Gene La Pietra

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Gene La Pietra was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948, in Providence, Rhode Island. By the age of seven, he had lived in five foster homes. His first stable home was with a couple named Alfred and Mary Patnaude, who had five kids of their own, and took in foster kids for $30 per month. Gene lived with the Patnaudes until he was 14, then struck out on his own, holding down a series of low-paying jobs under tough, caring bosses who taught him to exceed expectations, be honest, and not sweat the small stuff. 

In his later teens, Gene hitchhiked around the US, and eventually joined the Coast Guard. On shore leave in Seattle, he went to a gay bar and met a man named Ed. Together, Gene and Ed made their way to Los Angeles, arriving in 1969.

In 1971, Gene and Ed opened an adult bookstore called Book City News in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawaiian Gardens. The business quickly expanded to 13 stores all over LA. Two years later, Gene and Ed opened their first gay nightclub, dubbed Disco 1985 because they thought it sounded futuristic. In 1974, they opened Circus, LA’s first ‘all-inclusive’ gay nightclub. Eventually expanding to 36,000 square feet, Circus was a key birthplace for Los Angeles’ queer Latinx community. Civil rights and labor leader César Chávez held a gathering there in 1983 to train gay and lesbian activists on how to organize boycotts and raise money. Seven years later, Gene and Ed opened Arena next door to Circus. That same year, Ed passed away.

In 1994, Gene met a young man named Alejandro, or Alex. They fell in love, made a life together, and were married on Valentine’s Day 2014. Over that same span, Gene adopted two kids, Alwin and Janay, and fostered many others. In January 2016, failing health forced Gene to close both Circus and Arena. In 2017, his beloved Alex passed away.

OUTWORDS interviewed Gene in April 2017 at his palatial home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. A tight clan of friends and family members live with or spend lots of time with Gene, helping him cope with his physical challenges. He’s angry about working having worked as hard as he did, only to find himself unable to enjoy the sunset. He insists in his blunt Rhode Island accent that every single person’s life is valuable, important and interesting. And he continues to fret, as he has his whole life, about the people society doesn’t want – just as, once upon a time, Gene was a kid no one wanted. 
Eugene LaPietra: [00:00:00] Most the stuff we've done is on the second and third floor.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Eugene LaPietra: It's two floors above this and one below. We worked on this room here. We did the kitchen and we did the game room, and the yard.
Kate Kunath: Speeding.
Mason Funk: So, do me a favor. Before we get started or as we get started, just tell me your name and spell it all out for me, please.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:00:30] Eugene La Pietra. E-U-G-E-N-E L-A, space, capital P as in Peter, I-E-T as in Tom, R-A.
Mason Funk: Okie-dokie. So ...
Kate Kunath: Time out. Sorry.
Mason Funk: Yeah?
Kate Kunath: Yeah.
Eugene LaPietra: What happened?
Mason Funk: We're getting a little crackling on the wireless mic.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:01:00] From me?
Mason Funk: The wireless mics are kind of notorious for being very sensitive. So, if you get a little crackling, it could be just static. It could be that we need to change the frequency.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:01:30] Understood. What was your question?
Mason Funk: ... an admirer of yours, so to speak, as opposed to a personal friend.
Eugene LaPietra: No. He's not a personal friend.
Mason Funk: Cool.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:02:30] I have seen him in my lifetime maybe three times. Two of them were related to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] Okay. Were you a big supporter of Hillary's?
Eugene LaPietra: I was.
Kate Kunath: Let's just see. Hold on to that for me for a second.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay.
Kate Kunath: And count for me.
Eugene LaPietra: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:03:30] One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Kate Kunath: Okay. That's good. So, let's just put that back in your pocket now and we're good to go. Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] It's funny of these situation. You're nervous a little bit. I'm nervous a little bit, but really, it's like a cakewalk.
Eugene LaPietra: I know. I was ...
Mason Funk: I did this a million times.
Eugene LaPietra: I've got a million times that I was just looking in the mirror and say, "Why are you nervous in your house?"
Mason Funk: Exactly.
Eugene LaPietra: This is piece of cake.
Mason Funk: I know.
Eugene LaPietra: But it just is. It is.
Mason Funk: It just is.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:04:30] It is. You don't want ...
Mason Funk: It's sometimes good just to say it out loud.
Eugene LaPietra: You don't want to look like a complete idiot.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Eugene LaPietra: You just don't.
Mason Funk: No danger to that, I don't think. I hope I won't if I ... as well.
Eugene LaPietra: Well, you're not on the camera.
Mason Funk: That's true, too.
Eugene LaPietra: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: So, we're good?
Kate Kunath: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, when and where were you born?
Eugene LaPietra: Born in Providence, Rhode Island, March 17th, 1948.
Mason Funk: Okie-dokie. Now, I just wonder. There's a little bit of noise happening in
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] the house, but it will be pretty quiet, right? No major ... Well, let's just keep on. Let's just go.
Eugene LaPietra: Is that door behind you open?
Mason Funk: Let me get it.
Kate Kunath: I closed it.
Mason Funk: Did you close it? Okay. All right. Well, then, we'll just go. Tell me a little bit about ... I read that you had a rough and tumble start to life. Tell me about that.
Eugene LaPietra: Back then, you don't know you're having a rough and tumble life because you've got nothing to compare it with. So, it's just what it is. Then when you get a little older,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:05:30] you say, "Oh gosh, it wasn't exactly a Leave It To Beaver lifestyle." But as you get even older, you realize that all the experiences you have prepared you for adulthood. Now I consider it a gift from god, because it allowed me to walk a path that was very difficult. Now I understand people when they're having a hard time. I know exactly what it's like. I've been there. So, it's easy for me to understand
Eugene LaPietra: [00:06:00] what they're feeling and what they need.
Mason Funk: Tell me about what it was like.
Eugene LaPietra: Well, I was in five foster homes by the age of seven. We were packing all the time, obviously, and it was confusing, because you never get to know your brother or sister, because every time you've landed somewhere you had a new set of siblings, you had new parents, and by the age of five,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:06:30] you pretty much got it all printed into your head, "Well, bingo, they moved again."In those days, it was quite a different world. You're not given any notice. A social worker shows up. You got a brown paper bag. You take the very minimum with you and you're off to the next home for whatever reason. You're just going. So, it's not stable and it's not a environment that I would recommend for anyone. But it is what it is and a lot of kids go through it, and they go through it now.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:07:00] We've made strides. We try to make it better, but the bottom line is, for a foster child, it's all about belonging. And that's important. Even if you got a rotten father and mother, at least you belong. Even if you get beat, you belong. If you don't really belong and you're in a foster family that doesn't make you feel like you belong
Eugene LaPietra: [00:07:30] or you can't feel like you belong, then you're susceptible to all the outside forces, criminal activity and gangs.That's why 75% of all foster children end up dead or in jail by the age of 21. That's an incredible number. That's outrageous. And yet, it just keeps rolling on in this country. We just don't seem to be able to figure out how to deal with it.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:08:00] It's something that we should all be ashamed of, to have those kind of numbers and not figure it out.Until recently when you're 18, they kick you right out. Right out. On your birthday, right out the door of the foster home you're in. Now, some states they're giving some time
Eugene LaPietra: [00:08:30] so you can get a job, maybe complete some vocational training or school, or something. But it's very difficult when you don't have a base of operation. And no matter how loving that family can be, it really is what you've been told the family is supposed to be, just a foster home.It's not what you've seen in the movies. It's not what you've seen in TV. It's not what your friends at school go through. You may be the only foster child in your class. So, they don't know
Eugene LaPietra: [00:09:00] how to relate to you and you don't know how to relate to them, because the rules in foster family homes are different than the rules in a family home. Family homes, most kids open their refrigerator, grab what they want. Foster family home, most of the time, there's a lock on it. You're not able to get in there.As a matter of fact, the first time I met John Giles was at a foster home where the bathroom door was locked. I asked why is this door locked.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:09:30] "Well, we have to keep it locked just to make sure nothing happens." So if a child needs to go to the bathroom, they have to find the adult in the house, hopefully, get a key, unlock it and run upstairs. Now, what does that say about you how welcomed you are? What does that say about the people who are caring for you? You're generating jobs for a lot of other people. It's an industry, but they don't know
Eugene LaPietra: [00:10:00] how to wrap their arms around you. It's an impossibility.On that same visit, some of the kids were not at school, and I said, "Why aren't these kids in school?" "Well, they didn't want to go." "Oh my god, you're telling me kids now decide when and where they're going to go to school? You have to have a way to get them to school no matter what. They're not allowed to sit home on a school day." It's very important that they're in school. I mean their last hope is being educated.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:10:30] Without that education, they've got almost zero or to no chance of succeeding.The teachers will say, "Well, we treat the foster children just like we treat every other child," and I say, "Well, that's the problem. You can't treat them like everybody else. They're not like everybody else. They need more attention. They need an extra hug or two. They need more tutoring.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:11:00] " That's crystal clear, buteverybody thinks that when they say we treat them just like everybody else, that that's the metric that we should follow. No, it isn't. Totally wrong. Foster children need way more, they have so little hope.because they are lacking so much. They really lack so much and When it comes Christmas time, they set their bar down real low as to what they're going to get for Christmas.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:11:30] Birthdays, if anybody even remembers, it's real low. So, it's difficult and not everybody is going to make it. And that's why you have so many dead and so many in jail. It's hard to be a child and be unloved. It's real easy to understand why the gangbangers are able to recruit these kids, because the gang people put their arm around them, "We'll take care of you.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:12:00] We'll do this. We'll do that." They beat them up to be initiated into the gang and you accept it, because at least you have people who appear to care for you.In a lot of foster family settings, especially the group homes, you are not going to find that. At that group home that I told you about, not one of the staff had been a foster child. Oh my god, you couldn't find a single foster child to work here that would understand what these kids are
Eugene LaPietra: [00:12:30] going through, would understand how it feels to them to go into their bedroom that looks like juvenile lock-up? The same kind of metal frame beds, the same lack of personal items around. They're more interested in how the building looks rather than how the kids feel.
Mason Funk: The camera has its own little personal idiosyncrasies.
Eugene LaPietra: Are we still on?
Kate Kunath: No. We're good.
Mason Funk: Yeah, we're still good.
Kate Kunath: [00:13:00] Yeah.
Eugene LaPietra: Okay. What do I say next?
Mason Funk: What I want to ask you is, did you, in your own personal story, did you eventually settle into a stable, so-called?
Eugene LaPietra: I was very lucky, my fifth foster home, was the Patnaudes, Alfred and Mary Patenaude. And they were very average people, a stay-at-home mom with five of her own kids, taking in foster
Eugene LaPietra: [00:13:30] children. Mr. Patenaude went to work as a sheet metal worker, but I lived there for years and didn't know what he did for living, never had a clue. It was only when I got around 12, I think, I actually found out he was a sheet metal worker.And at the time, she had no refrigerator. She had an icebox. No washing machine. She had a wash board. It was incredible
Eugene LaPietra: [00:14:00] what this woman could do, and it was very hard. The state at that time paid $30 a month per each child, and kids coming and going. I was there for a good period of time before I left and I was very happy. I don't think I nearly appreciated what they did for me while I lived there.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:14:30] I don't think I appreciated it at all.It was only later in life and I look back and I said, "Oh my god, the sacrifices they made for children that weren't even their own, when they had their own. They had their hands full." But when you're a kid, your brain isn't fully developed. You're not thinking in those terms. You're just counting how many hugs that one gets or how many birthday gifts they get and how the relatives react to them and don't even see you, look right through you. You're not there.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:15:00] And that's just the reality of it all. Because nobody knows how long you will be there. The state can come and take the kid anytime they want. So, yeah, I was really an unappreciated, selfish kid, and only later in life did I realize the gratitude that they deserved.
Mason Funk: Did you ever get a chance to tell them?
Eugene LaPietra: Yes. Not him. He passed away at a very early age, early 50s from a heart attack.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:15:30] But Mrs. Patenaude, yes, I did. Yes, I did, and she loved me. And we were close my entire adult life. Matter of fact, when she passed in her hospital room and I got there, she had two pictures on the wall; her husband's and mine.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:16:00] So, yes, we had a good time. We loved each other.
