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by Macout Mann


Years passed.

Although not all the Stage Crew presidents were up to the standard set by Ben and Claude, the Stage Crew remained the school's most sought after extracurricular activity for boys.

After graduation, Ben was employed by the Grand Theatre and became a member of IATSE. When the Lunts returned in the late 30s on tour with Noel Coward's Private Lives, Alfred Lunt wanted to return to Porter, but since the Grand was then operative, that was not possible.

Claude went to college at Northwestern University's School of Speech, majoring in theatre arts.

When World War II began, like all the other graduates of the Stage Crew, who were drafted or volunteered, Ben and Claude entered service and spent the war in uniform.

When they were mustered out, most of the Stage Crew boys went to college under the GI Bill. Claude returned to Northwestern to get his master's. He set out for Broadway and struggled for several years before being hired by Lawrence Langner at the Theatre Guild. He later became a well-known director of plays and movies.

In the early fifties, the size of the student body at Porter already was beginning to decline, but there were still at least twice as many boys looking to become members of the Stage Crew than there were openings. One disappointed candidate, a Sean O'Malley approached Kerchner. Kerchner had been dreading such a confrontation for twenty years.

"Mr. Kerchner, I want to be on the Stage Crew," O'Malley began. "I know what the deal is."

"Son, if you know what the "deal" is, you know more than I do. I don't really have anything to say about who is elected. The boys do interviews and vote," Kerchner said.

"Ron Hannah and me play around, if you know what I mean." The boy scratched his groin to emphasize his meaning. "Another guy told me he plays around with Seth Watson. I figured that the whole crew must play around. So I checked out Willard Cross. He was glad to get together with me.

"I don't know why I didn't get selected, but I want in."

"I don't know why you weren't selected, but the Stage Crew is limited to sixteen members and we have a full complement," Kerchner said.

"Suppose I go to the principal and tell him that the stage Crew is nothing but a bunch of fags."

"You don't honestly think he'd take you seriously, do you? For longer than you've been alive, the crew has been one of the manliest groups around. If you went to him, Mr. Covington would ask me, and I'd have to tell him that I'd never seen anything to suggest that such a thing could be true; and I've been here a lot longer than he has."

"Then I could tell all the students what I know."

Kerchner had to chuckle. "You obviously haven't thought this thing through," he said. "You're going to admit being queer? You'd have to tell everyone that you had sex with Ron, Seth, and Willard, before they'd listen to you. And the whole crew would just laugh their asses off. Nobody would believe what you said about them, and you'd be the target of god knows how many bullies.

"Think about it son.

"I do know that the crew gives preference to sophomores, but sometimes they elect a junior or a senior. My advice is to try again next Spring."

That ended the meeting.

Kerchner did talk to the three boys Sean O'Malley mentioned. And he did get the feeling that O'Malley must have told some of his homosexual friends about his suspicions. In future years there were many more effeminate boys trying out for the Stage Crew. Unsuccessfully.

By the mid-Fifties it was apparent that a downtown high school was a losing proposition. A new high school in the northern part of the city would be built. It would also be named "Porter High" but would be more modern. No sophisticated auditorium.

Gunter Kerchner had kept in touch with many of "his boys," members of the Stage Crew, for almost thirty years. Some were happily married, some unhappily so, some divorced or widowed, many still "confirmed bachelors."

As the end of the 1960 school year approached, Kerchner decided to invite as many of "his boys" as he could for a final party at his house. (He and Nathan Katz were no longer together). He would arrange a final visit to the auditorium where former crew members could play with the equipment one last time, and if they wished to, play with each other.

Over sixty former stagehands showed up. Hyram Bohner, the first to graduate, couldn't be located. Claude Jensen arrived from Hollywood, where he was directing a movie. Ben Allison was there. He was now technical director of the Empire Theater, the city's premiere movie palace. Each week the Empire featured a mini-concert on the theatre's organ between features. Ben planned a light show to go along with the music, very much like the Christmas assemblies at Porter.

Even the most happily married bisexuals in attendance had the time of their lives.


Copyright 2015 by Macout Mann. All rights reserved.