Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 13:39:02 -0400

From: Ron Butters RonButters[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM

Subject: Re: ONE: In & Out of a homosexual magazine

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Thanks, Mr. Popik, for all the gay citations. Attached is my article (DOS) on

the evolution of GAY for anybody who wants to download it.

Content-ID: 0_14262_876073133[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

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"What Did Cary Grant Know About 'Going GAY' and When Did He Know it?: On =

the Sociolinguistic Development of the Popular Term GAY 'homosexual' "


American University, Washington, DC, Lavender Languages Conference

17 September 1995


Ronald R. Butters

Duke University


This paper is about the evolving colloquial meaning of the term GAY in se=

veral twentieth-century senses. I will be focussing on the current domina=

nt sense 'homosexual', the etymology of which is fairly well established,=

I believe, though not necessarily unambiguous nor following from a singl=

e, solitary source. The sociolinguistic emergence of the sense in the Uni=

ted States in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s, and its relationship to othe=

r slang senses of the term, appear to me to be rather complex, particular=

ly when viewed from a late-twentieth-century perspective in which our sen=

sibilities have been profoundly affected by the gay/lesbian/bisexual/tran=

ssexual rights movements of the 1970s and beyond. For these reasons I sho=

uld perhaps have better entitled my talk, "What Did Cary Grant Know About=

'Going Gay' and When Did He Know it?: On the Sociolinguistic Development=

of the Popular Term GAY 'homosexual'."

Let me begin by summarizing the major etymological strands that gave us G=

AY 'homosexual'. (1). It is well documented that GAY was an adjective use=

d in England in the earlier twentieth century to describe prostitutes, an=

d the meaning of the term appears to have been extended sometimes to male=

homosexual prostitutes and male homosexuals (see Jonathan Lighter, in th=


SLANG, s.v. GAY adj. 1a). (2). It is well documented that the term GAYCA=

T was applied in earlier-twentieth-century America to juvenile male hobos=

, many of whom putatively became the passive sexual partners of older mal=



he primary meaning of GAY was 'happy', with important semantic extensions=

of meaning as 'carefree, colorful, energetically frivolous, hedonistic'.=

Thus a GAY party in this extended sense (3) was a party that was happy, =

colorful, energetically frivolous, and/or hedonistic--just the sort of pa=

rty at which stereotypical male homosexuals might be found, since queers =

were/are stereotypically, among other things, party animals who were/are =

carefree, colorful, energetically frivolous, and hedonistic. The extensio=

n of GAY to mean 'male homosexual' may well have thus been largely little=

more than a kind of metonymy based on stereotypes: homosexuals are GAY; =

therefore, GAY means 'homosexual'. An example of this third sense is foun=

d in the American movie THE GREAT LIE (1941). Mary Astor, playing a "bad"=

girl (in a role for which she won an academy award), describes George Br=

ent (her lover) as "very gay." Brent ends up marrying Bette Davis, the "g=

ood" girl, instead of Astor, for whom the attraction was basically their =

mutual, decadent, alcoholic, carnal lust. GAY here clearly means 'happy, =

colorful, energetically frivolous, hedonistic, decadent'. Had the movie b=

een made forty years later, Mary Astor might well have said "very fun" or=

"very wild" rather than "very gay." If the authors of the script and the=

actress who spoke the line had had any fear of connoting 'homosexual' fo=

r this usage of GAY in THE GREAT LIe, the word would not have been used b=

ecause the meaning would have been throughly inappropriate to describe th=

e sensual heterosexual character portrayed by George Brent. Obviously, ev=

en for the decadents of Hollywood, GAY didn't much mean 'homosexual' in 1=

940 when the film was made.

Whether or not GAY 'homosexual' came from one, two, or three of these sen=

ses is not certain. My own best guess is that etymology (3) is sociolingu=

istically the most plausible, but the others were lurking in the backgrou=

nd and may have been contributing factors. In any case, the fact is that =

GAY began to be used perhaps as early as the 1920s with the meaning '(mal=

e) homosexual' as a somewhat clandestine term of self-reference among GAY=

men and lesbians. Jonathan Lighter, in the 1994 first volume of the RAND=


ous references, the earliest use in the current lexicographical record of=

GAY in what might possibly be the modern sense of 'homosexual'. The firs=

t dates from 1922 and was penned by Gertrude Stein in a story called "Mis=

s Furr & Miss Skeene": "They were _ GAY, they learned little things in be=

ing GAY, _ they were quite regularly GAY" [***Footnote 1: Lighter gives a=

s his source "Vanity Fair "; Judy Grahn (see note 2 below) cites Gertrude=

Stein, Geography and Plays (1922; rpt. New York: Something Else Press) 1=

968, 17]; the second from Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler's homosexua=

l coterie novel, THE YOUNG AND EVIL (Paris, Obelisk, 1933, 163; repr. 197=

5, New York: Arno):

