Tuesday, September 24, 2013

* The Bishop, the Biographer and the Country Bumpkin: Yale 1985

The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, 
Episcopal Bishop of New York: 
Yale Trustee

The Authorized Biography
Thornton Wilder,
Gilbert Harrison

The Country Bumpkin at Yale, 1976-1985

South African Shanties
outside Woodbridge Hall, 

 the President's office at Yale,
 protesting Yale's dillydallying attitude
               toward Divestment

1985: Heady Times

It was 1985 in New Haven. Yale was diddling with the apartheid divestment issue----how could they stay rich if they couldn’t invest in third-world exploitative countries?---- and I was five years out of Yale Divinity School.  The year before I had traveled to Manhattan to hear  the Episcopal Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, a Yale trustee, speak at the Yale Club on gay rights. I was working on a project about AIDS at Yale which would wind up on  60 Minutes (LINK) and needed important Yale allies.

I spoke with him after his speech and he called me up by phone months later saying he wanted to stop over for a drink after the Board Meeting in New Haven.

I was a humble apartment superintendent two blocks from Yale on the border of the ghetto. I doubted my three room apartment would be suitable digs for entertaining a Bishop.   And to top it off, I didn’t drink.  So I borrowed a bottle of scotch from an 85-year-old friend of mine who knew Bishop Moore, Miss Isabel Wilder, sister of the late author, Thornton Wilder.

I recall our chatting about his early education at the St. Paul’s School, and he was flummoxed when I said I’d never heard of it.

It was incomprehensible to him that I wouldn’t know all the tributaries of privilege which fed the royal river of the Ivy League.

I must have seemed a hayseed or country bumpkin in some respects, down to borrowing Miss Wilder's scotch.

And maybe I was.

We did find two areas of common interest.  He knew the parents of Sam Todd, a Yale Divinity student who had disappeared on New Year's Eve in New York in 1984, and I had written an investigative report submitted to the Todds and the president of  Yale and later published in Connecticut Magazine (LINK) about the disappearance saying that there was sufficient evidence to hypothesize he had run away.

The other common interest was Miss Wilder herself.

Bishop Moore was a friend of “Gil” Harrison,  the official biographer of Thornton Wilder ( The Enthusiast, Ticknor and Fields, 1983) and he said Harrison had always wondered what Miss Wilder had thought about his chapter on Thornton’s homosexual experiences.

As I recounted in a previous post here, I happened to have been the sounding board for Miss Wilder’s distress when she read Harrison’s manuscript: “They sent me the manuscript with no warning. I am reading along and I stumble on some old homosexual experiences they dug up that Thornton had. I’m an old lady. I can’t be treated like that. It’s not right.”

I tried to soothe her anxiety by saying with a wave of the hand dismissing it as an inconsequentiality, “They say that about all bachelors.”

I believe I succeeded in not looking shocked or horrified and I hope I allayed her fears of an adverse public reaction. Gay Liberation was a radical idea back then.

Bishop Moore was fascinated that I had been there at that crucial  moment.  “I’ll tell Gil.”

Bishop Moore and I stayed in touch until his death from brain cancer in 1993 at age 83.

After his death, his daughter, Honor Moore, outed her father as a gay man in a  New Yorker article. (LINK)

Miss Wilder outlived him by two years and died at 95 in 1995.  

She was a second mother to me, my own mother having died ten years earlier in 1985, the year  the country bumpkin borrowed Miss Wilder's scotch.

Yale never fully divested itself of its South African stock.

The attempt by Congress to restrict marriage to heterosexuals (The Defense of Marriage Act) was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The sun comes up every morning.

 And it sets every night.

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