Party People - Hollywood Snapshots: 1949-1955
Oakland, CA 94612
PSG will also present vintage photographs from the private collection of Barry Harrison. On view are 24 photographs from a photo album of 178 black and white photographs documenting the vibrant gay subculture that flourished in Hollywood after WWII. The title of the exhibition describes the content well, Party People, Hollywood Snapshots: 1949-1955.
The photographer and locations are unknown. Some of the guests are identified by first and last name in handwritten captions. Others are more cryptic: "Bill A." and "Bob B." Many of the partygoers show up year after year (in different drag, of course). As amusing and entertaining as these photos are, there's something serious going on. These people were challenging the strict gender norms of the day, and in doing so, engaged in a glamorous act of defiance.
While they pushed the boundaries of gender identity in Hollywood, the Under Secretary of State John Peurifoy was testifying before a Senate committee in Washington about a "homosexual underground" in the State Department. With the help of Joe McCarthy, he ignited the "Lavender scare" in 1950.
At the time, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. Gay men and lesbians were considered susceptible to blackmail, thus constituting a security risk. In 1953, President Eisenhower ordered the firing of every gay man and lesbian woman working for the government. The resulting purge ended careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide.