Audio Interview, Dorr Williams, September 4, 2013

  • DORR WILLIAMS: OK, we'll do it over, if you want me to.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Today is September fourth, or fifth?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Fourth.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Fourth, 2013, and I'm
  • sitting talking to Dorr Williams, who
  • was a florist here in Rochester, had a shop on Monroe Avenue
  • that I knew, may have had other shops prior to that.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I was the head designer
  • at Sauers for Flowers where the millionaire's high rise is
  • at the corner of Scio and East Avenue.
  • The Sixth Floor is there now, but I
  • had four windows on the corner of Scio and East Avenue
  • that I did.
  • And it was right across from Christ Church next door
  • to Marissa's Dress Shop.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Dorr has a tremendous memory
  • for information about the city of Rochester
  • and the people who were very, very
  • much a part of society life in the forties, fifties, sixties?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Late forties, fifties, sixties--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Seventies.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --seventies.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And so he was just
  • talking to me about Nancy Quince Fairchild Sibley Watson Dean.
  • And you were telling me--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Not Quince, Prince, like the Prince Street.
  • That's where Prince Street got its name was from the Prince
  • family.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Prince.
  • And you were telling me about Nancy backed who?
  • Who did she back?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I think she backed--
  • put her money into the Genessee Co-op,
  • which was originally in the fire house on Monroe Avenue.
  • It started upstairs in the firehouse,
  • I think in the nineties-- early nineties.
  • And I think she also might have invested something
  • in getting Abundance started.
  • The health food store on Marshall Street.
  • She was very active in the Democratic Party too.
  • And I think she was fully aware of gay life,
  • because her four children.
  • She had three boys named Fairchild, and a daughter.
  • She had problems with her children, like everybody does.
  • They were very unusual kids.
  • And I think that the daughter might still be living.
  • And is it possible that one of the sons is too, like out
  • in the West somewhere.
  • When her mother died, of course, I
  • think she was maybe in San Francisco.
  • She had a lot of problems.
  • And she lived in my building for a while, the daughter.
  • I can't think of--
  • her last name was Fairchild.
  • I can't think of her first name at the moment.
  • But she was badly beaten up by a lover or something
  • in San Francisco.
  • And it may have shortened her life.
  • I don't know if she's still living or not.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, when you were growing up in Rochester,
  • was there any information out there
  • or were people talking about homosexuality?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, yeah, because when I first
  • came in 1948 I was looking for a job.
  • So I looked through the want ads.
  • And there were these strange little ads
  • in there for companions.
  • And my aunt managed an estate out
  • on Elmwood Avenue at 3500, the McCumber estate.
  • Her and her husband were there right across the street
  • from Senator Keating.
  • And so when I landed in Rochester
  • at seventeen or eighteen, in 1948, I stayed with them.
  • And of course, they were delighted,
  • because my aunt only had the one daughter, Beatrice Child.
  • She married Jonathan Child of the--
  • it's still there.
  • One of the sons still runs it at the corner of Marshall street
  • and-- what is it?
  • Rochester Fire Equipment Company.
  • And supposedly they were related somewhere
  • or other to Jonathan Child, the first mayor of Rochester,
  • maybe a cousin or something, not directly descended.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Jonathan Child was the first mayor?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes.
  • Jonathan Child was the first mayor.
  • And the mansion is still there.
  • I think it was the Edwards Fine Restaurant
  • on Fitzhugh Street moved there, but didn't make it
  • in that location.
  • And so they went out of business.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That's down by--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It's a huge--
  • it's still standing, that beautiful mansion.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes, behind the--
  • I know where it is.
  • I've seen it.
  • I've been by it.
  • Edwards moved.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: My first time that I went there--
  • I'm an astrologer too.
  • I studied astrology for fifty, sixty years.
  • And I went there to get a horoscope
  • of the city of Rochester.
  • And I met this Dorothy Francis that was
  • at one of the theosophical--
  • they had a Theosophical Society then.
  • There were about fifteen or twenty members.
  • That was in 1962, I think, that I went there and met her.
  • I didn't go there to meet her, but she happened to be there.
  • And then she wanted to know what my planet positions were,
  • and I told her that my moon was in Leo,
  • and of course, she was very interested,
  • because she had of stellium of five planets in Leo.
  • And so she immediately fell in love with me.
  • Gay or not gay--
  • it doesn't matter to her.
  • So anyway, we spent ten wonderful years together.
  • And then she decided to move to San Francisco or the Bay Area.
  • And the last time I heard from her,
  • I got a letter when I had my shop in Greenwich Village.
  • And I told her I was going to close it, and she said, "Oh,
  • please, come out here."
  • And then the next time I heard of her daughter had called me
  • and said that they had found her dead in her apartment.
  • Apparently she had committed suicide.
  • We were such close friends.
  • It was really very tragic.
  • And I often thought I should have gone out there.
  • Maybe that would have--
  • (knocking)
  • --helped her depression.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Come in.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I locked it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh.
  • (pause in recording)
  • DORR WILLIAMS: From the Seneca reservation in--
  • where is it now?
  • It's down in is it Cattaraugus County?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Allegheny?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Allegheny.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It's next door to Allegheny, anyway.
  • UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Yeah.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And his name was Kenny Toothacher.
  • And I don't think he'd still be alive,
  • because he probably died an alcoholic, like so
  • many of the Indians.
  • UNKOWN SPEAKER: Uh-huh.
  • Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: But he was a delightful kid.
  • He was only about eighteen at that time.
  • So I went to all three of those Indian bars with him.
  • There were three of them on lower Monroe Avenue.
  • UNKOWN SPEAKER: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you remember their names?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: One of them was called a Friendly.
  • UNKNOWN SPEAKER: (unintelligible)
  • think about that.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It was called a Friendly Bar.
  • It was anything but friendly.
  • UNKNOWN SPEAKER: It's good to see you.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah.
  • Likewise.
  • UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Thank you for coming in.
  • Have a good day. (unintelligible).
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Friendly--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --Lower Monroe.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Uh-huh.
  • It was an Indian bar.
  • And someone that also went there once,
  • they said that when they had gone there,
  • that some Indian was carrying a Tomahawk for protection
  • in a brown bag in the bar.
  • But as long as I was with an Indian--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: You were fine.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I was perfectly fine.
  • Let's see.
  • Where else did he take me?
  • I can't remember the names of the other two bars,
  • but there were three of them.
  • It was as bad as Corning before the flood.
  • Main Street in Corning had forty-six bars
  • before the flood.
  • Now there's hardly any.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • Now you remember Front Street.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, definitely.
  • When I came here in '48, that was jumping.
  • And my friend, Phil Long--
  • it's too bad he's not still living,
  • because he would be in his late nineties,
  • but he would remember.
  • He came here when he was eighteen too.
  • He came from New York, because his uncle
  • had some administration position at the University of Rochester.
  • And he came here with him.
  • Maybe he just came with him to see it, for the interview.
  • Whether the uncle took the job or not, I don't know.
  • Maybe not.
