Thursday, January 06, 2011

First state chartered, non-alcoholic gay club in America

The book Hollywood didn't want published 

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 But, he later went to prison for five years!

Leonard said he was looking for other means to combat sales of what he described as obscene books and magazines. Leonard said padlocking of Le Stag "....was a practical problem. We felt it had to facilitate the search because there was so much material to go over. We did it this way to preserve the scene to conform with the search warrant, since we did not have the manpower to finish the job immediately." Leonard said there are other areas of obscenity with which we are concerned, such as pocket or paperback books and movies. Until this time we have directed our attention primarily to magazines (nudist magazines). He said he will discuss the situation with a citizen's committee "he appointed to aid in the campaign against obscenity."
This guy would never give up, especially since he was ruled against by the court.

Well, I decided I wanted to publish a scandal sheet I called "Local Lowdown." (Yes, this obsession of exposing people started way back then.) It would consist of exposing public officials when they were caught doing something wrong. It was a type written paper and I had many people contributing to it. I sent it to the printing company and my attorney phoned and said, "You don't really want to distribute this Bill." I assume the printers had phoned him. I had some "hot" stories in it and although I did cancel a large press run, I made a few copies for my store customers. Among the juicy items was a story of the Prosecutor, going to a motel with some gal, and he was a married man. An attorney, who despised Leonard, especially for trying to close down my store, gave me this information. And soon after, my club Studio D was raided, illegally, without a warrant. That story continues here. If he couldn't close down Le Stag, he would go after me. But, eventually "he was caught."


It wasn't long before I decided to open a club in Flint. I found a building with a large upstairs in a part of town that wasn't too busy. It was at 1223, 1/2 N. Saginaw Street, the main street in Flint, above a motorcycle repair shop. I didn't want it to be open to the public so it became a private, state chartered club, for "persons with like interests," is how attorney Stewart Newblatt worded it. He got us the charter and he would one day be elected a Federal Court Judge.

You had to be a member to get in. It was one dollar to become a member. I named it Studio D, the Studio part from Studio 511 in Toronto and the D for Dakota, although I think it was really for Dean, James that is. I hadn't legally changed my name to Dakota at that time, although I did use that name. I had ash-trays designed that read:-Studio D, "Together As One." The ONE was taken from ONE magazine. I eventually had over 600 registered members, gay guys and lesbians. Although there were that many registered, I never had many over one hundred at any particular night. I started out with just dancing to the juke-box, coffee, soft drinks and sandwiches, with late hours. It was non-alcoholic, the first non-alcoholic, gay, state chartered club in the United States. I'm proud of that. We were legal. Then I started having drag shows. I hired impersonators from Detroit and discovered Ronnie Paige, nee George Moore. Ronnie was one of the best female impersonators I had seen and he became a regular. When I advertised the show in a tabloid called The Flint HI-SPOTS, we were swamped with straight people wanting to get in. And I let them buy tickets, that one time. I needed the money but I didn't want to ruin the idea of being a private, gay club.

Ronnie Paige

I also hired a couple of impersonators from Toronto, Jamie Durett and Tony Sevens. Jamie was a young talented drag queen and Tony was an older, good drag, and very good with a sewing machine, making wardrobe. He could make gowns from drapes, and he did too. Another impersonator from Detroit, Chunga, was also good at wardrobe and he made a few things for Ronnie.

Studio D itself, was sort of thrown together. I rented folding tables and chairs and threw a table cloth over them. I used local, theater maintenance men to build the stage for the shows. They also found me some blue, satin stage curtains, that looked real good. Studio D was a place where young, and old, gay persons could go and dance together and meet new persons without the public staring at them. I loved that club and still remember the songs that were on the juke-box.

Owning the adult bookstore, I became a political target for the local prosecutor, Robert F. Leonard. I had won the obscenity charges against my bookstore, in raids that were motivated by Leonard for his own political interests. He made arrests without warrants, padlocked stores and seized property without a court order. He considered nudist books obscene. They weren't like books or magazines being sold today. The model magazines didn't go any further than Playboy Magazine. Losing the case was a political blow to him and he wanted to get something on me. My attorney in that case, was Ron Joseph. A very good attorney who fought against the obscenity allegations. We won! And the Flint branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was started in Flint and they had filed a brief as a "friend of the court," to protect the First Amendment right, freedom of speech.

