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Author Topic: The Mayor of Castro Street  (Read 165037 times)

Online dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #30 on: January 13, 2009, 06:58:38 PM »
Michael, I have a few questions about San Francisco geography, when you come in.  Sorry if they seem picky, but they would help me to visualize the action.

One, the book keeps referring to the intersection of Eighteenth and Market.  If you are standing on Market Street, looking up Castro Street toward the Castro Theater, and start walking in the direction of the theater, where does Eighteenth Street come in?  Before the Castro Theater, or after it?

Two, where is Polk Street?  I believe it's somewhere near City Hall, is that right?  Does it run parallel to Van Ness (behind City Hall), or cross Van Ness?  And if it crosses Van Ness, on which side of City Hall is it (closer to Market than City, or farther from Market than City Hall)?

Three, and related to number two:  Is Polk Street still a major gay neighborhood, or has that changed?

Four, the book mentions the former hippie section, Haight Ashbury, as being over the hill from the Castro neighborhood.  Would it be on the opposite side of Market Street from the Castro section?  Or would it be on the same side of Market Street as the Castro neighborhood, but farther away from Market?
« Last Edit: January 13, 2009, 07:10:13 PM by dejavu »
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #31 on: January 13, 2009, 07:38:05 PM »

6.)  Harvey had an interesting group of boyfriends: Joe Campbell, Craig Rodwell, Jack McKinley, Joe Turner and Scott Smith.  Why do you think he ended the relationship with Campbell?  Given McKinley's, Campbell's and Rodwell's suicide attempts, do you think that Harvey was attracted to damaged men?  Why?  What do you think of Harvey's note to Joe Campbell after his suicide attempt?  Do you think that Craig Rodwell's political activism had an affect on Harvey's view of homosexuality?  Why do you think Harvey moved to Texas with Jack?  How do Harvey's plans regarding his love life compare with his later political plans (in other words, did he have the same foresight?


Campbell "felt he was a device for Harvey's pleasure and pulled back."  Apparently Harvey's "voracious sexual appetite" finally turned Campbell off, and no amount of Harvey's pleadings and tantrums worked with Campbell. Harvey's note to Campbell seemed, to me, oddly coupled with pragmatism and hope which was something that colored his speeches later in SF.

IMO Harvey wanted to be needed, he wanted to be a protector, guide, and teacher, and the young men he chose were really young and needy themselves, and were looking for a protector. Harvey was sexually attractive and horny. His men were a type that appealed to him  young, lean, and sexy. I think they were flawed by the instability of their lifestyles and lack of familial support indeed, just the types to be dependent on a man like Harvey.  Their short-lived affairs confused them and, in McKinley's case, exacerbated his mental issues.  I felt that Harvey was extremely disingenuous regarding his love affairs. Although he wined, dined, and bedded his boyfriends in luxury, he was quite casual when he ended his romances. However, he did help them out financially when they called him, and was caring in Campbell's suicide attempt. I can't help but think that he preyed on their needs and dependence upon him. Perhaps that was partly why he sought out the very young. When McKinley's bouts of depression and moodiness got worse, Harvey took him to Texas hoping that a slower life would help, but McKinley left after a few weeks.

Rodwell's political activism coupled with his homosexuality annoyed and repelled Harvey who was still very conservative. Rodwell felt Harvey was afraid that since he, Rodwell, was "branded" after being jailed Harvey was afraid to continue the relationship. 

Once Harvey settled in SF, he relished the hippie life. He became interested in politics and finally found what he had been looking for. It transcended love and sex, and once he opened his camera shop with Smith, Harvey found the life he was born to live.  He plunged into the political life of SF with all the foresight he lacked in picking out boyfriends. Now he was devoting himself to a role that was more important than merely guiding needy young men. He knew what the gay community needed, and he set himself up to be Mayor of Castro Street.



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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #32 on: January 13, 2009, 07:59:33 PM »

7.)  Harvey remained closeted to his family throughout this period.  Yet given that his mother was doing things like knitting sweaters for Joe and Harvey, do you think she knew?  Given the advice Minnie had given Harvey about homosexuals in New York City, do you think it made sense for him not to talk with her about this?  Does this early closeted behavior seem out of character for Harvey - and when do you think he changed to become more open?