  • But he had seen Rochester, and he got a job in New York
  • with a Jewish family taking their retarded
  • son-- in those days, people hired companions
  • to take them out of the city and give them
  • money to travel and go anywhere they wanted to, just
  • so they didn't have to deal with their son.
  • He'd remembered coming here and seeing Rochester
  • with all these trees, what a beautiful city it was,
  • because in New York, everything was concrete.
  • And so he brought him here.
  • And the kid he was taking care of loved it here too.
  • It was so pretty.
  • He'd had some education.
  • He was very intelligent.
  • And his father and mother had been lawyers.
  • And when he was two, someone was babysitting him.
  • They were on a weekend trip or something
  • in New England from New York.
  • And they were killed in an automobile accident.
  • And so he became an orphan.
  • And I guess his uncle just looked
  • after administrating his money and so forth to take
  • care of him.
  • And then he got some education.
  • And he got a good job as a pharmaceutical representative.
  • So he made a lot of money.
  • And he did a lot in meeting all the gay people in Rochester.
  • So he told me an awful lot of things, especially about
  • Ma Martin.
  • Ma Martin sort of ruled the gay community,
  • and I don't know if anyone ever said how she looked,
  • but she always wore a dirty old wash dress
  • and sat sort of slumped in her chair in the bar,
  • keeping an eye on everything down there by the waterfront.
  • And I've seen her because she was still living, I think,
  • when I first met Phil.
  • He was telling me quite a bit of all the things
  • that he knew about her.
  • Apparently, everyone knows now that George Eastman was gay.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I'm not sure that that's fact.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, of course it's a fact.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How do you know?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Because I knew the people that knew what
  • his tastes were, and so forth.
  • And he would call Ma Martin, and she would pick out
  • the one that would be the most sensible and reliable gay boy,
  • that was clean and wouldn't cause any trouble,
  • because she knew them all very well.
  • And she would ask him, I guess, if he
  • would like to go see George.
  • And so George would send his car and pick him up,
  • and he'd go for the night.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Are you serious?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I'm serious.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I have never heard anything like that
  • about George Eastman ever.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, it's still kept very quiet here
  • in Rochester.
  • No one ever would ever face the truth.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh my god.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: But he had--
  • his tastes were explicitly--
  • he never married.
  • He had all these women, they came for tea and everything,
  • but he was not interested in--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh my word.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: You didn't know that?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Let me say this.
  • There has been much talk about George Eastman being gay,
  • but when I've asked for corroboration of that fact,
  • people have itemized the number of women friends he knew,
  • but who never got married and who
  • had huge flamboyant parties.
  • But no one ever was able to document
  • why they thought he was gay, other
  • than he never got married.
  • He kept company with women, they thought, to put on a front.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: That's right.
  • That's true.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And the historical record does not
  • identify any liaisons at all.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Of course, in those days, like in England,
  • sometimes their sexual contacts with the aristocracy
  • was limited to their male servants.
  • They sometimes had a gay butler or a gay groomsman.
  • It's the same as in England that you now
  • see on Downton Abbey, and places and things like that.
  • And that was very true of the aristocracy in Rochester.
  • And there were many--
  • I'm sure many-- now, probably David, my friend,
  • would be able to recall names of some, because he was born here,
  • and he grew up with them-- with the gay crowd.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, let's go back to Ma Martin's.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I don't know much more about her, except that--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: She was on French street.
  • And it was a restaurant, as well, wasn't it?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Probably.
  • Most bars serve some kind of food.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes, I think Ma Martin's
  • was a restaurant during the day and more of a bar at night.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you recall other establishments
  • on Front Street?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, along the river.
  • There was a lot of secondhand clothing places hung--
  • because I used to walk around looking to see,
  • like I'd go to consignment shops now.
  • I was looking at those things hanging out for sale.
  • I was a little prudish then, because I
  • didn't want to wear anything somebody else had had.
  • One of the first things I did was open,
  • when I started earning money, I opened up an account
  • at Edward's Department Store.
  • I can't remember his name now, but this old gentleman
  • that lived at the Ambassador at Oxford Street,
  • we used to walk from there downtown to Edward's store.
  • He was almost ninety years old then,
  • when he was still walking down there
  • to the manager of the hotel-- the manager of the clothing
  • department of the Edward's Department Store.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where was Edward's?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Edward's was the lower one.
  • It was down towards--
  • it might have been across the bridge,
  • either near the bridge or just before you cross it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: On Front.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes, closer to down there.
  • And of course, they tore all those down and built--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Sure.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --the hotels and everything.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What about Dick's?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, Dick's on stone street.
  • Yeah, sure.
  • That was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Or do you recall other bars on Front street?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, because I wasn't going to bars then.
  • I was too young to be interested in those things
  • and not very much acquainted with the gay people.
  • But I think I started telling you
  • before this tape went on how when I first came,
  • and I looked in the newspaper when I was looking for a job,
  • and I saw where people were advertising for companions.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And I mentioned this to my second cousin.
  • She was very beautiful, and her mother used to model--
  • my very first cousin, Beatrice Forrester.
  • Her second husband, she married the Child.
  • And then her second husband, they divorced,
  • and her second husband was a Forrester.
  • And she lived with him out on Allens Creek Road
  • in later years.
  • Anyway, she was a very beautiful woman.
  • And she was still modeling for Sibley's and Forman's fashion
  • shows when she was fifty-five.
  • And she said, "I think I should retired from this."
  • They said, "Oh no.
  • It's your age groups that spend the money.
  • And we want the clothes that they'll buy on you."
  • Because she had the perfect figure at fifty-five.
  • And so I learned a lot about Rochester from her too.
  • And then, of course, she had been the secretary
  • to I think his name was Hale, the head of the lawyers
  • co-operative downtown.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, along with Ma Martin's on Front
  • Street and Edward's down there, my understanding
  • is that there were a lot of purveyors.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah, there were.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Meat industry.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Everything you'd want was there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And it was also called the red light district
  • of Rochester.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, I'm sure there
  • were a lot of prostitutes, because there
  • were odd-looking people wandering around.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you recall, Dorr, hearing anything
  • about vaudeville in Rochester?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, in the Cook's Opera House was still
  • on--
  • Saint Paul runs into-- is it Court?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Andrew?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No.
  • Let's see.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Cook's Opera House?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Cook's Opera House.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I haven't heard that name.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well it used to be right in there
  • where-- what is the name of that?
  • Where they have all the events now downtown.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Manhattan?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No.
  • The big--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: East End?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, right down there,
  • where they tore down that beautiful security trust
  • building, the granite one, to put that thing on it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Midtown?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, no.
  • It's--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Corner of St. Paul and--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah, across the street from St. Paul.
  • What is there now?
  • I've never liked it.
  • It's where they have all the events.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: A new store?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It's where they have all their conventions.
  • The convention center, isn't it called?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh, OK.
  • Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: That's all through there.
  • That's where I think Cook's Opera
  • House used to be, on the way to the library there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what kind of--
  • well it's an opera house, but was there
  • opera here at that time?
  • What year are we talking about?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, when entertainment started
  • in the late 1800s, I imagine the Cook Opera
  • House had all kinds of things booked there.
