A large protest raged outside the National Press Club in Washington, DC, last night where the alt-right’s “Deploraball” celebration was being held. Some protesters started a fire to burn signs and chanted “Nazi scum” as hundreds of Donald Trump’s biggest fans entered the party.
Fox News reporter Griff Jenkins asked one young protester named Connor— dubbed a “fire-starting child” on Facebook— about the fire.
“My name’s Connor and I actually kinda started this fire,” the boy responded. After Jenkins mistakenly called him “Carter” the young, media-savvy kid set him straight.“It’s Connor,” he repeated, then informed the Fox lackey that he started the fire because:
We’ve shared the work of New York-based artist Matthew Lineham previously on Dangerous Minds and I can personally vouch for the quality of his work. To say nothing of the reaction I’ve gotten from folks who have received one Lineham’s clever cards featuring images of 80’s horror movie slashers like Jason Voorhees or Re-Animator‘s deranged medical student, Herbert West.
Though I’m not trying shove the faux “holiday” of Valentine’s Day down your throat—it started as a marketing thing, there was nothing traditional about it—I couldn’t resist sharing Lindham’s 2017 cards. These old-school sheet cards contain the images of Robert Smith of The Cure, Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis and an entire collection featuring the many alter-egos of our dearly departed David Bowie. There are three sheets in each pack for a total of 27 cards that also contain amusing greetings that occasionally reference song titles from the artists’ catalogs, which makes them extra-special. Just like your funny valentine, right? You can order the cards now over at Lindham’s site which will ship them out on January 24th—just in time to send one along to someone who you think is “B-52 Cute!” Awww.
Canned Dead Parrot. Created in 1994 by Bear, Bear & Bear LTD. Prior to obtaining an official licence from the Python’s, the company did their best to rip off the “Dead Parrot” Sketch” from 1969. Although the can does not contain any direct mention of Monty Python, it’s very clearly a reference to their famous skit. Inside the can is a plastic bird cage with a toy parrot hanging upside down.
If your dream has been to one day be the proud owner of a loo roll (that’s toilet paper for our non-UK readers) officially sanctioned by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then today my silly-walking friend is your lucky day. According to the website Monty Python’s Daily Llama there are allegedly 1,500 different items currently up for auction, such as the promotional foot that was created in conjunction with the Spamalot musical at New York’s Shubert Theatre in 2005, and an actual container of “Canned Dead Parrot” which is a clever nod to one of the most memorable moments from the Flying Circus television series (the Dead Parrot Sketch performed by John Cleese and Michael Palin). Many of the items were produced in small quantities like the 1072 bottles of “Spamalot” steak sauce that were released in 2007 in honor of the musical’s run at London’s Palace Theatre, making them incredibly rare collectibles in many cases.
If you’re a Python super-fan like I am I’m sure you’re going to strongly consider picking up something from the auction, which includes a wide array of vintage posters from the U.S. and Germany and a even copy of the 1990 Monty Python’s Flying Circus computer game from 1990. Say WHAT? More information on the items up for auction can be found on Monty Python’s Daily Llama. I’ve posted a number of my favorite items from the auction below along with some background information pertaining to their creation, rarity and history. As great as some of this stuff is I would have liked to have seen a piece of “Venezuelan Beaver Cheese,” a “hovercraft full of eels” or even an action figure based on Michael Palin’s bicycling enthusiast “Mr. Pither.” But you can’t always get what you want, can you?
This computer game was the very first officially licensed product by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Made by Core Design, the same company that put out ‘Tomb Raider,’ the 2D shooter had the players help “D.P. Gumby” find four missing pieces of his brain.
“Gumby” plush figures. Ranging in size from nine, twelve and fourteen inches tall these plush figures were the first toys officially licensed by the Pythons.
Another cheeky creation from Bear, Bear & Bear LTD. Incredibly this roll of toilet paper contains famous images and quotes from the ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ TV series such as the “Ministry of Silly Walks”; “Nudge, Nudge”; everyone’s favorite gender-bending sing-along “The Lumberjack Song” and others. Comes with faux fingerprints in accordance with the box’s claim that this TP is in “slightly used” condition.
