follow us in feedly
Francis Ford Coppola’s original cast list for ‘The Godfather’

000111dogfath.jpg
 
Francis Ford Coppola was not the first choice to direct The Godfather, Paramount Studios wanted Sergio Leone, but he turned it down to concentrate on his own gangster movie Once Upon A Time in America. Next up was Peter Bogdanovich but he also knocked it back as he was working on What’s Up, Doc?. Coppola was eventually approached by producer Robert Evans, who wanted an Italian-American to direct the film.

As Coppola later recalled in an interview:

The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job.

 
0022dogfat.jpg
 
Coppola was considered a risk. He had made five movies, only one of which was a hit. He was also in debt to Warner Brothers from an overspend while producing THX 1138.

Paramount were still skeptical about Coppola’s ability and kept a standby director ready to replace him. The first argument between director and studio came over casting. Coppola had drawn up his own list of possible contenders, which the studio was also set against, in particular they did not like Coppola’s suggestion of Marlon Brando or Laurence Olivier for Vito Corleone.
 
0066dogfat.jpg
 
Coppola wanted the world’s greatest actors for the main role, but the studio didn’t want Brando because he had a bad reputation for delaying film productions; while Olivier was supposedly too ill to film and turned the offer down.

Who the studio wanted was Ernest Borgnine, as he had the mix of rough-and-ready, and seemed like the kind of “family man” an audience would identify with.
 
0044fffgfgfgft.jpg
 
For Michael Corleone, Coppola wanted (then mainly unknown) Al Pacino, but the studio wanted a name, a hit name like Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal.

Michael was a good, strong role, and it attracted Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and James Caan to audition for the role, but Coppola threatened to quit unless Pacino was given it. The studio eventually conceded on the agreement that James Caan was cast as Sonny Corleone.

Again the lure of box office names led to considering Paul Newman and Steve McQueen for the role of lawyer Tom Hagen, but that eventually went to Robert Duvall.
 
0033dogfat.jpg
 
Other stars who went up for roles include Anthony Perkins who auditioned for Sonny, while Mia Farrow auditioned for Kay. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro tried out for Michael, Sonny, Carlo, and Paulie. He eventually played the young Vito in The Godfather Part II.

This is Coppola’s original cast list, which contains many of the names who eventually appeared in the film.
 
00copgodfran.jpg
 

 
Via Retronaut, FuckyeahDonCorleone and Julia Segal

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Christ the Auction: Crass drumhead goes up for auction at Sotheby’s
06.20.2014
12:20 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture
Punk

Tags:
Crass
Sotheby's


 
A stenciled Crass drumhead is going up for auction as part of Sotheby’s rock and roll memorabilia event. The estimate is that it’ll go for between $15,000 and $20,000. The “Presley to Punk” auction will occur on June 24. When I saw this, I have to admit, the collector in me swooned.

It’s a pity that this will probably just end up in some rich asshole’s house instead of in an anarchist museum or some place like that. At least I hope that it’s Penny Rimbaud himself who’ll be getting the money for this (it appears that he signed it recently). If anyone deserves to cash in on their past in this way—I really mean this—God bless them, it’s Crass. No one’s selling out here, they’re just clearing out the garage!

The auction also has some amazing signed items from The Beatles, one of Sly Stone’s vests, a jacket worn by Jimmy Page, several drawings and paintings by Joni Mitchell, as well as guitar straps worn by Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. A naughty comic strip from a young Jim Morrison and a semi-pornograpic collage made by John and Yoko for Elton John’s birthday in 1975. Several gold records belonging to Mick Jagger, even the Grammy presented to Johnny Cash and June Carter for “Jackson.” There are 145 items in all being auctioned off.
 

Sly Stone’s beaded vest, as seen during his infamous stint as co-host of The Mike Douglas Show.
 

Crosby, Stills & Nash by Joni Mitchell
 

Gary Panter’s original rendition of The Screamers logo

Thank you Luhuna Carvalho!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Screwed in Times Square with Josh Alan Friedman


 
Vanity Fair’s Mike Sacks is one of the world’s great comedy nerds and he’s got the published bona fides to prove it. Funny in his own right (his book of comic essays, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason had me laughing out loud on nearly every single page) Mike’s proven himself incredibly adept at getting top humor writers to open up about what they do and how they do it. His 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker featured interviews with the likes of Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Dick Cavett, Larry Gelbart, Merrill Markoe and even Marx Brothers writer Irving Brecher (which floored me, because I am fascinated by the man who Groucho called “the wickedest wit of the West”). The book is filled with gem after gem of good advice on how to write funny and how to think funny. If you are at all interested in the craft of comedy, it’s an absolutely indispensable book.