. . .

compliments flew down on special

wheels couldn't say no to the sensations he gives

me GAYest thing on two

feet harlot making theatrical costumes like one demented and renting the

bed them to come down here and fight like men startling

=2E . . =

In neither citation--both of which suggest expatriate usage of GAY --is i=

t really clear that GAY necessarily means anything but 'carefree, colorfu=

l, energetically frivolous, hedonistic'. [***Footnote 2: For an opposing =

view that assumes that Stein was using the word in 1922 in the same sense=

that it is used today, see Judy Grahn, Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words,=

Gay Worlds (Boston: Beacon, 198?, 24-25): "I first heard the word GAY us=

ed with reference to homosexual love in a high school literature class, a=

lthough I didn't know that members of the homosexual underground culture =

called themselves GAY, and neither did my teacher. _ It is my favorite co=

ming-out story. And Stein slid it perfectly through the censorship of the=

era, so that everyone could read it, but some could decode it and learn =

more about themselves than others could." Grahn thus adopts essentially t=

he same arguments with respect to the meaning of GAY in "Miss Furr and Mi=

ss Skeene" that Russo does with respect to the GAY reference in BRINGING =

UP BABY. One is tempted to question the validity of Grahn's judgment of t=

he linguistic naivete of the high school English teacher who on the one h=

and was innovative enough to assign Gertrude Stein to her class but who w=

as so backwards as not to know the 'homosexual' meaning of the word GAY)]=

=2E =

Anecdotal evidence from gay persons who actually lived as adults in =

the 1920s so far yields only a little additional evidence to indicate tha=

t GAY 'homosexual' originated then, perhaps in Europe. For example, in a =

1975 interview, Edouard Roditi, an American citizen who was born in Paris=

in 1910, had this to say about the use of GAY (GAY SUNSHINE INTERVIEWS, =

ed. Winston Leyland, vol. 2, 1982) [***Footnote 3: My thanks to Joseph Ki=

ssane for pointing out this occurrence of gay to me (personal corresponde=

nce, 28 February 1990)]:


I _ tend to feel uneasy about the word "GAY." For me, perhaps because I a=

m so much older, the word has certain implications which are unpleasant. =

I remember in the twenties, the word was not applied to homosexuals. One =

referred to "GAY girls" meaning prostitutes. And then non-homosexuals beg=

an to refer to certain types of homosexuals as being GAY, implying that t=

hey were male prostitutes. They had round heels and were pushovers and co=

uld be laid by anyone who wanted. And then this term which was a bit offe=

nsive in those days is now generally accepted, more than accepted. It's b=

ecome a kind of banner, an honor. In the back of my mind is the feeling t=

hat the word "GAY" is just about as unpleasant as the word : "fruit."


17 September 1995

American University, Washington, DC, Lavender Languages Conference, page =


Since Roditi did not visit the United States until 1929--indeed, he lived=

in the United States only from 1937 to 1946--his recollections are more =

European/expatriate than ordinary American--and moreover, his earlier (pr=

e World War II) recollections seem to have been of the older sense of 'pr=

ostitute' rather than 'homosexual'. Another American recalls having heard=

the term used in Europe; Samuel M. Steward writes (in 1981) about a 1937=

visit to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in France:


Suddenly, while driving, she [Gertrude Stein] grabbed my kneecap and sque=

ezed it hard. "Sammy," she said, "do you think Alice and I are lesbians?"=

I was startled. A curl of flame ran up my spine. "It's no one's business =

one way or another," I said.

"Do you care whether we are," she asked.

"Not in the least," I said, suddenly dripping wet.

"Are you queer or GAY or different or 'of it' as the French say or whatev=

er they are calling it nowadays," she said, still driving as fast as alwa=

ys. She had let go my knee.

I waggled my hand. "I'm currently both," I said. "I think," I added, "I d=

on't see why I should go limping on one leg through life just to satisfy =

a so-called norm."

