A fascinating look at a man and an era
Story blurb: Welcome to Hollywood, circa 1950, the end of the Golden Age. A remarkably handsome young boy, still a teenager, gets “discovered by a big-time movie agent. Because when he takes his shirt off young hearts beat faster, because he is the picture of innocence and trust and need, he will become a star. It seems almost preordained. The open smile says, “You will love me,” and soon the whole world does.
The young boy’s name was Tab Hunter—a made-up name, of course, a Hollywood name—and it was his time. Stardom didn’t come overnight, although it seemed that way. In fact, the fame came first, when his face adorned hundreds of magazine covers; the movies, the studio contract, the name in lights—all that came later. For Tab Hunter was a true product of Hollywood, a movie star created from a stable boy, a shy kid made even more so by the way his schoolmates—both girls and boys—reacted to his beauty, by a mother who provided for him in every way except emotionally, and by a secret that both tormented him and propelled him forward.
In Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, Hunter speaks out for the first time about what it was like to be a movie star at the end of the big studio era, to be treated like a commodity, to be told what to do, how to behave, whom to be seen with, what to wear. He speaks also about what it was like to be gay, at first confused by his own fears and misgivings, then as an actor trapped by an image of boy-next-door innocence. And when he dared to be difficult, to complain to the studio about the string of mostly mediocre movies that were assigned to him, he learned that just like any manufactured product, he was disposable—disposable and replaceable.
Hunter’s career as a bona fide movie star lasted a decade. But he persevered as an actor, working continuously at a profession he had come to love, seeking—and earning—the respect of his peers, and of the Hollywood community.
And so, Tab Hunter Confidential is at heart a story of survival—of the giddy highs of stardom, and the soul-destroying lows when phone calls begin to go unreturned; of the need to be loved, and the fear of being consumed; of the hope of an innocent boy, and the rueful summation of a man who did it all, and who lived to tell it all.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Although I can’t remember being a star struck fan of Tab Hunter (being “star struck” was a condition limited to “bobby soxers” in 1950s’ Pefferlaw), at 74 I am of the right generation to appreciate an autobiography like this one, i.e. “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Move Star” by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller [Algonquin Books, 2006].
For one thing I much prefer a behind-the-scenes view of things, which is especially justified after reading about some of the unadulterated hype generated by the Hollywood PR mills in Hunter’s case. Admittedly I’ve never understood the type of mass hysteria demonstrated by “fans” of anyone, be it Elvis, The Beatles, or Will and Kate. Therefore, the first good thing I’ll say about Tab Hunter’s biography is that he didn’t start believing his own press releases. Consequently, we do get a pretty fair glimpse of the man behind the image.
Beyond that I would say that this story will be of interest mainly to people of my generation, movie buffs, and modern historians (apologies for the term, Tab). However, for those of us who qualify it is a delightful walk down Memory Lane. For example, remember this:
“The Arlington Theatre, home of all my film-infused fantasies was now the neighbourhood’s big make-out. I figured I should get in on the action, be like the guys, even though I had little in common with them. [My experience as well].
“Four or five guys, cruising in a pack, would surround one of the local girls. They’d guide her to the back of the theatre, the way animals isolated and heard one of their own. They’d take turns nuzzling her and fondling her breasts.
“I did it too—even though I was always afraid the girl would call the police on me, the way Lois had [A false complaint]. As I copped a few sheepish feels, my brain disconnected. I should be out at the barn, with the horses! That’s where I belong!
“The guys ribbed me, of course, for my lack of enthusiasm. I didn’t care. I didn’t want any part of it.30-31.”
And that first time:
“One of those nights at the Arlington, as I was sitting alone in the dark, a man swooped down into the seat beside me … This guy knew exactly what he was doing.
“I let him do it. Hard to say why—I was scared, stupid, and excited. When he was finished, he gave me a dollar and wrote his phone number on a card. “If you every want to do it again,” he said, “call me.”
“No chance of that, I told myself, buckling up. But despite the shame already suffocating me, I tucked his card inside my little rawhide-stitched wallet.”32
“I entered the anonymous confines of the dark confessional, my heart pouding. Because of my acute claustrophobia, confession was already difficult for me. I thought I’d die as I haltingly explained to the priest what had happened. Saying the words was torture, but confessing was the only way I could go on living with myself.
