Revisiting the Archive — Edythe Eyde

Edythe Eyde playing her guitar, circa 1960s. Photo courtesy of ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

Episode Notes

Musical uplift for anxious times. When Eric Marcus interviewed lesbian publishing pioneer Edythe Eyde in 1989, she treated him to a concert for one on her front porch, singing her gay songs from the ’50s and ’60s. You can’t not smile.

Visit the webpage of our season one episode featuring Edythe Eyde for background information, archival photos, and other resources.

Episode Transcript

Eric Marcus Narration: I’m Eric Marcus and this is Making Gay History.

We’re back with another episode from the Making Gay History episode archive. This time, recording from a closet instead of under a table surrounded by comforters. Last week, I was trying to get that perfect recording studio sound that, well, isn’t possible to get under a table surrounded by comforters… 

The news here in New York City grows more grim by the day and we’re apparently not even close to the peak of what’s coming. I’m finding it hard to sleep. Some of those sleepless hours are spent worrying about my brother, who does intake at an emergency room in Annapolis, Maryland, and my niece who’s a nurse and works at an urgent care place in Worcester, Massachusetts. She had a scare, but the illness that kept her at home for the past week turned out not to be Covid-19. Her test came back negative. So she’s back at work and in danger of exposure again. I’m so proud of my brother and niece. I just wish that proper protective gear wasn’t in such short supply.

But I’m working really hard not to spend all my time during the night fretting. Sometimes I take myself back in time, to places where I found joy and inspiration. One of those places was the front porch of a modest bungalow in Burbank, California, for a very special concert from Edythe Eyde, for an audience of one—just me.  

I interviewed Edythe in 1989 for the first edition of the Making Gay History book. What interested me about Edythe was the newsletter she published for lesbians on her office typewriter at a Hollywood movie studio in 1947. 1947! You can hear more about that part of Edythe’s life and her pioneering contributions to the LGBTQ movement in an episode from our first season.

But the episode I’m revisiting today, is a longer version of an episode we produced for Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast. And it features Edythe singing some of the songs she wrote in the 1950s and ’60s and sang in gay clubs in Los Angeles. So close your eyes and join me now, on Edythe Eyde’s front porch. It’s a lovely afternoon, the warm sun is streaming through wood slat blinds. And Edythe has picked up her well-worn guitar to share some joy and inspiration.


Edythe Eyde: Let’s see.

Gonna sit right…

Let’s see. Got to think what key I do… Oh yeah.

Gonna sit right down…
Gonna sit right down and write my butch a letter,
And ask her won’t she please turn femme. 

I started writing gay parodies to popular songs and, boy, they went over. You know?

The other evening, just for fun,
I tried her clothes on one by one.
I looked so cute with slacks and shirts on.
Now you won’t find me with skirts on.
Gonna march right down and get myself a haircut.
I’ll look as handsome as can be.
Then I’ll sit right down and write my butch a letter,
And ask her to turn femme for me.
Gonna send my butch some startling correspondence,
And warn her there’ll changes made.
After supper I’ll retire to my chair before the fire,
Saying, “Dinner was delicious,
Now you can do the dishes.”
I’ve been asked to pose in cowboy clothes on horseback,
By the Marlboro company.
So I guess I’d better write my butch a letter,
And ask her to turn femme for me.
—I’m only kiddin’—
And ask her to turn femme for me.

I had just moved down to Los Angeles in 1945 after I spent two and a half miserable years being a secretary in Palo Alto. I moved down here. I knew no gay people in Palo Alto. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know the word “lesbian” in Palo Alto. And the way I did find out was I was sunning myself, uh, up on the top of the garage of the place where I had a room, and some other girls that lived in the building came up, too, and spread out their towels.

I somehow noticed that although their talk was, uh, plenty of it, they never mentioned boys’ names, and I thought, well, gee, that’s refreshing, to hear some people talk that aren’t always talking about their boyfriends and breakups and this, that, and the other. One of the girls turned to me and said, uh, “Are you gay?” And I said, “Well, I try to be as happy as I can under the circumstances,” but, and they all laughed. Then they said, “Oh, no, no.” And they told me what it meant, and I said, “Well, uh, yes, I guess I am, because I don’t, uh, I don’t really, uh, actively go out and search for boyfriends. I, I don’t care for that.”

And so they said, “Well, you must come with us to a, uh, a girl’s softball game.” The game wasn’t exciting to me—it bored the tar out of me. I mean, I just don’t care for sports. I know that’s very funny for a lesbian to say, but it’s true. I never have cared for… But I went along to be with the crowd, you see, and then the next thing, the next week or so, they took me down to a gay bar.

I looked around me and tears came to my eyes, partly because of the cigarette smoke. And, uh, I thought, gee, how wonderful that all these girls can be together. So, uh, the girls could dance together there. So I started dancing with one or the other of them that would come over and ask me. I never asked them.

Uh, they asked me because I was obviously feminine. I had my hair long and I wore jewelry and, uh, I just didn’t, didn’t look like a gay gal. You know, I didn’t have the close-cropped hair and the, the tailored attire that, uh, was so prevalent in those days. And, uh, I didn’t do any of that jazz because I just didn’t feel like it, you know, and I was darned if I’m gonna, I was going to do it just because everybody else did. I mean, I am a girl and I’ve always been a girl. The only difference is I like girls.

Here’s a song I like to sing. It’s, it’s not really gay, but it is when a girl sings it.

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree,
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Did your lady friend leave your nest again?
That is very sad, make me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away,
You more lucky than me.