It's hard to imagine that Harvey's mother didn't at least suspect.  Joe and Harvey did everything together; went everywhere together.  Either she was in deep denial, or she was really clueless. I believe somewhere in the book Harvey tells a lover that "it would kill" his mother if she found out.  Maybe he was in denial about her as well, but I don't think he had the kind of relationship with his mother that would lend itself to an open discussion on such a delicate subject. 

According to Shilts, Harvey's behavior was closeted for quite a long time.  Very few people, aside from his BFFs, knew he was gay.  He had always been the life of the party, being a party of boys and girls, that is.  He kept closeted to keep his jobs, and to keep from being arrested.  According to the book, during a raid on a bar, he was the first out the back door. It wasn't until he lived in SF and became involved in politics that he was open and out.  How could he exhort the SF gays to be out and proud, if he kept his own life closeted?
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #33 on: January 13, 2009, 08:13:43 PM »
Great responses everyone!  Wonderful to see you all here.  I'm currently at the reference desk, so I can't really respond to any of your points yet, but will when I get home later.  Thank so much for your participation!
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #34 on: January 13, 2009, 08:15:54 PM »


(8.)  Shilts says "Suicides were a common postscript to the raids and subsequent exposure as a homosexual.  The suicides, like the enticement to danger, only served to prove that homosexuals were a self-destructive, unstable lot, a cancer on the social body.  These were certainly not the kind of people who should be permitted responsible positions in society...." (pg 18 in my book).  How do you feel about Shilts' moral editorializing in the context of the story?  Is it intrusive or instructive?  Does it put too much of Shilts' own opinions into Harvey's story?


I like to hear Shilt's POV.  I think rather than moral editorializing in this instance, Shilts was sort of paraphrasing what the general populace of SF was thinking, and that his remarks here are actually what the press and conservative politicians were saying.  Since he was gay, would he have stigmatized gays by his own opinions?  Shilts wrote, in the "Author's Note," that since he was acknowledged as a gay writer, he had access to research and interviews that others did not.  This gives us an inside look at the gay lifestyle which we wouldn't normally have had from a heterosexual journalist. I don't think Shilts' opinions intrude into the story. The reader can overlook what he/she might feel is intrusive. 
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Ellen (tellyouwhat)

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #35 on: January 13, 2009, 08:21:06 PM »


I would like to think that Harvey Milk would be remembered, but I'm not sure of that.  I became aware of Harvey Milk not long after I came out.  He was listed in a book I bought called "The Gay 100" a listing of 100 most influential gay and lesbian people.  I had no idea who he was prior to this, I was only 9 when he was assasinated.

Just last week, I was having lunch with some coworkesers who are about my age.  I mentioned that I want to see "Milk" this weekend for my birthday.  2 of the people I was eating with had no idea who Harvey Milk was, and got upset when someone at the table announced he had been assasinated, as it ruined the film for them.

Chuck, who wrote that book? I'd be interested in reading it.

Was the person who said it ruined the film to learn of Harvey's death a young person like you were when he was killed?  It's surprising he/she hadn't known/heard this, especially with all the press the film has had.


IMO that person was off- base-- the film is not meant to be a cliff hanger or a mystery.  It is made for people who know how it ends.  I presume the person came to his/her senses some time later.  :)
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #36 on: January 13, 2009, 08:39:07 PM »


9.)In the 60s Harvey moved from being a Goldwater Republican to working with the musical 'Hair' and becoming a hippie.  To what do you attribute this change?  Was Harvey just becoming tired of the inconsistency between his working 'straight' world and his love life?  Did the death of his mother allow him to change in this direction? 


After Harvey returned from Texas and resigned from Bache, he seemed unhappy with his life.  He became involved with the 'flower children' and immersed himself  with the new counterculture.  His move to SF changed his outlook, and he became more relaxed and flexible.  He moved from the right to the left, so to speak when he moved to SF and stayed with the cast members from 'Hair,' and decided that SF was the place for him --- a new boyfriend, new life, and the beginning of a new direction. 

After his mother's death, he never visited his family again, but I don't think her death influenced his political about face.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Online dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #37 on: January 13, 2009, 08:50:41 PM »
6.)  Harvey had an interesting group of boyfriends: Joe Campbell, Craig Rodwell, Jack McKinley, Joe Turner and Scott Smith.  Why do you think he ended the relationship with Campbell?  Given McKinley's, Campbell's and Rodwell's suicide attempts, do you think that Harvey was attracted to damaged men?  Why?  What do you think of Harvey's note to Joe Campbell after his suicide attempt?  Do you think that Craig Rodwell's political activism had an affect on Harvey's view of homosexuality?  Why do you think Harvey moved to Texas with Jack?  How do Harvey's plans regarding his love life compare with his later political plans (in other words, did he have the same foresight?

