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This first appeared in BTL 6/26/14
Fifty years ago when closets were leased for a lifetime, it was SOP – standard operating procedure – to go by a catchy nickname.
Some gay/lesbian Detroit monikers I recall as friends are Little Bobby, Little Pat, Estralita, Marshmallow, T.D. (Tall Dick), Savoy, B.J. (Butch Jimmy), Miss Bruce and, among Dykes Anonymous: Big Red, Skye, Petey, Speedy, Rusty, Drano, Little Blue Birdy.
Long before the tracheal advent of gay porn stars, I was actually introduced to a guy – of dubious intellectual and moral turpitude, to be sure – who went by the hustler alias of Dallas Copenhagen. ‘Cope’ for short. (I suspect he no longer holds dual citizenship, or turpitude of any kind, in this world.)
My own ID was Angular Al. (Brando Bob when out hitchhiking in my 32-inch waist “White Goddess” Levi’s.) Our nicknames provided a protective distancing ‘til we found out who we could trust as lover, friend, trick or washroom towel attendant.
Nicknames kept nasty people from calling our folks, our employers, our shrink – our parole board – and made blackmail (an ever-present danger back then) less likely.
Speaking of which: I was surprised to learn that the famous Stonewall Inn – where the modern Gay Lib movement began in 1969 – was a home base for blackmailers operating on a colossal entrapment scale.
According to historian David Carter’s “Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution” (St. Martin’s Griffin Press), the Mafia-owned Stonewall Inn did legit business under a special, loophole, membership license.
Members were allowed to bring their own booze for bartender pouring (with tips). Booze – watered down – was also sold on the premises.
Prospective new Stonewallers filled out index cards: name, address, telephone number. Bartenders – gay-hating thugs, hand-picked for implementing set-ups and stings – sized up new customers.
Anyone who appeared well-dressed (even casually so) – who seemed several cuts above the impoverished street queens and flamers who regularly danced there – was game.
Cute waiters (all gay) were ordered to be friendly with these “scores,” chat them up, gradually – after a few drinks or touchy-feely back room visits – finding out where they worked, what make of car they drove, whether they were married, how many kids they had. All casually fished out by buddy-buddy conversations.
Hustlers were also threatened by the Stonewall Inn mafia guys to come on to these newcomers, trick with them, get them stewed and steal their wallets. ID to be turned over to mafia bosses. Or else!
According to Carter, the blackmail ring operated mostly in New York City and Chicago: “[The operation’s] scope and size were staggering: having operated for almost ten years, the ring victimized close to a thousand men [netting $2 million] who were highly successful.
“Among those listed [in an ongoing police investigation] were the head of the AMA, two army generals, Admiral William Church [a suicide], a Republican member of Congress from New Jersey [$50,000], a Princeton professor, ‘a leading motion picture actor,’ ‘a musician who made numerous appearances on television,’ heads of business firms, ‘a much admired television personality’ and ‘a British producer.’’’
The shaved-head arachnid behind the blackmail spider web was Francis P. Murphy, known among his cronies as “The Skull.” His criminal record began at conception. His den was above the Stonewall Inn bar.
But Murphy proved a canny operator. He managed to sidestep indictment, time after time – for one important reason: a buddy-buddy photo of him with America’s Big Untouchable; Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover.
Writes Carter, “…investigation into the nationwide blackmail ring had turned up a photograph of Hoover ‘posing amiably’ [in drag] with the racket’s ringleader, and had uncovered information that Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s lover, had himself ‘fallen victim to the extortion ring.’” Oh, yes; Hoover’s SOP – Dick Tracy. Tolson’s: Tess Trueheart.
“After federal agents joined the investigation, both the photograph of Hoover and the documents about Tolson disappeared. Poof!” (Actually two ‘poofs,’ but who’s counting?)