“I never finished. Through the latticework boomed the priest’s voice, branding me the most despicable creature in the world. I was unfit to receive God’s forgiveness, unfit to set foot in His house, unfit to live. On and on this “man of God” went, mercilessly, until I ran shaking from the confessional. Instead of offering sanctuary, the church I loved now felt hateful and oppressive.”32-33
I think those passages speak for themselves about how it was to be a gay teenager in the 1950s, so perhaps the reading list should be expanded to include those supporters of DOMA, etc., who want to return to the bad old days.
For those who have an interest, however, I highly recommend this story as a fascinating look at an era through the eyes of someone who saw if from the mountain. Five stars.
Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12,904
I’m happy to say that after a long struggle, Amazon-Canada is now listing Nor All Thy Tears as both available and in stock–although it’s hard to understand how a ‘print on demand’ book can be “out of stock.” Moreover, it is also displayed with a product description. Hallelujah!
Nor All thy Tears is now #2 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” List.
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A most worthy debut novel
Story blurb: The Jolly Lobster is a very gay adventure featuring rum runners, speakeasies, brothels, and love in Halifax during Prohibition. It’s the summer of 1920 and Ed Stevenson, is lost and flat broke in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fortunately for Ed, his lover Charles Sinclair, who had served with him during the war, has been searching for him in all the local juice joints, speakeasies and blind pigs. Reunited, the two prepare to embark on the new life together they planned during their time in the trenches. Little did Ed know that in order to earn a living, he’d end up working in a speakeasy; but this was not any old speakeasy, this was The Jolly Lobster. The Jolly Lobster was one of the more popular speakeasies in Halifax, catering to all types and run by two lovable women trying to make ends meet; Dorothy and her large lover, Rose. Dock workers, fishermen, university students, and colourful men and women of the homosexual persuasion all mixed and mingled at The Jolly Lobster, in order to sate their thirst for rum, whiskey, suds, to have a bowl of The Jolly Lobster’s famous lobster chowder and to partake in the many pleasures that awaited them in the rooms upstairs. They also came for the music provided by the beautiful and talented Bobbie Smith, a mean fiddle player who loves to dress in the fashion of the flapper, play bawdy songs on her fiddle and also play with the men upstairs in the brothel. All in all, The Jolly Lobster is a close little family type business; and like all family businesses there’s bound to be a few secrets and intrigues; which there are, and in plentiful supply. And given that they’re in the booze business during Prohibition they find their little operation having to stay one step ahead of the law and a few more steps ahead of the competition. The Jolly Lobster’s chief competitor is a banished crime boss from Montreal, by the name of Pierre Dumont, whose instructions are to take over the booze business in Halifax. Dumont executes his instructions ruthlessly and soon takes over most of the joints in Halifax in short order. The Jolly Lobster and its family are made of tougher stuff though and it takes all of Dumont’s cunning, to bring about their downfall. This he attempts to do with the help of a willing traitor or traitors, a Temperance Inspector with a past connection to Dorothy, Rose and Bobbie; and several murders just to make his point. Things begin to look quite grim for the hard working boys and ladies of The Jolly Lobster; it’s going to take an army to get rid of Dumont and his gang. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of volunteers.
*available in eBook format: 608 KB
About the author: Robin Anderson-Forbes was born and raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After visiting Nova Scotia, he and his husband were so entranced with the province, they moved there along with their cat into a big old house. The Jolly Lobster is Robin’s first novel.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Recently I did a search of fellow Canadian, gay fiction writers, and was pleased to see there were a goodly number of published authors out there. Among them is Robin Anderson-Forbes, whose debut novel “The Jolly Lobster” caught my eye straight away.
One of the longest ‘droughts’ in Canadian history lasted from about 1900 to 1930, when prohibition parched the land. It started as primarily a women’s movement in the 1870s—i.e. the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—and achieved nationwide effect by the 1920s. It wasn’t a total ban, however, for booze could be sold through the government for, “industrial, scientific, mechanical, artistic and medical uses,” and needless to say there was a rather high incidence of sickness during this period—particularly around Christmas time.
It also spawned some lucrative business opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs who turned their homes, basements, garages, etc. into “speakeasies” (currently known as “after-hours clubs,” or “booze cans” … so I’m told!) And this brings us around to one such speakeasy, “The Jolly Lobster.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for East Coast stories. They have a warm, folksy feel about them, reflecting a down-to-earth culture that still exists in some of the outports today, and which Anderson-Forbes has captured delightfully well in Rose and Dorothy, as well as the twins, Roger and Rupert. In fact all of the ‘good-guy’ characters are likable (to varying degrees), and therefore it is quite easy to invest in them—a connection that is absolutely crucial in a good-guy v. bad-guy story like this.
