* * *
Then, of course, Columbus Day
was approaching as it does each year, and we remembered our spectacular third place winner,
“Queen Isabela Gives Her Jewels to Columbus” parade float from the
year before. We had to do something even bigger this year! We
decided to build a replica of the Santa María itself, the grand ship
which brought Columbus to America.
After the whole big
rocket ship interior, of course we could build the Santa María!
This year, instead of a grape trailer, which needed a car to pull it,
we wanted to look like a professional moving float, gliding down the
street on its own power. We rented a large flat bed truck and
parked it in front of Vicksburg Street and began our cardboard
construction. Over the cab we built a sharply raked fore deck and
out the back another raised aft deck, with the truck bed itself as
the main deck of the ship. Covered in cardboard paneling, with
small port holes for the driver to see, towering masts and sails and,
strapped precariously under the protruding prow was our own Bermuda
as the noble masthead in flowing drapes, hands clasped in front of
her, gazing toward the Heavens and a New World! It was the first of
many uncomfortable positions she would fill on our many floats to
One of the requirements
of the floats and other entries in the parade was a strict height
limit which permitted the parade to pass safely under the electric
trolley lines which ran throughout the city. It was something like
16 feet. Well, of course, we wanted our masts and sails to be much
taller than 16 feet and so devised a clever system of pulleys and
hinges which permitted our masts to lower at each approach to the
electric wires overhead and then to rise up again after. The ship
was covered with lots of extras in various pirate costumes and so
there were plenty of hands on deck to do the heavy raising and
lowering. Unfortunately, we soon discovered these electrical wires
crossed the street sometimes three to five times PER BLOCK! The
sails were going up and down constantly, and though it all made
quite an impression on the crowd, it gave our big old cardboard ship
the look of slowing leaping and plunging down the street. There
were some pretty tired looking pirates by the end, I tell you.
This year it was decide that I would
play Columbus (Gee! I wonder who thought of THAT?), now with Russell as
my personal bishop, praying by
my side. It was a real crowd pleaser again and, again, we won
THIRD PLACE in the parade. I was beginning to suspect that with
enough extras and costumes and team spirit and enthusiasm, we could
get us a third place with anything.
At the end of the
parade route, the Santa María pulled up to the first bar we came to
and we all went inside to refresh the poor, worn-out pirates and
generally celebrated our big win. At some point, some traffic
necessity outside required that the float to be moved slightly
forward. While we all continued our beers, Kevin jumped in the cab
and pulled forward about half a block. Unfortunately, no one
remembered that our masts and sails were left fully extended and the
proud, old ship went ripping through a good number of overhead wires,
both electrical and telephone. Well, the Santa María may have
looked like a heap of cardboard and masking tape, but in reality it
was built strong! The masts held and the overhead wires came
popping out of the adjoining walls and buildings. Kevin came
rushing back to the bar and shouted “Drink up, guys!” We sneaked
back to Vicksburg Street with the masts lowered and quickly
dismantled the float, never knowing how many homes lost their
services on that quiet Sunday afternoon in October of 1975.
* * *
That was the last of
the big projects to be done at the house on Vicksburg Street. We
were outgrowing the space, or at least filling it up. I started to
look around for a studio to rent and came across a little Victorian
storefront on 14th Street in the Mission.
I met the owner, an older man named Bert Graham who lived in the
Sunset District and wanted $125 a month in rent, a lot to us. But
with the pornos and a bit of gardening coming in, I decided to take
it. It was a cute little square room on a corner, with paned
windows on two sides and wainscoting all around the main room, with
a little storeroom and bathroom in the rear. It was to become
Triple A Studios, a busy place for many years.
So, we continued living
on Vicksburg, Dale was with us at the time, and I drove the old
Jimmy down to the studio on 14th. The pornos continued
and the MC’ing at the Intersection, and of course, lots of parties
and events at the new studio. And we were looking about for
something new to do. We got the idea to dust off our living
tableaux, the slowly revealed, elaborate “pictures” made of people
and scenery which were always a big hit. We hadn’t done any since
Seattle, except for the big “Pageant of Salvation” scene in Aimee,
and at that time, 1976, Bicentennial fever was, of course, raging in
the country. So as July 4th drew near we prepared an
elaborate living Bicentennial tableau for the Intersection Theater.
