- Jazz music
- Las Vegas
- Racial mixing
- "Gay liberation"
Soon after he invented the motion picture camera and projector, Thomas Edison formed his own movie production and distribution company. In 1908, Edison joined with nine other film companies to form the Motion Picture Patents Company, a monopoly that attempted to control the making, distribution, and showing of all movies in the United States. Edison and "The Trust" pledged to make only movies that promoted wholesome, Christian, and "American" values. But on the Lower East Side, a group of entrepreneurial Jewish immigrants used Edison's inventions to produce and screen their own films, which were shown in thousands of nickelodeons – five-cent movie theaters – in working-class neighborhoods all over the country. These "outlaw" filmmakers started out as vaudeville and burlesque promoters, and many of their movies were sexier, more violent, and far more entertaining than the bland fare put out by the Edison monopoly.As for racial mixing and "gay liberation":
The great inventor was furious that "Jewish profiteers" were stealing his patent, getting rich from it, and using it to spread "smut" across America. So too were law enforcement officials. In 1907 a judge in Chicago wrote that the nickelodeons "caused, indirectly or directly, more juvenile crime coming into my court than all other causes combined." Shortly thereafter the Chicago city council passed an ordinance granting power to the chief of police to censor motion pictures played in the city. In New York in 1907, soon after the police commissioner recommended that nickel shows be wiped out entirely, Mayor George McClellan was so moved by the evidence of immoral motion pictures polluting the minds of his citizens that on Christmas Day he ordered that all of the illicit motion picture houses be shut down.
Moral condemnations and court injunctions didn't stop the proliferation of nickelodeons that showed unseemly fare and violated Edison's patent, so the inventor and his colleagues hired squads of thugs to shut them down. They seized film, beat up directors and actors, forced audiences out of theaters, smashed the nickelodeon arcades and set fire to entire city blocks where they were concentrated. But fortunately for the Jewish renegades, they lived and operated in neighborhoods where hundreds of soldiers stood ready and able to protect them – men like "Big" Jack Zelig, "Lefty Louie" Rosenberg, "Gyp the Blood" Horowitz, Joe "The Greaser" Rosenzweig, and the leaders of the notorious Yiddish Black Hand, Jacob "Johnny" Levinsky and "Charley the Cripple" Vitoffsky. There were even women ready for the fight – fierce, well-armed "gun-mols" like Bessie London, Tillie Finkelstein, Birdie Pomerantz, and Jennie "The Factory" Morris.
Cameras, projectors, film, and sound equipment disappeared from the storerooms of Edison companies and showed up on makeshift movie lots on the Lower East Side. Bullets rained down on the Trust's enforcers from the rooftops of nickelodeons. And massive fires destroyed the Edison distributors' warehouses in the Bronx, Philadelphia, and Chicago. By 1915 the Trust had disbanded and the outlaw filmmakers moved west, where they could make bigger and better movies. Who were the men who, with the help of their nicknamed friends, fought Thomas Edison and the law and won? They were Marcus Loew of Loews Theatres and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures, Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures, William Fox of Twentieth-Century Fox, and the brothers Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner.
And then there were the dance halls that became all the rage in the 1910s and 1920s. Most were owned by Jewish or Italian immigrants, many of whom were affiliated with Jewish or Italian crime syndicates. The mixing of races in the dance halls was so prevalent that the Ku Klux Klan, which reached a membership of nearly 5 million by the middle of the 1920s, devoted much of its energy to destroying them. In hundreds of towns and cities where the Klan had organizations, it conducted campaigns against dance halls, which they called "vile places of amusement." They lobbied local governments to regulate or shut down dance halls and often, when that wasn't successful, they burned them down.
Though famous for their ultra-masculinity, gangsters were nonetheless instrumental in fostering and protecting the gay subculture during the hostile years of World War II and the 1950s. Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino, leaders of the largest and most powerful crime families in New York, began investing in gay bars in the early 1930s.
By the 1950s, most of the gay bars in New York were owned by the mob. Because of the mafia's connections with the police department and willingness to bribe officers, patrons of mob-owned bars were often protected from the police raids that dominated gay life in the 1950s. The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village had been a straight restaurant and a straight nightclub for many years when it was purchased in 1966 by three associates of the Genovese family and converted into a gay bar.
Many of the Mafiosi who managed the Stonewall and other gay clubs were themselves gay. The Stonewall's manager was a man named Ed "The Skull" Murphy, a lifelong hood and ex-convict who chose to work as a bouncer at many of New York's first gay clubs because he found it an easy way to meet and have sex with men. Murphy was also known for his fondness for black and Latino men, which contributed to the Stonewall's reputation as the most racially diverse bar – gay or straight – in New York City.
The famous raid on the Stonewall in 1969 that gave rise to the Gay Liberation movement was actually part of a federal sting operation directed at the mob. The New York Police Department was not notified of the operation until the last minute, when it was forced by federal officers – who, unlike the city cops, were not on the mob payroll – to conduct the raid. Over the next decade, Murphy and the Genovese family funded the Gay Pride marches that became annual, international demonstrations of sexual freedom, and Murphy rode the route every year in an open-top car wearing a crown and a sash that declared him "The Mayor of Christopher Street."