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Meet Tuttii Fruittii and Toni Tits, the ‘drag clowns’ of London
05.23.2016
02:21 pm

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Queer

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The memorably named Tuttii Fruittii and Toni Tits—Tuttii’s the one on the bicycle above—are inclusive clowns for the generation that has decisively rejected the imposition of restrictions on gender identity. Operating out of the Deptford neighborhood of London, they go by the name Jûngølā Klöwñz, and they are an “experimental comedy art duo” inspired by a generous grab-bag of sources, including drag, clown, and tribal culture.

Tuttii and Toni both cut their teeth at the Haus of Sequana, a women-only group inspired by the tribal practices of the African, South American, and Asian diasporas that after “rampant orgies of imagination and joyous mashings of minds” created a group of performance artists that liberally uses body paint, movement, and chanting “to challenge patriarchal norms and prescribed gender roles.”

In what passes for “regular life,” Tuttii is a hair sculptor and Toni is a video artist. Photographer Poem Baker has been capturing the duo as they go about their business for over a year, and that time has culminated in the colorful series of pics seen here.

On the Klöwñz, Baker writes, “Their psychedelic creations being so entrenched in their daily lives has made it impossible to distinguish between persona and performer, between art and life.” The two clowns have given Baker an occasion to ponder why she does what she does too: “London is my home, and I love photographing all its wonderful, colorful characters— the eccentrics, the artists, the crazies, and the the bohemians.”
 

 

 
More after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Cute Jehovah’s Witnesses animation teaches kids how to be homophobic
05.04.2016
08:31 am

Topics:
Animation
Belief
Politics
Queer

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If you want to get through Jehovah’s metal detector into paradise, you’ll have to leave behind that bag full of love and inclusivity

Jehovah’s Witnesses have released a cute Pixar-ish animation intended to teach children that same-sex marriage is against the will of God.

Lesson 22 is titled “One Man, One Woman” and is part of a longer series called “Be Jehovah’s Friend!” The animation shows considerable influence from Pixar’s monster hit from 2015, Inside Out.

The video depicts a young girl telling her mother about an episode at school involving a friend named Carrie who drew a picture of her family, which has two mommies but no daddy. The girl passes on the comment from the teacher—a liberal heathen and a threat to everything right and good—that “all that matters is that people love each other and that they’re happy.” This bit of commonsense truth provides an opening for the girl’s mother to bring down the hammer and explain that Carrie’s mommies are never going to get into heaven if they persist in such unholy pursuits.

“People have their own ideas about what is right and wrong, but what matters is what Jehovah feels,” says the mother. The mother then makes an analogy that compares the gatekeepers of heaven to a kind of celestal TSA with a metal detector to deny entry to those with false beliefs:
 

It’s kind of like going on an airplane. What would happen if someone wanted to bring something on the plane that wasn’t allowed? ... To get [to paradise], we have to leave some things behind. That means anything Jehovah doesn’t approve of.

 
At the end of the video, the girl, newly motivated to get her friend Carrie to change her parents’ ways, says, “I can tell her about the paradise, and about the animals, and about the resurrection!”

And then her mother says, “Let’s practice!”

A disclaimer at the end of the video states that it was produced by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, a Jehovah’s Witness organization.

SMH, SMH…...
 

 
via Gay Star News

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Meet Wilma Burgess, country music’s first openly lesbian singer
05.02.2016
04:29 pm

Topics:
Music
Queer

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When country singer Chely Wright revealed to her fanbase that she was a lesbian back in 2010, many of the magazine articles at the time referenced k.d. lang or Melissa Etheridge, to name two earlier gay performers who opted to be true to themselves in public, but very few mentioned an even earlier lesbian country music singer to come out of the closet.
 