The relationship between Harvey and Joe Campbell was said to be the longest in either of their lives.  But despite the romantic niceties, there was an underlying tension in their worldview.  Harvey was more aware of anti-gay slurs and anti-Jewish slurs; Joe accused Harvey of having a persecution complex.  Joe didn’t share Harvey’s early hints of political awareness.  Mismatched sex drives also figured into their break-up.  But basically, it seems that Harvey had fallen into a rut by 1962 and wanted to start over.  Asking Joe to leave was just part of making that fresh start.

Harvey did enjoy being the protector of men who needed a father figure, men who in many cases had run away from their own hometowns.  Perhaps his desire to take care of these men was related to the instincts which originally steered him toward becoming a teacher, and eventually steered him toward becoming a community leader.  Although I had some difficulty keeping the stories of Harvey’s boyfriends apart, in looking back, I can see that his boyfriends were all different. I don’t know that they were all “damaged.”  They were all youthful, but some were more troubled than others.

For example, Joe Campbell didn’t seem damaged during the time he spent with Harvey, and didn’t fall apart when he was asked to leave, although later he attempted suicide when another relationship failed.  Craig Rodwell’s suicide attempt seemed a genuine reaction to being alone after he and Harvey had drifted apart, whereas Jack McKinley seemed to be using the suicide threat as a means of getting attention from Harvey.  Joe Turner just briefly passed through Harvey’s life with no particular drama, and Scott Smith seemed like a pretty solid rock when they opened the camera store together in San Francisco.  The one thing these men all had in common is that they were younger than Harvey.   Given the hardships of gay life in those days, and given the difficulties that young people can have in adjusting to life, it’s not surprising that many of these young people turned out to be troubled.

As for the note that Harvey wrote to Joe Campbell after his suicide attempt, I thought it was very caring.  Harvey had moved on to other relationships by then, but he writes as a father figure attempting to give Campbell a reason for wanting to live.  The ending (“people in worse situations than you have come back strong…they had hope”) sounds like a precursor to one of Harvey’s political speeches used to rally gay crowds to feel positive about themselves.

Craig Rodwell’s political activism, rather than causing Harvey become politically active himself,  seemed to reinforce Harvey’s desire to remain closeted at that point in his life.  Also, Craig’s cruising activities, which resulted in his head being shaved by police, demonstrated to Harvey even more clearly the negative consequences that could come from being a known homosexual.

Harvey had gone to Texas once, with Joe Campbell, and had found it an inhospitable environment for both of them.  I was surprised that he went back with Jack McKinley, but he was doing it for Jack’s sake, to get him out of the New York drugs and drinking scene.  Again, this shows a desire to be protective of his younger lover – even though Jack didn’t last in Texas.

On the question of foresight, Harvey seemed to fall into each of his love relationships without much thought as to whether the pair was well-suited for one another.  He approached politics in a much more logical and organized manner.  On page 80, when Harvey studied the elections results after his first run for office,  I was reminded that he had majored in math and had once been an actuary for an insurance company.  He knew how to be logical.  And by cutting his hair, he showed that he could “play the game” and focus on his political future.

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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #38 on: January 13, 2009, 09:00:59 PM »

10.) On page 34 Harvey tells Jim Bruton that he'll never make it to fifty.  This is a recurring theme in the book.  What do you make of this belief?  Do you think that Harvey had some sort of foresight - or do you think Shilts makes too much of this notion?



If Harvey was Irish, I'd say he was 'fey.'  However, there does seem to be an underlying feeling of precognition in his remarks.  Shilts attributes these remarks to various people by Harvey, so I think Shilts is not making too much of it.   Harvey was politically savvy, he knew he had set his feet on a path that could bring down retribution on his head.  Being a gay activist was not something that  would indear him to the rank and file of mainstream America.  He was aware of violence towards gays, and he had to know how unpopular his political stance was coupled with the fact that he was now an open gay man running for office. Harvey liked attention and relished being 'The Mayor of Castro Street' -- not a low profile.  One could say this way led to disaster, and IMO this is what colored Harvey's attitude to his early demise.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #39 on: January 13, 2009, 09:01:13 PM »
Interesting answers, Nikki and all.

