The late Helen P. Branson released her memoir "Gay Bar" in 1957, and it became one of the first books by a heterosexual to portray gay men with empathy, love and respect. In this re-issue, Will Fellows takes Branson's original chapters and interleaves updates, subsequent research and commentary to put them in perspective. While Branson's observations occasionally mimic the stereotypes about gay men at the time, it's clear that she had only admiration for "her boys" and was thankful for the chance she had to be with them. The book is really a "time capsule" of gay history, not a scholarly work, but a look at a time and place one would otherwise not discover. It is both enchanting and enlightening reading for open-minded people of any age or sexual orientation, and I give it a full five stars out of five.
Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s
More than a decade before the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, gay bars existed in most major cities, but were often poorly-run establishments targeted by homophobes, mobsters and police entrapment. Helen's bar was different, a 1950's oasis located in a crime-riddled area of Los Angeles, where quiet, closeted gay men could meet, drink and socialize with their peers. With her intuition and experience working in other bars, Helen screened new customers, tipping off her regulars through various methods when she was unsure whether they were legit. She became their protector, friend, occasional advisor and confessor, and they were very loyal to her in return.