Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Factory Girls

Before Pride Month calls it quits for another year, there are some ladies I'd like you to meet:

Candy Darling

Holly Woodlawn

Jackie Curtis

And now a regular fella:

Commercial artist-turned-pop artist Andy Warhol publicly may not have had much to say about LGBTQ rights or the LGBTQ movement, but he did have a fair number of LGBTQ people on his payroll, including the three transgender women pictured above. Keep in mind that "transgender" is an umbrella term, and the three represent different degrees of transgender. For instant, Jackie Curtis never completely abandoned his male identity and seemed to be more like the queens you see on RuPaul's Drag Race, someone to whom drag was a performing art rather than a lifestyle. Candy Darling, on the other hand, really did want to be a girl, took hormone shots to that end, and wound  up with a nice pair of modest-sized breasts. Holly Woodlawn fell in-between Jackie and Candy, identifying and living her life as a woman from her 20s on, but never medically transitioning (which, after all, can be pricey and makes one a perpetual patient.)

So, under what capacity did these woman work for Warhol? In addition to being a painter, Andy was also a filmmaker, a very experimental filmmaker, whose censor-free, 16mm movies played in unlicensed basement theaters in bohemian enclaves all across America (though these days many of his movies are readily available on YouTube, which saves you from having to knock on a door three times and say "Lou Reed sent me.") He needed actresses for such movies, and more often than not relied on assigned-from-birth females such as Edie Sedgewick and Sally Kirkland. However, Jackie Curtis, who in addition to acting in drag also wrote, directed, and produced the off-off-off-Broadway plays that he/she acted in drag in, came to Warhol's attention. She in turn introduced him to Candy, and both appeared in the taboo-breaking Flesh (which, though produced by Warhol, was actually directed by Paul Morrisey), about a street hustler played by Joe Dallesandro. As for Holly, who up to that point had turned tricks to make a living, she was in the audience of the movie's world premiere, which took place in Warhol's own studio, dubbed "The Factory". The two met, I guess hit it off, and Warhol cast her in Morrisey's follow-up Trash. Candy, Holly, and Jackie soon were members of a larger group known as "Warhol's superstars", who were really just people that Andy took a liking to. Obviously, they were on the outer edges of the entertainment industry, but they did get their 15 minutes of fame. After all, Andy Warhol had been a household name almost as soon as the paint dried on his first Campbell's soup can, and remained a household name for the rest of his life, and is still a household name 34 years after his death. So if you were in his circle, you got noticed. Candy, Holly, and Jackie all had a flirting relationship with the mainstream media. Candy got the farthest, and might have made it there had she not died at age 30 in 1974 of lymphoma. At least she seemed adept at making friends in Hollywood. Jane Fonda got her a cameo in Klute, and both Julie Newmar and Gloria Swanson attended her funeral. As marginal as Candy's, Holly's, and Jackie's celebrity may have been, they had a higher degree of visibility than any other transgender person alive back then, save Christine Jorgensen, who made headlines some 20 years earlier.

  Not everybody who worked for Warhol was a superstar. There were freelancers. In 1974, a Turin-based art dealer by the name of Luciano Anselmino commissioned from Warhol a series of silk-screen photographs of transgender women. But Anselmino didn't wanted the glamorous queens who hung around the Factory, instead favoring people who were from somewhere grittier: the streets. Actually, Candy, Holly, and Jackie had more or less walked the gritty streets before meeting Warhol, but by the early '70s, they had become too chic to satisfy Anselmino's demands. So Warhol sent his assistants to the epicenter of queer Manhattan, Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, where they convinced some of the more proletarian drag queens found there to come to the Factory for a sitting, including...

...this now-legendary character. When the series, titled Ladies and Gentlemen, made its debut, Warhol didn't bother attaching names to any of these pictures--perhaps he had forgotten them--but we know now that the lady pictured above is none other than LGBTQ icon Marsha P. Johnson, who was present at the Stonewall Uprising, helped found one of the first transgender advocacy groups, STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries), and, despite founding member Larry Kramer's misgivings about drag queens, took part in ACT-UP protests in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Since her mysterious death in 1992, Marsha has had a state park in the New York City borough of Brooklyn named after her, and has been the subject of paintings and sculptures and theatrical productions (this blog even featured her in a fictional piece.) Yet for all of that she spent much of her life in destitution, and probably sorely needed the $50 Warhol paid to her to model for him.