 
Actually, Wilma Burgess, who had several hit singles in the mid-1960s was never in the closet to begin with. Burgess was a protege of the great country music producer Owen Bradley, one of the chief architects of the slick, string-laden “Nashville sound” of the 50s and 60s. Bradley, who had been Patsy Cline’s producer, heard in Burgess’ powerful voice a performer able to do something similar to the deceased singer and he signed her to Decca Records in June of 1964. Interestingly Burgess was reluctant to perform teary ballads where she was singing to a man, and preferred her material to be gender neutral and ambiguous. When she did agree to sing a song like “Ain’t Got No Man” it was something she negotiated with her powerful hit-maker mentor: One song she liked but that he didn’t have to, for every one of his choices that she went along with but wasn’t too fond of. Their partnership worked well and produced several hits, most notably the Grammy-nominated “Baby,” a 1965 hit Burgess was seen singing in the Jayne Mansfield B-movie The Las Vegas Hillbillys, and “Misty Blue” in 1967.
 

 
For obvious teasons, Wilma Burgess ultimately found herself frustrated by the strict and ostensibly pious Nashville scene and left the music business in 1978. She would go on to open The Hitching Post, the first lesbian bar in Nashville, in the late 80s with the money she made during her career. Wilma Burgess died at the age of 64 from a heart attack on August 26th, 2003.
 

 
More clips of Wilma Burgess after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Derek Jarman: The iconoclast filmmaker as painter
04.13.2016
10:02 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes
Movies
Queer

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Derek Jarman became a filmmaker by accident. He was originally a painter, an artist who started making home movies with friends at his Bankside home in London. These Super-8 films slowly evolved into movies and one of the most exciting, original and provocative filmmakers since Ken Russell arrived. During a seventeen-year career Jarman made eleven feature films—from the Latin and sand romp Sebastiane through his punk movie Jubilee (1978) to Caravaggio (1986) and the final one color movie Blue. During all of this time, the artist, director, writer, gardener and diarist painted.

Jarman was a student the Slade School of Art in the 1960s where he was taught—like everyone else—to be an “individual.” Jarman felt he was already managing that quite well in that department without being told how. He left art school and worked as a set designer with Ken Russell—most spectacularly on The Devils in 1971 and then Savage Messiah in 1973. His painting career splits into different sections; his early work reflected his interest in landscape, form and color—something which would recur in his films—his later work reflecting his more personal experience. However, as he began making films Jarman shifted from using paint to creating pictures with celluloid.

His return to painting came after his HIV diagnosis in 1986, when he produced a series of Black Paintings—collages made from objects found on the beach at his cottage in Dungeness. He placed these objects on an oily black background—similar to the contrasting black of the tableaux he used in Caravaggio the same year.

As his condition worsened, Jarman painted larger, more abstract canvases. He given a room to paint in where he splashed the canvas with thick bright paints and scrolling words and statements. His influence came from his life, his own films and the work of Jackson Pollock. The brightness and color of the paintings were a defiance in the face of illness.
 
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‘Landscape with Marble Mountain’ (1967).
 
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‘Landscape with a Blue Pool’ (1967).
 
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‘Avesbury’ III (1973).
 
More of Derek Jarman’s paintings after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Vomit, piss, shit: Freak icon Leigh Bowery’s deliberately offensive art-punk performance art, MInty
03.07.2016
02:00 pm

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Art
Fashion
Music
Punk
Queer

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Although there is currently but a skeletal entry for Minty on AllMusic.com, the tags alone are intriguing enough:

“Harsh.” “Outrageous.” “Provocative.” “Quirky.” “Self-Conscious.” “Stylish.” “Uncompromising.”

Who wouldn’t want to see a provocative, quirky, harshly outrageous and self-consciously stylish, uncompromising pop act? Count me in. Yes, please!

Minty were an obscure fashionista/club kid/performance art musical combo from the early 90s. If they were really known at all, they were known for the fact that freak icon Leigh Bowery was the original lead singer. Bowery formed Minty with knitwear designer Richard Torry, his wife Nicola Bateman, and club promoter Matthew Glammore. When Bowery died suddenly of an AIDS-related illness on December 31, 1994, after a time the rest of Minty decided to carry on without him. They recorded just a small number of singles—including Bowery’s amazingly foul-mouthed “Useless Man” rap—and one highly original album—Open Wide—that was, I think, unjustly neglected, although the AV Club named it as one of the “least essential albums of the 90s.” I totally disagree.
 

