Wallace de Ortega Maxey is perhaps best known as a 20th-century Old Catholic bishop, but he also was an ecclesiastic in the Anglican, Congregationalist, and Universalist traditions. He dabbled in theosophy, was an apostle of existentialism, and to a certain extent was a student of communism (anti- and pro-). While Maxey’s name is well represented in Old Catholic apostolic successions, all but forgotten are his involvement in the Mattachine Society (the early gay civil rights organization), and in a U.S. Supreme Court obscenity decision. In nearly every post as a cleric, and in the secular context of the Mattachine, Maxey pushed the envelope. To call him a “leader or prominent initiator in an LGBT religious movement,” or to compare his method and manner with, say, the influence and intimacy of a Malcolm Boyd, would be to mischaracterize both his work and his style. In the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s he walked a tightrope, maintaining enough detachment to be useful to a nascent liberation effort, while at the same time contributing sincere arguments.
Maxey’s origins and educational record are problematic, and are representative of other enigmatic aspects of his ninety years, alluded to below. He consistently stated he was born in Los Angeles on 22 Feb 1902 (school records state 1903), and that his mother was Maria Theresa de Ortega. No birth record has been located for him, however, and only the middle initial “D” is included in early school records. Depending on his audience, Maxey claimed either to descend from the Ortegas of the Spanish land grants in California or to belong to a line that included José Ortega y Gasset (but not both at once). The genealogical record may one day connect these strands, but it’s unlikely that the great Spanish philosopher, being about age 20 when Maxey was born, was old enough to be his “maternal great-uncle,” as Maxey wrote years later.
According to one source, Maxey said he was born to unmarried parents—his father surnamed Maxey and his mother a Spanish entertainer named de Ortega—on a cruise ship in international waters, leaving him stateless. He wrote in a 1949 letter that his mother was from Seville and his father from Scotland, and that both were American citizens. Regardless, Maxey’s father at some point appears actually to have married an American native. In 1906, a Mary Maxey died from tuberculosis, leaving an unnamed son and husband (Wallace) David Maxey, who stated his wife had been born Mary Murphy, in Illinois, to Irish parents. The earliest available school record for young Wallace, dated 1912, has both of his parents of Irish nationality. The 1910 U.S. Census—the only one for which an entry on Maxey has been found—states his mother was born in the United States. A 1917 school record lists Maxey’s mother as Mary Murphy, not mentioning she was deceased. At the time of Maxey’s ordination in 1936, he told a local newspaper his father was—past tense—“a Scotsman in the Hawaiian shipping and Oriental exports business,” but the public record shows the elder Wallace, a California native, was a rancher living near Gorman. The 1902 Los Angeles city directory does not list Maxey’s father, but those for 1901 and 1903 do, giving his occupation, respectively, as swimming teacher and manager of the swimming floor at the famous Bimini Baths at Third and Vermont. Over the years the elder Maxey used his given names, Wallace and David, interchangeably. In that same 1949 letter, the younger Maxey gave his own name as Wallace David de Ortega Maxey. Thus, he could have appended Junior to his name, but never did.
As Maxey told the Los Angeles Times in April 1930, his paternal grandmother was Lucy Uthera (Thompson) Maxey Gray, daughter of California pioneer Ira Thompson, who is supposed to have built the first frame house in El Monte, the Willow Grove Hotel, sometime after arriving from Iowa in 1851. Lucy was Los Angeles’ police matron from 1888 until her death in 1904. Maxey’s aunt, Aletha (Maxey) Gilbert, succeeded her mother as matron, and became Los Angeles’ first City Mother in 1914. The family was well established in the Los Angeles area when Maxey’s father was born there in 1872, and he lived in the family home, in what is now Lincoln Heights, on and off until the birth of his son.
By age 9, Maxey attended a Catholic military school in Anaheim while his father lived in Santa Barbara. He went to high school at St. Anthony’s College in Santa Barbara in 1917, but left within three to five months. In April 1930, he told the Los Angeles Times he graduated from Hollywood High School. Although he’s listed in the school’s 1919 yearbook, he doesn’t appear later with his Winter 1922 graduating class. Elsewhere, Maxey stated he obtained a B.Th. from St. Anthony’s in 1922, a routine consequence of high school graduation there. Maxey made other assertions about having attended a half dozen or more East Coast and European schools, but these either have been denied by the institutions or require further investigation.
