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On February 1, readers of the Miami Herald learned that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee had made a public appearance in one of Dade's most beautiful parks. An extraordinarily public appearance. "Two Metro-Dade police officers reported finding Albee, 63, naked in Crandon Park on Jan. 19," read the story, filed by veteran staff writer Arnold Markowitz. The article went on to quote the police report: "Defendant's penis was fully exposed."
Markowitz provided readers with few details of the two-week-old incident, except to say that Albee was arrested for violating Florida Law 800.03, which forbids the exhibition of sexual organs except in places provided for that purpose, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine. The bust took place during a midday spot check of the northeastern end of Crandon Park. "Schoolchildren sometimes are brought there on nature study walks," Markowitz added. "The place also has a reputation as a pickup spot for homosexuals."
It didn't help that the Albee drama was recounted in the Herald a day after the paper publicized the indecent-exposure arrest of WIOD radio celeb Neil Rogers, whom Miami Beach cops say was masturbating in the back row of a local adult-movie theater. Nor did the paper clarify Albee's situation by printing "X-RATED BEHAVIOR, 1E" just above the story, as a tease for another article about the psychological motivations of public masturbation.
So what exactly was Mr. Albee doing in Crandon Park? Fondling himself in the underbrush before a group of goggle-eyed first graders? Gamboling through the surf in his birthday suit, attempting to impress masses of gay sunbathers?
"He was just lying there on the sand," explains Lt. Alan Mandelbloom of Metro-Dade's Key Biscayne substation. "He wasn't doing anything lascivious or lewd with any other male or anybody else." In fact, Mandelbloom says, Albee was alone, catching a few rays on the little-used half-mile stretch of beach at the northeast end of the park. When arresting officers Ben Rawley and William Monahan confronted Albee, the playwright was "pleasant" and didn't protest his arrest, Mandelbloom says. Because Albee didn't have identification with him, the officers escorted him down the beach to a more populated area, where a friend of his was sunbathing. After showing the officers his ID, and signing a promise to appear in court, Albee was released.
Mandelbloom says Albee identified himself as a teacher and a playwright from Texas, but only after the Herald's article appeared did they realize which Edward Albee they had captured. Albee, who won a Tony award for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962), as well as Pulitzer Prizes for A Delicate Balance (1966) and Seascape (1974), was in Princeton, New Jersey, last week for an opening of his current work, Marriage Play, and according to his publicist, was unavailable for comment.
Although he was the only person arrested for violating Florida Law 800.03 in Crandon Park January 19, Mandelbloom says Albee is among about eight or ten indecent-exposure arrestees in the past two months. The frequency of arrests rose after December, when police began regular patrols of the northeast section of the park, an environmentally sensitive area of hammocks and dunes.
A December 2 memo from Park Manager Tom Morgan regarding nude sunbathing on the beach and sexual high jinks in the woods led to the increased vigilance. "Dade County School Board, which operates an environmental school in the north end of the park, takes children ages 8-12 years on interpretive nature walks in the woods and on the beach on a daily basis," reads the missive sent to Metro police. "They have indicated a need for security in the north woods and beach area because of the lewd activities. Teachers blow their whistles frequently so those sunbathing in the nude or conducting illegal activities will be alerted to their presence in the area. The teachers are in fear of what the children may see, thus causing a disruption to their general lesson plan."
Neither nudity at the north end of Crandon nor the beach's reputation as a hangout for gay men is anything new. For more than twenty years, the area has been a de facto gay beach. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, gay beachgoers also had the option of going to Virginia Key Beach Park, part of which was commonly known as a gay beach. But according to Jack Luft, development coordinator for the City of Miami, the city closed that portion of the beach in the mid-Eighties because of dangerous offshore currents.
Mandelbloom says his officers aren't waging a concerted effort to destroy the tradition of Crandon's north end as a gay hangout. "We're just responding to complaints," the lieutenant explains. "It's not an issue of sexual preference. And we're not sneaking up on anybody. You can hear the Jeeps coming from a mile away, and we're wearing uniforms." The message, he says, is simple: Just keep your clothes on.