This promotional “coconut” was sent to members of the press and Python VIPs as a part of the “Special Edition” release of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ by Columbia/Tristar Home Entertainment. An actual coconut it was outfitted with a zipper in the middle that when opened revealed a promotional t-shirt.
More Monty Python memorabilia for you to spend your money on, after the jump…
Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney on the cover of ‘Sunday News Magazine’ in 1978.
Like many fields of work, the drag racing scene was and is fairly well dominated by men. During its heyday, specifically the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, the National Hot Rod Association incorporated the use of gorgeous women/models to help appeal to the fanboys. If you were into that scene, you probably spent a lot of time fantasizing about Pam Hardy aka “Jungle Pam” who accompanied driver “Jungle Jim” Liberman across the country clad in go-go boots and form-fitting, barely-there outfits that showcased her bodacious “assets” while she showboated on the track and in the pit for her adoring fans. Though Liberman would pass away unexpectedly in 1977, Hardy would continue to appear at racing events. But this post isn’t about buxom blonde race track cheerleaders. It’s about the ballsy women who drove the cars during that era—and there were actually quite a lot of “speed queens” that not only gave their male counterparts a run for their money, but also blazed a trail for other women who wanted smoke up the track.
And since I know you’re curious, here’s a shot of “Jungle Pam.” Though her attire says otherwise, it must have been cold that day.
Although there were many notable women drag racers who were active during the 60s and 70s, today I’ll be focusing your attention on three of them: Janet Guthrie, the first woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and in the Daytona 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race; the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney; and Carol “Bunny” Burkett, who famously worked at the Playboy Club in Baltimore for a brief period in order to help fund her racing career.
Let’s start with my favorite of this kick-ass quad, Shirley Muldowney. Muldowney got her National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) license in 1965 and subsequently became the first woman to compete in the “supercharged gasoline dragster” category. When the NHRA did away with the category, Muldowney set her sights on the ever-popular “funny car” category. Despite their amusing sounding name, there’s nothing actually amusing about “funny cars” as they are insanely dangerous, supercharged pieces of methane-powered machinery that can kill you. But that didn’t phase Muldowney who won her first funny car race in Lebanon Valley, New York. Her success with funny cars led her to compete in the “Top Fuel” category and in August of 1975 she became the first woman to smash through the “five-second barrier” in Martin, Michigan at the Popular Hot Rodding Championships. Fast-forward to 1982 (and many other accolades and awards) when Muldowney became the first woman to receive three national championships from the NHRA making her the first female Top Fuel driver to ever receive this distinction. Make no mistake, Muldowney was a badass in every sense of the word. However, as I mentioned previously, drag racing is a risky pursuit for anyone—male or female alike.
In 1984 Muldowney nearly lost her life after one of the front tires of her nitro-powered dragster blew out while she was screaming down the track at 250 mph. The horrific crash sent Muldowney to the hospital with many injuries including two broken legs that were so messed up that there was a distinct possibility that she might never walk again, never mind get behind the wheel of a race car. But she did indeed walk again and in 1986 she returned to race in the NHRA. In 1989 she became the first woman to join an elite “Crager Four-Second Club” by reaching a mind-shattering 284 MPH in her Top Fuel car in 4.974 seconds. Muldowney would continue to race throughout the 90s until she retired in 2003. Muldowney’s remarkable life and career was the basis for the 1983 film Heart Like a Wheel starring actress Bonnie Bedelia (“Holly Gennaro McClane” of the Die Hard franchise).
The earliest known photo (though undated) of Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney taken at the Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio.
Janet Guthrie was another pioneer in women’s drag racing though she didn’t start out with that goal in mind necessarily. In 1964 at the age of 26 Guthrie was accepted into the very first “Scientist-Astronaut” program and though she made it through the first round of eliminations she didn’t make it all the way. Before she entered the wild world of professional car driving she held several fascinating jobs such as a flight instructor (Guthrie was a skilled pilot), an aerospace engineer, and she spent thirteen years building and maintaining race cars she personally owned. In 1976 Guthrie became the first female competitor to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race. One year later she competed in the Indianapolis 500 and drove in the Daytona 500. Both of these occasions marked the first time that a woman had participated in both prestigious events. A force to be reckoned with, Guthrie garnered the praise and respect of her peers. Here’s NASCAR legend William Caleb “Cale” Yarborough on Guthrie’s racing prowess back in 1977:
There is no question about her ability to race with us. More power to her. She has “made it” in what I think is the most competitive racing circuit in the world.