Higher Education and Early Career
Only two of Maxey’s academic degrees are incontrovertible, and both were received in 1936 in Berkeley, according to school records: a Bachelor of Divinity from Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a Master of Sacred Theology from Pacific School of Religion (PSR). (Maxey also appears to have attended Berkeley Divinity School, in New Haven.) But even prior to this, Maxey’s CV already was bulging. It’s said that he became an Old Catholic Benedictine monk in Saint Dunstan’s Abbey, Waukegan, Illinois. If so, this likely is where he met Joseph René Vilatte, who as Exarch of the pioneering American Catholic Church he had founded, ordained Maxey as a priest at age 19 on 22 Sep 1921. According to the late Fr. Abbot Donald M. Weeks’s profile of Vilatte, he returned to his native France in June 1925 with an American “boy-servant”—Maxey—who would have been 23 at the time. (Weeks admitted Maxey’s claim to him of being in Vilatte’s employ was unprovable.) Vilatte attempted full reconciliation with Rome, but was not allowed to perform liturgical functions. Years later, in a 1950 minister’s personal history record, Maxey revealed something recorded nowhere else: that he’d married, fathered a son, and been widowed shortly after this son’s birth. He provided no names, places, dates, or details as to how his son was raised, but did state that his son died, in the French army, in World War II, indicating this could have occurred during a stint with Vilatte in France; his son would have been old enough to serve. But Maxey’s time in France appears to have been brief: first, a Wallace D. Maxey is listed in the San Francisco city directory published perhaps as late as September 1926 and, second, Maxey was consecrated on 02 Jan 1927, presumably in the U.S., by William Montgomery Brown of the Old Catholic Church in America. In addition to his duty to Vilatte, Maxey would have packed a lot into the sixteen months between the spring of 1925 and the fall of 1926.
In the April 1930 Los Angeles Times article cited above, Maxey was profiled as having returned from “several years” of “wandering the globe at his own expense to satisfy a thirst for knowledge of Red activities.” One of the last (if not the last) legs of Maxey’s journey was not self-financed, however. In the fall of 1929, he was employed as a messboy on a ship that sailed from Kobe, Japan, to New Orleans via Honolulu—the same employment he would obtain a few years later. Stateside, Maxey planned a lecture tour under the auspices of the superpatriotic Better America Federation, but no record of the tour has been found. Ironically, Maxey’s years of immersion in “Red activities” may have contributed to an unlikely academic thesis, produced in 1936 for Pacific School of Religion, entitled “The Struggle Between Classes for the Division of Wealth.”
In his dissertation, Maxey begins with the psychology of two sorts of impulses: the emotional, body-based “primary” type, and the rational, mind-based secondary sort. When man is not preoccupied with protecting himself (a “primary” concern) he may tend toward cooperation, even viewing the human race as one body (à la Socrates, Diogenes, Zeno). Maxey examines the shift from philosophical inquiry to religion, i.e., from a yearning toward truth to received truth. Maxey then looks at the Medieval class-rationalization—a system of mutual, though varying, obligations each enjoying the rights proportioned thereto—, which was in turn substituted by an “irrational” (to the Medieval mind) assumption that the appetite for economic gain is a perfectly natural force, and therefore inevitable. Via slavery (and the U.S. Civil War, fought by workers at the behest of the wealthy) Maxey traces the roots of the modern proletariat. Maxey speculates whether 1930s unionism will be relegated to history along with the guilds of the Middle Ages, or, more optimistically, it will move from moribund craft unionism to industrial unionism and ultimately communism—workers owning the means of production. His discussion of capital and the working class is reminiscent of 21st century Occupy Wall Street discourse regarding class interests and class power. With capital insisting, as it does today, that its interests are everyone’s, Maxey reminds the reader of Britain’s “factory acts,” the reformist legislation of the 19th century. Even the acts’ most fervent champions advised that educating the poor at public expense need not involve the teaching of handwriting; factory workers literate to the point of comprehending their Bible and Church canons would suffice. Maxey concludes with a discussion of the inevitability of revolution—revolutions—each with an attendant vision at odds with post-upheaval pragmatism.
The utopian program reveals its underlying formalism, its poverty and aridity, in comparison with the delicious, abundant, and splendid stream of life. The revolutionary era ends very simply, without phrases or gestures, in reabsorption by a new sensibility. To the political philosophy of ideas succeeds a political philosophy of concrete phenomena and men. We discover at last that life does not exist for the benefit of the idea, but that the idea, the institution, the rule, exists for the benefit of life, or, as the Gospel has it, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Maxey would put this latter notion to the test in a clerical setting very soon after receiving his degree, discussed below. His conclusion’s revolutionary spirit—sans prognostic pragmatism—would be expressed in a line in his 1963 Mattachine lecture: “The time is present for the revolt of the sexually enslaved.”
According to a 1990 directory of non-Roman bishops, in 1931–1932 Maxey was General Secretary of the Temple of the People, a theosophical group in Halcyon, California. In that capacity he was scheduled to speak on “Divine Wisdom” in September 1931 in El Paso, Texas, en route to New Orleans where he was again to “sail for a trip around the world.” (In a Temple publication, Maxey listed his degrees D.D. and Sc.D.) Defunct online histories claimed that, at about this time, Maxey was sent by Archbishop Francis Brothers to set up an Old Catholic Church and order of Benedictines in Los Angeles or Santa Monica. That church may have been The Ancient Christian Fellowship, Old Catholic Church in America.
