Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Lesbian at the heart of Milk's posse


Anne Kronenberg on her role in the big-screen story of 'Milk'

Alison Pill plays gay rights activist Anne Kronenberg in Gus Van Sant's Milk. Photo: Phil Bray
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"I met Harvey the way most people met Harvey, that is in his camera store. I'd been living in the city about a year and a half, and went into the camera store to have my film developed, and was greeted by this raving maniac. He was screaming and shouting at someone in the camera store, and I was a little intimidated. I thought, 'This guy is a little too weird for me!'" – Milk campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, in The Times of Harvey Milk.

Of all the many wild and wonderful characters immortalized in the legend of Harvey Milk, perhaps none has the iconic weight of Harvey's motorcycle-riding, #1 dyke, campaign manager and City Hall aide, the redoubtable Anne Kronenberg. Annie, as Mr. Milk liked to call her, is the first person you meet in Rob Epstein's Milk doc (The Times of Harvey Milk begins a special engagement on Friday at the Roxie), and was mentioned in Harvey's famous tape-recorded will as a possible successor to his seat in the event of his assassination (a distinction denied her by Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who reportedly had the proverbial kittens contemplating a leather-clad lesbian wielding power at City Hall). Now, all these years later, Kronenberg is getting her due as a big-screen character in Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black's absorbing political thriller Milk (opening Nov. 26 at the Castro Theatre and nationwide).

Recently, the successful health administrator granted me a Nob Hill audience. Also present was the lovely young actor Alison Pill, cited by the New York Times for her breakthrough performance in Milk, as the curly-haired young Kronenberg. Pill makes her grand entrance into the all-male domain of Harvey's Castro Camera in a scene laced with what the real Kronenberg described to me as emblematic of Milk's inner circle, "a roomful of queens who were all screaming."

Dick Pabich: "You replaced Scott with a lesbian?"

Harvey Milk: "She's very organized."

Jim Rivaldo: "How do you know she's not a plant from Rick Stokes' campaign?"

Anne Kronenberg: "Are you guys always this paranoid?"

Michael Wong: "Yes. They take after Harvey."

David Lamble: What was Harvey like with women?

Anne Kronenberg: He was great! He had none of that weirdness that so many gay men have, or certainly at the time had, that we were a different breed, and stay away from me. Harvey understood that if he was going to be successful, he had to build a coalition of people who were all fighting for their own rights. So women were a natural fit for his cause for lesbian and gay rights because we were not treated equally, and didn't have equal pay in the work force. He was a real champion and advocate for us.

What was it like in the camera store with all the guys?

Harvey put me in [charge]. He said, "You're my campaign coordinator, you need to coordinate these guys." Sometimes you were in a room with these queens who were all screaming, and I was like, "Give me a break!" It was about trying to keep people calm, because the hysteria factor was great in the campaign.

Was Scott Smith around during that last winning campaign?

He was, but he was not Harvey's campaign manager, because they had had quite a falling out. Poor Scotty! I missed the earlier campaigns, but I think Scott was so burned out, sharing Harvey with all of us, the greater community, he couldn't do it again.

Describe Harvey's relationship with Jack Lira [the troublesome boyfriend played by Diego Luna].

Jack Lira was a young Latino gay man who had been thrown out by his family, in the Central Valley someplace, and he had come up here, and Harvey basically took him under his wing, so he was seeing Jack during that time. And Jack drove us all crazy.


He drank all the time. Jack and I were exactly the same age, but of course, he did not have the same advantages I had growing up and was not educated, was from a very poor family. Harvey would remind me of that whenever I'd be on a roll that was down on Jack, he'd make me feel guilty about it. It was really disruptive, because you're running a campaign, and Jack comes in drunk, and it's, "Harvey, keep him under control," we all felt that. Jack's nose was really out of shape because he felt we didn't like him.

Alison, what quality of Anne was most useful in constructing her character for the big screen?

Alison Pill: Her voice.

Kronenberg: Oh, my boring voice!

Pill: I met you, and I thought, "That's the most distinctive voice I've heard in ages."

Kronenberg: I've never liked my voice!

Pill: It's just a way of speaking that's incredibly calming to hear, but is also very commanding. It gave me a much better way to deal with this roomful of men, this crazy cackle-fest, just laughing at me and my hair.

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