Bermuda was the Statue of Liberty and the rest of us as whatever
crazy outfit we could find (our costume collection was now HUGE).
We pushed it as an old-fashioned
Victorian diversion and got some notice in the papers. It was a bit
hit and we all went out to nearby Telegraph Hill to watch the
fireworks, dimly seen through the fog. That’s when we ran into
three horny sailors and I told Bermuda to take them home. “What?
One in each ear?” she asked. Yes, I said!
* * *
Iris Rooney had moved
down the coast a bit to Santa Cruz, sleepy little beach town, so we
had another nice party place to go to on the weekends and we spent a
lot of time there. It was in the nearby burg of Capitola, that we
discovered they have each year a giant begonia festival, begonias
growing well there in the sea air, it seems, and they cap off the
festival each year with a nautical parade (!). This was an actual
parade but in boats on the water. A shallow inlet is damned up each
year and the banks crowded with spectators. Each entry is given a
small plywood raft of sorts and must bring their own outboard
motor. Well, we HAD to do it!
We decided to do a
float of a boat (!) and drew up plans for “The Old Showboat” based
on a Mark Twain-type, Mississippi paddlewheeler, with two decks and
rising smoke stacks, and southern belles and stevedores aboard. I
would stand nobly in the forecastle as Cap’n Bill.
We also decided we
should have our own music to accompany our passage before the crowds
and the Pointless Sisters, of course, quickly volunteered with a
sweet, swinging version of “Up the Lazy River.” We arranged for
them to be on the grandstand with the sound system, the only entry
with such forethought.
Well, we had early on
decided to forgo an outboard motor, no money to rent one, of course,
and we said we’ll row ourselves, no problem. So the “stevedores”
all had long poles and were ready to launch us off.
It was a beautiful,
calm day at the beach and we watched as the other entries smoothly
motored past the crowd, as we waited our turn. Our float was easily
the largest of all, certainly the tallest; our teetering cardboard
paddle-wheeler, with its top-heavy second deck of hippies in all
state of ridiculous dress, slightly listing in the shallow water.
Soon it would be our turn to be announced and pull out into the
procession. Suddenly we heard the loudspeakers announce “Triple A
Productions” and “The Old Showboat” and then the first strains of
“Up the Lazy River.” Our hearts beat rapidly as the stevedores
glided us onto the river and pointed us upstream. We all waved to
the cheering sidelines.
Just then a slight
breeze picked up, the first of the day, and began gently blowing us
BACKWARDS. We had of course never practiced or planned any of our
maneuvers nor thought much of it, but suddenly the boat was way too
unwieldy for the little stevedore poles and the breeze made it
impossible to advance. The crowd gasped in horror. The Old
Showboat, with the singing sisters and the southern belles and Cap’n
Bill was not going to make it.
We panicked. The
stevedores all jumped overboard and started frantically pushing.
Russell had been taking photos from the shore, fully clothed, and
even he jumped in. The boat listed precariously and the southern
belles looked a bit sick; I’m sure Cap’n Bill did too. But then,
slowly, our backward progress was halted and we began to move
forward! A giant roar erupted from the shore as the audience
cheered our ridiculous little crew, overcoming the enormous problems
of such a BIG boat battling the winds and the waves, the forces of
the Pacific Ocean and nature herself to compete in the Annual
Capitola Begonia Festival Nautical Parade. We won third place.
* * *
About that time, John
Counter’s parents, who owned the house on Vicksburg Street, wanted
to sell it. Russell thought we should try to buy it, and has
thought we should have for years. I didn’t think much of the idea.
It seemed impossible to me; we had no money. Anyway we didn’t buy
it; my story would have been different had we. I’m not sure better.
