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Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s Hardcover – October 7, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 186 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (October 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 029924850X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299248505
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From a 21st-century perspective, 1950s bar owner Branson wasn't particularly progressive. The 60-something matron barred "the obvious homosexual" from her modest tavern, strongly preferred patrons who could pass for straight, and didn't allow sexual touching. But the onetime palm reader's spunky memoir about running a gay bar on a crime-prone stretch of L.A.'s Melrose Avenue, first published in 1957, is filled with warm affection for "my boys" and with an uncommon understanding of (and sympathy for) gays, at a time when California law prohibited "inverts" from gathering in bars, and vice squad entrapment of "deviates" was commonplace. By pairing this new edition of Branson's insightful memoir with a study of 1950s America, Fellows (A Passion to Preserve) clarifies how ahead of her time Branson was: she believed, for example, that being gay was about more than sex and that gay men living together could consider themselves married. This stimulating account of support for gay rights pre-Stonewall is an eye-opener.
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Review

“Will Fellows uncovers a remarkable time capsule of how gay folks lived and gathered a half-century ago in a small bar on Melrose in Los Angeles, interweaving the remarkable charm of bar owner Helen Branson’s 1957 memoir with his own deft cultural analysis.”—Tim Miller, performer and author of Body Blows and 1001 Beds



“Fascinating, poignant, hilarious, and eye-opening. Fellows adds depth, detail, and insight to Branson’s groundbreaking original work.”—Philip Gambone, author of Travels in a Gay Nation.



"Few books are unique, but this one comes close. It’s the firsthand, contemporary account by a straight woman, Branson, who owned a gay bar in 1950s Los Angeles. Originally published in 1957, the book shows Branson to be a compassionate and astute observer of gay mores, now providing a rare primary source of gay life in an era from which such information is hard to obtain. Researchers will find material on the relationships between gay men and women, what gay parties were like, and the distinct house rules that Branson set up for patronage of her bar, among other topics. Fellows (Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest) intersperses her narrative with contextualizing historical and political information that greatly aids readers’ understanding. ­Verdict: Donald Vining’s multivolume A Gay Diary and Ricardo J. Brown’s compelling The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s: A Gay Life in the 1940s are related titles, but these were first published long after the fact. General readers of memoir or LGBT lit, as well as historians, will find Gay Bar to be a charming, informative read."—Library Journal



“By pairing this new edition of Branson’s insightful memoir with a study of 1950s America, Fellows clarifies how ahead of her time Branson was: she believed, for example, that being gay was more than sex and that gay men living together could consider themselves married. This is a stimulating account of support for gay rights pre-Stonewall is an eye-opener.”—Publishers Weekly



“We typically prefer our pop culture shiny and new with the tags still on, but author Will Fellows’ latest makes a strong case for vintage shopping.”—Modern Tonic



“Fascinating and vigorously lucid, this book is a precious time capsule jetting readers back over a half-century ago to a time when the gay community was threatened, defiled, beaten, and stigmatized without restraint, thankful to have folks like Helen Branson on their side, but fully aware that the fight for equality was only just the beginning.”—Bay Area Reporter



“This incredible inside look of a gay bar in 1950s Los Angeles, owned and operated by a straight woman, Helen P. Branson, reflects our gay history as well as Los Angeles culture. Writer Will Fellows adds commentary and historical perspective in this fascinating memoir that was written in 1957.”—Frontiers


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bob Lind on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
More than a decade before the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, gay bars existed in most major cities, but were often poorly-run establishments targeted by homophobes, mobsters and police entrapment. Helen's bar was different, a 1950's oasis located in a crime-riddled area of Los Angeles, where quiet, closeted gay men could meet, drink and socialize with their peers. With her intuition and experience working in other bars, Helen screened new customers, tipping off her regulars through various methods when she was unsure whether they were legit. She became their protector, friend, occasional advisor and confessor, and they were very loyal to her in return.

The late Helen P. Branson released her memoir "Gay Bar" in 1957, and it became one of the first books by a heterosexual to portray gay men with empathy, love and respect. In this re-issue, Will Fellows takes Branson's original chapters and interleaves updates, subsequent research and commentary to put them in perspective. While Branson's observations occasionally mimic the stereotypes about gay men at the time, it's clear that she had only admiration for "her boys" and was thankful for the chance she had to be with them. The book is really a "time capsule" of gay history, not a scholarly work, but a look at a time and place one would otherwise not discover. It is both enchanting and enlightening reading for open-minded people of any age or sexual orientation, and I give it a full five stars out of five.

- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tripp Evans on February 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fascinating, eye-opening read. The author frames Helen Branson's original memoir, Gay Bar - a long-forgotten time capsule of gay life in the 1950s - with his own, thoughtfully written historical background. The back-and-forth between Branson's writing and Fellows' commentary makes for a lively conversation (and very good company); both reveal the tremendous pressure to conform that gay men faced -- and enforced -- in the 1950s, and the ways these men managed to subvert stereotypical expectations. Fellows' frequent references to gay periodicals like One and the Mattachine Review perfectly complement Branson's account; they offer the reader a broader view of this period, and bring in the voices of the very men Branson writes about. For me, it was a revelation to see how conservative these magazines (and readers) sometimes were, and also how refreshingly contemporary their readers' concerns could be. It was fascinating to read that, nearly half a century before the establishment of Don't Ask Don't Tell, some believed military life itself "turned" men gay -- and I found Branson's treatment of gay marriages in the 1950s both prescient and sympathetic. A fantastic read, and a must for anyone interested in this critical, pre-Stonewall era.
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