There was not very much more to the conversation. _ [Chapters from an Aut=

obiography (San Francisco: Grey Fox Press), 63]


Though one may have one's doubts about the reliability of the diction of =

dialogue which Steward recalled 44 years after the fact, one can scarcely=

doubt the reliability of Anthony Boucher's 1941 American detective novel=

, THE CASE OF THE SOLID KEY, in which Hilary Vane, a character who decide=

s to disguise himself as a homosexual to track down the cause of his moth=

er's death, has this to say (in revealing that he isn't really homosexual=



He didn't know me, I'm sure. I had--I did not have the same freshness of=

youth that I had possessed before. I was not the same person. And I had =

deliberately changed my manners, my mannerisms. I had 'gone GAY,' as we s=

ay in Hollywood. It is not an ineffective disguise.


[***Footnote 4: My thanks to Stanton J. Price for pointing out this occur=

rence of gay to me (personal correspondence, 22 March 1989). Price notes =

further that Boucher's interest in homosocial/homoerotic aspects of life =

in the 1940s is not limited to Vane's subterfuge; at an earlier point in =

the book two other important characters, the Watson-and-Holmes pair Harke=

r and O'Breen, go to the YMCA where, as Boucher puts it, "there are no re=

gulations as to clothing and you can enjoy the sun incomplete and blissfu=

l nakedness, acquiring a tan without an absurd facsimile of white trunks =

about your middle." Price says, "it is made clear that Vane and O'Breen a=

re frequent visitors to the solarium. Although O'Breen has his towel over=

his face--he doesn't want Vane to know he's there--Vane recognizes him a=

nyway because of a scar on his stomach."]


Even so, Boucher obviously felt a need to explain the term to his readers=

, thus indicating its recondite nature. And even as late as 1945, GAY was=

not known to the public at large. In a book published in 1951, Donald We=

bster Cory asserts that gay was at that time part of the secret language =

by which homosexuals made contact with each other: "The word serves as a =

signal, a sign of recognition. In conversation there is an exploration, a=

search to know if the other is likewise hiding behind a mask. And then o=

ne person uses the word and awaits a response. The use cannot be misunder=

stood" (The Homosexual in America [New York: Greenberg], 108-9; cited in =

Greg Jacobs, "Lesbian and Gay Male Language Use: A Critical View of the L=

iterature," ms., 1995, 22).

Writing in 1955, the Englishman Peter Wildeblood tells something of =

himself before the famous Montagu case which resulted in his conviction f=

or homosexual offenses. He was returned to Oxford after the war, resuming=

his studies in November of 1945. In this paragraph he tells about the fi=

rst time he heard the word GAY used to mean 'homosexual':


I meet a man with whom I had been at school. He had been a naval officer,=

with some staff appointment in Ceylon. He said that most of the officers=

at the station had been 'GAY', and looked at me as though this was some =

password to which he expected me to reply. I had not heard the expression=

before, but apparently it was an American euphemism for homosexual. He w=

as, of course, GAY himself, and took it for granted that I was, too. I wa=

s surprised and rather impressed. He did not look in the least like the p=

opular idea of homosexual, being well-built, masculine and neatly dressed=

=2E This was something new to me. [Against the Law (London: Weidenfeld an=

d Nicolson, 1955, 23)]


[***Footnote 5: My thanks to Joseph Kissane for pointing out this occurre=

nce of gay to me (personal correspondence, 7 June 1989). The passage is a=


And, finally, there is G. Legman's 1941 lexicon, "The Language of Ho=

mosexuality: An American Glossary" (appendix to SEX VARIANTS: A STUDY OF =

HOMOSEXUAL PATTERNS, by George William Henry [New York & London: Hoeber],=

1149-79), which lists:


*GAY An adjective used almost exclusively by homosexuals to denote homose=

xuality, sexual attractiveness, promiscuity _ or lack of restraint, in a =

person, place, or party. Often given the French spelling gai or gaie by (=

or in burlesque of) cultured homosexuals of both sexes.


Legman says (1154) that the terms in his glossary are "current since the =

first World War, and particularly during the period between 1930 and 1940=

=2E" The asterisk that he placed before the entry indicates a term "used =

exclusively by homosexuals" (1155).

