Hotel New Yorker, Let Us Be Gay 1935
Let Us Be Gay. The ‘gay’ word dates to the 12th century, derived from the French gai and meaning joyful and lighthearted.
It took on a sexual meaning in the 17th century when gay was often applied to people who were ‘addicted to pleasures and dissipations.’ Linked with prostitution, brothels were described as ‘gay houses.’
The meaning of the word continued to evolve and began to be used ‘underground’ in reference to homosexual relationships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby, the actor Cary Grant wore a feathery robe because his clothes had been sent to the cleaners and ad-libbed the line: ‘I just went gay.’ This was the first use of the word gay to mean homosexual in a film. The actor, one of Hollywood’s leading men, was bisexual.
In 1951, gay appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time as slang for homosexual.
This marvelous menu cover image was in use in 1935 and was meant to convey gay as being cheerful, lighthearted and free from care, encouraging people to enjoy an evening out.
The 1930s did not start off well for Americans because the economy was at an historic low and there was high unemployment.
But in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president, and over the next nine or ten years his New Deal, which would use the power of the federal government to try to stop the economy’s downward spiral, had great effect and helped millions find work.
Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol was forbidden, ended in December 1933 and, with the economy strengthening, there was a new sense of optimism in the air – hence the Hotel New Yorker’s entreaty to Let Us Be Gay.
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