“George was Italian,” his partner, Bill Ferguson, said, “and Italians in Brooklyn didn’t leave home until they got married. So when he wanted to move out of his parents’ house and in with me, a man, that was just too much for his family. It wasn’t going to work. We felt we had to move to another city if we wanted to stay together.”
In 1959, they moved from New York City to Tulsa, to be more comfortable. As backward as it sounds, Ferguson says they made the right choice.
“We took a trip to a number of different U.S. cities, to decide where we wanted to live. We considered Youngstown, Ohio, and some others. But we liked Tulsa most and decided to move here.”
Ferguson remembers late-‘50s Tulsa as a small city with a lot of farmland, and kind people. Still, he and Matarazzo felt they couldn’t be very open about their sexual orientation.
“We were still living in secret,” he said. “We were still technically ‘in the closet.’We considered ourselves a couple, but didn’t go out of our way to let people know. When they asked, we were honest, but we only discussed it with people we became close to. It’s just that it was 1959.”
Together with a few other partners, Matarazzo and Ferguson opened Frame of Mine Gallery in Brookside. It was an art gallery, gift shop, and do-it-yourself framing boutique all-in-one that lasted 26 years.
“The company George worked for moved to Houston,” Ferguson said, “and we weren’t sure what we were going to do. We had visited a little framing shop that we liked some time earlier, and we considered doing something similar ourselves. It was nice to be able to work together for so many years.”
They eventually sold the gallery to retire. Matarazzo took up charity work, volunteering for Our House, an organization that supports AIDS patients.
“A very good friend of his—a lady who went to our church—had a son who died of AIDS. She fixed up a rundown house and used it for the patients. They provided a meal, a game of cards, a place to sit and watch television, just whatever they needed that day. George got involved with the cooking, because he really loved to cook.”
Toby Jenkins of Oklahomans for Equality said that Matarazzo and Ferguson were “the oldest long-term gay couple in Tulsa,” having been together 55 years.
“I’m not sure how he even knows that,” Ferguson said with a laugh, “except that he knows every gay couple in town. If anybody would know, he would. And I’d imagine he’s right, because we’ve known older couples who were together longer, but they’ve since passed away, and I can’t think of anyone else who would’ve beaten us.”