  • There were still old posters crumbling on the walls
  • when I was in there.
  • And the pigeons were flying in and out.
  • Back in the 1960s, I was somewhere at a bar.
  • And he's still living.
  • I don't see him anymore.
  • His name is Jerry Porter, and apparently--
  • I don't know where we met, but we ended up
  • spending the night together, and I learned a lot about Rochester
  • from him because he was born and brought up here too.
  • His father was a dentist.
  • And so he was in the hippie era.
  • And he thought about opening up a leather store.
  • It was called the Leather Soul, and he
  • was in that old opera house.
  • He rented a section of that old opera house.
  • And that's how I happened to be going through that place
  • when it was falling down with the pigeons flying around,
  • because he had a section of it for his business.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So the city must have taken that and kind
  • of renovated it for small business.
  • Were there other businesses in--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Not really.
  • I don't know.
  • It was just one section that it wasn't so dilapidated.
  • I don't know who owned that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I'll do some research on that,
  • because vaudeville--
  • I've not been able to find anything
  • about vaudeville in Rochester.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: For sure, because a lot of gay people
  • would have been in that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • And I had never heard of the Cook's Opera House.
  • So--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, someone certainly
  • has written about the Cook's Opera House,
  • because it had entertainment from all
  • over the country came there.
  • That's where anybody went that wanted to have fun,
  • I would imagine.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So when you came back in 1948
  • and came back to Rochester, you had been in New York City?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I went down on my senior trip.
  • I was from a little town called Addison near Corning
  • in Steuben County.
  • And we got on the train, and the train stopped right in Addison
  • at that time.
  • We got on the train and we went to New York.
  • And we went to see Oklahoma!
  • Oh, you know how senior trips are.
  • They were unforgettable.
  • I even have a recording at home.
  • I don't go to many of my class reunions.
  • But maybe I'll go for the seventieth, see the seventieth.
  • I guess that would be it for 1947
  • and seventy would be seventeen, wouldn't it?
  • And there's not many of the boys left.
  • Actually, there must be ten girls anyway,
  • I think, that are still living.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So after your senior trip and so forth--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, I came back,
  • and once I got out of Steuben County, I wanted to see places.
  • So the first thing I thought of was Rochester,
  • because I had an aunt here where I did land.
  • So I came here.
  • And my first job was with Albert's Florist,
  • at the corner of Alexander and East Avenue,
  • where the Bar Fly--
  • or they used to call it the Bar Fly.
  • I don't know what's in there now.
  • It's still a bar.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And every one of those arched windows--
  • it was one of the Hiram Sibley buildings--
  • was kept like a garden.
  • It was this old--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: (unintelligible).
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Pardon?
  • (unintelligible) was in there at one time and Harriet Thomas
  • before her.
  • And that's another story about her.
  • What a character.
  • She was still doing decorating in her nineties, you know.
  • She had a clientele.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • Wow.
  • So Albert's Florist was your first job here in Rochester.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes.
  • And Mrs. Sibley, of course, was still
  • living in her mansion over there.
  • And she wasn't very old at that time, I thought.
  • I remember I thought maybe she was in her forties,
  • but she probably was just well made up and so forth.
  • She came in and ordered a corsage for Eleanor Roosevelt
  • from me.
  • I think at that time they wore three great, big lavender
  • orchids that come right down the front of your bosom.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It kind of covered up the whole front.
  • And they were sizable orchids, generally,
  • and I think they were-- of course,
  • she was a sizable woman she could carry three orchids
  • dramatically.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, now they don't cover up the front,
  • do they?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: They don't bother to cover it up.
  • (Williams laughs)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And after Albert's
  • did you go to New York City?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, I couldn't get along--
  • the old man that had run that place--
  • it was just phenomenal.
  • The ceilings were like fifteen, twenty feet high in there.
  • And we had palm trees that were like fifteen feet high.
  • For Palm Sunday and Easter, we carried them up the street
  • to Third Presbyterian Church.
  • And they just carried them through the streets,
  • because you couldn't get them into anything.
  • And so Albert--
  • Felix-- his name was Felix Albert,
  • that had the flower shop before he died.
  • He hit his head on the back of a truck, and he died.
  • And his mistress, who had been his sister-in-law as well,
  • she took over.
  • And she was hell on wheels.
  • And I only stayed oh maybe--
  • I don't know if I stayed two months.
  • She was impossible to work for.
  • So everybody had gradually left.
  • All the florists evolved out of Felix Albert's flower shop.
  • That's where Marie (unintelligible)
  • started her place on--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Really?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --on Park Avenue.
  • And Blanchard-- he worked there--
  • John Blanchard.
  • And--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So there were no other real florists
  • in Rochester?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, there were other florists,
  • but all the successful ones evolved out
  • of Albert's because that was the best,
  • and they knew how to do things.
  • And apparently the old man wasn't that hard to work for,
  • because when Elsie (unintelligible) her name was,
  • that took over, before long that was closed down, because--
  • (unintelligible) was another one.
  • He opened up right next door in the Valley Cadillac building,
  • I believe.
  • And eventually when he left, it died.
  • The one I worked for, Sauers for Flowers, moved from East Avenue
  • up to out of the Astor Estate, when they started tearing down
  • the Astor Estate.
  • That was the building that was where--
  • well, it's called the Sagamore East now, I guess.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now what was the name of the Florist
  • that you worked for?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: The longest?
  • Downtown?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No.
  • After Albert's.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: After Albert's, I left there,
  • and I went down in the Sibley building to Wilson's Florist.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wilson?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Wilson Florist.
  • And there were nine old ladies there.
  • And they all hated one another.
  • And every one of them told me, they
  • said, "If you want to know anything,
  • come and ask me, because she doesn't know anything."
  • And then there was one old man--
  • the principal thing in those days were funeral sprays.
  • You sent out funeral sprays all day long from a flower shop.
  • That was the biggest part of the florist business
  • were funeral sprays.
  • You had to learn to make a funeral spray.
  • So there was an old man out in the back room
  • that put moss, sphagnum moss over a board on a small board
  • and tied it on with string.
  • And that was the basis for picking
  • in-- that would be kept wet, and then you'd
  • pick in your gladiolas into that and other flowers, of course.
  • And then the main thing in those days
  • were, if you had any money, you didn't just
  • have a casket spray, you had a blanket.
  • And that was made on screen.
  • You put like a screen for a screen door--
  • you put that on a piece of canvas, and it draped.
  • It draped over.
  • And then you put it on like big sawhorses.
  • Then one guy got under it, and they actually
  • sewed these flowers on it.
  • They pushed the needle through to the way up above.
  • And they would be made of anything elegant,
  • like lilies of the valleys.
  • And I learned to work on those.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And so--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: After Wilson.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: After Wilson's, let's see.
  • Did I try to work in the flower shop again there?
  • I don't think so.
  • I got more money if I went over to Weed's Hardware, which
  • was on Exchange Street.
  • It wasn't far away, because I wanted
  • to buy some nice clothes at one of the department stores,
  • because I wanted a gray flannel suit, because it was getting
  • close to the late forties, when everyone started
  • wearing the gray flannel suits.