I was planning on moving Studio D closer to downtown, because we were having problems with an illegal club next door that was selling alcohol without a license, etc. I even made a formal complaint to the prosecutor's office. Well they ignored the illegal club and concentrated on Studio D, because I was the owner.

The Prosecutor had arrested a man who had been charged with an offense but let him remain free to work for the prosecutor. A sort of snitch, in exchange for his freedom from jail. He came to the club with two lesbians he had met at the Poodle Lounge, and they said it was okay to let him in. For several weeks he would come to the club, play pool and watch the shows. Then, when I was moving, I needed money to fix up the new place. He asked me, (the last night) "if I had any stag films?" He assumed I did because I owned an adult bookstore. I told him I didn't sell them, but I had four or five I owned and that I would sell those to him. So, he handed me a hundred dollars and he gave me the keys to his car to go get them. I took my friend Larry with me to get the films. When we left the hotel where I had the films, I noticed a plain clothes policeman in an unmarked car, (the kind the police use with black tires and no chrome on the car), passing me and looking at me. I told Larry I had a funny feeling about this. He told me not to sell the films, but I said I needed the money.

When I got to the club, I left the films in the guy's car. They were never taken inside the club and there was never anything illegal going on in Studio D. I handed the keys to the guy and he asked me where the films were? I told him they were in his car. This was around midnight. About an hour later, the club was raided by armed Sheriff's officers. They came in with guns pulled and shot-guns cocked. It was a Gestapo type of thing. (This was 1964, a few years before STONEWALL, where a club was raided and the gays fought back and won.) The Sheriff's officers literally rushed into the club and ordered everyone to line up against the wall. When I asked what they were doing?, I was struck across the face and shoved into the wall and told to shut up. When someone asked where Dakota was?, I spoke up and then they treated me differently. While they were pushing me around, I had dropped the money on the floor behind a chair. I knew this is what they were after.

Then they took me into the dressing room and asked me to empty my pockets, which I did. The "marked bills" weren't there. They didn't know what to do and then one guy used the pay phone to phone the prosecutor. They were advised to bring us all in for "violation of the state obscenity statutes," They eventually found the money but couldn't pin it on me. The sale of the film was late at night, around midnight, on the spur of the moment. Nobody knew there would be a sale. It was too late at night to get a warrant. There were no warrants.

Forty seven members were arrested and taken to the County jail. As we were taken from the club, we were photographed by television cameras as well as the Flint Journal. This had been a set-up by Leonard who wanted publicity to get something on me for winning the obscenity case. He was notified by the detectives who had been following me, that a sale was going to be made and Leonard notified the media.

We were put in the bullpen (one big cell) and many were scared because they had good jobs and they didn't even know about me selling films. They thought being gay was illegal. (I guess it was, in the mind of Leonard). And one by one, they were called out and taken across the parking lot to Leonard's office and when they got there, they were asked if they were queer and if they were, they would be jailed. When we heard what Leonard was asking them, I told them they didn't have to answer any questions about their sexual preferences. I was the only one who had been questioned about the films. The charge of selling obscene materials "is a misdemeanor!" It doesn't justify officers coming into a place, without a warrant, with pistols and shot-guns and arresting people. I tried to cheer everyone up and we began singing songs. The Sheriff's officers threatened to hose us down if we didn't shut up. The next morning everyone had been released, with the exception of me (I had to be arraigned) and another person, whom I didn't know at the time was being held. It was Danny Pratt. He had been on probation for setting a car on fire and was told he was going to go to prison for violation of probation. He hadn't done anything wrong. He was just a member of the club. But, they scared him. They said he was going to go to jail unless he could get something on Dakota. He talked "his lover" Michael Barber, into saying he had sex with me. He went to the prosecutor's office with Mike and a deposition was taken. Mike said he was there voluntarily. I recently got a copy of that deposition. He said he was gay and played the femme role. And that he had dated a thirty-five year old man and had just broke up with his twenty year old lover. Danny was also around twenty.