Mason Funk: It's a great feeling when you're able to tell somebody ... You may not appreciate it at the time, but to be able to tell them, eventually, it certainly feels better than never getting the chance.
Eugene LaPietra: Absolutely. He always used to say his dream was to get a green Cadillac. If he had lived, I'd have gotten it for him, but I wasn't
Eugene LaPietra: [00:16:30] able to do that. But I was able to at least show Mary Patenaude, Mom Patenaude the respect she had earned for sure. She was a great person, took in lots and lots of kids.
Mason Funk: Who do you think her motivation was?
Eugene LaPietra: He had been a foster child. She had a tough childhood. They were just
Eugene LaPietra: [00:17:00] good people. Her daughter's daughter adopted a young child that was left at school. So, its he'srunning still in the family. I've adopted. It's something that they taught us that was the right thing to do, because you can talk about a problem and you can say, "Well, let's do this and let's do that. Why don't you just do it?
Eugene LaPietra: [00:17:30] Why don't you resolve yourself to do it? Why don't you do things that you know will make a difference? Since you have been in that position, you can do it better than anybody."
Mason Funk: One of my favorite interviews from last summer was a very accomplished African-American woman from Chicago. But she said that in her family, either spoken or unspoken, the rule was service is the rent you pay for living. I thought that was really cool.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:18:00] I think it's brilliant. I think it's absolutely brilliant.
Mason Funk: Did you mention you got in any trouble?
Eugene LaPietra: Oh yeah, I was the troublemaker. I never went to school. I had the distinction on graduation when they put out the list of kids in order of how they graduated. I was number 470. So I figured the other 30, there was only 470
Eugene LaPietra: [00:18:30] out of 500, the other 30 were either moved or dead, and there I was. I have a copy of my report cards, all of them and they all say the same thing, E, E, E, E, E. And back then, that was not for excellent. That was for failing. In one school year, I think I missed 181 days playing hooky and not going to school. I stopped going to school
Eugene LaPietra: [00:19:00] when I asked my teacher how much he made. His name was Mr. McHale. He was a history teacher and I liked him a lot. I was working at a gas station and at a restaurant as a busboy. He said he made $87 a week and I'm making 120. And I'm thinking, "Teacher, 87. Me, 120. I don't need this place." So,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:19:30] I committed myself then to leave school. I had learned all I needed to learn. I didn't have to do it anymore. I was going to go out and work, work, work. And that was it.
Mason Funk: What happened to Jacky?
Kate Kunath: Speeding.
Eugene LaPietra: Jacky got into a fight with somebody we don't know who and got infected.
Mason Funk: I might going to have to ...
Eugene LaPietra: Is this going to show up?
Mason Funk: No. I think you're alright.
Eugene LaPietra: So, she just covered me.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] It happened to one of my cats one time. What's that?
Kate Kunath: It's time.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Eugene LaPietra: Okay. Where were we?
Mason Funk: I was going to ask you about, you figured out that you just wanted to work.
Eugene LaPietra: I worked and loved it so much. I was the guy when somebody said who wants to work Christmas, my hand went up. Who wants to work New Year's Eve, my hand went up. Work, work, work, work, work. I had two and three jobs at a time, working at Big Ben Texaco Gas Station,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:20:30] 25 cents an hour, loving it. Twin Oaks restaurant, no pay, live off the tips, loving it. These were the greatest jobs. Windsor Drive-In, I think it was probably a dollar or two a day. It wasn't a lot of money in today's term, but back then, I had my own boombox. I could buy my own clothes and it was a lot of money.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] Did you make friends along the way?
Eugene LaPietra: I don't ever think I was a social person. I really don't. I've always considered myself pretty introverted. It's just the way I am, and Im still that way. You just don't change. You don't change. I think it goes back to the first five years of your life, the insecurities that go along with who's on first, who's on second, who's on third.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:21:30] You never know where you belong in relationships. So, I don't really form long-term relationships well. I have a couple, but not the number that you might expect.
Mason Funk: Working gives a person a real sense of belonging. Do you think that contributed to your work ethic?
Eugene LaPietra: No.
Mason Funk: No?
Eugene LaPietra: I think working gave me a sense of money and it gave me a
Eugene LaPietra: [00:22:00] sense of independence, and I didn't have to listen to anybody and I could do what I wanted to do. That's what worked. It set me free. It set me free totally. I didn't have to ask for anything. I could buy it myself. That's what it did. I didn't care what anybody else thought. I just love working. Really, I didn't want to have any downtime, and people say, "Well, why don't you take vacations?"
Eugene LaPietra: [00:22:30] I don't go on vacations. I don't want to. I didn't want it then. I don't want it now.The work experience is what made me who I am today. The people I worked for, each one of them, gave me huge valuable lessons, and I'm thankful to each one of those guys that I worked for, because they taught me how to be a responsible businessman.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:23:00] They told me how to live my life. They were the ones that molded me and gave me the opportunities just to do things on my own. Then when I got older and got into my own business, of course, every time I did something, I would think of one of them, "Don't do that. Do it this way. Do it that way." And they were always right, invariably always right.Their advice from the grave has
Eugene LaPietra: [00:23:30] always been spot on. They've never been wrong. I've been blessed to remember everything they taught me. Bob LaPlant at Big Ben Texaco when I first got the job, 25 cents an hour, he said, "Well, what time you're going to be here tomorrow?" First day he hired me, and I said, "Well, I'd be here at 7." He says, "No, you won't. You'll be here at 6:30." "But you told me 7 o'clock."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:24:00] He says, "You owe me a half hour. I'm giving you a job. You owe me." That has never left my mindset, never left my mindset.Billy DeAngelus at Twin Oaks taught me to be totally honest. One day when I went into work and I was just 16. He called me over and he's a very tall man and very serious man. He said to me, "Kid, come over here." And just by the tone, I knew, "Boy, something wasn't good."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:24:30] I went over and he said, "I hear you're a queer." You don't want that question asked. I said yes. He put his arm around me and said, "If anybody gives you any shit, let me know. I'll take care of it." Wow. From that day forward, I learned honesty. Always be honest because you can never predict the outcome. You'll never know what the other person is going
Eugene LaPietra: [00:25:00] to say or do. You might as well just lay it on the line.And boy, that changed everything at that restaurant, because everybody heard it, especially the head bartender, Big Al, who ran the place. And from that moment on, everybody's attitude towards me changed dramatically. Everybody was nice to me. And it was a fabulous, fabulous experience.Mr. Venturino,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:25:30] I worked as a cleaner, cleaning floors. One day, I put the cleaning solution along the lockers in the high school and I forgot to pick it up later with a mop. So, the next day, it was all burnt all the way around, all the way around. And I go, "Oh, that's the end of me." No. He puts his arm on me and says, "Don't worry about it. It's just small stuff." To this day, it's still there. My contribution to education
Eugene LaPietra: [00:26:00] is that, burn going all the way up to the floor on the lockers on the tile.Great people. I worked for marvelous, marvelous people. Mr. Patnaude would always tell me things and I would listen, things like "Don't shit where you eat." That's my credo. Never play where you're working. Never mess around with the staff. Always get close
Eugene LaPietra: [00:26:30] with the boss. He'd always tell me, "Remember who signs the check on the bottom." I learned that from Mr. Patnaude. That's who you care about, the guy who signs the check.That always propelled me from last hiree to assistant to the boss almost within weeks, move right up the ladder, because I only listened to him. No gossip, no hanging around,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:27:00] no taking lunches with everybody else. Just doing what he told me and making sure it gets done. So, everybody, god, I have been so blessed with the people that I worked for and the time they took to teach me things.I worked for Bernie Bloom and Bernie told me one day, he says, "Gene, if the phone rings and a guy says, 'Hey, I want to talk to Bernie. He owes me some money,' then the other line rings and you answer it real quick
Eugene LaPietra: [00:27:30] and that person says, 'Oh, this is so and so. I want to talk to Bernie. I have good news for him,' which phone call do you give me?" And I said, "The guy with the good news." He says, "Wrong, you give me the phone call from the guy who says I owe me, because I don't want him coming over here. And I want him to know that I'm still in town, that I'll pay the bill. I will get my debt paid."And through my hard times of which I've had many,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:28:00] I always made sure that I never hid from the collectors, the people I owed money from. And that has stood me well all these years. I could give you example after example of great stuff that these guys all imparted into me. The blessed thing is, I listened and I used it. And now, I pass it onto anybody who wants to hear it.
Mason Funk: You frequently use this sort of bless and blessed and blessing. What does that mean to you?
Eugene LaPietra: [00:28:30] It means I ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start by saying blessing or blessed means.
Eugene LaPietra: Jesus blesses me every day, every single day. I believe in him. I am full of gratitude towards him for sacrifices he made. I cannot ever believe that I got this far without him. Even when I didn't know it,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:29:00] he was holding my hand. Even when I was pulling him off the trail and going in the wrong direction, he was there. And as I get older and older and older, I realized how much I love Jesus and how much I appreciate all the suffering he went through so I could be here. Anything that he's given me, good or bad, I am grateful for.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:29:30] If it didn't go my way, thank you, Jesus. If it went my way, thank you, Jesus.
Mason Funk: Were there any of those bosses who had to basically bust your ass at any point along the way, did more like instead of putting their arm around you slowly but ...
Eugene LaPietra: They were all hard on me. They gave me the hard shifts. They gave me the responsibility. They'd never let up. But they saw something in me.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:30:00] They saw a little of themselves, I think, a little renegade kid, arrogant kid with a chip on his shoulder, and they molded me into the businessman I became and into the person I became. I never had it easy at all. It was never an easy check. Bob LePlant had me where I couldn't go inside the gas station. I had to stay outside.In Rhode Island, you're talking about subzero temperatures. I had all the clothes
Eugene LaPietra: [00:30:30] I owned on. He would pull up and his girlfriend who was a teacher would be driving and he would roll his window down, and on a metal plate, metal pie plate was food. He would give me the fork and I would have to eat off of his hand off the plate while he rolled the window up, while he rolled the window up. So, I'm eating like a maniac. Oh my god, my whole life, I have been a fast eater.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:31:00] And he taught me that, "Even if it ain't easy, do it. Just do it." He said, "I better not see you go to the bathroom. You better be out here and don't miss a car." So, boy, my bathroom breaks were few and far between, not as they are now, many and often. But back then, few and far between, as I was always sure he was watching. It was five corners. He was on five corners. So, for godsakes, he could be anywhere.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:31:30] Yeah, they were very, very tough. Very tough. They expected me to get something done and not always telling me how to do it. I had to get a little ingenious sometimes. And sometimes it went well and sometimes it didn't. But in the end, I thanked them because, boy, what a collection of bosses I had. Every single one I worked for made a major contribution
Eugene LaPietra: [00:32:00] in rebuilding this foster kid, every single one of them.
Mason Funk: Wow. Wow. In their cases, did you maintain a relationship long enough to go back and say, "Hey, I've made it. I've made it and I want to come back and say thank you"?
Eugene LaPietra: With Bernie, I was able to do that and take him out to the Friars Club in Beverly Hills for dinner. He died shortly thereafter.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:32:30] I don't think it had anything to do with me. The others, no.
Mason Funk: [00:33:00] When did you first get the idea that you could move beyond working for other people to owning something? When did you first own something?
Eugene LaPietra: When I was working for Bernie and Blanch, he got hepatitis in Cambodia
Eugene LaPietra: [00:33:30] and I was pretty much running the place for six months. And then, shortly there afterwards, Ed and myself decided we'd open up our own place, which was a bookstore. We did that in a place called Hawaiian Gardens. Whoever heard of it? Right. It's way down there. But we opened it and we were happy, but we weren't making any money.So we decided to add a
Eugene LaPietra: [00:34:00] porno section. From there, everything went straight up. Of course, the police were there as well. So, we had a battle with that. That was a constant nightmare. That opened up everything. We were able to do that and we opened up the clubs and other things and just kept going. Just kept going.
