Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood” by William J. Mann— An Untold Story Now Told


Mann, William J. “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood”, Harper, 2014.

An Untold Story Now Told

Amos Lassen

“Tinseltown” is a true story about scandal and ambition, murder and intrigue as well as the beginning of the modern film industry. The 1920s were when the movies became the pastime of America and for the first time we were able to see the tremendous influence they had on this country. But there was another side to the rise of the movies and that was that there were tragedies taking place, one of which was the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. That crime was unsolved until just recently.

Author William J. Mann went back to the sources and uses them to reconstruct this story. Some of these are recently released FBI files and he brings this story to us with its lively cast of characters which include Taylor, himself, three beautiful and ambitious actresses; stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet that killed Taylor. Adolph Zukor, the founder of Paramount was, at that time, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and very desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Mann wonderfully recreates life in Los Angeles during the 20s and we see it as a town that glittered yet was quite schizophrenic town and filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, new legends and starlets. It was a dangerous place where the powerful and the desperate comingled. This is a great story and the crime is finally solved.

The very first sentence carries us away and we find ourselves in the middle of Hollywood in the 20s. The craziness goes on all day and all night long. We meet some very unsavory characters and there is addiction aplenty—cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. There is prostitution, swindling, blackmail and those who are just mean and nasty. Everyone seems to be wearing a mask and not saying who he or she really is

These movie people and those at the fringes are the people that your mother warned you about. There’s morphine and cocaine and alcohol addiction, prostitution, swindling, blackmailing and simple meanness. No one is who he or she says they are or what they seem. Above them all is Creepy, aka Zukor who controls the world’s largest and most influential movie industry, a megalomaniac to his core.

Surrounding director William Desmond Taylor are Margaret Gibby Gibson who dreams of becoming a star and those who are already stars, Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter who become suspects in the murder.

Behind the scenes are Zukor, Marcus Loew and other moguls. It seemed for a moment that things would change when Will Hays was appointed to the MPPDA and told to clean up the image of the movie industry after the scandal of the Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle rape and murder charge.

The book and Tinseltown have it all—murders, rising and falling stars, movie moguls, Prohibition, extortionists, civic reformers, etc. as well as alcohol and drugs.

Taylor’s murder brought out his many secrets including the fact that his name wasn’t even William Desmond Taylor. “Two female stars were directly linked to Taylor and they were suspects for a time. During this same period, Fatty Arbuckle is on trial for the brutal rape and death of Virginia Rappe at a wild party. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol (also illegal)”. When the films were silent, big stars belonged to studios, which not only produced the films but also then showed them in their theaters. At the same time, “church ladies,” felt it was their duty to regulate morality through Hollywood movies. Not much has changed on that front—then as now movies glorified sex and sin.

Zukor had a vision of the future.  He thought about longer and more complex narratives for films and he took the movies and moved them into the great movie houses of yesteryear. He also saw movies moving beyond silent, and beyond black and white.

Most of these stars that were very big names in the 20s are not thought about today. While the book is centered on the Taylor’s murder, it is much more than that. . And although some have complained that it is too long, I disagree. It’s not just a story about Taylor’s murder—it’s so much more.

Taylor and those who surrounded him were all colorful, dramatic people to some degree and they are Mann’s focus as are the thugs of the period. Although ‘Tinseltown’ does contain a lot interesting revelations and a lot of intrigue, there is also plenty gossip and hearsay. There are wonderful stories and accounts that pull us in and that we want to continue reading about forever.  Someone killed Taylor in his Los Angeles home. The director known was a hard worker who went home at five every day and who usually spent the evening alone. The mystery is what he knew that caused his death.

The studios could not afford another scandal. There were several suspects, three women in particular had reason, Mabel Normand, famous in films, but alcohol and drugs had made their mark; Margaret Gibson, a long time friend from the early days, now involved in petty crimes, or Mary Miles Minter, a young star whose mother was driving her to success. The studios did their best to calm things down, the police were corrupt and easily bought, but it was the newspapers that fanned the flames. Sometimes they even made up facts or theories.

Mann claims that the murder of Taylor has been solved –while in fact it has not. It has never been reopened since it was closed on September 29, 1938. Mann instead gives us his perspective of what happened and whether we agree or not is up to each reader. What we will agree on is that this is a well-written and fascinating story.






“Debauchery” (A Harem Boy’s Saga: Volume 3)— The Saga Continues Once Again


Young. “Debauchery” (A Harem Boy’s Saga) (Volume 3), Solstice Publishing, 2014.