Thanks to her legendary (albeit short) career Guthrie’s racing suit and helmet are a part of a permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute. Her 2005 autobiography Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle was praised by The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. In 2006 Guthrie was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Lastly—but not least by a long-shot—is Carol “Bunny” Burkett. Born in the poverty-riddled hills of West Virginia she and her family were fortunate enough to move to Virginia when Burkett was young. According to Burkett, her then boyfriend got her interested in racing when she was just fifteen when he let her speed around a racetrack in his 1955 Mercury. Burkett was hooked and a few years later she purchased her first car—a 1964 Mustang. A year later she was cleaning up at the track winning race after race. In an interesting turn of events Burkett would leave the racing circuit due to financial troubles and got a job at the Playboy Club in nearby Baltimore, Maryland so she could earn the cash necessary to keep her racing career going. The cheeky stint would earn her the nickname of “Bunny” which she emblazoned on her cars.
By the time the 1980s came along Burkett was once again winning championships and in 1986 she won the very first International Hot Rod Association/Alcohol Funny Car (IHRA AFC) championship and is the only female driver to have done so, earning her the title of “First Lady of Funny Car.” Almost a decade later Bunny narrowly avoided being killed after one of her fellow competitors hit her car at more than 200 MPH. Like Cha Cha Muldowney, Bunny would soon enough return to racing for a number of years before ultimately retiring. Burkett is a breast cancer survivor and has spent the later part of her life working for charitable special-needs organizations. According to Burkett all she really wants is to be remembered as is a “good drag racer, a good driver and most of all, a good person.” And to that I say, “mission accomplished” Bunny. And then some.
I’ve included some incredible photos of all of these equally incredible, barrier-busting women below including images from both Bunny’s and Cha Cha’s horrific crashes, as well as other shots of the badass gals behind the wheel and standing by their cars instead of a man. Because horsepower = girl power.
Cha Cha Muldowney presiding over her then husband Jack and her dragster.
Another awesome shot of Muldowney on the beach with white go-go boots beside one of her cars.
It’s amazing when you consider what we might now view as quaint, familiar photographic imagery was once a serious no-no. We’ve all seen photos of Betty Page bound and gagged to the point where it’s no more shocking than a LIFE magazine cover image. When John Alexander Scott Coutts aka “John Willie,” publisher of the original Bizarre magazine and the author/ artist of the iconic art comic The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline started, excuse me, basically invented fetish photography as we now know it, it was a punishable crime.
Possibilities!, a massive 472 page coffee table book of John Willie’s photos, published by J.B. Rund’s Belier Press is the be-all, end-all last word from the world’s greatest expert on the subject.
Belier Press has been in existence since 1974 and the publisher’s own story is as interesting as the subject of the books he puts out. J.B. Rund was a young teen running around in the original rock ‘n’ roll era (1955/56) looking for second hand rock ‘n’ roll 45s to buy cheap from juke box distributors in Times Square. One of these stores also had “adult books” and this is where the author first saw a John Willie photo. The afterward of this book goes into great detail about this discovery period and the history of Belier Press. Belier Press has published all kinds of books, not just fetish photography, though I can say that the first time I ever saw a photo of Betty Page was on the cover of Belier’s Betty Page Private Peeks volume two. He also put out R. Crumb’s Carload o’ Comics, The Complete Fritz The Cat, all of the reprints of the Irving Klaw catalogs (Bizarre Katalogs), Eric Stanton and Gene “Eneg” Bilbrew and other fetish artists in Bizarre Komix (24 volumes!), The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline and the recent deluxe reprint. An amazing run.
Possibilities! has more than 1,360 photographs basically giving a visual history of John Willie’s fetish coming of age and, in fact, the birth of what we take for granted now as an art form, a style, a distinctive look and feel all which can be traced back in these photos to something that sparked excitement in one man’s mind (and loins) and the fact that he wasn’t afraid to act on that idea, even though for all he knew he may have been one of the only people on earth to feel this way.
