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'Fresh Air' Remembers LGBTQ Pioneer Phyllis Lyon

Lyon, who died April 9, was an outspoken activist for gay rights and the co-founder, with Del Martin, of America's first national lesbian group, the Daughters of Bilitis. Originally broadcast in 1992.

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Other segments from the episode on April 14, 2020

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 14, 2020: Interview with Jason Bateman; Obituary for Phyllis Lyon; Film recommendations to stream while self-isolating.

Transcript

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Jason Bateman stars in the Netflix series "Ozark." The third season has just been released - perfect timing for streaming while you're isolating at home. He was also in the first two episodes of HBO's recent adaptation of the Stephen King novel "The Outsider" and directed those episodes, too. In "Arrested Development," he played the level-headed son Michael Bluth. His films include "Juno," "Bad Words," "Identity Theft" and "Horrible Bosses." Bateman's career started when he was around 10. He was the son in "Little House On The Prairie" and the wiseguy best friend in the sitcom "Silver Spoons." When he was 18, he became the youngest member of the Directors Guild of America.

In "Ozark," he plays Marty Byrde, a financial adviser in Chicago who's also an expert money launderer for the second largest Mexican drug cartel. What he didn't know was that his business partner was skimming millions from the operation. When the cartel leader finds out, he executes the partner while Marty watches on his knees. As the cartel leader turns and points his gun at Marty, Marty talks his way out of being killed. He suggests that they move their money laundering operation to the Ozarks in Missouri, where they'll be out of view from federal investigators who are focusing on Chicago. Marty promises they'll make even more money there. Marty and his family move to the Ozarks, where he and his wife start targeting businesses to buy that are good for money laundering while doing their best to protect themselves and their two children. But as they get deeper into the criminal world, they become involved with more and more violence.

In the opening of the second season, the episode for which Bateman won an Emmy for directing, they witness a murder that helped solve a problem between the local heroin ring and the cartel. They're shocked and terrified by this unexpected brutal killing. But they also know the murder has gotten them out of harm's way, at least for the moment. In this scene, Marty and his wife, played by Laura Linney, are talking over what they just witnessed and its possible consequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "OZARK ")

LAURA LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) Is that what we wanted?

JASON BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) We didn't want anything.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) So that's it? We go back in that house? We go to bed? We wake up in the morning? We kiss the kids?

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) That's exactly what we do. We make the pancakes and ask the kids what's going on with school. And we just keep trying to figure out a way out of this, Wendy.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) We're responsible.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) What for?

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) All of it.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) No, we're not.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) Another man is dead.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) Because of his choices. You know, he didn't have to try to cover up a murder - OK? - just like Darlene didn't have to kill Del in the first place or Russ and Boyd didn't have to decide to try to kill me or Mason. Should've stayed out on the water. Should've stayed on the [expletive] water. And, you know, people make choices, Wendy. Choices have consequences. You and I, we don't have to live under the weight of those decisions.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) At least admit it was good for us. If that man hadn't died, the casino would be dead. So would we.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) We got lucky.

GROSS: Jason Bateman, welcome to FRESH AIR. So before we talk about "Ozark," I just want to say, the release of the third season is really good timing for people at home who are looking for things to stream. It must be so odd for you to have it released when people are watching, basically forced to stay home.

BATEMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: It's, I'm sure, not the way you wanted people to watch your work.

BATEMAN: No. Well, I mean, were we a bubbly, light comedy, I would say, you know, it'd be a nice sort of respite. But this is sort of a dark, moody show. But maybe that's helpful, too, because at least people can think, well, I'm trapped in the house. It feels bad, but at least my life isn't as bad as these characters. And also, as far as the quality of the show goes, I mean, you know, we're very, very proud of it, for sure. But if you're like me, when you're trapped on an airplane, you've never seen a movie that was bad.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BATEMAN: You always love - you love anything you're watching if you're trapped. So I'm prone to deflection. But still, I'm taking all this praise with a big grain of salt.

GROSS: How are you, and how is your family?

BATEMAN: We're doing well. Thank you very much. I trust the same with you. It's - if you're like me, you're really overtaken with all of this grief and struggle and all the bravery of the health care workers. And I love trying to educate myself as much as possible about what's going on in every other area except our little Hollywood bubble. This is affecting all the economic areas, all the political areas, the health areas. It's just, obviously, a stunning global event.