Beginning in 1934, Maxey matriculated at the above-mentioned Berkeley schools, while owning his home. His means supposedly came from an inheritance. Newspaper items in July 1935 listed him as pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal mission in San Leandro. That mission merged with one in Elmhurst, a nearby neighborhood in south Oakland. The Elmhurst church, bereft of parishioners, was moved—with its pipe organ and parish hall—to San Leandro between December 1935 and the following April, and Maxey was credited with leading the effort. The church was dedicated in January of 1936 as All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Leandro, with Maxey in attendance. On 07 Apr 1936, Maxey, listed as lay reader at All Saints’, was ordained to the diaconate at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. During Holy Week, he was formally installed as All Saints’ minister-in-charge. One newspaper wrote at the time, “His church [as a mission] started with nine communicants a year ago and now numbers 80 families.”
A teacher at PSR wrote that Maxey was “a man of superior mental abilities, faithful to all his obligations, gracious in manner, in fact a gentleman and a man of culture.” But Maxey also seems to have had a capricious aspect to his character. In discussing how Maxey, who remained canonically resident in Los Angeles, might be ordained in, and continue to work in, the Bay Area, Los Angeles Bishop Bertrand Stevens raised the issue of Maxey’s being “not very stable” in early 1936. When California Bishop Edward Parsons asked for clarification, Stevens replied, giving three examples: Maxey wanting to leave divinity school and travel to Russia; his wanting to move to England to write a book about his conversion; and his actually having left Berkeley Divinity School “without warning” and without adequate explanation. Stevens did not question Maxey’s moral and intellectual aptitude but rather his “apparent lack of stability.” Stevens closed his discussion of the matter quite presciently, questioning “whether, when ordained, [Maxey] will stick with any degree of permanence.”
On July 4, 1936, two months after receiving his degrees, Maxey married…again (although the church marriage register lists him as a bachelor rather than widower). His wife, Elizabeth Atkins Ashburner Ruggles, the widow of an Episcopal minister, came from a prominent Philadelphia family. She founded several business colleges and had homes in Santa Barbara and/or San Francisco. The wedding, taking place in Washington, D.C., was in a sense an elopement. Newspapers reported that Maxey had excused his absence from All Saints’ in oddly conflicting ways: the impending death of his grandmother, a trip to Los Angeles to retrieve furniture. Although Maxey’s parish hadn’t been notified of his marriage until after the fact, Elizabeth’s brother’s family (residents of the D.C. metropolitan area) attended the wedding. A wedding notice was then published in a Bay Area newspaper.
On August 3, Maxey asked to be deposed from the ministry. His recent behavior obtained a reprimand from Bishop Parsons, to which he appears to have countered by requesting dismissal due to a difference with “canonical law,” echoing his seminary thesis: that rules—and institutions—be at the service of man rather than vice versa. A newspaper report, quoting a parish vestryman, claimed Maxey departed due to a “bitter” and unprecedented split in the Ladies’ Auxiliary-Guild involving “exclusion” of some women.
In his response to the bishop, Maxey said he’d leave for New York to “devote my time to writing.” But by mid-September he was looking for a job in Seattle, with the Congregationalists. A PSR response to a reference inquiry at the time expressed concern about Maxey’s “mental abnormality,” and that the respondent had heard a rumor that Maxey had left his wife.
On 21 Sep 1936, Maxey’s wife sued for annulment in Los Angeles on grounds of “fraud and deceit.” The next day, Maxey said he would file a counter-complaint contending that Elizabeth’s actual age had been undisclosed until after their marriage. (Indeed, her age is listed as “38?” in the church marriage register. But the marriage license application she submitted three days earlier lists her age as 54.) There is evidence the two never lived together and that all who knew Maxey had been surprised at the marriage. He said later that he allowed his wife to obtain an annulment so her pension might be restored.
Despite this discord, within days Maxey traveled to Seattle. In his explorations, he hooked up with Fred Shorter, the minister who had been booted out of Pilgrim Congregational in 1934 when he declared to the laity, “Yes, I preach revolution. Next Sunday, if I am still pastor, I will preach on ‘The Insanity of Jesus.’ It always has been insanity to preach the brotherhood of man.” Maxey, on something of a polemical roll, found that Shorter “lacks foresight.”
About this time, Maxey apparently fell in with workers’ groups, and proposed a non-denominational Christian Workers League. (A year later, he referred to the Catholic Worker movement, which was but three years old.) He claimed that having “pledged myself” to “the poor and down and outers” had “cost me my church affiliation […] and was the starting point of marital difficulties.” In October 1936 Maxey said he was teaching via the Works Progress Administration, but he became otherwise employed within nine months. His deposition from the Protestant Episcopal Church became effective 23 Nov 1936.
A Curious Incident
On 21 Feb 1937, according to a newspaper report, one Wallace Maxey, 32 [sic] of San Francisco was accosted by two men as he left a taxi to enter his apartment. They took six dollars from his wallet and forced him to lead them to his rooms, where he was bound and beaten. Assuming this is Wallace de Ortega Maxey, the incident took place on the eve of his birthday.