 
Although they hailed from London, Minty were hardly what you’d call a Britpop group. They had little to do with the likes of Blur or Oasis, but they did have a benefactor in Pulp who asked them to be the opening act on one of their tours. The outrageous, deliberately offensive avant garde group was banned from several venues in Britain when word of Bowery giving birth to a shit and blood-covered “baby” (Bateman) onstageno really—got around. To say nothing of the urine drinking, vomit and the stuff he did with the chocolate! In 1994 the Westminster City Council closed down a two-week long Minty residency at London’s Freedom Cafe after only one night.

Although Boy George would later play Leigh Bowery onstage in the Taboo musical, Minty were probably a lot closer to the Butthole Surfers than Culture Club. I have also described them as “Plasmatics meet Soft Cell” or “COUM Transmissions meet Dee-lite,” and even as “the B-52s meet Hermann Nitsch...”

Get Minty fresh after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Love and Affection: Vintage photos of gay and lesbian couples
02.09.2016
11:39 am

Topics:
History
Queer

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A couple’s photographic portrait is an affirmation of their relationship. It states for all to see: “We love each other. We care for each other. We are proud of who we are together.”

During the Victorian era many gay and lesbian couples proudly expressed their love for each other in studio portraits. Unlike the common belief that such relationships were “the love that dare not speak its name,” as Oscar Wilde so famously described same sex attraction in his poem “Two Loves,” gays and lesbians often dared to show their love. Indeed, many gay and lesbian couples more or less lived openly together throughout their lives. This was far easier for women than for men as women were expected to live together if they were not married, or to live with the euphemistically termed “female companion.”

Men, no historical surprises here, had their own haunts for meeting like-minded souls. In London these could be found in the “Molly houses” and gentlemen’s clubs or pick-ups haunts at Lincoln’s Inn, or St. James Park or the path on the City’s Moorfields, which was charmingly referred to as “Sodomites Walk.”

Theaters and circuses were also well-known dens of homosexual activity—this can be traced all the way back to Elizabethan England, when male prostitutes plied their trade at theaters.

The armed forces, in particular the Royal Navy was notorious for gay relationships—understandable with all the horny seamen looking for any port in a storm. Apparently word got around.

It is a moot point that the change in public attitude towards homosexuality commenced with the Labouchere Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act in 1885, which “prohibited gross indecency between males.” This was the law under which Wilde was infamously prosecuted and the law that heightened discrimination against gays.

Before that there had been the Buggery Act—against anal penetration and bestiality—which was introduced during the reign of Henry VIII. This led to numerous executions (hangings) and imprisonments. It was briefly repealed, then reinstated by Elizabeth I. However, there were few prosecutions under the act and it was repealed again in 1828—though “buggery” remained a capital offense. James Pratt and John Smith became the last two men to be executed for buggery, in 1835.

The Labouchere Amendment outlawed homosexuality and made it more difficult for gay men to live the lives they desired. Labouchere did not include lesbians in the act as he believed drawing attention to lesbianism would only encourage sapphic desires amongst most Victorian women.

So even when gay relationships were outlawed in England, they still thrived in open secret. In America, the sodomy laws varied from state to state. What one state tolerated or had no opinion about, another state punished. However, as with England in the Victorian era, America gay and lesbian couples would often openly express their love for each other in portrait photographs.

This collection of beautiful, brave people gives us a small visual history of LGBT relationships from the 1860s-1960s. Many of the couples are unidentifiable, but where possible their names have been given. (Editor writes: Mild disclaimer: Of course it’s difficult to say that in all cases these photos are of gay couples.)
 
