Being “Out” in the West
Today on KPCC public radio’s “Air Talk,” Larry Mantle hosted Gregory Hinton, who conceived the Autry’s “Out West” lecture series. “Out West” explores LGBT issues and aspects of the history and life of the West.
Hinton previewed Thursday evening’s event, Hidden Histories, in which he and Autry curators will highlight objects in the museum’s permanent collection that figure in or have a connection to gay/lesbian/bisexual life in the Old West.
When most people think of gays in the West, they think of Brokeback Mountain, the 2005 Ang Lee film that told the fictional story of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, a pair of ranch hands who meet in Wyoming in 1963 and continue a secret, tortured romance for decades.
“Brokeback is basically the reason I approached the Autry,” Hinton said. “I was researching another project and going through their beautiful Western film gallery and I noticed they hadn’t done anything with Brokeback Mountain. Brokeback really deserves to be in that gallery.”
Hinton thought about how best to represent the movie and settled on two shirts that had been part of the actors’ costumes for the movie. Six months later, they were hanging in the gallery. Hinton wasn’t sure how the exhibit would play with audiences, but an installation ceremony at which he expected an audience of 10 had 75 people in
attendance, including a delegation from the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA). After that, the museum and Hinton kept talking in an effort to do something more.
“They said, ‘Well, lets do an ongoing series and see where it goes,’” Hinton said, and that is how “Out West” was born.
Jim Wilke, a historian of gay and lesbian life in the West who was also interviewed on the show, talked about a Concord stagecoach in the museum’s collection, built for the California Stage Company. One of its drivers was a woman who dressed and lived as a man in order to do this job.
“She pursued this life known as a man her entire life,” Wilke said. “When she died of old age in 1879, all the California papers had comments that were really revealing. One said, essentially, that she was following her nature, and that is always the best course.”
Thursday’s event, starting at 7 p.m., features Stephen Aron , executive director of the Autry’s Institute for the Study of the American West, Autry curators Carolyn Brucken and Jeffrey Richardson, novelist Patricia Nell Warren, UCLA professor and Western literature specialist Blake Allmendinger, Hinton and Wilke.
During the interview, Hinton also announced that the Autry has agreed to be the home of the IGRA archive of photographs and documents, which until now had been in Denver, Colo.
“The Autry is the first Western American museum in the United States to invite our community inside to tell our stories,” Hinton said. “People don’t know that the Autry is truly Los Angeles’ museum. It represents everyone.”
To listen to the full Larry Mantle interview, click here.