Although I’m not an authority on this topic, I think the sub-culture of 1920s’ speakeasies is fairly portrayed as well. Certainly there was a remarkable degree of ingenuity that went into circumventing what amounted to an unrealistic, special-interest-sponsored law, and the hardy, self-reliant “Bluenosers” were every bit equal to the task. So I can well imagine that there were quite a few underground establishments like The Jolly Lobster in Halifax in the 1920s.
As for the prostitution, especially male prostitutes, I think may be a bit over the top. On the other hand, I can recall being on a college outing with about 70 fellow-students to Nova Scotia, and we were inadvertently billeted at an out-of-the-way hotel that doubled as a brothel. So anything is possible.
Critically speaking, when I first began reading I thought I had started in the middle of the story. Suddenly there were all these characters—some with connections that went back before the story began—and so it was a bit overwhelming for a while. This settled down by the second chapter, but the opening could have benefited by a more gradual introduction.
Pace-wise the story moves along quite smoothly, but there are inconsistencies—“leaps of faith,” I call them, because the plot twists either arise abruptly, or too conveniently for a seamless delivery.
However, altogether I found it a charming story with likable characters and a gratifying ending. A very worthy debut. Four stars.
Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky is now #3 of 63,979 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” (general) list! I am also happy to state the Amazon-Canada has now listed it as “available”; however, at the same time it has neglected in include a product description. Therefore, here it is:
Love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Prairie Sky Country, SaskatchewanSheldon Cartwright is a young, exceptionally handsome and gifted politician with a beautiful wife and two charming children. His career is also in ascendance, and given all that the sky seems the only limit to this talented, blue-eyed lad. However, Cartwright also has a hidden past that one day bursts onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the publication of his nude photograph. Moreover, the inside story alleges that he was once a high-end male prostitute with a romantic connection to an ex-con whose body has been found mutilated beyond recognition in a burned-out apartment—the suspected victim of a blackmail attempt gone wrong. Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime, simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated. With his career in a crisis, and his personal life as well, Cartwright is unexpectedly joined by an ally in Colin Scrubbs, a ruggedly handsome rancher from Saskatchewan. But can they salvage Cartwright’s career from the brink?
The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport
An agreeable balance of law and journalism
Publisher’s blurb: Diane Rapaport’s previous book was New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians, so it seems only right that she would share her own most exciting archival finds. As its title suggests, The Naked Quaker bares seldom-seen aspects of Colonial New England life. Representative chapter headings include “Witches & Wild Women,” “Coupling,” “Parents & Youth,” “Tavern Tales,” “Slaves & Servants,” and “Neighbor vs. Neighbor.” Glimpses into a vanished world.
About the author: Diane Rapaport, a former trial lawyer, has made a new career as an author and speaker, bringing history to life with true stories from early New England court records.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Note: This is not a GLBT book.
Being a former law professor and a rabid history buff, The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport [Commonwealth Editions, 2007] was right up my alley. It is a collection of cases gleaned from the archival court records of Puritan New England, c. 1620s to the latter part of that century.
Although we think of the present as being a litigious time, and in some ways it is, it doesn’t hold a tallow candle to the inhabitants of 17-century Massachusetts. Moreover, many of the causes are remarkably familiar even today—i.e. drunkenness, unlicensed sale of liquor, unpaid debts, unwanted advances, and obstreperous youth, etc. Therefore, as Ms Rapaport points out, “Goin to law” was a common remedy for large and small issues.
It was also a source of spectator entertainment that came around usually every quarter (Courts of Quarterly Session)—but more often as required—and people would gather from miles around to watch or partake. Lawyers were hardly ever retained, judges were sometimes commissioned from the ranks of the previously convicted, and the courtroom was generally a tavern. All of this Ms Rapaport reveals as part of her meticulous research.
In fact, going through the pages of The Naked Quaker is like taking a front row seat at some of the sessions. For example we have Mrs. Elizabeth Goodman, a notoriously outspoken widow, who was accused of being a witch on the basis that she had an uncanny knowledge of her neighbours affairs, and that, after Mrs. Goodman admitted “some affection” for a certain gentleman, his new wife suffered “very strange fits” after the wedding. Nonetheless, the judges decided that the evidence was “not sufficient … take away her life,” and so she was set free.
