Friday, April 23, 2010

Gay Lost New York: Radio City Music Hall, Bed of Debauchery

The year: 1966. Bob Schwiller, my 42-year-old room mate on Central Park West, told me about New York during World War II.

“They had black-outs all the time, and the black-outs were fantastic for sex. Guys would go into Central Park and do each other behind the lake or the boat house, behind benches, behind anything they could get in back of. Including each other. We had orgies in the park, and there was nothing the cops could do about it because they weren’t a lot of them—so many guys were in the service—and there were too many other things to worry about. Like staying alive. Having a ‘roommate’ became normal because there was such an apartment shortage, and even straights would end up rooming with queens and enjoying it.”

Bob was into straight men. At a time of specialized gays, he told me that his specialty was married men.

“I like ‘em because they’re nicer than queens, and more grateful for anything you give them. Give ‘em a cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a blow job and they’re yours for life.”

He had a “roommate” relationship that went on for 8 years with a straight guy, Frank, who eventually married, moved out of the city into the suburbs, and became a father with two kids. He was one of Bob’s best friends—Bob was actually good with friends, and had a number of them—but he had special place in his heart for Frank. Frank’s wife either pretended there was nothing unusual about it or in her innocence refused to see it. I met both Frank and his wife, Alice, once when they came in to visit the city and Bob. He was tall, nicely built, and had classically handsome Gary Cooper-esque features. His stolid, Midwestern, matter-of-face heartiness let almost nothing out.

Later, I asked Bob if he and Frank had had sex.

“Sure. We had it a lot. I always did him, and he settled back and enjoyed it. He told me he was not queer, but liked a good blowjob as much as anybody else does. I guess that offends someone like you?”

I told him it did not. How could I be offended? I was 19 years old, and this was a new world for me.

“I know a lot of people,” Bob told me, exhaling cigarette smoke and drinking coffee at the same time, “who’d be offended. They think that if you’re gay you gotta hang out only with queens and you gotta be lookin’ for love all the time. I’ve had love and let me tell you, it’s overrated. You love some guy, and then find him in bed with another guy and no matter how much you love him, it ain’t gonna change him. He’s still gonna to cruise other men. But with straights, once you have ‘em, they ain’t gonna stray or else they’re gonna end up queer like you and they don’t want that.”

I nodded my head; Bob went on about New York during World War II.

“I was too young to be drafted, so I got a job as an usher at Radio City Music Hall. Fantastic! The place has all these rooms and backstage areas and a lot of the guys who worked there were queens. So we used to look out for each other, like one of the elevator operators was a friend of mine, and he used to hold the elevator while I did a number in it: we’d have our pants down, sucking, in the elevator. Hard to imagine such a family place being a den of debauchery, but it was during the War. It was in action all the time: they had about 8 shows a day, so it was full of people and lots of horny men. I made friends with some of the performers who knew what was going on, and some of them took part in the orgies we had backstage. Of course all that is over now: they’re on the look out for hanky-panky. I think even straights can’t do anything in there, but back then the straights were making out in the balconies, and getting to second and third base all the time in there.”

I asked him if there were gay bars in New York then.

He shook his head.

“I never liked bars much. There were some famous queer bars, or famously queer bars, like the bar at the Astor Hotel. Filled with service guys and queens. But you have to understand, being a queen didn’t mean you went to bars like it does now. There was too much going on. Sometimes you went out to a bar with a guy, like a Blarney Stone [a popular chain of working-class bars, known for their cheap booze and steam-table bar food], but you couldn’t do any more in a Blarney Stone than you’d do in any other kind of bar. You had to be careful what you did in public, so you might as well stay away from bars all together. That’s why most guys do their cruising on foot—all you have to do is just look at a guy on the street and you know what’s going on. In a bar, you gotta be careful. He can be vice squad, or drunk and one minute he’s all over you and the next minute he’s ready to kill you.”

You can learn more about Perry Brass at his website, . On April 29, he and Jerry Kajpust will be leading a workshop on The Manly Art of Seduction, based on his book, at the LGBT Center on West 13th Street. You can learn more about this at . You can order the Manly Art of Seduction on Kindle at .


  1. Fascinating evidence of how far NYC has come.

    In the wrong direction.

  2. I love this stuff....I plan to be at the workshop too.

  3. Interesting. During the 1960s I knew this queen who only went with straight sailors. He'd take them into cleaning closets in the Port Authority & give them a blow job. He was both "specialized" and arrogant. He felt having sex with another gay male was somehow "beneath him" because he was only interested in "real men". I'd call it internalized self-hatred.

  4. I really object to comments having to "be approved" before someone allows them to appear. What are you afraid of? I expected you to be better than those I call "mind control queens". Shame on you!

  5. Dear Randy,
    I am not afraid of anything regarding comments. This is our house. Comment moderation keeps offensive people out of it. (Very rarely do we receive objectionable comments but they do not deserve space.)
    Comment moderation is a widely used tool. I'm surprised you would even ask that question.

  6. Fabulous!

    Central Park was always my favorite place to have sex back inthe 60's and 70's.

    As for movie theaters, check out Tsai Ming-Liang's "Goodbye Dragon Inn."

  7. Perry,

    I love this series of articles. Gays have always found some way to get what they want, haven't they? It was either that or go crazy.

    Tim Elliott

  8. I recently got this wonderful email from George Birimisa, an 80+-year-old gay writer/playwright/performance artist who lives in San Francisco:

    Dear Perry--When my destroyer the U.S.S. Swanson would pull into port at the Brooklyn Navy York after action near Casablanca in December of 1943 I hightailed it to the PINK ELEPHANT bar--a wonderful sleezy bar n 6th Avenue near 42nd Street. One time I ended up in a cheap hotel room with Marines and other sailors--my first orgy.
    Love-- George.

  9. Radio City Music Hall was for your wholesome gay crowd, in line with the movies shone at RCMH, from MGM and Paramount.
    The Roxy, now alas gone, but at the time up the street at 50th and 7th, also had a sex scene, but edgier, again in line with the movies shone, it was a Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox house, and showed a lot of film noir before it became a CinemaScope showcase. There's nothing like having sex with a moody film noir black and white movie in the background, say one with Gloria Grahame giving Robert Mitchum a slow perusal from head to toe.