CBS Offers Tribute to Harvey Milk: ‘A Rebel With A Cause’

Charles Osgood, CBS On CBS’s Sunday Morning, host Charles Osgood teased a story on politician Harvey Milk, who was the first gay man elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977: "The story of a rebel with a cause is being retold in the form of a just-released motion picture. And as it happens, the timing could hardly be more appropriate." The movie, starring left-wing actor Sean Penn, is set to come out just after the 30th anniversary of Milk’s murder, as correspondent John Blackstone explained: "He became the first openly gay man elected to office in the United States. A breakthrough that ended with assassination. Harvey Milk served less than a year here on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors but it was a year that changed history."

Blackstone, who has done numerous stories on Californians efforts to legalize gay marriage, made a comparison between Milk’s election and the current battle over Proposition 8: "In California, the renewed battle over same sex marriage has echoes in a new movie about triumph and tragedy in San Francisco 30 years ago...It is an accident of timing. Just as gay right activists have taken to the streets, angry over the ban on same sex marriage in California, the struggle for gay rights has also moved to the big screen."

After recounting Milk’s campaign, election, and murder, Blackstone observed: "30 years later, many of the freedoms Milk sought have been achieved and through the years many minds have been changed." One mind that changed, according to Blackstone, was that of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who served on the Board of Supervisors with Milk: "Dianne Feinstein, once opposed to same sex marriage, now supports it. After more than 30 years in the harsh world of politics, she knows that what people want most often goes beyond rights that are written into law." Blackstone concluded the segment: "It's a coincidence that the movie of Milk's life is being released just as the battle for same sex marriage is heating up. But it's a coincidence Harvey Milk, always a showman, undoubtedly would have savored."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

9:01AM TEASE:

CHARLES OSGOOD: The story of a rebel with a cause is being retold in the form of a just-released motion picture. And as it happens, the timing could hardly be more appropriate. John Blackstone has the now and the then.

JOHN BLACKSTONE: In California, the renewed battle over same sex marriage has echoes in a new movie about triumph and tragedy in San Francisco 30 years ago. In 'Milk,' Sean Penn stars as Harvey Milk.

SEAN PENN: I'm here to recruit you. We can have a revolution here.

BLACKSTONE: He became the first openly gay man elected to office in the United States. A breakthrough that ended with assassination. Harvey Milk served less than a year here on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors but it was a year that changed history. Later on Sunday Morning.

9:45AM TEASE:

HARVEY MILK: Just like everybody else, we're -- some of us smart, some of us dumb, some of us are brilliant.

OSGOOD: But first, Harvey Milk. The real story behind the movie.

SEAN PENN: My name is Harvey milk and I'm here to recruit you.

9:48AM TEASE:

CHARLES OSGOOD: Harvey Milk was a rebel with a cause and in the brand new movie 'Milk,' Sean Penn portrays him with such authenticity that it's hard to tell the two apart. The past and present of the Harvey Milk story are intertwined closely in all sorts of ways. Our John Blackstone follows the thread.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No on 8! No on 8!

JOHN BLACKSTONE: It is an accident of timing. Just as gay right activists have taken to the streets, angry over the ban on same sex marriage in California, the struggle for gay rights has also moved to the big screen.

SEAN PENN [AS HARVEY MILK]: If we're going to beat this thing, we need everyone.

BLACKSTONE: In the new movie 'Milk,' Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to any public office in America.

JOSH BROLIN [AS DAN WHITE]: You're not like most homosexuals, are you Harvey?

PENN: Do you know a lot of homosexuals Dan?

HARVEY MILK: We are just like everybody else, we're -- some of us are smart, some of us dumb, some of us are brilliant.

BLACKSTONE: It was in 1973 that Harvey Milk first ran for a seat on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors. He owned a camera store on Castro Street, the heart of the city's growing gay community.

MILK: Thank you very much. I'm running for supervisor. I just got tired of our politicians, and the waste of money and the disrespect for us. So I decided to do something about it.

BLACKSTONE: Milk didn't get elected in that campaign or next one, but as the movie shows, he had better luck in 1977, when he brought in a new campaign manager.

PENN: Gentlemen, Ann Cronenberg, a woman.

BLACKSTONE: 23-year-old Ann Cronerberg is played by Allison Pill.

ALLISON PILL: Sir, my girlfriends say you guys don't like women. I'm just asking. Is there a place for us in all this? Or are you all scared of girls?

ANN CRONENBERG: And I walk in and it's 'who is she?'

BLACKSTONE: Today Ann Cronenberg is deputy director of San Francisco's Public Health Department. She still treasures a button from the campaign that got Harvey Milk elected.

ANN CRONENBERG: I knew that we were doing something really important. I knew that we were doing something that was causing or going to create a lot of change. I did not know that I would be part of history.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: Are you going to be a supervisor for all the people.

MILK: I have to be. That's what I was elected for. I have to be there to open up the dialogue for the sensitivities of all people. Let's work together.