  • There was a movie made called The Man in the Gray Flannel
  • Suit, wasn't there?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah, probably Gregory Peck.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I think so.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: He was such a handsome man.
  • I had a crush on him.
  • (Williams laughs)
  • I loved him.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Many people did.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I imagine.
  • This was a weird place.
  • Imagine, me being artistic, handling
  • nuts and bolts all day.
  • You went around in all these places.
  • You got a list of the name of the hardware,
  • and a list of what they needed in their retail store.
  • And Weed's wholesale hardware place provided it.
  • So I filled those orders.
  • So I made enough money that I bought some clothes.
  • And then I went back to Steuben County for the summer
  • anyway, before I moved on.
  • But I always kept coming back to Rochester.
  • Then I went into the service.
  • And that was quite an experience,
  • because I was telling Bruce--
  • I think it was Bruce that was in here, or one of his companions
  • there that day--
  • I went back to my apartment and tried
  • to find from my scrap book on my service this thing
  • that they actually issued in the army about how
  • to beware of homosexuals.
  • And it had a picture on the cover
  • of their conception of what a homosexual looked like.
  • And he had wings.
  • I hope I haven't lost that, because it was a gem.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh my gosh.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It's missing from my medical book.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Because I was in the medics.
  • And so I really quite enjoyed being
  • in the army, because most of the boys that were in my unit,
  • in the medics, they tended to be-- they
  • picked that because it was less-- well,
  • I had just two choices when I went in.
  • I knew that I'd be in the infantry
  • if I didn't sign up for a school.
  • So I said I want to go to school.
  • And I had a lot of background, and I did well in high school.
  • I fooled around, and all I did was the school paper.
  • I was interested in running the school paper and the yearbook
  • and all of that.
  • But I did get the highest mark in business law.
  • I had this lovely, gorgeous Italian lady
  • from Hornell, the Argentieri family.
  • And there are still Argentieri.
  • I met one of her grand-nieces here in Rochester
  • while I still had the shop.
  • She came in.
  • I took her name--
  • Argentieri.
  • I said, you're not related to the Argentieri of Hornell.
  • She said, I certainly am.
  • I said, oh, I just loved your aunt.
  • She was my favorite teacher.
  • And with her as a teacher, I got the highest mark
  • in business law in the state of New York that year-- '97,
  • I think.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow, that's great.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: So then they put my name up in--
  • you know, what you got in the Regents
  • in the hall in the school.
  • And so the boys that were going to go away
  • to study to be lawyers, they wrote in my yearbook something
  • about you're going to be a future judge
  • or something like that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Not quite, right, Dorr?
  • Not quite.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I'm judgmental, but not.
  • Most gay people are very judgmental.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So in the army, you became a medic.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes, because they gave me
  • two choices for school--
  • telephone lineman.
  • Communications, they called it.
  • I said, "What's that doing?"
  • They said, "Climbing telephone poles."
  • I said, "Well, that's the first place you get shot off from
  • is a telephone pole."
  • So I took the medics.
  • Of course, I knew I was going to pass out just talking
  • about the blood flowing.
  • And so it took me a while to get used to that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, what was the attitude in the army
  • about homosexuality?
  • Did you run into any of that?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, you know.
  • When it came time I could tell that my friends were gay,
  • but it was never discussed in the service.
  • But I know that one of my best friends--
  • I knew he was gay.
  • He was a sergeant or something.
  • And so unfortunately, they were shipped off to Korea.
  • And I probably would have been killed in Korea, because
  • at that time, if you were a medic,
  • and you were bending over taking care of somebody,
  • they came up behind you and bayoneted
  • the North Koreans in the neck didn't even take prisoners.
  • They killed my best friend because he went about three
  • months after it started.
  • So he didn't have a chance.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you were in the Korean conflict.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I was in the Korean conflict.
  • So I was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
  • My basic was in New Jersey.
  • In the sand.
  • I even knew all about that sand when we just
  • had that big sandy thing down there, because I used
  • to march through that sand.
  • And you make one step and then you fell back, you know.
  • And I only weighted a hundred and fifteen pounds,
  • and they put an eighty-five-pound pack
  • on my back.
  • And you imagine me back trying to get through that sand.
  • I did pretty good.
  • I loved it.
  • But I loved it more late in February,
  • it was about time for March.
  • We went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
  • And it was spring down there.
  • The gardenia bushes around the barracks and everything
  • were all in bloom.
  • And it looked like paradise.
  • It was just gorgeous.
  • So I had a good time there.
  • Then I had gotten ill.
  • I had had my tonsils out in the army.
  • I remember they tied a bandanna around it
  • and didn't numb them very much.
  • And it fell off in the middle of it.
  • And here's these bloody shears hanging out
  • of my out of my mouth.
  • And then after I finally got over that, they rolled me out.
  • They strapped me to a gurney and put me in the hall
  • and forgot about me for about three or four hours.
  • And then they put me in the hospital.
  • It just didn't heal.
  • So they kept giving me penicillin
  • until I got allergic to that.
  • So I itched all over.
  • And it was just one thing after the other after that.
  • But that kept me from going overseas.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Overseas.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It saved my life.
  • Eventually I worked in the hospital
  • handling papers and things.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How long were you in the army?
  • How long?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, it was about two years,
  • I guess it amounted to about.
  • And they put me in a holding company,
  • and I got worried about that.
  • And so they sent me to a psychiatrist.
  • And his name was Dr. Wheat And he
  • said he wrote pages and pages about me because he
  • was gay too, Dr. Wheat because I found out in later years,
  • when I was in New York, that Dr. Wheat was
  • famous with the gay people in New York.
  • He was very popular.
  • That's where he went after he got out of the Army.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you go there also?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Where?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: To New York after you got out of the Army?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, eventually, yeah.
  • I didn't run into him.
  • But I went.
  • I kept going, visiting.
  • My friend that's coming from Florida.
  • He had my shop before I did.
  • And I was down there.
  • And he was giving it up, and I said, "Oh, I want that shop."
  • Because it was in the West Village.
  • He'd moved from the East Village over to the West
  • because it was a better location.
  • And so anyway, Dr. Wheat interviewed me with all this.
  • And he put in all about my--
  • because the one I went to first before I
  • was interviewed by Dr. Wheat they sent me
  • to the head psychiatrist.
  • And I could tell there was something wrong with him.
  • And I said, "What is wrong with that man?"
  • They said, "Oh, he's on dope."
  • He was in Korea, and he's addicted
  • to two things they said that everyone seemed to know but me.
  • So I went into the hospital.
  • And I took all my--
  • I had been collecting antiques in the army in San Antonio.
  • Whenever I got free time, I'd go down to the antique shops,
  • and I'd buy stuff.
  • And I had filled my foot locker full of them.
  • And, of course, when they came around for inspections,
  • they thought I was stealing the stuff.
  • They said, "Where'd you get these things?"
  • you know, the officers.
  • I said, "Well, I bought them downtown."
  • And well he couldn't believe it.
