neat little drama." I totally agree. I learned of the series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe in an interview featuring playwright Theresa Rebeck on WNET/Channel 13's Theater Talk.

While discussing Rebeck's play Seminar, co-host Michael Riedel of the New York Post mentioned that she created Smash. I decided to check out the show and became instantly a fan.

Amid a plethora of shows about cops, lawyers, and doctors, Smash is a welcome relief.

There's plenty of sex (gay and straight), backstabbing, professional setbacks, prima donna moments,etc. And the show is filmed on location in New York City, which is a big plus for me.There's no doubt the show is a hit with at least one demographic--gay theatre buffs. Although I haven't been to the theatre in years, I'm still intrigued by all of the backstage goings-on.

Despite its disappointing ratings, I'm hoping the show will last another season. If it does, it will have a better chance of appearing in reruns on Logo or some other gay-oriented channel.

Gay Erotica From The 'Hood

Low-Hanging Fruit by G. B. Mann (Grapevine Press, 127 pp.)

Some words of warning to James Earl Hardy, Larry Duplechan, and E. Lynn Harris--watch your backs, fellas, a new black gay writer is right behind you. His name is G. B. Mann. And his debut book, Low-Hanging Fruit, a collection of erotic short fiction, is quite impressive for a rookie.

The book's title, writes Mann in his one-page introduction, "brings to mind various images" such as "flashbacks of Black men swinging from trees," the victims of racist Southern lynch mobs. But it is quite clear that the primary image Mann, a Los Angeles-based writer, wants to evoke is genital.

What is refreshing about these nine stories, set in L.A. or D.C. (where Mann was born), is that the sex in them is not gratuitous. (Unfortunately, the characters never use condoms.) In fact, a couple of them ("Head Game" and "A Love Deferred") barely contain any sex at all. For Mann, it's the plot, not the sex, that matters most. His stories are more than a celebration of black gay male sexuality, they are also a celebration of African-American life and culture. This is particularly evident in "Head Game," my favorite story. Except for the last scene, the rest of the story takes place in an L.A. barbershop with the unlikely name of Plumes. (The shop's name would be too lavender to survive in a black neighborhood.) Mann knows that the barbershop has been an important institution in many black communities. It has been the gathering place for men to swap gossip, baseball or basketball scores, jokes, tales filled with bravado. And if you're homosexually-inclined, as Jaymes, the protagonist, is, it is an opportunity to have your hair cut while "crotchwatching" in a place where "Lingering eye contact, flirtation, and self-adoration, all normally taboo, are acceptable."

Another excellent story is "A Love Deferred," which explains how Kuma Davis, at one time "a ball-playing legend at Ballou High School" ends up on the street "pushing a shopping cart and talking to himself," His descent into hell is linked to a cruel remark by his prom night date that questions his masculinity. This is the first time I've read a piece of fiction about a homeless gay man, and it makes me wonder how many Kumas I've unknowingly walked past.

Unlike the erotic stories found in gay men's skin magazines, the ones in Low-Hanging Fruit are more believable because the characters do not live in a word inhabited only by gay men. As in real life, they interact every day with all kinds of people. For example, the situation In "Busfare" is something that could happen on a city bus. The first-person narrator describes sitting in "the street-side window seat in the very back" of the bus masturbating behind a copy of the Washington Post "to create a shield" as a fellow passenger looks on. "His eyes stretched wide with amazement, then slitty with lust." As the bus makes a stop, he observes that the "People stood on the sidewalk just inches away, oblivious to the heat at the fringe of their awareness."

In "Steal a Way," set somewhere in the South, Mingo and Coye, both runaway slaves, near the end of the story make love in an attic of a "wood frame house" that "sat across the stream," the first stop on their journey north to freedom. Afrocentric historians will dispute the notion that homosexuality existed among African slaves, but I applaud Mann's efforts in writing an "historical" account. The scene in which their master "made them enter him" and eagerly watched Mingo and Coye "as they made love at his command, upon his marriage bed," however, will undoubtedly give the Afrocentrists enough ammunition to declare homosexuality as a white man's perversion. It would have been better if Mann had established their sexuality as something that existed before any encounter with Master Washington. Nevertheless, it is a pioneering story.

