Mattachine Review

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In January 1955 the Mattachine Review became the nation's second widely circulated magazine published by and for the fledgling gay and lesbian community. ONE,a magazine established two years earlier by a handful of Mattachine Society members, operated independently of the society and its ideological foundation. Although the two publications shared the common goal of eradicating political injustice and social prejudice aimed at homosexuals, the Review adopted a milder tone in keeping with the noncombative, assimilationist perspective of the Mattachine Society. In the August 1956 issue, for example, writer Ken Burns admonished gays that they must blame themselves for much of their plight. "When will the homosexual ever realize that social reform, to be effective, must be preceded by personal reform?" he asked (p. 27). From its inception, the magazine reflected the Mattachine Society perspective that homosexuals would gain social acceptance through education. It sought to build bridges by publishing the work of progressive experts.

Each issue contained a mix of original essays on the homosexual experience; reprints of scientific studies related to homosexuality; poetry with a homosexual theme; reviews of books related to homosexuality; and letters to the editor to give readers "the true facts of the Mattachine Society and the place of the sex variant in the life of the community" (Mattachine Review, p.2).The first issue included reprints of the poem "Hate" by Bertrand Russell and a scientific study by Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a Los Angeles psychologist whose research had determined that "inverts are not a distinct personality type" (Hooker, p. 22). Hooker's landmark study argued that homosexuals were equally well adjusted as heterosexuals, but since the study received little attention in the mainstream press, it was virtually unknown to vast numbers of homosexuals before appearing in the Review.

The Mattachine Review began publication during the anticommunist and antigay hysteria of McCarthyism, testimony to the determination of its organizers to confront the social intolerance of that era. When its first issue went to press, ONE magazine was locked in a fierce legal battle with postal officials who had confiscated the October 1954 issue on the grounds that it was obscene. Even so, the Mattachine Review went out through the mail, as the case against ONE wound through the courts. Its masthead listed the names of business manager Don Lucas, art director Mel Betti, and production manger Rod Holiday, but did not name the magazine's editor, Harold "Hal" Call, who was also president of the Mattachine Society, until August 1956.

Given the difficulty in finding printers who would produce a magazine that might subject them to prosecution, Call established Pan-Graphic Press to handle typesetting, graphic design, printing, and binding. A former publisher of several small midwestern newspapers, Call had also worked as an advertising executive for the Kansas City Star until the newspaper learned of his 1952 arrest on morals charges in Chicago involving a sexual encounter with another man.

This arrangement placed Call in sure control of the magazine and its content, ensuring that it would reflect the official views of the Mattachine Society and not fall to the "whims of the membership" (Marcus, p. 67). Call wrote many of the articles in the Review's early days, using pseudonyms for his bylines to provide the illusion of a larger staff of writers and a variety of voices. The magazine refused to print articles and letters advocating confrontational tactics that found a ready home on the pages of the more provocative ONE.

Circulation climbed from 2,942 in January and February 1955 to nearly five thousand the following November when it became a monthly publication. The actual readership was thought to be much greater since subscribers tended to circulate the magazine among friends and colleagues. Newsstands carried the magazine in several cities, ranging from the major metropolitan centers of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to smaller cities such as Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was also sold at a bookstore in the Virgin Islands and through a mail-order company in Copenhagen.

The five-by-eight inch magazine published between thirty-two and fifty-six pages each month. Professionally typeset, its graphics consisted of sketch drawings, but none of a homoerotic nature. Along with ONE and the Ladder, published by the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Review played an important role in the founding of a nascent gay community in the 1950s by providing access to information and perspectives that readers could not find elsewhere. James Barr, the pseudonymous author of the gay-themed novels Quatrefoil in 1950 and Derricks in 1951, contributed several original articles.

In 1957 Mattachine Review became the first gay publication to draw attention to the Wolfenden Report, in which the British government recommended the limited decriminalization of homosexual acts by consenting homosexual males in private. Its ongoing coverage was particularly significant since the report was virtually ignored by other newspapers and magazines in the United States. In 1958 the Review heralded the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that exonerated ONE from obscenity charges, which is widely viewed as the most important legal victory for homosexuals during the 1950s.

By the late 1950s the political atmosphere had relaxed to such a degree that, beginning in August 1958, the Review printed a series of articles featuring the individuals responsible for the publication, including their photographs. In 1960 it carried the transcript of a groundbreaking series on Pacifica Radio's KPFA in Berkeley, California, that featured Call among a panel of guests. The broadcast was one of the first to permit a homosexual to speak firsthand about the realities of the homosexual experience. Topics covered on the broadcast ranged from social and employment discrimination to police harassment.

By the mid-1960s the magazine's strict adherence to the Mattachine Society's conservative social philosophy proved to be its downfall. The Mattachine Review was seen as increasingly out of step at a time when combative forces in the movement were confronting police harassment and government employment discrimination with picketing and public protests. Upheaval in the movement's leadership ranks only exacerbated problems at the magazine. The Mattachine Society disbanded as a national organization in 1960, although several independent organizations continued using the name, and the schism spilled over to the Mattachine Review. Continued in-fighting at the Mattachine Society and competition from an increasing number of publications for the homosexual market took their toll. The Mattachine Review appeared only sporadically during the mid-1960s and then ceased publication altogether in 1967, a victim of the shift in gay political sentiment from the conservatism of the 1950s to radicalism of the 1960s. In effect, the political activism that the Mattachine Review helped create by providing a platform for dialogue ultimately killed the publication when it failed to change with the times.


Alwood, Edward. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Burns, Ken. "The Homosexual Faces a Challenge." Mattachine Review (August 1956).

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Gross, Larry P. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Hooker, Evelyn. "Inverts Are Not a Distinct Personality Type." Mattachine Review (January/February 1955).

Marcus, Eric. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Mattachine Review, Editorial, January/February 1955.

Streitmatter, Rodger. Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1995.

Edward Alwood

see alsocall, hal; fugate, james barr; homophile movement; homophile press; kepner, james; mattachine society.