In just a few short days, Mike’s new book of interviews, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers will arrive (June 24 to be exact) and this nearly 500 page volume features contributions from Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Adam McKay and even the great Mel Brooks. The Irving Brecher equivalent for me—there had to be a Brecher this time, too, of course or the reader would be disappointed—well, he got several Brechers this go round (I’m talking about other unexpected leftfield participants, to be clear). There’s a fascinating interview with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, for starters. He’s also got Daniel Clowes, WFMU’s Tom Scharpling and Bob & Ray’s Bob Elliott. That’s some pretty rarified company, right? But that’s what you’ll find here. [As an aside fellow comedy buffs, my beloved pal Philip Proctor of the Firesign Theatre once told me that his extremely distinct comedic delivery was more influenced by Bob & Ray than anyone else. Once you know that, it provides a fascinating lens with which to view Phil’s contribution to “the Beatles of comedy.”]

One of the interviews that was cut for space from Poking a Dead Frog was a conversation with Josh Alan Friedman, co-creator with his brother Drew (the one who draws) of the all-time, until the end of time classic Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental and on his own of the classic in a different way anthology of his Screw magazine essays on the 42nd Street milieu, Tales of Times Square. To say that I am a big, huge, unabashed fan of those books is no exaggeration. I even gave out copies of Tales of Times Square for Christmas presents back when Times Square was still a sleaze pit. I found a stack at The Strand bookstore and bought all of them. I put plastic wrappers on my own copy of the first edition and it sits in a place of pride on the bookshelves behind me as I type this. When Mike offered us the opportunity to run the Josh Alan Friedman interview on Dangerous Minds, I was only too happy to accept.
 

Josh Alan Friedman, right, with his brother illustrator Drew Friedman, late 1970s

Mike Sacks: When I first asked if you were willing to be interviewed, you said that you “find nothing funny about anything, anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Josh Alan Friedman: That might have been off-the-cuff, but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Most of the time, what strikes me as funny doesn’t strike others as funny. And vice versa.

When did you publish your first cartoon with your brother Drew? What year was this?

It was in 1978, but we had been recording reel-to-reel audio sketches and doing comic strips for ourselves over the years. I would kind of write and produce, Drew did voices and illustrations. We never thought about publishing or releasing them.

Drew began to draw constantly. He would draw his teachers naked on school desks. When I went to visit him during his freshman year at Boston University, the public walls of the entire dormitory floor were densely illustrated. Maybe I imagined this, but I seem to remember finding him upside down, like Michaelangelo laboring under the chapel. He spent months doing this, and although the frat boys loved it, Drew hadn’t been to class in months. So I wanted to focus the poor boy’s talent on something, and I began writing heavily researched, detailed comix scripts.

What was that first published comic called?

“The Andy Griffith Show.” It ran in Raw Magazine. Drew illustrated the entire script very quickly. I loved how it looked. I said, “This is an amazing piece of work you’ve just done here,” and he told me he could do better. He ripped up that first version and then re-drew it—that’s the version that now exists. When I saw how startling the strip looked after the second pass, I knew we were onto something exciting.

To this day, the “Andy Griffith Show” comic strip remains slightly shocking. It features a black man wandering into Mayberry, North Carolina, and getting lynched by Sheriff Taylor and some other locals. This was not your typical misty-eyed look back at small-town life in the 1960s.

That cartoon has since been reprinted many times—and we caught a lot of flak at first. Certain people accused us of being racists.

If anything, you were mocking the nostalgia that surrounds a time and place that was anything but happy and perfect—at least for many people.

Yes, of course. I wanted to provoke the heady sensation of fear, and also get some laughs. That, to me, was—and still is—a potent combination. The so-called comic nightmare. It’s like mixing whiskey with barbiturates. It becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Over the years readers have told me that they can’t remember whether they actually read some of our cartoons or dreamed them. People have asked, “I might have been dreaming, but did you once work on a comic strip about such and such?”

You were writing about television shows and celebrities that no one else seemed to care about in the late ’70s, early ’80s.

