"Burn This Letter Please": A Drag Queen's Letters to Hollywood Agent are a Key Source For LGBTQ HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: film, Hollywood, LGBTQ history, Drag Queens
After William Morris super-agent Ed Limato died in 2010, his onetime assistant and close friend Richard Konigsberg was entrusted with liquidating a sizable estate. First went the art and furniture, then the house. Over the years the last remaining boxes of what couldn’t be assigned monetary value made their way to the garage of Konigsberg and his partner Craig Olsen. Eventually, Olsen got around to rummaging through the cartons. That’s when the real treasure emerged.
Inside the first box he opened, almost as if they wanted to be found, were roughly 200 pages of letters — some neatly typed, others beautifully handwritten on stationery or scrawled on a postcard. The missives were filled with elaborate details of stolen wigs, sequined cocktail dresses and sexual encounters, all addressed to someone named “Reno Martin” and signed with names like “Daphne” or “Josephine.” Collectively, the letters painted a vivid portrait of an intimate existence among a tight group of friends in the late 1950s and early ’60s in New York.
“At first I thought, ‘These are incredibly personal. I shouldn’t be reading these,’” Olsen says. But then he quickly grasped why there was so much focus on hair, eyeliner, the frequenting of underground nightclubs. “I realized they were drag queens,” says Olsen, who picked up the phone and called his friend, Michael Seligman, a senior producer at “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” with an urgent request: “You’ve got to get over here and see what I have.”
At first, Olsen thought the letters might become source material for a future one-person show or, perhaps, a mystery documentary called “Who Is Reno Martin?” Then Seligman got in touch with the ONE National Gay and Lesbian National Archives at USC. He explained what Olsen had found and asked if he could compare the Limato letters with anything similar in the archive’s files.
“There was a very long pause,” says Seligman, “Then the guy said, ‘You have what? I can promise you there’s nothing like what you’re describing.’”
Only then did Seligman and Olsen realize they had stumbled upon rare artifacts of LGBTQ history.
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