Tag Archives: Liveright Publishing

“Tinderbox” is a riveting, important look at the true story of the fire that devastated the New Orleans gay community and ignited a national movement

When news of the Pulse nightclub shooting hit in 2016, several media outlets referred to a devastating predecessor: The Up Stairs Lounge fire of 1973. In Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation (Liveright Publishing , $26.95), Robert Fieseler reveals the true story of the fire that devastated the gay community of New Orleans and ignited a national movement.

A longstanding haven for an underground blue collar gay scene and members of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the Up Stairs Lounge protected its patrons from a New Orleans that was—despite a flamboyant reputation—dismissive of gay rights at best. Run since 1970 by the beloved, openly “out” Buddy Rasmussen, the Lounge was famous for its routine Sunday “Beer Busts” following MCC services. On Sunday, June 24, 1973, as crowds on both coasts marched in memory of Stonewall, a vengeful hustler set fire to the Lounge, trapping its patrons in a horrific inferno.

In a landmark feat of historical detection undertaken during a year and a half spent in New Orleans, journalist Robert W. Fieseler here recovers the firsthand testimonies of survivors, witnesses, and relatives; through Fieseler’s interviews, it becomes painfully clear that it is only now, decades later, that these survivors feel willing to claim this story—a story that no one dared touch for so long.

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For even more horrifying than the fire itself was the reaction (or lack thereof) that followed. Neither Mayor Moon Landrieu nor Governor Edwin Edwards offered a statement of sympathy for the 32 victims and their families; news coverage shied away from describing the Lounge as a gay hangout (Roy Reed’s report for New York Times was the sole exception), and the New Orleans Police Department investigation was eventually abandoned due to carelessness and disinterest. When local news coverage did hit, a full list of those affected by the fire were effectively “outed.” Some survivors lost their jobs and were forced to flee to other cities, while many victims’ families felt reluctant to claim the bodies of their loved ones.

But while things stayed mum in New Orleans, an ad-hoc national support network descended on the city to institute a national fund-raising operation through the help of gay activist groups, religious networks, and relief organizations. As Fieseler traces so movingly in these pages, this was the first national campaign of its kind, effectively uniting the Gay Liberation in a very public appeal. At least 46 cities across the country observed a national day of mourning for victims on Sunday, July 1, 1973. Still—national media, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, refused to cover these observances.

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In Tinderbox, Fieseler embraces the untouchable, memorializing these forgotten victims with the humanity and respect they so deserve.

“The Ghost Script” is the culmination of Jules Feiffer’s ambitious graphic novel series

We have always thought he was a genius. And a funny man. Jules Feiffer’s The Ghost Script (Liveright Publishing, $26.95) is the culmination of an ambitious graphic novel series, and  it’s a graphic wonder at his most daring, imaginative best.

Despite the many honors Jules Feiffer has accumulated over his 89-year lifetime in the fields of comics, journalism, theater, and film, he has longed to hone his skills as a graphic novelist in the mold of his mentor and one-time boss, Will Eisner. With Kill My Mother in 2014 and Cousin Joseph in 2016, Feiffer showed just what could be done with the form, inspired as much by the noir films of his youth, as the social upheaval he witnessed in America in the ’40s and ’50s.

With The Ghost Script he completes the trilogy in triumphant fashion; moving from Bay City to the madcap world of Hollywood, circa 1953. It is a time of deep-seated paranoia, rampant bigotry, and vicious political division, as show business is mercilessly targeted by witch hunts and McCarthyist threats.

The Ghost Script: A Graphic NovelNo worry if this is the first in the trip you are reading: There are frequent flashbacks, but please do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Upon this scene stumbles Archie Goldman (previously a teenager in Cousin Joseph), a well-intentioned, if slightly slow, private eye who finds himself increasingly entangled by the tendrils of the Hollywood Blacklist. Plots, counterplots, and general thuggery follow Archie at every turn, and Feiffer casts his story with a wonderful assortment of characters who would not be out of place in a Chandler novel: Lola Burns (a starlet desperate to clear her name and make it in pictures); Lyman Murchison (philanthropist and Red-baiter implicated by a mysterious screenplay called “the Ghost Script”); O.Z. McCay and Faye Bloom (two blacklisted screenwriters seeking revenge); and Miss Know-It-All (a blind gossip columnist with a vicious streak).

Feiffer—who is himself a distant cousin of that ultimate baiter and conflicted soul, the dispicable Roy Cohn—revels in the extremes of the era, as well as the sanctimonious politicians, the two-timing producers, and the heroic actors, writers, and gumshoes swept up by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Together with Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, The Ghost Doctor confirms Feiffer as a master worthy of Eisner’s respect, and provides a graphic masterpiece for our times.