GROSS: Are you teaching your kids at home?

BATEMAN: Yeah. That is not - I have even more respect than I ever had for second grade teachers. I'm trying to corral my 8-year-old daughter and get her excited about learning about ants and arachnopods (ph) or whatever the heck they are. I don't know. And I'm shocked at how terrible my math is, how bad my handwriting is. I mean, when's the last time you wrote anything in long form, you know? Everything is always - is typing. Like, I've forgotten how to draw cursive. And, I mean, it's - so I'm learning as well. My 13-year-old daughter is - her classes are much more online, and there's sort of that video kind of interface there. So she's much more self-sufficient. But I am a second grade teacher for the foreseeable future.

GROSS: In "Ozark," your character is a money launderer. And in the first season, there's a very concise explanation of how money laundering works. So I'm going to ask you to explain the basics kind of the way your character does on the show. And along with that, I'm going to ask you if your role in "Ozark" as a money launderer helped you understand how Paul Manafort laundered his money.

BATEMAN: (Laughter) This is why you get the big bucks, Terry, you know?

GROSS: (Laughter).

BATEMAN: You're not asking about - you know, this it isn't low-hanging fruit. Well, I'll qualify this answer by saying I don't do a lot of things well. But the few things I do do well, one of which is remembering lines - but also a good quality is forgetting lines. So my ability to upload is as quick as my ability to delete, so I've forgotten that particular line. But my general recollection is that money laundering is somewhat reliant on fake receipts. In other words, if you can present to whoever is watching that you did receive X amount, therefore, you can excuse this amount that is in your bank account kind of thing. So it's a shell game.

GROSS: So I want to get back to the scene that we opened with. And you directed that episode. You won an Emmy for directing it. In that scene, you're really rationalizing that you're kind of implicated, in a way, in this murder that you just witnessed with your wife that was, like, so upsetting. And I'm wondering about the difference between, like, acting in that scene and directing that scene. For instance, in that scene, your face has to register a lot of different emotion. You know, at first, you're really trying to convince your wife it's his fault that he's dead, that he's murdered. It's not on us. We're not responsible. And all these other deaths and all this other violence that happened, like, that's not on our hands either. It's, like, their fault.

And then when your wife kind of walks away, we're seeing your face. And your face is registering that you really are actually very troubled by all of this. But you can't deal with it. And you can't really admit it to yourself. So you're doing that as an actor. But then when you saw it as a director, when you actually were looking at the scene, is what you saw what you thought you were doing? Did you - you know, was what you saw what you hoped you were conveying?

BATEMAN: Yes. There's sort of a muscle that you kind of grow from doing a bunch of acting for a long time. You kind of develop an ability to observe yourself while you're actually still in it doing it. And that's one of the things that enables or allows me to be able to do the acting and the directing at the same time, I think. I hope. I mean, you'd have to ask other people if that muscle is any good. But I have a pretty good idea about whether I'm communicating what I'm hoping to. And if I kind of clank it, I'll kind of know it. And we'll just do another take. I won't check it.

GROSS: Do you feel that playing this role on "Ozark," which is a much darker role than people associate you with, is bringing out a darker side of you, getting in touch with stuff that you typically didn't get in touch with in the past for roles?

BATEMAN: I mean (laughter), not - I mean, I'm plenty dark. It's always been in there. I enjoy getting to unapologetically speak some of that and behave some of that through this character. But I've always tried to put a little bit of darkness or - I don't know if darkness is going to be the right word. But in the characters that I play, even in comedies, I'll rarely be the wacky guy.

I'll be mostly us. I'll try to be the somewhat tortured or unsettled Everyman or protagonist. And I like doing that because I'm us. I'm the proxy. I'm sort of the portal that the audience receives all the craziness. Whether it's an eccentric comedic character or a scary dramatic character, I'm the person that represents the audience. So when the camera goes to me, I'm reacting for you in the audience to keep it relatable.