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Anna Moor and Elsie Dale, 1900.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The B-52s and Friends’ Art Against AIDS commercial, 1987
01.19.2016
12:25 pm

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Art
Queer

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In 1987, the B-52s produced an incredible public service announcement for AMFAR (The Foundation For AIDS Research) with the late NYC-based video artist Tom Rubnitz (best known for the “Strawberry Shortcut” and “Pickle Surprise” videos) and several of their closest famous friends. The colorful tableau vivant recreated the Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s album cover with the flowers spelling out “Be Alive”

Along with the B-52s, you’ll see Korean video artist Nam Jun Paik, Allen Ginsberg, Dancenoise, “voguing” pioneer Willi Ninja, Nile Rodgers, Joey Arias, Tseng Kwong Chi, Mink Stole, ABC’s David Yarritu, “Frieda the Disco Doll,” John Kelly as the Mona Lisa, Lady Bunny, performance artist Mike Smith, Kenny Scharf, David Byrne and then-wife Adelle Lutz, model Beverly Johnson, NYC “It Girl” Dianne Brill and Quentin Crisp among many others.

If this isn’t eighties enough for you already, note the presence of “Randee of the Redwoods” (comedian Jim Turner) the acid-fried MTV “presidential candidate.”
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Moms Mabley, the original wise old black lesbian comedian: ‘Comedy ain’ pretty’
01.13.2016
06:31 am

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History
Queer
Race
Television

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“He said, ‘Now what would you do if I died?’ And I said ‘Laugh.’”

If you have the opportunity to see the 2014 HBO documentary Whoopi Goldberg presents Moms Mabley, don’t pass it up. Clearly a labor of love, Goldberg recreated Mabley’s act as a young performer at Berkeley in the ‘80s and was obviously very inspired by her work. The doc was originally called Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You and was supported by Kickstarter donations. Then HBO bought it and no doubt asked for a title change to include Goldberg’s household name due to the relative obscurity of its eponymous subject some forty years after her death in 1975.
 

 

“What’s she got that I ain’t had thirty years longer?”

Unless you’re a real comedy nerd or over the age of, say, 55-60, you probably have little direct experience of Jackie “Moms” Mabley or remember seeing her on television. She could be seen mostly on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, maybe Laugh-In and various talk shows doing a toned-down version of her “blue” stage act. She was billed as “the funniest woman in the world” and was one of the first female stand-up comics, black or white, if not the very first. (Even Phyllis Diller claimed to be indebted to Moms Mabley.) I only really knew of her via seeing her albums in the comedy album cut-out bins of the late 1970s or hearing snippets of her stand-up on a long-running radio show called The Comedy Hour that used to air after The Dr. Demento Show back then. Her act was that of a straight-talking, dirty-minded, toothless old black lady who made jokes about chasing young men around. I had but a vague awareness of her at best, so I can be forgiven for assuming that her comic persona was something akin to the way she might be in real life, but exaggerated a bit, like say Minnie Pearl.
 

 

“Did you know I was on President Nixon’s enemies list? Yes darlin’, I told Tricia that if the Pilgrims had shot bobcats instead of turkeys for food, we’d be eating pussy for Thanksgiving.”

Nothing apparently could be further from the truth: The mismatched old lady clothes and the Gilligan hat merely clothed a character that Jackie Mabley had developed—and aged into—from the late 1920s onwards on the black vaudeville touring circuit, or the “Chitlin circuit” as it was called, including the big rooms of Harlem, like the Apollo Theater. “Moms” had a costume, the character’s “look” completed when she took her false teeth out. In real life Jackie Mabley was a proud and defiantly out butch black lesbian woman, at a time when the very concept of such a person would probably not have computed even to people who worked with her on a day-to-day basis. Offstage the dresses she claimed to buy from the S&H green stamps catalog were exchanged for the sort of smartly cut men’s suit that Janelle Monáe might favor. (She can be seen in a man’s suit in 1933’s Emperor Jones.)
 

 
Moms Mabley was one of the great 20th-century comedians, up there with any of them, although she’s little recalled today. She’s also someone who figures into the civil rights movement and the nascent gay liberation movement, too. (Even if few actually knew it at the time. It’s not like she was trying to hide her sexuality from the world, because she obviously wasn’t.)
 

 

“That man so old… he’s older than his birthday.”