I’ll confess that during childhood I never realized I Love Lucy was supposed to be a situation comedy. I thought it was a drama about the misadventures of this poor New York City housewife, which happened to have a surreal laugh track that made no sense. Years later, I was stunned to learn it was considered comedy.

I was always riveted by the lower depths of show business and sub-celebrities, maybe as an alternative to the dumbing down of American culture. The common man had higher standards in, say, the 1940s. And Drew’s fascination went even deeper, as he depicted fantasies of Rondo Hatton, the acromegaly-cursed actor who starred in several freak horror flicks in the ’30s and ’40s. And, of course, Tor Johnson, the giant wrestler turned actor, from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959], who practically became Drew’s alter ego.

There was something about The Three Stooges, after their stock had taken a dive in the ’70s, that became more compelling than ever—even deeper than when we were children. Three short, ugly, but really beautiful, middle-aged Jews who slept in the same bed together, refused to separate, yet beat and maimed each other senselessly without end. It almost ceased being comedy, but you couldn’t stop watching. 
 

 
What fascinated you about sub-celebrities at the nadir of their careers?

If I were to speculate, I would say that worship of America’s celebrity culture was becoming a mental illness without a name. It was the sickness of celebrity. It’s only gotten worse: the false icons, the obsession with celebrity over substance. It demeans all of humanity. It’s terribly unhealthy. So why not take it a quantum step lower—to its natural resolution—and worship Ed Wood, Joe Franklin, Wayne Newton, or Joey Heatherton, a Rat Pack–era actress in the ’60s? Or serial killers posing with celebrities?

When Drew and I were doing this in the late ’70s and ’80s, there was no Internet. Information about old shows and movies and celebrities were difficult to come by back then. Now there are hundreds of websites devoted to The Three Stooges or The Andy Griffith Show or Rondo Hatton. You can now look up [the actress and model] Joey Heatherton’s name and immediately find that her first husband, the football player Lance Rentzel, was arrested in 1970 for exposing himself to a child. Or that Wayne Newton once threatened to beat the shit out of Johnny Carson for telling jokes about Wayne being effeminate.

You had to search out arcane clippings’ files in local libraries or newspaper morgues back then. For years, I kept accumulating photos and news clips on numerous subjects like Newton, Joey Heatherton or Frank Sinatra, Jr.

More of Mike Sacks’ interview with Josh Alan Friedman after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
follow us in feedly
12-year-old ‘Game of Thrones’ creator’s Marvel Comics ‘Fantastic Four’ fan mail

0tinramffneas.jpg
 
It kind of figures that Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin would be a fan of Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four, with its strong main characters, who may often bicker and argue with each other, but always unite to fight various dastardly enemies. The other Marvel characters—with a few exceptions (mainly team-ups like The Avengers, and Thor)—tend to be geeky loners, who have difficulties fitting into society. The Fantastic Four are their own little society, just like all those families in Martin’s Game of Thrones.

In 1961, a 12-year-old George wrote a gushing letter of praise to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for their #17 August issue of The Fantastic Four, which was published in the #20’s letter page:

Dear Stan and Jack,

F.F. #17 was greater than great. Even now I sit in awe of it, trying to do the impossible—that is, describe it. It was absolutely stupendous, the ultimate, utmost! I cannot fathom how you could fit so much action into so few pages. It will live forever as one of the greatest F.F. comics ever printed, ergo, as one of ALL comics. In what other comic mag could you see things like a hero falling down a manhole, a heroine mistaking a toy inventor for a criminal, and the President of the U.S.A. leaving a conference that may determine the fate of the world to put his daughter to bed. The epic story, spectacular and exciting as it is, is not all that made this mag so great. The letter column was top-notch, too. I nearly died when I saw Paul Gambaccini’s letter. You’ve really made him change his tune; that letter was a far cry from the one printed in F.F. #9. Then there’s your cover boast—THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE! Brilliant! You were just about the World’s worst mag when you started, but you set yourself an ideal, and, by gumbo, you achieved it! More than achieved it, in fact—why, if you were only half as good as you are now, you’d still be the world’s best mag!!!

George R. Martin
35 East First st.
Batyonne, N.J.

The Bullpen replied:

We might as well quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words, George, and now—it’s time for our favorite department—where we talk to you straight from the shoulder———

I wonder if the Paul Gambaccini mentioned in George’s letter is the BBC radio presenter?
 