Mason Funk: So this is out here now in California.
Eugene LaPietra: In California.
Mason Funk: How did you make your way West from Rhode Island?
Eugene LaPietra: I came out here
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Do me a favor. Say, "Actually, I went to California."
Eugene LaPietra: when I was 19 and I hitchhiked out. When you're a kid back East, all the movies have these reels back then in between showing you what's happening, "And the streets in Hollywood are paved in gold, the palm trees, the this, the that." And you're in Rhode Island and it's cold and frigid most of the year. So, I hitchhiked out.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:35:00] It took me six months cause I stopped at hamburger joints along the way, cooking. But I got here, thanks to U.S. Postal Service. That ride got me across most of America and that was great, because I was cold out there.Then the last ride was this guy and I said, "Take me to Los Angeles." He said, "You don't want to go to Los Angeles. You want to go to Hollywood." No. I said, "No, I want to go to Los Angeles."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:35:30] Well he bypassed Los Angeles and dropped me off at Vine, and Argyle up there. I walked down the street, down to Vine, looked to my right. And, oh my god, I could see the street glimmering in gold. I just felt it. I was liberated. I was going to make it.And I began immediately going door to door to get a job. In 10 days, I got a job at Pacific Indemnity
Eugene LaPietra: [00:36:00] Insurance Company delivering mail. That's where the mail department is on the ground floor and 13 guys down there taking mail up to the various businesses. My first day, as an initiation, you have to take it up to the executive suite, because the secretary up there was mean and she's like a dragon, and she's going to really give you a hard time.So I went up there and I walked right by her and I delivered everybody's mail
Eugene LaPietra: [00:36:30] on that floor. One of the doors I went to, the person said, "Why are you delivering the mail to me personally?" I said, "I just thought it'd be a nice touch." He said, "Let's come in here." He introduced himself. His name was Gene Williams, and my name as being Gene, so we already have a common thing there. We talked and all that. It was nice. When I left, the secretary was yelling at me, right? When I got down the stairs,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:37:00] the supervisor said, "You never do that again. Just give her the mail. That's it." "Okay, I'll do that."Well because I was the last hiree, I got the latest lunch period. So, my lunch was at 2:30. I'm getting off at 3, I think, or 3:30. So I was going to the cafeteria and there was only one person in that cafeteria sitting way over there, huge cafeteria, third floor. I eventually
Eugene LaPietra: [00:37:30] sauntered over and said, "Do you mind if I join you?" She was a middle-aged lady. She says, "Not at all." Every day, I'd be up there and we would talk. Her name was Eloise Newton.She asked about me and then she told me about her, that she was not a college graduate and she was the only person on the board of directors of Pacific Indemnity Insurance Company, the largest insurance company in the world.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:38:00] She was in charge of human resources. She was big. Here I was with a fake ID that said I was 27. I was 19 and I'm working in the mail room. She said, "You're going to get a call, your supervisor, and they're going to tell you to go to personnel. Then personnel is going to interview you, send you to get an interview. When you go to that interview, the only words you want to use is yes.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:38:30] No matter what they ask you, you just say yes."Sure enough, a week or so went by, my supervisor says, "Well, I guess you're being fired. They want you up in personnel." I got to personnel and they said, "We want you to go to the fifth floor, collections." So I walked up to the fifth floor collections and there were two guys sitting there waiting for me in a small office and hundreds of people working on that floor.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:39:00] They interviewed me. Do you know how to do this? Yes. Do you know how to do this? Yes. I didn't have a clue of what they were talking about. Did you have experience at this? Yes. No clue. "Well, when can you start?" "I can start tomorrow." They said, "Well, Monday, because tomorrow is Friday. So, we'll start Monday."So Monday, I've got this new job. And what I left out of that story is, every day, because I didn't have any money,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:39:30] I would leave to go down to work early. Sometimes I hitch a ride. Sometimes I'd have to walk all the way from Argyle to Wilshire Boulevard. I'd get on the elevator and this one man was on the elevator with me. And he asked me one day, "Do you work here?" I said yes. He says, "Where do you work?" I says, "In the mail room." What's your name? I gave it to him. He gave me his name, Carl Fisher.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:40:00] And it turned out he was the president of the company.So the first day on my new job, the doors opened and he comes walking in, walks over, and says, "Congratulations." So, everybody in the building thinks that's how I got the job. They were all jealous. I was second in charge over all these people. There was the floor supervisor,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:40:30] Roger and myself, on the actual floor, and we were to oversee the collections of studios, Paramount, MGM, all their insurance policies, only for the big boys, farmers, all of that, because we were the underwriter.Those commercials you see on TV, they don't carry the liability. You buy the insurance from them, but then they sell it to us. We buy it. We own it.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:41:00] And that was that job. Gene Williams and I talked a lot and I always think about him
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] How long did you stay there?
Eugene LaPietra: I stayed there for about six or seven months. Then I'm not exactly sure why, but I ended up in Omaha, Nebraska. And then, from Omaha, Nebraska, I ended up joining the Coast Guard.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:42:00] I'll tell you how I joined the Coast Guard. I had an affair with this woman who was married, and of course he was in the Hells Angels and a motorcyclist told me he was going to kill me. So, I ended up going right to the recruiting office for the Army and they turned me down because of flat feet. But he said, "You go over there, Coast Guard. They'll take you."All I have to know is how to swim.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:42:30] So, I walked over there and enlisted, got in the Coast Guard and, boy, was I happy. That was the best. I had the time of my life there. I had the time of my life. I ended up being the first non-Filipino steward in the Coast Guard. My job was to cook and clean for five chiefs, and I loved it. I loved it
Eugene LaPietra: [00:43:00] because it meant I had no watch, I could leave right after I was done. If we're at a dock, I could leave. And I wore civilian clothes when I was off the ship, and nobody else could do that.But I was a great cook and I used to steal food from the captain's galley and replace it with our food, because the captain's galley always had better food. So my guys, it was hear no evil, see no evil, know no evil.
Guess what I had great relationships with the right people, [00:43:30] They were just happy to get it. I made a great strawberry shortcake. They loved it. But I think most of all, I never repeated a word I heard, because they were doing things they're not supposed to do, but I didn't go back and tell everybody else, the medic, who was very important because he did the daily inspections.He would come in and inspect the chief's quarters and of course I passed with flying colors every day. Every day, flying colors.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:44:00] I just loved it. But then one day, a very strange thing happened. We were up in Seattle and I got liberty, nobody else did. I got to leave the ship in civilian ... No, I had my military clothes on that day. The cab was out front and I asked the cabbie to take me to a queer bar, because they didn't have the gay word then. I could see the expression on his face was to live for. Just to have that,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:44:30] it was just unbelievable.Then, he said, "Well, they're not going to let you in because you're a military." I said, "Well, just take me." He took me to one place. I said, "Wait right here," and I opened the door and I looked in, I said, "No." Went to the next place, and the third place I looked in, I said, "Yeah." Went back, I paid him. I walked up to the door and the doorman says, "I can't let you in. Shore patrol will arrest you. We're going to get in a lot of trouble." So I just walked right by him,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:45:00] still a little bit of a troublemaker.Then I walked right up to the bar and everybody in the place were looking at me, because I was looking good, a handsome young kid. Obviously in the military. I ordered a beer. But what I saw when I opened the door was this kid standing against the jukebox,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:45:30] and I had never seen anybody look like that before, had a bandana on, real dark long hair. I didn't understand it. So, I took the beer, walked over to the jukebox. To this day, I don't remember if I even took a sip out of it, but I turned to him and I said, "Let's go." He looked at me. He put his beer down. We both walked out.We made a right turn, walked down the street. There was a fire department there and all the fire guys hooting and howling
Eugene LaPietra: [00:46:00] because they probably see this all night long, making fun, and off we went. We went to his place which was on Queens Hill, in the Queens District. We went in and he had a one room that couldn't have been more than 10 by 10, in the basement. No bathroom. That was down the hallway, about 80 feet in the laundry room, no window. The heat was provided by a pipe.
.Eugene LaPietra: [00:46:30] The room didnt have a sink Of course, we made crazy love and we had a great time. Before I left, I said, "I'm going to take you to Los Angeles and I'm going to make you a millionaire." He thought I was crazy. I told him, "Go quit your job." He had a great job delivering pillows for Gensilite. It was like a $1.80 an hour or something. He quit
Eugene LaPietra: [00:47:00] his job. I went to the base and told my commanding officer I wanted to leave and he said no. He said, "Why do you want to leave?" I told him the story, I met the man of my life. He said, "But you're not queer." I said, "Yes, I am."I appealed to the base commander and I walked into the base commander and I told him my story. I said, "I've never been in love. It's the first time. I'm not letting him get away. So, I'd appreciate it if you let me go." 10 days later, I had an honorable discharge
Eugene LaPietra: [00:47:30] with all the benefits. I had served six months. I would have served forever, but I wasn't going to let love get away from me first time. No way.We spent 22 of the happiest years of my life together. He was my man. He told me later on, he was with his friend when I walked in the door of that bar. He turned to his friend Mario and said, "Mario, that's your kind." I wasn't even his kind. But we came down here and we worked very hard together.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:48:00] First place was MacArthur Park, $75 a month that included utilities. It had a big parking lot. The main thing is we had a back door. We were on the ground floor, 10 units, but the wall was right there. I just loved having that backdoor. It said something about it's not an apartment. It's a house. You got a backdoor, and $75.We worked very hard together, worked unbelievable hours.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:48:30] We were constantly getting arrested, constantly going to court, constantly going to jail. It was unbelievable.
Mason Funk: What were you getting arrested for?
Eugene LaPietra: Selling pornography. We had a little store and every time we put a book or a magazine or a movie, we'd be arrested. It was just like crazy.
Mason Funk: Wasn't there a better way than you just keep getting arrested over and over again.
Eugene LaPietra: In those days, the police would hope they'd break you down.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:49:00] Most people would give up. I don't know what it is to give up. I just don't know what it is. I don't know where the angle is in giving up. I don't know where the satisfaction is in giving up. I don't know how you feel better by giving up at the end of the day. What's the point of giving up? Why bother? Why bother living if you're going to give up every time you're challenged and every time you hit a brick wall? Why don't you just spit in their eye and keep going?That's my attitude. That's how I feel then, that's how I feel now, and I'll always feel that way. There's no
Eugene LaPietra: [00:49:30] modification necessary. Just keep going and going and going. One day, it was Mother's Day. Mother's Day, it was a Sunday, and Ed and I had agreed we'd meet at a restaurant. He didn't show up. I went to the police station. I said, "Do you have Ed here?" They said yes. I said, "You're not supposed to keep him here. You're supposed to book him and let him leave." He said, "We told him he could leave, but he fell asleep."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:50:00] I said, "Ed, what are you doing?" He says, "Oh, I'm so sick of this shit I just decided to sleep." He was dying. He slept in the Bell Gardens jail.Oh god, we just went on and on and on. In no time, we had 13 stores and we're just going crazy. And then ...
Mason Funk: 13 stores, all kind of these combo stores?
Eugene LaPietra: Yeah. All in Los Angeles down to Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens, Whittier. That was a fun one. We'd open up.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:50:30] The police would show up, clear out the store. Take them two hours. Take us another half hour to reload the whole store up. They'd come and back and forth. Then the federal government really started landing on everybody and sending everybody to jail for a long time. That's where we ended up selling that business and going into the nightclub business. First, we had a hotdog stand.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Let me interrupt for a second. What did you learn that people might be surprised to hear about the customers who frequented these stores?