In short, the preponderance of the evidence to date indicates that we can=

say with any certainty that not until the late 1930s or early 1940s did =

GAY 'homosexual' become an established term, and even then it was highly =

recondite, used pretty much exclusively in artistic, privileged, cosmopol=

itan, bohemian, homosexual subcultural circles--in London, New York, and =

other centers of sophistication among coteries of English-speaking sophis=

ticates (including the American expatriate communities in France and Engl=

and, if the Gertrude Stein/Edouard Roditi evidence seems convincing enoug=

h). This usage then spread "from the top down" in sophisticated and (espe=

cially) homosexual subcultural circles throughout the 1940s, becoming inc=

reasingly firmly established and well known in the 1950s. During the 1950=

s, the term further emerged from pure subcultural usage to more general s=

lang, eventually forcing the other meanings of the term into virtual obso=

lescence. =

This yielding of the term to the 'homosexual' meaning was not without str=

uggle, however. As late as 1968, John Updike had no problem writing, "_ a=

GAY small lamp whose shade was orange" (COUPLES)--meaning, I guess, 'a c=

heerful small lamp'. As late as 1970, an official tourist guide for the c=

ity of Atlanta was called GAY ATLANTA. In 1980, a vacation hotel in Virgi=

nia Beach, VA, persisted in calling itself, as it had for years, "The Gay=

Traveller" (I can tell you from first-hand experience that the hotel was=

anything but gay in any known sense of the term when I stayed there in 1=

979 or 1980--"The Weary traveller" or "The Dreary Traveller" would have b=

een more apt). And in 1989 Peter S. Prescott, in his NEWSWEEK review of t=

he then-newly published unified OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, had this to sa=



Invaluable as its citations are, problems can arise. A series of quotatio=

ns can't show the damage that a current usage can do: how GAY--a delightf=

ul and necessary word--is now virtually lost to use except in its homosex=

ual association. [27 March, 69]


(Prescott does not indicate why he believes that it should be more "neces=

sary" that GAY be a minor synonym for 'merry', 'bright', and 'lively' tha=

n that homosexuals might have a nonpejorative, nonclinical term for self-=

reference, nor does he indicate that he may owe his criticism and his dic=

tion to drama critic and linguistic curmudgeon John Simon, who devoted pa=

rt of one of his 1978 amateur lexicographical columns in ESQUIRE to "the =

wanton and shocking destruction of the good and necessary English word GA=


What interests me especially in all this from a sociolinguistic point of =

view is the earliest spreading of the use of GAY 'homosexual' in the 1930=

s and early 1940s. Viewed from the late twentieth-century, this emergence=

-stage is highly susceptible to misunderstanding and scholarly confusion.=

Legman, Boucher, and Wildeblood indicate that the coteries using GAY 'ho=

mosexual' were highly restricted to homosexuals and their straight acquai=

ntances. Mary Astor's use of GAY in THE GREAT LIE (1941), which I mention=

ed earlier, in the then-popular slang sense 'carefree, colorful, energeti=

cally frivolous, hedonistic', offers additional negative evidence that th=

e 'homosexual' sense of GAY was not well known in the early 1940s.

Indeed, the word GAY recurs frequently with exactly this meaning in numer=

ous movies of the 1930s. Moreover, as late as the 1950s, sophisticated ga=

y men appear to have been ignorant of the term. James Barr's novel QUATRE=

FOIL was published in 1950, set in Seattle and Oklahoma in 1946, and adve=

rtised in its 1982 publication as a "milestone in gay fiction." Interesti=

ngly, the term GAY itself seems not to be in the author's vocabulary in t=

he sense of 'homosexual', for he uses the term several times in the novel=

, seemingly unconscious of any possible 'homosexual' connotations; the o=

nly term used in the book for what we now call GAY is FAIRY, though Barr =

also uses such terms as DEGENERACY, DISEASE, VICE, and CORRUPTION. Some q=

uotes: "They dined at a private club in which Francis had a serviceman's =

membership, and they were very gay and companionable" (88); "He turned to=

Philip, who still held the cup. The gaily colored pajamas broke the stra=

ight clear line of him" (198); "Sybel Jo came to hang on his arm as he sh=

ook hands all around. He was gay as he accepted the jarringly uncouth jok=

es about planned parenthood" (211); " 'The secret of his dignity is his u=

niform,' Philip laughed. [=14] 'And yours, too, young man, so don't be ga=

y about it,' said his mother" (287). In context, it seems impossible that=

Barr is being self-consciously ironic, using a code word for the titilla=

tion of his "fairy" audience; Barr is too straightforward otherwise in th=

is novel. I think that he simply doesn't know that GAY has homosexual con=

notations, though one might also hypothesize that he refrained from using=

GAY to mean 'homosexual' for reasons of linguistic purity, a la Peter Pr=

escott and John Simon.

And here is where Cary Grant comes into the picture.


In his groundbreaking book on homosexuality in American cinema, Vito Russ=

o makes the following statement (THE CELLULOID CLOSET, rev. ed. [New York=

: Harper and Row, 1987, 47; first ed. 1981):


Only once during the reign of the [censorship] Code [for American films],=

it seems, in Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby (1938), did an unscripted us=

e of the word GAY appear to refer to homosexuality. When Katherine Hepbur=

n's Aunt Elizabeth (Mary Robson) discovers Cary Grant in a lace nightgown=

, she ask him if he dresses like that all the time. Grant leaps into the =

air and shouts hysterically, "No! I've just gone gay _ all of a sudden!" =

This exchange appears in no version of the published script. The official=

first and second drafts of the sequence are the same:

Aunt Elizabeth: Well, young man _ I uh, hope ?

