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The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words
By Harvey Milk, Vince Emery
Vince Emery ProductionsCopyright © 2012 Vince Emery Productions
All rights reserved.
1930 — 1973, The First Eight Lives of Harvey Milk
Milk in his twenties or early thirties
WHY a book of interviews?
Because in these interviews Harvey Milk reveals himself. The interviews here span Milk's political career from his first days as a candidate in 1973 to shortly before his assassination in 1978. They are arranged chronologically, so we see his thoughts changing over time, both his political ideas and his concept of himself.
He presents himself formally in some interviews, casually in others, but always remains aware he is the center of attention (which he loved), a performer communicating to his audience. Milk's best interviews also expose some of his personal qualities. Within these interviews, none of which have ever been published in a book before, we find much of significance which is preserved nowhere else. All in his own words.
If you are just beginning to learn about Milk, this may not be the best book for you. But if you want to go deeper, to find out more about what Milk believed, how he felt, how he expressed himself, welcome.This book is for us.
The first eight lives of Harvey Milk
If asked "What was Harvey Milk's occupation?" most people would say he was a politician. They would be only partly right. Milk's political life made him inspirational and famous, but he was a political candidate just during the last five-and-a-half years of his 48-year life, and a political officeholder (for two offices, one appointed and one elected) for one year total.
Like a cat with nine lives, Harvey Milk had nine occupations. His political life was his last incarnation. He spent most of his 48 years in other fields: retail clerk, deep-sea diver, teacher, insurance statistician, securities research analyst, theaterman, camera store proprietor, writer. Each shaped his personality and his life and contributed to his slowly emerging sense of himself as a leader.
Harvey Milk started life in a store. When he was born in Woodmere, New York, on May 22, 1930, his grandfather Morris owned Milk's Dry Goods. Morris built it into the largest department store on Long Island and later sold it to Macy's. Harvey played in his grandfather's store as a child and may have worked there. When he was fifteen, his family moved east on Long Island to the town of Bay Shore, where his father Bill opened his own shop: Bay Shore Furriers. Harvey later said he worked for years in his father's shop. He also worked at a local grocery store, packing groceries and carrying them to customers' cars. When he was thirty, he worked nights and Saturdays in a men's clothing store his father opened in Manhattan. From Harvey's experience in retail, he learned to influence customers, a type of persuasion based on making many quick person-to-person emotional ties, very different from the step-by-step calculation practiced by attorneys who enter politics. Customer persuasion is based on charm.
Milk wanted to become a teacher. But after he earned his B. A. in teaching from the State University of New York College for Teachers at Albany in 1951 with a major in history and a minor in mathematics, he felt so strongly about the need to defeat Communists in Korea that he enlisted in the United States Navy. In 1952 he graduated from U.S. Navy Officers Training School in Newport, Rhode Island. For three years, during the end of the Korean War and afterwards, Lieutenant (junior grade) Milk served in the Navy first as a deep-sea diving officer and later as a deep-sea diving instructor. This was not scuba diving, but dropping underwater to far more dangerous depths to perform submarine rescues, encumbered by a helmet, a thick suit, and high-pressure air hoses. As an instructor, he needed to communicate clearly and vividly; in a diving crisis, a mistake could kill his students. He was stationed in San Francisco for six months. He fell in love with the city, and was always proud of his Navy service.Years later, when Milk was elected a supervisor of the City and County of San Francisco, he wore a Master Diver belt buckle to work every day, even the day he died.
After the Navy, Milk returned to Long Island. He taught math to tenth and eleventh graders at George W. Hewlett High School, but he lived in fear. He was a gay teacher living with another man, Joe Campbell, so the slightest sourceless whisper could kill his teaching career. Even though Milk enjoyed being the center of attention in front of a class (and would later make at least two attempts to return to teaching), he decided to change occupations.
After a brief, unproductive move to Dallas in 1957, Milk and his lover Campbell relocated to Manhattan, where he embarked on a new career. In February 1958 he leveraged his mathematics education to get hired by Great American Insurance Company as an actuarial statistician. Milk's income enabled them to live the good life in New York City until late 1962, when Campbell broke up with him. He soon found another lover, Craig Rodwell. Milk hated his insurance job, so in early 1963 he quit Great American.
Securities research analyst
Depressed over the end of his relationship with Campbell, Milk moved to Puerto Rico. He could not find work there. Then he tried Miami. Same problem. By May 1963 he was back in New York City looking for work. Once more he used his math education to change occupations. By August he was hired to work as a securities research analyst at 51 Wall Street with Bache & Co., one of the largest brokerage and investment banking firms.
He was seeing Craig Rodwell again, but in 1964, when Rodwell was arrested for indecent exposure and jailed for three days, Milk broke up with him. He did not want anything to disturb his conservative life — so conservative that he volunteered for Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign.
