* * *
It was the following
Spring that feminist (!) artist Judy Chicago opened her show “The
Dinner Party” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art downtown in
the Civil Center. I didn’t pay much attention to it until one day
Maria said Bill, you gotta see this show.
Well, as everybody
knows, Judy Chicago is this very serious feminist artist who has
been working for a long time and has an international following.
She does a lot of vagina imagery, you know. Now we were all liberal
and all (!) and, of course, the vaginas didn’t bother us, or Maria,
but it was the heavy-handedness of everything about Judy Chicago and
her show and its ponderous seriousness that really drove Maria up
She started fuming, she told me,
the minute she walked in. It was so serious, and sactimonious, the
exact opposite of Maria, of course.
As I say, the piece was
called “The Dinner Party” and it was basically a big, triangular (!)
table with place settings for 39 famous women of history, with
elaborate ceramic plates in the shape of vaginas, starting with
Guaia and Sappho and such, throughout history, each plate becoming
more elaborate and, well, vaginal, through Emily Dickenson’s big,
pink-lace vagina (!) and Georgia O’Keefe’s blood-red, dripping,
realistic, three-dimensional extravaganza.
That’s when Maria came
up with her big idea to spoof poor Judy. She would christened
herself Maria Manhattan and “invite” 39 Women of Dubious Distinction
to “The Box Lunch.” A square (of course) table would be set with
frilly place-mats and artist-made tributes in pink cardboard pastry
boxes would honor “some of the gals Judy didn’t invite!” “Still
hungry after The Dinner Party?” Maria would ask about a million
times, “Come to The Box Lunch!”
About that time, too,
was when my old friend Keith St. Claire from the city’s Neighborhood
Arts Program, where we had done “Aimee,” and “Rocket,” and just
about everything else, happened to call me up and say Bill, I want
you to come with me to look at something. Well, I said OK, and we
met in a big, old abandoned factory on Folsom Street in the South of
Market area, long before it was gentrified and artists’-lofted-up,
you know. He said the city had recently come into possession of
this old place and they were considering giving it to his arts
program and Keith St. Claire said, did I think it was a good idea?
Well, it was an
enormous, old hanger-like building which had housed some sort of
industrial operation, triple-high ceilings, two-story offices along
one wall, big loading docks out back and giant roll-away doors at
both ends. And a disaster, of course, full of junk and trash and
everything covered with years of abandonment and falling down. I
loved it, of course.
And I thought at once
of Maria’s idea.
“I got just the show
for you, Keith!” I said at once.
He smiled up at me. “What is it?”
“Sit down,” I said.
And that’s how we got the city of
San Francisco to open its big, beautiful South of Market Cultural
Center with Maria Manhattan’s “The Box Lunch” as its first show!
I looked up at the
dusty, old monstrosity. As the first event to use the space, I knew
there would be a lot of cleaning up and shoveling out and painting
over to make it look presentable, I tell you.
* * *
Thus began a time of great activity
for Triple-A, with lots of volunteer help, during the weeks and
especially on weekends. Everybody got into the act.
Maria invited all her
friends to think up "invited guests" and creat a box to honor them.
Raymond did one of the first, honoring Eva Peron, with a spectacular
silver paper alter and real votive candles. It was beautiful and
got us all working real hard. I did a Pat Nixon, a “Lassie” and a
Christine Jorgenson (a blood-red box holding a scalpel, BELOW).
Others did Joan of Arc, Lucy Ricardo, Gipsy Rose Lee, Patty Hearst,
Fanny Farmer, Esther Williams, the woman who invented “white-out”
and the woman who won the Brooklyn Marathon by taking the subway.
That kind of thing. Maria did Minnie Mouse. Somebody did Lot’s
Wife as the Leslie’s Salt Girl, with an umbrella of real salt.
We were also able to put in gear our growing publicity machine. We
wanted to capitalize as heavily as possible on the current Judy
Chicago interest, and she was to be at the Museum another four
months. Plans and designs for posters were drawn up and a big
publicity campaign began. We gave ourselves an arbitrary date about
two months away.
Jim Nettleton and Jeffery Genza charged in. We snowed the press
with photos and releases and funny stories. Soon the papers were
commenting on the great press campaign!