More Travel, Another Ordination, a Significant Consecration
In the summer of 1937, Maxey traveled to Samoa, Auckland, Fiji, Sydney, Melbourne, Maui, and Honolulu, having found employment as a waiter or steward on a cruise ship. He claimed to have joined a union “in order to get a look at the inside workings. The leaders are practically all members of the Communist Party in name or actually.” Along the way he said he attended at least one conference (on education) and chatted with the mother of labor leader Harry Bridges.
By November, Maxey received a Congregational Church license and began pastoring a church in Lawndale, California, prior to his March 1938 ordination in that church. But this lasted only so long; he resigned in 1939, as he put it, because of inadequate financial support. That July, he applied for an administrative staff job with the California State Relief Administration in San Francisco. He wrote later that he obtained a job with that agency as a social worker. Sometime during this period he became Patriarch of the Ancient Christian Fellowship (ACF)/American Congregation of Saint Benedict.
Maxey’s war years are sketchy. He doesn’t appear in available directories for cities in which he’s known to have lived prior and since. His name is not indexed for the 1940 U.S. Census. In his 1950 minister’s record he stated he’d been President-Pastor of the ACF in Los Angeles between 1944 and 1949. The ACF was incorporated in July 1944 in Santa Clara. In 1945, Maxey published The Divine Liturgy of The Eucharist, and a newsletter, under ACF auspices in Los Angeles. He listed his degrees as Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Sacred Theology, Doctor of Theology, and Doctor of Divinity. In June 1946 the ACF merged with the Apostolic Episcopal Church, with Maxey being consecrated Apostolic Primate, Mar David I, in the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Christ the King, New Barnet, Hertfordshire, England. One source states that “his secular living came from a wholesale ceramics business.” Upon the death of Archbishop Arthur W. Brooks on 07 Jul 1948, Maxey became head of the Apostolic Episcopal Church in America.
It’s worth noting at this point that in 1929 Brooks had been consecrated sub conditione by William Montgomery Brown who, when consecrated in 1925 by William Henry Francis Brothers, declared, “I can worship with them all. I can join them all. I can be a Methodist, and a Mohammedan and a Hindu. I can be a Protestant and a Catholic in Christ. For the reality behind all their concepts is one reality, and the truth which they are all seeking is one truth.” That same year “Bad Bishop Brown” became the first Anglican bishop to be tried for heresy since the Reformation; it seems he was a student of Darwin and Marx, figures that eventually intrigued Maxey. Although Brown was found guilty (Brothers succeeded him) and deprived of his Episcopal orders, he was welcomed by the Old Catholics and thus was able to consecrate Maxey on 02 Jan 1927, as noted above. It is tempting to speculate that Maxey’s anticommunism and his subsequent turnabout were, respectively, a reaction to, and an embrace of, Brown’s ministry, which Brown augmented with many writings, including a series on Christian supernaturalism, a subject Maxey critiqued in his own writing.
On 23 Aug 1949, less than thirteen months after taking the helm of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, Maxey resigned. He wrote that, while he was urged by Ancient Christian Fellowship participants to form a church that would be interdenominational in nature, his experience had taught him that the endeavor would be a one-man show, only to collapse with its founder’s death. That is why, Maxey wrote, he was interested in a Universalist affliation. With the Universalists, he hit his stride, but failed in his quest.
Universalism and the Mattachine
On 11 Sep 1949, Maxey was installed as minister of the First Universalist Church of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Maxey had “spent much of his ministry in New England,” but this is not even mentioned in documents he provided to local Universalists. By 1952, Maxey felt comfortable enough to be living in the rectory with his lover, Robert Hernandez Deanda, a Fresno native.
In late 1950, the Mattachine Society, a gay civil rights organization, was founded by Harry Hay, his lover Rudi Gernreich, Chuck Rowland, Bob Hull, and Hull’s lover Dale Jennings. Sometime prior to 1953, Maxey became involved in the group, hosting the organization’s first convention at First Universalist in April and May that year. (At some point, Bob Hull became the church organist.) During the May assembly, the founders resigned in the face of calls for more transparency in the organization, which had operated stealthily from its inception. The founders also had opted to forgo democratic governance until a sense of direction for the Mattachine was obtained. They would recall the convention with some rancor.
During the gathering, Maxey was nominated chair of the organization, but declined, due to worries regarding his congregation, which were warranted when Confidential magazine published an article a year later that mentioned the convention venue, without naming Maxey. “It appears that two or three individuals in the church were just waiting for something to happen,” Maxey wrote two days before he left the church. But as early as November 1953 he already intended to resign “after the first of the year.” He did so at the end of March 1954, after preaching on John 7:46: “No one ever spoke like this man”—presumably, like Seattle’s Fred Shorter, daring to take the Gospel at its word. Activities other than the Mattachine convention, however, had riled his congregation. For instance, Maxey, with Mattachine co-founder Chuck Rowland, started what essentially was a gay- and bi-friendly singles group at the church, the Crusaders. In 1953, the group held a fashion show, which sent some congregants complaining to the church’s state superintendent, Douglas Frazier, who also served as Maxey’s temporary fill-in. Boldly, the Crusaders had advertised its March 1953 meeting in the Mattachine newsletter. On March 10, an in-person complaint was filed with the FBI, providing quite some detail in just a few lines on the Maxey–Mattachine connection. Upon asking for FBI information in return, the complainant was told FBI files were confidential.