Late in 1964, a new lover moved into Milk's apartment: John "Jack" Galen McKinley. He took Milk into a completely new world. McKinley worked for his friend Tom O'Horgan, one of the top directors of off-Broadway plays. The gravitational field of the theater had attracted Milk since he was a boy, and now pulled him into O'Horgan's orbit. Weekdays Milk worked on Wall Street, but nights and weekends he threw himself into O'Horgan's plays, loaning money to the director, working backstage, sometimes even acting.
In January 1967, Milk transferred to Bache & Co. in Dallas and moved with McKinley and their dog Trick. McKinley hated Dallas and soon fled with Trick back to New York City. Milk stayed in Dallas until early 1969, when he returned to Wall Street for Bache again.
While Milk had lived in Dallas, O'Horgan had taken over an off-Broadway musical named Hair, revising it extensively and moving it to Broadway, where Hair became a smash hit. Milk eventually quit his job with Bache and went to work with O'Horgan. He let his hair grow long.
O'Horgan launched productions of Hair in Los Angeles, London, and then San Francisco. McKinley moved west to become the "Special Assistant to Mr. O'Horgan" for Hair in San Francisco. In September 1969, Milk followed McKinley to San Francisco, getting a job as director of retail research (in other words, as a securities research analyst) with J. Barth Co., an investment company on Montgomery Street, the so-called "Wall Street of the west."
The next year, 1970, J. Barth Co. told Milk to cut his long hair. He quit or was fired.That ended Milk's career in the financial industry.
By December 1970, Milk was working for O'Horgan again. He and McKinley moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to act as assisstants to O'Horgan, who was composing and conducting the music for the movie Alex in Wonderland and trying to convince a film studio to make Lenny, a movie about comedian Lenny Bruce. Milk pitched the movie unsuccessfully until late February, then gave up and drove Route 66 back to New York. He worked as "Assistant to Mr. O'Horgan" on a stage play version of Lenny that O'Horgan was directing. On May 22, 1971, Milk's forty-first birthday, at the Christopher Street subway stop he met Joe Scott Smith, a former accountant now acting and working in theaters. They began a passionate romance. Lenny opened on Broadway on May 26 and was a great success. Milk was now a hotshot in the glamorous world of show business. He got Smith hired to work on Lenny as an actor in three small parts and backstage as assistant stage manager.
O'Horgan and Milk also worked on a third show, Jesus Christ Superstar. It opened on October 12 with the largest advance ticket sales in Broadway history, a spectacular success. Milk was credited as "Assistant to the Director." O'Horgan now had three hits — Hair, Lenny, Jesus Christ Superstar — playing on Broadway at the same time. He and Milk started on a fourth Broadway show, a musical called Inner City. Milk began work on it as "Assistant to Mr. O'Horgan," then was promoted to "Associate Producer" when he persuaded the heirs to a tea fortune to invest in the musical. Milk also invested $2,500 in the production for one-half percent of the net profits — if any. He brought his lover Scott Smith aboard as assistant stage manager. Inner City opened on December 19. It drew cheering standing ovations from audiences, but because it was savaged by critics it had trouble selling tickets.
One month later, in January 1972, Milk turned his back on Broadway and returned to San Francisco, moving in with friends in the North Beach neighborhood. Inner City limped along without him until it closed on March 11, a financial flop. Milk lost his entire investment. Smith followed Milk to San Francisco, where they mostly lived on unemployment checks from their jobs in the theater.
Camera store proprietor
In October 1972, to be close to the Midnight Sun bar and the Bud's Ice Cream store, Milk and Smith moved to an apartment at 577 Castro Street. In a few months their unemployment payments ran out, and they needed a way to make money. When a local store mis-developed photos by Milk and ruined them, he got an idea. He could use his retail experience, his enjoyment of photography, and their dwindling savings to open the only camera store in the Castro neighborhood. He tapped his friend O'Horgan for a loan. Milk and Smith opened Castro Camera on March 3, 1973 at 575 Castro. Their shop would never be a gold mine, but would generate enough income to pay most of Milk and Smith's living expenses for the next five years.
A different dividend was generated as Milk and Smith became involved in their Eureka Valley-Castro Street neighborhood. Milk became a problem-solver for his customers — not just their photography problems, but difficulties with their families, their loves, their careers. With a dumpy old couch and a barber's chair he turned Castro Camera into a neighborhood social center.
Throughout Milk's adult life he considered himself a writer. He wrote about sports in his college newspaper. He wrote humorous articles for a gay liberation newsletter that Craig Rodwell published. He wrote a weekly newsletter for his Bache & Co. office about business trends. Milk's managers were so impressed with his newsletter that they sent it to Bache offices nationwide. He worked on publicity for plays in New York. He wrote for gay publications in San Francisco. He even applied for a job as a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle.
