Bohemian like you: Vali Myers the Witch of Positano

Vali Myers was never going to be ordinary. Her talent, wayward spirit and shock of flame-red hair marked her out for a life less ordinary. Ordinary was nice and nice was boring and Vali Myers hated boring.

But Vali had come from ordinary. She was born in Canterbury, Sydney, in 1930 to a wireless operator father and a talented violinist mother. Her mother had given up her career with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to raise her family. Vali watched in growing horror as her mother slowly fell to pieces with the frustration of her small town life. Wives were expected to be drudges for the benefit of their husbands and nothing more. Her mother’s unraveling inspired Vali to focus on and nurture her own talents. She was good at art and loved to dance. She hated school and had difficulties with reading and writing. Her classmates thought her odd, but Vali thought them odd and frighteningly unimaginative.

She quit home at fourteen and worked in a factory to finance her ambitions to become a dancer. Vali eventually became a principal dancer with the Melbourne Modern Ballet Company. This early success confirmed her belief there was more to life than just being some man’s wife as most women her age were expected to be. She later told photographer Eva Collins:

Men always have women backing them up. But show me the bloke who back up his woman if she is an artist. They don’t like doing that, makes them feel like they’re sitting in the back seat. If a man is a real man, why does he need a woman to clean for him? He should look after himself, otherwise, he should go back to his Mummy!

At nineteen, Vali traveled to Paris where she earned a meager living dancing in cafes. For three years she lived on the streets in a hand-to-mouth existence with many of the city’s homeless youngsters. But she was free to do as she pleased and had the opportunity to mix with many of the city’s famous artists and writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, Django Reinhart, and Jean Cocteau, with whom she often smoked opium.

This gaggle of young beatniks on the fringes of Paris attracted the interest of Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken, who chose the iconic Vali as the main character in photo-essay Love on the Left Bank (1954). Van der Elsken’s black & white photographs followed Vali as young beatnik girl “Ann” through the gangs of bohemians, musicians, and vagabonds who hung around the bars, clubs, and flophouses of St Germain-des-Prés. Vali’s distinctive look inspired a whole generation of women including Patti Smith who later described Vali as:

...the supreme beatnik chick—thick red hair and big black eyes, black boatneck sweaters and trench coats.

Though a freeform impressionistic tale, van der Elsken’s book did capture much of the life Vali was living among the “young men and girls who haunt the Left bank”:

They dine on half a loaf, smoke hashish, sleep in parked cars or on benches under the plane trees, sometimes borrowing a hotel room from a luckier friend to shelter their love. Some of them write, or paint, or dance.

Vali was dancing and painting and keeping a journal of her daily life. She was occasionally arrested as a vagabond but was usually bailed out by Jean Cocteau. During this time, she met and married Hungarian architect Rudi Rappold and for a time they lived in Vienna, Austria, and then in Positano, Italy. After Rappold’s death, Vali remained in Italy where she had gained the moniker “the Witch of Positano” because of her outsider existence. She continued to paint and write and spend time looking after the local wildlife.

In the sixties, Vali moved to London and then to New York. She was a friend and muse to Salvador Dali and became friends with the likes of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. In 1968, Vali starred with Marianne in a little-seen film called Dope about London’s drug scene. Vali then moved to New York where she lived at the Chelsea Hotel. It was here she met Patti Smith for whom she famously tattooed a lightening fork on her knee. But Vali didn’t like New York. It was brutal, hard and false. After an aneurysm in 1994, Vali eventually returned to Australia.

With her gypsy dress, her flaming red hair and distinctive facial Maori tattoos, Vali was instantly recognizable wherever she went. But it was her outsider artwork that achieved the greater attention. Her paintings were bought by museums and galleries in America, Europe, and Australia and were collected the likes of Mick Jagger and George Plimpton.

Vali died from cancer in February 2003. She had no regrets. She had lived her life as she wanted to live it. On her deathbed she said:

I’ve had 72 absolutely flaming years. It doesn’t bother me at all, because, you know, love, when you’ve lived like I have, you’ve done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I’m in the hospital now, and I guess I’ll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go.

Vali in Paris photograph by Ed van der Elsken.
See some of Vali’s artwork and more iconic photos, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
12:06 pm
NYC’s Beatnik ‘riot’: How singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ kicked off the 60s revolution

The protestors were peaceful. They didn’t look like revolutionaries. They were dressed in suits and ties. They were singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

But the cops still attacked them with billy clubs.

