Writer and producer Neal Baer (ER, Law & Order: SVU, Designated Survivor), P.J. Palmer, filmmaker/producer behind the critically-acclaimed LGBTQ drama series Anyone But Me, and LA-based writer Michael J. Wolfe are teaming to develop The Mystery of the 1957 Gay Wedding Photos as a docuseries. The series is being produced by Endemol Shine North America-owned studio Authentic Entertainment, which is working closely with the teams at ONE Archives Foundation in Los Angeles & John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia.
The collection of photos, which are among the first to document a gay wedding, were printed circa 1957 at a neighborhood drugstore in North Philadelphia. The images, which are currently housed with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries and the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives, capture special moments between two men tying the knot, including an exchange of rings in front of witnesses, an officiant leading the ceremony, the first kiss and more.
The owner of the drugstore allegedly judged the photos to be inappropriate and refused to return them to the wedding couple. Some 60 years later, the images have resurfaced and have left many searching for answers as to who the men are and other details surrounding the event.
The Mystery of the 1957 Gay Wedding Photos series will follow Baer, Palmer and Wolfe as they search for clues and look to unlock answers to many of the outstanding questions behind the wedding.
“We are drawn to stories of bravery, where these men lived out their lives under threat of danger or actual harm,” says Baer. “We owe them our deepest gratitude because they did something no one else had done before them: they recorded their love for themselves and for posterity. Now 60 years later, we have the photos, but there’s a painful gap between the past and the present. How did these pioneers live their lives as a couple? What barriers did two men married in the ‘50s, when the legal repercussions were severe, face? What drove them to take the bold chance to develop these photos when sodomy laws prohibited gay sexual relationships? Their legacy empowers us today and we are setting off to find these men and their stories. Along the way, other heroes have appeared, whose stories have never been told. So, this is a treasure hunt for our past that emboldens our future.”
“The first time I saw these photos I was surprised to be moved to tears, I’ve never seen these types of family photos before,” said Palmer. “These men look so happy and in love, and the memory of those moments were muted when the photos were denied to them and their history denied to the world. The archives hold an enormous collection of these types of stories that were nearly erased. We are out to bring these stories forward to reclaim our history to show we have always been here, since day one.”
Wolfe added, “Searching for these men for the past 18 months, talking to countless LGBTQ elders and hearing stories of what life used to be like for them, has been a master class in gay history. To speak with them is to connect with my ancestors, to finally know family I never knew I had.”
“The mystery of this love affair, and the detective story to find these men, is the perfect combination of personal narrative and hidden history,” said Helga Eike, President, Authentic Entertainment. “We are honored that Neal, Michael and P.J. have asked us to join them on this epic journey. These photos are so powerful; they are a snapshot of an otherwise lost time and place.”
“Like the Philadelphia wedding photographs, the personal effects and memories of LGBTQ lives have for too long been discarded or destroyed. The ONE Archives Foundation began in 1952 with our founders literally dumpster-diving to save our history. We’re thrilled that these photos of everyday love, hidden for over six decades, are finally coming to light. Preserving and sharing these stories of the LGBTQ community ensures that we are and remain visible,” said Jennifer C. Gregg, Executive Director, ONE Archives Foundation.
Authentic Entertainment is behind top unscripted series such as Trading Spaces, Flipping Out, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, among others.