00nitramrrgff.jpg
 
Via Neatorama

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
follow us in feedly
The time Dean Ween hijacked Carlos Santana’s gear on its way to ‘Good Morning America’
06.12.2014
11:35 am

Topics:
Crime
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Dean Ween
Carlos Santana


 
Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo’s Facebook presence is pretty typical working cult musician stuff, tour dates, concert photos, personal snapshots, yadda yadda. (I’m fond of his fishing pics.) But a couple of days ago, Melchiondo posted a confession long kept secret, about boosting an iconic guitarist hero’s equipment for a recording. So the name drops don’t lose anyone, Josh Freese is known for his drumming in Devo and A Perfect Circle, and Sim Cain and Andrew Weiss were in Rollins Band.
 

I think enough time has passed where I can finally tell my favorite Ween story of all-time.

The businesses and the people involved have long since closed their doors and moved on for good and hopefully the people involved (and Carlos himself, if it comes to that) will have a good sense of humor about this story.

In 2003 Ween released our album “quebec” on Sanctuary Records. We worked on the album for 2 years in our beach house in Holgate,NJ, a rented house in the Pocono Mountains of PA, the garage behind Aaron’s house in Pt. Pleasant, PA, my upstairs guest room, and finally Andrew Weiss’s living room in NJ. We also worked at Water Music in Hoboken, NJ and Graphic Sound Studios in Ringoes, NJ. It was not a great period in our personal lives, Aaron was going thru a divorce and I was partying way too hard myself—it was some dark shit. The record is one of my favorites, but it is a depressing album lyrically. It was not an easy record to make either, as evidenced by the amount of places we worked, trying to find the right environment. There are demos available online that I posted where you can hear the process at work, we racked up our normal batch of like 6 dozen songs or more before whittling it down to what was finally released, 15 tunes.

I am a huge fan of Carlos Santana. He is one of my favorite guitarists of all-time. He is playing better these days than ever before in my opinion. His music is more radio friendly, for sure, but as a guitarist he has aged like a fine wine. Only Neil Young, Prince, and a small handful of others can make that claim as they become members of the AARP.

We were working in Andrew’s living room on the song “Transdermal Celebration”, our drummer Claude Coleman had just gotten into a horrific car crash and left us w/o a drummer for the recording and ensuing tour. Eventually it worked itself out where the record took so long to complete that Claude made enough of a recovery to do the world tour with us supporting “quebec.” In the meantime though, even though Claude had played on some of the demos, drumming on the album was left up to me, Josh Freese, and Sim Cain. “Transdermal Celebration” had been recorded 3 times by this point, with a drum machine, with Claude playing drums, and the final take on the album which features Josh Freese. It was the eventual single from the album. So, we’re in the middle of this session and I get a phone call from my roadie (nameless) who also worked for a backline company (nameless) that supplied amps, drums, lights, etc. to bands touring in the Northeast. My roadie told me that Carlos Santana’s equipment (including his guitars) had arrived via a trucking company that night at their depot. Carlos was recording an appearance on “Good Morning America” the next morning and his equipment was to be delivered to the set in NYC in a few hours.

What needed to be done was immediately clear to me, I had an opportunity to play the solo on “Transdermal Celebration” through Carlos Santana’s amplifier and guitar. I had one shot at it, it meant taking a hard disk recorder to a storage space where all of Carlos’ stuff was sitting in transit. I arrived at 2am. We (very carefully) unpacked his equipment and set up his stage gear and in one take I recorded the guitar solo for “Transdermal Celebration” (the one that appears on the album, playing thru Carlos Santana’s guitar, pedalboard, and amplifier. The whole thing took 10 minutes and we were terrified we were going to get caught. A lot of people would have lost their jobs. We got the fuck outta there really fast after that. So the solo on “Transdermal Celebration” was played thru all of Santana’s shit in what resembled an early morning bank heist or something……….

Of course a story like this requires visual proof, so here it is. Don’t tell anyone about these please.

-Dean Ween 6/14

 
Gotta love the cheeky “Don’t tell anyone about these please,” on a public post to a fan page with thousands of followers. I’m guessing the solo in question is the one that starts at about 1:53.
 