John Alexander Scott Coutts (or JASC as the author refers to him) was born in 1902 in Singapore, the youngest of four children of William Scott and Edith Ann Spreckley Coutts. His father, wanting to go into business for himself moved the family to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, a northwest suburb of London in June 1903. As a very young child Coutts was drawn to a particular type of children’s fantasy literature called “Fairy Books,” where he developed an attraction for “damsels in distress” and the want to rescue these damsels. At around this time he also showed a talent for drawing.
To quote the author:
At about the age of puberty he became aware of another attraction—for women in high heeled shoes—which had a strong sexual connotation for him. In his fantasies John wanted these women in high-heels to be tied-up (in order to rescue them?).
In September of 1921 Coutts entered Sandhurst (the Royal Military Academy), graduating in 1923 with a commission as Second Lieutenant and joined the Royal Scots regiment. In 1925 he married Eveline Stella Frances Fisher, a nightclub hostess who he decided needed “rescuing.” They were married without the required permission of his regiment and against his the wishes of his father (who cut him off), so he moved to Australia in late 1925 or early 1926. The marriage disintegrated soon after. One day in 1934 Coutts stumbled upon McNaught’s, a shoe store on King Street that had a sideline catering to shoe fetishists. He also discovered in that establishment the existence of a weekly British magazine called London Life.
London Life was, as Rund puts it:
...a weekly British magazine that openly dealt with a range of fetishes, but in a conservative manner that would seem quaint by today’s (lack of) standards. Suddenly John Coutts realized that he was NOT alone!
At this point he was introduced to a locally based organization for shoe fetishists, possibly called “The High-Heel Club,” run by a retired ship’s captain who went by the name “Achilles.” He then met Holly Anna Faram around 1934, a woman that shared his his interests in bondage & high heels. She became his first model, and his second wife.
“Coutts was frustrated by the refusal of London Life to print any of his letters on the subject of bondage and arrived at the conclusion–in 1936 or ‘37–that he could produce a superior and more liberal publication, which in 1946 would come to called Bizarre.
In the decade in between coming up with the idea of Bizarre magazine and getting the finances to put that project together, he came up with the idea of selling high-heeled shoes, though he actually wanted to market his photographs of women wearing those shoes and not the actual shoes themselves. But it didn’t work out that way.
In 1937 Coutts got access to “The High-Heel Club” mailing list and started his career as a photographer. He also acquired the right to use the name “Achilles.” At first, using the list, he offered rather pedestrian photos of women wearing high-heels. He then added Holly Anna Faram who turned out to be an amazing model and started offering bondage poses, but in a veiled manner. Like many artists, writers and musicians Coutts was not a good businessman and not very good with money, a problem that would follow him throughout his life.
Early in 1938 he placed a series of ads in London Life magazine for his sexy shoes, charging what he felt would be too much for any potential customer (wanting to push his more reasonably priced photos instead) and naturally people started to order them. Now he had to do something, or return the money. So Coutts added shoe maker/designer to his list of accomplishments. He also put the money together to make his dream magazine but World War II broke out and that ended that dream, at least for a while.
In 1940, John Coutts volunteered for service in the Australian Army (listing his religion as “Pagan”). In 1945 he decided to move to America to once again attempt to bring his Bizarre dream to life. At the end of that year he travelled to Canada on a merchant ship to subsidize the trip. In Montreal he found a printer that not only had an allotment of paper (remember this was wartime), but was willing to take on the job. At that moment both “John Willie” and Bizarre were born.
As far as Coutts’ new name was concerned and what it meant—“Willie,” of course, being British slang for the male sex organ—but “John Willie” was also a Cockney rhyming slang term for a little boy, so ummmm… take your pick! At last he was on his way. Willie moved to New York City in 1946 or ‘47, trying to work on Bizarre with not a lot of luck. He postponed publishing after four issues and started again in 1951. He sold the magazine to a friend in 1956 after publishing 20 issues. He also did business with infamous fetish photographer and mail order dealer Irving Klaw, famous for his Tempest Storm and Betty Page photos, bondage photos, fetish cartoon serials and of course, the photos by John Willie. Klaw made two color full length films (Teaserama and Varietease) which survived and can be seen on one DVD from Something Weird Video.