Dexter: I _ I suppose you think it's odd, my wearing this. I realize it l=

ooks odd _ I don't usually _ I mean, I don't own one of these.

Thus what was probably an ad-lib on the day of shooting provides a rare t=

extual reference to the word GAY and to the concrete possibility of homos=

exuality in Hawks' work, which is fairly brimming over with what people u=

sed to call repressed sexual tension between men.


This highly speculative (and somewhat misleadingly reported, as we shall =

see presently) interpretation has been repeated in various places (see, e=




TY, 1980, 43;cf. also Martin Duberman, Cures, 1991, 22n), and it has even=

been given the scholarly lexicographical imprimatur of Jonathan E. Light=



). But the actual text of the BRINGING UP BABY crucial scene (as I trans=

cribed it from repeated replayings of the film on video):


[Aunt Elizabeth has come to the door and rather belligerently inquired as=

to who Cary Grant is and why he is there in Katherine Hepburn's residenc=

e; Grant has answered her equally belligerently--he is quite angry becaus=

e Hepburn has taken his clothes while he is in the shower and sent them o=

ut to be cleaned. So, he has no clothes and is forced to dress in her nig=

htgown. He has already suggested that "running around in rural Connecticu=

t naked": is going to make him "crazy"--which is especially important, gi=

ven that the issue of his mental health is one of the points on which the=

plot turns]


Aunt Elizabeth: Well, who are you?

David: I don't know, I'm not quite myself today.

Aunt Elizabeth: Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes!

David: I've lost my clothes!

Aunt Elizabeth: Well, why are you wearing these clothes?

David: Because I just went ga-a-ay, all of a sudden! [he leaps into the a=

ir like a monkey, both arms raised even with his chest like a Russian fol=

k-dancer, a devilish mad grimace on his face; his pronunciation of GAY is=

very tense and elongated, but not effeminate] Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry [=

he lowers his voice abnormally and apologizes for his outburst]

Aunt Elizabeth: Now see here, young man, stop this nonsense. [he backs up=

and sits down on the staircase behind him]

David: I'm sitting in ;the middle of 42nd Street waiting for a bus.


Russo's unfortunate choice of the adverb "hysterically" to describe Grant=

's leap suggests an effeminacy about his action which is simply not prese=

nt in the event which the viewer actually sees on the screen. The leap is=

virile--the action of an angry, frustrated, humiliated, butch man who ha=

s been robbed of his clothing by a woman he hardly know--not at all sugge=

stive of the stereotypical mannerisms of a drag queen. The idea of madnes=

s permeates the scene.

Despite what one might think from a quick glance at Russo's interpretatio=

n, BRINGING UP BABY (and, for that matter, "Miss Furr & Miss Skeene" by G=

ertrude Stein) presents the lexicographer with a difficult dilemma. To ig=

nore such a citation could well be viewed as an act of lexicographical ir=

responsibility (and perhaps even sociopolitical insensitivity), given the=

possibility that Cary Grant (or whoever was responsible for this deviati=

on from the original text) might have made an ad lib having such a meanin=

g in mind (or at least might have been interpreted by a few members of hi=

s audience as having had that meaning in mind). However, to treat the aut=

hority of the citation as a matter of solid lexicographical certainty giv=

es the strong (if not necessarily intended) implication that GAY was bein=

g used to mean 'homosexual' in a relatively clear and unambiguous way in =

American mass media in 1938--when clearly it was not. There is no real ev=

idence that GAY in this citation meant 'homosexual' to anyone involved in=

the making of the film: the "evidence" is purely circumstantial--Grant u=

tters the word in ironic self-reference while wearing Katherine Hepburn's=

fluffy-cuffed peignoir. Moreover, even if GAY did mean 'homosexual' to C=

ary Grant or to anyone else involved in the making of the film, that mean=

ing clearly was rendered as the obscure half of a double entendre intende=

d only for a coterie in-crowd of Hollywood sophisticates who had strong t=

ies to the repressed homosexual underworld. At worst, even if the film ma=

kers had no such double meaning in mind, some homosexual viewers and thei=

r supersophisticated straight friends might possibly have mistakenly inte=

rpreted--or deliberately misinterpreted--Grant's line as a double entendr=

e (in rather the same way that FLOWER DRUM SONG's line, "I enjoy being a =

girl," was interpreted in the 1950s). A lexicographer such as Lighter may=

well be following sound lexicographical principles in including Bringing=

Up Baby as a possible early instance of GAY 'homosexual' in a dictionary=

, but it is nonetheless necessary for an understanding of the import and =

significance of Grant's line emergence to provide somewhere the full comp=

lexity of the sociolinguistic emergence of the term. And to do so becomes=

crucial in studying American cinema and social history.