Eugene LaPietra: They were everybody you could imagine. They were your school teachers, your doctors. I loved that one day I see a guy there and he was a pilot of the plane that I had just been on for some reason going somewhere. I'm saying, "There's a pilot and he's over here picking out his stuff." Everybody in there brought us there. Everybody in America was buying this,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:51:30] except Richard Nixon. Everybody else was buying it. And they had that war on it and it was a war on our free speech.I was one of those people that was right at the forefront of it because we were constantly getting arrested and testing the boundaries, and winning. But, eventually, we had to consolidate a whole lot of cases, which we did. Then I ended and Ed ended up deciding
Eugene LaPietra: [00:52:00] that we go in a different direction, clubs. And we ended up doing that. We had this little coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard before that, though. It was called Hasty Tasty Coffee Shop. I was behind the grill cooking and he took care of the 10 stools and I'd hang out the window going, "Hotdogs. Hotdogs." Our goal was always to have $100 a day.6274 Hollywood Boulevard,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:52:30] right across from the Pantages, and rent was $187 a month. We'd have to go down to Coldwell Banker and pay him cash every month. We would stay open just the two of us, no employees until we got that $100. We had a gumball machine. If a kid put money in, we take it out immediately so we could count it against the hundred. If we sold this or sold ... It didn't make a difference, as long as we made the hundred, or we didn't leave.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] What would that take you to sometimes still ... You just stayed open until you have them?
Eugene LaPietra: We'd be there 12, 1 o'clock in the morning trying to sell stuff. Then we started with the clubs. Circus Disco was the result of a very interesting situation. A friend of ours was going to be 21 that day, Leeroy Hinkle, 6'2", blond hair, blue eyes, 185 pounds.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:53:30] He was beautiful, just beautiful, and we were going to celebrate his 21st birthday. We had heard about this new club that had opened in West Hollywood, a big gay club, and it was called Studio One. So we were all excited. We all piled into an old broken down car.We got over there and I was first in line. They didn't ask my ID.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:54:00] Then Ed was next to me and they asked for his ID, and he showed it to them. Then they said, "Well, you need another one." And he showed them another one. Then they said, "You needed another one." He had all three. He had a California driver's license, a state of Washington ID card, and a state of Washington liquor card. Then they said no. Next to him was Lee who wasn't 21 yet. He'd be 21 at midnight. They didn't ask for his ID.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:54:30] Robert was next. They didn't ask for his ID. Last was, oh my god, I can't believe, Pineapple. Pineapple was next.So, I said, "Well, let me speak to the manager." The manager came down those stairs and said, "You can go in," pointing to me, "He can go in. He can go in," Lee and Robert. Ed was Mexican-American, born in this country,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:55:00] but clearly Mexican and you could mistake him for Indian. Pineapple was late 40s, early 50s, 200 plus pounds, bald, African-American, clearly over 21. Their policy was they didn't want blacks or Hispanics in the club, period. They weren't going to let them in. This was in a gay nightclub, like we didn't have enough on our plate
Eugene LaPietra: [00:55:30] from all the harassment, the police, the crazy stuff, society in general just shitting on us. Now, I find our own clubs do it.So we went out that night to a place in the Valley called Oil Can Harry's. They couldn't have been nicer. They gave us a table in a little, what do they call it, alcove and table. I got as drunk as you could possibly get, don't even remember the night.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:56:00] The next morning, Ed says, "Do you remember what you said last night?" I said, "Oh god, what did I say?" He said you said you're going to open a nightclub that everybody could come to.We went out that day. He took Hollywood and
Eugene LaPietra: [00:56:30] I took downtown and we drove around looking for locations. I didn't find anything, but when we met up back home because there was no cellphones, you had to have a meeting place. We met up, he says, "I found a place in Hollywood," and he gave me the number and I called it. It didn't answer. It didn't answer. So, we drove over. There was a big sign with the number on it. It was right. He wrote it right, didn't answer.We went to the building next door. I pushed the buzzer, buzz, buzz, buzz,
Eugene LaPietra: [00:57:00] and finally the door opened. We both walked in. At the head of the stairway right at the top, this huge man, huge blocked out the sunlight, blocked out everything, and said, "What do you want?" I said, "Do you know who owns the building next to you?" He says, "I do. What's it to you?" I said, "I'd like to rent it." He said, "What do you want to rent it for?" And I said a discotheque . He says, "I don't have time for you.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:57:30] Do you know who I am?" I can't see him because it's so big and dark. I said no. He said, "I invented the miniskirt and I have to get to New York for a fashion show, but what is a discotheque ?" I said, "It's a place for people to dance." He said, "Well, come up."So, we went up and followed him. We were two very skinny people at that time. I had 118 pounds on me and a 26 waist
Eugene LaPietra: [00:58:00] and the closer we got to him, the closer we got to each other. We started being like two chipmunks. You got closer and closer together because it was kind of scary. He was so big. He had a beach towel wrapped around his neck that only went part way to collect the sweat, and his fingernails had disappeared because the fat had rolled over, and his eyes were purple and he was breathing very heavy. He says, "Nobody ever has called me to rent that building."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:58:30] It dawned on me immediately. Oh my god, he doesn't know that there's a mistake up there. Something is wrong with that number. He said, "What's a discotheque?" I said, "It's a place for people to come and dance." He said, "Okay, give me some money." So, I wrote him a check and I gave it to him. He looked down and he said, "What's this?" I said, "You said give you some money." He says, "It says $10." I said, "But I know it won't bounce."
Eugene LaPietra: [00:59:00] He took the $10, told his secretary to give me the keys. That's how easy it was back then. I got the keys. He's got the $10. He goes off to New York. We go in.Oh my god, we got this big huge store. What are we going to do with this? And Ed, god bless him, says, "Don't worry. We can fill this up." It was huge. How are we going to fill it up? We haven't even made a deal on the rent, nothing.
Eugene LaPietra: [00:59:30] Well, that weekend, we're shopping on Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset and going to the store there, but there's a line of people going into a bank that just opened. I said to one of the people in the line, "Why are you all lined up here?" They're giving out credit cards. They're giving out credit cards.I wasn't quite sure what that was, but we got in line real quick. Sure enough, they gave me a $500 limit credit card
Eugene LaPietra: [01:00:00] and they gave Ed a $500 limit credit card, and we immediately went to Hollywood Boulevard and drove down. He drove and I jumped out at every bank, and I drove and he jumped out at every bank and got our 500 limit. We went right home, laid it on the floor. We had $30,500. That's before all the banks were tied in. Of course, we had seven years bad credit facing us along with a lot of other stuff, but we now had $30,500 to do it.But we also on Monday
Eugene LaPietra: [01:00:30] got the bad news from Walter. He calls me and says, "Get out of there. Cops told me what you are and we don't want you queers there, and you're this and that." He called every minority group in the world, very racist man. I said, "Well, you have your lawyer call my lawyer." Clunk. I didn't have a lawyer, but it sounded good. See it in the movies, right? Every day we go there and it'd be these big posters he'd make up, "Leave the property,"
Eugene LaPietra: [01:01:00] this and that. But I'd go to the park and get all the workers there, get them some booze, some cigarettes, something to eat. They'd come. We do the work, blah, blah, blah.Then, finally, the week when we're done, I still don't have a sound system, still don't have lights, but a friend said, "Well, go down the street. There's a guy there namedDave Kelsey. He won an Academy award for sound." So, I go in there and they have people set everything up, "Yeah, you need this. You need that. You need this.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:01:30] You need that." They come over and look at it, $30,000. I don't have $30,000. I already spent all the money getting the place ready. Now, I don't have that $30.I'm there every day begging them, begging them, begging them. Finally, the owner, Dave, comes out and says, "What's going on?" I tell him. He said, "Okay. I will give it to you if you pay me $500 guarantee every week. I don't want to come and get it. You bring it over here." It's only three blocks. Yes. Now, I had sound, had lights, we picked the opening date.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:02:00] I decide to go upstairs and invite Walter. Oh my god, he went ballistic. He says he was going to kill me. He was going to do this to me. He was going to do that to me. I said, "Walter, I just came here to invite you, to come down, see what we've done, see what these people that you're yelling about are all about."That night in walks Walter with the most beautiful woman that's ever walked the face of the Earth. She has long red hair, ruby red lipstick.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:02:30] She is gorgeous. She has a red dress on to kill for. She has French nylon stocking and six-inch stilettos. Go figure. The two of them danced and danced and danced. At the end of the night, he comes to me and says, "Kid, see me tomorrow. I'm going to give you a lease." When tomorrow came, I was so tired and my head was boom, boom, boom.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:03:00] I said to Ed, "Oh, I don't want to go." Ed said, "You better go because that man is going to change his mind."I drove up to Hollywood and met him right in the parking lot as he's coming. I get out of the car, very optimistic and happy, walk over to him and he says to me, "I've changed my mind." Now, how could Ed have known that? "What do you mean you've changed your mind?" He took his finger
Eugene LaPietra: [01:03:30] and he poked it into me, "How do I know you're not going to go bankrupt?" It hurt. And I took my finger and I tried to estimate where his belly button was or something and I go, "How do I know you're not?" He paused and he said, "Okay, come on. I'll give it to you."Over the years, we became very good friends. He understood the gay community, started to embrace it.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:04:00] He understood blacks, started to embrace them. I learned his story. He had made it through the concentration camps. He had lived through it. What a remarkable story he had. At the end of the day, we had a great relationship. Unfortunately, he passed away and that was that, but we had Circus.
Mason Funk: Wow. What year was this roughly?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:04:30] 1974
Mason Funk: 1974. The incident at Studio One that prompted all of this was kind of right in that same timeframe?
Eugene LaPietra: Yeah. That was before we opened.
Mason Funk: Just to get a little bit of LA gay history going here, how big of a deal was it for there to even be big kind of splashy clubs where gay people could go? Was that like a big deal?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:05:00] LA at the time was a police state. The police department was run by chiefs that were little mini Hoovers and they had the dirt on members of the city council. So, the police department was running this city. There were sections of this city like the Rampart Division, you couldn't open a club. They just go in and close it down. That was it. Hollywood, same way.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:05:30] They don't want any gay clubs. We had a lot of gay clubs at one time and then the cops decided to close them all down and all of them got closed down. They're all gone. A couple left, but all the rest gone. That's what made West Hollywood happen. It was all those club owners moved to West Hollywood.
Mason Funk: This may seem like a naive question, but why did the cops, why were they so adamantly opposed to having gay clubs?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:06:00] Mormons were at the very top of the police department and they have a low regard of gay people, and there was an enormous amount of racism and sexism. A lot of our police officers were from the South and they brought that hatred with them. It was a police state. We were constantly battling the police under unbelievable circumstances.
Mason Funk: [01:06:30] Wow.
Mason Funk: Okay. Just go back and start over again. Start with that example, that story. You said you were raided a thousand times ...
Eugene LaPietra: [01:07:00] We were raided over 1,000 times and the cops involved in these raids, there were 13 of them. All 13 of them were eventually arrested. All 13 cops arrested, two for murder. Murder. The rest for burglaries. They admitted to 200 burglaries in Hollywood alone.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:07:30] You wouldn't know that because it's not like the story that made it big. None of them went to jail. None of them went to jail.They were brutal. They would come in to the club and beat people. They would stop the music. They came once and pulled out the gun wrapped in green tape. Throwaway gun, they pulled it out of his leg, pointed at me, arrest me, arrest my employees, take us jail.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:08:00] Hold us there, get bailed out, get out. They had immunity. They could do what they wanted to do. And eventually, we beat them.
Mason Funk: How did you do that?
Eugene LaPietra: Because one night when they came in with their billy club flying, 50 cops, helicopters, the whole nine yards. They told all the people to sit on the floor. If you have your ID, sit on this side
Eugene LaPietra: [01:08:30] of the floor. If you don't have it, sit on this side, giving out commands just like a Nazi. Well, at the end of it, they arrested my DJ ... arrested my light man, rather, and a few other people. My DJ comes over and says, "You're not going to like this because you told me not to do it." What he was doing was taping the music and reselling it, and I didn't want that happening.But, as it would be, he taped everything
Eugene LaPietra: [01:09:00] they said. This time when I made my complaint, they said it didn't happen. It was on Channel 2 news. It went viral. It was on every news station. City hall called a meeting for it and the cops denied it, but then they heard the tape, and it was over. Shortly after that, the cops were all arrested. I had told internal affairs at that time these guys are gangsters, and they were.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:09:30] Every single one of them was a gangster.
