Vito Russo papers

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Collection Data

The papers reflect Russo's personal life and career as a writer, lecturer, film historian, and gay rights and AIDS activist. They include correspondence, journals, appointment books, writings by and about Russo, electronic records, photographs, sound and video recordings, ephemera, and posthumous material.
Russo, Vito (Creator)
Allen, Bruce, 1952- (Contributor)
Allen, Jay Presson, 1922-2006 (Interviewee)
Almadóver, Pedro (Interviewee)
Almendros, Nestor (Interviewee)
Anger, Kenneth (Interviewee)
Ballard, Kaye (Interviewee)
Bell, Arthur (Arthur Irving) (Correspondent)
Bowie, David (Interviewee)
Bradbury, Ray, 1920-2012 (Correspondent)
Brown, Rita Mae (Correspondent)
Bumbalo, Victor (Interviewee)
Burroughs, William S., 1914-1997 (Interviewee)
Cassidy, David, 1950-2017 (Interviewee)
Charisse, Cyd (Correspondent)
Duane, Tom (Correspondent)
Dyer, Richard, 1945- (Interviewee)
Fellini, Federico (Interviewee)
Frears, Stephen (Interviewee)
Goldberg, Whoopi, 1955- (Interviewee)
Hines, Grainger (Interviewee)
Jiménez-Leal, Orlando, 1941- (Interviewee)
Kantrowitz, Arnie, 1940- (Correspondent)
Katz, Jonathan, 1938- (Correspondent)
Kellerman, Sally (Interviewee)
Koch, Ed, 1924-2013 (Correspondent)
Laurents, Arthur (Interviewee)
Midler, Bette (Interviewee)
Tomlin, Lily (Interviewee)
Waters, John, 1946- (Interviewee)
Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983 (Interviewee)
Waters, John, 1946- (Correspondent)
Tomlin, Lily (Correspondent)
Midler, Bette (Correspondent)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1969 - 1990
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 2654
Russo, Vito
AIDS (Disease)
AIDS (Disease) and the arts
AIDS activists
Film criticism
film critics
Gay activists
Gay and lesbian studies
Gay critics
Gay liberation movement
Gay men -- United States
Gay men's writings, American
Gay rights
Gays -- United States
Gays in popular culture
Gays' writings, American
Homosexuality in motion pictures
Motion pictures -- United States -- History
NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt
floppy disks
Biographical/historical: Vito Russo (1946-1990), a film historian, writer, and gay rights and AIDS activist, was born on July 11, 1946 in New York City, the son of Angelo and Angelina Russo. He was raised in New York City and completed his undergraduate work at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He received a master's degree in cinema from New York University in 1971 and worked as a film distributor for the Museum of Modern Art from 1971 to 1973 and Cinema 5 Limited from 1973 to 1975. Russo became active in gay politics in 1970 when he joined New York's Gay Activist's Alliance (GAA). During the 1980s, Russo co-founded and became a frequent speaker at meetings, demonstrations, and fundraisers for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). In 1985, Russo became one of the founding members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an organization which sought to counteract the negative effects of the media on gays, lesbians, and people with AIDS. A freelance writer for most of his career, Russo was one of the first critics to bring a gay liberationist's view to popular culture, particularly film. In the mid-1970s, Russo and Village Voice columnist Arthur Bell co-wrote a column for Gaysweek that consisted primarily of transcripts of phone conversations between the two writers. He later wrote a regular column for The Advocate called "Russo on Film." Russo's essays, interviews, and reviews appeared in the gay and mainstream press, including Rolling Stone, New York, Outweek, The Village Voice, and Esquire. He also wrote material for several performers, including Lily Tomlin. He was granted awards by many foundations, including The Human Rights Campaign Fund, The Stonewall Foundation, The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Alliance of Gay Artists in the Entertainment Industry, The Hetrick-Martin Institute, and the National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation. In 1983, Russo wrote, produced, and co-hosted a series focusing on the gay community called "Our Time" for WNYC-TV and in 1985 he was the national publicity director for the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. He achieved prominence on-screen as one of the subjects of Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, which won the 1990 Academy Award for best documentary. The film focused on Russo's loss of his lover, Jeffrey Sevcik, to AIDS in 1986. Russo began giving film and lecture presentations in the mid-1970s about the treatment of gay characters in film. This ever-changing program called "The Celluloid Closet," which he presented at universities, museums and film festivals all over the United States, Europe, and Australia, eventually evolved into a book of the same name. The Celluloid Closet was published by Harper and Row in 1981 and revised in 1987. During the spring 1990 semester, Russo taught two courses at the University of California at Santa Cruz: "The Celluloid Closet" and "Documenting Gay Activism." Russo learned he had AIDS in 1985 but was determined to continue his demanding speaking and teaching schedule despite his declining health. He persisted in fighting for increased AIDS research, access to new medications, and an end to discrimination against people with AIDS. He died of AIDS-related complications on November 7, 1990 at the age of forty-four.
Content: The Vito Russo papers document Russo's life and career as a writer, lecturer, film historian, and gay rights and AIDS activist. His papers consist of correspondence, journals, appointment books, writings by and about Russo, electronic records, photographs, sound and video recordings, ephemera, and posthumous material. These materials also document the gay rights movement from the late 1970s through 1990 and narrate how the AIDS epidemic mobilized and yet devastated the gay community. The correspondence in the collection is both personal and professional. Although it is mostly incoming, the collection does include a number of outgoing letters of which Russo kept copies, as well as photocopies of correspondence to Arnie Kantrowitz (one of the collection's donors), which were added by Kantrowitz. Russo's personal journals chronicle his work, relationships, and fight against AIDS. The posthumous material was added by Arnie Kantrowitz and contains obituaries, articles remembering Russo, and programs for his memorial services. The items relating to Russo's professional life include his writings, lectures, and notes for presentations. His writings consist mainly of articles on film and the gay rights movement. His lectures and speeches are from his “Celluloid Closet” presentations, his teaching at University of California Santa Cruz, and various gay events. Many of the electronic records also related to his professional life. The gay and lesbian ephemera consists of items such as buttons, handbills, and flyers that demand gay rights or celebrate anniversaries of the Stonewall riots. It also includes a large number of programs from gay and lesbian film festivals from the 1980s. Sound and video recordings account for a large percentage of the collection and include recordings of Russo's interviews, gay events, and his “Celluloid Closet” lectures. Most of the photographs in the collection are snapshots or contact sheets of friends and various gay marches and events.
Acquisition: Gifts of Arnie Kantrowitz and Jed Mattes, 1995; Telling Pictures, 1998- 1999
Content: Processing information: Compiled by Beth Kleber, Maurita Baldock, and Susan Malsbury, 2009 and 2014. The floppy disks that comprise the Electronic Records were forensically imaged for preservation.
Physical Description
Extent: 13.19 linear feet (36 boxes); 1.41 Megabytes (249 computer files); 230 audio files, 19 video files
Type of Resource
Still image
Sound recording
Moving image
Three dimensional object
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b14882413
MSS Unit ID: 2654
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): ae7543b0-ad26-0139-95ea-0242ac110004
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