Certainly, the movie's general audience (not to mention Aunt Elizabeth) w=

ould have been totally oblivious to such a reading of Cary Grant's line. =

But if GAY did not mean 'homosexual' to the general audience, what could =

it have meant to them? The primary meanings--'happy, merry; carefree, col=

orful, energetically frivolous, hedonistic'--are not quite right for expl=

aining to a straight-laced, late-middle-aged female stranger why an overw=

rought young man might be wearing women's night clothes. In all of the pr=

ofessional speculation about the meaning of Grant's lines, one reading ha=

s been overlooked: there was also a popular slang meaning of GAY which is=

amply documented in America in the earlier twentieth century but which s=

eems to have almost entirely disappeared today. It is in this sense that =

Sherwood Anderson uses the term a number of times in his short story, "I'=

m a Fool" (1922), which has a first-person narrator who speaks in working=

-class Ohio English of the period. The character says things like, "And t=

hen he looked at me, as though he thought maybe he'd get GAY, but he chan=

ged his mind and didn't say anything"; and "You know how women can do. Th=

ey get close, but not getting GAY, either. You know what they do. Gee whi=

zz." The meaning which Anderson is using here is recorded in the OXFORD E=



ghter summarizes it (s.v. GAY adj. 3) as meaning 'unruly, impertinent, fo=

rward, reckless'. It is in this now-obsolete slang sense, I believe, that=

BRINGING UP BABY's general audience (and Aunt Elizabeth) would have been=

expected to construe Grant's "No! I've just gone GAY _ all of a sudden!"=

: 'I've just gone unruly all of a sudden!', i.e.,'I've just gone crazy al=

l of a sudden!' is what the audience would have taken the phrase to mean =

in 1938, and what would have been an intelligible reading for a stuffy, m=

iddle-aged, well-to-do woman in 1938. Moreover, given the general aura of=

insanity in the movie and especially in the immediate scene, a reading o=

f GAY as 'wacky' or 'crazy' seems just right for Grant's outburst.

If we assume that the primary meaning of GAY in the Grant ad lib (if it w=

as that) is 'unruly; crazy' and not 'homosexual' we are left with the pos=

sibility that at best the ad lib was a highly obscure double entendre, us=

ed perhaps in part as a way of flouting the censorship Code in force in A=

merican cinema before 1961. This, really, is Russo's basic point, and it =

is worth asking ourselves if Grant could have made such a double entendre=


Certainly, Grant was old enough to know the 'unruly; crazy' meaning and y=

oung enough to have come across the 'homosexual' meaning. [compare Grant'=

s age with Sherwood Anderson.] And he was working in an industry in which=

there was a great deal of sophisticated sexual experimentation--in which=

there would be easier demi-monde access than in most ways of life in Ame=

rica in 1938. (Recall here once again Anthony Boucher's 1941 American det=

ective novel, THE CASE OF THE SOLID KEY, in which a character speaks of p=

retending to be homosexual by saying, "I had 'gone GAY,' as we say in Hol=

lywood"; this is conceivably a reference to BRINGING UP BABY). Indeed, th=

ere was gossip about Grant's own sexual "confusion," much of which center=

ed on his having lived with Randolph Scott in conditions of considerable =

intimacy (and there was even more gossip about Scott's sexual proclivitie=

s). And, while we know today that transvestitism and homosexuality are no=

t necessarily connected, and while Grant's humorous appearance in drag is=

part of a long tradition of amusing cross-dressing in the theatre and fi=

lm, the association of homosexuality and drag performances was clear--if =

not unambiguous--in the 1930s and beyond.

To all this I need to add one highly suggestive popular-culture evidence =

which has not yet been published in the scholarly literature. In a 1941 s=

tage musical called LET'S FACE IT, Cole Porter wrote a song called "Farmi=

ng," which contains the following lyrics [My thanks to Joseph Kissane for=

pointing out this occurrence of gay to me (personal correspondence, 4 Ap=

ril 1989)]:


Farming, that's the fashion,

Farming, that's the passion

Of our great celebrities of today.