Mason Funk: Wow. Wow. Was this under the years of Chief Ed Davis? This was his tenure?
Eugene LaPietra: Chief Ed Davis, yeah.
Mason Funk: I remember his name from when I was growing up here. So, on the flip side, apart from all these arrests, what strategies did you use to make Circus successful, for your clients, for your customers?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:10:00] The strategy was to have clean restrooms, which was not a high priority back then, give them their money's worth, treat them good, and anybody who wanted to come in could come in. Often, you'll have people compare Studio 54 in New York to Circus, and I'm always offended by that, because we were opened first. One day on a Sunday, this young guy comes up to the line
Eugene LaPietra: [01:10:30] and says, "Is Gene here?" I said, "Yes, I'm Gene." He says, "Well, I'd like to open a club in Hollywood." I said, "You'll never get a license." He's told me his name, Steve Rubell, and he's going to go back and open a club over there in New York. He did open the club in New York without a license.What he did different than I did was everybody could come in to our club. Over there, they picked and somehow that was okay with the white power structure of
Eugene LaPietra: [01:11:00] the gay community, the Truman Capotes, and all of those people, the Holsteins, the Andy Warhol. All of those people were okay with that, because they participated in it. They let it happen. They knew outside that blacks weren't allowed in, that Puerto Ricans weren't allowed in, that Mexicans weren't allowed in, that certain women were not allowed in, and they participated in it.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:11:30] They were all part of it.The same as Studio One, Studio One West Hollywood. Women couldn't get in there. They couldn't wear open-toed shoes. Well, that's the only shoes that were made for women, were open-toed shoes. What were they supposed to do? Get dressed up and then put combat boots on? Blacks couldn't go in. Hispanics couldn't go in. But the white power structure in West Hollywood went along with it and supported it.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:12:00] We did the opposite. Everybody could come in and we became the vocal point of the Latino community, a power base where they could meet, where they could build a base, where eventually they were running for office left and right and winning. All those people, every one of them had been a Circus alumni. They had all been there, done that.
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] Oh my goodness. Sorry. Was that me?
Eugene LaPietra: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I read that Cesar Chavez had a political organizing meeting, I think, at Circus.
Eugene LaPietra: Everybody had a political organizing meeting at Circus. Cesar Chavez, I read that article where it said a hundred people. There were 1,200 people there, but that's how history is rewritten. Anybody with a pen or a typewriter can write it the way they want, and all of a sudden that's it.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:13:00] We had a roomful of celebrities. And on that particular day, it was him and Jane Fonda and all that. I got to sit with Cesar for five hours. Cesar Chavez and I sat for five hours on a couch and I got to talk with him about his life. It was so inspiring to learn everything about it. Every question I asked him he answered. He was getting paid no more than in the field work. He lived in the same house
Eugene LaPietra: [01:13:30] he'd always lived in, had the same car. This man was the real deal.He was a head of a union, but he was the people's union. He was with them 100%. And he put his life on the line. There were many threats against his life, but he never gave in. When I sat there and he talked, it's just inspiring. Just inspiring. Fast forward, a little while later, he calls me up
Eugene LaPietra: [01:14:00] and says he wanted us to get rid of the Coors Beer for boycott. Of course, and I didn't hesitate. Even though Coors was my number one seller, I was making a ton of money on it, I called the Coors people and told them, "Pick your stuff up. It's in the parking lot right now." That was it.Of course, the Coors son offered me $100,000. Today's money, what's that, a million? And I said, "No, thank you," because that's not how you build alliances.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:14:30] Out the door, that beer went. It went from number one selling beer in the region to number five. It cost them millions of dollars with that boycott. Everybody that you can imagine, politically, that needed the Hispanic community was now at Circus, every politicians. Some nights, it was like a line of them to come in to talk, to get support, get endorsement, raise money, this, that and the other. It was unbelievable and it worked.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:15:00] Our lives have been defined by our own self-hatred and our own bigotry. The enemy out there was never the problem. We've always been the problem and it hasn't changed by much. Back then, white gay people didn't want to be in the same room with blacks.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:15:30] They didn't want to be in the same room with Latinos. They didn't want to party with them. Now, they would go to a bathhouse and have sex with them, but they didn't want anybody to know it, or for anybody to see them. They did not want these people coming through the front door. They were racists.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:16:00] I nominated and had to fight like heck to get Albert Sanchez, a Harvard
Eugene LaPietra: [01:16:30] graduate, cum laude, on the board of the gay and lesbian community service center as the first Latino member. I got him on. They treated him like dirt, like dirt. We had a nominee, Adele Martinez, who was totally qualified to be the executive director. I got her this close, this close, and then she withdrew her name,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:17:00] because they gave her such a hard time, such a lack of respect, and it hasn't changed.We've never got our house in order. Right now, we've got the gay, lesbian, bi. What is it called, L? Lesbian, LGBTQ+. It's like we're looking for the whole alphabet there. We are defining ourselves
Eugene LaPietra: [01:17:30] in different little groups and then say we're united. We're not united. We're simply not united. If we were united, things would be a lot better for everybody, but we're not. And it wasn't then either. When the AIDS crisis broke, oh my god, blacks were treated like pariahs by the white community. Nothing was done to help them.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:18:00] APLA, the first fundraiser they had was at my club. If you go on their website right now, you will not find that. They will tell you the first fundraiser they had was at Studio One. No, my club. AIDS Healthcare Foundation, I put up the first quarter million dollars before anybody else put it up to open the Brownlee hospice. You can't find that in their records.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:18:30] If you ask them, they'll say, "Oh yeah, that's true." But they have written their histories the way they wanted to write their histories. Christopher Street West for years had no members of color that were out.I put up $241,000 so they can throw that parade. I guaranteed a loan of $241,000. Nobody in West Hollywood would do it. That parade was history because the City of West Hollywood said, "No,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:19:00] you have to come up with some money." Just as the county and city said about the hospice, "We're not giving you money for that hospice unless you get somebody to put it up matching funds." That somebody was always me. It was always me. That money came from my clientele. It is black and Hispanic money and some white money, but mostly Hispanic money.
Mason Funk: [01:19:30] What do you attribute that level that ... nature or is that unique to our community?
Eugene LaPietra: It is the way you're brought up. Your parents have racism and you're going to have it. It's simple as that. It's not unique to us. It's painful when you're a member of that community and you cannot get through to them, the white power base,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:20:00] that it is wrong. On every single level it is wrong not to embrace your brothers and sisters, just plain wrong. The same thing keeps happening. It doesn't change. It doesn't change at all.When you have a parade and it's supposed to be Christopher Street West, a celebration of gay pride,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:20:30] how do you get to charge $20 to go into the fair grounds. How does that work? Does that not exclude the poor gay, lesbian, the rest of the alphabet? It excludes them. How is that right? How can't anybody not see that? How could that be happening with tax dollars? Closing a street down and you're charging,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:21:00] but your people that you say you represent aren't getting it, where does the money really go? Where has it ever gone? Where has it ever gone? It's not changed.Back then in the '70s, oh my god, the racism was right in your face and it was accepted by them. It was a way of life for them. In the '80s, same thing and it ain't changed. It just hasn't changed and it won't change. That's just who they are.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:21:30] I remember once going over, I was on the board of APLA. I put up the most money to start the AIDS Walk. I put up $30,000 to get that walk going. And I went down and asked them how many people they were servicing.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:22:00] One, one person with AIDS was being serviced, one. How many people of color are being serviced? None. That's why Carl Bean, Reverend Carl Bean opened his own, because no white people we were willing to service them.They've made it ever since so hard and unbelievably difficult for them.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:22:30] Everything was always a white boy's club, end of story. I was there. I saw it. That's the way it was.
Mason Funk: All right. I have more questions, but I don't know what to say about that. It's just that it's tragic. It's bad.
Eugene LaPietra: It's a reality, it's sad, but that's exactly what it was.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] So ...
Eugene LaPietra: I'll tell you a story. When it came time for the city council to vote on the equal rights ordinance for the city to give gay people equal rights, the white power structure found out they didn't have the votes. So, they came to me, Shelly Andelson said, "Gene, we need to get those blacks on board."
Eugene LaPietra: [01:23:30] So I went downtown and I talked with Robert Farrell. I said, "Bobby, I need you to vote for it." He said, "I'm not going to vote for it." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Those bastards haven't done anything for me. They never helped any of us. My whole district is black. I got a church on every corner. If I start helping queer people, how am I going to explain that on Sunday?" I said, "As a personal favor, would you do it for me?"
Eugene LaPietra: [01:24:00] He eventually said that he would do it. Dave Cunningham, the same thing, same thing. They've never raised me a penny, Gene. They've never supported. These are people that had been raising money for politics forever, but never raised a penny for the black members of the city council, because they were so arrogant that they thought they had all the power. But then, all of a sudden, there's three black members of the city council
Eugene LaPietra: [01:24:30] and you don't have enough votes.I got those votes and we passed that bill. They never helped those guys. They never came through, because they couldn't get over their racism. They couldn't get over it. Duke Comegys was a very racist person on the board of the center. One day, he sent me a message
Eugene LaPietra: [01:25:00] when he was dying and said, "Gene, I apologize. You were right. We were doing this all wrong. We should have opened up for everybody." And that's exactly what we should have done. But when you're telling me it, it doesn't help. You got to tell the masses. You got to reach out to all the white people that think it's okay to discriminate against a black brother or sister.Come on. This is all of our battles. This isn't just yours that you take the victory lap.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:25:30] We do all the work and then we're left behind. But that's exactly what it's been. Exactly what it's been. The truth is in the pudding. Look at the organizations that service the community and tell me later if you find one of them that represents the demographics of the City of Los Angeles. I would bet you dollar to donut there isn't any. On the center, we had this one black member.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:26:00] I was told there was a black member. I never saw him, two years. I said, "Why doesn't this guy ever show up?" He never showed up.We had a woman. She lived in New York. She never showed up. Talk about crazy, but that's how they did. It hasn't improved, not from what I can see. It hasn't improved. Maybe you can make a difference.
Mason Funk: [01:26:30] We're shooting to do our best. And that's been my priority from day one.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: At your clubs, how do you feel like you were able to provide a different kind of arena, not just the people who came as clients and customers, but through your employees? What were you able to do for the community?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:27:00] I did a number of things for the community. Everything that happened in the City of Los Angeles during that time period, we were at the forefront. We were either underwriting, which was putting out the money to have it happen or were staffing it. We were there doing it. Even when it came to the Republicans, we were putting out money, the seed money to start the gay Republican party. And the gay Democrats were mad at me and I said, "Are you people crazy? We've got gay brothers and sisters
Eugene LaPietra: [01:27:30] that are Republicans. We got to listen to both sides of the story. Everybody has got an opinion. You don't freeze somebody out just because they are from a different political point of view."So, I gave them seed money, $5,000 to start their organization. Back then, that was a lot of money, Frank. Food, banks and all kinds of things, every gay organization that you can think of back then
Eugene LaPietra: [01:28:00] I was funding. I can't think of any that I wasn't.
Mason Funk: I guess what I was getting at is, you were a club owner, a business owner, so you had employees.
Eugene LaPietra: Yes.