If Maxey had a legacy via First Universalist it was by way of two developments involving gay churches. A permanent replacement for Maxey was not secured until the summer of 1958, in the person of Carl York Smith (né Schmidt). Smith’s time at the church was short-lived, but not, as with Maxey, due to friction or scandal. It’s likely that First Universalist disbanded altogether in July of 1959, possibly coincidentally with an impending merger with the Unitarians. Years later, on a return to Los Angeles, Smith was told of the suicide of the organist who had served at First Church during his pastorship. The organist was Mattachine co-founder Bob Hull. Schmidt—then going by his birth name—credited Hull’s suicide as the impetus for beginning a gay ministry. Schmidt actually secured some backing from the denomination in which he’d since been ordained, the United Church of Christ. In November 1971, in Denver, he founded The Homosexual Church of the Universe. By the following April, The Advocate was reporting on Rev. Schmidt’s January 30 arrest regarding a transgenerational relationship, which Schmidt defended in the magazine’s pages after his case was settled in August by pleading nolo contendere and being given a suspended sentence and $300 fine. In June 2006, Schmidt ended his days, as a Buddhist monk, the Venerable Nashville Samitha, a nod to his Bible Belt upbringing.
The second Maxey benefaction is less convoluted. It concerns Chuck Rowland, who had worked with Maxey at First Universalist. As Rowland told fellow Mattachine founder Harry Hay in 1977, Maxey “had all kinds of ideas about a gay congregation that was to arise within the Unitarian-Universalist organization.” Following the Mattachine founders’ resignation in 1953, Rowland tried to remain active with a Mattachine “legal” branch, but found himself marginalized. He was able to channel that effort by working with Maxey on the church’s singles group—the full name was Crusaders for Universal Freedoms. In October that year the group met with the ACLU regarding a test case of California’s vagrancy law, which had snared many a gay man, including three Mattachine founders: Dale Jennings, Bob Hull, and Rudi Gernreich. At the same time, Rowland and Maxey worked with a Mattachine offshoot, ONE, Inc., writing for its self-titled magazine. Rowland eventually headed ONE’s social services division and in that capacity, by early 1956, was tasked with developing options to serve gays’ and lesbians’ religious needs. Using ONE’s promotions committee as a focus group, and absent input from ONE’s executives, Rowland and his collaborators founded the Church of One Brotherhood—option #5 on Rowland’s original list. In one sense Rowland’s church appears to be the manifestation of Maxey’s “ideas”—the church even had a sort of Crusaders v.2: an “entirely non-liturgical” “youth affiliate” for social activists, dubbed The Prometheans. There’s some slight evidence, however, that Rowland had another motive for the church’s creation: conceiving it as a First Amendment sanctuary in the event of a Cold War crackdown on undesirables. In his role at ONE, Rowland would have known about what scholar David K. Johnson would call “the lavender scare”; between May 1953 and June 1955, under the cloud of sex perversion, about one federal employee a day was purged. Ten months after the start of the Korean War, J. Edgar Hoover had announced that, in the event of a war with the Soviet Union, he was prepared to round up 14,000 “dangerous” Reds, just as Congress considered repurposing abandoned military camps for sequestration, per statute, of political prisoners. The Korean War-era panic actually had caused Rowland and Hull to relocate to Mexico in the summer of 1950.
Whatever seeds Maxey had planted, bearing fruit in these two cases, they came from a strain with some history. As divinity professor Mark D. Jordan writes in Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality, “Various kinds of evidence suggest that there have been same-sex counterchurches or parachurches for many centuries.” Amongst Maxey’s contemporaries who dealt with mainline church anti-inclusiveness was George Augustine Hyde, who formed the inclusive Eucharistic Catholic Church in Atlanta in 1946. (Hyde was, however, opposed to ordination of women, so much so that he and others left the Orthodox Catholic Church of America.)
After his resignation in March 1954, Maxey and his lover moved back to Deanda’s home town of Fresno. Taking a day job at a hotel, Maxey remained engaged with the Mattachine (although “withdrawn from activity,” as he stated in print) and founded a Liberal Church, affiliated with Unitarian Universalism. In June, ONE magazine published his “A Minister and His Conscience,” a follow-up to ONE’s May 1953 reprint of remarks he made to the Mattachine executive council. (The edition containing the latter article was sent to all the principal churches in the country, to which the National Council of Churches replied asking for a speakers list. Maxey was asked by ONE to fill that role for Northern California.) In these articles, Maxey mentions the fact that most sex, of whatever variety, is proscribed by law, and yet the only institutions that take pains in enforcement (or, at least, in judgment) are religious. “If sex-acts are natural,” Maxey asks, “how is nature being offended?” And if the law is enacted for protection, Maxey declares he’s willing to forgo such security in order to “be about his Master’s business” in ministering to the “sinner,” who is banished from churches filled with the “saved,” whom Jesus “made it clear…had no need of him.” (Writing for ONE, Maxey used the pseudonym Wallace David, never identifying himself as a transgressor.) Also in 1954, Maxey issued the pamphlet-length Pearls of Pythagorean Philosophy, published by The Pythagorean Press (likely an imprint of Texas historian and Pythagoras scholar Hobart Huson Jr.), in which he discusses Christianity’s debt to Greek philosophy.