So we had to get out,
and Dale moved up to Petaluma where Vivian was with the kids, but
then Dan Woodworth was hanging out with us, and so we looked for a
place for the three of us, and Charlie the dog, of course. We moved
to a little house slightly south of the Mission district on Cuvier
Street, a real boring, working class neighborhood just enough over
the little hill to feel you were NOT living in San Francisco. I
believe we always looked at it as a temporary place. The old truck,
of course, went back and forth to our Mission district AAA studios,
but it was never very convenient.
Nor did we ever get
along with the neighbors. We were the last house on an ugly little
cul-de-sac of little houses built right up against each other. A
sort of lower-middle class family next door looked out upon the
homosexual hippies moving in next door with all their Martian junk,
gave a deep shudder and locked up their fourteen year old sons.
Charlie immediately got
their dog pregnant. They never liked us much after that and we were
able to scoot out after about six months.
We moved into a little
cracker-box apartment above a burrito house on Eighteenth Street,
just four blocks from the studio. It was a tiny affair and Russ and
I had the one bedroom and Dan slept on the couch. It wasn’t much
and sure smelled of tacos. Well, Dan moved out right away but Russ
and I enjoyed it, so close to the studio, at least for awhile.
* * *
Then our friend Cara Landry, up at the Napa Valley Theater Company,
bought herself a Getstetner machine (!), the latest technology in
cheap printing for small organizations like, well, theaters.
And she was going to print her posters and programs and such.
Well, I think it was a bit of a hassle and kept making a big mess
and wasting lots of paper and getting everybody inky, so she said,
Hey Bill, I got this great new Getstetner machine, and like, I'll
give it to you if you'll, well, print some posters and such for me,
Well, I thought it was wonderful! My own Getstetner machine!
I went right to work and started trying to figure out how to use it.
Seems I could take a color photograph to a place in San Francisco
and have it "color-separated," into cyan, magenta and yellow and
then take the three separations to another place and have a
Getstetner stencil cut for each color and then bring them back to
the studio and the Getstetner machine would push cyan ink through
the cyan stencil, magenta ink through the magenta, well you get it.
And I could print my own full color art works. I quickly did
an homage to Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee celebration. That kind
Of course, it made a big mess and wasted lots of paper and got
everybody all inky, but Hell, we loved it and would print lots of
stuff for many years on that old Getstetner machine.
* * *
Ron Blanchet and Bill
Bathhurst were then doing their video thing in a larger, more
professional studio a few blocks away in the Mission. I
occasionally ran into them.
And some of us were
thinking what next and we said we’d never done a video, I mean a
real good one, you know. Well, Dale, of course, and Priscilla and
some of us, pretty stoned one night around Valentine’s Day conceived
of a grand, television “special” called “The Dale and Priscilla
Valentine’s Day Special” and went to the Ron and Bill to see if they
would be interested. Stoned hippies themselves, of course, said yes!
There would be a couple
of skits and about four musical numbers, all duets. A truly
inspired piece with Priscilla as “Toileretta” the terribly hill-billy
outhouse cleaner, dancing around with her toilet brush and Dale
singing “Please Release Me.” And a great, top-hatted and sequin
evening dress, New York night life, “World Weary” at the grand piano
under the chandelier. All before a live audience.
That was a big mistake.
We had invited about
eight or ten persons, friends and such, Alma for her loud piercing
laugh and told them it was going to be a riot. Ron and Bill had
never done anything like this, of course, and were not accustomed to
“audience” messing with their taping and stuff. We really didn’t
know anything either, but we thought give it a go. Well, everybody
was nervous and afraid to make noise and laugh and it came off real
stilted and silent; we even took one of the songs a second time, to
no better results.
The video was a piece
of junk, of course, and properly lost, but we got a couple good
photos out of it and, I guess, some experience.
Those days, too, was
hanging around a guy named Jeffery Genza, a funny guy and a great
party-er. He had a bunch of gay friends, the sort who didn’t do
hardly anything but hang out and be gay. But Jeffery started to
come around and always interested in what we were doing and wanting
to help. We would learn most of his talents lie in the
He always dressed nice
and put on great exaggerated Italian airs. He found his soul mates
in Maria, Michael Footy and others, with his few words of Italian
and sweeping hand gestures. When I met his parents some years later,
they were really the most, well, white-bread types, you know. But
Jeffery lived in his own world; he was a self-styled bon-vivant, who
would be with us for years and rise to head of publicity, project
director, administrative advisor and much more. We roped him into
all our projects.