Mason Funk: You know that the way a business owner treats their employees makes a huge difference in their lives at the nitty-gritty level. So I am just curious as to how you ran your businesses in a way that I'm sure from your point of view was beneficial and good for your employees.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:28:30] I remembered what I was taught, don't shit where you eat. None of my employees were coerced into going to bed with me to keep a job. That was the norm in many, many clubs. You always heard those stories, not at my club. At my club, everything was above board. Everybody was treated equally. You didn't get hired because you were the prettiest person. You got hired because you showed up and you were the first one through the door and you got a job.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:29:00] We had girl bartenders way before any gay clubs would have thought about it then. Drag queens work in the bar. Everybody of color work in the bar. It didn't make a difference to me. Age-wise, it didn't make a difference. You could be old or young. It didn't make a difference. As long as you came in, had a good time, danced, I always wanted you to dance back there and have fun. We had no waiters, for a reason.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:29:30] I did not want my customers to feel pressured to buy a beer or to buy a drink. You're old enough to know where the bar is. You can walk over and get it.I don't want somebody coming up and saying, "Would you like a beer?" You say yes and then you see somebody cute walk by and you can't chase him, because you're waiting for your beer and your money. So, we didn't do that. We let it be that, no waiters, just the bartenders. We did all sorts of fun stuff together. I'd always get buses and wed go to
Eugene LaPietra: [01:30:00] Magic Mountain altogether, all the amusement parks together. I liked the Knott's Berry Farm best, but everybody else like the others.Once, I've rented one of those Hornblower yachts and we had every employee and their significant other come on and have a party. We were always doing things. We had our own baseball league. We had all sorts, our own bowling league, of which
Eugene LaPietra: [01:30:30] I was big in, big in the baseball too. I had a lot of fun doing that. We were always having activities and it brought us close together. I never fired people unless they really, really did something to a customer. Stealing from me did something against a customer, then I'd have to let you go.wasn't going to get you fired. A promise not to steal is all I wanted you to do, but if you disrespected and
Eugene LaPietra: [01:31:00] I had one dear bartender, Jim, from Texas, the oldest bartender, did very good business. One day a black customer came up and says he won't serve me. So, I walked back, he was busy, I said, "Why don't you serve him?" He said, "I'm not going to serve any blacks anymore." And I said, "Well, you have to leave." That crosses the line. Everything else you can work with. You can really work with it. If you're worried about people stealing, you're going to go crazy.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:31:30] You are absolutely going to go crazy. What you want to do is modify their behavior and then it takes the heat off of them. They feel better when they know you know and that you've agreed it ain't going to happen again. Pay it back. Let's get over it. Keep your station. Just keep going.I think they had admired the way I ran the business. They love seeing us in the news all the time. They love seeing all the things we're doing. They love the fact that Circus was known all over the world,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:32:00] that everywhere they went, somebody knew them, "Hey, that's great." This was a place you could bring your mother to and have a great time. What gay bar could you bring your mother to? No, but Circus you could, because the emphasis was not on sex. It was having a good time socializing. That's what the emphasis was on, and people understood that. It was fun. Circus was fun.No matter what you look like, you didn't come to the club with high expectations of finding somebody.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:32:30] If you left the same way you came, you were okay. You had a good time. If you got lucky and you're caught, great. Either way, you had a great night at Circus. We always gave them their money's worth, we gave them a good time, and they knew that their money was going to support causes that they were interested in.
Mason Funk: [01:33:00] Let me interrupt just for a little bit of history here. When did Arena start? With Circus doing what it was doing, what was the point of starting Arena? How did that ...
Eugene LaPietra: When we finally bought the property, Arena was sitting there empty, so we tried to lease it at a dollar a foot. For two years, nobody would lease it. So, I said, "Well, let's just
Eugene LaPietra: [01:33:30] open another club. We can walk from here to there. We don't have to get in the car. We just walk right over." That's when we decided to do it. That was the whole thought process. We opened it up and it was all ages. So that was different. That was quite a bit different. You got 15 and 16, and 18 and 20-year-olds. We didn't like you if you're 21 there. Not that we didn't like you, but we wanted you to stay at Circus and the younger kids there.
Mason Funk: [01:34:00] You didn't serve alcohol then?
Eugene LaPietra: We had alcohol, but it was upstairs in a little area. We would have a 21-and-over night and then all-ages night. On the 21 and over, obviously, the others couldn't come in, but that was the big difference, was having the option to having under 21.
Mason Funk: [01:34:30] Can you give me an idea? It would be fun to have you just ... Because I know you were there. You were there. You weren't just like someone who ...
Eugene LaPietra: Omnipresence.
Mason Funk: Yeah, that's the word I was looking for, ubiquitous. Given the fact that you were there, can you describe a typical weekend night at Circus?
Eugene LaPietra: Oh my god.
Mason Funk: Just walk me through from when you would head over there until you come home. What would you do?
Eugene LaPietra: After I got out of bed, and drive over, I'd be there an hour before we're going to open. Get there at 8 o'clock with
Eugene LaPietra: [01:35:00] everybody else, and everybody would be setting up their stations, their bars, the outside, and I would be doing my walkthroughs. A walkthrough constituted looking for every single possible violation that could be a problem later throughout the night, light bulb over the exit out, something blocking something, something not working that should be working, finding out the ice machines are broken, having to call the ice company to come down and bring ice, making sure the floors are
Eugene LaPietra: [01:35:30] not too slippery, just the right degree of slip so everybody could dance and enjoy themselves.You're looking for the cleanliness stuff and the health and safety factors. You're looking that you have enough bartenders for that night and not too many or not too few. You're making sure that everybody is in a good frame of mind. You're going around building up everybody's spirits. Then I go to the front door and greet people as they're coming in. I need to know at the front door
Eugene LaPietra: [01:36:00] that everything is being done right, because a customer decides if they're going to have a good time in the first 30 seconds, and that's walking up to the door and that's interacting with the security, interacting with the person asking for IDs, interacting with the cashier.After that, it doesn't matter. If they've had a bad time in that experience, their night is screwed. If they have a good time, no matter what happens inside,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:36:30] they're okay with. Somebody could drop a drink on their head, they're fine. But if they go in out to the front and they've had a bad experience and somebody bumps them inside, they could go ballistic. It's just a matter of making sure that no matter how well-trained my people were, I wanted to be there to make sure they didn't have a bad night. And that bad night would overflow into actions that would negatively impact my customers,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:37:00] period, because one person could make it bad.Just a snide remark from the guy asking for your ID, that was unnecessary. Just a ticket taker not being nice to you, not saying thank you, so that's why I was always there at the front. Plus, I had to be there for the police and fire department. They were always showing up. I couldn't be somewhere else. I had to be right there. I could be sure they were going to be there for one thing or another.
Mason Funk: [01:37:30] Imagine I'm your employer ... I'm your employee, rather, and I see ... I think I'm a bartender, I'm setting up, and I see you come walking over, that you're doing your rounds, getting everything ready. How do I see you? You're my boss, but do I feel nervous? Do I feel safe? Do I feel excited? Do I feel like you're my buddy? What do I feel when I see you coming over?
Eugene LaPietra: I think you just think it's Gene. It's just Gene.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:38:00] He comes over. He waves. I wave to them. They wave back or I walk right up to them and say hi. It's just a comfortable level. There's no big deal going on here. There's nobody yelling at anybody. There's no snide remarks of any kind. There's no quotas. There's no you got to do better. None of that stuff. Just have a good night. I'd always encourage them, "Listen, you want to get up and dance on the bar, go ahead. You want to have a good jig, go ahead. Just have fun.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:38:30] Have as much fun as your customers without drinking." I'd rather you serve less drinks and had more fun because that's what the customer is going to remember. And so, that's what I think they would see. It was more casual.
Mason Funk: You've mentioned earlier that you did go through some, what you said, very tough times. Tell me about that, some of those.
Eugene LaPietra: Oh my goodness, when you're getting arrested left and right and then thrown in jail, and when you're ... cops are coming in, arresting you
Eugene LaPietra: [01:39:00] up the dance floor right in front of all your customers ...
Mason Funk: SpSo why would they come here and arrest you?
Eugene LaPietra: Arbitrary. Those days, the cops ruled Hollywood. They ruled it. They could do what they want. They would do the following. We have a report that an officer is down and all of a sudden you'd have 50 cops inside the club, helicopters, the whole thing, streets blocked off, because somebody reportedly called and said an officer was on the dance floor
Eugene LaPietra: [01:39:30] being beat up by customers. Of course it was all fake news as we call it today, but what can you say? You can't say anything until all of a sudden one day you got lucky, and your DJ records it all, and you actually have it all.When they deny it, then you pull it, and you say, "There it is. That's what actually happened." Then you finally got your "got you" moment. We got you. Yeah, it was a constant thing, constant. Constant, constant, constant.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] Did it ever threaten the success of your businesses? Were you ever worried about ...
Eugene LaPietra: It was remarkable. We would load up buses and take them to hearings downtown. Fill up the whole hearing room where there was more people in the hallway than there were in the hearing rooms. The people were feisty and they supported us and they were willing to go the extra mile to get out there.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:40:30] They'd bring their whole families to these hearings. While the city was trying to close us down, people were supporting us.One of the things that made the biggest difference, biggest difference is this old lady up in Hollywood Hills had her house burglarized. She called the police. It took them several hours to get there. Then she read the article where there were 50 police officers at my club on Halloween Night.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:41:00] So she wrote a letter to the editor, "What do I have to do? Call Circus Disco to get a cop?" That one line shook the foundation at Parker Center. The brick started falling off, because when you get average citizens that aren't in the clubs, don't even know about what's happening, that think now that you ain't doing your job because you're harassing them,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:41:30] that's bad for you.You know if she's thinking of it, other people are thinking of it. If the LA Times is writing about it, other people are reading it. They understand how it works and they understand the politicians are going to start going for cover. The ones that gave them the green light to go ahead and do it.
Mason Funk: Back in these days, '70s, '80s, '90s, at the level of
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] gay organizing, political organizing, grassroots organizing, people running for office, who do you remember is doing good work back in those days?
Eugene LaPietra: Reverend Troy Perry, without question. Troy Perry was remarkable. He was a good soul, good soul all the way through, a great man, put it out on the line. Just a fantastic human being.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:42:30] Just a fantastic human being and a great organizer. Without question, I put him at the very top of the list.
Mason Funk: It makes me feel good for interviewing him yesterday.
Eugene LaPietra: No way.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Eugene LaPietra: No way.
Mason Funk: For this project, yeah.
Eugene LaPietra: Oh my god.
Mason Funk: I love that. That was the highlight. I want to frame that moment.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:43:00] 40 years ago, I remember sitting on the floor, either his apartment or somebody else's in West Hollywood, strategizing about something or other, but this is a man that has credentials. He's fought the wars and won, and continues to do so. A great human being.
Mason Funk: Yeah, it makes me feel good. We have the same experience.
Eugene LaPietra: Yeah. So, there you have it.
Mason Funk: 50 years, I think next year will mark his 50th year of activism since he started his church. So ..
Eugene LaPietra: [01:43:30] Well I knew him before he started his church.
Mason Funk: He started in October, because I remember the date so specifically, October 6th, 1968 because it was the day before I turned 10. That's when he literally had the first meeting in his living room.
Eugene LaPietra: He already had the church then. So, it had been a couple or three years after that.
Mason Funk: Still very early, though.
Eugene LaPietra: But it's been a long time.
Mason Funk: [01:44:00] Anybody else come to mind? Anybody else?
Eugene LaPietra: Well, ah, Don Amador, who was very politically active in respects of challenging the authority at city hall, he organized an event where all the club owners got together in a school auditorium and all the police had
Eugene LaPietra: [01:44:30] to show up, all of the fire department heads and the president of the city council, John Ferraro, was there. We blasted the police there. The tables had turned. The tide had turned. They were no longer getting away with pushing us around. We were telling them what we wanted, what we expected from the police department, to stay out of our clubs, and to get the people that were robbing our customers
Eugene LaPietra: [01:45:00] and damaging their cars, and go back and get criminals. He was important.
Mason Funk: Peggy Stevenson's name has come up a couple times.
Eugene LaPietra: Peggy Stevenson was a hero. She took over her job after her husband passed away and was a real friend of the community and they stuck her right in the back. She got our first gay judge appointed by the governor.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:45:30] I want to say it was Stephen Lachs was the first one, or Schrader, but I think it was Stephen. I'm not sure, but one of them. But it was the first and she was a friend of the gay community. But then they wanted the West Hollywood whites gay guys wanted to run Steve Schulte. And so, they're going to run Steve Schulte against her.I ended up siding with Peggy, because there's
Eugene LaPietra: [01:46:00] some value to being loyal to somebody. After all, she stuck her neck out for us over and over again. When the Sunset Neighborhood Junction people wanted to put on their event, they called me and said, "Gene, we can't get any permits. The police won't give them to us. Can you get those permits?" I called Peggy and Peggy said, "Gene, the cops don't want to give them the permits." I said, "Peggy, we're going to have to land on them with everything you got. You got to tell them they have to give the permit."You know what? She got the permit.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:46:30] Those same people called me back and said they couldn't get any beer distributors to sponsor it. I called Anheuser-Busch. I said, "You either sponsor it or you take your beer out of my club." Guess what? They sponsored it. First time Anheuser-Busch had ever sponsored a gay event anywhere. That was it, right there. Put the money up, did it. Peggy Stevenson was a hero
Eugene LaPietra: [01:47:00] in this community, treated very, very poorly at the end, in my opinion.