GROSS: In Season 2 of "Ozark," the murder that you and your wife have witnessed, it's a really gruesome murder. Like, first, the guy who is killed is whacked over the head with a big piece of wood. And then, I guess it's, like, a fireplace poker is used to, like, stake him in the heart. It's pretty gruesome - not that graphic, really, but it's very upsetting for the characters. And it's very surprising. Is that the first time you've directed a scene like that? And I'm interested in hearing, like, how you thought through what to show and what to happen off-camera in the scene.

BATEMAN: Originally, it was written where that character would get shot in the head. And there was another character that got shot in the head in a room just around the corner from that room in another episode. And so I said to the writer, I said, you know, I'd love to come up with another way to kill this guy. And so I kind of gave it some thought and pitched to Chris Mundy, our head writer, our showrunner, you know, this idea. And I kind of walked him through, you know, how I would do it. And he's like, great, you know?

We have these fun conversations about all the deaths on the show. And I'd come up with these weird ideas. Some of them are - some of them work, some of them don't. But - so this particular one was as a result of what the set is there that he might not be aware of because he does the writing here in Los Angeles - but sort of put together all these elements that were right there in front of us.

And then I worked with the camera operator, Ben Semanoff, on how we would shoot it in such a way where it would feel like one take, where we would take the Steadicam and you do these sort of - these - what are these called? - these whip pans, where you turn the camera so quickly from left to right or right to left that you can actually put an edit, a cut in the middle there, because you're swinging the camera so fast that you - that can be your endpoint and your in point on the next piece.

So by having the camera kind of be like a head on a swivel, where you would - oh, my gosh, what's happening over there? Oh, my gosh, what's happening over there? - you could kind of build this singular take. That's kind of how that scene came together. And fortunately, it, you know, was done by a great crew.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jason Bateman. He stars in the Netflix series "Ozark." The third season has started streaming. He's also on the first two episodes of the HBO series "The Outsider." We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUDY ROYSTON'S "BED BOBBIN'")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jason Bateman, who stars in the Netflix series "Ozark." He plays a financial adviser who's laundering money for the second-biggest Mexican cartel. He was also in the first two episodes of the HBO adaptation of Stephen King's novel "The Outsider" and was one of the series executive producers.

I want to ask you about "The Outsider." Let's hear a scene from it first. You play - you're a teacher. And you're the coach of the Little League team in a small town. A child is found not only murdered but mauled. And it's really a horrible, gruesome murder. There's evidence at the scene of the crime that you were there at the scene of the crime. At the same time, there's contradictory evidence that you were 70 miles away at a conference at the time of the crime. And so these two things are irreconcilable. How can you be in two places at once? The detective on the case, Ralph Anderson, which is Ben Mendelsohn's character in the series, he's pretty sure you're guilty.

And because he lost his son a few years ago and is still mourning his son, the fact that he believes that you killed a child is just - it's just an unimaginable crime to him. So he's particularly upset with you also because you coached his son on the Little League team. And so he demands to know if you ever touched his son. And then later, when he's questioning you right before your arraignment, you bring that up, about his question - did you ever touch his son? And here's what you say.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OUTSIDER")

BATEMAN: (As Terry Maitland) In all the years I've been coaching Little League, your son Derek was the best drag bunter I ever had. And he was just a little guy. You know, he was very small - smallest kid on the team. But he had a lot of guts. He was never afraid to crowd the plate, even if there was some great big eighth-grader throwing heat. And most kids that short, you just count on them for walks. That's all you can expect. But he wasn't having that. He just kept swinging and striking out. And the kids even started calling him the whiffer (ph) secretly. They called him whiffer. I asked them to stop, but they're 12 and 11. Only time he got on base was when he got hit by a pitch, so tough to blame them.

But when I saw that he wasn't going to quit, he was going to just keep swinging and striking out, I taught him how to bunt. And not a lot of kids like to do that. They're afraid they'd drop that bat over the plate, fastball comes in, they get their fingers smashed. But not him. He never flinched, not once. And he flew down that first baseline. You remember how many bunt singles he got? A lot more than I expected. But those kids stopped calling him whiffer, and they started calling him push it, right? He'd come up to the plate. Runners on the corners. And they'd start saying, push it, Derek. Push it. So he had a new handle that year when we almost won district.

