Homosexuality, Pop Culture, Television

Harlow Hickenlooper: The end of an era in Indianapolis kid’s television history.

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Harlow Hickenlooper-Curley Myers & Cap’n Star promotional cards given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Original publish date:  May 9, 2017

Last week, it happened. Hal Fryar died. Hal, better known to generations of Hoosiers as Harlow Hickenlooper, made it to his 90th birthday on June 8th but died peacefully in his sleep a couple weeks later on June 25th. I would like to thank all of you who sent birthday cards to Hal down in Florida. His son Gary informs me that they were the highlight of the party and Hal appreciated each and every one of them. WISH-TV Channel 8 reporter Dick Wolfsie contacted me about filming a tribute to Hal for his July 1st show and I was honored to do it for Hal.
Wolfsie had a long history with Hal and his interview segment filmed back in 2008 remains a classic. Hal’s alter ego Harlow was known as an affable schlemiel whose just compensation was always a pie in the face. Not only did Dick share space with Hal in the TV broadcasting fraternity, Mr. Wolfsie also shares membership with Hal in the pie-in-the-face fraternity. (Okay, there is no such thing but there should be.) Dick Wolfsie was once “pie’d in the face” by non other then the king of the genre, Soupy Sales himself back in 1998.

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Dick Wolfsie and Alan E. Hunter at WISH-TV Channel 8.

Dick felt a proper way to honor his pal Hal was to take a pie in the face himself. That show, which you can find on the WISH-TV website under the Dick Wolfsie / Hal Fryar segment name, went off without a hitch and was a suitable tribute to Hal Fryar. I had the honor of “Pie-ing” Dick in the face just as Hal Fryar himself had showed me at the Irving Theatre so many years ago. As for Mr. Wolfsie, he was such a trooper that he actually took TWO pies in the face. Now that is dedication.

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Dick Wolfsie of WISH-TV Channel 8.

As fate would have it, a few days before appearing on Dick Wolfsie’s segments I attended an antique show and ran across a photo of Hal and his co-stars Curley Myers and Cap’n Star (Jerry Vance, a.k.a. Larry Vincent). These photos, which were actually giveaways from WFBM TV Channel 6 back in the early 1960s, brought back memories. Having grown up in Indy around that time, I clearly remember getting things like this whenever and wherever the TV stars would show up for promos. Store, bank and restaurant openings, live shows and taped segments; the stars would hand these out to their young fans as souvenirs. I found the timing of the card’s discovery ironic because they came into my world just after Hal’s 90th birthday and the day before I had found out he had passed. Life is funny that way.

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Hal Fryar aka Harlow Hickenlooper 1960s Channel 6 TV fan club card.

I realized that I had written several article on Hal Fryar but had never touched on the lives of his cohorts. By now, you know that Hal rose to prominence as Harlow Hickenlooper, the host of The Three Stooges Show on Channel 6 in Indianapolis from 1960 to 1972. Together, Hal, Curley and Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits for a live studio audience of children. Fryar also hosted several other children’s shows over 43 years in local television. In 1965, Fryar was cast in the Three Stooges movie, The Outlaws Is Coming, playing the part of Johnny Ringo. On October 2, 2008, Fryar was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. But what became of his costars?

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Curley Myers & Harlow Hickenlooper 1960s Channel 6 TV fan club card,

Gerald L. “Curley” Myers, known by fans as “your ole buckaroo buddy”, was born April 1, 1920 twelve miles east of Lebanon, Indiana. Curley grew up on a farm in Clinton County and attended grade school in Forest and Frankfort, Indiana. From the age of eight he was in love with music and played his bass violin in the school orchestra, at church and fiddled at neighborhood hoedowns on the weekends. He graduated from Frankfort High School in 1938. Somewhere along the way, Curley took up the banjo and guitar, which opened the door to a successful career in show business.
Curley’s list of bands reads like a page out of country music history: Woodside Harmonica Band (19334-36), The Hoosier Ramblers (1936-38)s, the Semi Solid Ramblers (1938-39), Cap’n Stubby and the Buccaneers (1939-45) and the Shady Acres Ranch Cowboys (1949-57). Curley’s Cap’n Stubby years were spent at WLW in Cincinnati performing on the same slate as Doris Day, The Williams Brothers with Andy Williams, Merle Travis, The Girls of the Golden West, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Bradley Kincaid and the Delmore Brothers to name a few.
IMG_6503Early in 1955 WFBM channel 6 began airing the Indiana Hoedown, starring entertainers who had been on WLW in Cincinnati. In addition to working the Hoedown, Curley had Curley’s Cowboy Theater for seven or eight years, then did a Saturday morning kids show with Cap’n Star and Harlow Hickenlooper. Altogether, Curley spent over 15 years there as the “Saturday Morning Cowboy”. In May, 1972 the TV station was sold and the new owners planned a change of programming formats and personalities.
This led to a kind of semi-retirement from the music business for Curley Myers. He went to work for the Culligan Water Conditioning company but continued entertaining on nights and weekends at state fairs, parties and a long standing gig performing Wednesday through Saturday nights at the Best Western. Curley spent well over 60 years pickin’, singin’ and grinnin’ all ovr the midwest. Curley and Hal remained close until Curley’s death on May 19, 2013 at a Retirement home in Mulberry, Indiana.