Interviewer: Wow. You mentioned also someone whose name came up yesterday I never heard before. I'm learning a lot as I go, Shelly Andelson.
Eugene LaPietra: Shelly was big, huge. Shelly was on the national stage. Shelly did fundraisers for congressman and senators from all the states. He was constantly raising money for them for
Eugene LaPietra: [01:47:30] whatever issues they had. He was a lawyer. He represented gays that were arrested in the parks in his early career. Then the Senate had an event to honor Shelly. I remember how stunning it was that a Commander Joe Gunn was up there, the man that led the raid at the Black Cat. I sat there in utter disbelief.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:48:00] The man who sent the people in, the cops, to arrest every other gay person in the bar was up there and it was all slapping each other on the back, and everything was fine. It isn't fine.Shelly had real power. Shelly and I had a very good relationship, not at the beginning, but we worked things out.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:48:30] He died from AIDS and that's that. What can you say? We will never know if he would have changed and been more open to an inclusive society. But he was a powerful man. He could have done a lot of stuff.Other people that were great for the gay community included Jerry Brown early on,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:49:00] his first administration. His chief of staff was this unknown guy named Gray Davis, who constantly championed our ship, constantly working behind the scenes trying to get things done to benefit us. I've often said we get more out of certain straight people than we get out of our own gay people. Gay politicians were hiding. Those that were gay weren't coming out
Eugene LaPietra: [01:49:30] of their closet. We had gay city council people, but they were afraid to come out because they'd lose their jobs. And they were afraid to support us because the chief of police would expose them.You had gay senators and gay assembly people. Gay didn't just happen this last 10 years. We had them then, but they were afraid. There were straights that were willing to stand up for us. Not a lot, but there were some.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:50:00] Gray Davis would be one of them. Jerry Brown would be another one. Senator Roberti, another good one.
Mason Funk: Do you remember a guy named ... a lawyer named Herb Selwyn?
Eugene LaPietra: No, I don't.
Mason Funk: I don't know if he was LA or New York. You know?
Eugene LaPietra: I don't know.
Mason Funk: Okay. I think he was from New York then. You've covered a lot territory.
Eugene LaPietra: Okay.
Mason Funk: A lot of this is ... I love hearing you talk about people that they were there for us. It inspires me.
Mason Funk: [01:50:30] Do you feel like there's anything important that you want to talk about that we haven't talked about? We've been talking for a while, but I might have missed something important.
Eugene LaPietra: I think we're all missing something important, and that is, in this new technological age where all communication is done on social media and not face to face, we're losing the ability to communicate properly. We are not integrating ourselves.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:51:00] We have a phone between us and the person we're talking to. I had the joy of growing up with saying, "Okay? You want to meet? I'll meet you 4 o'clock at the phone booth." You had to be there.Now, it's all on social media. That's not a good thing. That's not a good thing. That doesn't endear you to another person's culture. That doesn't educate you to another person's pain and suffering, when all you get is what's in the media.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:51:30] You're not doing face to face anymore. You need face to face.Anything the gay community thinks they've gained, we can lose in a heartbeat, just like that. Gorsuch is going to be the next Supreme Court Justice, no matter filibuster. Nuclear this or that, it's going to be there, and, yeah, he could undo it. It could come up again. Unlike what they did in Ireland and other places where
Eugene LaPietra: [01:52:00] it was voted by the people and became part of their constitution, we didn't go that route. We took it the legal way. Well, what goes this way can come right back that slippery slope, and don't think it won't. If you've got enough crazy people in charge, things can change.You can't take for granted the things that we have, but unfortunately, the young gays and lesbian, I don't think,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:52:30] have a clue about the history and the struggle, what it meant to be gay in the '40s or the '50s, or any of those periods of time, '60s, '70s, '80s. They don't have a clue that you could be arrested, not for an act, but just because you were gay. You could get your ass beat up because you were gay. You could lose a job because you were gay. It's already we're seeing where some of it is loosening up. Now, they can drop you for this reason or that reason.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:53:00] Political correctness, I guess, has some good sometime, but too much of it can end up hurting you. I'd rather you tell me you don't like me to my face rather than me have to guess which one of you don't like me, then I can deal with it. We have to have more one-on-one. We have to have more people going to events that they normally wouldn't go to. For instance,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:53:30] at the Christopher Street West, they have a Latino stage. Really? Really, you have a Latino stage? Can you explain that to me? Why don't you have a stage? Why does it have to be labeled a Latino stage?You mean only Latinos are on the stage or they're Latinos in front of the stage? Whites can't go to the Latino stage? Why can't it be just a stage?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:54:00] Why does everything have to have the black, the brown, the yellow, and the white label. Why are we playing that same game, singing the same tired song? That's what we're missing right now. I don't think it's going to change. I don't see any evidence of it. I don't see any evidence of it.Who are our leaders? Can you tell me who the leaders are?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:54:30] I don't know who they are. I know there are so many false leaders, people who get up there and will tell you they did this, they did that, they did this. They would have been 12 years old when that happened. They arent the leaders. I always get a kick out of hearing people just say things that I know couldn't be possible. That was somebody else that lifted that water. Was it you? Where are they? Where are they?
Eugene LaPietra: [01:55:00] If it wasn't for guys like Norman Lear putting out shows like All in the Family where Archie Bunker ends up kissing a drag queen and all of this stuff, given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and all the stuff that they did back then, you know, that's where the victories were made. The big victories were the actors that were willing to play the plots, the writers that wrote them, the directors that directed them, the producers that produced them, and the stations that put them on,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:55:30] and shoved them into the family living room, where no matter what crazy ideas you had, you ended up laughing at Will & Grace. You couldn't help it. Eventually, you lightened up a lot.You had to be a huge star in the old days to play a gay role. Marlon Brando did one, something in the Golden Eye, and the whole world came crumbling down.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:56:00] But they couldn't do anything because it was Marlon. Anybody else would never have another role ever. But that's where our biggest supporters have come from. Our own community needs to contribute to this by loving one another, by forgiving one another, by moving past petty differences, and respecting each other and incorporating our cultures,
Eugene LaPietra: [01:56:30] because there are different things within our culture.Just incorporate it. See, you'll find it doesn't hurt. Kind of fun when you see a little of this and a little of that. Everybody travels all over the world, but it's right here on our own hometown. Right here is what you got to do. You got to stop working at right here.
Mason Funk: Couple final questions for you.
Eugene LaPietra: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: To someone who came to you, maybe like an employee in one of your clubs, and said, "I think Im gonna come out."
Mason Funk: [01:57:00] I don't know. It doesn't matter what the details are, whether it means to his family or to his brother or his grandmother, but what advice do you give to someone who's just going to take that step off the curb and to the street?
Eugene LaPietra: Just you do it. You don't owe anybody anything. You don't owe anybody. You don't care what the real reaction is going to be. Just be happy. If you want to give them the 411, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:57:30] Let's get off this whole trip about how dramatic that whole thing is. Just be yourself. First of all, you're not fooling anybody. 100% of the time, everybody in the neighborhood knew. May not have said anything, but everybody knew, or at least suspected. Stop acting the drama queen and just do it. Just do it and tell mom let's go out to a club.The other night I was giving a speech at a place downtown and I talked about the fact that people
Eugene LaPietra: [01:58:00] brought their mothers to Circus to tell them they were gay. When I was done, a young man walked over with his mother and says, "I brought my mother to Circus." Exactly what I had said. Just do it. Just do it. My goodness. Don't make a big deal about everything.
Mason Funk: That reminds me of the question that it just occurred to me now. I would imagine it for you the massacre at Pulse must have hit home and ...
Eugene LaPietra: [01:58:30] Oh my god. Oh my god, any kind of violence anywhere hits home, but that, having been in the industry for as long as I was, that was particularly heart-wrenching. We had always worried about it. We were so high-profiled, so high-profiled. We had a bomb sniffing dog. We had all the precautions set in place, but nothing can prepare you for that.
Eugene LaPietra: [01:59:00] Nothing is going to stop it if a guy is determined to do it. He's going to do it. I always thought, god, every night, please. I would actually say a little prayer that nothing happen. Let us get out of here in one piece. And we did.But we had all sorts of possibilities, all sorts of crazy people threatening this, that, and everything else. Now, they have the means
Eugene LaPietra: [01:59:30] to carry it out. Everybody has got a gun. Everybody knows how to make a bomb. Everybody can go ballistic if they don't get their way.
Mason Funk: One of our interviewees from last summer in New York and a long time after this named Carla Jay, she said that when she ... She imagined the young people at Pulse, when they realized there was a gunman, she said she imagined them being surprised. But she's been around, she's in her 70s.
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] She's been around and she says she would have been surprised. She was used to the idea that people wanted to kill her. And that's one big difference between this generation and the old generation, is being surprised that someone wants to kill you.
Eugene LaPietra: Right. They haven't had to bleed. They haven't had to bleed, and they don't know what it was like back then. And I don't want them to bleed now, but I want them to be aware. I want them to be mobilized. I want them to contribute their time or their money.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:00:30] I want them to get inside themselves, get the jump thoughts out and good thoughts in about members of their own community, be nice to a transgender. They're the heroes.We keep talking about Christopher Street West, Christopher Street West. It was a little tiny bar for transgenders, transvestites, and hookers. That's what it was. It wasn't a high-end nightclub. That's what it was.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:01:00] But nobody ever opens up a speech telling you that. You think it was an average everyday gay bar. No, it wasn't. Absolutely was not. Those people have been treated at the bottom of the barrel throughout their whole lives and continue to be.Three weeks ago, I got a call from a documentary maker telling me
Eugene LaPietra: [02:01:30] do I know where she could send this 38-year-old transgender for some emergency overnight sleeping arrangement and help. And I said, "Of course, send him to the center." They called me back and said the center doesn't take him at that age. They have an age cutoff. I thought, "That's absurd. Who would ever believe that?" I went online, bingo, they do have a cutoff age. How is that possible in the real world we live in?
Eugene LaPietra: [02:02:00] Sorry, you're over 25. We cannot help you.Seriously, there's an age limit. You're not going to help. Don't you see how awful that is? Don't you see that something is terribly wrong with the management that allows a policy like that to be there? You're not going to help because of age? Somebody else does it, you're going to bend out of shape, and we keep doing it to our own.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:02:30] When was the last time any of these people have done anything for a gay person that's not looking just like them? I could go on all day about that.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kate Kunath: Ask him questions.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay.
Kate Kunath: A couple questions. This is a two-part, but I'll just ask the one part to begin with. People will say, especially now, because of gay marriage
Kate Kunath: [02:03:00] that gays are being accepted more in society. There's no like, "Why do we need gay bars?" What do you say with people with that kind of mentality or that kind of question? Why do we still need gay bars?
Eugene LaPietra: In the LA Times today, they ...
Mason Funk: Talk to me. Just answer me.
Eugene LaPietra: In the LA Times today, they ran an article that hate crimes against gays has risen. We're not being more accepted.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:03:30] Just because we convinced the judges doesn't mean we convinced the population. That hasn't happened. There's a great percentage of the population that would overturn these rights to marriage in a heartbeat and any other gains we've made as well.The other part of your question was, why do we need nightclubs. I don't know that you do need nightclubs.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:04:00] I think that they're fun, but you don't need them. You could be at a park or you could be at any kind of place and still talk about things that are happening. When you go to a club, it's just not about drinking or dancing. People talk about current affairs. They talk about what's happening in the community. It's a place to meet. That's like saying, "Well, do we really need churches now since the black
Eugene LaPietra: [02:04:30] community has made... so much progress?" Because all of the activism came out of the churches for the black community, all of it.We didn't come out of our churches. It came out of our bars. All the activism in the gay and lesbian community came out of bars. That's where it came out of. So, you're still going to have bars and there's a need for them for those people that want to sit down over a cocktail
Eugene LaPietra: [02:05:00] or a soda and talk about what's happening in our world.
