From the LWTV Archives: First Show to Use the Word “Lesbian”

From the LWTV Archives: First Show to Use the Word “Lesbian”

Welcome back to “From the LWTV Archives,” a column dedicated to studying and highlighting moments from queer TV history. This week, we are discussing the first show to actually use the word “lesbian” when referring to a queer character. To no one’s surprise, the term was used negatively to refer to the medical diagnosis of a character on the show, Eleventh Hour.

Eleventh Hour

Eleventh Hour began airing on NBC in 1962. It was a medical drama that lasted two seasons and focused on a doctor who was always called in at the “eleventh hour” to resolve a medical crisis before the patient has a full mental breakdown. Wendell Corey portrayed the doctor in season one and Ralph Bellamy portrayed the doctor in season two.

In the seventh episode of season two, titled “What Did She Mean By Good Luck?” (air date: November 13, 1963), the doctor is called in to help a woman named Hallie Lambert (played by Kathryn Hays). Hallie Lambert is an actress who has been struggling in rehearsals for a soon-to-debut theatre play. Hallie believes that the director, Marya Stone (played by Beverly Garland), is acting extraordinarily critical of her to the point of deliberate cruelty. Hallie’s mother does not know what to do, so she calls in the doctor.

But alas! The doctor has a quick solution to Hallie’s problem. He had previously worked with Hallie and had diagnosed her with having “lesbian tendencies,” an issue that is clearly the root of this issue with the female director. The doctor goes on to connect Hallie’s obsession with the director to her obsession with her female high school theatre teacher. He also connects it to her frayed relationship with her mother, of course. If only Hallie could let those feelings go, all would solved! (Spoiler: she is instantly healed by this revelation and goes on to live a hetero life.)

My personal “favorite” moment is when the director comes by to wish Hallie good luck before opening night, and anxiety-riddled Hallie yells the episode title, “What does she mean by good luck???” Classic gay panic.

Queer History

It does not come as a surprise that Hallie’s queerness was treated as a medical issue in this episode. Post-war America was very focused on psychotherapy and, at the time, homosexuality was a diagnosable medical illness. The American Psychiatric Association only removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973. In 1963, when this episode of The Eleventh Hour aired, the medical community believed that homosexuality was curable. Thanks to the doctor, the audience felt safe knowing that Hallie was cured of a life of homosexuality and sin!

Impact

Although the representation of Hallie’s character was incorrect and not a storyline that would be supported today, it did introduce a queer character to the television landscape. And diagnosing her with “lesbian tendencies” allowed audiences to hear the word lesbian said out loud, a tiny step toward allowing queer storylines to be shown on screen.

Perhaps, next week, I will be able to find the first out-and-proud queer character on TV! Stay tuned!

[As always, this column is based on data provided in LWTV. If you have more information on a show/character that has not been included in our database, please let us know!]

Sources:

“Drama: A Salute to LGBTQ+ Pride Achievements in Television .” Paley Center, 1 June 2021, https://www.paleycenter.org/exhibits/pride/drama/.

Tropiano, Stephen. The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2002.

About NikkiT

Nikki is an archivist by day, queer TV addict by night. Her first dive into fan content was when she ran a secret Xanga blog dedicated to pictures of Lorelai Gilmore in the 7th grade. She has never looked back.

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