The Gay Bar” - 3 December 1977
Story by Michael Endler and Thad Mumford
Script by Michael Endler, Thad Mumford, Arthur Julian, and Bill Davenport
Maude Findlay - Bea Arthur
Walter Findlay - Bill Macy
Dr. Arthur Harmon - Conrad Bain
Vivian Harmon - Rue McClanahan
Mark Duncan - Macon McCalman
Hubie Binder - Larry Gelman
Phillip - Kraig Metzinger
Bartender - Frank Campanella
Man - Craig Richard Nelson
Maude is an outspoken, liberal feminist. Maude’s husband Walter invites their conservative Republican neighbour Arthur Harmon and his wife Vivian to stay a couple of days while their house is fumigated. Maude is upset because as far she is concerned Arthur is nothing but a “narrow-minded conservative” and his stay will mean nothing but arguments. Vivien tells Maude that she has instructed Arthur that he mustn’t raise any subjects that might start an argument with Maude. Immediately he bursts into the room shouting.
Arthur: “I hope you’re satisfied Maude Finley! A bunch of homosexual pansies has just opened a bar in Tuckahoe!”
A new bar has opened in the shopping centre. Arthur first thought it was a Mexican restaurant because it was called “The Gay Caballero”. Muade argues that gays are entitled to have bars and to exist. Arthur trots out the “If God wanted gay people he wouldn’t have created Adam and Eve, he’d have created Adam and Steve”.
Arthur refuse to leave as he has arranged for the new head administrator at the hospital, Mr Duncan to drop some papers off, and Arthur is angling for a new position. After Mr Duncan leaves, Arthur’s friend Hubie rushes in. Hubie wants to talk with Arthur about how they can using zoning laws to close down the bar. – “laws against immoral behaviour, laws against lewd conduct” while Maude protests these laws are outdated.
Hubie: “We have to think of the children….First it’s a gay bar, next it’s a gay geography teacher”
Arthur: “Teaching our children how to get from Tuckahoe to Greenwich village
Hubie and Arthur then start to plan a picket of the bar. When Maude says they’re harassing men sitting around innocently in a neighborhood bar, Arthur replies “Sitting around innocently? Are you kidding? Why, they’re in there dancing with each other, exchanging phone numbers, looking at pictures of Al Pacino!”
Maude says he’s ridiculous and asks if he’s ever been into a gay bar, since he’s ignorant of what’s going on. Maude challenges him to visit “The Gay Caballero” the next afternoon with her, and says this will prove that all his preconceptions are false.
Arthur “What does go on in there?”
Maude: “I don’t know but I’m dying to find out!”
END OF 1ST HALF
Arthur enters Maude’s home asking Walter if his jacket is too butch for a gay bar. Walter tells him that Maude will be late and to go ahead and she will meet him at the bar. Arthur presses Walter to go with him. Maude’s grandson Philip overhears them mention “The Gay Caballero” and wants to know why they’re talking about a gay bar. Arthur is a little shocked Philip knows about it but says he’s going there because he’s part of a group that wants to close it. Philip wants to know why.
Arthur: “Alright, Philip, I guess you’re old enough to understand a few facts. Now. The first fact is gay people are….er, well, they’re Sick. They have a sort of a disease.”
Philip: “Is it a contagious disease? Is that why you want to close the bar?”
Arthur: (grasping for words a little)“No, it’s not contagious, really. But you see gay people shouldn’t be out at a bar having a good time. They should be at home. Alone. Being ashamed that they’re gay. Trying to get cured.”
Philip: “What’s the cure for being gay?”
Arthur: (pause) “Bowling!”
Philip: (perplexed) “Bowling?!”
Arthur: “Well it’s a start. These gay guys have to start doing something manly. That’s what brings them around.”
Philip: “I thought you didn’t want them around”
Arthur: “Philip, I seem to be having trouble getting you to understand the danger of this gay bar. What’s wrong? I’ve always been able to communicate with you”
Philip: “It’s not your fault Dr Harmon. It’s just that this year in school I’m taking a course in logic.
Philip leaves. Arthur drags the reluctant Walter with him, telling him, “You have to protect Philip against this pernicious, insidious sickness.”