I knew that the thirty-five year old man had taken Mike to Chicago. Mike said he had sex with me, six months earlier at the Berridge Hotel. Unfortunately for me, he had signed and registered at the hotel, but he had gone to Pontiac, Michigan to visit some gay guys. The registration was an alibi so when his mother phoned the hotel, they would say he was registered but not in his room. I let my lover, Larry, stay with me that night and told him he didn't have to register because Mike had signed and they wouldn't know him from Mike, when we went in the back door. Larry's mother had given him written permission for him to stay with me.

Larry visited me a few years ago in California, and said he recalled that night. I wish he had been in court during my trial. I was arrested and charged with gross indecency and sodomy. Mike had just turned fifteen and was fourteen when I first met him. He looked much older than he really was. When I learned his age, I refused to let him into Studio D because of his age. I also wouldn't let him into the bookstore. He stated he had worked at the bookstore, but he didn't. You had to be 18 to get in as a customer. He did come there one time and I was missing some money when he left. When he made the deposition for the prosecutor, why weren't the other persons he mentioned, arrested? Would Mike, out of the clear blue sky go to the prosecutor to name people he had sex with, knowing he was under age and would be in trouble? Mike never made the complaint. The Prosecutor made one.

Mike was vindictive. I wouldn't let him into Studio D or Le Stag Shoppe. My bond was set at $10,000, exorbitant for those days. I was told it was because I also had the obscenity charge pending. Leonard wanted to close the bookstore, and without me running it, it got closed. Leonard was very popular in those days. He had the judges wrapped around his fingers. He was called the "ideal" prosecutor!

I was in jail five or six months, unable to make bond, awaiting trial. Leonard told my Dad he had a dozen or more similar charges against me. So I sat it out. I was denied visits for several weeks and held on the sixth floor with murderers and rapists. If Leonard had had other charges against me, believe me, he would have charged me with them. Larry did tell me he was interrogated by detectives, who slapped him across the face, when he refused to say he had sex with me. Larry's father had passed away a few months before I met him and he was hustlin' on the streets. His mother wrote a note for the hotel, stating it was okay for him to stay with me because she said I was more able to take care of Larry, than she was. She knew the situation between the two of us. We were lovers.

I had a lousy attorney, who was hired with money from my bookstore, by an employee. I never knew him. There were legal hearings happening back and forth. The obscenity charges were nolle prossed (dropped) because the larger charge was pending. I didn't want it dropped but the attorney said if I didn't drop it he wouldn't defend me in the other case. When we did go to trial he waived all of the witnesses, and never put me on the stand. There was no defense offered.

The trial lasted about an hour. He had subpoenaed Mike's statement, which the prosecutor wanted hidden, and although he did get a copy, I was never informed of it nor was it mentioned in court. I never knew it existed until I was sent to prison and learned there had been one. He waived Danny Pratt as a witness, as well as other gays who were in the court room. Danny was Mike's lover. I later learned that the attorney, Charles Cole, had made an deal with the prosecutor, to exchange me for another person who was locked up, who had been Cole's roommate at one time. I assume that was why the obscenity charges were dropped, because there was no warrant and Leonard would have been made a fool of again. When I was in the bullpen, waiting to be taken to trial, there was guy there who said he would be getting out because his friend was an attorney and had made a deal. I never knew, then, that his attorney was Cole. I spent four and a half years in Jackson Prison. The prosecutor tried to get me retried as a criminal sexual psychopath. The Judge refused that. When parole time came up, he interceded and stated I was a menace to society. I was denied parole twice because of him. I would later be transferred to Marquette Prison in the Upper Peninsula. The parole board there was appalled that I had been passed over twice. And they paroled me.

I got some satisfaction years later, when Leonard would be tried and convicted of stealing state and federal funds. Money he was given to pay off stool pigeons. He stole over $250,000. He went to prison for five years. He had to be tried in Detroit because of his influence with the Flint Judges. Charles Keating, another obscenity fighter in Cincinnati, (Citizens against Indecent Literature) went to prison for selling junk bonds. Seems like prosecutors who fight, so called obscenity, are all crooks.