Kit Cornell is shellin' peas,

Lady Mendl's climbin' trees, =

Dear Mae West is at her best in the hay.

Stomping through the thickets,

Coming with the crickets,

Makes 'em feel more glamorous and more GAY.

They tell me cows who are feeling milky

All give cream when they're milked by Willkie,

Farming is so charming they all say.


Farming, that's the fashion,

Farming, that's the passion

Of our great celebrities of today.

Monty Woolley, so I heard,

Has boll weevils in his beard,

Michael Strange has got the mange, will it stay?

Mussing up the clover,

Cussing when its over,

Makes 'em feel more glamorous and more GAY.

The natives think its utterly utter

When Margie Hart starts churning her butter,

Farming is so charming, they all say.


Farming, that's the fashion,

Farming, that's the passion

Of our great celebrities of today. =

Fannie Hurst is haulin' logs, =

Fanny Brice is feedin' hogs, =

Garbo-Peep has led her sheep all astray. =

Singing while they're rakin', =

Bringing home the bacon, =

Makes 'em feel more glamorous and more GAY. =

Miss Elsa Maxwell, so the folks tattle, =

Got well-goosed while dehorning her cattle,

Farming is so charming, they all say.


Farming, that's the fashion,

Farming, that's the passion

Of our great celebrities of today.

Don't inquire of Georgie Raft

Why his cow has never calfed, =

Georgie's bull is beautiful, but he's GAY!

Seeing spring a-coming, =

Being minus plumbing, =

Makes 'em feel informal and d=82gag=82.

When Cliff Odets found a new tomater

He plowed under the Group Theaytre,

Farming is so charming, they all say.


The song goes on in the printed version for five more stanzas, four of wh=

ich were never used in the original stage production (one of which contai=

ns the lines, "Just to keep her roosters keen, / Dietrich, that great mov=

ie queen, lifts her leg and lays an egg, what a lay"). All of the other s=

tanzas contain the line "Makes 'em feel more glamorous and more GAY." It =

is difficult to believe that the author of the line "Georgie's bull is be=

autiful, but he's GAY!" did not intend that a significant portion of his =

audience would understand GAY in this context to mean 'homosexual', yet e=

ven here a pun is possible (and, I believe, likely) on the older slang se=

nse 'unruly; crazy', if not the sense 'happy, colorful, energetically fri=

volous, hedonistic'.

Even so, the simple assumption of Russo, Dawson, and even Lighter that GA=

Y simply meant 'homosexual' in Cary Grant's lines in BRINGING UP BABY is =

clearly an anachronism, a projection back from a 1980s sensibility onto a=

late 1930s sociolinguistic context. Whatever Cary Grant meant--and whate=

ver various segments of his audience might have thought he meant--we must=

weigh it against the full sociosemantic range of GAY in 1938, much of wh=

ich Russo (and apparently Dawson) was unaware of. One cannot deny the pos=

sibility that Grant's putative ad lib was the first mainstream popular-cu=

lture use of the term GAY which had strong 'homosexual' overtones. Perhap=

s it was, as Russo argues, an obscure rebellion against the infamous Code=

of Decency. Even so, the interpretation as 'homosexual' is by no means c=

lear and unambiguous. Moreover, even if a double entendre it would have b=

een completely lost upon almost every member of its audience and most cer=

tainly the character to whom the ad lib was directed. =

In short, if BRINGING UP BABY is evidence of the emergence of GAY 'homose=

xual', it definitely must not be interpreted as evidence that GAY meant '=

homosexual' for anyone but a handful of Americans in 1938.


*****The End*****



More Data that should be encorporated:


(1). "THE MARQUISE [a play by Noel Coward] is GAY, brilliant, witty, char=

ming and altogether delightful." ["Preface," THE MARQUISE, w. 1926, first=

performed 1927, quoted in Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, COWARD PLAY=

S: TWO, London: Methuen, 1979, viii]. This song appears in the play:




Blas=82 boys are we,

Exquisitely free

=46rom the dreary and quite absurd

Moral views of the common herd.

We like porphyry bowls,

Chandeliers and stoles,

We're most spirited,

Carefully filleted "souls."




Pretty boys, witty boys, too, too, too

Lazy to fight stagnation,

Haughty boys, naughty boys, all we do

Is to pursue sensation.

The portals of society

Are always opened wide,

The world our eccentricity condones, =

A note of quaint variety

We're certain to provide.

We dress in very decorative tones.

Faded boys, jaded boys, womankind's

Gift to a bulldog nation,

In order to distinguish us from less enlightened minds,

We all wear a green carnation.