As Goldberg states at the beginning of the doc, the reality is that not all that much is truly and factually known about Moms Mabley’s life. One can surmise certain things, or know what sort of money she made ($10,000 a week, which was a fortune then and not too bad by today’s standards either) or find posters of her on a bill at the Apollo and YouTube clips of her TV performances, but the details of her life are quite scarce and ephemeral at this point. Most people who would have known her or worked with her in her heyday would be long dead. Goldberg deserves thanks for rescuing this fascinating woman’s life story and helping restore her rightful place in comedy history, not to mention her role in helping white TV viewers and nightclub audiences of the 1960s to understand the POV of a wise old dirty-minded black woman. Had she been a few years younger, it’s easy to imagine Moms Mabley in a Norman Lear-produced sitcom of the ‘70s and as well-remembered today as say, Redd Foxx is, another risque black comic who was lucky enough, for posterity’s sake, to be born 26 years later.
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The drag queen who kept a mummy in her closet, an unsolved mystery
12.21.2015
11:47 am

Topics:
Crime
Queer

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In the May 2, 1994, issue of New York Magazine there appeared an astonishing story by Jeanie Russell Kasindorf about a certain noteworthy discovery in the West Harlem apartment that had previously belonged to Dorian Corey, one of the drag queens who made such an impression in Jennie Livingston’s singular 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.

In August 1993, three years after the release of Paris Is Burning, Corey died of AIDS-related complications, and her extensive costume collection was passed on to her friend and caregiver, Lois Taylor. As Taylor was sifting through the piles of clothing in Corey’s apartment, she came upon a large trunk containing a mummified body with a gunshot wound to the head. There was little question that the body had been there for some time.

Police identified the body as Robert “Bobby” Worley, who had spent three years in prison for rape and assault in the mid-1960s and had not been seen by his family—or anyone else, for that matter—since 1968. For various reasons (see below) it became apparent that there was a strong likelihood that Worley had been killed between 1968 and 1978. None of Dorian’s associates could recall her ever mentioning Worley, let alone confessing to any crime. There was some speculation that Corey had shot Worley during a failed robbery.

Kasindorf did discover some clues about their relationship: Worley’s brother Fred claimed that Bobby had called him while drunk and had rambled extensively to someone named “Dorian,” having apparently fought with her. Lois Taylor also told Kasindorf that Dorian had written a short story about a transgender woman who killed her lover in revenge after he pressured her to have a sex change. But these loose ends don’t add up to anything like a full account of how Worley died.

Here’s an excerpt from Kasindorf’s article:
 

“The first thing the body was wrapped with was a Naugahyde-like material,” [Detective Raul Figueroa] said, “with tape around it. It was that cheap brown material that they make fake-leather jackets out of. Then I think there was some other material around it. Then they put it in plastic bags.”

Figueroa said the body was “half-way” between mummified and decomposed. “When you have all this wrapping, no air is getting to it,” he explained. “But it is still losing liquid out of its body. So the body sort of floats in its own soup.” The skin was in very bad shape. “It was like very old fabric,” Figueroa said. “If you touch it, it’s going to fall apart.” Figueroa spent several days treating the skin so he could take ten fingerprints off it.

-snip-

The most exquisite detail I got from Figueroa was the tale of the flip-tops. When they pulled apart all the layers of wrapping, out fell little rings from old flip-top beer cans—the detachable kind that haven’t been used since the seventies. This convinced Figueroa that Bobby Worley died at least 15—maybe as long as 25—years ago.

“The doctor put that it could have been dead one to fifteen years so as not to commit himself until we had all the proof,” Figueroa said. “But given the fact that the brother hadn’t seen him since the late sixties, plus the fact that Naugahyde was popular in the seventies, plus the rings, it was obvious.”

I asked Figueroa if he thought the person who wrapped the body in imitation leather was trying to emulate the Egyptians. I thought it possible that Dorian Corey was into high camp with dead bodies as well as live ones.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “People just wrap a body in whatever’s available. It’s just spontaneous. You wrap it up. Then you put it in a suitcase. Then you put it in the closet. Then you just look at it periodically and wish it would go away.”