A year later, in June 1955, Maxey inquired with PSR regarding prospective work on a Doctor of Theology degree. This calls into question why he claimed, in his Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, already to have this degree. “Pearls” lists his degrees as M.A., S.T.M., and D.D. In any case, he was denied his prior study’s credit at PSR for that doctorate due to the lapse of nearly twenty years since obtaining his Master of Sacred Theology. By October, Maxey was selling encyclopedias, and by 1957, he was a clerk at a Travelodge Motel, although he professed being an auditor of the chain. In March 1957, he resigned from the Liberal Church; its Universalist contingent had dwindled (supplemented by Unitarians) while he remained unpaid for his services. A year later, official Universalist correspondence alluded to unnamed matters concerning Maxey. It may have become known that he’d begun work with Fresno publisher Sanford Aday, who in April 1958 was indicted on obscenity charges in Los Angeles, and arrested on a warrant for similar charges from Eugene, Oregon.
Sex & Censorship
Sanford “Les” Aday was the distributor of Maxey’s new venture, the periodical Sex & Censorship, which was founded by August 1958. The first issue included work by Henry Miller (“The Censor Censured”), Albert Ellis (“Premarital Sex Relations,” i.e., Chapter 3 of the influential psychologist-sexologist’s new Sex Without Guilt), and Lawrence Lipton (“On the Lost Art of Pornography”; in 1959, Lipton’s The New Barbarians looked at the Beat scene from the vantage of his home in “West” Venice, California). The uncredited “The Village of Angry Young Men: Who Are ‘The Beat Generation’?” attempted to answer its question by referencing the diversity of Beats, and what they held in common: “they want to be let alone to live their lives in their own way, without censorship or local interference.” In a “News and Views” clippings roundup, Maxey reprinted a Mattachine Review article by Gregory Trout on Britain’s famous “Wolfenden Report,” which recommended decriminalization of homosexual behavior. Maxey also invited ONE’s Jim Kepner to contribute an article about the group being given “the green light to a homosexual publication” by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Included in the magazine was a transcript of November 1957 testimony in Los Angeles before the California Assembly Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature. Appearing on behalf of the California Book and Periodical Vendors Association was its attorney, Stanley Fleishman, who eventually would defend Sanford Aday and Maxey. Sex & Censorship folded, however, after three issues and a name change (to Candida).
In November 1958, Aday published Maxey’s Man Is A Sexual Being: An Existential Approach to the Subject. As early as March 1959, Maxey was a principal of Aday’s Fabian Books, publisher of Maxey’s book. At some point, Maxey also became a principal of Aday’s West Coast News, his book’s distributor. (It’s said that his main occupation was that of bookkeeper.)
Man Is Sexual
Man Is A Sexual Being (changed from the original title Man Is Sexual, thereby emphasizing the existentialism of the subtitle and minimizing the bluntness of Maxey’s subject) takes up where Maxey’s ONE articles leave off: the individual is far ahead of his institutions—being free by nature, not by law, creed, or heritage. Once established, religion relies on the past rather than dealing frankly with the issues of the day, yet the number of years that man was free in sexual matters is far greater than the years since religionists attempted to fashion him into a sexless, or solely procreational, being. In adhering to an obsolete creed, man practices Sartre’s “Bad Faith,” denying his Sexual Being—and does so poorly. For some, psychiatry becomes the modern rationalization of creed, especially if the analyst-confessor is invested in creed itself. But if Maxey champions nature’s free play, he’s no libertine when it comes to sex for its own sake: that behavior “is of the lowest animal nature.” His ideas regarding the etiology of deviation are a mélange of nature and nurture. Regarding the former, since we all inherit traits from our differently-gendered parents, a sex-associated hand-me-down may, like hair color, predominate such that a female child might inherit her father’s attraction to women. Yet, regarding the latter, he stresses that deviation can be nipped in the bud by avoidance of divorce and embrace of sex education—the earlier the better—, thus facilitating Nihilation of any “lesser,” latent, orientation (man being “by nature bisexual”). Maxey follows this with a twist on eugenics, envisioning a society in which all sex is non-procreative, with “production” regulated and relegated to the artificial insemination of human queen bees, insuring that reproduction will be “so revered there never will occur ‘illigitimates’ [sic] nor ‘misfits’ nor ‘unwanted’ children.” “Every child brought into the world will be a veritable god,” Maxey writes, some pages before invoking Sartre: that man fundamentally is “the desire to be God” made manifest. In the Free world of Darwin and Einstein (no mention of Marx) that aspiration is closer to being realized.