  • And then when I went to the hospital,
  • I took them all with me.
  • I set them all around me all by my hospital bed.
  • And so they thought for sure that I was nutty.
  • And then Dr. Wheat interviewed me.
  • And so he said, "I'm going to line you up for a discharge."
  • And I said, "Well, that's good."
  • So they sent me to the holding company.
  • And I was in there for a long time
  • and through several seasons.
  • And I got to thinking, one of these days
  • they're going to decide to send me to Korea if I
  • don't do something about it.
  • So I went to see the captain that
  • was the head of the holding company.
  • And he interviewed me, and he was strange too.
  • And apparently he was on some kind of drugs too.
  • He said, "Were you close to your mother?"
  • And I said, "Yes."
  • He said, "So was I."
  • And he started to cry.
  • So we cried together there in the office,
  • and he said, "I'm going to recommend you for a discharge."
  • And I said, 'If you think that would be the thing to do."
  • You know, I didn't want to act too anxious.
  • But I was thinking, well, this is my way
  • out of this situation, apparently,
  • because I got everything going for me.
  • So I came up before a board, and they
  • asked my friend, my main witness,
  • if he thought I was gay.
  • And he said, "Oh no, I've known him for a long time.
  • He's not gay."
  • And so they gave me a--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Honorable.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --Section 8, an honorable discharge,
  • not the usual homosexual one.
  • It was an honorable discharge with full benefits,
  • so I got out with the G.I. Bill so I could go to college.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And I ended up going to a Bible college
  • on near Lincoln Square, just a few steps from Carnegie Hall.
  • I took voice lessons at Carnegie Hall.
  • I had a voice lesson.
  • I should have kept those up, because I had a good baritone
  • voice.
  • And any rate, where were we?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Eventually, you got the flower shop in New York
  • from your friend, when he moved it to the West Village.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Antique.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Antiques.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I didn't go.
  • He just had antiques.
  • He came up to Rochester when he started it.
  • And I went around helping him buy stuff.
  • Then when I went down, he was having
  • a bad affair with a black guy that had originally
  • had his eye on me.
  • And when I came back to Rochester,
  • he took up with my friend, which was good
  • for me, because I got rid of him, because he turned out
  • to be a real problem.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So did you come back to Rochester when?
  • 19--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I kept coming back.
  • I came back.
  • Let's see.
  • The first time, I came back in '48 from college in New York,
  • from the Bible college.
  • I came back.
  • I went back home and worked for a short time at Corning Glass.
  • And they were famous for hiring you for experiments.
  • And then after about three months, I got laid off.
  • And so I got sick of Corning and got on the train and packed up
  • and went to Syracuse.
  • So I worked for a Jewish florist in Syracuse
  • called Markowitz Florist for three years.
  • And I loved Mary Markowitz.
  • She was a wonderful woman.
  • And I just seem to-- every once in awhile, meet
  • some wonderful woman through my life, some sensitive woman,
  • and she eventually committed suicide.
  • So that was about after the first year.
  • She was doing this big wedding in her family.
  • Her niece, whose name was Cooper--
  • last name was Cooper--
  • she was from the Cooper family that--
  • the Cooper's became millionaires.
  • The old man Cooper bought the roof during the World War II
  • off the old post office.
  • It was all solid copper.
  • So he was in business.
  • And so his granddaughter married Donald Newhouse of the Newhouse
  • paper chain, which at that time was the second-
  • or third-largest newspaper company in--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The country?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --in the country.
  • And they had the wedding in Syracuse.
  • And we worked on that for probably three months
  • preparing it.
  • And of course, Mrs. Markowitz had committed suicide.
  • So we had to do it all on our own.
  • And my part in it, I had to make the centerpieces, which
  • had a wrought iron trellis over this thing.
  • And then Emkay Candle Company there made a light blue candle
  • for it.
  • Everything had to be blue and white for the wedding.
  • And they protested.
  • The mother of the bride and the mother of the groom
  • protested, because there were no blue orchids.
  • They said, "Well, where's the blue orchids?
  • If they want blue orchids, you're
  • supposed to have blue orchids."
  • So, they just put the blue candle,
  • and I put all big white orchids around it.
  • And I made fifty of those.
  • That was one of my jobs.
  • Then I had to do ten four or five foot
  • arrangements for the hors d'oeuvre tables
  • of exotic flowers.
  • And then I had to do, on one end of the ballroom--
  • someone else made this solid canopy at one end of gardenias.
  • There must have been a thousand gardenias on it.
  • Of course, in those days, you could
  • buy a gardenia wholesale for twenty cents, I think.
  • So that was no big thing.
  • And then my job was at the other end, making a rose garden
  • with climbing roses.
  • So I was pretty exhausted.
  • I worked around the clock from all-day Friday,
  • all-night Friday night, all-night Saturday
  • night, and all-day Saturday, and all-night Saturday night,
  • up until nine o'clock on Sunday, after the wedding
  • was drawing to a close.
  • And I collapsed, and I didn't wake up,
  • I don't think, until about twelve hours later.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So that was here.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No that was in Syracuse--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That was in New York.
  • In Syracuse.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: -- that was in Syracuse.
  • Syracuse.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And from Syracuse,
  • did you go to New York City, or did you come back to Rochester?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I met a social worker, a close friend,
  • his name was Ed Coyle.
  • And his mother, Elsie Howett, and I
  • became close, close friends.
  • In fact, I liked her better than I did him.
  • (Williams laughs)
  • She was a wonderful lady.
  • And then, of course, I had my cousin here.
  • You know, she had remarried.
  • And so I came back, and I went to Sauers.
  • This was 1957.
  • I met a very handsome young man in Syracuse.
  • And he decided to come up here and relocate.
  • And so I thought, well, I guess I'll go too.
  • And his family was from Canada.
  • He was half Mohawk Indian and and half French.
  • His name was Michaud, and would you
  • believe he is still living in Canandaigua
  • with his third wife.
  • And I talked to him.
  • He can't communicate very well on the phone
  • now, because he has emphysema, and he's on an oxygen tank.
  • He was a chain smoker for years.
  • His mother quit when she was, oh, I guess, fifty.
  • And she lived to be one hundred and four.
  • If he'd have quit when he was fifty,
  • he probably would have kept living
  • until one hundred and four too.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Probably.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And he's got those genes.
  • So anyway, he must be eighty now,
  • because I think he'll be eighty-one in October.
  • And I'll be eighty-four in October.
  • I was three years older.
  • So I'm going to go down, and we'll
  • have a birthday party together.
  • We've remained friends.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So is that when you bought the florist shop?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, I worked at Sauers
  • on East Avenue for thirteen years.
  • I was the head designer and did all those windows.
  • And people came from all over Rochester to see those windows,
  • especially at holiday time.
  • And we had a lot of those people that went to New York.
  • They said, some of my windows rivaled Lord & Taylors
  • in New York.
  • They thought they were so interesting and great.
  • So then they moved.
  • I think they tore the Astor Estate down at that corner.