 
Interestingly, according to a user on reddit, Joseph N. Rubinstein and Jason Kim are working on an opera titled Legendary that is about the New York drag scene of the late 1980s and also deals with the mysterious Dorian Corey revelations.

After the jump, read full story from New York magazine…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma: The Cockettes crash and burn in New York City, 1971
12.17.2015
03:20 pm

Topics:
Queer

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The Cockettes are a well-established part of post-Stonewall queer history as well as of the history of the San Francisco counterculture. By embracing their inner freaks, Hibiscus (a.k.a. George Harris) and his squad of burly, bearded, campy hippie drag queens were a de facto extension of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters as well as perhaps a West Coast version of the scene that was coalescing around John Waters in Baltimore—little wonder that it didn’t take long for Divine and the Cockettes to appear on the same stages.

The narrative of a cult underground sensation blossoming into beloved crossover darlings actually never happened for the Cockettes—that narrative arc was interrupted by a disastrous month or so when they took their act from their native San Francisco to New York City, the place where all real sensations were (and to some extent still are) validated for widespread hipness and national cultural consumption. New York was dazzled and enthralled by the Cockettes for a week or two that happened to coincide with Halloween, but when they took their underground shtick to the cavernous confines of the Anderson Theater on Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets, the allure, for the glitzy audience jammed with celebrities, burst like a soap bubble.

Getting information about the Cockettes’ catastrophic visit to New York isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we are lucky to have access to one unparalleled contemporaneous source, a long analysis of the Cockettes’ trip by Maureen Orth that appeared in the November 25, 1971, issue of the Village Voice. (That lengthy article is available for you to read at the bottom of this post and is HIGHLY recommended for a fuller understanding of what happened to the Cockettes that week.) Unlike most of the disappointed reviewers who panned the Cockettes, Orth knew the troupe personally; she even traveled with them from San Francisco on a plane ride that must rank as one of the most bizarre in history, so she was in a position to see the disaster unfold with an unusually objective perspective, understanding the reasons that led to the letdown with some comprehension of both the seedy Bay Area values and the glitzier New York City logic. “Performance for the Cockettes is mostly an excuse to live a freaky life style,” Orth wrote, noting that the Cockettes, like the true freaks they were, were mostly broke-ass hairdressers or retail workers, unlike most of the better-heeled glitterati in New York City.

The Anderson was a strange venue for an act like the Cockettes. It was not a hip venue: In the 1950s it had been used as a Spanish-language theater, and in the 1960s its main programming was Yiddish-language fare. Hipper days were to come: In 1977 CBGB took it over and renamed it CBGB’s 2nd Avenue Theater, booking Talking Heads and Patti Smith, among others, but the experiment didn’t take: by 1979 it was no longer in use.
 

Difficult to make out, but the marquee reads, “The Cockettes and Sylvester, Opens Nov 7”
 
From 1969 to 1971, the Cockettes made a name for themselves with their ridiculous and campy shows, mostly held in a Chinese restaurant on Washington Square in North Beach called the Pagoda Palace Theater. The shows usually took place at midnight, which meant there was often an awkward encounter as patrons of the restaurant left, as throngs of drag queens collected on the sidewalk to begin their entertainment for the evening. Rex Reed and Truman Capote both saw the Cockettes in San Francisco, and both gushed about it—the imprimatur of two unchallenged camp authorities as Reed and Capote primed the pump for the disappointments to come.

A “San Francisco rock lawyer” by the name of Harry Zerler—he worked for Columbia Records but he had never produced a show before—sought to bring the Cockettes to New York, but he was likely a little bit in over his head; it might have been better if the Cockettes had used someone with more experience. But this point is inseparable from the basic problem of the Cockettes not fully understanding what they were getting into. Essentially, Zerler was seeking to parlay a shocking cross-dressing act into an overnight sensation based on two useful quotations from Capote (“This is the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen”) and Reed (“Will the Cockettes replace rock concerts in the ‘70s?”) that were well-nigh made to appear in a newspaper ad.