I do want to acknowledge a few persons who kept in contact with me, while I was incarcerated. Dorr Legg, editor of ONE magazine, Corey Allen, the actor from "Rebel without A Cause," and who encouraged me to fight my case, and Chet Sampson who had written to me after reading about me in ONE, and kept me in Hollywood Reporter and Variety publications. My dear friend, "Locke" Lorraine, who enjoyed writing letters as much as I did. And my Grandfather, Grover Spivey, who sent me a monthly check to support my needs (wants). And my Grandmother and Sister often sent me care packages. Nick Adams, (so his mother said) was trying to get me out too. I was in prison when Nick died. I was listening to the head-phones when the news came on that a young Hollywood actor was found dead. When they said Nick Adams, I broke down and cried all night. That's all I want to say abut 4000 Cooper Street. I did meet a wonderful person, who, after being released was killed in a car accident when he was 26 years old. We had planned on opening a bookstore together. He was Wayne Monroe buried near Detroit. He was a wonderful person whom I'll never forget. Inmate #97555.

I was going to omit this part of my manuscript. But, it happened and was heavily publicized in Michigan and is, or was, a part of my life. I guess to fit this into relating to my newspaper, I would have to add that the Hollywood Star's gossip column was titled SPOTLIGHT ON HOLLYWOOD.

While in confinement I often wrote articles for the prison paper, the Spectator. I contacted all the major movie studios and convinced them to send me press releases as well as photos from their films. I told them that when inmates are released, movies would be one of their priorities. So, I had the press kits and the movie reviews that had been in Variety, that Chet Sampson would send to me and I created a column titled, what else, SPOTLIGHT ON HOLLYWOOD. I would get the movie schedule of films coming to the prison and I would write reviews on them. I also wrote a few editorials. This is where I developed a thing for writing. Although I started the Flint gossip thing, Local Lowdown, that got me into trouble with the politicians. Sh-h-h. I started one here too, (Lima, Ohio), last year!

At Studio D, we used a lot of the local talent that wanted to learn the art of pantomime. Some were good while others were....funny. The best of the group was Johnny Triplette, who used the stage name Timi Saxton. He was very thin. He learned the make-up, wardrobe and special things he needed, like padding his hips, legs, etc. His biggest problem was lip synching. He would sing along with the records. I couldn't teach him otherwise. Although he would become a professional drag and was booked across the country, he always made the clubs turn up the volume on the sound system, so his voice wouldn't be heard. I tried to get him to work with an open mike, so he would hear his voice, to see what he was doing wrong. But, he said they liked him the way he was and he didn't need to change. A few years later I booked him at the Roxy Night Club in Lima, Ohio, for over three successful months. He was a one man show. Lima is Phyllis Diller's and Hugh Downs' home town.
   Johnny Triplette (Timi Saxton, died January 2010 in Flint, Michigan)

Jerry Phillips, the guy who had traveled with the Polack Bros. Circus, mentioned in another chapter doing drag on the web, was a frequent guest at Studio D. Jerry looked great, like a Marilyn Monroe type, but he was always high on pills and couldn't lip sync. He would just waltz around to the music. He would rather work at the Poodle Lounge where he could pick-up tricks. He would later commit suicide over drug problems

The most famous female impersonator from Flint, was Kim August. He appeared as a real woman in the Rod Steiger film, "No Way to Treat A Lady." All the female mimic magazines featured Kim. He's now back in Flint, dresses in drag, but is as big, (weight-wise) as Val DeVere was. Val had retired and was living in Canyon country in California, the last I heard. And Michael Barber died from AIDS a few years ago.

I almost forgot. When I was arrested and on my way to jail, a detective asked me why I wanted to print the "Local Lowdown"? Said if I didn't like the Prosecutor I could vote against him in elections. So, that was the tip off why the Prosecutor went out of his way to harass and frame me. He is still alive today, in Flint. And I just learned he was drinking with, and allegedly screwing my Aunt Donna, whom he was meeting at the Diamond Bar in Flint, while I was in prison!

( Lima, Ohio


At 9:26 PM , Blogger maxiemoxie said...

Great article, very interesting story. Wondering if you know Kim August's real name. I heard she still lives in Flint, and I was hoping to track her down for an interview.

At 12:37 AM , Blogger MarliynFan said...

Would love to know more about Kim but there is literally no biographic information about her anywhere, just watch her in the Rod Steiger film and thought what a great performance she gave


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