You must've noticed a difference in him, right? Did you notice that that summer, how confident he was, how proud he was? He was a big little guy. And, you know, I don't want you to get the wrong impression. He practiced a lot. But I taught him that. I taught him how to bunt. So when you asked me if I ever touch your kid, well, I really hope I did.

GROSS: Jason Bateman in a scene from HBO's "The Outsider." Oh, you're so good in that.

(LAUGHTER)

BATEMAN: Thank you.

GROSS: Yeah. So this is a adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Richard Price did the adaptation. Richard Price is - he's such a good writer. I mean, he wrote for "The Wire," and he's written some great novels. He wrote the movie "Clockers." Part of what makes "The Outsider" interesting is you have this kind of supernatural element from Stephen King, and then Richard Price brings much more of a, you know, detective noir aspect to it. So you have two genres coming together in it. And how did you try to express that as the director, to bring those two genres together?

BATEMAN: Well, I think they're mutually beneficial. The procedural elements of the show, of the book, helped to ground the fantasy elements of it, the supernatural elements of it. And on the other side, the supernatural elements helped to keep some of the kind of linear procedural elements a bit more buoyant and interesting and compelling. So there's a directorial element to that, too, and what is the combination of those two polarities from a visual standpoint, from a musical standpoint, from a performance standpoint, an editorial standpoint. There - you're trying to constantly ground yet get weird all the time. You're trying to find the right ratio in each scene. So that's the overall basic challenge that I was really excited about with this.

GROSS: Your father was a director and writer. Did you watch a lot of movies with him when you were growing up? And did he talk with you about what made a movie good or bad? And did he give you advice about things to look for in the film?

BATEMAN: Yeah, that's actually exactly what he did, and that's the reason I love doing what I do. Some fathers may take their sons to a park and teach them how to throw the ball, but - my dad did some of that, but what he did more was take me to some art house, you know, movies and show me what's good, what's bad and why and what acting is and what directing is. And so I got very, very interested in that.

And then when I had an opportunity to become an actor, just starting out doing commercials, I jumped at it. And once I was on a set, I started asking questions and watching crew members work to create kind of this fake life. You know, it's said often, but it's true, this - sort of this magic trick and what the different elements are to keep that ball in the air and how difficult it is to keep that in the air and for it not to fall. It's sneaky complicated just to make something look normal, and I love that.

GROSS: Jason Bateman, thank you so much for talking with us. Please stay well. My best wishes to you and to your family.

BATEMAN: Thank you, Terry. Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Jason Bateman stars in the series "Ozark." Season 3 is streaming on Netflix.

After we take a short break, we'll remember a mother of the gay rights movement, Phyllis Lyon. She died Thursday at the age of 95. She co-founded the first national lesbian group in the U.S., the Daughters of Bilitis. We'll listen back to a 1992 interview. And film critic Justin Chang will recommend some movies to stream at home. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HASKINS' "ALBERTO BALSALM")

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to remember one of the mothers of the gay rights movement, Phyllis Lyon. She died Thursday at the age of 95. In 1955, Lyon and Del Martin co-founded the first national lesbian group in the country, the Daughters of Bilitis. It was created as an alternative to the gay bar scene but developed into an activist group with a mission of helping lesbians discover their potential and find their place in society. The group disbanded in the '70s, but Lyon and Martin remained outspoken advocates of gay rights.

Lyon and Martin had already been a couple for 55 years when they became the first gay couple to legally marry in the state of California in 2008. They'd actually gotten married four years earlier, but the California Supreme Court invalidated their marriage a month later. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over both weddings. Soon after the second wedding, Del Martin died.

We're going to listen to the interview I recorded with Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in 1992 after a new 20th anniversary edition was published of their book "Lesbian/Woman." I asked them if they knew there was such a thing as a lesbian when they started being attracted to women. Del Martin spoke first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DEL MARTIN: No.

PHYLLIS LYON: No.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: No. Sexuality was not talked about in those days and let alone homosexuality.

LYON: Yeah, we're talking way back in the '30s and '40s and '50s. And I didn't really find out about lesbians until I met Del, actually.

GROSS: And what year was that?

LYON: That was in...

MARTIN: 1949.