To quote Rund again:
In April of 1961, after moving to Los Angeles, Coutts/Willie was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, followed in May by a confrontation with a Postal Inspector concerning his photographs. He then decided to put an end to his activities as “John Willie” and destroyed all of his negatives as well as his mailing list sending this announcement to his customers:
“On this occasion I will forgo the usual editorial “WE” (which is more businesslike) and instead, as this is the last letter you will ever receive from me I am reverting to “I”. I got sick (it happened very suddenly) and had to undergo a major operation (of course I’d have no insurance). As a result, there will be no more “Gwendoline,” and the whole business will be closed as of June 25th. (I have a few weeks grace—I hope.) I would like to inform you that on that date everything, but everything, including the mailing list will be destroyed… It’s been nice to have known you and I wish you the very best in your games of fun and nonsense.”
This was followed by a quotation from John’s favorite book (his “Bible”), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he had also quoted at the beginning of each issue of Bizarre: “Ah, with the grape of my fading Life provide, And wash my Body whence the Life has died, And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt, So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.”
John Alexander Scott Coutts passed away on August 5th 1962, at a doctor friend’s house in Scottsdale Arizona, on the same day that Marilyn Monroe died.
Little could Coutts have known the impact his art and life would have on the future of human sexuality. This impact is mostly due to Bizarre magazine and his The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, both of which have been documented. According to author and publisher J.B. Rund:
The former (Bizarre) in the disappointing reprint of the magazine. The Latter (Gwendoline), together with a substantial amount of previously unpublished and uncollected artwork, in The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, (Belier Press, 1974 and 1999). And to a lesser extent, as a photographer, which heretofore has been poorly and disrespectfully done. The present work will expand on this other talent, and provide an extensive—but not a complete—record of his prodigious output in that medium.
The photos in the book are culled almost completely from just two sources, the author/publisher’s personal collection and that of the Kinsey Institute. It’s separated into three huge sections, geographically (Australia, New York, Los Angeles) which match his life’s timeline and it’s just incredible to see it all in one massive artistic survey. The notes, introductions and afterward are riddled with the most minute details that seem to leave no stone unturned. If you have even the slightest interest in pop culture, photography, women in distress, art, bondage, or the history of alternative culture, then you owe it to yourself to own this book—the only one you’ll ever need on this subject. Trade edition available from Belier Press for $70. Deluxe limited edition of 150 numbered copies each in a custom made cloth slipcase containing an ORIGINAL print of a photograph taken by John Willie in Los Angeles circa 1958-61, a different photo in each book, plus reproductions of two previously privately circulated photographs taken by Willie in Sydney circa 1938 (not in the book). Plus John Willie Speaks–John Willie Sings!?!, an audio CD, just under forty-eight minutes, consisting of a monologue from Within A Story, his only known speaking part in a motion picture from 1954, and excerpts from the only known interview with Willie from 1961-62, excerpts from A Bawdy Recital–Poems, songs and stories performed by John Willie in 1962. Whew! A serious bargain if you ask me, as only Belier Press could whip up.
‘Lovecraft Tormented’ wall sculpture. Get it here.
Like many of you oh-so-cool Dangerous Minds readers I am a collector of a great many THINGS. From records to books and a slew of action figures, my house is a mini-museum full of cool THINGS. I also happen to know that a number of our regular visitors to DM seem to have a thing for anything that associated with the great American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Which leads me to my post for today which features a number of intricate sculptures depicting some of Lovecraft’s eldritch entities such as “Dagon,” a creature that first made its appearance in Lovecraft’s short story of the same name from 1917; everyone’s favorite octopus-headed cosmic being, “Cthulhu”; Pickman’s model, and the nutty Nyarlathotep among others. I’m just aching to bring a few of these critters into my own menagerie of mayhem…
Some of the sculptures in this post are available for purchase. That said they are not cheap—specifically that magnificent wall sculpture “Lovecraft Tormented” (pictured at the top of this post). That puppy will run you a cool $1288. Several toy companies have released sets of Lovecraft’s monstrous nightmares and when they do, they sell out pretty fast, so if you see something in this post that strikes your fancy, get it now before it’s sold out and selling on eBay for bigs bucks. I’ve included some handy links for you to do just that under each available piece below.