Then, too, was
approaching the big gay parade in San Francisco and Maria said we
should do a float and promote the Box Lunch. We said Good thinking,
Maria! She had come up with an image of the Statue of Liberty (Manhattan)
coming out of a pastry box for the poster. We thought it was great
for our float and, of course, Bermuda had already performed the
Statue of Liberty in our Bicentennial Living Tableau at the
Intersection Theater several years before, and since then has always
thought of Miss Liberty as “her gal,” if you know what I mean.
“Great, Bermuda, you
can be the Statue of Liberty again!” So we got a truck and made it
into like a picnic table with an old-fashioned tablecloth and built
a big, open, pink pastry box with Bermuda sticking out the top
holding a BLT and the legend: “I Lift My Lunch Beside the Golden
Everyone thought it was
a hoot and we got a lot of good notice for the Box Lunch.
The whole big, old
building of the now-called South of Market Cultural Center sat on a
lot tucked into a convergence of the elevated freeways zooming
overhead. Thousands of cars and trucks (tens of thousands?) passed
by each day. I had a great idea!
I went to Keith St. Claire and told him I thought he needed a
billboard up on his roof, to properly announce his many shows that
would be coming up. Well, of course, he smiled at me and agreed and
so we got the city to buy the materials and hauled a bunch of wood
up the side of the building and hammered the thing together and put
up a big image of the Statue of Liberty coming out of Maria’s Box
Lunch. The billboard was up there for many years after, with images
for lots of different shows. I always felt good about it.
Old theater people that
we were, our promotional campaign was kicking into gear. Maria did
a great rendition of her image as it would look printed on the lid
of a folded-out pink pastry box. We had it silk-screened as our
poster. Press releases and glossy, black and white photos of Maria
in a New York Yankees baseball cap looking weary and mimicking one
of Judy’s recent poses, all went into slick-covered, pink press
folders, with postcards of the Statue of Liberty on the front.
Everything was fair
game to Maria. She did herself up in a long mink coat, ever-present
Yankees cap, and spoofed the famous Blackgama ads under the words
“What Becomes a Legend Most?”
Then, too, Maria has
always been a great interview. She’ll keep a straight face pretty
much all the way through some of the most outlandish cockamamie
you’ve ever heard, I tell you. With the press kits going out and
the interview requests coming in and magazine coverage, they all
wanted lots of images. As the Boxes got finished, we would rush off
black and white glossies of the latest “honored ladies” to the post
and, well, the press ate it up.
Back in the big
warehouse, there was dust and junk everywhere, but the ceilings and
roofs were magnificent, many-paned skylights, overhead tracks and
cranes, very old and industrial looking. There was one area near
the back which was raised up and had a nice clean concrete floor.
We decided to use the back entrance to the place and build a big,
square, open-top gallery space to display Maria’s Table.
We built ourselves a little office
on the side, where we could hang out. It was fun. It would be the
first of our many “private offices” which we would temporarily
construct and which would become even more elaborate over the years.
At that time, we had a lot of flats,
which we had built, well, mostly Kevin and Josh had built, for their
company Ready Set; so it was a matter of bringing them in and
painting them, we decided on a deep charcoal, a distinguished
contrast with the bright pink displays in the center. Around we
hung some inexpensive clamp-on lights and gelled them with pretty
colors. Across the entrance, Maria hung cartoony, pink pastel
laundry with mottos on the sheets like “A Woman’s Work Is Never
Done” and such.
It was a beautiful space: dark,
clean, elegant, and sort of surreal under the towering Victorian
factory above. It was time to bring in the art.
On the many small tables, which
made up the More-Than-A-Table Table, Maria laid out a great
collection of, I think her mom’s, 30's and 40's brightly printed
tablecloths. On these lay thirty-nine frilly, colored-paper, pastry-shop
placemats. Pretty little name-cards announced each honoree.
Slowly the Boxes were brought into
their places. They were varied and colorful and delightful, all
humorous. Under our colored lights, the glitter and sequins and
metallic paper favored by our artists fairly exploded the eyes.
Maria and David had selected a mix
of swinging New York and Manhattan-type oldies for the musical
soundtrack which played throughout the showing. The lights, the
colors, the pinks, the humor, the music, the laundry and the ladies
honored all were a bull’s-eye perfect hit on poor Judy Chicago’s
We opened to a rousing audience and
lots of media attention. It was our biggest show to date.
(NOTE: Read lots more about “The
Box Lunch” in our Theatrical TIME-LINE off the Main Menu.)