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Harlow Hickenlooper-Curley Myers & Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Larry Vincent (aka Larry Vance) was born Larry Francis Fitzgerald Vincent on June 14, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. Not much is known about Vincent’s early life. He first surfaces in the 1940s as an understudy to Kirk Douglas in the Broadway play “Alice in Arms.” The play ran for only 5 performances at the National Theatre in New York City, but is notable for being Kirk Douglas’ Broadway debut. Vincent teamed up with Don McArt to form a stand-up comedy act that performed in nightclubs all over New York City. Anderson Indiana native Donald Craig McArt had previously appeared in the Walt Disney films “Son of Flubber” and the “Absent Minded Professor.”

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Larry Vincent aka Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Vincent landed in the Circle City in the early 1960s where he created his “Cap’n Star” character for WFBM in Indianapolis. Cap’n Star appeared alongside Harlow and Curley for children’s programming which showcased old Three Stooges shorts. Along with his pet monkey “Davy Jones”, Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits on the show. Vincent lived in a house at 41st and Graham Avenue on the east side. Local children remember Vincent as a kind neighbor who always had time for kids, often letting them wear his sailor’s cap from the show and play with the show’s mascot monkey Davy Jones.
In 1968 he left Indianapolis to become staff director for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. From 1969 to 1974 Vincent was the host for a Sammy Terry style Friday night horror show program known as “Fright Night” on KHJ-TV and later Seymour’s Monster Rally on KTLA TV. Vincent’s Seymour horror host presented—and heckled—low-budget horror and science fiction movies on both local Los Angeles stations. He is remembered for his style of criticizing the movies he presented in an offbeat and funny manner, usually appearing in a small window which would pop up in the corner, tossing a quip, then vanishing again. Sometimes he would, using blue-screen, appear in the middle of the movie, apparently interacting with the characters in the movie.

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Larry Vincent aka Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Along with appearing in several episodes of The New Three Stooges during his Indianapolis years, Vincent also had small roles on Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, The Flying Nun, and I Dream of Jeannie. Larry Vincent served as Knott’s Berry Farm’s inaugural “Ghost Host,” in 1973 at Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt. Vincent aka Seymour’s last show came in 1974. Traditionally, Seymour ended the show by saying, “I’d like to thank you… I’d like to, but it’s not my style! Bad Evening!” But on his final telecast, Seymour eschewed his familiar goodbye and said nothing. He merely waved as the stagehands disassembled the set behind him. Mr. Vincent quickly succumbed to stomach cancer and died less than a year later on March 9, 1975. Several years later, Elvira took over Larry’s place as horror-film hostess on Fright Night, which later morphed into her own series, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Although these men and their genre has left the local TV scene, their legacy is recalled fondly by baby-boomers all over the country. They don’t make men like Harlow, Curley and Cap’n Star anymore. Like Janie Hodge and Bob Glaze (Cowboy Bob) these people were integral parts of Indianapolis schoolkids. They entertained and informed us all by filling the hours after school until our parents came home. Corny, yes, old fashioned, sure but they were our TV friends, We could always count on them to make us feel like they were all talking directly to us, Hal Fryar was really the first of his kind and his reach was a long one. He will be missed.

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Hal Fryar aka Harlow Hickenlooper promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.
Homosexuality, Travel

The Pulse Nightclub.