As I said earlier, once Andy Warhol became famous, he stayed famous. Yet past his 1960s Pop Art heyday, he was probably less famous for his paintings and sculptures and photographs and more famous for his active social life, making him the quite-willing subject of other people's photographs. This obsession with celebrity, both his own and others, reinforced by a gossip-laden "diary" that was published posthumously (it was in fact a daily series of interviews with a friend), has led some in recent years to conclude that Warhol was every bit as superficial as the commercial trademarks that he so meticulously committed to canvas. Then there are those who would counter that Warhol was the very antithesis of superficiality, that his was an outsiders view of mainstream America, and that allowed him to codify the brand names and pop culture figures that were beginning to define the modern era. The same time he did this, he did his best to turn outsiders like himself into not just insiders but something better than insiders, superstars, beating the mainstream at its own game. That's what I think Warhol was all about. Except, to be honest, I don't know all that much about art other than what I like, as the saying goes, and so can't really back up that thought. What I do know is that for all his People magazine-bar hopping, Andy Warhol remained a working artist for the rest of his days. And as with many a working artist, there was the inevitable... 


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Quips and Quotations (Pride Month Political Science Edition)


Harvey was on a roll.  As the November elections approached he was everywhere, and I began to run into him with greater frequency....He looked very different, and very much the candidate. I'd never really been very impressed by Harvey before, but there was a quality to him now that made me feel almost shy. Harvey was one of the architects of the new progressive coalition that brought together labor unions, feminists, racial and ethnic minorities, gay and lesbian people, environmentalists, and neighborhood activists. But Harvey's greatest love was for young people, and I would be one of many--gay and straight, boys and girls--who would benefit from his mentorship.

I was still barely speaking to my father and I found myself really looking forward to these moments when I was alone with Harvey. He could be impatient sometimes, but he had a remarkable ability to meet anyone--young people in particular--find some common ground, and connect. The more I saw him, the more I respected this attribute that was both a commitment, and a source of strength. Harvey genuinely liked people, all different kinds of people. We're all so accustomed to the politicians shaking hands, making eye contact for the cameras and all the other bullshit. But Harvey really loved people. He could find common interest, humor, and respect talking with just about any type of person one could imagine. From wealthy white ladies in Pacific Heights to refugees from Central America, from gay bartenders to rank-and-file firefighters, if you met Harvey, you wanted to tell him your story.

--Cleve Jones, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

In Memoriam: Ned Beatty (1937-2021)


Ned Beatty spent the first decade and a half of his acting career in regional theatre, usually in his native Kentucky, but with brief stints in Virginia and Indiana. In 1972 Beatty went from regional theatre to Major Motion Picture when he was tapped to play the unfortunate Bobby Trippe in Deliverance. Based on James Dickey's novel it tells the story of four Georgia businessmen whose canoe trip down a river goes horribly wrong when they encounter two psycho hillbillies, one of whom rapes Beatty's character in what's often described as one of the most terrifying scenes ever depicted on film (at least the males in the audience found it terrifying. Women, of course, are raped on screens big and small all the time, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few female moviegoers took one look at what was happening to Beatty's character and thought, what's cinematically good for the goose is good for the gander--or squealing pig.) The scene's very sensationalism guaranteed Beatty's stardom, and frankly he deserved it because he was a damn good actor, no matter how lurid the circumstances. But it was a qualified stardom. Though some toothless hillbillies may beg to differ, Beatty didn't have leading man looks, and so had to contend with mostly supporting roles, of which there were many. 