 
And here are some photos as evidence of the caper:
 

 

 

 
Lest anyone assume Mr. Santana’s gear was treated disrespectfully (you know, apart from being handled without his knowledge), Melchiondo adds this postscript:
 

an afterthought: regarding the Carlos post, i’d like to add that we handled his equipment as if it were the Mona Lisa. We photographed the way his roadie had his cables wrapped and positioned and put everything back exactly as it was found. The whole process was over as quickly as it happened. Also, the respect that I have for Carlos and the depth, spirituality and stamina of his playing is held by me in the highest regard. I am not just a fan of Carlos, I am a believer and follower of everything he has done, and yes that includes the pop singles. I felt it was important to have this be known, there is no one I hold in a higher regard. Also, I have a lifetime of experience of handling equipment, as did the other person involved, it wasn’t two drunk buffoons manhandling a legend’s gear, the furthest thing from it. I think it’s important to clarify that. -DW

 

 
Melchiondo’s new band, The Dean Ween Group, debuted in Baltimore in March, and they will be touring this summer. Dates are listed at his web site.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
follow us in feedly
‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Marilyn Monroe in a potato sack
06.06.2014
08:44 am

Topics:
Movies
Pop Culture

Tags:
Marilyn Monroe


 
The story behind this 1951 photoshoot appears to be contested. Some say it was a response to a journalist who criticized Monroe’s less-than-modest clothing, calling her “cheap” and “vulgar,” and saying she’d be better suited to a potato sack. Another, more complimentary version says the pictures were inspired by a comment that Monroe could make even a potato sack look good. Either way, it’s an endearingly defiant move on her part—eschewing her obvious bombshell typecasting to do something funny and kind of trashy. I can’t help but think John Waters would approve.

The pictures inspired an Idaho potato farmer to send her a whole sack of precious spuds, but Monroe never got to enjoy them, saying “There was a potato shortage on then, and the boys in publicity stole them all. I never saw one. It just goes to show why I always ask, ‘Can you trust a publicity man or can’t you?’ ”

Lines like that remind me of Monroe’s underappreciated wit and natural comedic talent, so I threw in an art-imitates-life clip from her role in the 1950 Bette Davis classic, All About Eve. It was a brief but memorable part very early in her career. She plays an aspiring actress—a wily girl with an ingenue’s disarming mannerisms—and she gets in some perfect one-liners on the self-importance of actors and boorishness of the industry.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
H/T: Messy Nessy Chic
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
follow us in feedly
New York’s a go go and everything tastes nice: Freakout at the Cheetah Club, 1966
06.02.2014
10:42 am

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
nightclubs
Cheetah

 
Opening its doors in April 1966, The Cheetah Club was New York City's first massive multimedia mega club. With its roots in many earlier dance ballrooms dating back to the 1920's, dancing was the only thing the walls and floors of this building had ever known. According to Steven Watson's book Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, it “was the granddaddy of the big commercial disco”:

The most elaborate discotheque was Cheetah, on Broadway and 53rd Street, where everybody, according to LIFE, looked like “a kook in a Kubla Khanteen.” The three thousand colored lightbulbs dimmed and flicked and popped into an infinity of light patterns, reflecting off shiny aluminum sheets. Cheetah held two thousand people and offered not only dancing but a library, a movie room, and color television. “The Cheetah provides the most curious use of the intermedia,” wrote Jonas Mekas. “Whereas the Dom shows are restricted (or became restricted) to the In-circle, Cheetah was designed for the masses. An attempt was made to go over the persona, over the ego to reach the impersonal, abstract, universal.”

 

 
Brewster and Broughton’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life describes the place as follows:

This had been opened by Le Club’s staid Frenchman, Oliver Coquelin. Situated on the site of the Arcadia Ballroom near Broadway’s theatre district, it threw its doors open on May 28, 1966. The cavernous space had a dancefloor with circular podiums scattered randomly like outsized polka dots. Each supported a girl frugging. Above, a cavalcade of 3,000 colored lights palpitated gently, while a boutique at the back sold the latest Carnaby Street fashions. And there was smooth and soft black velvet everywhere—except the bar, which was covered in fake fur. In the basement there was a TV room and on the upper floor a cinema showed the latest, strangest, underground movies. Variety got rather excited about this new boite: “GOTHAM’S NEW CHEETAH A KINGSIZED WATUSERY WITH A FORT KNOX POTENTIAL.” A striking Puerto Rican teenager, Yvon Leybold, clad in hot pants and fishnets, ventured down from Spanish Harlem. “Cheetah was the first real disco club I went to,” she recalls. “That was a lot of fun. It was a very mixed atmosphere. It was the first time I went into a place and you see lights and you see atmosphere, instead of the rinky-dink places I was used to.”