=2E . . . . . . . . . . . =


Faded boys, jaded boys, come what may,

Art is our inspiration,

And as we [are] the reason for the 'Nineties' being GAY,

We all wear a green carnation.


(2). James Courage, A Way of Love. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1959. Lo=

ndon: J. Cape, 1959.


This book uses QUEER as the generic term of self-reference, e.g., p. 112:=

"_ What about you, Bruce? Could you lead Jimmy's sort of life?" [=14] "N=

o," I admitted, "or at least not when it's turned into a programme. And q=

ueer people are lonely enough most of the time, anyway, without deliberat=

ely seeking periods of abstinence or making access to love difficult for =

themselves." It uses GAY several times, often in a sense clearly other th=

an 'homosexual', a few times arguably as a double entendre, e.g., p. 51: =

[=14] "Oh, quite . . . But to get back to Verdi--you know the Wells is do=

ing TRAVIATA with rubber scenery, all because that designer-boy has a thi=

ng about sailors' gum-boots?" [=14] "I didn't. It sounds just too gorgeou=

sly gay for words, except that the whole thing'll catch fire."


A first-person narrative. Era: c. 1950. A 49-year-old London architect me=

ets a 24-year-old man (former RAF pilot) at a concert that the younger ma=

n is attending with his girlfriend, Bronwen. The two men eventually fall =

in love, and the younger man moves in with the older one. The younger man=

is new to "queer" life; Bruce Quantock is his first lover. The older man=

supports the younger one while the younger one goes to school to learn t=

o be a landscape architect. The younger man, Philip Dill, disassociates h=

imself in his own mind from "queers" and refuses at first to see any of "=

Bruce's kind." They live a life of virtual isolation--"on an island" is t=

he metaphor that the lovers use.


Gradually, Philip permits a few social encounters with Bruce's "queer" fr=

iends and acquaintances, of whom there are considerable, Bruce having liv=

ed a very active (if professionally discrete) queer life for the previous=

30-odd years. But then Philip begins to withdraw from Bruce. Eventually,=

Philip announces that he is going to try to find a woman and marry. He c=

onfesses to having had a brief and unsatisfying fling with another younge=

r man whom he met at one of the queer parties that Bruce and Philip atten=

ded together--ostensibly as a way of assimilating himself better to queer=



The lovers break up. After a month or two, Philip suggests a reconciliati=

on, but Bruce will have none of it. He sees the situation as hopeless--an=

d besides, he says, he is over Philip:


I must shirk nothing here. If I turned him down, as I did, if I refused h=

im as gently as I could, I acted out of no smug sense of revenge, still l=

ess with a feeling of self-sacrifice. Simply I thought it better that, ha=

ving won a difficult independence for himself, he should continue to orde=

r his own life, weaned from mine. Whatever his future, whether he married=

or not, he must stand by himself. If he were to return to me, a second p=

arting between us might well be more painful and less auspicious than the=

first. (There was another consideration also, a complex matter I did not=

attempt to explain and one which I had not foreseen: namely that in writ=

ing this history of our affair, his and mine, I had already to some exten=

t worked him out of my system. A Philip revived would not be the same per=

son.) [ p. 252]


Seeing himself as now too old to find another companion (and seemingly ex=

pecting to remain celibate for the rest of his life?), Bruce sets as his =

goal to find emotional satisfaction by mentoring his adolescent nephew--w=

ho may himself be queer, the story sort of hints.


LOC lists James Courage as born in 1905. Another service (RLIN/Eureka) li=

sts James Courage as born 1903, died 1963, author of New Zealand stories =

published posthumously. If this is the same person, perhaps he was born i=

n New Zealand, then migrated to London, perhaps returning to New Zealand =

in his last few years? So far, I have not been able to find any biographi=

cal record of Courage, though I haven't really begun to look. Possibly so=

me sort of Who's Who of British authors from the 1950s would list him. Po=

ssibly there is somebody at U of Minnesota who knows about him--his books=

seem all to be in that library, but not many places else. Should check P=



(3). Need to encorporate George Chauncey's discussion of GAY in his book,=

IN GAY NEW YORK. Chauncey introduces some marvelous data showing that pu=

tatively straight police investigtors in the 1930s did not use the term G=

AY 'homosexual', but began to do so in the 1940s. Chauncey also argues th=

at Grant in BRINGING UP BABY was indeed makng a double entendre in his "j=

ust gone gay" ad lib. Chauncy's only real new evidence for this argument =

is the fact that Grant goes on to ad lib that he is sitting on 42nd Stree=

t,which Chauncey takes as a further veiled reference to homosexuality. =