An unlikely contender
Unlike many American political candidates, Harvey Milk was never a lawyer. But his grab-bag of occupations taught him skills and fattened his resume in ways that made his unlikely candidacy stronger:
From working as a retail clerk, he learned how to persuade people with charm.
Working as a deep-sea diving officer taught him how to lead and inspire his troops, and later, as a deep-sea diving instructor, his students.
As a math teacher, he honed his ability to instruct (which is a form of persuasion) and practiced how to keep an audience's attention in front of a room of teenagers. He loved being in front of an audience.
Four years as an actuarial statistician polished his ability to estimate probabilities and costs.
He spent six years in the securities industry discovering trends and investigating cashflows to find hidden flags that signaled problems.
Show business gave Milk familiarity with how drama attracts and holds an audience, and how to work with publicists and media.
At Castro Camera, he became a visible figure on his street, a leader in his neighborhood.
From his writing he was able to write speeches and communicate in print.
Connecting. Persuading. Leading the troops.
These were Milk's strengths. All were spawned from his irrepressible urge to communicate, a passion fundamental to his nature. Combined with his energy, his self-deprecating sense of humor, and his anger at unfairness — especially against the little guy — they helped him become, against all odds, a viable political candidate.
Harvey Milk jumped into politics one summer day in July 1973, wearing casual clothes, a moustache, and shoulder-length hair. In an era when people spat on gays, he was an openly queer hippie of no consequence, the co-owner of a tiny business, an outsider with no legal background and no financial resources. What happened when such an unlikely person ran for office?
We'll let Milk tell us in his own words.CHAPTER 2
1973 — 1975, Two-Time Loser
Shopowner runs for supervisor
We have President Richard Nixon and his former Attorney General John Mitchell to thank for Harvey Milk's leap into politics. During the summer of 1973, weekday business in Castro Camera was slow, so Milk and Scott Smith watched the Senate Watergate hearings on television. Mitchell testified for three days in July, obviously not telling the truth. Milk swore loudly at Mitchell's lies and grew so angry that he decided to change the political system by taking part in it. Exactly two weeks after Mitchell's last day of testimony, Milk announced he would run for office as a candidate for a seat on the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco. This article in the July 27, 1973 San Francisco Examiner quotes the unlikely candidate.
HARVEY MILK, 43-year-old Castro Street camera shop owner, has announced his candidacy for San Francisco supervisor.
"Having a small business and being one of thousands of people whom no one in government will listen to, I have decided to run for supervisor as a person," he said yesterday.
He said he was "fed up" with taxes, moralization by self-serving politicians and lack of respect by "our so-called leaders" because he represents no large voting block or monied group.
"I stand for all those who feel that the government no longer understands the individual and no longer respects individual rights.
"I will vote to stop the endless, useless and senseless spending of our government ... the waste of money spent trying to enforce victimless crime laws while our schools need improvement and while there is still a need for decent housing.
"I will strive to bring the government to the people, be they intellectuals or fellow homosexuals, be they blacks or fellow Jews, be they the tax-starved elderly or fellow small shop owners, be they taxi drivers or newspaper reporters," he said.
Milk is a graduate of the Albany State College for Teachers in New York, [and] spent eight years as a research analyst for stock brokers in New York City, San Francisco, and Dallas.
He helped produce several plays and musicals on Broadway and first moved to the City in 1969.
He is co-owner of Castro Camera at 575 Castro St.
"What is obscene, except people who think that they can tell others how to live?"
An organization preparing a pamphlet about candidates sent Milk an interview questionnaire. On August 7, 1973, Milk filled it out. His answers here give a more revealing, detailed look than any other source at his lack of resources and experience as a candidate. In transcribing Milk's handwritten answers, I have retained as closely as possible his eccentric capitalization and punctuation. My editorial corrections are indicated by [square brackets].
Please attach a biography. If not included, please answer the following:
1. What public elective offices have you previously held? Please give dates.
Excerpted from The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words by Harvey Milk, Vince Emery. Copyright © 2012 Vince Emery Productions. Excerpted by permission of Vince Emery Productions.
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Table of Contents
ContentsTHE HARVEY MILK INTERVIEWS,
Harvey Milk Chronology,
PART ONE - 1930 — 1973, The First Eight Lives of Harvey Milk,
PART TWO - 1973 — 1975, Two-Time Loser,
PART THREE - 1976, Harvey Milk vs. The Machine,
PART FOUR - 1977, Milk Fights 16 Opponents,
PART FIVE - 1978, Supervisor Milk Raises Hell,
PART SIX - 1978, Milk vs. Briggs,
PART SEVEN - 1978, The City Weeps,
Appendix: Milk's supervisorial activities,
Further reading and viewing,
Endnotes and Errata,
About the Authors,