 
dfghgd
 
Joel Lobenthal’s Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties offered this description:

By the time Cheetah opened near Times Square in April 1966, the discotheque had become a self-contained Aladdin’s Cave, in which the visitor surrendered his or her everyday identity in search of Dionysian transport. Cheetah employed many conspiring elements to bedazzle its switched-on congregation. Banks of colored lights shone on its patrons. Suspended high above the writhing crowds, huge sheets of chrome—a giant mobile created by industrial designer Michael Lax—undulated rhythmically, while at the club’s opening night the customers echoed the mise en scene: “each girl was more electric than the next,” Eugenia Sheppard reported. “The swinging hair. The wild colors. The mini-mini-skirts.”...Cheetah initiated a trend by selling earmarked discotheque attire in a boutique included in a multi-level complex consisting of dance floor, underground-film screening room, and hot dog stand. The proprietor of Cheetah’s boutique noticed that many customers were purchasing clothes to exchange for those they had arrived in, so the checkrooms were specially expanded.

Even among the endless psychedelic distractions in the club (seperate bars, stores, library, TV room, etc), it was still all about dancing, to DJ’s and to live bands.
 
dgfheg
 
Apparently the club had its own dance, according to this guy named Larry who posted about his experiences: He had to pay for the dance classes, but he learned more about moving his feet from his job at the Cheetah - New York’s first discotheque. In between checking coats, Larry got his feet wet, so to speak, on the dance floor at the hottest of hot spots in the hottest of hot cities on the planet. “It’s time for ... the Cheetah Shuffle!” That was the rallying cry—an approximation of it, anyway. Gangs of dancers would hit the floor at the call and perform the line-dance like moves and grooves that constituted the Cheetah Shuffle. The regulars, such as they were, got so attuned to the fancy footwork that they actually gave their motions names and numbers. “Cheetah 1!” “Cheetah 2,3!” “Cheetah Cheetah!” With a word or two and a number or two or three—and don’t forget the exclamation point—the gangs would move in sequence. And Larry, because he was there every night, checking coats, was soon their leader.

At this time the small but prolific record label called Audio Fidelity released an LP with the Cheetah logo on front, featuring the house bands at the time The Esquires, Mike St. Shaw & The Prophets, and The The Thunder Frog Ensemble doing very hip (by today’s garage snob standards) hits of the day by the Rolling Stones, James Brown, etc. The LP cover is at the top of this article. Amazingly, I just noticed the LP is available on Amazon in MP3 form, click here for sound samples and to purchase Where It’s At - Live At The Cheetah.
 
cnfgj
 
The Squires played there in 1966, featuring Curtis Knight and pre-fame Jimi Hendrix (dig those site-specific cheetah-print shirts!). Richie Havens reminisces about young Jimi’s performance here.
 

 
The Velvet Underground and Tiny Tim played the Cheetah on April 11, 1967. This event, a benefit for WBAI, was billed as “An Imperial Happening” to mark “the coronation of his Serene Highness, Prince Robert, first American Emperor of the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire.”

A Dark Shadows costume party was held there, possibly on a Halloween night, with cast members in attendance and between its Public Theater debut and its long Broadway run at the Biltmore Theater, HAIR had an engagement at the Cheetah from December 22, 1967 through January 28, 1968.

There were also Cheetah clubs in Los Angeles (in the former Aragon Ballroom on Lick Pier in Venice Beach), Chicago, and Toronto, all having incredible shows with the most legendary bands of the 60’s (especially the one in Los Angeles).
 

 
xgfhdgh
 
The Cheetah later enjoyed a very successful second life as the center of Boogaloo and Salsa music. “Salsa” is a term that was possibly first used—but definitely made popular—at the nightclub.
 