It was some trouble finding a venue, but eventually The Cockettes were scheduled to kick off a run in New York City at the Anderson Theater in early November. Travel and lodging was expensive, given that the entire group numbered 45, including Sylvester plus entourage—Orth estimates Zerler’s outlay for the escapade at $40,000. When they landed at JFK, they actually didn’t know where they were going to stay in New York. There had been a rumor that they were going to have to sleep in cots in the basement of a house in Connecticut, but they ended up at the Hotel Albert on 23 East 10th Street; its reputation as a “rock and roll fleabag” probably makes staying there sound more fun than it actually was—as Orth observed, “On a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit.”

The story of the Cockettes’ time in New York City conforms satisfyingly to a rise and fall narrative. The Cockettes hit New York during Halloween season, and opening night was November 7. The show selected for opening night was a Cockettes standby called “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma.” For the whole period leading up to the premiere, the Cockettes were the toast of the town. Orth writes: “During the week before opening I must have gone to 27 parties with the Cockettes, on the East Side, on the West Side, in the Village, in penthouses, lofts, museums, and basements, gotten a total of 15 hours of sleep, met two thirds of the freaks of New York, and began to suspect that all of Manhattan was gay.” In the aftermath of the opening night debacle, this series of parties, and the lack of rehearsal it implied, would loom large as a possible reason for the disappointing outcome. They somehow got access to Marlene Dietrich’s silver limousine to get around, but when they couldn’t use that, the “taxi drivers usually turned off their meters.” They hung out with Robert Rauschenberg and some of Warhol’s Factory hangers-on, and attended a SCREW magazine anniversary party.
 

Hibiscus

To say that New York was excited about the Cockettes is putting it mildly. Promoter Danny Fields was quoted as saying, “I haven’t seen such enthusiasm from the press since the Rolling Stones’ tour of the U.S. in 1969.” Opening night had sold out and the impossibility of securing a ticket became the talk of the town. The signs of impending disaster were there for those who cared to see it. The Cockettes, never very professional in the first place, were overtired and scattered from all the partying. The Cockettes had “barely rehearsed” and the sound system at the Anderson had not been installed until the very last minute.

So it was that an act that had made its name with trashy, scarcely rehearsed, low-rent, free-form parodies of decades-old cinema classics like Footlight Parade, Phantom of the Opera, and Busby Berkeley movies took to the stage of the Anderson Theater on November 7, 1971, in front of a sophisticated NYC audience bearing the highest expectations: “The Anderson was jammed. Hundreds of fashionables pushed and shoved their way through the one open door.” Orth supplies a partial list of the notable people present, as follows:
 

The [Women’s Wear Daily] photographer was beside himself. How could he shoot Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Rex Reed, Peggy Cass, Diana Vreeland, Nan Kemper, Clive Barnes, Sylvia Miles, Kay Thompson, Bobby Short, Elaine, Bill Blass, Estevez, Tony Perkins, Dan Greenburg, Nora Ephron, Mrs Sam Spiegel, Jerry Jorgensen, Ultra Violet, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, John Chamberlain, Cyrinda Fox, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, the entire cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the President of Gay Lib, a dozen Vogue editors, two real princesses, and the night clerk at the Hotel Albert?


 
The stage of the Anderson was far too big, which had the effect of unnecessarily diminishing the Cockettes’ threadbare stage sets. More to the point, devilish and campy goings-on undertaken by a bunch of down-and-out drag queens in an out-of-the-way San Francisco Chinese restaurant at midnight played very differently when placed under the bright lights of a New York theater.

The critical reception was harsh and unequivocal. Gore Vidal said, “Having no talent is not enough,” while Women’s Wear Daily simply pronounced it “dreadful.” The great Australian rock critic Lillian Roxon was one of the only figures to defend the Cockettes, in the pages of the Daily News, shrewdly noting that the troupe was fifteen years ahead of its time. That judgment may well have been correct.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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