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Original publish date:  November 8, 2016

My wife and I spent this last Presidential election day in Florida, a refuge for us for over 25 years now. As I write this article, the outcome of the race is still undecided. By the time this article runs, the race will be over and our country will have a newly elected President. Truth is, we quickly discovered that the TV ads down here are even more vicious than they were back home. And THAT is saying something! Having cast our votes early, we were in need of a distraction.
I found it while watching the morning news. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced that the city had reached a deal to buy Pulse nightclub for $2.25 million. In case you need a refresher, Pulse was a gay bar, dance hall, and nightclub in downtown Orlando. On June 12, 2016, the club gained international attention as the scene of the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9-11. 49 people were killed and 53 were injured.
z IMG_1885Dyer said the site will probably remain as-is for the next year or more, as it has become a popular gathering place for mourners. The purchase price was $600,000 more than its appraised value. He said the city will reach out to both LBGT groups and local community for advice on how the memorial should proceed. I didn’t tell Rhonda where we were going, I just said “Let’s go for a drive.” Good sport that she is, she agreed without reservation and off we went. While just about everyone knows the story of the massacre, not many know the history of the nightclub itself.
z IMG_1887The Orlando Weekly newspaper once described Pulse as featuring “three glitzy, throbbing rooms of twinks, club boys and twinks at heart. Every night has something different in store, but Pulse is known to have some pretty impressive drag shows, and the bar’s dancers are usually gorgeous.” However, Pulse was more than just a party spot for the LBGT, it hosted themed performances each night and had a monthly program featuring educational events geared towards the LGBT community. The Washington Post described its first 12 years as “a community hub for HIV prevention, breast-cancer awareness and immigrant rights”, and reported it had partnered with educational and advocacy groups such as Come Out with Pride, Equality Florida, and the Zebra Coalition. President Obama once described Pulse as both a refuge for LGBT and for Puerto Rican people.
z IMG_1871Top 10 Orlando called it a “firm favorite for the Orlando gay crowd”, The Rough Guide to Florida deemed it “justifiably popular”, citing its “great lighting and sound plus cabaret performers, drag acts, and erotic dancers.” The entire premises, including the washrooms, were handicap accessible. Using “periodic consumer surveys”, Zagat rated Pulse 25/30 for atmosphere, 25/30 decor, and 22/30 service.
z IMG_1877Before Pulse was founded, the building site was home to the Sarasota Herald Company, a 1930s Era daily newspaper. In 1985 it became Lorenzo’s pizza restaurant. By 1999, it had become Dante’s, a bar with live music. Dante’s closed in January 2003. Pulse was founded on July 2, 2004 by Barbara Poma and Ron Legler. Poma’s brother, John, died in 1991 from AIDS, and the club was “named for John’s pulse to live on”, according to their website. Legler was President of the Florida Theatrical Association at the time of the club’s foundation.
I was hoping that our visit to this hallowed ground would somehow help us put things back into proper perspective and remind us about what is truly important in this world. It did not disappoint. Pulse, located at 1912 S. Orange Avenue in Orlando, Florida, is today encircled in a 7-foot tall chain link fence with another solid plywood wall inside to act as a double barrier. The chain link fence is adorned with banners memorializing the event and its victims in a tasteful, solemn way.
z IMG_1878Visitors have written messages of hope on the canvas signs. Some designed to cheer the future, others to toast the past, while more still are there to nourish the soul and soothe an unquiet mind. A few scrawlings just want it to be known that Jake from Iowa was there and that Jake from Iowa understands and is sorry it happened. Some messages are from friends, many are from family and others from Orlando residents paying respect, like Orlando Boy Scout Troop 534 who proudly proclaim that they are Orlando Strong.
As of this writing, no-one knows for sure what will become of the site. I’m sure that many, myself included, hope that the city of Orlando will turn it into a fitting memorial. Perhaps a museum in the same vein as the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. Like the 9-11 site of recent memory, a place of terrible tragedy and heartbreak can sometimes become a place of healing. A place of education and, most importantly, a place of understanding.
z IMG_1881I’m a firm believer that seeing, touching and walking the paths of important events leads to better understanding of what happened there. The Pulse site could be a perfect place to reflect and remember. Orange Avenue is a busy road but what strikes a first time visitor like me is that no farther than 100 yards behind the site are neighborhoods full of homes and average everyday people. One can only imagine how that tragedy affected these folks.
z IMG_1884Sadly, our nation’s historical landscape is pock-marked with sites where tragedy has defined a region. All too often these sites involved the attempted eradication of human rights, whether individually or as a group. One need only recall the evils of slavery and horrors of reconstruction to understand the impact of a failed ideology. Every group has had to climb its own mountain to affect change; some sadder and more tragic than others.
Native American Indians at wounded knee, Mexicans at San Jacinto, Mormons at Mountain Meadow, black soldiers at Fort Pillow & Battery Wagner, abolitionists at Lawrence, Kansas, Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad, union laborers at Ludlow, Colorado and women workers at the Triangle factory fire in New York City. All of these sad episodes are viewed as landmarks of change for our country. The Pulse nightclub massacre can count themselves among them and the site could be their change landmark. Only time will tell.
On our brief half hour visit, we saw about a half dozen people visiting the memorial, reading the sympathy cards, looking at the cherished talismans and mourning remembrances placed on the fence and arranged on the ground before it. Most, like us, took photos to remember their visit. While others pulled up to the curb and never got out of their cars. But they took the time to be there, nonetheless.
z 9The memory that I will take with me is of a pair of young women who appeared and walked slowly down the fence. It was a young teacher escorting a beautiful blind student. The teacher stopped at every banner, reading it aloud to her sightless charge. z 10The young student then reached out and touched every banner gently with her fingertips, as if absorbing the moment for her own personal posterity. Our daughter Jasmine and two of her / our close friends, Elise and Jada, work at the Indiana School for the Blind. I’d like to think that if any one of those three young women were in the same position, they’d do the same for their students. Please Orlando, transform the Pulse nightclub site into a memorial that all Americans can be proud of.z 4

