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Fifty years ago when gay ID 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 now-and-then 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, Big Birdy and — what can one say? — Drano!
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 at the infamous Gas Station bar and pickup venue on Detroit’s 7 Mile Road at Woodward. (Now the site of a homophobic church over 10 years in construction.)
‘Cope’ for short. (I suspect he no longer holds dual citizenship, or cash-worthy turpitude of any kind, in this world, or the next)
My own ID was Angel Al. (Brando Bob when out hitchhiking in my 32-inch waist “White Goddess” Levi’s, penny loafers.)
Our nicknames provided a protective distancing till we found out who we could trust as a lover, friend, trick du jour or same-sex washroom towel attendant.
Nicknames kept nasty people from calling our folks, our employers, our shrinks – our respective parole boards – and made blackmail (an ever-present danger back then) less likely. But threatening enough.
Speaking of which: I was surprised to learn that the famous Stonewall Inn – where the modern Gay Lib movement began 50 years ago on June 28, 1969 – was a home base for blackmailers operating on a colossal two gay city entrapment scale.
According to historian David Carter’s “Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution,” 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. Cards were color-coded for blackmail eligibility ranking.
Anyone who appeared well-dressed (even casually so) – who seemed several cuts above the impoverished street queens and flamers who regularly danced there at Stonewall Inn – was game.
Cute waiters (all gay) were mafia 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, and body positioning.
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 10 years, the ring victimized close to a thousand men [netting $2 million] who were highly
successful businessmen, politicians, and prominent citizens.
“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 nickname – 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?)
Let he who is without sin among you cast the first Stonewall (Mary)!