The Saga Continues Once Again

Amos Lassen

We return to the story of a young man who was initiated into a clandestine sexual society and was taken to the Middle East. Volume III of the memoir continues with the love story between the boy and his mentor and we now find ourselves at the third harem of which he becomes a part of—the Quwah, the household of a prince.

Now the boy and Andy, his “valet” are confidantes to the prince and assistants in “Carousel” an international dance club project as well as a photography plan, “Sacred Sex in Sacred Places.” This is not fiction but the memoirs of the boy and they will eventually cover seven volumes. Now that he is located in the household of the royal palace, he has a chance to learn more than ever before. On the other hand, he finds himself in some really uncomfortable situations and gets caught in them. He also comes into contact with some less than favorable characters.

What many may not realize is that this the true story of the author’s own experiences and while we, in the West, may deem what he went through to be taboo and horribly inappropriate, we must understand that there are places in the world today where people actually participate in activities that are related to us here. There are affairs that rob one of personal freedom and there are many places where sex and love do not go hand-in-hand. I admire the author’s bravery in putting this out there for the world to see.

“Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians” (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) by Justin Martin— A Circle of Radicals

rebel souls

Martin, Justin. “Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians” (A Merloyd Lawrence Book), DeCapo Books, 2014.

A Circle of Radicals

Amos Lassen

Shortly after the American Civil War, there was a group of radicals who met in a saloon and it changed American society and opened the door for Walt Whitman to become a poet whose poems have become immortal.

Pfaff’s Saloon in Manhattan was the place that those that those who are considered to be America’s original Bohemians was where they met. There was Whitman, actor Edwin Booth, an actor, Artemus Ward, a stand-up comic, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, psychedelic drug pioneer and author Fitz Hugh Ludlow and Adah Menken, a performer famous for her Naked Lady routine. These artists managed to make connections with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and even Abraham Lincoln.

This is the first book written about his group and it is quite a story. Author Justin Martin has done great research in order to bring us this story and he shows us this first bohemian culture—imported from Paris to a dingy Broadway saloon began the American tradition of rebel art that continues even today.

Walt Whitman occupies most of the story but then he is part of the subtitle and a name we all recognize and he is without question the most famous of the Manhattan Bohemians. But he is only part of the story—this is the biography of the group, an incredibly interesting group of artists. The book is written in prose that pulls us in with the first sentence and keeps us until the last sentence when we are left wanting even more.

We learn what the first American Bohemians “ate, drank, loved, wrote about, and otherwise consumed in their intense, often very short, lives”. This is also an unforgettable portrait of Whitman making us want to learn even more about him. The other characters are colorful like Whitman and the stories are amazing. I was glad to see my old New Orleans watering hole, “Café Lafitte in Exile” mentioned here as well.

The lives of the characters here were tangled together and Martin untangles them for us. These Bohemians were important to the literary and cultural life of New York City just as those at the Algonquin Round Table would be during a later period but these are more down to earth. These were characters that breathed life into the city

and they included journalists, poets, authors, artists, and bums. We should be so thankful for Martin’s research as well as his great ability to tell a story.

“Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta” by Tony Cointreau— A Gift of Love Written from the Heart

ethel merman, mother teresa

Cointreau, Tony. “Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta”, Prospecta Press, 2014.

 A Gift of Love Written from the Heart

Amos Lassen

You probably recognize the name Cointreau but you do not yet know Tony, scion of the famous French liquor family. Tony had had a successful career internationally as a singer and had also served on the board of the liquor company but he felt there was something missing in his life. While his voice made him go to the stage, his heart told him to go to India to Calcutta. As a youngster he had experienced bullying from his brother, his mother had been cold and remote and he had been raised by a cold and unresponsive Swiss nurse and one of his teachers had abused him sexually and made him think that without being perfect, he would never find love. These experiences took him on a search for a mother and for love.

The “first mother” he found was Lee Lehman, the internationally acclaimed beauty. Then, after Tony met Broadway diva Ethel Merman, she became his mentor and second “other mother.” His memoir details his intimate family relationships with both women, as well as his years of work and friendship with Mother Teresa, his last “other mother.”

The memoir voices his opinion that he had no special gifts or talents to bring to Mother Teresa’s work and that if he could do it, then anyone could do it. He learns that all that really matters is a willingness to share whatever small part of oneself with others.

