to John Paul Hudson
By Joe Kennedy
Perhaps a quarter of those present were, like Hudson, veterans of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), the leading gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) liberation organization in the decade after Stonewall whose militant ideology and tactics paved the way for many of the freedoms today's GLBT people enjoy.
Hudson died on February 20th of natural causes at age 73 in his retirement home in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. While spending most of this time in recent years in Honesdale, he had continued to maintain his 8th floor apartment on 7th Avenue in mid-town Manhattan and visited the city to keep up both his activist and theatrical work.
Hudson's close long-time friend George Morgan (of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) presided at the memorial tribute and sketched an overview of John Paul's extraordinarily wide-ranging interests and accomplishments in life as well as the remarkable care and compassion he showed for everyone with whom he came in contact.
George, who was designated as by John Paul's will as the person responsible for arranging the memorial, opened the event with a humorous remark that set the tone for the evening as a time where hilarious anecdotes about some of John Paul's antics and witty remarks about his eccentricities mingled with heartfelt tears and serious recollections of his life's great, indeed historic, deeds: "The only bad piece of writing John Paul ever did" intoned George with a wink at the outset, "was his will."
A display area at the entrance of the theater showed breathtakingly handsome photos of John Paul as a young actor and cabaret performer. Also on display were copies of the half-dozen books he authored over a period of 35 years, beginning in the 1960s and including the gay guides that made him one of the best-selling gay authors of the 1970s and his popular murder-mystery novels.
Describing the emotions of exuberant elation felt by an elderly woman, a retired teacher, as generations of her former students surprise her with a broadcast salute to all she has meant to them, the words the teacher sings (John Paul's lyrics) seemed a perfect summation of how he must have felt, witnessing from another realm this salute to him by his friends:
"But can I tell them in this moment all that I have to tell? Quite convince them in this moment all is well? ...I'm blessed and gifted, with a feeling of omniscience... As for loss, there is no losing - who fears death! Who fears death! ... Heaven's voices that I hear now, all reveal that ev'ry thread of black or white, was right, and God -- is real! ... Tonight I am ageless, I fear nothing, There is no end to the soul of me, of you, of anyone... What should a woman do, now? Now, as she's taking her bow? ... Life is perfect, in this moment -- God is good!"
There was much applause and more than a few moist eyes in the house.
Pianist and singer Franklin Roosevelt Underwood, who for many years performed as a duo with John Paul in a popular cabaret act that was written up by Walter Winchell and other major media of the day, played audio tapes of some of their performances from three and four decades ago.
There was an audible gasp in the audience when John Paul's deep lush beautiful voice first came from the speakers. The duo's songs, hilariously entertaining even now, were daringly risqué and cutting edge when first performed -- discussing with wit and humor topics like two little neighbor boys, best friends, who liked to dress up in their mothers' clothing when the parents were out of the house and pretend they were divas of that day like Bette Davis.
Franklin described some of the venues large and small where they played, including an amusing tale about the minor indignities they had to endure on one of the first cruise ships primarily for homosexuals where conditions on stage for the performers were decidedly less than stellar.
In the 1960s, one of the places where John Paul was a hit performer was Provincetown, Massachusetts. Jim Keough of Boston and Provincetown was among John Paul's friends and professional colleagues from that era who traveled to New York for the memorial. He recalled that he first met John Paul in the club that is now a lesbian nightspot known as the Vixen.
John Paul Hudson (moustache) in 1971 with other gay liberation pioneers: Kay Tobin Lahusen, Rev. Troy Perry and GAA stalwart, Morty Manford
The list of prominent celebrities with whom John Paul performed and who expressed admiration for his talents read like a Who's Who of a particular era in American entertainment and popular culture. The tributes from many sources at the memorial made it clear that John Paul was an exceptionally talented artist, theatrical and show business personality -- an actor, singer, lyricist, producer, director -- from his earliest teen years to the moment of his passing.
It was also made clear that that was but one part of an incredibly multi-faceted personality. Person after person declared that John Paul was an extremely well-educated and well-read erudite intellectual, a philosopher, a person of very deep and profound spiritual beliefs. Indeed, George Morgan noted that John Paul would not want anyone to refer to his "death" but his "transition."
It seemed there was little he didn't do. One speaker recalled that he taught young people in the Head Start program, and his students adored him. And he was fiercely committed to social justice, fighting for tenants' rights and standing up with environmentalists in an era before that word had even been coined to keep big business interests from encroaching on the greenery of the city's beloved Central Park.
For the LGBT community and the LGBT media covering the event, the most significant part of the evening that emphasized John Paul's historic stature in our movement came when his years as an activist and writer were detailed.
Arnie Kantrowitz, an early vice-president of GAA and well-known leader of the activist moment in New York City ever since, was introduced by George Morgan to deliver a eulogy. He noted John Paul's work as a director and librarian/archivist at the Mattachine Society.
He described how John Paul was elected as GAA's Delegate-at-Large, an important ombudsman-type position, to keep peace among the often disputatious factions in the early years of the movement. John Paul, recalled Arnie, was chosen for and was ideal at this position because everyone respected him as a fair and open-minded person and everyone also respected the great aura of dignity that he projected.
Arnie recounted that John Paul was one of the principal organizers of the Christopher Street Liberation Day (CSLD) committee, as the very first GLBT Pride March, in 1970 on the first anniversary of Stonewall, was called, and how John Paul remained active in that committee through the decade, serving as the co-master of ceremonies and co-keynote speaker in 1977. John Paul was vice-president of the National Coalition of Gay Activists, founded by Morty Manford.