  • And they moved to the Valley Cadillac
  • building up near the Albert's, where
  • Albert's florist was, next door to Harriet Thomas,
  • I think it was.
  • And it was there.
  • And they were going to sell it to me, but I didn't want it.
  • At that time, I didn't want the responsibility, I guess.
  • I thought I guess I wanted to go back to New York or something.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But you stayed in Rochester?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Huh?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But you stayed in Rochester?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, now this was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: 1957-58?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: 1957, I was here until '71.
  • RIT was downtown then, and I met these two professors from RIT.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Mechanics Institute?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I don't know.
  • But it was an exciting place, because there was
  • a whole community down there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • But I mean RIT I think was called Mechanics
  • Institute at the time.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It might have been,
  • probably because of the Mechanics Institute
  • in Massachusetts.
  • Boston.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: MIT.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Uh-huh.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you met these two guys.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Um-hm.
  • Let me go to the men's room.
  • I'll be right back.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh, sure.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It's confusing because I
  • made a lot of changes.
  • We'll straighten it out.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you know where the--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I think so.
  • I should know by now.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: To the right, Dorr.
  • (pause in recording)
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Interesting stuff relating to--
  • because I was quite--
  • I went to the gay bars at that time.
  • I made a lot of money.
  • I worked overtime a lot, so I spent a lot of money.
  • I bought a lot of antiques.
  • And of course, I stocked up when I had a neighbor that
  • wasn't ready to move.
  • I had a beautiful apartment on the whole third floor
  • of a big house on Dartmouth Street--
  • 83 Dartmouth Street.
  • Conrad Cobb of the Cobbs that Cobb's Hill is named after,
  • his house.
  • He was gay.
  • And his house on Rutgers Street backed up to mine.
  • So you could just go over the fence.
  • And we were close friends.
  • And he eventually moved to-- let's see.
  • Did he move?
  • No.
  • I don't think he moved.
  • I think it was one of the interior decorators that moved
  • down by Susan B. Anthony house.
  • I remember that he had rooms big enough to accommodate.
  • His great-grandparents were the Burbanks.
  • And they lived on the circle there--
  • Plymouth avenue circle in one of those big houses.
  • I think it's still standing, as a matter of fact.
  • That was one of the first or second there.
  • And I remember he had the portraits.
  • I imagine they must still be somewhere in Rochester,
  • because the were too big.
  • He sold them when he went to Hollywood.
  • He was, he wanted to be an actor.
  • He was good looking.
  • I don't think he would still be living, but then he might.
  • What was I going to tell you.
  • One of them fell off the wall.
  • And he had to put gold leaf on them.
  • Is this on now?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: OK.
  • Because what a job.
  • Not only did he have to put the gold leaf on the one that fell.
  • These portraits actually had--
  • I'd guess the frames on them were probably at least
  • twelve inches, maybe bigger than twelve inches
  • all the way around.
  • He had to put gold leaf on all of them.
  • Of course, it wasn't as expensive as it would be now.
  • But it was expensive enough.
  • And so he had to match them.
  • He had to do the other one too.
  • It was quite beautiful in the antique gold.
  • But you know, he had to make it look right.
  • So I remember him working on those.
  • Let's see.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what year would this be, Dorr?
  • 1971?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, no, let's see.
  • No, I was in that house from 1962--
  • no, 1960 to 1966.
  • I moved to New York with all this--
  • I rented the biggest tractor, U-Haul tractor trailer
  • we could get and packed it full of antiques and things
  • for my shop.
  • My brother-in-law drove down.
  • And the only way I could direct him in New York,
  • not driving myself, was to go right down
  • Broadway to Greenwich Village.
  • And we ended up, we were driving down in the middle of Broadway
  • with that big U-Haul truck on a Saturday night
  • on Broadway with all those people.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: He didn't kill anybody.
  • But he was pretty nervous doing it.
  • But we got there.
  • And my friend, the one that's coming from New York,
  • I guess he'd just started going with Eddie then.
  • They met me at the shop and carried everything in
  • and put it in place.
  • And my sister and brother-in-law,
  • they wanted to stay right there in the shop.
  • They were exhausted anyway from the trip.
  • And so they put the bed that I brought onto the stairway.
  • I slept under the stairs.
  • It was like an apartment house on Bedford Street.
  • It's just down the street from Chumley's, the famous place
  • where all the artists hung out and so forth.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh yeah.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And then Paul of Peter, Paul, and Mary
  • lived next door to me in the stone house--
  • colonial house, probably Dutch colonial.
  • So anyway I remember my sister saying
  • that when they'd gone to bed, she heard someone outside say--
  • right where we were just at, where
  • they had gone to the Cherry Lane Theater, which
  • was around the corner, I think at that time.
  • I used to know the playwright.
  • Circles was the name of the production
  • at that time that was on.
  • They said, "Well, when we went by here, that place was empty.
  • Now there's stuff all in place."
  • (laughter)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes, you had moved in.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It was just settled immediately,
  • because I planned it so that I wouldn't have
  • to handle that all over again.
  • I knew exactly where everything was going.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, before you moved to New York--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: You want to know about Rochester.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • Now in the 1960s, early sixties, '60 to '66,
  • you were here in Rochester, and you were a florist.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you frequent the bars?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Because I worked so much in that flower shop,
  • I always had to go home about ten.
  • But I had a friend, Jack Caine, and it's
  • a shame he died so young, because he
  • was he was five years younger.
  • He'd be sitting right here, and he
  • could tell you so much more than I could, you know.
  • I'll have you come over to my apartment one of these days
  • and get out all these pictures, because I
  • got a lot of snapshots that you probably
  • want to see, like pictures of the windows on East Avenue.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That would be very interesting.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yeah.
  • I remember doing one called Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.
  • I did that.
  • The Mercury Ballet always had the Nutcracker over there.
  • And of course, Olive McCue--
  • you've probably heard the name Olive
  • McCue-- she was the one that ran the Mercury Ballet.
  • And of course, all the male dancers naturally were gay.
  • George Francis-- he was a teacher there and always had
  • gay roles--
  • I mean prominent roles.
  • And I know he was--
  • when Olive McCue came in, my friend
  • Joanne, she's very artistic, she made all these little figures
  • for my exhibit.
  • And she's still living over on St. Paul Street.
  • And she made--
  • I found this sort of a stuffed fabric mouse,
  • and she cut off the heads of them and made one mouse king,
  • with a multiple-headed mouse was in it.
  • A scary looking mouse.
  • And she came in, and because George Francis
  • had that role in the Mercury Ballet,
  • she bought it for him as a Christmas present.
  • And this was all done with Dolomite Company--
  • you've probably heard of that.
  • They made this spun glass.
  • And this thing was gorgeous, because I
  • used all these different colored spun glass in this.
  • And it glistened, never knowing at that time that it was glass,
  • and if it got into your system, if you breathe that
  • into your system, and got it into your lungs,
  • it would kill you.
  • And here I'm wading in it all over through those windows.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, when you returned from New York--
  • well, you went to New York in 1966.
  • When did you come back to Rochester again?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh, let's see.
  • I came back in about '69, I think.