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Homosexuality, Politics, Pop Culture

Joe McCarthy & the Lavender Scare. Part II

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Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy in 1950.

Original publish date: April 7, 2016

The Joe McCarthy Red Scare era of political repression stands curiously at odds with most Americans memories of the 1950s Ike years where Roy Rogers ruled the range and every kid wore a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Last week’s article explored the anti-communist fervor that led to the name change of the Cincinnati Reds to the Cincinnati Red legs. This article will attempt to tell the story of another aspect of those terrible days that has been mostly forgotten and long neglected by the history books.
From 1950 to 1954, the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” resonated thru the halls of Congress and struck fear in the hearts of even the most hearty of American Heroes. Walt Disney, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and Ronald Reagan were among those called to testify. The hearings succeeded in destroying the careers of many employed in governmental, motion picture, literary and fine arts communities.
However, there was another question asked more in hushed whispers echoing in the back conference rooms away from the glare of the cameras. While those cacophonous communist accusations grabbed all the headlines out front, security officials posed this question at least as frequently but much more discreetly: “Information has come to the attention of the Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment do you care to make?”

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April 1956 DARE magazine cover.

During the Cold War, homosexuals were considered to be as potentially dangerous a threat to national security as were the Communists. Rumors abound that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were havens for homosexuals. Such Scandalous talked proved a perfect addendum to the fervor of the moment and sparked a “Lavender Scare” more vehement and long-lasting than McCarthy’s Red Scare.
During an Era when Lucy loved Desi, Elvis was headed towards an Army haircut and everybody liked Ike, Americans were being secretly questioned about their sex lives in the hallowed halls of Congress. On April 27, 1953 (63 years ago this month) President Dwight Ike Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 into law. Its language was broad: “Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion.” Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order determined that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks and should not be employed.
Over the next few months, approximately 5,000 homosexuals were fired from federal jobs including private contractors and military personnel. Not only did the victims lose their jobs but they were also forced out of the closet and thrust into the public eye as homosexuals. Many more government employees were dismissed because of their homosexual orientation than because of their left-leaning or communist beliefs. These homosexual purges ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide.
The Red Scare witch hunt, which began as a movement to crush any opposition to the Cold War, also led to the firing, red-listing and public outing of people who didn’t fit the straight-laced classification of main stream America. Quite literally, anyone considered queer were rounded up and branded as subversive, anti-American communist sympathizers. The Lavender Scare’s legacy is that it harmed far more people and continued for a much longer period of time. But most have never even heard of it.
The term for this persecution drew its title from the phrase “lavender lads” used repeatedly by powerful Illinois GOP Senator Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexual males. In 1952, Dirksen said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of “the lavender lads” from the State Department. The phrase was also used back in the day by Confidential magazine, a National Enquirer style gossip rag known for gossiping about the sexuality of politicians and Hollywood stars.
In 1950, the same year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department, Truman Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy said that the State Department had allowed 91 homosexuals to resign. On April 19, 1950, Republican National Chairman Guy George Gabrielson said that “Perhaps as dangerous as the actual Communists are the sexual perverts who have infiltrated our Government in recent years.” Gabrielson charged that the media was not doing enough to alert the population to the “homosexual menace.”
z Prog03-08-770x433The media knew a controversy when they saw it and soon newspapers and magazines helped whip the frenzy into a fevered pitch. The New York Times took the lead, running at least seven stories promoting this anti-homosexual campaign in May of 1950. A month later, the Senate authorized an official investigation, the first of its kind in U.S. history. It was popularly dubbed the “pervert inquiry.”
