One of the reasons I liked Hamilton was because it reminded me of the play Jim and I did, 1968. Both were done to a beat. were heavy on the couplets, and had some wacky, against the grain casting: blacks as whites, men as women, one dude obviously playing three different people. The two plays did not accurately reenact events. Rather, they relayed historical details in an entertaining way.
Acting went through a severe identity crisis in the 20th century. For millennia, stage actors had ruled the roost with exaggerated gestures and loud voices projected to the back of the theater. All this while supposedly whispering sweet nothings in their lover’s ears. It was just accepted by players and audiences that it was the way it was done.
With the advent of film, however, you could physically whisper without all the gimmickry. Relatively speaking. It was still coming across at decibel levels way above normal. But compared to the other sounds in the movie they were just right.
The biggest dilemma in the early days of film making was that all actors had been trained for the stage, a style too broad for cinema. It took decades to breed the ham out of the Barrymores.
When auteurs finally got what they wanted and realized what they had, the pressure in the 50’s and 60’s was to be as natural as possible. And no one did that better than Warhol in Sleep and Empire. So natural, soooo boring.
Once film found its Terms of Endearment niche, there was no way theater could physically compete. It resorted to schmaltzy musicals and endless examinations of self worth. With a smattering of social justice avenging thrown in now and then.
What Jim and Hamilton did was to stop spoon-feeding the audience and use a format that forces them to think.
Art is not a controlled environment where a + b = c. If the artist does their job creating a + b then c will have a million different values depending on the perceptions of the viewers.
There are no right or wrong answers in art. There are no answers at all. There’s only the experience.
I once had a fan tell me I reminded him of Mabel Mercer. At first I was offended. I remembered her as being kind of dog meat-ish, a little porky.
As I processed it, however, I thought of the many show business insiders who adored her. Frank Sinatra said she was the master of phrasing and timing. She taught him everything he knew.
If that’s what the fan meant, I’ll take it any day of the week.
August marks the 5th anniversary of ls2lsblog.com. I started in 2014 by circulating drafts to friends for their opinions. In particular, I wondered what Carl and Ellen thought.
Carl’s advice was to keep the pieces at 500 words. You can see how well I’ve done with that.
Ellen, on the other hand, had tried for two decades to engage me in a writing project. The things I showed her never passed muster. She was not mean about it but neither was she satisfied. Her responses were gentle but lethal. “Let me know if you want to continue this.”
When I read the first two words of her reply to the drafts I started to cry: “Well, well…..” It only took 20 years but I was finally on the right track. I’m still riding the fumes.
In late 2017 I promised readers a revamp and new feel for the blog. True to my word and a mere 22 months later that process begins today.
The emphasis is on archiving things of mine and things of the era. Up first is Act One of 1968.
I haven’t formulated an archive plan yet but my style has always been to force the issue then make sense of it later. The Mabel inside me says I can do this.
A week ago I was waiting for a friend to pick me up and my landline rang. No one ever calls me on that phone, it’s almost always robo-calls or marketers. I’ve kept it because it was tied to the front door entry system. Since that no longer works I probably should get rid of it.
I answered it that evening because the caller id was a cell number. A man asked for me, I asked who was calling. He gave a name that was common enough to have been a made-up marketer but it was also one of someone I’d known in the 70’s. That’s who it turned it out to be.
We had completely fallen out of touch and none of our mutual friends seemed to know anything about him. It turns out he’s lived in New York the last 35 years and worked in the publishing business. He told me he was surprised my number still worked and that my voice sounded the same. I assured him that nothing else had changed either.
He said he still enjoyed his copies of White Arms Magazine and googled the title recently. His search led him to my blog which he was reading.
We talked about people we knew in common and I got him caught up on any news I had. Many of them had died which he knew nothing about. When I asked if he remembered Jim who I collaborated with on the magazine he said, “oh yeah, he died in an automobile accident didn’t he?” I laughed.
In one of the White Arms issues Jim decided he wanted a more affected, pretentious nom de plume. So he wrote that Jim had died in a car crash and that Rene White would be taking over as editor.
At the time some of my more political friends thought the term “White Arms” could be construed as pretext for something racial. But Jim said the name came from the sheaths of blank paper that made up the magazine. And how they would circle the world in an unpredictable way.
When we were putting it together I was always questioning what we were doing, wondering what the benefit would be. Jim told me not to worry about results, to concentrate on being creative and doing things. The consequences would take care of themselves.
Jim would have been thrilled that his car crash story had legs. And that White Arms still has reach.
In 1971 egg nog was something Richard Nixon and distinguished diplomats sipped at Georgetown parties. Not drug addled, wafer thin, gay hippie boys in Bloomington, Indiana. That contradiction alone was enough to inspire my first big Christmas party.
The egg nog parties became an annual tradition. The first two were in Bloomington then five more after I moved to San Francisco. The last one was held in 1977 at a friend’s basement shop on Commercial Street in Chinatown. Nog was made available but also lots of champagne. So I rented about 8 dozen coupe glasses from Abbey Rents. By the end of the evening only one dozen remained.
It was the height of the punk era and destruction was the name of the game. Someone started it innocently by accidentally dropping their glass in the corner of the stairway. It was answered with a couple more throws into the corner. Soon it was a barrage, a constant din of shattering glass as every available coupe was hurled onto the pile. When no more glasses could be found, empty bottles were bounced off the walls.