  • I kept coming back because the Sauers kept coming back to work
  • because they needed me for my--
  • it's what I did.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: And that helped support.
  • And while I was here, I'd buy things for the shop.
  • So it lasted two or three years, that I kept going,
  • traveling back and forth.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Were you in New York when Stonewall happened?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah.
  • I think I was--
  • in '69-- that was when it happened, in '69.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I think I just happened to be visiting there
  • in New York at that time.
  • I was living in Rochester, I think.
  • And maybe I was still living in New York, but not in the shop.
  • But I remember seeing them, and I wondered what was going on,
  • because they were parading through the street
  • in the daytime.
  • And that was the first protest against the police.
  • So I witnessed that, yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what was--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I never went to the Stonewall--
  • it was just down the street--
  • because my favorite hangout was, oh, just
  • a couple of doors from there called the Ninth Circle.
  • And it was more of an interesting bar to me
  • than an all-gay bar, because I liked meeting so many people.
  • This was a busy place.
  • It had big barrels of peanuts.
  • And then when you ate the peanuts, they were free.
  • And when you ate them, you threw the shucks on the floor,
  • so it got deeper and deeper.
  • And I liked that atmosphere, because in Syracuse they
  • did the same thing with sawdust in this place called
  • Kelly's, where I used to go and drink with the Irish on Salina
  • Street.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you observed the march.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The night after Stonewall,
  • because the night Stonewall took place,
  • the people were arrested.
  • And people gathered outside, and I
  • guess they did march around the block.
  • And they kept coming back in front of the Stonewall Inn.
  • But then, the following night, there was another march,
  • a candlelight march.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I don't think I saw the candlelight one.
  • This was in the daytime.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • OK.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I probably ran into it
  • because I was going to go to the Ninth Circle,
  • because that was my favorite hangout.
  • There were gay people there, too.
  • But it was a mixture.
  • I would meet artists.
  • And I was more interested in meeting a variety of people.
  • I've always been that way.
  • The same way with the bar--
  • I didn't always go to strictly gay bars in Rochester.
  • If I was our for eight hours, from four in the afternoon,
  • if I left Sauers early and waited until midnight,
  • one of my favorite places where there was everybody imaginable
  • was right across the alley from Sibley's-- was the 25 Club.
  • You'd better put that down, because that's
  • where all the gay people went eventually, because you
  • went over there to eat.
  • You got a delicious meal for two dollars at the 25 Club.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And when did you buy your shop on Monroe?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh I started working for McGregor's when
  • I came back in '70, first I told you
  • that I prepared to teach at RIT.
  • I got all the courses planned and everything.
  • And I was going to have classrooms downtown, and so
  • forth.
  • And not enough people signed up for the course,
  • because at that time, I don't know, probably the same way
  • now.
  • You know how those colleges they never change anything.
  • There are rules and regulations that you couldn't advertise
  • above any other course, which is so stupid because people
  • that time, in 1970s, they thought
  • when it said floral design, that it was drawing flowers.
  • They didn't know what floral design is.
  • And thousands of people in the United States
  • still call a flower arrangement a plant.
  • They don't even know the term flower arrangement.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I would imagine probably
  • in the Midwest and the South they still don't know.
  • But--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So this course didn't go.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: It didn't go.
  • And this was in '71.
  • I had been planning it from '70 to '71,
  • working with these two people.
  • One of them was Peter Vogelaar.
  • You can put that down because, he's still an artist,
  • and I think he's still painting in Rochester somewhere.
  • He used to have a studio on Main Street.
  • He was a great guy.
  • I'd love to see him--
  • Peter Vogelaar.
  • And I think it's spelled V-O-G-E-L-E-E-R.
  • It's a Dutch name.
  • Nice guy.
  • And I can't remember the name of the head of the department.
  • He was swell too.
  • And I was so thrilled about starting that course.
  • And they ran it.
  • They kept running it in their catalog for a number of years,
  • but still nobody knew.
  • But now, my god, there'd be more people signed up for it
  • than I could handle, because everyone knows
  • what floral design is now.
  • Especially with this new ikebana craze now--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --which I've taken up somewhat.
  • I was going to join the ikebana society,
  • but they're a little uppy at that ikebana society.
  • I don't want any uppy-ishness.
  • I've never been into that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So when the RIT course didn't go,
  • is that when you bought the flower shop?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I was still working at Sauers.
  • And they sold to somebody, just impossible people.
  • And I left there.
  • And when I came back from New York the second time--
  • I went to New York, and I worked at Bloomingdale's.
  • And I worked for a florist out in Pelham
  • on the New Haven train.
  • I loved this place because it was beautiful.
  • It was a little town called Pelham--
  • lovely place.
  • And there was one place that she had been there
  • since the first depression in the thirties.
  • Her family was an old family.
  • They lost their money, but they let her stay on and rent rooms
  • in this mansion.
  • And I lived there.
  • And then when I wanted to go visit my friends in New York,
  • I'd get on the New Haven train for the evening and go down,
  • and they ran all night.
  • And then I'd come back into the town
  • and work at that flower shop.
  • And I was there a year in Pelham.
  • I might have stayed for many years.
  • But I had an Italian boss.
  • He'd have done anything in the world for me.
  • And I think if he wasn't gay, he was bisexual.
  • But I couldn't get involved in that,
  • because he had a wife and seven children on Long Island.
  • I'm too smart for that.
  • He just exploded.
  • I guess it was mainly he had a fifteen-year-old daughter,
  • and she was diagnosed with cancer.
  • And he got to be impossible to be around,
  • so I left New York in '72 and came back to Rochester.
  • And my friend Jack Caine, that I mentioned
  • before, he knew Werth Catlan that had a flower
  • called (unintelligible) on Main Street in Pittsford,
  • next door to St. Louis Episcopal Church.
  • And of course Father Ed I'm sure was gay.
  • And we had quite a circle of interesting friends there.
  • And I worked for Werth for three years.
  • And then he found out that Mrs. McGregor had died,
  • and they needed somebody to manage that shop
  • on Monroe Avenue.
  • So I went down, and they hired me
  • right away because of the experience I had.
  • And then I proceeded to take over the store.
  • And then in 1978, I changed the name to the Dorr Collection.
  • That's how that all came about.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now, Dorr, you mentioned
  • the first Mayor of Rochester was Jonathan Child.
  • Who was the second mayor?
  • Do you remember?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Well, I say the first mayor,
  • but maybe it wasn't the first mayor.
  • But I think it was, because it was incorporated as a city
  • in I think the same year that Victoria took the throne.
  • It was 1836, or something like that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Were you here in town
  • when Mayor Barry was mayor?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah.
  • Oh yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Steve May?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Yes.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And I've heard that those two were--
  • DORR WILLIAMS: They're both gay.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And how would you know that?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Because of the speaking of the people
  • that I worked with.
  • They would refer to it.
  • And the head designer before me, before he died, at Sauers,
  • his name was Herman Zahn.
  • On You'd better put that down.
  • He was famous.
  • We'd have parties in the store, and he'd still
  • get in drag, but for the party in the store.
