My own guilty little pleasure? And it isn’t burlesque…
As the assistant director for The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, one of my jobs for the show is doing dramaturgy. What is that drama… mumble, mumble…thing, you ask? That word that spell-check doesn’t recognize?
In a phrase, it is looking at the historical context of the story being told – the who, what, when, where, why, and how (in this case) of the 1950s and early 1960s and what it meant to live back then. My goal when doing this type of research is to crawl into the head of whoever wrote it. So, I sought out what it meant for Ann Bannon to be writing the Chronicles from 1957 – 1962 because ultimately that’s what the cabarets and the stage play are all about: honoring Ann Bannon’s truly ground-breaking and accurate look at lesbian relationships and sexuality at a time when doing so was extremely taboo.
And really, who doesn’t love a little trivia?
Did you know…
- The average age of marriage for women was 20 in the 1950s.
- “No fault” divorce, or divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences”, was first begun in Oklahoma in 1953, but did not become mainstream until 1969? Prior to that, it had to be proven in court that your spouse was guilty of a crime or a sin – such as abandonment, adultery, or homosexuality.
- The first sodomy laws were not repealed until 1961 in the state of Illinois. Prior to that, consensual gay sex between adults could have been considered sexual assault with a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Those self-same sodomy laws had been in place since the reign of Henry VIII in the 1500s, when America was first colonized.
- The Daughters of Bilitis, founded in 1955 in San Francisco, was the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. (The Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization, was founded in 1950.)
- President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 in 1953, making it legal to conduct investigations of persons suspected of “sexual perversities” (including homosexuality). It was not repealed until 1993.
- Homosexuality was listed on the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental health illnesses from 1952 to1973. This “mental health illness” was one of the main reasons why gays were fired from their jobs and denied custody of their children in divorce cases.
- That Odd Girl Out, the first novel in Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker series was the second-best selling original paperback of 1957.
- That there are dozens of scholarly articles and doctoral dissertations written about Ann Bannon’s series The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, because they are considered to be one of the most (and very rare) accurate portraits of gay and lesbian life in the late 50s and early 60s.
- Ann Bannon won seven awards in the mid-2000s for The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, honoring her series.
- HBO has optioned the novels for a television series, as of 2010.
All of this information is what keeps me coming back to this project, and keeps my finger on the trackpad of my computer and my nose in a book continually looking for more. Ann Bannon made a difference in so many lives with The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, and it’s the least I can do as a theater artist to study and understand from whence these books came in order to properly honor the author and the characters she so lovingly created.
If you also want to get into Ann Bannon’s head and understand a little more about the 50s and what it meant to be gay, I suggest starting at the author’s website: www.annbannon.com and reading the introductions to all the novels she wrote in 2001 and 2002, which tell the tale of how the characters and stories were born.
We hope to see you at our ACT cabaret! Come and check out what these novels are all about.