CRONENBERG: He said, you know, it's not about me. This is much bigger than me. This is about all of the people who have not had a voice in government before and now feel they have a voice.

CLEVE JONES: He was the most remarkable man I've ever met.

BLACKSTONE: Cleve Jones was close to Milk from his earliest campaigns. He went on to be an AIDs activist and creator of the AIDs Memorial Quilt. It has been Jones' goal for years to have a movie made about Milk's life.

MILK: It's more than an issue. This is our lives we're fighting for.

JONES: Harvey Milk was an ordinary man. He was not a genius. He was not a saint. His personal life was often in disarray. And yet because he spoke the truth, he in fact changed the world.

BLACKSTONE: In the movie, Jones is played by Emile Hirsch.

EMILE HIRSCH [AS CLEVE JONES]: I don't do losing.

BLACKSTONE: He gets a lesson from Sean Penn's Milk on how to arrive with style at city hall.

PENN: Any time you come here, I want you to wear the tightest jeans possible. Never blend in and never take the elevator. Always use the stairs. You can make such a grand entrance by taking these stairs.

TOM OMYONO: Right. If you're really a queen you're going to walk up these stairs.

BLACKSTONE: Like successful openly gay politicians across the country, Tom Omyono has benefitted from the barriers Harvey Milk demolished.

OMYONO: As he said, welcome to my theater. This is my theater now.

BLACKSTONE: Omyono served on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors for 13 years. He's just been elected to the state assembly, a political career inspired by seeing Milk in action on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1978.

OMYONO: He had that -- this nonchalance about him. I mean, he was enjoying it. You can imagine he wanted something all those years and all of a sudden he's in a power position.

BLACKSTONE: Milk got on well with George Muscone, the city's popular and liberal new mayor. Other supervisors then included Dianne Feinstein, now a California Senator, and Dan White, a former policeman and, like Milk, newly elected.

OMYONO: And then Dan White was the third seat.

BLACKSTONE: So this one here, Dan White sat up here? Although seated close to each other, Dan White and Harvey Milk were political opposites. In the movie White is played by Josh Brolin.

JOSH BROLIN: Society can't exist without the family.

PENN: We're not against that.

BROLIN: Can two men reproduce?

PENN: No, but God knows we keep trying.

BLACKSTONE: But White, it seems, was overwhelmed by personal problems when he carried a gun into San Francisco's City Hall and brought chaos. 30 years ago, November 27, 1978.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Muscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.

BLACKSTONE: With Muscone's death, Dianne Feinstein became mayor.

FEINSTEIN: I remember it, actually, as if it were yesterday. And it was one of the hardest moments, if not the hardest moment of my life.

BLACKSTONE: Dan White had walked right past Feinstein's office looking for Harvey Milk.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And I saw him come in and I said, Dan, can I talk to you? And he went by and I heard the door close. And I heard the shots. And smelled the cordite. I went down the hall, I opened the wrong door. I opened the door, I found Harvey on his stomach. I tried to get a pulse and put my finger through a bullet hole. He was clearly dead.

BLACKSTONE: Cleve Jones arrived soon after.

JONES: I saw two feet sticking out of Dan White's office into the hallway and I knew it was Harvey because he only had one pair of dress shoes, an old pair of wing tips that had holes in them.

BLACKSTONE: What was it like around city hall, around the city?

CRONENBERG: Somber. Sad.

BLACKSTONE: By that evening, Ann Cronenberg recalls, the city's sadness was flowing into the streets.

CRONENBERG: And I can remember walking to Market Street and seeing literally hundreds of thousands of people marching with candles and joining in the march. And it was silent. The only sound that you could hear in that march were people crying.

BLACKSTONE: Dan White quickly surrendered and confessed. At his trial, White's attorney invented the famous twinky defense. Arguing successfully that too much junk food had made White mentally unstable. There were riots in San Francisco when the jury convicted White of manslaughter rather than murder. He went to prison for just five years but soon after his release, committed suicide. On Friday, with one more candle light march, San Francisco marked 30 years since the city hall murders. There were vows that Harvey Milk would never be forgotten.

MILK: I am dedicated to this city and district. Dedicated to it. But I also realize that symbolically that I am not just to gay people, but to many other people I'm a symbol of hope.

BLACKSTONE: 30 years later, many of the freedoms Milk sought have been achieved and through the years many minds have been changed.

FEINSTEIN: It's about discrimination.

BLACKSTONE: Dianne Feinstein, once opposed to same sex marriage, now supports it. After more than 30 years in the harsh world of politics, she knows that what people want most often goes beyond rights that are written into law.

FEINSTEIN: There is a right to happiness too. And happiness is an ethereal quality. But by golly it sure is important.

PENN: My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you.

BLACKSTONE: It's a coincidence that the movie of Milk's life is being released just as the battle for same sex marriage is heating up. But it's a coincidence Harvey Milk, always a showman, undoubtedly would have savored.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC