Belasco Theater

111 W 44th St New York

LGBT Theater District/Belasco Theater
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Written By NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.

Overview

In 1945, the Belasco Theater’s lesbian drama Trio was the last Broadway show impacted by the Wales Padlock Law, which was passed in 1927 and forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” onstage, including gay or lesbian characters. The Belasco later staged two other plays of note: A Raisin in the Sun, by lesbian playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and The Killing of Sister George.

History

Early 20th-century censors, excited about “controversial” subjects being explored in New York’s theaters, focused mainly on sexuality – in particular, homosexuality and interracial relationships. In 1927, the New York Legislature passed the Wales Padlock Law, which made it illegal “depicting or dealing with, the subject of sex degeneracy, or sex perversion,” and offending theaters could be closed. (Similarly, Hollywood movies were subjected to the infamous Motion Picture Production (Hays) Code of 1930.)

Although the New York law was not often enforced, and was protested by the theater community, it had a huge and censorious effect on the Broadway stage. Despite the law, which remained on the books until 1967, lesbian and gay characters did manage to make it to Broadway, often in the works of lesbian and gay playwrights. The last Broadway show impacted by the Wales law was Dorothy and Howard Baker’s lesbian drama Trio (1944-45) at the Belasco, which was shut down by the LaGuardia administration two months after opening, but engendered a protest over censorship from theater folks, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the press, and politicians.

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Two later plays of note at the Belasco were Lorraine Hansberry‘s A Raisin in the Sun (1959-60; 530 performances) that starred Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, and Diana Sands and had first opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, and Frank Marcus’s The Killing of Sister George (1966-67; 205 performances).

Building Information

Architect or Builder: George Keister Year Built: 1906-07

Sources

Janet Adams, Belasco Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987). Kaier Curtin, We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians (Boston: Alyson Publics., 1987).

Cover Photo

Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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