LYON: 1949, right. And I knew vaguely that there were such things as male homosexuals, but that was about it. But when I look back, I know that I was always fascinated with women. I just didn't have a clue as to what to do about that.

GROSS: Where did you each find out more about other lesbians, about the fact that you weren't alone? Did you turn to books? Did you turn to other people?

LYON: Well, there really weren't any books except, you know, unless you went to the - first, you had to know the word homosexual or lesbian in order to look anything up.

MARTIN: And mostly, you know, it just told you how sick you were. I think the first book that I read that helped me out was Radclyffe Hall's book.

LYON: "The Well Of Loneliness," yeah.

GROSS: You both read that?

LYON: No, I didn't. Somehow or other, I missed that. So that I was still - I mean, I was through college and working before I found out about lesbians. And that was only because as I - it was about 1949 that Del and I and another woman we worked with were having drinks at the Press Club in Seattle after work, and somehow or other, the subject came up, and Del said she was a lesbian. And I was fascinated because I never met one before, I thought (laughter). The first thing I did when I got home was call everybody I knew and tell them.

GROSS: Tell them about Del?

LYON: Yeah. I didn't know that that was a bad thing. Fortunately, it had no repercussions to speak of (laughter).

MARTIN: Yeah, talk about outing.

LYON: Talk about naivete.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So, Phyllis, did you get the feeling right away that, well, you know, maybe you were, too? Did that strike you?

LYON: Not right at the moment. I - we had already become pretty close friends, Del and I. And then, of course, I was curious. But one of the things I had discerned about myself was that, in my relationships with men, what I was doing was, in essence, sort of chasing after the ones I was interested in, and then when I caught them, as it were, then I became disinterested. And I was kind of afraid that the same thing would happen if I chased after Del, so I didn't do anything for quite a while, as a matter of fact.

MARTIN: Then she was going to leave town and...

LYON: For good.

MARTIN: And so it was then or never.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Who made the first move?

MARTIN: I did. But as Phyllis says, I made a pass, and she completed it.

(LAUGHTER)

LYON: She sort of made a half pass.

GROSS: How did you both meet?

MARTIN: On the job. We were working for trade publications in Seattle.

GROSS: You - so you knew each other from working together.

LYON: Yeah. Right. Well, it was - I was working in Seattle before. And then the boss told us all that he had this gay divorcee coming from San Francisco.

MARTIN: He didn't know how gay.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Right.

LYON: And so I - of course, I was fascinated because I had lived in San - I went to UC Berkeley, and I had lived partially in San Francisco, and it was great to know somebody from down there was coming up.

GROSS: Del, you had already been married. What happened to end the marriage?

MARTIN: I fell in love with the woman next door. And, you know, my feelings were really awakened by then, and I felt I needed to do something about it.

GROSS: When you started being a couple, a lot of lesbian relationships were in the kind of butch-femme mode. Was your relationship that way, too, early on?

LYON: It was sort of, yeah. I think that it didn't really stay that way very long, although to all intents and purposes, we were still a butch-femme couple in public. Since Del had decided - when I met her, had decided she was a butch, I didn't have much of an option. So...

(LAUGHTER)

LYON: So I became a femme. I've often thought I would have made a really good butch.

(LAUGHTER)

LYON: And besides which I - you know, I did all of the butch kind of things, if you will. I mean, I drive and Del doesn't. And I can drive a nail and she can't. And, you know, stuff like that. But we conformed to what the going thing was outside the home, but not - certainly didn't do it when we were at home.

MARTIN: Yeah, I was a sissy butch.

LYON: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So there was pressure on you. You felt that, like, from what you knew about lesbian couples, this is the way it had to be; this is the way it was supposed to be - butch and femme.

LYON: That's right, yeah. I mean, that's how everybody was doing it because, at that point in time, nobody - the only model anybody had was mom and dad, and so everybody was kind of following that.

MARTIN: And when we first got together, Phyllis would get up and make me breakfast, which I didn't like to eat in those days.

LYON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But that didn't last very long.

LYON: But that's what my mother had always done, right? She had always gotten up and gotten Dad's breakfast. So I thought, well, this is what you have to do. But as Del said, it didn't last very long.