* * *
Those days David had a
nice little apartment on Broadway above the tunnel, not far from
North Beach, and where we were doing the editing of Rocket To Mars
and David had made a dubbed copy of all the footage. The idea was
first cut a rough using the dub, until we got it right and then cut
the original. Well, we had just miles of these little tiny reels of
film, all black and white 8 millimeter, which is very small, far too
small to see with the naked eye. And he had gotten a little hand-reel
viewer with which to see the film for cutting. And it was all
silent of course, we would record the sound later and then add it to
the cut version. Of course everything took a lot of time and
additional money, because, of course, nobody really did professional
work with 8 millimeter and all had to be done special. And we had
no money to pay for it.
It was going slow and I
was getting depressed. With spring looming, we were facing two
years since the shooting and whatever interest had been worked up
about Rocket To Mars, had dissipated for sure.
We needed some backing
and I tried to think of who might have money and be interested in
helping. Meanwhile the Mitchell brothers, Artie and Jim, were of
course doing great business at their O’Farrell Street theater and
their manager Vince Stanich, Denise’s longtime boyfriend, liked me.
So with some idea of asking for help; I went to see him.
“Bill,” he said,
“you’re just going to jump in and do it. You can! It’s your baby!”
He looked at me, sitting depressed in his office. “Look. Sure, we
could give you the money... (and I’m thinking !!!), but that
wouldn’t be the same.” I could tell he was saying no. “Com’on!
Where’s the old Triple-A spirit? Throw a garage sale. Put on a
benefit. Call in your friends. They’ll all help you. It’s your
baby!” he said again. “You can do it!”
And so the idea of a
benefit was born, a variety show to raise funds to finish Rocket To
Mars! And it was done. We pulled in Bermuda and her friends, the
Pointless Sisters, and now Bermuda was sometimes singing with a guy
named Righteous Raul Brody (not his real name) and a couple called
Rick and Ruby, great singers, and Tommy Ammiano wanted to do some
stand-up and a few others. We did it in the studio on Fourteenth
and raised a little money. But more than that, we managed to fire
up the gang to get excited again. Just like Vince had said.
David arranged a taping
session for the cast and projected the silent film to record the
voices. Diane Racine, the Queen of Mars, was now in Los Angeles and
unavailable to record her part. Alma agreed to come on for the
voice of Queen Lieda, and we all remembered how Diane had done a
sort of Zsa Zsa Gabor accent as the queen and Alma did the same. It
forever made a strange experience for me, watching Diane Racine, and
listening to Alma Becker, and hearing Zsa Zsa Gabor, there on Mars,
in the old Neighborhood Arts Program Auditorium on Waller.
It was done! Vince,
and the brothers, of course, offered the Mitchell’s Music Hall
Theater on Polk, for one night and we got on the cover of the
Chronicle’s Datebook section, the first time since Dr. W. C.
Waterhorney’s Traveling Medicine Show.
* * *
The movie was only
about 48 minutes long and so we needed some more stuff to round out
the evening. Freaky Ralph Eno sang, as did Righteous Raul, the
Pointless Sisters and a few others. There was an intermission and
the lights went down. I went across the street to a bar. Jeffery
told me later some friends he invited were actually kind of pissed
that he had asked them and said something like “...never again.”
But for the most part,
our gang loved it. Of course, practically everyone in the audience
had a part in the movie, and loved seeing themselves and their
friends there on the big screen acting silly. People called it “wonderful”,
“interesting”, “unforgettable” and just about everything else they
could think of. Then the Mitchells gave us a two week run, later in
the Summer, which we played with “The Milpitas Monster,” a truly
horrid, hand-made film by a bunch of hippies in Milpitas, (Eh-hem!)
of all places, but they brought in a little of their own crowd and
it wasn’t such a bad run. Then too, that long-anticipated big
spread appeared in the glossy magazine “Super 8," something like
“the Super 8 Spectacle” and we enjoyed a little bit of notoriety for
a while at least. I think David still has the original “can” in his
house and Kevin has a copy we once put on video. Every now and then
it is brought out for some laughs, just among ourselves.