His childhood was one of brutal abuse and really tough, nasty relatives who seemed to delight in inflicting discomfort if not actual pain on Tony. His parents raised Tony with “Real men don’t cry” and showed no affection. We read of the psychological nightmares, panic attacks, and illnesses that came out of this childhood, but Tony was made of tougher stuff and the right people were always there to later bring him through each crisis.  At this time, therapy was not what it has become today.

Tony had a deeply meaningful relationship with his “other mothers” as well as the support and friendship of numerous other famous people such as Pierre Cardin and others. Getting to know Tony’s surrogate mothers is a beautiful experience. We also meet his lover who has been a dominantly supporting character throughout their relationship.

This is a story of hope, and unconditional love that kept me turning pages quickly.  “The book reads like conversation with a friend. During the course of getting to know someone, even along a linear path through time, new information emerges in non-linear ways, taking whimsical loops and side-trips in time before getting back to the thread”.





 In modern-day Russia, where it is estimated that just 1% of the LGBT population lives completely openly, a recent anti-gay amendment to a “propaganda” law has triggered a rising number of assaults on gay men and women by vigilantes who, more often than not, go unpunished for their crimes.

Directed by Ben Steele, the startling expose HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA looks at this climate of hostility when it debuts MONDAY, OCT. 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.  Matt Bomer (Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “The Normal Heart”) narrates.

Other HBO playdates: Oct. 6 (3:30 a.m.), 9 (2:50 a.m.) and 14 (12:20 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Oct. 12 (1:15 p.m., 2:45 a.m.), 16 (8:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m.) and 22 (1:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m.)           

Homosexuality was legalized in Russia 21 years ago, but gay people in the country have yet to win mainstream acceptance. In fact, attitudes in Russia appear to be moving backwards. With jobs and relationships at risk if their sexual orientation is exposed, most gay Russians remain closeted. As one gay man who lost sight in one eye during a recent unprovoked attack says ruefully, “Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted.”
HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA features disturbing insider footage of homophobic Russians who, in the name of morality or religion, beat and torment gay people, posting graphic videos of their encounters online with few or no legal repercussions. These vigilantes see homosexuality as related to pedophilia, stating publicly that their justification for violence is protecting Russia’s children.
Since members of the gay community are afraid to live openly in Russia, groups like Occupy Pedophilia – whose members inaccurately claim that sexual abuse of children is most often committed by homosexuals – have been looking to root them out via the Internet. Posing as interested suitors, anti-gay activists “bait” unsuspecting men and women to rendezvous at apartments or public places, then harass, beat and humiliate victims, often urinating on them. Recordings of these encounters, along with forced admissions of homosexuality, are posted on the internet to “out” the victim and make his or her life “a living hell.”

Disturbing footage of a man’s harassment at the hands of a St. Petersburg vigilante branch, led by a woman named Katya, makes it clear that victims can do little to bring their tormenters to justice. Police rarely investigate such crimes, and there is no such thing as a gay hate crime in Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church, which serves as a moral compass to millions of followers, condemns homosexuality. 

Gay parents live in fear that the government will take steps to strengthen current laws and grant authorities the power to take away their children. Pro-gay activists are hindered by ordinances blocking them from mentioning homosexuality on picket signs or assembling in groups. Even straight sympathizers have found themselves and their livelihoods in jeopardy; Yekaterina, a teacher, says the new laws have triggered “a witch hunt.” In a country where the government and President Vladimir Putin have embraced an anti-gay stance, the feeling is that “the anti-gay forces are gaining momentum – and no one knows just how far the authorities will go.

British filmmaker Ben Steele has worked on an eclectic mix of documentaries over the past ten years, including “The Trouble with Working Women,” “Remembering Mum” and “Posh and Posher.”

HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA is a presentation of HBO Documentary Films; filmed, written & directed by Ben Steele; narrated by Matt Bomer; executive producers, Karen Edwards and Fiona Stourton. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer,Sheila Nevins.

“The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century” by Sebastien Lifshitz— Vintage Photos

the invisibles

Lifshitz, Sebastien. “The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century”, Rizzoli, 2014.

Vintage Photos

Amos Lassen

“The Invisibles” is a collection of gay couples from 1900-1960, the period that is often referred to as “the dark ages”. The people we see in their photographs dared to be out at a time when it was quite dangerous to be so and even if they were just out in order to get the picture taken that was quite a brave move.