Among the highlights (meaning I've seen them): a corrupt Southern sheriff in 1973's White Lightning (which reunited Beatty with Deliverance costar Burt Reynolds); a racist northern cop in the 1973 made-for-TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders (though not conceived as such, ended up being the pilot for Kojak); a chaplain in the 1975 made-for-TV movie The Execution of Private Slovik; a Nashville songwriter in 1975 feature film W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (again starring Reynolds); also in Nashville, Nashville, Robert Altman's masterpiece, where Beatty played Lily Tomlin's husband and Henry Gibson's lawyer; that same year another made-for-TV movie playing another Southern law officer, Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Klu Klux Klan, and on the sitcom (rather than the movie) MASH portrayed a visiting chaplain who felt Father Mulcahy's evangelism wasn't up to snuff.  In 1976 he memorably played a chairman-of-the-board who preaches the virtues of capitalist degradation in the feature film Network. That same year he was one of Woodward's and Bernstein's informants (but not Deep Throat) in All the Presidents Men; and a FBI agent in Silver Streak. In 1978, he played Lex Luthor's goofy henchman in Superman: The Movie (called that so you wouldn't confuse the multiplex for a comic book.) On TV, a distraught father of a dead soldier in Friendly Fire. In 1979, he's not distraught but instead a grumpy middle-aged middle-class father whose house is targeted by the Japanese in the World War II homefront comedy 1941. Moving along, there's two more Burt Reynolds movies Stroker Ace (1983) and Switching Channels (1988). There's The Toy (1982), Back to School (1986), and The Big Easy (1987), Prelude to a Kiss (1992). On the small screen, he had a recurring role as Dan Conners father on the sitcom Rosanne, and played a police detective on Homicide: Life on the Street (a very good show I should have spent more time watching, and am not sure why I didn't.)

Bobby Trippe's voyage down the Cahulawassee  River might have gone horribly wrong, but for Ned Beatty it appears to have been nothing but smooth sailing.

Brokeback Mountain it's not.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Spiritual Enlightenment, or Enlightened Spirit?


He was never what you would call a hippie, never lived in a commune, and never a counterculture figure, but comedian Paul Lynde nevertheless liked to slip on the caftan and love beads while relaxing at home.  The above photo is from 1976, so it might be said that he was a bit behind the times in his choice of attire. Except that culturally, the 1970s was a kind of sequel to the 1960s, that saw many of the accouterments of the counterculture--facial hair, sideburns, tie-die shirts, jean jackets--adopted by the mainstream. That wasn't quite true for the male caftan, but the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi did wear one, and he remained a highly sought-after figure. In fact, as traditional church attendance declined, Eastern philosophy, Eastern religion, and Eastern mysticism continued to make inroads into the middle-class. However, I can't find any evidence that Paul Lynde's interest in the mysterious East went beyond the sartorial. More telling is that glass he's holding in his hand. By almost all accounts, Lynde sought meditative transcendence in alcohol, which he consumed in great quantities. Unfortunately, according to these same accounts (which come from many of his closest friends), he could be a mean drunk, so there was little peace, love, and happiness found there. The alcohol abuse reached its apex with a much-publicized run-in with a cop outside a Salt Lake City gay bar while Lynde was in town to tape The Donny and Marie Show, causing him to not just lose that gig (which, given the brother-sister duo's Mormon upbringing, had been a surprisingly steady one up to that point), but other work as well. Accustomed to a decidedly non-ascetic standard of living (caftan and love beads notwithstanding), and not wanting to give that up, Lynde around 1980 went on the wagon, and stayed on the wagon, until his death two years later at the all-too-young age of 55. Yet his was hardly a wasted life. This being Pride Month, the question must be asked: did Lynde contribute anything to the cause beyond a headline in the National Enquirer? True, there was no public revelation or true confession, no partaking in any post-Stonewall political activity, but by demonstrating that a flamboyantly fey personality and an LGBTQ-laced sense of humor were no impediments to TV stardom, Lynde in his own subversive way helped undermine the Sexual Orientation Establishment of his era. Paul Lynde may not have been a hippie, but neither was he a Hollywood square.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Vital Viewing (Horseless Carriages Edition)