Kate Kunath: The gay bars are closing all the time. So, where are people doing that now?
Eugene LaPietra: They're doing it nowhere and that's what scares me. The bars closing are because you have all of these social sites, Tinder and Grindr and all these places where you don't have to spend a dollar and you can hook up for the night.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:05:30] And it's very impersonal. You never really bond with anybody. You don't get to say, "I'll see you next week." You got to walk away and it's done. We have a whole generation of people saying it's done and you're not going to see the person before.With bars, you usually said, "Okay. My birthday is next week. Let's celebrate it over here. Let's have a party. We'll see you," blah, blah, blah. You don't have to do that in Tinder or Grindr.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:06:00] It's a totally antiseptic world, totally. And that's scary. It is very scary that we are not connecting face to face. You need a space where you can, shake your hand, hug, face to face.
Mason Funk: Do you have another part, third question?
Kate Kunath: What do you think the relationship is between
Kate Kunath: [02:06:30] gay marriage, if there is a relationship between all the bars are closing and gay marriage happening?
Eugene LaPietra: Zero. Zero. Either you're the marrying type or you're not, period, end of story, would have zero impact. None at all. In my experience, we had couples that had been together 40 years, still coming to the club having a great time together.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:07:00] You go out. You have fun. That's all. The gay clubs closing is entirely because of the technology, the new way of meeting people.
Kate Kunath: Why did Circus close?
Eugene LaPietra: Circus closed because I got too old.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Just talk to me because I'm still officially the interviewer Mason Funk.
Eugene LaPietra [02:07:30] Okay. Circus closed because I got too old, too old, too sick. Nobody wanted to take it over in my family, and time had come. It was just that. I had expected to be at Circus my whole life. I really thought someday I'd be walking across the floor and, pow, I drop dead at 90, 95, and I'd be the happiest person in the world. Never did I dream that I would have a sell. But it got to a point as I couldn't go to work anymore,
Eugene LaPietra: [02:08:00] and they couldn't run it the way I was running it. It just didn't make any sense anymore.
Mason Funk: Other questions?
Kate Kunath: What year was that?
Eugene LaPietra: We closed New Year's Eve 2016.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Eugene LaPietra: And it was the biggest party I'd ever thrown. It was fantastic.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about that, that last night. What an era that it came to an end?
Eugene LaPietra: [02:08:30] Everybody was there. People that had been coming since the day we opened were there, all the way through. We had the parking lot closed off. We had the Ferris Wheel. We had all the stuff going on and both clubs were pumping. We had dance floors inside and outside. I think inside Circus, we had one, two, three, four, five dance floors. And at Arena, we had one, two, three, four, and we had a dance floor outside, all of them packed, playing different music.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:09:00] Outdoor was disco, all the original music, all the customers that had made it happen, all there.It was my greatest night. I was on cloud nine. I just had the time of my life. People flew in from all over the country to be there. We had a buffet that went for 250 feet and not your everyday food. We had lamb and we had all the exotic foods,
Eugene LaPietra: [02:09:30] everything beautiful. It was amazing. We had an amazing night. Lots of entertainment. Oh my goodness, we had it all. Nobody has ever put a party like that before and nobody ever will.
Mason Funk: I have a question, back on the personal side. Have you mentioned your childhood, how insecure it all was
Mason Funk: [02:10:00] and how difficult that makes it to form lasting relationship? What enabled you to first have a 20-year relationship with a guy that you met in Seattle and then eventually to marry the partner who now ... What enabled you to form these close ties?
Eugene LaPietra: God does it. This wasn't something that I decided. When I saw Ed, it was because it was divine intervention. When I saw Alex, it's the same thing, divine intervention.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:10:30] The moment I saw him, I knew he was the guy. I waited seven years after Ed had passed because as a good Catholic, a Roman Catholic, that's what you do, seven years, and then I was free to marry again.One night, just as we closed, I was talking to the cashier in the booth and up popped this head, and my heart exploded.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:11:00] By the time I got to the front, he was gone. The manager of the club, David, was there and I said, "David, where is the guy that was just standing here?" He said, "He left." I said, "Who is he?" He said, "Well, he wants to perform here." I said, "Did you say he could?" He said, "Yeah, in two weeks, he's going to perform at Arena." I said, "Did he work here before?" He said no. I said, "Has he ever been employed here or anything? He's not a customer?" No. Then my rule was clear.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:11:30] I wouldn't be violating my rule, don't shit where you eat. So, I was okay on that.The night came, two Saturdays later, and I walked from Circus to Arena, and everybody knew something was up. I said, "Oh boy, Gene doesn't walk across that parking lot. Something is happening." The security is all watching. I get up to the top and I looked for him. I find him in the dressing room. I see him. I don't say anything. I waited outside the room by the balcony
Eugene LaPietra: [02:12:00] . He walks out and I say hi. He says hi. I said, "Are you married?" He says, "No, and I don't want to be." And I said, "I'd like to take you out to lunch tomorrow." And he says, "Okay." He said, "What do you do here? Are you security?" I said yes.The next day we met at the parking lot. We drove to the Valley, to the El Torito Restaurant, ordered the food, took a couple of bites,
Eugene LaPietra: [02:12:30] and I said, "Where do you live?" He said, Montebello. I said, "Okay, we're going to drive over. Get your stuff and you're going to move in with me, and we're going to be together the rest of our lives." And he said, "Okay." We finished and we drove all the way over to Montebello.Get over there, get his stuff, come on back. I walked him around the house and I opened drawers. One drawer, there's a few dollars there and says,
Eugene LaPietra: [02:13:00] "Half of that is yours. Half of this house is yours. Half of everything I have is yours now." I wanted to completely get rid of the monetary differences between the two of us, because that can always be a problem in the relationship. Take whatever you want, not a problem. And he was kind of stunned and overwhelmed by this whole thing.We went down in the kitchen to get a glass of soda or water and then it dawned on me, I forgot to ask him the one deal breaker, the one deal breaker
Eugene LaPietra: [02:13:30] I forgot to ask. So, I said, "Oh god, I forgot to ask you one thing. Do you take drugs? Because if you do, I'm done." He says, "I do." God, I was just devastated. I said, "What do you take?" He says, "I smoke cigarettes." I said, "Okay. Back up, that's okay." That I can deal with. Of course, he never smoked a cigarette in front of me. He gave up smoking
Eugene LaPietra: [02:14:00] and we've been together 20 years plus now.We've had the time of our lives and we are so much as much in love today as then. I'm telling you. I've never been alone and I've always had Jesus with me, and I've always had this incredible feeling that no matter what I say or do, like Ed I used to say,
Eugene LaPietra: [02:14:30] it will be okay. It will always work out for me, and it always does. I had this one old lady, a friend of mine, Marge. I'd go and sit with her and play Hearts. We eat at McDonald's and play that game all day. I'd tell her something, right or wrong, and she says, "Gene, it's only a flea bite." She was like 80. "It's only a flea bite. Don't worry about it."She was right. Anything that happens to you happens for a reason. You'll get over it.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:15:00] Click your heels three times and you'll be in Kansas again. You don't have to worry about it. And as far as relationships, you look in the mirror every morning and you say, "You might be better off with him or without him. If it comes off without him, well, it's over." Every day, it comes back the same thing for me. I'm better off with him.I am the marrying type of guy. I love being married. I love everything that comes along with being married. I don't need to have my
Eugene LaPietra: [02:15:30] space or my vacation. I don't need that stuff. I need to have everybody's clutter right with me. I love it. I love the craziness of it, because it is the same thing as what I'm trying to get across the community. Don't get so comfortable in your own shit. Bring somebody else's aboard. You'd be surprised how much fun you can have, if you just let it be. But that hasn't happened and it probably won't happen in my lifetime, but maybe it will someday.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:16:00] We're running closer and closer to another world catastrophe of one kind or another. Whenever that happens, it's always the gays that are lined up right there. You've heard of the Holocaust and you heard how many Jewish people got persecuted. Well, gays were persecuted at alarmingly high rate. If they could grab you, you were dead. The pink triangles were everywhere, but you don't see that most of the time. We don't keep that history
Eugene LaPietra: [02:16:30] alive like the Jewish community keeps their history alive. We don't. We should.The Japanese keep the internment camps in America alive. Every year you hear about it. When is the last time you've heard about a pink triangle memorial of any kind? Zero. Doesn't happen. Why? Because it's inconvenient. We don't want to be bothered with it. It's too messy.
Mason Funk: [02:17:00] This is a total side note. When you're talking about not shitting where you eat, Troy Perry's version of that is don't fuck for fly.
Eugene LaPietra: Okay. He's right. He's right.
Mason Funk: You almost answered my next question a bit ago, but maybe you could go back again. You're seeing a lot and it does not make you feel very hopeful, but what is your hope? What is your hope for the future?
Eugene LaPietra: [02:17:30] Wow. There is the $64,000 question right there. Every single day, somebody here in this house will say to me, "Can I get you something?" My sister said a little while ago when she was going to Albertsons, "Is there anything I can get you?" I said, "Yeah, world peace. It's on aisle 22." That's what I'm hoping for, is world peace, that someday all of this stops. Yesterday, those kids got gassed. How do you gas children? How do you gas anybody?
Eugene LaPietra: [02:18:00] What's this all about? Just to keep the military industrial complex going? Just so all those generals can have another badge to say they were in a war. I would hope that at some point, people would start thinking that they can make a difference. That it can't be just about you. It's got to be about them
Eugene LaPietra: [02:18:30] and them over there. You got to care about the Muslims. You got to embrace it. You got to diminish the hate towards us by overloading the love towards them. You got to have passion for what the Palestinians go through. You got to understand the hurt that every one of these people have.
Mason Funk: [02:19:00] Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Eugene LaPietra: It wasn't, not at all. You asked, I said I would interview, but it's not important. It's not important at all.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:19:30] I think I'm all talked out. I think I'm all important out. I always tell the kids, "I used to be somebody." They say, "You still are. You still are." No. My time has come and gone. My ride has come. I'm on the bus going. It's not important.I think that of this whole conversation, I would just hope
Eugene LaPietra: [02:20:00] that people would think about doing something for foster children, thinking about that it's not just the cute little three-year-old, a two-year-old, but the foster kids that are 13 and 14 that nobody wants. Nobody wants to help and reach out and do something, buy some tickets to a ballgame, take them to the beach, invite them to your house, do something.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:20:30] Get out there and do something. Just don't lay by the pool. Have the kids in the pool playing, while you lay by the pool. Think about the kids.In this country, think about the ghettos. Oh my god, there is no reason in the world in this beautiful country of ours that places exist where any kid goes to bed hungry. Yet, it happens every single night.
Eugene LaPietra: [02:21:00] We have the power to change it. We have the power to change it. We really do. I think right in the near term. I hope to get universal healthcare, for god's sake. How much of a dummy do you have to be not to see the benefits in a healthy society? People need to feel good or else they're going to do bad things, and you should make that possible.
Mason Funk: [02:21:30] Last question. This project is called OUTWORDS.
Eugene LaPietra: OUTWORDS. Okay.
Mason Funk: OUTWORDS. From what you understand of this project, what is the importance of doing this, capturing stories of people who've been around?
Eugene LaPietra: That one person gets something out of it and does something about something to make something better.
Mason Funk: [02:22:00] Okay. That's great. Thank you.
Eugene LaPietra: Thank you for coming. Clean up your own mess.
Mason Funk: We will. I have two items that just have to deal with you. I need you to get you to sign ...
Eugene LaPietra: A release.
Mason Funk: A release and I need you to take ...

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: April 06, 2017
Location: Home of Gene La Pietra, Los Angeles, CA