Lifshitz discovered and collected the photos from flea markets and garage sales and that is why we do not know who are in the pictures as their identities have been lost for quite some time. The photos are indeed intriguing—we see couples holding hands, exuding happiness and freedom and this is so unlike other pictures from that period. The photos are what inspired Lifshitz to make a documentary film and to give voices to those who had been silenced. The film was awarded the Cesar Award for Best Documentary in 2013.

We see the gay world that was before the Stonewall Riots— men and women in the first half of the 20th century, in the middle of severe oppression They dared to take pictures of themselves and each other and we get a story of love that we did not have before.  It all began when Lifshitz found a family album of photos from the sixties that had belonged to two old ladies. He saw the affection in the photos and knew that they were a lesbian couple. He was mystified as to how they got their pictures developed and he began to look for other pictures from that period. As he collected he knew he was onto something big and he soon had six decades of photographs showing same-sex love.

Now that we have these photos we see that there have always been those who stand before a camera with pride and that the repression that we were forced to live with did not stop from enjoying each other.



“Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present” by Clinton Elliott— Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet


Elliott. Clinton. “Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present”, AuthorHouse, 2014.

Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet

Amos Lassen

Let’s face it—gay men have always been around but in the past the closet was the biggest gay bar in the world. In this book, we go into the closets and pull our men out. Clinton Elliott gives us delightful short looks at many of these men and they include some who are quite famous—Horatio Alger, Thomas Eakins, King Edward II, Alfred C. Kinsey, and Siegfried Wagner to name just a few. There are actually 400 short biographies here and all of the men lived at a time when secrecy and discretion were important and revelation probably would have been disastrous. I had the feeling more than once that I was reading a juicy tabloid tell-all but then again now that I know about these men, my life has not changed. The men we read about here had quite difficult lives and yet most survived. Those of us who came out in the 60s and 70s, we can understand very easily because it was the same way for us. There are, to be sure, some surprises here and the reading experience is pure pleasure. We never get too much or not enough information —it is always just right. The door is partially opened for us if we want to pursue further study. Clinton Elliott certainly knows how to shorten information to give us just what we need to know.

Surely there are other books that are something like this but as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit” and there is plenty that is brief and the whole volume is filled with wit. History can be excessively boring and it seems that author Elliott knew exactly what we wanted to know bout each person and supplied us with that. I cannot imagine how much research and writing and rewriting went into this book. To give you an idea of what you will find here have a look below:

 “One who did was James Brooke. He turned his inheritance into a 142-ton schooner, sailed for the East Indies, seized the northern part of Borneo and proclaimed himself Rajah of Sarawak. Among those who did not survive was Jan Quisthout Van der Linde, a soldier in New Amsterdam (not yet New York). He was stripped of his arms, his sword broken at his feet. He was then tied in a sack, thrown into the Hudson River and drowned until dead…the trial of those over-the-top transvestites Ernest Boulton ‘Stella of the Strand’ and Frederick ‘Fanny’ Park; and a delightful description of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey as he parades along the boulevards of Paris rouged, powdered and perfumed, cradling an equally perfumed poodle festooned with pink ribbons”. 

“Male Sex Work and Society” edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott— A Look at the Sex Industry

male sex work

Minichiello, Victor and John Scott (editors). “Male Sex Work and Society”, Harrington Park Press, 2014.

A Look at the Sex Industry

Amos Lassen

“Male Sex Work” is a collection of essays that looks at men in the sex industry from different perspectives and disciplines. Contributors come from many fields including public health, sociology, psychology, social services, history, film, economics, mental health, criminal justice, geography, and migration studies, and more. The editors give introductions to the various essays and in this way we are guided in understanding what we read here and while there are several scholarly essays the writers are also practitioners, students, and members of the interested/concerned public.

The empirical depth is remarkable, and the conceptual contributions are refined. Male Sex Work and Society is essential reading for anyone interested in sex, sexuality, identity, work, and GLTBQ issues.

 “Victor Minichiello and John Scott’s book shifts our attention from male sex work as a ‘social problem’ to a ‘social phenomenon’. They and their contributors reveal male sex work as a lens through which we can view shifts in local and global sexual cultures. This terrific book helps us rethink the ‘history of sexuality’ itself!

