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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace - CBS's 1967 "The Homosexuals"

Mike Wallace in CBS's 1967 documentary television program "The Homosexuals"

The program was initially proposed in 1964. The first version was produced by William Peters, with production supervised by executive producer Fred W. Friendly. Upon accepting the assignment, Peters began his research by reading books and consulting with experts in the field. Peters suggested that the program focus exclusively on gay men and that he cover lesbians in a second program, and Friendly agreed. Principal filming took place starting in the fall of 1964 and continued through early 1965. 

Peters interviewed men in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Charlotte and New York City, accumulating 30 hours of footage. The identities of several of the men were obscured in some fashion, either in shadow or, in one instance, behind a large potted palm tree. Also interviewed were psychiatrist Charles Socarides, who strongly advocated the position that homosexuality is a mental disorder, and fellow psychiatrist Irving Bieber, who shared Socarides' opinion of homosexuality as pathology. Interspersed with these interview segments was footage, described as being in the cinema verité style, of the inside of a gay bar along with shots of hustlers working a street corner and a teenager being arrested in a public sex sting.[7]
After assembling a rough cut, Peters approached Mike Wallace to anchor the hour. Wallace was initially reluctant but after viewing the program enthusiastically agreed. Despite his enthusiasm, Wallace's commentary disparaged homosexuals.
"The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one–chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city — the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship."

For his part, anchor Mike Wallace came to regret his participation in the episode. "I should have known better," he said in 1992. Speaking in 1996, Wallace stated, "That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that's what we heard from doctors — that's what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame." 

However, Wallace was at the time of broadcast close friends with noted designer James Amster (creator of the landmark Amster Yard courtyard in New York City) and Amster's male long-term companion, men whom Wallace later described as "a wonderful old married couple" and "[b]oth people that [he] admired". 

Despite this personal knowledge, Wallace relied on the American Psychiatric Association's categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness rather than his own experience in creating the episode. 

As recently as 1995, Wallace told an interviewer that he believed homosexuals could change their orientation if they really wanted to.

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