The Tempermentals: When Harry Met Rudi

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

When avid theatergoers announce that there is a fresh, interesting play in town, my first question is usually, “What is it adapted from?” Before seeing The Tempermentals at Chicago’s About Face Theatre, I’d never heard of The Mattachine Society. So watching the story unfold was truly exciting, at least to the extent that I was learning something about my own history in the landscape of American social progress. Theatre, after all, is meant to be transformative, and I certainly left the auditorium that night with a feeling of change in my gut. Who wouldn’t be moved by watching the story of bravery overcoming cowardice in support of building a community?

When I encounter a movie or play that was inspired by actual events, I always try and sort out the fact from the fiction. Here are some interesting facts about Harry Hay and The Mattachine Society’s activism.

  • Harry Hay formed the group in Los Angeles in 1950.
  • The name is an allusion to Societe Mattachine, an earlier French activist group that traveled around performing in masks to spread the word about social injustice.
  • In 1954, the postmaster of LA refused to mail copies of the group’s newsletter ONE, stating that the magazine was “lascivious and filthy.”

The Tempermentals Play

  • The Communist activities of several founders put the organization under heavy pressure and scrutiny during the McCarthyism years.
  • In 1953, the original founders resigned under fear of government investigation.
  • The society dissolved in 1961, although larger chapters in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco remained active for a few more years.

This and more information can be found at the LGBTQ Archive.

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