Scene cuts to the Gay bar. There is a protracted camera pan of the bar to confirm just how normal the décor and patrons are.
Arthur and Walter take seats at the bar and are greeted by a tall, gruff bartender.
When the two order Walter says he doesn’t drink so he’ll have an orange juice. The whole bar goes quiet and everyone turns to stare at him, and the bartender forcefully tells him they don’t serve orange juice anymore
Maude: “After a few martinis, Anita Bryant would start acting gay”.
To prove gay men are like everybody else Maude grabs one of the couple and ask if she and Arthur can talk to him.
Arthur tells him: “I believe very strongly that people who indulge in strange sexual behaviour have no place in this community”
Man: “I see your point. But you straight people have to live someplace”.
Arthur: “My friend here has been trying to tell me that aside from sexual preferences there’s no differbnce between you and I. And I object to that, very strongly”.
Man: “So do I” (stands up. Excuse me I’d like to get back to my date.”
Maude: “Like in a gay bar”
Arthur: “Yes (catches himself) No! The fact is there are laws that prohibit places like this. And this one should be closed down.
Bartender comes over, and A tells him they’re going to close the bar down because it is violating Tuckahoe ordinances. Bartender tells them he knows, which is why they’re not in Tuckahoe, whose borders end on the other side of the street. When he realises it’s legal, he backs down. Maude thinks he and his vigilantes are still going to harass the bar, but Arthur says he believes in the law and would never break it. Maude rediscovers he reasons for having him as a friend, since despite his bigotry and stupidity, he is a man of principles. When the two hug, the bartender admonishes them: “None of that stuff in here”
Just as the pair are about to leave Mr Duncan suddenly enters the bar. Arthur blusters, but Duncan tells him it’s alright “We’ll just make this our little secret” then turns around to tell the bartender he’ll have his “usual”. The episode finishes with Arthur looking dumbfounded.
This references Anita Bryant in a number of ways. There are a couple of jokes about Bryant. There’s the obvious joke by Maude naming Bryant. Then there’s the offended reaction by the bar to Walter’s drink order alluding to gay bars boycotting orange juice because Bryant was the spokesperson for Florida orange juice.
The whole episode though is inspired by Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign. A story that was six months old, it would still be in the public’s memory but long enough to knock up this script. Arthur and Hubie’s homophobia is justified by protecting children hence the name of Bryant’s organisation. Like the Dade Country ordinance, Hubie and Arthur want to repeal the presence of the homosexuals by recourse to legal options.
What I have left out of my recap is most of Maude’s arguments in which she argues for gay equality, that gay people are just like everybody else and have their rights too. It’s good that such a strong argument is consistently put throughout the episode but there is very little that is actually humorous as it is all sincerely meant. If the viewer isn’t prepared to be convinced by Maude, there is the alternate avenue of being convinced of the irrelevancy of homophobia by Arthur who is the more interesting character here. It’s notable that he’s allowed to use most of the mildest gay slurs. However he’s also an arrogant, idiotic blowhard – a kind of upper middle class Archie Bunker (and this sitcom is produced by the same team as "All In The Family” ). In various ways all of Arthur’s points are refuted by the episode and it’s significant that he is defeated in argument by the small boy who he is claiming to protect. As Arthur is a recurring character, his bigoted lines are not delivered in a real tone of hate or ugliness which allows the audience to focus more on their stupidity and comic idiocy.
That the episode then actually visits the bar is fairly brave. Possibly one of the earliest example on US TV. The bar however, for ideological reasons, is the most normal seeming bar yet shown on TV or the cinema to date – hence most of my screenshots of the décor and patrons for reasons of comparison with other gay bars. No flamboyant sissies, no bitchy queens, no leathermen, no dancing couples, no drag queens, nor any shame. This repudiates all the curiosity that Arthur, Maude and Walter express.
Of course, anyone who has even the faintest awareness of formal structures in sitcoms, knows that once they’d introduced Mr Duncan, Arthur’s superior in the first half of the episode, once they all made the trip to the bar it was dead cert that he would make another appearance at the bar thereby turning out to be gay.