Quite a few years before the Stonewall Riots broke new ground for global LGBTQI+ rights in a brave, new and modern world, one writer brought culinary fabulosity into the mainstream without causing as much as a stir among the then-conservative public of the time.
Writing under a pseudonym, Lou Rand Hogan’s The Gay Cookbook did make TIME magazine wake up and smell the eggs and bakey, though. In a story entitled “The Homosexual in America”, an anonymous author was critical of the growing activism among the American gay community, lamenting that many “apparently do not desire a cure”. Referring to examples of the increasing visibility of the homosexual community, the author specifically cited advertisements for a new publication that openly illustrated the joys of a gay man cooking for his lover.
The Gay Cookbook was revolutionary in more ways than one: during a time when many gay people were confined to the closet for the preservation of their own safety and professional success, the book’s cover featured a bright illustration of a blonde man grilling steaks while wearing a flowered apron – a bewhiskered person in a red dress graced the back. It was unapologetic and candid in its approach, showing gay men living joyful, domestic lives in a time where the entire cultural life of the gay community was being oppressed to the point of boiling over – which it eventually did, when Stonewall rolled around in 1969.
The book openly used language considered to be camp and characteristic of the gay community. In the first pages of the book, one line equates the copyright of the book, reading, “All rights reserved, Mary”. Hogan often addresses the reader by using a number of nicknames that were common among gay men of the time, including Mabel, Mame and Myrtle, and innuendo is aplenty in the 280 pages that make up the cookbook, although there’s no hiding exactly who it is marketed towards: the gay men who were just starting to find their voice and their power.
Who was Lou Rand Hogan?
Stephen Vider, assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College, wrote a paper that extensively examined The Gay Cookbook and its place in the canon of gay literature and in the consumer and political culture of the time.
Vider ascribes the writing in The Gay Cookbook to Louis Randall, a former theatre performer, cook on a cruise ship line, and avid traveller-turned writer. Born in Bakersfield, California in 1910, there is little known about Randall, save what we can learn from his own writing.
Following an unsuccessful theatre career (and his first alternate identity, Sonia Pavlijej) in the 1920s, Randall began working as a cook and steward on a luxury cruise line, after which it is assumed he began writing.
When US censorship laws became looser in the 1950s, Randall saw an opportunity to capitalise on the gay market. He wrote his first book, believed to be the first detective novel featuring a gay protagonist, and aptly and simply titled The Gay Detective. Five years later, in 1966, The Gay Cookbook was first published.
Louis Randall became a food columnist for The Advocate in 1970, writing a column titled “Auntie Lou Cooks” up to his death in 1976.
To read more about The Gay Cookbook and Stephen Vider’s research about Louis Randall/ Lou Rand Hogan, check out this article.