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Tricia Nixon’s wedding travestied by the Cockettes, 1971


via IMDb
 
Tricia’s Wedding, a 33-minute dramatization of the solemn rite that joined Patricia Nixon and Edward Cox in holy matrimony, was the first movie the Cockettes made. Per Kenneth Turan, it premiered at the Palace Theater in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on the very day of the happy event, June 12, 1971. Not only is the Cockettes’ movie much livelier than the televised ceremony, it includes the all-too-brief screen debut of Tomata du Plenty, some five years before he formed the Screamers in Los Angeles.

Incredibly, the Cockettes’ movie was screened in the Nixon White House. In Blind Ambition, John Dean mentions watching it in the president’s bomb shelter underneath the East Wing, John Ehrlichman’s favorite spot for “monitoring” protests. There, Dean saw Tricia’s Wedding on the orders of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman:

I knew I wouldn’t use the shelter for monitoring demonstrations, although Haldeman had told me that that would be one of my responsibilities. The only time I ever returned there was for a secret screening of Tricia’s Wedding, a pornographic movie portraying Tricia Nixon’s wedding to Edward Cox, in drag. Haldeman wanted the movie killed, so a very small group of White House officials watched the cavorting transvestites in order to weigh the case for suppression. Official action proved unnecessary; the film died a natural death.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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05.10.2018
08:28 am
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Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma: The Cockettes crash and burn in New York City, 1971
12.17.2015
03:20 pm
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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…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.17.2015
03:20 pm
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Fantastic posters for the Cockettes, Divine, Sylvester by Todd Trexler
06.04.2014
01:09 pm
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Trexler
 
In San Francisco in the 1970s, Todd Trexler was one of the most prolific and sought-after poster artists for the city’s predictably amazing drag scene. He generated many posters for the Nocturnal Dream Shows and midnight movie screenings at the Palace Theater on 1741 Powell Street (it was also called the Pagoda later on). His attention-grabbing yet stately posters captured and perhaps helped define the distinct aesthetic of San Francisco’s drag happenings. The contrast of art deco filigrees to big personalities like Divine and the Cockettes is very effective.

Sadly, Trexler passed away in February of this year, at the age of 70. His essential posters can be seen in an exhibition that opens this week at Magnet (4122 18th Street) in the Castro district. Some of the items have not been on display in 40 years.

As an art student in 1968, Trexler began making posters, many of them hand-drawn. He was close with Sebastian (or, as he was also known, Milton Miron), a key member of the Cockettes. Todd continued to do work for them for a number of years in the 70s, before moving to Monterey to attend nursing school in 1979.

Here’s Trexler on the “Divine Saves the World” poster shown above:
 

I absolutely adored working with Glenn on the few occasions that I did! The day that we planned to take photos for the VICE PALACE poster I’ll never forget. Glenn and I sat in the back seat of a car with Sebastian in the front. We drove around San Francisco looking for a place to use as a backdrop. We ended up at the Palace of Fine Arts and decided it was perfect! Glenn was in makeup, bib-overalls with the sides split to make them large enough. He had tossed a couple of 50’s net prom dresses in the trunk of the car. He slipped into a pair of open-toed backless mules and wrapped the prom dresses around himself and instantly became DIVINE! I took the photo and that poster is an all- time favorite of my poster career.

 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
More dazzling posters plus an interview clip with the artist after the jump…..

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.04.2014
01:09 pm
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Children of Paradise: Life With The Cockettes
06.07.2011
02:45 pm
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This summer in downtown Los Angeles there’s a photography show at the drkrm/gallery that explores the history of the acid-gobbling, show-stopping star-children of the infamous Cockettes drag troupe. From Frontiers:

For those who neglected to Netfix their eponymous 2002 documentary, here’s the skinny on the Cockettes—they debuted on New Year’s Eve 1969, as part of a midnight showcase in San Fran’s Palace Theatre. Combining Broadway parody, cross-dressing and LSD-fueled choreography, their performances soon gained high profile media attention in Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. In the Chicago Tribune, critic Rex Reed described the show as “a nocturnal happening comprising equal parts of Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street, Harold Prince’s Follies and movie musicals, the United Fruit Company, Kabuki and the Yale Variety Show, with a lot of angel dust thrown in to keep the audience good and stoned.” Kitsch aficionado John Waters recounted, “It was complete sexual anarchy. You couldn’t tell the men from the women. It was really new at the time, and it still would be new.” On the Tonight Show, novelist and professional dandy fop Truman Capote simply stated “The Cockettes are where it’s at.”

Cashing in on this unexpected fame, the Cockettes moved their show to New York. Unfortunately, the troupe’s free-spirited hippie aesthetic was perceived by elite Manhattanites as unprofessional and sloppy. John Lennon, Liza Minelli and Angela Lansbury were some of the many celebrities to walk out on the opening night performance. Gore Vidal hammered the final nail in their patchouli-scented coffin when he infamously proclaimed, “Having no talent isn’t enough.” The group returned to the West Coast and disbanded in 1972.

The photographs in Children were shot before the East Coast snafu. Consisting solely of black and white portraiture by longtime Cockettes member Fayette Hauser, the exhibit depicts her various castmates flower-powering around ‘Frisco—bearded men in boas and evening gowns performing on ramshackle stages; women with theatrical beat smeared across their face lounging in antiquated Haight-Ashbury houses; fierce tranny geishas frolicking through Golden Gate Park. Each picture is a crystalized moment from an artistically and culturally groundbreaking epoch.

Children of Paradise: Life With The Cockettes. Photographs by Fayette Hauser, drkrm/gallery, 727 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. June 4-July 2

Below, the trailer from the excellent 2002 documentary, The Cockettes,
 

 
Via World of Wonder

Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.07.2011
02:45 pm
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