As in any collection, Low-Hanging Fruit has stories that are better than others in the same volume, but their cinematic style and pace make them all worth reading.

To sum up, the future looks bright for (the pseudonymous?) G. B. Mann.

This article was originally published in the Lambda Book Report (October 1997).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gay Night At The Cotton Club

It was during the summer of 1983 when I first heard about Gay Night at the Cotton Club, which is every Friday night. The information came from a social worker friend of mine who heard about it from a fellow member of a gay men's Christian group. I made a mental note to one day check the place out. However, for me, visiting such a place is more fun when you're around people you know and like and so I waited for the opportunity to go there with a friend or in a group. Such an opportunity finally came when it was announced in the newsletter of Black and White Men Together that they were planning to visit the club following a consciousness-raising session at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Greenwich Village.

Instead of meeting the group in the Village, I went directly to the Cotton Club in a radio cab. I stepped from the cab and into the plushness of the Cotton Club, which sits on 125th Street, in the shadow of the Broadway El, around 11:45. (The club opens for business at 11 p.m.)

As I checked my coat in, disco music greeted my ears. I paid the seven-dollar admission price and at the suggestion of the guy who collected the money, I signed my name and address to the mailing list. He asked me if I had ever been to the Cotton Club before. I replied no. He then began to tell me that the little yellow disc he had handed me was good for one free beer or glass of wine (however, Heineken beer, with the yellow disc, is $1.50, a dollar off the regular price.) Another employee, a waiter I assumed, came over to tell me where the restrooms and bars were. He led me to a group of tables and chairs, near the dance floor. I expected to see a crowd, instead there were only a handful of people present. My coat ticket might have been number 406, but there were obviously not 405 other people in the place. Oh, well, the night was still young and promising.

After the waiter, dressed in black trousers, black tie, and a white shirt took my order--a Heineken--I saw a couple of familiar faces seated at one of the tables--Lidell and his lover Mitchell from BWMT. Sitting at an adjoining table was a bearded, sandy-haired man who was introduced as Michael, a member of the D.C. chapter of BWMT. The four of us decided to head for the lounge on the second floor which we reached via a spiral staircase.

I came dressed for the occasion in a blue sport jacket, blue slacks, and a blue tie over a yellow shirt. The newsletter item stated: "No jeans or sneakers, please." But Lidell, Mitchell, and their guest were casually dressed, as were most of the patrons. Apparently they found out that the Cotton Club is not dress-code conscious.

We four sat at one of a cluster of little tables covered by a lavender tablecloth and topped by a pink rose in a short glass. The lighting there was subdued, the music, loud--super loud, really (you have to shout in order to be heard)--and the mood, romantic. The walls are burgundy-colored. On one wall were the stained glass likenesses of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, a pictorial salute to the golden days of Harlem and the club's namesake (located at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in the 1920s). The bar, shaped almost like a horseshoe, and made of polished wood, was surrounded by people either sitting or standing.

For about a half-hour, the four of us chatted about my work in journalism (Michael, I learned, is a computer programmer at the Washington Post), gay life in D.C., and music. I wanted to stretch my legs a bit so decided to take a tour of the club. The Cotton Club, unlike some other Harlem nightspots, is quite tame: no arguments, no cussing, no fistfights, not even the faint smell of marijuana. These patrons came out for a good time, not trouble. This was their opportunity to be among other black gay men in a hassle-free environment.

And although the club does not have a policy of discriminating against whites, one BWMT member, whose idea it was to come up to the club, sadly told me that no one he asked wanted to dance with him. (He eventually ended up being the only white person in the club. He said he didn't mind that but what hurt him were the numerous rejections. The other BWMT members--the few who bothered to come uptown--left about 2 a.m. Michael had a 9 a.m. train to catch back to D.C.; Mitchell, a lawyer, had some work to catch up on the next day.)

A few steps below the lounge , and about ten feet above the dance floor, is a narrow mezzanine lined with a single row of tables and chairs against a wall. I sat down at a table populated by an ash-flecked glass ashtray, a small round table lamp, and an empty glass. The lavender tablecloth was dotted by about three or four small cigarette burns.