 
Suzanne de Passe was the Cheetah’s talent booker before embarking on careers as a Motown executive and later as head of her own television production company. WABC-TV filmed a documentary short called “Cheetah, The Mod Mecca,” unseen for decades, it has been found and uploaded to YouTube. It strikes me as quite odd that the lion’s share of this 23 minute documentary is straight up live footage of great frat/club bands The Esquires and The Jewels just doing their set while people dance. An amazing slice of pre-hippie, early LSD era life not usually seen outside of very short edited clips. The Cheetah Club was indeed “where it was at” for many thousands of people in the perfect pop culture year of 1966 and could only have really lasted a short time (a couple years) in its original form, as the world at that time was spinning too fast and moving faster than any wild cheetah could.
 

 
A tip of the hat to the It’s All The Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago blog.

Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
follow us in feedly
The Unarius Academy of Science, America’s zaniest UFO cult


 
At some point in the fall of 1992 Jello Biafra and I travelled to El Cajon, California with a small camera crew to shoot a short documentary about the Unarius Academy of Science for a Showtime pilot I was directing. The Unarius Academy of Science is a colorful (and quite harmless, no hint of a Heaven’s Gate vibe) UFO cult with their own cable access show, and was at that time housed across the street from both a center for recovering drug addicts/methadone clinic and a sleazy plasma center where you could sell your blood for cash. A Foster’s Freeze was a block or two away. There wasn’t much of anything else going on there. Just a bunch of empty parking lots and an occasional unoccupied building, some threadbare thrift stores and a funeral home. Not to say it was a ghost town, but minus the Unarians, and the junkies, in this part of town, there seemed to be almost no one else around.

To a certain extent, that might be the reason that people joined the cult in the first place: because there is next to nothing to do in El Cajon which isn’t related to gang activities, drug dealing, burglaries, car theft and crime in general. El Cajon’s crime rate is three times the national average. There are very few legitimate jobs for the people who live there, even at the best of times. Maybe some of the town’s residents looking for a little solace from a cruel universe that dealt them the shitty hand of ending up in El Cajon, might be an explanation for the goofy cult’s local appeal.

But then again, maybe nothing can adequately explain it.
 

 
The Unarius Academy of Science was formed by Ernest and Ruth Norman, a couple of dotty New Agers, in the mid-1950s. Unarius is an acronym which stands for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. The story I heard was that Norman was a traveling psychic medium who put grieving WWII widows in touch with their dead husbands and Ruth was one of his clients. One of his wealthier clients, whose dead husband had left her a restaurant chain or so the story went…

The two met and were married within weeks. Soon Ernest would start self-publishing channeled books and they began having public meetings in Glendale, CA, ultimately publishing over 100 books and garnering several hundred followers. After Ernest’s death in 1971, Ruth Norman moved Unarius to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, where she also bought up several parcels of now valuable real estate so that a landing strip could be built for the “Space Brothers” of whom Archangel Uriel (as Ruth Norman now called herself) was their emissary on Earth.

The Unarian cosmology predicted that 33 planets would simultaneously send ambassadors in spacecraft that would lock together and form a futuristic city. Uriel taught that beings outside of our direct experience and comprehension exist—she was one of them!—and that one day the Space Brothers will help us silly humans evolve, turn deserts into vegetable fields, stop wars and improve our architecture. 
 

 
In the early 80s, “The Arrival,” an elaborate, seemingly high budget film about the Space Brothers showing up in the year 2001 was produced by the group, allegedly with the help of someone who worked for George Lucas doing special effects on the Star Wars films.

In the early 80s, certain members of the cult began to take an interest in making a cable access television program promoting the group’s beliefs: “Everything is energy.” “You, as a form of indestructible energy, possess a soul that has recorded data from past lives.” “All happenings to you currently have their origins in past lives and past actions.” “Negative acts must be compensated for by positive acts.” And best of all, Asians are Martians and vice versa (Unarians are not racists, this is seen as a good thing, i.e. proof that the aliens have been here for millennia!). The “star” of these programs, naturally was Uriel/Ruth Norman, who took to wearing clothing that would make Liberace blush, often made with Christmas tree lights that needed to be plugged in, thereby awkwardly limiting her mobility!

Some of the shows would just be Uriel talking to her followers and others would be like super low budget “psychodramas”—think Kuchar Brothers, early John Waters, Andy Milligan, etc.
 

