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Badpuppy Gay Today

Thursday, 06 March, 1997

RANDOLFE WICKER:

THE GRAND HIGH CLONE HIMSELF

by Jack Nichols

 

The first time I ever saw Randy was at Frank Kameny's place. He and Kameny were arguing in a friendly way over the proposed color of a slogan button that would read, "Equality for Homosexuals." Wicker wanted it made in lavender while Kameny insisted on black and white. The year was 1963 and we were all newly-charged pioneers--inspecting each other carefully, tweaking each other joyfully, and even hopefully. We chirped hopefully if there seemed any chance, in fellow budding gay or lesbian crusaders, of real brain power and ability. To me (inspecting Wicker as carefully as he inspected me) and to a few other crusading admirers, he'd already attained a certain star status. He'd appeared, after all, on real TV, under his legal name! Daring in those days, the "brash" Randy (according to top notch historian John D'Emilio's book--Sexual Politics/ Sexual Communities--published by Chicago University Press) shook up New York's gay establishment as early as 1958, and, in 1962 even more loquaciously when he became the first openly gay guy to go on radio and TV as such. He pulled away from what he felt was the too-conservative New York Mattachine Society and founded The "powerful" Homosexual League of New York, a headline-grabbing phenomenon that, miraculously, had only one member, Randolfe Wicker.

Randy could argue persuasively, humorously and passionately for his practical American visions, seeming to radiate the values of the American heartland, insisting on human rights and equal rights while he promoted equality for same-sex love and affection.

When Wicker first emerged on Manhattan's WBAI-FM, a judgmental, pushy newspaper pundit angrily denounced him as "an arrogant card-carrying swish," charging that by airing the views of openly gay people, radio station WBAI had scraped the very bottom of the proverbial barrel. Wicker's closest friends, alone, felt free, perhaps, to remind him tweakishly of this laughable "card carrying" newspaper characterization. But, on any day, to tweak Randy Wicker is only turn-about-as-fair-play for such tweaking is, surely, Randy Wicker's foremost specialty.

Randolfe Wicker stands today, hopping about under media's spotlights, this time the founder of CRUF: Clone Rights United Front, an activist organization that's probably the world's first clone rights center. Leave it to the long-distance runner, the ever-sprinting Wicker. And, its no big surprise, he's already had his first protest demonstration--March 1st--at the gay monument entrance near the historic site of the Stonewall uprising. Sylvia Rivera, a Stonewall era vet, helped Wicker, carrying flyers and signs. Bob Kohler, another historic presence, became an enthusiastic giver of applause. WABC-am's James and Joel Show, interviewed Randy live for 45 minutes of prime time.

It was great fun, this, the world's first cloning rights demonstration, but that's no surprise either. I remember how Frank Kameny and Randy Wicker, Lige Clarke, Roz Regelson, Barbara Gittings, and Kay Tobin Lahusen and I had some good laughs in those early-sixties years, those pre-picketing pioneering gay-heydays. And when picketing finally came along in '65, we all gave proper pickets the big thumbs-up---picketing was anathema to movement-conservatives. Our militant group was also united by our opposition in those days, to the ditzy psychiatric establishment and to its "sickness theory" of homosexuality that it later voted out of existence. Conservatives thought we were nuts on that issue too. "Wait for more research," they whined. Wicker was good at making the intellectual statures of shrinks shrink noticeably in public debates.

Frank Kameny, I think, somewhat enjoyed Randy as a loquacious 25-year old: direct, laughing, and with some tough-as-nails, pirouetting-argument styles. He was an interesting person to interview, Frank and all of us knew, because he's really the quintessential salty character. A generous one too, as I've witnessed over the years. And, an avant garde gay activist/journalist, quick to bend backwards, in print, he always was, to be fair.

I owe Randy Wicker for a few things he's given me in years past. One, for hiring me when I first moved to Manhattan in the summer of '67. He was the counterculture's national button king. I was his sales manager at Underground Uplift Unlimited, a button-poster-bong-bearing head-shop, right on the Madison Avenue of Hippiedom, St. Mark's Place. As I signed on, Wicker felt a bit worried, he said, recalling a Yiddish warning that "business and friendship don't mix," but, with me, he confessed, he'd decided to make an exception. Now, thirty years later, we're still good friends. Oh, we differ on many a basic question, for sure, but there's always that joy, that tweaking of each other, you know? There's no doubting but that if Wicker the Tweakiest didn't exist, I'd have to invent him.

Provided by him in the summer of '67 with a handsome VW van, I spread his colorful 60's slogan buttons--of which he was the nation's premiere initiator and supplier--up and down the East Coast of America, from Virginia to Rhode Island. It was The Summer of Love. The Beatles serenaded Randy's store, their endless repetitions blasting Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band from the open door. Randy was always too busy, natch, to be lonely. And anyway, he had a helpful lover, a partner who appeared on TV shows with him. My lover did that kind of stuff too. All four of us did it together, in fact, being double-daters on occasion. "Lets all go be on TV tonight, yeah!" Or how about Coney Island?

Yet same-sex love was only one of the many social causes Randy championed through his button enterprise. A lead story in the Washington Post's business section celebrated his slogan-sales successes. Wicker, after all, was carrying a whole line of "save free-expression" buttons. One said: "F*CK Censorship!". Another suggested "More Deviation, Less Population,". And, of course, there was the ever-popular, "Lets Get Naked and Smoke."