No more answers from me tomorrow, although I may lurk on the thread after my procedure.  I'll be back on Thursday.
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #40 on: January 13, 2009, 09:03:05 PM »
Interesting answers, Nikki and all.

No more answers from me tomorrow, although I may lurk on the thread after my procedure.  I'll be back on Thursday.

OK Deb, good luck -- PM me about results.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #41 on: January 13, 2009, 09:27:20 PM »



11.) Shilts talks both about Jim Bruton and another 70 year old man who he interviewed for the book who wanted to remain anonymous even though his lover was dead.  Does the difference between the anonymous man and Bruton (and Harvey) seem to be simply one of personality - or is political (or perhaps class related)?  Do you see this notion coming down to our own day with those who believe 'it's nobody's business but ours'?


I think it was more generational rather than class or personality.  Bruton and Harvey were much younger. The 70 year old man may have felt a certain dignity in protecting his privacy and, yes, it was nobody's busy but their own. His generation didn't discuss such personal things. Once Harvey came out to the world, he felt no such constraints. 

I would imagine that the present younger generation of gays who will be 70 someday may not have the same constraints as the old man, since they have lived a more open sexual lifestyle.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #42 on: January 13, 2009, 09:39:01 PM »

12.) Harvey becomes involved with theater people and the plays 'Hair', 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Lenny' and this led to his moving to San Francisco for the first time.  How much of an affect do you think this had on Harvey's life and on his views?

Quite a bit IMO.  Harvey's involvement with the younger theater generation of 'Hair,' etc. introduced him to the counterculture and the devil-may-care  theater lifestyle.  He began to adopt the beads and long hair of the young actors, and was influenced by their casual attitude toward material things. This was a pivotal time for Harvey leading him to move to SF.  His new life stems from this influence.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #43 on: January 13, 2009, 09:52:59 PM »

13.) From early on Harvey was extremely affected by the holocaust.  Do you think that this identification with the oppressed is a direct connection between the early life and the later life of Harvey Milk?


Definitely. As a Jewish family, the Milks discussed the oppression of Jews under Hitler.  Harvey never forgot the stories of the holocaust  and, in later years, he equated it with the oppression of gays under a bureaucratic structure which allowed the police and law enforcement to trample on the rights of a minority who had no voice in government.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Jenny

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #44 on: January 13, 2009, 11:23:26 PM »

13.) From early on Harvey was extremely affected by the holocaust.  Do you think that this identification with the oppressed is a direct connection between the early life and the later life of Harvey Milk?


Definitely. As a Jewish family, the Milks discussed the oppression of Jews under Hitler.  Harvey never forgot the stories of the holocaust  and, in later years, he equated it with the oppression of gays under a bureaucratic structure which allowed the police and law enforcement to trample on the rights of a minority who had no voice in government.

That struck me too, Nikki. Harvey was a second generation American born of Lithuanian Jews. That means his grandfather fled the pogroms. The antisemitism was less actively violent here, but it was strong; witness the fact that his grandfather and fellow Jews had to found their own country club, that Harvey hung around with black guys because he didn't get invited to most of the parties in High School and that in Harvey's college days he couldn't get into any of the fancier fraternities because he was a Jew. His family had the immigrant American dream story, though: they were able to succeed here and become middle class. Then came WWII. He completely identified with being in danger of the same kind of persecution as a Jew, and with his parents' pride in how the Warsaw Ghetto resisted, knowing they couldn't win. The holocaust made many, many Jews much more sensitive to American antisemitism and disillusioned with America's response to the pleas of refugees trying to escape from Hitler and the Nazis. It was proof that Jews were still in danger of being turned on by their neighbors and their government. The younger generation became more militant in claiming their rights as American citizens and attacking the quota system at the Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools,the firms that wouldn't hire them, social clubs that wouldn't have them as members and so forth. They also gained pride and a sense that they could determine their own fate with the founding of Israel and its successful self-defense.

In Harvey's case, he also faced the very clear and present danger of being arrested, beaten up by police or homophobic thugs, or even killed for his sexuality. The law was an instrument of persecution, not protection. The rise of McCarthy was very much an echo of Hitler's abuse of power, and gays were his favorite target. He was always looking for gays in government, particularly in the State Department. So Harvey was a member of two oppressed minorities. It's not surprising that he would later meld his Jewish and gay identities and make himself a fighter for gay rights.
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