‘Nyarlathotep’ sculpture by Sota Toys. Get it here.
Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren. Photographed by Helmut Newton, 1983.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until I can’t remember that far back—the 80s were a weird, wonderful decade. And a perfect example of how wonderful it was is the unexpected coupling of 6’5” actor Dolph Lundgren and enigmatic Jamaican-born powerhouse, Grace Jones.
Born in Stockholm, before he got into acting Lundgren was an accomplished scholar who by the time 1982 arrived had already received a scholarship to fulfill his Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia. While he was in Australia, Lundgren worked security detail for musicians like Joan Armatrading, Dr. Hook and Grace Jones—and his chance meeting with Jones would turn into a four-year love affair. In 1983 Lundgren was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to the equally prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston. According to Dolph he would arrive on the legendary campus on his motorcycle with a leather-clad Jones in tow. At Jones’ urging Dolph soon switched gears and headed to New York to study drama. He worked security at the Limelight nightclub until Limelight boss Peter Gatien caught him eating a sandwich in a stairwell and fired him. But thanks to Jones’ deep connections in the world of entertainment he landed his first acting gig with his exotic paramour in the last James Bond film to star Roger Moore, 1985’s A View to a Kill.
1985 would be a pretty big year for the couple. Jones and Lundgren were immortalized together in a stunning photographic series by Helmut Newton that appeared in the July issue of Playboy magazine. Lundgren would then land the role of “Ivan Drago” in the 1985 film Rocky IV that would propel him to stardom. Sadly it wouldn’t be long before things got weird between the gorgeous duo and according to her 2015 book I’ll Never Write My Memoirs Jones’ recalled the moment when her beautiful union with Lundgren would begin to dissolve: after she showed up at his hotel in Los Angeles with a gun. Here’s more from Jones on how that went:
I actually had a gun. It seemed very natural that I would go and fetch Dolph holding a gun. I did so out of desperation — we had been together for years and had made this move to L.A., a place I absolutely loathed, against my better judgment, and then he comes back from being away and Tom [Holbrook, Dolph’s manager] blocks me from even saying hi. What is going on?
We turned up at the hotel, not to shoot anyone, but to make sure he came with us. We banged on the door of his room. Bang, bang, bang! I’ve got a gun! I’m screaming, “Let him out, you bastard!” It was as though Tom was holding him hostage and we had come to rescue him, hair flying, legs flailing, breasts heaving, guns flashing, music pumping. This was the kind of hysteria that took place in Los Angeles. In one of the many lives I never got to live, another Grace (one who never came true) shot Dolph there and then… And that was the end of the ballad of Grace and Dolph.
Later in the book Jones also tells the story of setting Lundgren’s clothes on fire. The couple called it a day before anyone got killed sometime in 1986. I’ve included images from the former power couple’s Playboy shoot as well as a nice assortment of other photos of the two canoodling back in the day that will remind you that love doesn’t follow any kind of rules, and should never have to be subject to them. Some of the images are slightly NSFW.
A photo shot by Helmut Newton of Jones and Lundgren that appeared in Playboy Magazine in July of 1985.
Francis Renault, famous female impersonator from ‘The Pansy Craze.’
Some of the most popular stage shows in New York and San Francisco in the 1920s and early 1930s routinely featured a wide variety of talented representatives from the gay community. In addition to live vaudeville house performances there were also a large number of extravagant soirees that featured drag costume competitions and attendees, regardless of their sexual orientation, would often arrive decked out in gender-bending fashions. It also wasn’t unusual for these kind of affairs to be covered by mainstream newspapers and wasn’t particularly considered to be an unacceptable practice. As a matter of fact, one of the era’s biggest stars, the great Mae West was an avid supporter of homosexual actors and in addition to penning the controversial play The Drag (which attempted to define the role of a homosexual man in society) she actively often provided roles to them in her productions. West’s shrewd timing of The Drag also played upon a popular movement that was a part of this wonderful time in New York and San Francisco known as “The Pansy Craze.”
