McCarthy-era persecution of gay and lesbian government workers subject of forthcoming film by Emmy Award winner.
By Barbara Melendez
USF.edu News Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (June 9, 2010) – The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, by University of South Florida history professor David Johnson, has inspired Emmy Award-winning producer Josh Howard to produce a documentary based on the work, according to a recent story in Variety magazine.
Since its publication in 2004, The Lavender Scare has enjoyed considerable praise by both academic and popular audiences. It won the 2004 Herbert Hoover Book Award for the best book in 20th Century U.S. history; the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction; and a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award for its contributions to human rights. Featured on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me and in a New York Times column by Frank Rich, it was labeled “one of the most instructive histories of the domestic Cold War to have appeared in years,” by The London Review of Books.
“I’m thrilled that this important story that began as a dissertation and became a book taught in many classrooms will now receive a much larger audience as a film,” said Johnson, an expert in 20th Century U.S. history, the Cold War, the history of sexuality and gay and lesbian history. “I’m so happy that a media professional of Josh Howard’s caliber is helping me get this story of anti-gay discrimination out to a mass audience. It is so rare in academia that scholars get to share their research with the general public; this is an exciting opportunity. I can’t wait until the film starts touring film festivals.”
Howard, a former senior producer of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” has considerable experience producing hard-hitting investigative broadcasts. As a vice president at CNBC, Howard produced “Big Brother, Big Business,” which explored how American corporations work with government agencies to collect personal information on private citizens. It won an Emmy Award for Business and Financial Reporting, one of twenty-four Emmys for Howard, many for reports broadcast on “The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” and “60 Minutes.”
Don Hewitt, the legendary creator of “60 Minutes” said of Josh Howard, “In all my years in television, I have never met anyone who had a sharper eye for a good story, or a better sense of how to engage and hold an audience.”
According to the May 29th story in Variety, “The Lavender Scare” is one of a host of documentary and feature films in the works that highlight the history of gay rights struggles.
“The Lavender Scare” will be the first feature-length documentary film to tell the hidden story of the U.S. government's relentless campaign in the 1950s to hunt down and fire federal employees suspected of being gay. While the McCarthy era’s hunt for communists is well known, Johnson argues that it was the vehement purge of homosexuals – also considered to be security risks –which lasted longer and ruined many more lives. “Reading The Lavender Scare,” Howard commented, “I found a chapter of American history that has never received the attention it deserves.”
Howard has assembled a team of professional producers, publicists, writers and historians to oversee production. “The Lavender Scare” will be richly illustrated with film clips, rare archival footage, and personal photographs, many from private collections that have never before been seen by the public. Using actual transcripts and other recently declassified documents, well-known actors recreate chilling scenes in which government agents interrogate citizens about the most personal aspects of their lives.
“While the story is at times infuriating and heartbreaking, its underlying message is uplifting and inspiring,” Howard explained. “Instead of destroying American homosexuals, the actions of the government had the opposite effect. They stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement.”
Johnson has always been aware of the dramatic aspects of this moment in history.
“I always knew my research contained a great story line – complete with an evil villain, namely Joseph McCarty and other government officials, innocent victims, the gay people who lost jobs and committed suicide, and a hero who fought tirelessly to avenge the injustice and won, that is Frank Kameny. Now I will get to see it played out on the silver screen."
To find out more, visit thelavenderscare.com or visit The Lavender Scare Facebook page.
Barbara Melendez covers the humanities and arts. She can be reached at 813-974-4563.