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Few books are unique, but this one comes close. It's the firsthand, contemporary account by a straight woman, Branson, who owned a gay bar in 1950s Los Angeles. Originally published in 1957, the book shows Branson to be a compassionate and astute observer of gay mores, now providing a rare primary source of gay life in an era from which such information is hard to obtain. Researchers will find material on the relationships between gay men and women, what gay parties were like, and the distinct house rules that Branson set up for patronage of her bar, among other topics. Fellows (Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest) intersperses her narrative with contextualizing historical and political information that greatly aids readers' understanding. -Verdict Donald Vining's multivolume A Gay Diary and Ricardo J. Brown's compelling The Evening Crowd at Kirmser's: A Gay Life in the 1940s are related titles, but these were first published long after the fact. General readers of memoir or LGBT lit, as well as historians, will find Gay Bar to be a charming, informative read.-David S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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From a 21st-century perspective, 1950s bar owner Branson wasn't particularly progressive. The 60-something matron barred "the obvious homosexual" from her modest tavern, strongly preferred patrons who could pass for straight, and didn't allow sexual touching. But the onetime palm reader's spunky memoir about running a gay bar on a crime-prone stretch of L.A.'s Melrose Avenue, first published in 1957, is filled with warm affection for "my boys" and with an uncommon understanding of (and sympathy for) gays, at a time when California law prohibited "inverts" from gathering in bars, and vice squad entrapment of "deviates" was commonplace. By pairing this new edition of Branson's insightful memoir with a study of 1950s America, Fellows (A Passion to Preserve) clarifies how ahead of her time Branson was: she believed, for example, that being gay was about more than sex and that gay men living together could consider themselves married. This stimulating account of support for gay rights pre-Stonewall is an eye-opener. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved