Live at the ContinentalThe inside story of the world famous Continental Baths
I built the Continental Baths in 1968 and discovered Bette Midler in 1969. The Baths were not only an expression of sexual liberation, but also heralded in a rebirth of Cabaret in the city of New York. Artists of the ilk of Barry Manilow, Manhattan Transfer, Peter Allen, Margaret Whiting, Melba Moore, Liz Torres, Patti LaBelle and countless others in addition to Bette got their first big break at the Continental Baths.
The Baths and I are the subject of several chapters in the latest biography of Bette called Bette (1995 Birch Lane press, Carol Publishing Group). The Baths and I have also been extensively written about in Bettes own book, A View From A Broad, Barry Manilows autobiography My Sweet Life; James Gavins Intimate Nights; The Golden Age of Cabaret, Stephen Macleans The Boy From Oz, and countless other books depicting the age of sexual revolution etc. In addition the Baths were the subject of a major motion picture The Ritz, which was released in the late seventies.
The Continental was a phenomenon that came out of a pre-AIDS world that we will probably never experience again. But more than just being a bathhouse and showplace, the Baths were a place where people came out of their closets and found out who they were. It was the first gay establishment to treat gay people as equals and not exploit them. It was instrumental in having the laws against homosexuality rescinded and gave birth, along with Stonewall, to a whole generation where gay was in. Beyond that it ushered in an era of sexual liberation and alternative lifestyles that, to this day, has never been equaled.
I feel that it is now time for me to tell the whole story of the Baths for the first time. The inside story of how and why it came about, and the whole subculture is engendered. But far from being just another chronicle of a bygone era, and as I was a rather prominent fellow in the gay world, having been crowned King Queen in a 16-page Rolling Stone article, I also relate my own life story, leading up to what motivated me to create such a place and the ramifications it had on myself and my family as I, too, was liberated together with the Baths.
Much has been written about the Baths, but the story of how it came about---the 200 raids by the New York Police Department; the pressures from the Mafia; the famous people who visited it; the relationships that were formed; the drug culture that existed in the city; the political upheaval in the city of New York---all of this has never been revealed.
During the 8 years that the Continental was in vogue, over 1 million people a year came through its doors. I believe that there is a large market for this book in the gay world, where it is internationally famous, and in the straight world, because of the prominence of its stars. The gay population of the US, using Kinseys formula of about 10% to 16% of the population, would be well over 20 million. Latest census figures show that 25% of that population is over the age of 40. These 5 million people, I would presume, would be our primary target.
The book, however, would not only appeal to those who lived through the 70s, but also to the young amongst us to whom the 70s, the Baths and Bette Midler represent a fascinating golden era that they will never experience, but can only read about.
Woven through the book is my own journey as I simultaneously pursued an operatic career, having sung with some of the most famous opera stars in the world in Germany, France, the United States, Canada and Australia. I also try to explore and share the confusion and frustrations I have felt as a bisexual, not understood by the gay or the straight world.