WATCH: Vintage Film Of Super-Cute Fire Island In The ’70s

Our Fire Island forebears were indeed bears, if this woofy vintage film is any indication. Beards, burly bodies, short-shorts, and furry chests abound in this 1976 clip recorded by Nelson Sullivan. Twinks, otters, and even lesbians put in appearances as well.

Sullivan, who passed away in 1989, is responsible for documenting much of New York’s LGBT culture throughout the 70s and 80s. Perfectly capturing the essential feel of the era, he was sort of like Marcel Proust with a video camera. And, presumably, a boner.

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  • Adam Sank

    How the hell did that green station wagon get there?!

  • Edgar

    Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure … avec des centaines de mecs.

  • JKB


  • dvlaries

    It was a good year to be 22. There was still some time left where the fear of sexually-transmitted, viral-borne death hadn’t arrived to attenuate sexual gusto. But even then I was hardly representative of the Fire Island approach, mentality and freedom. Never, to this day, have I been in a gay bath house, and never wandered off with some nameless stranger to do it the bushes. My titrated adventurousness may have saved my life for all I know. I lost several bolder friends, I do know that.

  • Yaoming

    Nice slice of vintage (furry) gay life. Thanks for posting.

  • Dan

    This video is hypnotic.

  • Thom Finn

    This is one of the most interesting most realistic presentatkion of the gay community on Fire Island loved it

  • DrewSF

    Thom so does the video mention how A LOT of men got infected with HIV and other STDs in the 70s at Fire Island? Or how there are TONS of rich white snobby queens there?

  • freddie

    Three guesses for what the cameraman died of in 1989?

  • Pete


    Aren’t you prissy and sanctimonious? In 1976, most visitors to Fire Island had never known the freedom and self-acceptance of living “openly gay”, “Out”, in their daily lives wherever they originally came from. They did not get to have boy friends in junior high (now called middle school), high school, any many even in college. Society was very anti-gay, the gay community had lots of internalized homophobia, and whenever and wherever pockets of freedom existed, of course there were excesses that cover compensated for what most of their lives were previously, and for the majority, off of Fire Island. In those days, many guys wee gay on weekends, straight acting Monday through Friday. Very few men were living together. Society didn’t like it, families raised eyebrows. It was the era of “couples” always having separate apartments, not talking about the other at work or school, or among straight friends. If a pair did become known in the non-gay world, your partner was known as your “friend” or your “roommate”. Gay marriage was not even on the radar screen yet. The military was weeding out gays left and right. These Fire Island frolicers were all born during the gay bashing and gay witch hunts of the lavender scare, under Sen Joe McCarthy and NY asshole closet case lawyer Roy Cohen. mere suspicion of being gay, or even unmarried beyond a certain undefined age, could be grounds for loosing government jobs, and of course, no security clearances for gays.
    So as you smugly criticize these guys in the film, I urge other viewers to try to place yourselves in their shoes, and imagine what gay life was in 1976. I knew a guy who once told me that he only could feel alive in summer on fire Islan, the rest of the year in upstate New York where he was a teacher, he had no social life, no outwardly gay experiences or appearances.
    It’s wonderful how all our gay activists over the years have fought the good fight and won so much for all of us and future generations of gays.

  • Pete


    You deserve a piss cocktail for your attitude.

    Look up the film maker Nelson Sullivan in Wikipedia. He lived a fascinatingly artistic life, originated from South Carolina and migrated to New York City for the arts and the gay freedom. He established an incredible arts salon in his home that launched many in all different artsy directions. he originally was a classical pianist and composer, but fell in love with film making. He was an early discoverer and promoter of RuPaul and friends with keith haring and Andy Warhol.
    And, by the way, he died of a HEART ATTACK.
    Read the wiki article. Sullivan left us a beautiful legacy.

  • Charles

    I didn’t find dvlaries to be “prissy and sanctimonious” at all. Perhaps because I could relate. As a young man, I turned down many sexual offers. When they were being nicer, people said I was “shy” or “picky.” When they weren’t feeling so nice, they said I was “stuck up.” The truth is, I was awkward and afraid. To this day, I regret some of the lost opportunities but, like dvlaries, I can’t help but wonder if I would still be alive today had I engaged. So it’s a double-edged sword, and that’s what I think dvlaries was hinting at.

    The one coming off here as prissy and sanctimonious is Pete. I wonder if he was rejected by someone like dvlaries and is not taking out his bitterness.

  • Cam

    Funny, apparently according to Hollywood and magazines the human race has gone through an evolutionary change in the last decade or two and men no longer grow any hair on their chests.

  • startenout

    @DrewSF: Wow, you’re so right. When we look back at the history of the gay community, we should never remember there being any good times, only bad. Forget the Stonewall riots; they led to AIDS. Don’t think about the early Pride marches or the Mattachine Society…remember HIV. And don’t, for all things LGBT, think about a community where we could be openly gay in the midst of a world running rampant with homophobia…just remember that all those people died. Thanks, DrewSF; I’m sure we all feel much better with the reminder.

  • Cam


    Interesting how you use “White” as a pejorative. Kinda makes you sound like a race – ist doesn’t it?

  • Pete N SFO

    It’s a very sweet video. It really was a time of innocence.

    Don’t we all live, imagining we’ll never grow old. Wherever these guys are, I hope we gays are embracing them fully.

  • dvlaries

    Thank you for the defense, Charles.
    And I certainly didn’t want to appear judging. It’s just that when I see carefree groups of us from this moment of time, fear attaches, because now we know there was a monster around the corner in the 1980s, waiting to pick us off capriciously, no matter how sexually rambunctious or cautious we thought we’d been. Hell, I remember the first stories when it was called GRID (Gay Related Immune Disease), and in the uninformed reach for a culprit, suspicion was aimed at inhalants and lubricants.
    I was in the relationship I’m still in by 1976, but my foot slipped -so to speak- plenty in the first five years. The last time being the spring of 1982, not a moment too soon to practice better effort at faithfulness. But I was forced into final goodbyes to several friends (not unlike the fellows in this film), then in the summer of their years, who should be here enjoying old farthood with me. They’re not, and I miss them.

  • cam


    I didn’t think you sounded judemental at all. I thought you were saying quite clearly “Maybe this is why I’m still here”.

  • Nick

    @freddie: he died of a heart attack

  • charlessd

    I was there and it was liberating. So many men and boys and it was summer. Just a few years after Stonewall; remember gays and lesbians had beeng going to Fire Island for years.
    All my summer share house mates? Dead from AIDS. How my husband and I survived; I can only guess. Maybe it was because we left NYC for california in 1975. Summer on the island was the White Party, the Pink Party, yes, the bushes and the sleep arounds and the suyp and the shots. 1976 was Bicentennial and the crowd grew and became bolder. The quiet before the storm.

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