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Stage Actors and Actresses  
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Forrest eventually married, but the union ended in a scandalous divorce, with each party accusing the other of infidelity. Forrest was declared guilty of adultery with an actress described as "brawny" and "athletic."

After the divorce, Forrest's closest friend was a Boston merchant, James Oakes. The two spent as much time as possible together and corresponded when they were separated, with Oakes frequently addressing Forrest as "my noble Spartacus" in his letters. Oakes said of the relationship, "our friendship has been more like the devotion of a man to the woman that he loves than the relations usually subsisting between men."

Twentieth Century

Gay men and lesbians were among the most prominent stars on the American stage in the early to mid-twentieth century, but few outside of the theater world knew of their orientation. Although Broadway audiences were generally more sophisticated than the wide spectrum of American filmgoers, stage performers--like their counterparts in Hollywood--found it expedient to present a heterosexual image.

In the 1920s the gay communities of New York's Greenwich Village and Upper West Side were a source of some fascination to the public. Drag balls attracted fashionable straight couples, who found them entertaining. Still, the prevailing social and political climate remained homophobic. Gay businesses were the targets of police raids, and their patrons subject to arrest.

The Wales Padlock Law gave police the power to shut down a theater presenting a play that they determined to be obscene. In addition, groups such as the Society for the Suppression of Vice, religious leaders, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, and various politicians inveighed against theatrical depictions of homosexuality.

"Cleaning Up" Broadway in the Late 1920s

With the support of New York governor Al Smith, in the late 1920s the district attorney and police department of New York City undertook a crackdown on "salacious plays." Among the censored plays was The Captive, an English-language version of Édouard Bourdet's La Prisonnière, a lesbian love drama.

On the morning of February 9, 1927, when the play had already been running for three months, newspapers announced the intended raid of the Empire Theater, and indeed that night The Captive came to a halt in the middle of the second act when policemen swarmed over the stage. The police eventually allowed the performance to be completed, then arrested the cast after the final curtain.

The action was praised in conservative newspapers such as The Daily Mirror, published by Hearst, and by such groups as the Society for the Suppression of Vice and the Watch and Ward Society. Few voices were raised publicly in opposition. Actors' Equity "washed its hands of the situation" and did nothing to support those involved in the production.

The cast and director of The Captive were not prosecuted. With an injunction restraining the police from further raids, the play ran for five more days before producers decided to close it for fear that negative public reaction might harm their companies.

Mae West and the Campaign of Censorship

The Captive case drew less attention than the controversy over two plays by Mae West, Sex and The Drag.

West made her Broadway debut in Sex, playing a "cliché whore-with-a-heart-of-gold." The play had been in performance for nearly a year when it was raided on the same night as The Captive. West and various others connected with the play were eventually convicted and served ten days in jail for "maintaining a public nuisance."

While Sex was running on Broadway, West had The Drag in production out of town. The play, which featured openly gay characters, was controversial from the start, and New York police and the district attorney threatened to close it immediately if West attempted to bring it to Broadway.

The Drag is centered on a drug-addicted gay man, David, in love with another gay man, Rolly, who has married at the insistence of his family. David has sought a medical "cure" for his homosexuality, but without success.

In the final act, Rolly, with his wife out of town, hosts a rollicking drag ball. At the end of the play, David shoots Rolly, declaring "I killed him, because I love him."

Kaier Curtin points out that West's attitude toward gay men was ambivalent. She seemed to find flamboyant, effeminate gays amusing but disliked masculine gay men. In her later years, West claimed that The Drag "glorified the homosexual" and was evidence of her positive views, but at the time she wrote it, she considered homosexuality "a great problem" similar to "a contagious social cancer."

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