 
These “psychodramas” were unfuckingbelievable, featuring full outer space costumes, zany make-up and and batshit crazy scenarios. For instance, Uriel might decide that a certain Unarian had been a murderous space captain or an evil sea serpent in a past life. So the group would do these semi-improvised and somewhat elaborate plays, that were designed to “drastically relive” these past lives, so that the Unarian follower would be freed from their karma (more or less). In the one with the sea serpent, they literally videotaped it next to a swimming pool and several people got into a crappy aquatic dragon suit fashioned from floating pool furniture and inner tubes and swam around as the rest of them held a trial and passed judgement on the “creature.” A lot of their psychodramas had a “trial by jury” aspect to them. Holy shit were they tweaked.

These programs made it as far as New York’s cable access weirdo home, Channel J. I used to have dozens of them on tape (which were tragically all stolen, along with the camera originals of the shoot with Biafra, from a car parked inside the old Playboy building in Beverly Hills. Who would steal goddamned hand-labeled tapes?)
 

 
Biafra and I never did get to meet Ruth Norman herself, her health didn’t permit it, but he did speak to her on camera via a speakerphone. The next morning, in their parking lot, we shot their Interplanetary Confederation Day, where far fewer than 33 Unarians marched around in a circle with fewer than 33 banners representing the (hilariously named) 33 planets who were supposed to supply all 33,000 of the Space Brothers who would arrive here in 2001. A tin spaceship contained 33 doves who were supposed to spill out into the sky at the ceremony’s climax, but they didn’t figure on it being as hot as it was on the day and most of the birds could barely dribble out of the thing. Some probably fried inside as the fully-costumed Unarians marched around their parking lot to the amusement of the folks, like myself, who were there to gawk at them in amazement. Spectacular it wasn’t, but you had to admire their commitment in the face of mainly disinterest, secondarily people driving by and shouting insulting things at them the whole time and that it was boiling hot that day and they were all in their layered interplanetary garb.
 

 
I believe they still do the Interplanetary Confederation Day every year. Frankly, I’m just amazed that 20 years after Ruth Norman’s death that the cult still exists. But they do. And even with their leader long gone, her prophecies that didn’t even remotely come close to passing and the sheer pointlessness of the whole thing, the Unarians persist, although the ones who we met 22 years ago are a bit longer in the tooth now (aren’t we all?) What’s weird is that they never grew out of their quirky belief systems even after the Space Brothers failed to arrive—the WHOLE THING that their belief system hinged on—in 2001. Uriel herself was supposed to return then, too. She didn’t even send a text!

If you think of the Unarians as characters straight out of a Daniel Clowes comic, it might make a little more sense.
 

 
This weekend at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, Jodi Wille, co-director of the acclaimed documentary on The Source Family hippie cult of the Sunset Strip has arranged a THREE DAY spectacular screening of rarely seen films and videos from Unarius. This “full-immersion” weekend includes core Unarius members onstage for live Q&As, the world theatrical premiere of Unarius’ 1979 film The Arrival, highlights from their massive archive of public access videos — plus a Unarius costume exhibit, Uriel’s space Cadillac, a pop-up reading room stocked with Unarian literature, workshops and tea house on Cinefamily’s back patio.

Here’s the trailer for the event:
 

 
After the jump. the trailer for Bill Perrine’s feature-length Unarius documentary, Children of the Stars…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Dialectics & Disco: Post-punk Marxists Gang of Four get funky on ‘Dance Fever,’ 1982


 
Ohhhhhhh, this clip of Gang of Four doing their biggest “hit” on that most mainstream of American pop TV programs of the 1980s, Dance Fever, is good but ultimately it’s best considered an occasion for a little “what if” speculation. If you squint your eyes just so, you can imagine the punk-funk art school Marxists up there doing “At Home He’s a Tourist” or “To Hell with Poverty,” or, perhaps even, “Capital (It Fails Us Now)”—can’t you just picture that shit??

Goddamn, that would really have been something seeing and hearing their jagged-edge critiques of Western culture beamed all across Reagan’s America! (Although “I Love a Man in a Uniform” was less politically strident than many of their songs, it was banned by the BBC during the Falklands War in 1982.)

But still, seeing them introduced by fuckin’ Denny Terrio does have its charm…
 
Gang of Four
 
Of course, it would be even better if they weren’t lip-syncing…. I half-suspect that Jon King intentionally did a shitty job with the sync as a subtle nod to the diehards, but it may just be his natural intensity and enthusiasm. Sara Lee’s prominent bassline in this song makes the groove unstoppable. There’s a reason “I Love a Man in a Uniform” got them invited to be on Dance Fever and it’s that bass.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Page 2 of 170  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›