This is the first comprehensive interdisciplinary volume devoted to male sex work. Below is the table of contents:




Reframing Male Sex Work

Victor Minichiello and John Scott


1.    Male Prostitution from Ancient times to the Near Present

Mack Friedman

2.    Male Sex Work in Modern Times

Kerwin Kaye

3.    Representations of Male Sex Work in Film

Russell Sheaffer


4.    Advertising Male Sexual Services

Allan Tyler

5.    Economic Analysis of Male Sex Work

Trevon Logan


6.    Clients of Male Sex Workers

John Scott, Denton Callander, and Victor Minichiello

7.    Regulation of the Male Sex Industry

Thomas Crofts

8.    Public Health Policy and Practice with Male Sex Workers

David S. Bimbi and Juline A. Koken

9.    Mental Health Aspects of Male Sex Work

Juline A. Koken and David S. Bimbi

10.   Gay Subcultures

Christian Grov and Michael D. Smith

11.   Health and Wellness Services for Male Sex Workers

Mary Laing and Justin Gaffney


12.   Male Sex Mork in Southern and Eastern Africa

Paul Boyce and Gordon Isaacs

13.   Male Sex Work in China

Travis S. K. Kong

14.   Male Sex Work in Post-Soviet Russia

Linda M. Niccolai

15.   Male Sex Work from Latin American Perspectives

Victor Minichiello, Tinashe Dune, Carlos E. Disogra and Rodrigo Marino

16.   Migrant Male Sex Workers in Germany

Heide Castañeda

17.   Male Sex Work in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland

Paul Maginn and Graham Ellison


Future Directions in Male Sex Work Research

Victor Minichiello and John Scott


Denton Callander, with the assistance of Katherine M. Isaacs



“More Perfect Union: Understanding Same-sex Christian Marriage” by Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham— The Moral Purpose of Gay Marriage

more perfect union

Wilson, Alan. “More Perfect Union: Understanding Same-sex Christian Marriage”, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 2014.

 The Moral Purpose of Gay Marriage

Amos Lassen

Alan Wilson is the Bishop of Buckingham and a supporter of same-sex marriage. Here he argues that allowing gay and lesbian people to marry is a moral issue. He shares with us that he asked himself, “What does God want for gay people?” He then went back to the Bible and looked to his gay friends for answers. He even went out to get to know gay people form all backgrounds and realized that the answer to his question was simple—“God wants for them the same as everyone else – flourishing faith, hope and love, involvement and inclusion”.

Wilson also looks at homosexuality from the scientific perspective and he says that homosexuality is part of a wide range of human sexual longing and expression, not an anomaly, a sickness, not merely a lifestyle choice. He found that most of the people that he spoke with were in favor of same-sex marriage and were not anti-gay. They were ‘just trying to love their neighbor as themselves’, even if, in some cases, their heads lagged behind their hearts on the issue of gay marriage.

This book was written to help Christians unite head and heart in a fully positive response to gay people marrying, and to enable them to rejoice totally in such union and in doing so they would divest themselves of years of stereotyping, fear and discrimination about gay people. We can only hope that Alan Wilson would become an example for Christians in America.

“Blow Jobs: A Guide to Making it in Show Business or Not!” by Dolores Deluce— A Show Business Whore Writes

blow jobs

Deluce, Dolores. “Blow Jobs: A Guide to Making it in Show Business or Not!”,  (Counter Culture Diva) (Volume 2), Double Delinquent Press, 2014.

A Show Business Whore Writes

Amos Lassen

I cannot help but Dolores Deluce is somehow related to Dolores Delago, the diva created by Bette Midler. The two women certainly share their trashiness. Deluce describes herself as the “Counter Culture Diva” and she tells us how she would do anything to survive in show business (aside from taking a day job). She says she needs to keep her calendar open for auditions and working during the day could hurt her chances of getting to them.

I am not sure how to classify this book—it is certainly not a self-help manual and even though is quite funny this is not a book of jokes. It could be something of an autobiography with some very humorous vignettes and it might be something of a guide to Hollywood dreams. ”Blow Jobs” is a continuation of what we read in her first book,

“My Life, a Four Letter Word”.  Dolores keeps us up to date as to how she has been and tells us a good deal more about herself. She also does some serious namedropping. “Dolores went from being Dean Martin’s maid to a bimbo’s slave that led to pubic hair trimming on XXX film sets. She dressed David Bowie, and The Ramones and endured humiliation as a nude extra in a Rob Zombie horror classic” and so much more.

Before we even start to read, Dolores warns us: “If you can’t handle the truth and nothing but the naked truth, beware of this book. It is important to understand that this is a“cautionary tale–not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart”.