* * *
And, as I say, we were
busy doing lots of pornos and I was still MC’ing at the Intersection
in North Beach and we were coming up with crazy things to do.
To give you just one
example, Jeffery happened to find, in a box of Ritz Crackers, two of
the crackers were misshapen, badly, like folded down on themselves
and molded together. Well, most people would have just eaten them
and never thought again. Not Jeffery. In some moment of marijuana
insight, he declared he had found the Mutant Ritz!
Well, he used
the studio, of course, and put on a big show, sort of famous forever
among our friends, with documentation on the walls, the story of
Ritz Crackers, a glass case containing the mutant Ritz’s themselves
and even a guard standing seriously over them. At one point they
were even stolen (!), in spite of the guard! But they reappeared
soon later in the evening.
Ah, AAA Studios!
* * *
As result of the
pornos, our costume and prop and set collection was rapidly growing,
well we kept everything bought for each movie, the producers never
minding, hell, they never wanted to see that junk again. And we
happened to have done a particularly striking bedroom for one, a hot
pink taffeta bedroom set, bedspread, dressing table, and big
heart-shaped headboard in tufted quilting. And all this pink
taffeta was brand new.
Well, Halloween was
coming and we were looking around for another living tableau to put
into the Intersection Theater and came up with an image that would
serve us for years, we called it “Cat House Killer.”
The scene was a
cardboard bedroom in a whore house, all set up behind the curtain,
during the other various acts, with bed, dressing table and, on the
headboard, we had written “Hi! I’m Nelly” in blood red paint on the
pink taffeta. Priscilla lay dead on the bed, stabbed and bloody (we
had some great blood for the occasion!), Vince was the serial killer
with smoking gun drawn, in a sort of capped butcher’s outfit.
the floor we creatively placed the bloody head of one of the
Nickelettes, the rest of her behind the drapes, and hanging on the
wall, the trussed up body of Ellen Stein, her head uncomfortably
stuck through the wall; the two giving the impression of a single,
decapitated body! Jim Nettleton and Kevin Rooney played two cops
charging through the door guns blasting and Jefferey Genza was a
newspaper reporter following them into the room. Denise lay up against the
wall with very realistic make-up of her face blown off, pieces of
flesh freshly stuck to the door behind her.
At the announcement of
the “tableau vivant” the lights lowered and the audience was invited
to step forward for better viewing. Slowly the lights revealed the
frozen scene of blood and horror. The audience gasped and loved it
and we became somewhat known for our ridiculous but very realistic “pictures.”
the way, you can see a lot more of it in
TABLEAUX VIVANT, under "Cat House Killer.")
Later, as I said, we
would recycle the image into “Crime of Passion” and it would win an
award of sorts from Photograph Magazine, and later still, into a
book called “The Armor of God.”
* * *
Probably the biggest
and one of the most memorable of the living tableaus took place the
following year at new year’s celebration of the San Francisco
Y.M.C.A. Mental Health Clinic (yup!), in their big old auditorium in
the tenderloin; we performed everywhere.
There had recently come
out the movie “Close Encounters of a Third Kind,” and it was very
popular. So, for the year’s end we decided to do a tableau called
“Peace on Earth,” and it would be a take-off on the movie’s big
final scene of the landing of the giant flying saucer. We recreated
the famous Devil’s Pile mountain in Idaho or wherever and collected
a bunch of friends and Nicklettes as usual, and a NASA substation
full of NASA technicians, and scattered around were famous people
from American history and Indians and so forth. Overhead a giant
flying saucer hovered, complete with blinking lights and hovering
Slowly the flying saucer descended onto the mountain top and
there was revealed above it a giant, china “cup”
sitting in the “saucer.”
Our huge audience of San Francisco
Mental Health Center Out-patients gasped and then burst into wild
applause. Well, it broke ‘em up!