In January 2009, historian and author Brandon Wolf was assigned to write a 1,500 word article about The Diana Foundation for OutSmart magazine. The Houston LGBTQ organization was celebrating its 56th anniversary that year. Wolf knew little about the group, but he was intrigued by the fact that it was created long before the gay-liberation movement.
“The Dianas” refers to the group’s annual parody awards shows that began in the 1950s as campy Oscars-night watch parties. “When I realized that The Dianas started in the ’50s, I was shocked,” Wolf recalls. “I hadn’t expected it to be pre-Stonewall. That’s what got me so interested.”
However, the 2009 Diana leaders could not tell Wolf their full history because they had no knowledge of the group’s activities prior to the 1980s. Wolf was persistent, though, and his fascination with uncovering the untold history of the group’s awards shows led him on a 10-month journey with his best friend, Christine Doby.
Wolf pitched a new story to OutSmart––a history article documenting The Diana Foundation from those humble beginnings in 1953. The piece, which was published in the March and April 2010 issues of OutSmart, became the blueprint for Wolf’s new book, The Diana Foundation: 65 Years of History.
Wolf’s book is now for sale online. On Sunday, May 5, at 2 p.m., he will discuss his book and sign copies during a Dianas event at The Westin Houston in Memorial City.
The Diana Foundation started in 1953 when Houston florist David Moncrief threw an Academy Awards watch-party for a group of gay friends. About 10 men and women showed up in black-tie attire, and Moncrief presented a mock award to one of his guests. It was a hit, and the following year he did the same.
These black-tie house parties and parody awards shows continued to grow each year, eventually becoming what is now one of Houston’s largest LGBTQ charity organizations. But the first three decades of the Dianas’ history was almost lost, likely because members had to attend the awards shows in secret.
“Being gay was still illegal, bars were raided, and people were hassled [by the police],” Wolf says. “Before [Stonewall], this is what gay people were doing in Houston. It was the one yearly event that they could really look forward to.”
After OutSmart gave Wolf permission to begin working on an expanded Dianas history article, he contacted some gay historians for pointers. After comparing notes with the historians, Wolf realized that he was researching the oldest continually active gay organization in the nation.
“[In 2019], there is only one gay organization in the country that can say it is the oldest, and that is The Diana Foundation,” Wolf notes. “They have a history that deserved to be recorded—not just for Houston, but beyond. I hope this book makes it easier to get the Dianas story out there.”
For some time, Wolf was unable to uncover any information about the first three decades of the Dianas until he spoke with Sandy Bubbert, a former Diana Awards attendee.
Bubbert, who owns the Acadian Bakery in Montrose, became friends with Wolf after he interviewed her for OutSmart. When Wolf told Bubbert about his trouble researching the Dianas, she connected him to Johnna Mueller, a woman who had attended Moncrief’s first Oscars party in 1953.
Wolf got in touch with Mueller, and news that he was researching the group’s history began to spread. He soon had dozens of contacts who presented him with 4,000 photos, 12 videotaped Diana Awards shows, and over 100 hours’ worth of interviews.
“The right things just happened at the right time,” Wolf says. “If I hadn’t written this in 2009, the story could have been lost. Within the last 10 years, I can’t even count how many people I talked to who have passed away.”
Wolf says he is extremely grateful for his co-writer Doby, who worked with him five days a week for hours on end.
“She accompanied me on interviews, transcribed recordings, proofread, and offered up excellent revisions of the copy,” Wolf says. “She celebrated the victories and consoled me through the losses.”
Diana leaders were happy with Wolf’s 5,000-word article in OutSmart, and in 2010 requested the rights to publish an in-depth, 30,000-word manuscript on the history of the organization. Wolf accepted, but the deal was put off for nearly 10 years until Diana Foundation president Tanner Williams decided to make the book a reality.
If book sales go well, Wolf hopes that his history project will turn into something that folks can watch on television.
“My ultimate goal is to have Netflix buy the rights to my manuscript and make a series out of it,” Wolf says. “The Dianas were, and are, a clever bunch of people. I’d love people everywhere to have even more insight on one of our most historic gay organizations.”
For more information about The Diana Foundation: 65 Years of History, visit dianahistorybook.com.
What: The Diana Foundation: 65 Years of History book distribution and celebration
When: Sunday, May 5, at 2 p.m.
Where: The Westin, 945 Gessner Rd.