Among those present at the memorial was Paul Philippe, still a handsome and youthful figure.
In 1979, Paul was a Rhode Island teenager embroiled in a nationally-publicized court case over his desire to take his boyfriend to his high school prom. John Paul the passionate activist immediately got involved in the case as Paul's most ardent backer. Out of that involvement, Paul Philippe became part of John Paul's extended gay family, his honorary grandson, living in John Paul's residence for 15 years. For John Paul's 70th birthday, Paul Philippe treated him to a trip to Austria so John Paul could probe his regal Hapsburg roots.
John Paul's career as a gay activist writer was described at the memorial. He authored the instant classic, The Gay Insider, in 1971 and The Gay Insider USA in 1972, the first guide books of their kind and some of the first published works giving first-hand accounts of the leading activist individuals and organizations at that crucial immediate post-Stonewall moment in history. The boldly entertaining and raucous novel Superstar Murder came out in 1976. Amid its ribald descriptions of the going-on at a popular gay bath house of the day, it made some telling political points too.
Arnie concluded by talking about how John Paul took it upon himself in 1994 to organize not one but two GAA Reunions, marking the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in June and then six months later the 25th anniversary of GAA's founding. At the first reunion, the names of GAA's fallen heroes was read, Arnie remembered, which he recalled brought forth gasps and cries on anguish from those present at that reunion. Tonight, he said as he ended his eulogy, we sadly add the name of John Paul Hudson to that historic honor roll.
Marc Ruben, who has been a mainstay of gay activism in New York since 1970, told the assembled group that it was John Paul who literally -- and "carnally" -- introduced him to the movement. It was the night before the first march, in 1970. Marc hadn't heard about the march or GAA.
He and John Paul cruised each other, they spent the night in hot sexual bliss, and in the process John Paul told him about the march. Marc attended it with John Paul and the rest is history. At the memorial Marc was wearing one of the lambda T-shirts, replicas of the originals from GAA in 1970, that John Paul had had made for the 1994 Reunion. NYC's Gay City News snapped a picture of Marc speaking in the lambda T-shirt to use with its coverage of the memorial in this week's issue.
Even illness could not keep John Paul's friends and activist movement comrade-brothers, as he called them, from paying their respects at his memorial. Attorney Hal Weiner, who defended many GAA stalwarts when they were jailed for demonstrating (including John Paul when he was arrested sitting in at the NYC Board of Education headquarters in 1970 to protest the ban on openly gay teachers), was hospitalized last week. But he phoned the memorial event from his sickbed to express his thoughts on John Paul and speak with the activists there.
Doric Wilson, a famed gay playwright and director from the 1970s through the present (his work is enjoying a revival of popularity in New York today), took the stage at the memorial and spoke of the many sides of John Paul. There was the "cabaret John Paul" and the "activist John Paul" among numerous others.
The amazing thing, Doric quipped, isn't that John Paul used at least half a dozen different names or variations on names over the course of his life but that he didn't use even more names, given how many different sides there were to his wonderful personality. Doric charmed those present by revealing the little-known fact that the audacious and handsome young John Paul, seeking work as an actor, once sent out a striking photo of himself that showed full frontal nudity. Everyone who saw the picture, Doric observed to guffaws, commented on one thing --- John Paul's astonishingly fine pearly white teeth and smile!
Others present rose to speak. One woman said, "I didn't know the cabaret John Paul or the activist John Paul. I knew the office worker and receptionist John Paul" from his many years of employment at Time Warner, his day job when theater work alone wasn't enough to pay the bills. The many Time Warner employees present testified that John Paul was no ordinary co-worker. He made everyone feel special. He greeted everyone with something special every day and made their day.
And then there were those who knew "the neighbor John Paul" on 7th Avenue. In a city where most people remain relatively anonymous to their neighbors, John Paul was indeed the rare exception whom everyone in his building seemed to know and love. The neighbors who spoke emphasized that he always respected their privacy, but he was a dear and intimate friend who was always there for them, helping them through difficult times like divorces and the like in a way no one else could. Several of them unsuccessfully fought back tears as they described the thoughtful and insightful little notes he would leave under their doors and other acts of kindness big and small that were a part of John Paul's routine.
John Paul made his apartment available to visiting gay liberation activists. A message sent to the memorial by the Rev. Troy D. Perry, founder and moderator of the worldwide predominantly-GLBT Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) denomination, said in part:
"John Paul used to house me in those early days when I would fly to NYC to speak at gay liberation events... John Paul meant so much to me and will be greatly missed by my generation."
One neighbor from the 7th Avenue building described the memorable night of the great NYC blackout in July 1977. Instinctively, she said, the neighbors grabbed their flashlights or candles and gravitated to John Paul's apartment, knowing he would be able to guide them through this crisis.
John Paul, she continued, simultaneously laughing and crying as she spoke, did not fail them. He led the group, gays and straights alike, on an unforgettable walk to and through the Rambles in Central Park (an area of gay cruising and sex in the bushes).
The laughter and applause that greeted that punch line at the memorial made clear that no one needed further explanation to understand that John Paul, the consummate organizer and host as always, had taken the group to the one place in the city where "fun and entertainment as usual" would be going on undisturbed by the failure of modern electricity! By Joe Kennedy