Men who enjoyed bringing their inner drag queen to life during The Pansy Craze were called “Pansies” (as well as “fairies”). The Pansy Craze was HUGE and shows featuring female impersonators were attended by thousands of people who packed into bohemian clubs in Greenwich Village and drank like sailors despite the fact that prohibition was then in full effect. One of the city’s highest paid performers during the 1920s was Gene Malin who also went by the name “Jean Malin.” Malin also put out a couple of albums and had a bit of a hit with his tongue-in-cheek tune “I’d Rather be Spanish than Manish.” He was a champion of the gay community as well as one of its most celebrated members. Sadly, Malin was killed in a freak car accident after errantly putting his car into reverse sending it plunging into the water off a pier in Venice, California at the age of 25.
Another star of the Pansy Craze was “Rae Bourbon.” Born Hal Bardell, Bourbon was once a part of the boozy-sounding drag stand-up duo “Scotch and Bourbon.” Rae spent a lot of time in the slammer on charges of “lewdness” and “impersonating a woman” during his career and would often write to Vanity Fair magazine asking the publication to send him money in order to make bail. Toward the tail end of the Pansy Craze, Bourbon stepped away from the stage and did modeling work for Weill’s, a department store in Bakersfield, California. In the ad for Bourbon’s appearance he was billed as “Mr. Rae Bourbon” a “popular actor and female impersonator.” Apparently in the 1920s nobody thought it was that weird or that controversial to have a man modeling women’s clothing in the window of a department store on a Saturday. (And that’s because it really isn’t.) Bourbon also produced a number of racy albums before ending up in prison after being convicted of being an accomplice to murder after falling on hard times in the 1960s.
Though I could probably break this post into a series as there as quite a few notable historical “pansies” I’d like to jaw about, I’ll leave you with a few interesting tidbits on Francis Renault, a female impersonator who had a penchant for pricey clothing and jewellery. Born Antonio Auriemma (or perhaps Auriema) in Naples, Italy in 1893 his family moved to the future gay-friendly east coast destination of Providence, Rhode Island when he was young. Renault would perform in 43 different countries as “Francis Renault” and his drag image of Francis even appeared on the cover for the 1913 sheet music to Irving Berlin’s At the Devil’s Ball. As I mentioned, Renault was a huge connoisseur of designer duds and in a magazine ad for a show featuring a performance by him it was said that he would be wearing $5000 dollars worth of costumes straight from the couture houses of Paris. It’s probably important to note that this kind of figure was astronomical for the time and this kind of stocked closet would be worth somewhere in the range of $65K in modern times. Zowie. I’ve included numerous photos of the famous pansies I’ve featured in this post as well as some of their recordings for you to check out below.
I think it’s safe to say that for many people Lou Reed’s 1972 album Transformer was a life changing kind of record.Transformer was very much influenced by Reed’s life changing relationship with Andy Warhol. Warhol even directly inspired one of Transformer‘s best numbers, “Vicious.” According to Reed Andy had requested that he pen a tune about a “vicious” kind of person. When Reed asked Warhol to clarify his request, Andy responded by saying “Oh, you know, like I hit you with a flower.” Reed wrote Andy’s response down verbatim and the lyric “You hit me with a flower” would become part of the song.
When it comes to the influence that Transformer had on Mary Adams, the wildly talented clothing designer and sweater maker whose work is featured in this post, we can look to the iconic cover of the album that features an out-of-focus photograph of Reed taken by Mick Rock. One of the first sweaters Adams ever made was based on Rock’s photograph and her obsession with Reed would lead her to create an entire line of high-end knitwear inspired by the pioneering musician. In fact Adams’ company Small Town Girl took its name from lyrics to a song found on Reed’s much vilified collaboration with Metallica, 2011’s Lulu, “Brandenburg Gate.” Adams got her start working as a seamstress and costume designer for The Royal Canadian Ballet and Opera as well was what was likely another influential experience for her—a dreamy souding gig as the “wardrobe mistress” for the original Rocky Horror Show stage production in Australia in 1975. When she wasn’t busy doing that, she was regularly selling her sweaters at the popular outdoor Paddington Market in Sydney.