GROSS: We're listening to my 1992 interview with Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who co-founded the first national lesbian group in the U.S., the Daughters of Bilitis. Lyon died Thursday at the age of 95. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARIO ADNET'S "EXCERTO NO. 1")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering LGBTQ activist Phyllis Lyon. She died Thursday at the age of 95. In 1955, Lyon and Del Martin co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian group in the U.S. They were married in 2008 after being a couple since 1953. Martin died soon after the wedding. Let's get back to my 1992 interview with Lyon and Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You met in 1949. In 1955, you co-founded Daughters of Bilitis. Why did you feel you wanted to start some kind of organization? And what did you have in mind when you started it? What did you want it to be? What did you need it to be?

MARTIN: Well, it wasn't our idea. But we had met a lesbian through a couple of gay men that lived around the corner from us. And she called us one morning, Saturday morning, and said, how would you like to join with us in a social club for lesbians? And we were just delighted because we didn't know any, and we were so starved for, you know, socializing with other lesbians that we jumped at the chance. So that - what Daughters of Bilitis started out to be was a very secret lesbian social club.

GROSS: Where did the name come from, Daughters of Bilitis?

MARTIN: From "The Songs Of Bilitis" by Pierre Louys, which is a long lesbian narrative poem.

GROSS: It's a poem you knew?

MARTIN: Well, the lesbian who invited us to join the club had read the book, and she offered that as a suggestion for the name of the...

LYON: She thought that lesbians would know what Bilitis meant, but nobody else would. I don't think that was true because I don't think most lesbians knew about "The Songs Of Bilitis." However, it worked out as a name.

MARTIN: It was supposed to be a secret, and we have spent many, many years now trying to explain the name.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So I guess it worked pretty well. You know, some people, when they hear the name, think it sounds like a disease - Bilitis.

LYON: Well, that's why we pronounced it Bilitis...

MARTIN: Now, Terry...

GROSS: Instead of Bilitis, like phlebitis?

LYON: ...Instead of Bilitis because we were - we didn't want it to sound like a disease. And that was at the time, you know, when Eisenhower ileitis.

(LAUGHTER)

LYON: And so we were, no, no, it's got to be Bilitis so it doesn't sound like an illness.

GROSS: So you were trying to keep the organization, you know, very secret to protect the members. Were there ways that lesbians could let other lesbians know who they were, like little cues lesbians could give each other through the way they dressed or wore their hair or whatever?

MARTIN: Well, I think that's probably why so many lesbians dressed pretty butchy (ph) - to let others know that here's a possibility.

GROSS: Did you go to the bars at all before or after you co-founded Daughters of Bilitis?

LYON: Oh, yeah (laughter).

GROSS: What was the bar scene like then?

LYON: Well, what was it like? It was - for many lesbians, it was the only outlet. It was the only place they had to go where they could be themselves. It was the only place they knew to go to meet other lesbians for sure, you know, without being - you know, perhaps making a costly mistake. And it's true there was a lot of drinking, which is what goes on in bars (laughter). But it was the only place. It was the only...

MARTIN: And it was a risky place...

LYON: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Because the - periodically, there would be police raids. And one of the things that we worked through on that one was during the Daughters of Bilitis, when we started to have public discussion forums...

LYON: Discussion meetings.

MARTIN: Discussion meetings. And we got attorneys to come and talk to us and tell us our rights. And what we found when a bar raid took place, that most everybody pleaded guilty to it and a plea of disturbing the peace or visiting a house of ill repute or whatever - to get out of it and pay a fine. But in actuality, what they were pleading guilty to was being gay because they hadn't done anything that was illegal in these places; they were just there.

So when we found an attorney who said, just plead nolo contendere - so you were there. And then when a police officer was asked, you know, what we did or - in the bars, all they could say was they just rounded us all up, and there was nothing that the court could do but let us go. When I say us, I'm talking about lesbians in general. Phyllis and I never got caught up in a raid. We missed one by a day and another by a week.

LYON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But we didn't get caught up. But we did find legal help for those who did.

GROSS: When you started Daughters of Bilitis, there was a gay men's counterpart at the time, the Mattachine Society. How did the two groups get along?

