Early on in the most recent episode of HBO’s The Deuce, which is set in New York City in 1971, Vince Martino (one of the two twins played by James Franco in the show) is looking to get the Hi Hat, the new mobbed-up bar in the Times Square area that he runs, a little more publicity. So he asks the show’s most prominent gay character, a bartender who works for him named Paul Hendrickson (Chris Coy), whether he has seen to it that the establishment has been listed in all of the “bar guides.”
It’s already been established that Vince wants to extend a welcoming hand to the city’s burgeoning post-Stonewall homosexual community, so it’s not a huge surprise when he also adds, “The gay one, too? What’s it called, ‘Michael’s Stick’?” The bartender clarifies that the magazine is actually called Michael’s Thing and suggests taking out an ad, too—the rates aren’t bad for a half-page.
Michael’s Thing—what’s that? Well, it turns out that, just as The Deuce suggests, Michael’s Thing was an essential weekly guide to homosexual life in New York City that literally lasted decades but (in retrospect) seems like it went kind of unheralded. It’s very difficult to find more than a handful of covers online (this for a magazine that ran for well over a thousand issues), and similarly, there is also pretty much a black hole in terms of information about it on the Internet. Most of the images I was able to find are tiny, too. There’s just very little information out there about Michael’s Thing, and that seems a shame.
The most pertinent piece of information I’d like to know is—who was Michael, anyway?
A playwright named Doric Wilson (Now She Dances, The West Street Gang, Street Theater) who was artistically active in New York during the 1970s and 1980s comes to the rescue, with a blog post he wrote about Michael’s Thing in 2011. Sadly, it appears that he wrote his account less than a month before his death. In 1974, Wilson had been instrumental in founding TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), which was a theater company dedicated to gay themes—according to Wikipedia, the first such entity; it’s still in existence.
It turns out that the “Michael” of Michael’s Thing was named Michael Giammetta. Here’s a chunk of Wilson’s tribute to the publication, without which, believe me, there’d be virtually nothing out there about it:
Michael Giammetta published Michael’s Thing between 1970-2000 as a guide to cultural and social happenings of the GLTB community. It was the one of the main and most reliable sources of information. It also was a handy guide to the most important institutions of the early days of liberation, the gay bar. The covers of Michael’s Thing may have featured pretty boys almost in their all together but inside the focus was theater, dance, cabaret. They were all there, all the early voices of what would become queer culture. Freeman Gunter was an excellent critic. There are careers in the arts still going full force that began thanks to his taking notice of them.
Mandate magazine was started as an “out” version of After Dark in the early 1970s. It featured some of the early stars of GLBT photography, John Michael Cox, Jr., Jürgen Vollmer, and first and foremost, Roy Blakey. Under the editorship of John Devere, it contained thoughtful reviews covering all of the arts, and essential articles on the emerging gay liberation movement. John Devere’s coverage of the protests surrounding the filming of Cruising is still a high-water mark of gay journalism.
Today it seems almost unexceptional that there would be a prominent gay weekly guide in New York City, but as Wilson reminds us, things weren’t so cut and dry in the 1970s: “It was an era when publications like New York magazine dismissed the culture coming from the queer community with a sneer and a snicker. The New York Times refused to even use the word ‘gay,’ and only mentioned our community if the article was derogatory.”
What’s clear is that Michael’s Thing was not just a city guide for queers—it was also a bona fide news outlet that catered to a specific demographic very well, with good reporting and top-notch arts coverage. It’s interesting how much the cover design changed over the years—I count five different treatments for the name of the magazine.
Here’s an a 1972 ad for the Park Miller gay movie house, located on West 43rd St., which makes an appearance in The Deuce:
A 1973 ad for a bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin, called Ramie’s Books mentioning that it carries Michael’s Thing:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Gay Semiotics’: Hilariously deadpan taxonomy of San Francisco life in the 1970s