I was left to clean up this heap of broken glass and repair the divots that had been taken out of the plaster. No dummy, I realized I’d lost my deposit on the glasses. But it had been entertaining so I rationalized it was cheaper than hiring a band.
Still, I didn’t have the courage to face Abbey Rents and asked David to take the survivors back on Monday. Even he, who can talk himself out of any situation, was at a loss. “What do I tell them?”
“Just say the buffet table collapsed.”
Posing with the debris, including that which was wrapped around my ankle
Madonna and child invite, 1975
Fragment from an unknown year
Art deco motifs were the rage in 1974. Among other things.
The 2nd annual was 6 weeks after the pink suit triumph. So we slapped some green and red on the theme and called it Christmas.
The 1976 film roll invitation
The spool of film invitation, 1976
The last egg nog party, 1977
David and me on the trash heap of egg nog memories
In 1976 Jim published the final edition of White Arms Magazine devoted completely to me. It was called the B-Centennial Issue.
We decided it needed some photos featuring gravesite drama so I packed up a bunch of friends and we headed to this fabulous cemetery in Oakland. An afternoon of bereavement hilarity followed.
Grandmother used to take me to antique auctions when I was a kid and at one there was this beautiful 19th Century silk crepe widow’s veil. I asked her to buy it for me because it reminded me of the assassination. During the photo shoot I held it in place with a black beret–just like Jackie.
Leading the national mourning
I received special catechism. My priest was from an obscure Orthodox Catholic sect.
Channelling Liz in Butterfield 8
Preparing to receive his holiness
Although a tear may be ever so near
I thought we ordered the carrera
Yet another vision for Father. I looked forward to the laying on of hands.
I’d like to write a story about these pictures I found but I don’t even remember them being taken. Just a quite evening at home with my best friend, the bottle, circa 1977.
One of my all time favorite spins on a celebrity PR crisis was when nude photos leaked of Vanessa Williams and she lost her Miss America crown. Her defense was she thought they were “only shooting silhouettes.”
I never liked wearing wigs and, as you can see, they were often treated as an afterthought.
When my upstairs neighbor Jim was in the final stages of moving out last June we decided we couldn’t ignore the store-room we shared downstairs any longer. We spent an evening pulling out stuff, laughing and tossing. And marveling at a couple of discoveries we made like his Tahitian grog bowl and this picture of me.
Mark and Charley did this as the centerfold for the 1968 program. I had the original framed with all the printers marks intact and gave it to my friend Brian. He wanted to redo it and glam it up, take off the markings and put it in a glitzier frame. I wouldn’t let him. I liked exposing the process.
As natural as the image may seem, there’s a lot that goes into making a legend. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Jim moved to California in 1978. He’d liked the area down by Santa Cruz so he rented a place in Capitola. To get away from White Arms and up the ante a bit he started writing a play that would star me and be produced in San Francisco.
It was called 1968 and it was about the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. I was to play Valerie Solanas, he would play Andy. He wanted it to be called an opera even though there was no music. It was written in verse and both Andy and Valerie were backed by a Greek chorus. The only real musical element was the drummer who pounded out a rhythm which we tried to keep up with and project over.
We heavily researched every assassination detail and stuck to the facts. To a point. The verse was broken when Valerie delivered her SCUM Manifesto to the adoring masses. And after her trial she was given electric shock treatments to set her straight. The play ended with me lip synching “Chain of Fools.”
As things started to come together and it looked like we were going to pull it off, Jim moved up to the City into a rooming house across the street from me. A few months later he moved in with me so we could save money and share expenses.
We lived 1968 night and day and constantly bickered. He wanted Valerie to be true to life, scruffy and plain. I knew if my followers were coming they would want to see glam. I fought for something more mod and, even though it ended up a modest mod, it was not the realism he wanted.
Jim took on the roles of producing, directing and acting. He had no experience in any of them. It didn’t help that he was also so indecisive. Sometimes we’d gather for rehearsals and he’d have no plans on what we were to work on, still mulling it over in his head. Most of the cast were friends of mine and I felt guilty we were wasting everyone’s time.
As the opening approached we fought over everything; graphics, staging, mailing lists. He would not delegate, I would not compromise.
His biggest accomplishment was securing the The Fab Mab. It was the hippest venue in town and the home of San Francisco’s punk scene. He talked the owner Dirk Dirksen into giving us early evenings on the weekends in June, 1980. At one rehearsal some English group was unloading their equipment and I heard one guy say, “ah, it’s just some fluff doing a play.”
Things finally came to a head over the program. I arrived home one night after he had been to the printers. He told me my cover design was technically not feasible. He seemed pleased about it because he hadn’t liked it in the first place. I said something catty like I’m sure he’d worked really hard to find a solution.
He snapped. He started yelling I always had to have my way, I was impossible to work with, I never supported him, etc., etc. For emphasis, he put his fist through the plaster with such force the fountain pen he held splattered all over the ceiling.
I’d seen his violent side before but it had never been directed towards me. I shut down and started to phase him out. During the month-long run of 1968 communication between us was terse and only when necessary.
Mercifully, the play ended but our relationship was destroyed. We could barely stand to be together.