MARTIN: Well, the Mattachine Society was primarily gay males. And it was open to women, you know, to lesbians, and - but they had very few. And it was so male-oriented. However, they were helpful to us. At one point, they let us share an office, a very tiny one, until we could get, you know, ourselves in gear and find our own quarters.

GROSS: What were the issues that you felt the two groups had in common and the issues in which you diverted from each other?

LYON: I think basically what we had in common was the fact that we were both homosexual, and therefore, we were illegal, immoral and sick. Other than that, the lesbians' concerns were more on civil concerns, not so much criminal concerns, whereas gay men were always getting into difficulties around public restrooms in and cruising in public places and so on. Lesbians were more concerned about bringing up their children if they had children, about how to keep their household together, how to buy a house together if that was possible and things like that. You know, it was typical differences between men and women, really. And Mattachine was going before Daughters of Bilitis, but we didn't know about it until after DOB got started. But the men were very chauvinistic for the most part.

GROSS: How so?

MARTIN: Because they were men.

LYON: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: Anybody who thinks that gay men are not masculine in the sense of being very righteous and it's their baby - forget it. As far as the lesbians are concerned, they could join. They could be receptionists or typists or - but never really a part of it.

GROSS: But this was before feminism, so, I mean, not only...

LYON: Right.

MARTIN: Right.

GROSS: Not only was gay rights in its very formative stages. There really wasn't a strong women's rights movement at the time, either. So you didn't have a word - feminism - to describe your feelings of the men being chauvinistic. So did you have a context to put that in?

MARTIN: Well, no. We didn't know that much about feminism, but we did write articles about discrimination against women in the early days.

LYON: We certainly - lesbians were aware that that they needed to work because nobody was going to come along and support them. And that - and we were also aware that we didn't get paid the same money that men did. We didn't quite know what we could do about that.

MARTIN: As a matter of fact, in the jobs where we met, we received titles rather than raises.

LYON: Yeah.

GROSS: Let me jump ahead a little bit. You were active in the formation of the gay rights movement in the late '60s and early '70s, when the gay rights movement really expanded. Were there things that you felt really involved with and then issues that you felt kind of left out of for generational reasons, you know, I mean, because you'd come up - you come of age during a more repressive era?

LYON: Well, but we never - we had never left, Terry. I mean, we had never quit...

GROSS: Right.

LYON: ...Being involved with the movement. And we had also become involved with the women's movement. As soon as NOW got started, we got involved with NOW. And so I don't know that we ever felt as if we were left out. I think that when "Lesbian/Woman" came out in 1972, we thought that maybe we would have problems when we went around to university campuses and so on to talk about it, that they might think we were a couple of old fuddy-duddies and, you know - and trash us, as it were. But that didn't happen because we found that no matter how radical people were becoming and so on, they still had these basic questions and basic problems like how do you tell your parents that you're gay and what do you do about coming out in school and so on.

GROSS: Well, I wish you good health and good luck, and I thank you very much for talking with us.

LYON: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

GROSS: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin recorded in 1992. Phyllis Lyon died Thursday at the age of 95. After we take a short break, our film critic Justin Chang will recommend some movies to stream at home. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMASO-RAVA QUARTET'S "TI GUARDERO' NEL CUORE")

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our film critic Justin Chang has been working at home and watching a lot of movies, some alone and some with his family. He's going to recommend some films that are streaming now.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: What kind of movie watcher are you in the age of coronavirus? While sheltering at home, do you seek out joyous Hollywood classics like "Singin' In The Rain," or do you lean into tales of terror, madness and social breakdown like all those viewers who have made "Contagion" one of the year's hottest rentals? I fall somewhere in between eager for escapism, yes, but also for movies that speak to our present anxieties. Here are three movies - two old and one new - that have been on my screen and on my mind.

The English working class has no angrier or more prolific champion than the 83-year-old director Ken Loach. His furious and timely new drama "Sorry We Missed You" can be rented via Kino Marquee, an online platform to benefit closed-down arthouse theaters. It stars an excellent Kris Hitchen as Ricky Turner, a Newcastle day laborer who begins driving a van for a parcel delivery company. His new boss sells him on the flexibility of being an independent contractor, but the reality is crushing. Ricky has to buy his own van and receives no benefits or paid time off. Every day brings ruthless deadlines and the risk of parking tickets and fines for late deliveries. To maximize efficiency, Ricky keeps an empty bottle in the van so he can relieve himself on the go. One day he learns that he violated company policy simply by taking his young daughter, Liza Jane, along for a ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SORRY WE MISSED YOU")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It's all right, Ricky. It's nothing to worry about. Hitting your figures and getting good feedback - everything's going all right. Just - did you have somebody in the van with you on Saturday gone?