The politically motivated results of these hearings, issued in December, charged the Truman administration with indifference toward the danger of homosexuals in government. The official “justification” for this witch hunt against gay and lesbian employees was cited as “lack of emotional stability” and “weakness of … moral fiber” that allegedly made them susceptible to Soviet propaganda and recruitment.
438418410_780x439Nebraska GOP Senator Kenneth Wherry concluded in December, “You can’t hardly separate homosexuals from subversives… Mind you, I don’t say that every homosexual is a subversive, and I don’t say every subversive is a homosexual. But [people] of low morality are a menace in the government, whatever [they are], and they are all tied up together.” In 1950, a Senate investigation chaired by Clyde R. Hoey noted in a report, “It is generally believed that those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.”, and said all of the government’s intelligence agencies “are in complete agreement that sex perverts in Government constitute security risks.”
Between 1947 and 1950, 1,700 federal job applications were denied, 4,380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 were fired from their government jobs for being suspected homosexuals. In the State Department alone, security officials bragged about firing one homosexual per day, more than twice the rate of those charged with political disloyalty to capitalism.
Strangely absent in voice or written opinion on the homosexual debate is the man the movement was named for; Senator Joe McCarthy. While the domestic witch hunt of lesbian, gay men and gender-variant people became an integral component of McCarthyism, Joe McCarthy himself was not the main power behind the anti-homosexual frenzy. True, the senator from Wisconsin did pepper his tirades with references to “Communists and queers.” But as the political crusade took off, McCarthy was nowhere to be seen.
Though he was a member of the congressional committee that spent several months examining the homosexuals-in-government issue, McCarthy mysteriously recused himself from those hearings. Websters defines recuse as a challenge by a judge, prosecutor, or juror as unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality. So was Joe McCarthy excusing himself from the issue because he was biased or was he excusing himself because he was gay?

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Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy, the middle-aged, confirmed bachelor, may have considered himself vulnerable to questions about his own sexuality that were sure to circulate soon. After all, it was McCarthy who hired Roy Cohn–who died of AIDS in 1986 and is widely believed to have been a closeted homosexual–as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn, with the enthusiastic support of the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (also believed by many to have been a closeted homosexual),

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Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy and legal counsel Roy Cohn.

vigorously prosecuted any and all accused homosexuals who came before them.
McCarthy did get married in 1953, but it was late in his career and his bride was his longtime secretary. Many viewed the union as a ruse designed to deflect rumors about his sexuality that were beginning to surface. No credible evidence has ever surfaced to confirm (or deny) that Joe McCarthy was gay, but the 1940-50s Era Milwaukee underground (where Joe was from) are filled with stories of the Senator’s escapades in the gay clubs and bars of that Era. Rumors must not be confused with history and should be relegated to files of speculation, gossip and innuendo.
z a5ddb6b06f432e1379d5558762e2b0aaUntil the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as President, no other politician of Irish descent had achieved a national impact comparable with McCarthy’s in twentieth century America. McCarthy took a serious issue, undermined it through reckless behavior and destroyed the lives of many people in the process. McCarthy’s Red Scare didn’t come to an end until he dared to attack the Army with his accusations. A very bad idea when the Oval office is occupied by the most famous General of his generation.
One of the victims of McCarthyism was sexologist Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University. The McCarthy hearings investigated links between non-profit organizations and the Communist Party, but Kinsey and his principal funding source, the Rockefeller Foundation, were clearly the primary targets. The Committee sought testimony criticizing Kinsey’s work and publicized exaggerated tales of his alleged sexual depravity and links to communism, while barring witnesses who might defend Kinsey or the Institute. The Committee ferociously condemned his work and made headlines across America. The Rockefeller Foundation soon withdrew its financial support, which crippled and effectively ended Kinsey’s work. Dr. Kinsey died a short time later in August of 1956 followed by Joe McCarthy some 9 months later in May of 1957.
Most Americans view Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare as a forgotten relic of the Cold War Era. But the Lavender Scare lived on into the Bill Clinton administration. Ike’s Executive Order 10450 baring gays from entering the military was not rescinded until 1995.