In the spring of 1961, Israel (“Izzy”) Young taped a sign to the window of his shop in Greenwich Village, New York. The handwritten sign announced a protest rally at the fountain in Washington Square Park at 2pm on Sunday April 9th .

Izzy was the proprietor of the Folklore Center at 110 MacDougal Street, a shop that sold books, records and everything else relating to folk music. Since it opened in 1957, the Folklore Center had been the focal point for young folk singers, beatniks and assorted musicians to gather together, hang out, talk, play and listen to music.

After the Second World War, Greenwich Village was the gathering point for all the disaffected youth who wanted to escape the conformity and boredom of suburbia. They were brought by the district’s association with the Beats and jazz musicians who had lived and played there during the 1940s and early 1950s. Often their first point of call was Izzy’s shop. Among the many youngsters who visited there was a young Bob Dylan. Izzy arranged Dylan’s first concert at Carnegie Hall. He “broke [his] ass to get people to come.” Tickets were two bucks apiece. Only 52 people turned up—though later hundreds would tell Izzy they were there.
Izzy Young in the Folklore Center circa 1960.
Since the late 1940s, folk musicians had gathered at the fountain in Washington Square Park. They brought their guitars and autoharps to play and sing songs. It was peaceable enough but some residents thought the Sunday gatherings brought “undesirables” to the neighborhood—by undesirables they meant African-Americans.

In April 1961, the new Commissioner of Parks Newbold Morris decided to take action. He banned singing in Washington Square Park. As Ted White later reported the events of that fateful day in the park in Rogue magazine, August 1961:

For seventeen years folksingers had been congregating on warm Sunday afternoons at the fountain in the center of the small park, unslinging their guitars and banjos and quietly singing songs. There would be a varied number of groups—perhaps ten or more—rimming the fountain, each singing a particular variety of folk music, from Negro work songs and blues to Kentucky hillbilly bluegrass, with perhaps an Elizabethan ballad from the West Virginia hills thrown in occasionally. As the years passed, the city government began showing an increasing hostility to the use of public facilities by the public, and for the last fourteen years, permits have been required before “public performances” could be given in any park. What this means is that a group of kids singing to each other on a weekday evening would be forcibly silenced by the ever-patrolling police for failing to possess a “permit,” or a young man playing a harmonica to himself quietly while sitting on a park bench might be suddenly ordered, “Move on, you!” and find himself run out of the park.


And now the new Parks Commissioner has refused a permit to the folksingers for their Sunday afternoon gatherings. Why? The same old story: “The folksingers have been bringing too many undesirable elements into the park.”

“Undesirable elements?” Yes, healthy young kids, racially mixed and unprejudiced enough not to care, concerned only with having the chance to assemble in the open sun and air and to be able to enjoy themselves harmlessly and happily. Sam Schwartz, a Brooklyn father, told me “Sure I let my kid—he’s a teenager—come and sing here. Why not? It’s a good, healthy activity. What’s wrong with folksongs?”

Ron Archer, a young jazz critic who lives in the West Village (an apparently less troubled area), said “Why shouldn’t people sing in the Square? If Morris is so concerned about the safety of the parks, why doesn’t he clean out the muggers and rapists in Central Park, where it isn’t safe to walk at night? Why doesn’t he go after the local punks who prowl the edges of this park at night? Why take after a group which is as harmless as the old men who play chess here, and who are just about as ’undesirable’?”

“You know what ’undesirable’ means, don’t you?” a name jazz musician told me. “It means ’Negro’. A few of the folksingers are Negroes.”

“I came up here from Mississippi,” says Bob Stewart, a Realist cartoonist who lives in the Village, “to get away from the prejudice, and now I get complaints from my landlord whenever I have a Negro friend up in my apartment.”

“The racial bias is definitely behind the whole thing,” Izzy summed it up. “It’s part of the big squeeze on the Italians.”