KRIS HITCHEN: (As Ricky) Oh, yes - me daughter Liza Jane. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Sorry, mate. We can't have that.

HITCHEN: (As Ricky) Well, it's my van, my insurance, my daughter. I thought it was my business.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yeah, it is. But it's our franchise, right? We just had a complaint from one of the clients. Nobody [expletive] with them ever, mate, all right? It's just one of the first commandments, all right? Cheers.

CHANG: Loach and his regular screenwriter, Paul Laverty, are not the subtlest of dramatists. And "Sorry We Missed You" can feel bludgeoning in its bleakness, especially in the scenes of the Turners at home. I loved Debbie Honeywood as Ricky's good-hearted wife Abbie, whose home care nursing job has her also burning the candle at both ends. But a calculated subplot with their wayward teenage son sends the story in melodramatic directions it doesn't need. What gives the movie its power, especially at a time when so many of us are relying on package and food deliveries, is Loach's palpable rage at the soullessness of the gig economy. He shows us the human toll on workers who have never been more essential or more exploited.

Speaking of essential, bearing in mind the lifesaving risks being taken by health care workers all over the world, I recently found myself re-watching "Green For Danger," a superbly entertaining 1946 murder mystery set in a rural British hospital during World War II. The German air raids provide an already high-stakes backdrop for a story that proceeds to get only more suspenseful and harrowing from there.

The movie follows a group of doctors and nurses who come under suspicion when a patient dies during surgery and a nurse is found fatally stabbed shortly afterward. The murder investigation falls to Inspector Cockrill of Scotland Yard, played with droll mischief by Alastair Sim, whom you probably know for his all-time great performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. The other actors - who include Sally Gray, Trevor Howard and Judy Campbell - are terrific as a group of medical professionals whose romantic entanglements and professional jealousies wouldn't be out of place on "General Hospital."

"Green For Danger," which is streaming on various platforms including the invaluable Criterion Channel, was directed by Sidney Gilliat and faithfully adapted from one of my favorite detective novels by Christianna Brand. It's brilliantly plotted, crisply acted and often very funny, which must have been a relief for audiences back in 1946 readjusting to normal life with the war still fresh on their minds.

The difficulty of readjustment is also a theme of the 1988 charmer "My Neighbor Totoro," one of the earliest and most beloved achievements of the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. I watched it again recently, this time at home with my 3-year-old daughter, who's still a bit young for darker Miyazaki fantasies like "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away." But she was captivated by this one, transported by the gorgeous, painterly images and delighted by every appearance of the giant, huggable woodland creature known as Totoro, whom she had already squeezed many times before in plush toy form.

The movie, which you can stream on platforms including Amazon Prime and YouTube, follows two young sisters who have moved with their father to an old house in the countryside while their mother recovers from an illness in a nearby hospital. In the surrounding woods, they meet Totoro and other astonishing creatures like the Catbus, a giant, grinning vehicle that whisks you from one end of the forest to another on 12 furry legs. Like many of Miyazaki's films, "My Neighbor Totoro" is rooted in rich strains of Japanese mythology and folklore, but it guides us through this world with beguiling simplicity and generous humor. It's also a deeply consoling film about finding strength when we need it most. I can't think of a more charming fantasy or a better movie for us to cling to in our own time of uncertainty.

GROSS: Justin Chang is a film critic at The LA Times.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about President Trump's claim that the deep state is conspiring to undermine his presidency. My guest will be David Rohde, executive editor for news at The New Yorker online and author of the new book "In Deep: The FBI, The CIA, And The Truth About America's Deep State." It examines and discredits the president's claims about the deep state and reports on how the president has expanded presidential power while weakening the checks and balances on that power. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. Molly Seavy-Nesper is our associate producer of digital media. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE HISAISHI'S "THE PATH OF THE WIND")

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