Well, then of course I got invitations out to here and there and I found out about a few more gay bars. There were two or three others in Los Angeles, and one of them was called The Flamingo, and they used to have Sunday afternoon dances there for just the gay kids. Uh, Beverly Shaw, the well-known gay singer, used to sing there. And, uh, she was a very good singer. We all enjoyed her. And then as evening wore on, why, the straight people would wander in just to see how the other half lives.

And the fellows would get up there on the stage and do their, uh, uh, female impersonation acts and, oh, one of them got up and made a terrible remark about, about Beverly Shaw and her being a butch or something. But, I mean, it was, uh, a very offensive joke. All the straight people ha-ha-ha at it, you know, and it burned me up. At the time I thought, what a stupid thing for them to do, to play into the hands of these outsiders by demeaning themselves in this way.

So that’s when I started writing gay parodies to popular songs, and I thought, well, I’m going to write some gay parodies and they’re gonna be gay, but they are not going to be demeaning and they are not gonna be filthy.

Eric Marcus: You were the only person doing this, weren’t you? As far as you knew?

EE: As far as I know, but I never, I never thought of it. I mean, it was just something that came naturally, like coughing or…

EM: It was a lot of fun for you.

EE: Yeah, it was fun for me, and it was sort of an outlet. And, uh, so anyway, that was my philosophy on life back then, anyway: just, uh, relax, go with it, and have fun. You know?

Let’s see what else I can think of.

The girl that I marry will probably be
As butch as a hunk of machinery.
The girl I idolize will wear slacks with fly-fronts,
Tailored shirts, and bow ties.
She’ll walk with a swagger and wear short hair,
And keep me entranced with her tomboy air.
‘Stead of cruisin’
I’ll be usin’
Her shoulder to lean on
While snoozin’.
A faint-hearted fairy
The girl that I marry won’t be.

EM: What, what year would this have been when you were singing these songs?

EE: Oh, well, the songs have gone on from, uh, years 1948 up till, well, in the ’70s. I don’t write so many of them anymore because there’s nothing you can write parodies to, to the modern songs now. They’re so nothing. I mean, it’s just, “Oh yeah, baby, ah, ah, ah,” and I mean, who can write a parody to that?

Here’s one of my own original ones.

If blues have got ya
Hard luck has caught ya
And you’re bemoaning all the troubles
Your romance has brought ya
Just let ’em watch ya
Cruisin’ down the boulevard.
A few distractions
Bring gay reactions
The movies aren’t the only the place
That’s showing main attractions
Get into action
Cruisin’ down that boulevard.
In big towns or small
Most anyplace at all
An apt companion can be found.
If you’re left in the lurch
And it seems a fruitless search
Keep stamping around
On that old camping ground.
Investigation takes concentration
Be careful
Don’t be overworking your imagination
When you’re lending support
To that favorite sport
Cruisin’ down the boulevard
Hot damn
Cruisin’ down the boulevard.

That was my own melody, and that’s not a parody.

EM: That’s a wonderful song, though.

EE: Thank you. The girls like it. I mean, Del and Phyllis like it. Am I doing too many of these for you?

EM: No, it’s great, it’s just wonderful.

EE: Well, I wonder if I should bring it to a close. You said you had a…

EM: I have to go to another…

EE: When do you have to be there?

EM: 7:30.

EE: Ooh la la. Well…

EM: Is there one more you’d like to sing?

EE: Yeah, one more. This is one of my own, and, uh, it’s one of… It’s my favorite. It’s called “A Fairer Tomorrow,” and it echoes what I wrote in, uh, in, uh, Vice Versa.

Scattered are we, over land, over sea,
How many we number will never be known.
Each one must learn from the start,
She must wear a mask on her heart,
And live in a world set apart,
A shy secret world of her own.
Here’s to the days that we yearn for
To give up our hearts as we may.
Love’s always love in sincerity given,
Despite what the others may say.
The world cannot dare to deny us,
We’ve been here since centuries past.
And you can be sure our ranks will endure
As long as this old world will last.
So here’s to a fairer tomorrow,
When we’ll face the world with a smile.
The right one beside us to cherish and guide us,
This is what makes life worthwhile.
The right one beside us to cherish and guide us,
This is what makes life worthwhile.


EM Narration: There’s a lyric in that final song that speaks to me right now as my partner and I are sheltering at home on West 20th Street in Manhattan. Edythe sings, “Here’s to a fairer tomorrow, when we’ll face the world with a smile. The right one beside us to cherish and guide us, this is what makes life worthwhile.”  

I’m really lucky. I’m not sheltering on my own as so many people we know are. And that’s because of people like Edythe, and so many pioneering activists, who had the vision to imagine—and fight for—the world we live in today. Who made it possible for my partner and me to live openly, so we can be at each other’s side, guiding each other and those we love through these uncertain, scary times.

We’ll be back next week with another episode from the archive. In the meantime, if you’d like to share with me what joy and inspiration you’ve taken from the people you’ve met through Making Gay History, please email me or send me a voice memo to I love hearing from you and I’d love to share your messages with the Making Gay History community around the world. 

Thanks for listening. And thank you to our listeners who have recently made donations to support Making Gay History, so we can continue bringing LGBTQ history to life through the voices of the people who lived it. I know that many people are struggling financially and aren’t sure how they’ll pay their bills, so I’m especially grateful.  

Many thanks to all my colleagues who produce this podcast. A special thanks to Sara Burningham, our founding editor and producer, for jumping into the breach and producing this episode.  

So long. Stay safe. Until next time.