Now that the pandemic is finally (or allegedly) winding down, we may see many more of these contraptions out and about once again. As someone who had to use a car to commute to work all throughout this quasi-apocalyptic ordeal, I can tell you the number of automobiles on the road really did diminish significantly in March and April of 2020, the initial lockdown months. Not that I did, but I felt like I could drive in the wrong lane all the way to my place of employment and back without hitting another car, and  the most traffic I encountered at that time was in the lane that snakes around McDonald's. You know, the one where you have to stop, read a menu/sign, and talk into an intercom before picking up your food. It makes me wonder if this whole thing hasn't been a boon for the fast food industry. True, you weren't allowed inside, but those places do most of there business in the drive-thru, the dining room being more of an afterthought (I worked at a Mickey D's in my 20s, and the managers always referred to it as a "store" rather than a "restaurant".) Since the pandemic began, both a Burger King and a Starbucks have popped up around the corner from my home, and an Arby's is now under construction at the very end of my street. While fast food has always been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine, and it's nice to have so many dining options so close by (it's not the most well-known burger chain in the world, but there's also a Culver's and their onion rings are to die for--especially if you already have a problem keeping your cholesterol down), I do worry that so many drive-thrus combined with the ending of the pandemic is going to increase traffic in my area exponentially, and there's going to be all kinds of cars getting in the way of my car on the trip to work. As a way of confronting my fears, I present to you these four automobile-related videos...

  Though it may have seemed that way to people living in 1901, cars don't run on magic. It's technology based on hard scientific principles that gets you to work each day. The kindly gentleman in our first video explains:

Well, did you conduct those experiments like the man asked you to?...Good, let's move on...what's that?...The fire marshal wants a word with you?...OK, now let's move--...You want to crash at my place?...No, I don't expect you sleep in a pile of ashes...So how long you want to stay?...Homeowner's insurance, I see...How would I know if those experiments violated your policy?...I don't have a sofa but if you put two easy chairs together...OK, now can we move on?...

Remember public service announcements like these? Remember Mothers Against Drunk Driving? Well, that organization still exists, and drunk driving is still a leading cause of highway-related deaths. Yet in recent years that concern has been superseded by...

 ...an entirely new fear, one that needs not involve a single drop of alcohol in the bloodstream:

My, how those suddenly-fogged up windshields took those Lexus drivers by surprise. But it should have come as no surprise to anyone who's ever driven a junker with a faulty thermostat. Been there, hit that.

 Global warming and/or the prospect of the world running out of oil has led to new calls for smaller automobiles. But just how small can you shrink a car? We can't all be Stuart Little. Maybe we don't have to. There's an enterprising dude in the Southwestern United States who's figured out how to make the compact car of the future by looking at the behemoth autos of the past:

I'd like that car. First let me clear off the top shelf in my closet.

The automobile continues to evolve. Though not necessarily fast enough for some folks. Now and then I hear people express disappointment that "the future", i.e., their adult lives, does not have the flying cars promised by the science-fiction of their childhoods (somehow airplanes and helicopters don't count.) I think the reason it hasn't happened, and probably won't happen, has less to do with technology than practicality: we live our lives on the ground. Take the mail truck, the kind that goes from mailbox to mailbox. Were one to fly, it would have to be like a dive bomber, going up and down, up and down. True, you could do like they did on The Jetsons and put an entire city up in the sky (including, paradoxically, the sidewalks), but that would take some of the novelty out of flying, don't you think? What's the thrill of soaring to great heights if you're already living those great heights in the first place? There'd be no place to go but down.

 However, there are some things about the present day-future that the producers of The Jetsons (and, for that matter, the original Star Trek) did not predict. The internet, for one. The aforementioned texting is another. And I keep reading about these driverless cars. Sounds like a great idea. Now you can drink, text, fall asleep at the wheel, have sex, and you don't have to worry because...

...the car will do the crashing into things for you.

Anyway, automobile innovation doesn't have to be as dramatic as all that. It could be something very simple, like a minor change in the dashboard, as this mainstay of the golden oldies concert circuit will soon discover:

Shows you how long I've been driving junkers. So a key's not needed to start a car anymore? Good thing it's Gary U.S. Bonds birthday today or else I wouldn't have known that.