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Hollywood homosexuals

February 22, 2009

Referring to Reed Johnson's article ["The Language of Desire," Feb. 15], another way to look at "gayness" in "The Maltese Falcon" is the Joel Cairo character played by Peter Lorre, who was openly gay in the book, but in 1941 John Huston couldn't display that.

He uses this ploy that got by the powers to be: Upon Cairo's entrance into the movie, Effie, Sam's secretary, (played by Lee Patrick) brought Cairo's business card to Sam, he smelled the card, it smelled of gardenia and Sam's retort was truly a line that only Bogart could say, "Bring him in, Effie, bring him in."

Great job, keep up the good work.

Ron Accosta

Mar Vista

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There is absolutely nothing in "The Maltese Falcon" to support Johnson's assertion that the character of Wilmer (played by Elisha Cook Jr.) represents the Hollywood archetype of "the gay man as weak-willed and sneaky." Wilmer is simply an inept, not-too-bright thug; there's no evidence that he's a homosexual, and the taunts of Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade, rather than being "ugly moments," are among the film's most humorous elements.

Moreover, it's astonishing that Johnson did not see fit to mention Wilmer's partner-in-crime, the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre).

Sandy Schmidt

West Los Angeles

Editor's note: Johnson did include a reference to Cairo in a draft of his story, but it was removed for space limitation reasons.

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"The Language of Desire" was very interesting and tightly written, but I was struck by one odd note, the reference to the Hays Code:

"Partly under pressure from the bluenoses administering the Hays Code, Hollywood went back into the closet during the Eisenhower presidency and more or less stayed there until the late 1960s."

The reference had the effect of tying the self-censorship by Hollywood to Eisenhower. As you must know, the Hays Code was developed in 1930 and was enforced vigorously during the Roosevelt administration as well as those of Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. Perhaps I am misreading the intent, but I thought it was a mistaken attempt to tie repression to a Republican without acknowledging that it has been a bi-partisan affair.

D. Gorton

Carbondale, Ill.

Johnson replies: Of course you're absolutely correct about the Hays Code originating much earlier, and my story unfortunately may have left a wrong impression. I think I was guilty of over-condensing 30 years of socio-cinematic history. We did (as you say) try to keep the story as tight as possible, but you've convinced me that I made one "tightening" too many.

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Thank you for an enlightening, entertaining and thought-provoking article. As a gay man and ardent film fan, I think it's one of the most original takes ever on Hollywood's portrayal of gay men.

Lon Weyland

Los Angeles

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