  • He was hysterically funny.
  • And he'd go through this Catholic ritual about
  • (Williams sings) where is the hell is the incense pot?
  • I threw it out the window because it got too goddamned
  • hot.
  • (laughter)
  • Oh, he was a delightful man.
  • And he just loved me.
  • And he said, oh god has sent you to work beside me in my old age
  • and help me.
  • And you know I'd do all the--
  • he was getting too tired.
  • And he kept a bottle of imperial whiskey under the counter
  • all the time to give him inspiration.
  • Then he wanted to ask me if I want some.
  • And I'd say, no, I don't need that stuff.
  • All it'd do is make me drunk.
  • It doesn't inspire me a bit.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So did you ever think in your lifetime
  • you would see the advancement of gay rights the way
  • it has happened?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Somehow.
  • Not to the extent that it has, but I
  • knew from my exposure to New York that it had to happen,
  • because, you know, I mean, there was so much
  • gay life in New York, and there were so many bars.
  • Living in New York was it was a good experience for me
  • and going to all these different places in the Village,
  • because I used to go to Chumley's.
  • And Chumley's-- unfortunately, the people I should have been
  • meeting at Chumley's like Bob Dylan, and so forth--
  • that was his favorite hangout.
  • And I would close my shop at ten o'clock.
  • I'd go around six, and have dinner at Chumley's-- fabulous.
  • One of my favorites was Indonesian rice with beef,
  • and it had a poached egg on top.
  • And I guess you got a cucumber salad with it and a drink.
  • The whole thing was only four dollars.
  • And it was delicious.
  • And that's the way everything was at that time--
  • these specialty restaurants down there.
  • I used to go to a Mexican place over near the White Horse
  • Tavern that was still operating at that time.
  • And that was a writer's hangout.
  • That's where Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, I think
  • drank sixteen shots in a row, and it killed him.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I don't know if he died in this saloon or not.
  • I can't remember.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you, yourself, never--
  • do you have a partner now?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: No, I've never had a partner.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: I always dreamed of it
  • and thought eventually it was going to happen.
  • But I always put my creativity ahead.
  • I think I knew intuitively that I would have to cater--
  • a partner means--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • DORR WILLIAMS: --limitations, because I
  • am too interested in my art to be cooking and waiting
  • on someone all the time.
  • And I'm a good cook, and they'd be demanding, why don't you
  • cook this?
  • Why don't you cook that?
  • And I'd like to cook-- have a party, or something like that.
  • But every morning get up and cook three meals?
  • Oh no, forget it.
  • You get into that if you have a partner.
  • You have to be somewhat selfish.
  • I don't consider myself a selfish person,
  • because I've given everything away
  • that I've ever had in my life.
  • But everything flows into me, because I
  • believe in that theosophical belief that what you give out
  • flows back.
  • I think it's the Unity, like across the street.
  • I think they believe that too.
  • Right.
  • Right.
  • Were you ever or did you ever experience being
  • harassed because you were gay?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, here.
  • Here in Rochester, it was quite amusing.
  • This was in 1970s when bell bottom trousers really became--
  • and I went to New York.
  • I bought all that stuff to wear.
  • In fact, I was approached by Eastman Kodak.
  • They had offices that looked out on East Avenue.
  • And they saw me walking up and down
  • East Avenue dressed in Edwardian costume,
  • with a stovepipe hat and a pipe.
  • I was smoking a pipe at Christmas time, dressed
  • just like I was right out of Charles Dickens.
  • And they saw me, and they came down from their offices
  • and asked me to come up.
  • And they wanted me to pose for possible billboards
  • in Times Square in New York.
  • And I never followed it up.
  • People said, "You'd have been famous, you stupid.
  • Why don't you--" because I never saw the value of anything
  • like that.
  • It's just if something happened, it happened.
  • But I was too interested in my art.
  • If I got interested in my art, and I'm still that way.
  • I'm not through yet.
  • I'm planning to have some exhibitions or something.
  • I really am.
  • All I got to do now is to find out
  • through this, somehow or other, how
  • to get some a good primary doctor
  • and get to the bottom of these little aggravations
  • I have, so I can get back to work,
  • because I was even thinking about working a few hours a day
  • for Wegmans.
  • But I don't want to get involved in Wegmans.
  • I want to be free.
  • I've always been-- even while I worked for other people,
  • I always demand my freedom.
  • And no one ever told me that you here's
  • twelve or fifteen blossoms, put that into our arrangement.
  • Oh no, I wouldn't work in a place like that.
  • Where did they tell me that they did that?
  • They did that at some florist here in Rochester.
  • I said, oh god, I would never.
  • I would never work one day for somebody
  • that did that, because I have to have scores of plant material
  • around me.
  • And my apartment is a mess all the time,
  • because I have containers here and containers there and some
  • with this thing in it and something, because I go out
  • and gather stuff in nature and from all the different places
  • where I can buy things reasonably priced.
  • And I have them there because they inspire me,
  • to have all these materials around me.
  • And you just can't have a neat place.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • So Dorr, when you look back on your life,
  • what are you most proud of?
  • DORR WILLIAMS: That's an interesting question.
  • I think I'm the most proud of helping everybody
  • on the street.
  • Almost always, if someone asked me for one dollar or two,
  • I'd give it to them if I have it.
  • And I did that in New York.
  • This is one example that is interesting
  • that you could put down--
  • experience.
  • When I had the shop in Greenwich Village,
  • I was going through a bad period.
  • And one night, I was down to my last seven dollars.
  • And so I just went out onto the streets,
  • and everybody that night--
  • notice they didn't ask for one dollar.
  • They asked for twenty-five cents or fifty cents.
  • And I walked around the village.
  • It was a beautiful night.
  • And I gave that seven dollars all away.
  • It really seemed like everybody needed some part of that seven
  • dollars.
  • Gave it all away.
  • I went back home and crawled in my bed,
  • which was under the stairs in the back of the shop.
  • You could hear the people going up the stairs.
  • Incidentally, I have a third cousin
  • that lives near Central Park West in a little--
  • used to be a hotel in the thirties.
  • I think it was built in the twenties or thirties.
  • It has a Moroccan theme with the tiling and a fountain.
  • And it's quite a charming place.
  • And she and she looked up on the internet a--
  • first she looked up the Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • house, which is right across the street from my shop.
  • I was at 72 Bedford, and she was right across the street.
  • The Edna St. Vincent Millay house
  • is the narrowest house in New York.
  • You can almost reach from one side to the other.
  • And there's three floors.
  • There's two rooms on each floor.
  • And a lot of famous people have lived there besides Edna St.
  • Vincent Millay.
  • But I think they still refer to it--
  • So anyway, she looked it up on the internet.
  • And that place she says, "It's for sale."
  • And she says, "it's going for four point
  • three million dollars."
  • It was boarded up.
  • I was afraid they were going to tear it down.
  • I went back to in the nineties, and my shop
  • had been turned into a French restaurant.
  • And apparently, they had left in a hurry.
  • It must be the tax people seized it or something.
  • It was very macabre.
  • It was all covered with dust and cobwebs,