In May 1963, Maxey delivered a Mattachine lecture entitled “Castrametation: Living Dangerously in Freedom,” which later was published as the first of what was to be a series of “Mattachine Lectures in Contemporary Thought.” If Man Is A Sexual Being was the analysis of a problem, this book is the synthesis of a solution, via existential castrametation, literally the art or act of encamping—“fitting ourselves into a given area, or conditioning a particular area to contain and accommodate the being we truly are, and freely occupy[ing] this selected area.” Maxey appended the book with two documents: the introduction to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, published by London’s Friends Home Service Committee earlier that year, and an appeal by San Francisco’s Freedom to Read group, formed in response to the “vigilante” Committee for Decent Literature.
Between 1958 and 1967 Aday, Maxey, and their colleagues were prosecuted in a dozen or more jurisdictions from Rhode Island to Hawaii, related to Aday’s publications’ alleged obscenity. By today’s standards, labeling Aday’s books obscene would be absurd. Even contemporary readers took issue. As one reader wrote to Aday’s Saber Books in June 1959, “Women’s Home Companion Magazine, and others, print more intimate sex articles than I have read in most pocket books.” After being reluctant to read Saber Books’ notorious Sex Life of a Cop, expert witness Rev. J. Frank Schulman told a court in Youngstown, Ohio, “I would say the dominant theme of the book…is the classical one of retribution overtaking the wrongdoer….” Schulman, a Unitarian minister and philosophy professor, quoted Thoreau in describing one of the novel’s policemen, Sgt. Jim Thorpe: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
According to defense counsel Stanley Fleishman’s analysis of U.S. Supreme Court case law, to be obscene, books under consideration must not have the “slightest redeeming social value” and demonstrate that “to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.” But did such standards exist? According to a West Coast News flier, prosecution witnesses in Youngstown admitted that “they did not read enough to enable them to compare the book with other novels on the market.” Nevertheless, Judge Erskine Maiden Jr. found the book obscene and ordered all copies destroyed. (Nearly two years later, in February 1962, an Ohio appellate court upheld the lower court ruling.) In May 1960, Aday, Maxey, and West Coast News were indicted on 19 counts by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, grand jury for transporting obscene books into the state. Their conviction in this case would lead to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Somehow, Maxey had time that summer of 1960 to incorporate The Free Fellowship of Universal Existentialists, which he said had been started in 1957. A prospectus for the organization anticipated establishment of an Institute of Existential Philosophy. In September, Maxey attended the Mattachine Society convention in San Francisco, but the proceedings troubled him. A Sunday business meeting was held over to Monday, with four hours spent just on delegate credentials and, following committee reports, much discussion regarding the organization’s governing structure. Maxey was upset, interpreting the trajectory of debate and decisions as “the Mattachine Society being slowly murdered by its so-called loving and sincere members,” which he wrote in the resignation letter that was read after a luncheon. It was happily accepted—but also debated.
Later that month, Aday and Maxey were profiled in a San Francisco newspaper, their attitude defiant: “Both are eager to defend their nationally-distributed paperbacks glorifying homosexuality, Lesbianism, incest and the wildest bedroom and bordello promiscuity.” The article noted “a weird contrast of the scholar’s [Maxey] properly professorish polysyllables, and the ex-con’s [Aday] Southern-drawled slang.” (According to the article, Aday had a rap sheet that included time in San Quentin for pandering.) Maxey told the reporter that “sexual deviation is in fact normal variation for human beings who are by nature bisexual.” And: “The most binding, restrictive, suppressing and deluding garment that we are wearing is that transparent cover-all garment, religion,” a line he lifted from Man Is a Sexual Being.
Meanwhile, their attorney Fleishman had a brilliant strategy in challenging the legitimacy of the Grand Rapids grand jury: that the panel likely didn’t mirror the community whose “standards” they were supposed to be concerned with. But the argument was denied on a technicality. In Fresno, Aday was ordered to shut down Mid-Tower Publishing (former publisher of Maxey’s Sex & Censorship). City official R.N. Klein acknowledged “some confusion” in the California anti-obscenity law, but stated that in the past certain vice operators had been handled by asking them “to move out of the city or be subject to continual harassment, and that is what will happen in this case, I believe.” In November 1960, Aday and Maxey’s co-defendant Matthew Meehan, died of a heart attack in Fresno at age 49. The following February, FBI agents began years of visiting newsstands (and Aday’s authors), who in some cases were intimidated into canceling orders or returning inventory. Others were resistant: one owner, according to Aday’s salesperson, told agents that “some of the important business men and women, and church people are his regular customers” for Aday’s books. In March nearly 670,000 books, worth about $50,000, were seized from Aday’s Burbank warehouse.
On May 1, 1962, Mattachine Society co-founder Bob Hull committed suicide. On about the same day, Judge Raymond Starr, presiding in the Grand Rapids case, was hospitalized (after having announced his retirement exactly nine months before). Twenty days later, Les Aday suffered an acute coronary occlusion at his home in Fresno.
On November 29, an appeals court ordered the return of Aday’s books in Burbank, effectively blocking any prosecution on grand jury indictments. Four days later, proving Man is indeed a Sexual Being, Publishers’ Weekly listed amongst the current bestsellers James Baldwin’s Another Country, Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line, each of which depicts sexual nonconformity.
