Sunday, October 07, 2012

Gay Iowa History: Merle Miller

Gay and lesbian voices from Iowa, or related to our state, almost always (until recently) been edited out or obscured. This is a modest attempt during National LGBT History Month to identify some of those men and women with Iowa links who have spoken through literature, media, the arts and other ways --- and made a difference.

MILLER, MERLE: Journalist, author, biographer.  Iowa boy Merle Miller --- journalist, editor, novelist, biographer --- was a writer of considerable talent, but a relatively brief article of his, written in anger, helped change the world for his lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender brothers and sisters.

Miller was born May 17, 1919, at Montour, but grew up in Marshalltown. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Iowa to study jouralism and served as city editor of The Daily Iowan --- but did not graduate. He refused to take mandatory swimming and ROTC courses that, in the 1930s, were prerequisites. He was that kind of a guy.

In the years before World War II, Miller served as Washington correspondent for The Philadelphia Record. After enlisting when the war began, he served as a war correspondent in both the European and Pacific theaters and editied the Army weekly, "Yank." In post-war years he worked as an editor for Harper's and Time magazines, wrote both fiction and non-fiction as well as screenplays and managed to get himself blacklisted during the McCarthy era, then a disaster for a writer, now a badge of honor.

In the aftermath of the 1969 Stonewall riots, gay people moved to the forefront of those subcategories of humans that heterosexuals loved to hate. Miller eventually told colleagues that he was "sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends." The result was a landmark article in the New York Times Magazine of Jan. 17, 1971, entitled "What It Means to be a Homosexual." The article received more response in the form of letters to the editor than any other article the Times ever had published and, in part because of that, was expanded and published as a book later in 1971. It was groundbreaking, angry and uapologetic and, like Stonewall, paved the way for much that followed.

Miller went on to win acclaim as a biographer, published the best-selling (and controversial) "Plain Speaking," a biography of Harry S. Truman, during 1974, and then "Lyndon," a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, and "Ike the Soldier," a partial biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower. He died at age 67 on June 10, 1986, at the hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, of peritonitis after an appendicitis operation. Survived by his partner of 22 years, writer David W. Elliott, his ashes were interred near the home they shared at Brewster, New York.

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