In response to the ban, Izzy applied for a permit to sing in the park. It was rejected. He therefore organized a protest rally.
Izzy Young talks to a cop at the start of the demonstration.
On Sunday April 9th at 2pm, around 500 men and women—smartly dressed, some in suits and ties and carrying placards—peaceably approached the fountain at Washington Square Park. They were stopped by a cop. He wanted to know who was in charge. Izzy Young made his way to the front of the crowd and talked to the officer. He explained they were allowed to protest peaceably. It was within their constitutional rights to do so. The cop told Izzy they couldn’t sing, that singing was banned. They would be arrested if they broke the ban. Izzy countered by saying singing was a form of speech and they had a right to freedom of speech. He added:

It’s not up to Commissioner Morris to tell the people what kind of music is good or bad. He’s telling people folk music brings degenerates, but it’s not so.

The cops were not impressed. They began to move menacingly towards the demonstrators. Izzy thought if they started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” the police would not hit them “on the head.” He was wrong. As the demonstrators sang the national anthem the cops started laying into them.
Ten demonstrators were arrested. Dozens were injured. The press hyped the story up as a ‘Beatnik riot’ where some 3000 people attacked the cops. This story was quickly dropped as it was widely known not to be true.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
02:13 pm
Hilarious ‘beatnik girl’ makeover from 1963
08:01 am


Transforming a beatnik. It’s no more difficult than discovering the hidden beauty that lies under the greasy unturned skin of any woman who hasn’t surrendered a whole morning at least once a week to the experts.

So states the narrator in this funny piece of British Pathé newsreel footage from 1963. The premise here is simple. A young, cigarette-puffing, black-haired, black sweater and jeans-clad “beatnik girl” walks into a beauty salon that specializes in “teaching teenagers how to make the best of themselves” and, for better or worse, comes out looking like a new a woman.

‘Beatnik Girl,’ Pre-Makeover
After snubbing out her smoke, the soon-to-be transformed foxy finger-snapper bounds in through the front door and a team of of beauticians start to work some magic. After rubbing an egg concoction into her hair and putting it up in curlers, they lay in on some heavy facial treatment. This includes a facial massage, pads being placed over the eyes, the application of a plastic mask, and the brushing on of anti-wrinkle cream and hot wax.

By the time they get to the “oxylation spray” and some new shiny pink lipstick the narrator speculates that:

By now you’d give anything to be back in your leather jacket with your unkempt hair, wouldn’t you?

At the end of the clip, our former beatnik elegantly walks down a wooden staircase under a chandelier in a glistening new dress, donning maybe a slightly lighter hair color and looking like an entirely different person from the one who came through the front door a little while earlier.

‘Beatnik Girl,’ Post-Makeover
I don’t know about you, but I think she looked way cooler as a beatnik.

via Weird Universe

Posted by Jason Schafer
08:01 am
Disney legend Rolly Crump’s vintage drugs, Beatnik & Commie posters
07:20 pm

Rolland “Rolly” Crump is a Disney legend. Originally working as an assistant animator under Uncle Walt himself in the early 1950s, Crump performed “in betweener” work on Disney classics like Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, and Sleeping Beauty.

In 1959 Crump joined Walt Disney Imagineering, becoming one of Walt Disney’s key designers for Disneyland. He worked on the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Adventureland Bazaar. Crump served as key designer on the Disney pavilions featured at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, including “It’s A Small World.” When that attraction was given a permanent home at Disneyland, Crump added the iconic puppet children clock at the entrance. He was also one of the lead designers on a Disneyland attraction that was shelved after Disney’s death, The Museum of The Weird.

During his long and illustrious career, Crump contributed to the designs for Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World, before returning to Disney to project design “The Land” and “Wonders of Life” pavilions at EPCOT Center. Now 83 and still going strong, in 2004 Crump was given a Disney Legends Award.

Back in 1960, Rolly Crump made a series of whimsical and delightful posters depicting Beatniks and their predilection for drugs. Made for poster pioneer Howard Morseburg’s Esoteric Poster Company, Crump worked for Morseburg until 1964, also turning out posters satirizing Communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union.




Thank you Taylor Jessen!

Posted by Richard Metzger
07:20 pm
‘Greenwich Village Sunday’ and ‘Jazz Is My Religion’: the roots of hipsterism

Beatnik double bill, Village Sunday and an excerpt from Jazz Is My Religion. Both short films feature beat poet Ted Joans, a fine wordslinger who never got the recognition he deserved.

Village Sunday is narrated by Jean Shepherd, a New York radio personality who was known for his offbeat humor and Zen-like observations about life.

Jazz Is My Religion after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell
04:40 pm