On October 29, 1963, the Grand Rapids trial began. Tapped as defense witnesses were blacklisted writer Guy Endore and Los Angeles Times literary editor Robert Kirsch. In November Fleishman filed a memorandum noting that ten of the twelve jurors sitting in the box had not read a single novel in their lives. Judge Noel P. Fox (replacing Starr) ordered the jurors to read each of the eight books involved in the indictment. Those were the only books allowed in the courtroom; Fox forbade even the mention of comparable titles. Fleishman threatened to ask prosecution experts about comparisons, however, which appears to have been prosecutors’ reason for presenting no experts themselves. According to defense expert witness Edward L. Galligan, Associate Professor of English at Western Michigan University, several FBI agents attended the trial almost every day, in the event the case would set a precedent.
Christmas in the Clink
On December 12, after thirteen hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Aday and Maxey on five out of eighteen counts. But only a single book—Sex Life of a Cop—pertained. As Fleishman stated in the unsuccessful petition for bail, “To put it another way, the jury disagreed as to the alleged obscenity of seven out of the eight books set forth in the indictment.” Judge Fox immediately revoked bail and thus Aday and Maxey were jailed during the Christmas holiday until their sentencing on December 30.
Aday received the maximum sentence of five years and $5,000 on each of five counts; Maxey received fifteen years and a $19,000 fine. While the case was appealed they were released on bail. They lost their first appeal in March 1966, but the case was sent back to Michigan for consideration of sentence reduction. Two weeks later Judge Fox reduced the prison terms to ten years for Aday and five for Maxey, with no reduction in fines.
Defense counsel Fleishman petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of the Grand Rapids case. Friends of the court included representatives of the ACLU and American Book Publishers Council, in support of the petition. In opposition was Citizens for Decent Literature’s Charles H. Keating Jr. who, twenty years hence, would himself serve time, for fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy related to the 1980s savings and loan scandal. Keating’s convictions were overturned, of course, and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the convictions of Aday and Maxey. Another case against them, pending in Houston, fizzled. The Supreme Court decision was not actually exceptional, since, as reported in The Washington Post the next day, “The Court overturned more than a dozen obscenity convictions in the wake of its May 8 ruling that lower court rulings could not stand under any of several tests of obscenity espoused by individual Justices.” What was exceptional was the example made of Aday and Maxey by the Grand Rapids court in its egregious sentencing.
Retirement and Renewal
Sometime in 1969 or 1970, Maxey retired. In March 1973, Maxey’s lover Bob Deanda, 52, married Cumorah A. Smith, 47. Bob nevertheless visited Maxey often, and the two would drink together. Deanda and Smith divorced four months later, only to remarry in January of 1976. By the end of that year, Deanda and Maxey appear to have been living together once more.
In 1977, Maxey founded the Catholic Christian Church with Bishop Alan S. Stanford. He did so in spite of having ended his book Castrametation with, “Let our universities, the seats of knowledge and wisdom, be our temples”—compared with “temples which are based solely upon the hallucinations of Paul, a demented and physically unsound fanatic.”
In 1981, Maxey consecrated Alan Stanford, essentially leaving to him the Catholic Christian Church. Maxey then seems to have renewed his relationship with the Apostolic Episcopal Church. Maxey’s friend, Abbot Donald Weeks, said that in the last years of his life Maxey, due to his drinking, could be plied with liquor in order to supply ecclesial patronage.
Following the death of Mattachine co-founder-turned-couturier Rudi Gernreich in 1985, co-founder Harry Hay wrote Maxey, inviting him to a Los Angeles gathering in Gernreich’s honor—and—“to honor the Dream still lying unresolved in our own hearts.” By “Dream” Hay wasn’t invoking a generic gay-lib vision. The news of Gernreich’s passing, Hay wrote Maxey,
jarred a number of us down here into a belated realization that—32 years ago—when our magnificent Mattachine Dream faltered and collapsed, when our lovely unanimously-functioning Collective split apart and the Respectables moved to kick us Radicals out, the nine-to-ten of us intimately involved [Maxey included] were so numbed and so heart-broken that I don’t think we ever really said good-bye to the Dream, let alone saying good-bye—and thanks—to one another.
In May 1989, Les Aday died, at age 70. Six months later, after complications likely arising after a bout of drinking, Bob Deanda died, at age 69. Maxey’s visitation of Bob’s body and access to his memorial were encumbered by Deanda’s widow.
Sixteen months later, on 12 March 1992, Wallace de Ortega Maxey died in Fresno at age 90, calling Bob Deanda’s name in delirium from his hospital bed. The cause of death stemmed from chronic arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, the same condition that had afflicted Les Aday thirty years before.
(This profile was written by David Hughes, who is writing a book-length study of Wallace de Ortega Maxey, Bob Hull, and Chuck Rowland. Comments and information are welcome. Sources are available upon request. Portrait of Maxey courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School; used with permission.