Looking down at the crowded dance floor, vibrating with the bumping, grinding, and wildly gyrating bodies, I saw one guy take off his shirt, baring a smooth, muscular brown torso. He stuck the shirt in the front of his waistband and began to rotate his hips. The overhead strobe lights flashed red, then white, then returned us to the semi-dark. He stretched his arms vertically, dipped down, and slowly came up for air, while his hips continued to swivel seductively. For a second, my attention left him and focused on another dancer nearby. When I looked for the bare chested one, I was unable to locate him. I must say, he was quite a dancer.

I decided to go downstairs to get a better view of the action. I went up the four or five steps to the second-floor lounge, past the bar on the left and the tables on the right, and down the winding stairs. I walked across the edge of the dance floor to the sidelines where, on a long white vinyl couch sat some of the BWMT members, and others, resting from their terpsichorean acrobatics.

Above us rotated the stardust ball, fracturing a shaft of green light. Periodically an almost blinding cascade of white light appeared from a distant wall, producing a flickered image of those dancing. One dancer, in loose-fitting trousers with his white shirt open down to his navel, moved from side to side. he threw his head back while he hugged both thighs. He turned around once very quickly and threw out both arms in swimmer-like strokes. A few feet away, a couple, one wearing a red and white knit sweater, the other in what appeared to be a white sweater of a synthetic material, both in black leather pants, swiveled and swayed to the pulsating reggae beat. A blue light from the wall near the staircase leading up flashed instantly and intensively, bathing those in its path with a bright glow as if from a UFO in a science-fiction movie. For several minutes, the leather-panted duo moved toward each other, then backed away. They circled and faced each other, doing quick two steps. They too sat down on the couch. As they did so, a curl of bluish-white cigarette smoke drifted past me like a cloud.

All hell broke loose during the playing of George Kranz's "Din Daa Daa." both on the dance floor and on the sidelines. The dancers from BWMT, both black, rubbed up against each other, in simulation of what looked like sexual moves. The smaller of the two draped himself over his stocky partner who later threw a leg over the other's back. They took turns gripping each other by the thighs from behind, while doing a bumping gesture. It was all totally, and refreshingly, out of hand. Those on the sidelines raised their arms while hooting and hollering, as the music drove them to a heightened state of ecstasy.

About 3:30 a.m., I headed upstairs to the bar and ordered another Heineken, my second and last of the night. (I have a low tolerance for alcohol.) The room was nearly deserted. I walked over to an open exit door that looked out onto Broadway which at that hour was as dark and deserted as the room I stood in. I walked gingerly down the staircase, carrying the bottle in one hand, the glass in the other. I excused myself as I walked through a small group of spectators and then between two gyrating couples on the dance floor. I sat down near an Hispanic-looking guy on the white vinyl couch; i resumed watching the "show."

One guy, who also sat on the couch beside me, told me that the crowd that night was smaller than usual. I found out from him that the club began attracting a gay clientele about a year ago when it came under new management. He pointed out the owner to me, a tall, slender young black man dancing on the floor. I stifled any desire to approach him since he, a few weeks earlier, in a telephone conversation with me, rejected my offer to interview him. I am researching a piece about the original Cotton Club in connection with the forthcoming movie and I wanted to compare and/or contrast the two clubs bearing the same name. The piece is for a straight news organization, and I assumed that the owner--or manager, as he was identified to me--turned me down because he was fearful of homophobic reactions.

My watch read 4:45. Fifteen minutes to closing. The house lights came on, the music stopped (leaving a stuffed feeling in my ears), and the crowd thinned out. The waiters came by and collected all of the ashtrays, bottles, and glasses.

Although I didn't do an ounce of dancing the whole night, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I looked forward to coming back. And when I do, I hope the place is shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow with magnificent bodies dancing the night away.

This article was originally published in the New York Native (1984).

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Actor's Plans

Darnell Williams, the popular black actor who at one time played Jesse Hubbard on the now-defunct daytime drama All My Children: "The actors can't bring about the change [in the TV image of blacks]. It has to be the producers. People behind the scenes with the money. Actors can only do their job. I think actors if they want to [bring about] change, they have to stop acting and start producing and directing. I'm going to do it. I want to direct. I want to go through the artistic end of it. I want to produce and direct eventually."

From an unpublished item I wrote for the now-defunct National Scene magazine's "Blacks in the Media" issue (1982). Williams's sentiments are still relevant in the 21st century.