Then we have a “lascivious meeting” of unmarried men and women in the fall of 1660. This group, including Harvard students and their young women friends, drank wine together at a tavern, and then moved on to Harvard Yard where they were witnessed holding hands. One witness even described a girl sitting on a boy’s lap, and other amorous behaviour that shocked the sensibilities of proper Puritan judges, and so the participants were admonished to “avoid the like loose practices in the future.”
On the other hand, a husband and wife were severely punished for playing and allowing to be played games of cards at their home.
Outright religious intolerance was not only rife, particularly between Puritans and Quakers, it was legally sanctioned. For years the Massachusetts authorities had engaged in unrelenting persecution of Quakers—the General Court issued a series of laws penalizing the “accused sect of heretics”—and it was illegal for Quakers to meet together or to teach others about their beliefs.74 It was also unlawful (whether Quaker or not) not to attend church on the Sabbath, and Lydia Wardell and her husband had been fined for missing (Puritan) services on twenty consecutive Sundays. Consequently, Lydia did attend one Sunday in 1663—only she did it naked.
Slavery was quite acceptable to Puritan society, and it frequently extended beyond people of colour–Africans and Native Americans–to include the Irish and Scots. For example, two boys (11 and perhaps 14) had been kidnapped from their beds and brought to Massachusetts as indentured “servants.” They were sold to a magistrate to work on his estate, and some years later they appealed to the court (on which their master sat) for relief from their servitude. They lost.
Although this is a chronicle of digested court cases, the reader need have no concerns about it being a dry or dusty read. On the contrary, probably because of her experience as a speaker on the subject, Ms Rapaport has struck an agreeable balance between law and journalism. In addition, given the direct quotes in the arcane language of the day, and the grassroots insight into everyday life, it could also be a valuable resource for writers working on that era.
Highly recommended for his buffs like myself. Five stars.
Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Review: 12,574
This has been a busy month for me with the publication of an eBook version of Two Irish Lads, The paperback publication of Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky,” and completing the first draft of Coming of Age on the Trail. I am also happy to say that both Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears have received 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Therefore the count stands this way:
A fictional tale of history that could itself be fiction
Story blurb: Invalided out of the East India Company’s army, James Brooke looks for adventure in the South China Seas. When the Sultan of Borneo asks him to help suppress a rebellion, Brooke joins the war to support the Sultan and improve his chances of trading successfully in the area. Instead, he finds himself rewarded with his own country, Sarawak.
Determined to be an enlightened ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his people, James settles with his lover, John Williamson, in their new Eden. But piracy, racial conflict, and court plotting conspire to destroy all he has achieved. Driven from his home and a fugitive in the land he ruled, James is forced to take extreme measures to drive out his enemies.
The White Rajah is the story of a man, fighting for his life, who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery. Told through the eyes of the man who loves him and shares his dream, this is a tale of love and loss from a 19th century world that still speaks to us today.
Review by Gerry Burnie
When I first encountered the novel The White Rajah by Tom Williams [JMS Books LLC, 2010] I had never heard of this very real, historical character, James Brooke, nor his exploits. Even so, the romance the title evoked—in the sense of an Errol Flynn adventure—intrigued me.
I liked the fact that Mr. Williams chose a third-person narrator, John Williamson, and that Williamson had an intimate role to play. However, given Williamson’s lowly station in life, I found him a bit erudite for his character—although that’s not a real drawback to the story.
The story, apart from a sea voyage around the horn of Africa to the Far East, takes place in and around Borneo, of which Sarawak was a province in turmoil when Brooke arrived in 1841. Therefore the Sultan of Brunei asked for his assistance in fighting off piracy and insurgency, and as a reward he granted Brooke Governorship of Sarawak, which then became an independent state in 1842. Moreover, the Brooke dynasty retained control over Sarawak until 1946, when it
became a British Protectorate.
This is interesting stuff, factually speaking, but it has always been my fervent belief that the real story is in the personalities who made it happen, and in this regard Williams has done a fairly good job of doing so through John Williamson as narrator, and also as Brooke’s (supposed) lover.
I think he has done a fair job of capturing the base motivations of the characters: The ravenous greed of the East India Company; the politics of the Brunei Sultanate, and the conversion of an idealistic Brooke into a potentate. It is all there, and it is historically credible.
However I did find some less than credible aspects, such as Williamson’s rather incredible knowledge of the Far East in such a short time.
Nonetheless this is an enjoyable story, regardless of your knowledge of history or the time, and so it is recommended as such. Four stars.
Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12, 429
Progress on Coming of Age on the Trail: 172/180: Projected release date September 2011
Hope you are having an enjoyable summer!! Reviews are updated Sunday of every week. Please drop back again.