Many of Adams’ designs feature pop art images, some of which are derived from famous works by Andy Warhol who is also nicely represented on much of Adams’ knitwear. Other notable wooly famous faces include Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson, Transformer‘s producer David Bowie, Liza Minnelli, the recently departed Leonard Cohen, and Patti Smith. I’m not exactly going out on a limb here by describing Adams’ work as exquisite. She and her collaborators hand loom each sweater using pure Australian wool and then each piece is finished by Adams by hand. So it’s not hard to understand why her wearable works of art will run you anywhere from $45 for a head scarf to $470 for a Blondie “Eat to the Beat”-themed sweater which you can see below. If after checking out the images in this post you are filled with a strong desire to have one of your own, more information on how to do that is available on Adams’ Small Town Girl website.
Vander Clyde as the captivating ‘Barbette,’ early 1920s.
Vander Clyde (aka “Barbette”) was born in Texas around 1898. Though there is some dispute about Clyde’s actual date of birth, there is no debate about how the influential Vaudeville acrobat and female impersonator was to artists such as Jean Cocteau (who wrote an essay in 1926 based on Clyde’s alter-ego as a female impersonator called Le Numéro Barbette). It’s even said that Clyde’s incredible transformative abilities helped inspire Blake Edwards’ gender-bending 1982 film, Victor/Victoria.
As a young child, perhaps as young as eight, Clyde attended a local circus with his mother in Austin and was so moved by the show (especially the aerial acts), that he later confessed to his horrified mother that he intended to run away and join the circus and become a “wire-walker.” Clyde didn’t make good on his threat and instead stayed home and got a job picking cotton for several years so he could earn enough cash continue attending circus shows. After graduating at the top of his class at the age of fourteen Clyde would develop his self-taught aerial skills by using anything he could including the clothing line in his backyard. Shortly after he graduated and according to the 2012 book The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville he responded to an ad in Billboard Magazine placed by the “World Famous Aerial Queens” a group from Italy known as the “Alfaretta Sisters.” Tragically one of the sisters had recently died and the act was desperately looking for a replacement. However the job came with a catch.
The surviving members of the Alfaretta Sisters insisted that one of reasons their act was so popular was because people preferred to watch women swinging around on a trapeze rather than a man. So in order to get the gig Clyde would have to dress up like a girl. Which he happily did. It wouldn’t take long before Clyde would launch his solo career dressed in drag as “Barbette.” When his show premiered in New York at the Harlem Opera House in 1919, The New York Dramatic Mirror (now there’s a publication I’d love to see come back, wouldn’t you?) called Barbette “not a bad looking girl at all” and praised his “thrilling stunts.” The magazine also noted that at the end of Barbette’s act that Clyde dramatically removed his wig stunning the audience to silence.
In 1923 Clyde took to the stage of the Folies Bergère, a cabaret music hall located in Paris dressed in full drag as Barbette. During the show Clyde performed incredible acrobatic stunts such as walking a high wire and dangerous trapeze-related tricks. Clyde’s appearance was so convincing that it left people to ponder the ambiguous performer’s true sexual identity. Members of the French avant-garde community were captivated by Clyde’s portrayal of Barbette including one of France’s most influential creative minds the great Jean Cocteau, who was allegedly linked to Clyde romantically. Cocteau was so taken with Barbette that he commissioned surrealist photographer Man Ray to take a series of photographs showing Clyde’s metamorphosis into the ethereal, androgynous Barbette.
In 1938 Clyde contracted pneumonia which led to his early retirement from the stage though he would continue to work with up-and-coming circus acts as well as on films by Orson Welles and the legendary multi-talented producer and director, Billy Rose. I’ve included some remarkable photos of Clyde as Barbette and some images from his shoot with Man Ray. If you’d like to learn more about Clyde he is the subject of a fantastic looking book called Wildflower: The Dramatic Life of Barbette—Round Rock’s First and Greatest Drag Queen. Though there is no nudity, some may be considered NSFW.
Vander Clyde as ‘Barbette.’ Photography by Man Ray.