Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16 - 22, 2004

Stonewall who’s who to Hoover, new book has it all

By Warren Allen Smith

Although just off the press, David Carter’s new book is sure to join Vern L. Bullough’s “Before Stonewall” (Haworth Press) as being among the most important books in the gay canon.

The author’s decade of research is divided into three sections: setting the stage for the uprising; telling what actually occurred hour by hour in Greenwich Village during the week of June 1969 riots; and explaining how the rebellion has led to an ongoing struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the United States as well as being an inspiration for worldwide human rights.

Carter, a historian who has written biographies of Dali and Santayana and has written extensively about Allen Ginsberg, carefully separates facts from judgments. He introduces a large cast of people who were involved, relating views by crediting those who made them.

Significantly, he gives detailed accounts about, and fortunately by, Seymour Pine, the police deputy inspector who led the raids. He describes the major role played by the Mattachine Society.

Carter includes vivid details as to what happened inside and outside the Stonewall Inn bar on each of the days the riots continued. And he discounts myths that have grown about what happened and who was involved.

For one thing, the full moon and Judy Garland’s death had nothing to do with the riots, except that Garland’s death could be said symbolically to represent the old order that was being replaced by a new gay militancy. For another, no single person or group started the uprising but, rather, the resistance to accepting an inferior status had been steadily growing — by some who just silently ignored police orders; by others who strongly challenged authority with their pens; by others using dramatic methods such as picketing, even vandalizing.

And there were other key figures: the poor and homeless kids, some transgendered men and an unidentified lesbian who gained notoriety by fighting the police during the first night. They were joined that night by hundreds who were just tired and no longer willing to accept the status quo accorded then to homosexuals.

Why the Stonewall Inn? And why the raid at this particular time? Deputy Inspector Pine in an interview with Carter explained fully. First, he and Detective Charles Smythe were obligated, as members of Manhattan’s First Division of the Public Morals, to carry out the law. The Stonewall was known for serving underage kids as well as catering to people who were pot- and acid-dealing hustlers. It had been raided before, and most customers assumed that bribes were being paid by Mafia elements to the police and that no change would likely be possible.

Unknown to most, however, Interpol had reported that negotiable bonds were being found in foreign countries, and New York police had been asked to determine if the bonds were legal or counterfeit as well as if the Mafia had somehow been able to pressure some alleged homosexuals at the New York Stock Exchange (“the world’s biggest closet”) to steal them. Big cars had been seen bringing wealthy people to the Stonewall.

The suspicion was that Mafia-owned bars might be involved in the theft and sale of these negotiable bonds. When the departmental commanding officer ordered an investigation and wanted the Mafia-run gay clubs in the area to be put out of business, Pine and Smythe decided to make the raid on the bar, which had been started by Tony Lauria, the son of an important Mafioso named Ernie.

Pine’s problem was that bars could easily be raided, their liquor taken and their furniture removed or destroyed. But they had the wherewithal to open up again the very next day. So he set out to find what if any connection a Stonewall insider, Ed “The Skull” Murphy, had with the blackmailing of Wall St. homosexuals. What he found was that Murphy “had the goods” on J. Edgar Hoover. A former prostitute, John Paul Ranieri, provided proof — photos of Hoover in female attire — that the Mafia had photographic evidence implicating the closeted Hoover. Although Hoover had claimed that organized crime did not exist, Pine and others wondered if Hoover himself was protecting certain people, like Murphy. If so, Hoover could not hide from Interpol, which was independent and international.

Ranieri was warned by the mob to “keep your zipper open and your mouth shut.” But he did not. The well-known turncoat FBI informant, Ed Murphy, was found to be one of the baddest of the bad, a Stonewall Inn insider, one who was possibly behind the blackmailing of Wall St. employees, a suspected kidnapper and murderer; one who even wanted the credit for having made the riots happen. Others whom Ranieri described as using Mafia-supplied services were Malcolm Forbes, His Eminence Cardinal Spellman, Liberace, U.S. senators, a vice president of the United States and “one of the most famous rock musicians.”

Meanwhile, Stonewall customers were unaware of what the police knew, and they flocked to the place — paying for watered-down and overpriced drinks — in order to have a place to dance and meet friends, something impossible in heterosexual places. Sure, the bar had no running water, the glasses were improperly washed and hepatitis was being spread, but its very dangerousness was enticing.

Carter’s interviews are engagingly interspersed throughout the book, and he cites three as having been in the vanguard of the riots: Jackie Hormona, Marsha Johnson and Zazu Nova. Others whose stories are detailed are Craig Rodwell, founder of the Oscar Wilde Book Shop, and numerous activists within the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. Randy Wicker is credited with having helped break the media’s silence on homosexuality. Others named or interviewed in detail include Arthur Bell, Danny Gavin, Jerry Hoose, Frank Kameny, Bill Katzenberg, Bob Kohler, Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, Dick Leitsch, Morty Manford, John O’Brien, Jim Owles, Marty Robinson, Chuck Shaheen, Martha Shelley and several dozen others, each with a delightfully different take on what happened.

Another of the typical activists was Arthur Evans, one of over 50 individuals interviewed. He was a philosophy student whose Free Thinkers Society of Brown University got him in trouble and his scholarship was put in jeopardy because as a militant atheist he refused to sit through the chaplain’s prayer. Joseph Lewis, the millionaire head of the National Free Thinkers Society, successfully threatened to sue if the scholarship was invalidated. Evans went on to join Columbia University’s doctoral program in philosophy and became one of the most productive of the G.L.F. and G.A.A. members.

Carter in a scholarly way gives a commendably thorough geographical, social, political and cultural picture. A seven-page bibliography is invaluable. In addition to the G.L.F. and G.A.A., he describes in great detail the Mattachine Society’s involvement fighting for gay civil rights both before and after the riots. By not mentioning any of the Stonewall veterans’ organizations that existed mainly to collect money, he finesses them neatly.

“Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution,” by David Carter, St. Martin’s Press, 336 pages, $24.95

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