Wicker's two biggest button sellers that were first in his collection also championed two causes Randy pioneered. The first, "Legalize Pot," involved poet Allen Ginsberg with whom Wicker was a founding member of LEMAR, the League for the Legalization of Marijuana. I must thank Wicker too for introducing me to Ginsberg, who later contributed a newsboy poem to GAY.

Arrested on the streets of New York for the "crime" of selling The Marijuana Newsletter, Wicker still, in '67, optimistically surmised that pot would be legalized before the other cause he championed, the one in which he spoke about the love that dare not speak its name. But this pot-fantasy-triumph prophecy of his went: kaput. Anti-sodomy laws have now disappeared from half these states, but the nation's anti-pot laws live on.

In the first march at a draft board protesting anti-gay military policies in 1964 (a Manhattan march co-sponsored by heterosexuals and bisexuals, Jeff Poland and the Sexual Freedom League) Randy Wicker, Craig Rodwell, Nancy Garden and Renee Cafiero made gay activist history. On that occasion, however, it wouldn't be the first time lesbian activists had worked closely with Wicker. The first lesbian movement magazine, The Ladder, a publication edited by the Gay Crusader, Barbara Gittings, had published a photo-ad on its back cover, showing Randy reading. There he was, wolfing down a whole month's-worth of lesbian news and commentary.

Now, as director of Clone Rights United Front, Randy Wicker's talent as a master projector of-of-ideas-in-media shines again. Kameny, the original father of gay militancy, I discovered, had no trouble announcing in unison with Wicker (when I told him Wicker saw cloning as a gay and feminist issue) that no government, no law, no nothing, will be able to put a stop to cloning as long as there are those who desperately want it and who'll pay for it. "Let the cloning begin," Kameny said, concluding a carefully-reasoned support statement for CRUF's Saturday night-- March 1st-- demonstration. Neither religious authorities, nor the government, after all, has a right to stick its nose into the personal decisions centering on reproduction.

Top-name lesbian-feminist support also came to Wicker's cause from Ann Northrop, a celebrated independent New York lesbian/feminist journalist, co-host of Gay USA on the Gay Cable Network. Northrop, with Badpuppy's Gay Today Wicker interview in hand, included her own pointed thoughts in a timely, lively LGNY column, urging all feminists and gay men to lend Randy Wicker's cause assistance.

I have other things for which to thank Randolfe Wicker in this, his personality portrait. He was a mentor, of sorts, fitting, certainly, for one who's a whole month older than I. Moving in 1969 to another locale, he turned over his convenient and spacious Manhattan apartment to Lige Clarke and me--one located in the very heart of East Village, katty-corner from the famous rock theater, the Fillmore East ( later, a gay locale, The Saint.) Wicker wrote regularly for Clarke and me when we were the editors of GAY, starting in the first issue, 1969, with an article about Prescott Townsend, Boston's first gay activist. His slogan-headshop-poster store, Underground Uplift Unlimited, became the first shop to carry the outrageous sex review, SCREW. Randy Wicker graciously referred me--in '1968-- to my first job editing in a company, Countrywide, that produced at least 50 schlocky mass-circulation magazines. TV-Movie Secrets, True Confessions, Occult, Crime, Crosswords. He promised I'd have a real "baptism in fire". And it was at Countrywide where our other friends, like SCREW publisher Al Goldstein, met Randy, who thereafter took nude wrestling shots of Lige and me on Wicker's wide bed, just in time to claim for SCREW a photo-breakthrough, male-love-making especially for 1969 newsstands.

Finally, Wicker, a mass-circulation mag editor before I was, published my first magazine piece in PHOTO, describing a clandestine visit I paid to the national headquarters of George Lincoln Rockwell's Nazi party. Rockwell, later gunned down in a laundry by one of his teenybopper stormtroopers, hoped, cheerfully, to hang queers--capital punishment at the capitol building. Rockwell's racist-sexist approach to joking was to combine epithets he hurled at two major minority groups, making what he mistakenly thought was an hysterically funny word, "Quigger". Yeah, I wrote, that word's a real knee-slapper. Hah! Wicker, I thought, often performed as a bold editor in those heady days. He was best at what is now called Cutting Edge.

This short personality portrait wouldn't be complete if I left out the summer poem I once sent Randolfe Wicker thirteen years ago-- back in the 1980's. Its a description of personality-traits, of R.W.'s dreams and hopes, telling how these appeared to me when he was not only a gay crusader but the proprietor of Underground Uplift Unlimited, a company that called itself--oh irony--a division of Free Speech, Inc. which Wicker boasted he'd incorporated so nobody else could use free speech as a company name. Such behaviors were only parts of his tweaky charm, that's all. Here, in a poem for the tweakiest tweaker, is my take on R.W. or, Randolfe Wicker, The Grand High Clone himself.

"Just Like a Woman," a song of the Sixties floats tresses in Eighties airwaves, And I feel the haunting sweetness of a bold, adventuresome time.

Time of Underground Uplift, Mighty blasts of The Word. Time of Futurism, Time of Confidence, Time of Revolution, through flowers, herb, and through Free Speech, Incorporated, Founded by R.W., gay, atheist, john.

I recall a vision. It is R.W., "an arrogant card-carrying swish," riding the subway. I follow him through corridors. His, a swift gait, His, a loud mouth. An American voter, he, persevering, whining, enjoying a good cackle, holding tight to skepticism and his purse, generous to the undeserving Odd revolutionary, praising Calvin Coolidge.

I see, spread from coast to coast, a myriad of buttons, speaking the unspeakable, in keeping with R.W., Giving body to anarchism's era.

July 11, 1984

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