* * *
We ran the show for a
week. Hanging out in our little office with our many friends, being
in the big space, hearing the music over and over and hearing the
many people laughing and enjoying the show, it was a heady and
exciting time for us.
Then, too, we were loving the space.
We wanted to stay longer. We wanted to do more. Our minds imagined
new shows and bigger and that’s when I told Keith St. Claire, Keith,
I’ve got just the show to follow this one!
* * *
Now, I have always been
a collector of sorts, of, well, just about anything. Years ago on
Vicksburg Street, for example, I decided to save every front page of
the San Francisco Chronicle for one year and then pin them up around
the house on New Year’s for a big party. It happened to be 1974,
and chronicled the complete Watergate, the impeachment and the
downfall of Richard Nixon. Needless to say it was a spectacular
year for newspaper headlines. I kept them all. Then too, posters,
photos, magazines and commemorative issues of anything I could find.
Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda, gay pornography, space flight, Queen
Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, a letter from Pat Nixon, an actual
hairclip of Ann Miller’s (BELOW), Dolly Parton, oil spills, monkeys,
an Yves St. Laurent peasant dress, Bicentennial junk, and even a
full, authentic section of Christo’s Running Fence. Our costume
collection was growing. Props from all the movies we’d made, flats,
lights, tools and paint, ... a decade of collecting.
“Bill,” my friends said, “exhibit
That’s how we came up
with a show called “Bill Wolf’s Salute to the 70's” and talked Keith
into letting us keep the place and start right away preparing for
our new, big, year-end show!
* * *
I started doing some
drawings and floor plans of how we might like to make the exhibit.
We would need much more than just the big upper platform we used for
Maria’s show and started cleaning the ramp to the lower area and as
much of the place as possible, throwing the junk and dirt to the
We now had lots of
flats, from the pornos, of course, and commercials and we were
getting good at making curved and odd-shaped walls, so no
configuration was too difficult.
We built a long S-shaped entry hall, dark and painted black, where I
would hang the big collection of full front pages of the newspapers.
One room would be dedicated to “our Gay Heritage,” always a winner
in San Francisco, and feature an open, abandoned closet!
Another room was dedicated to “Our
Animal Friends,” and would feature a Y-shaped pier extending over an
actual “oil spill,” and a dead duck (we got it from Chinatown the
day before we opened). I had done the sets for Brecht’s “Three
Penny Opera” over at the Berkeley Rep, that fall, directed by my old
friend from Seattle, Brian Thompson, and had set it in the garbage
heaps of the wharfs of London, featuring the giant paper machier
bones of a dead whale. These we also sunk into the oil spill.
We would create a
replica of Nixon’s Oval Office, complete with a television playing
his resignation speech, over and over.
We built, as well, a careful replica of the thatch-roofed meeting
hall of Jim Jones’ last church in New Guinea. Josh Koral did a
great reproduction of Jones' own personal chair and we placed
overhead the placard, “Those Who Cannot Remember the Past Are
Condemned to Repeat It.”
It was an impressive, beautiful, haunting and disturbing space.
A round, red room recalled “Elvis’ Last Day” a small, spot-lit stage
and an empty pair of “blue suede shoes.”
At the far, high end of
the space we hung a big three-dimensional word, CHRISTO, in front of
a full, sixty-eight foot section of Christo’s Running Fence,
dramatically lit, of course.
At the other end the word SPACE
over a panorama of Mars, a full-scale replica of the Viking Lander,
and a silly backdrop I had painted for the old Nickelettes’ show
“It’s Vicious Out There.”
Then, too, there was the billboard we had built for Maria’s show.
In my usual obtuse style, I decided a full-face portrait of Pat
Nixon would by just the thing to advertise our show, no words, just
Pat’s smiling face. Remember this is eight years AFTER he resigned.
Well, we got a lot of
publicity from that and several photos in the papers, one of which I
sent to Pat Nixon (!) and received back a kind thank-you note
written in her own hand with her own pen on “Casa Pacifica”
stationary. I framed it and displayed it next to the television
showing her husband’s resignation speech over and over, as part of
A canopied refreshment
stand sold soft drinks and souvenirs as around the space on small
pedestals. Over head a hang-glider was suspended from the ceiling
and nearby a nearly unfathomable display case of “American
Karolyn Kiisel and Sharon Rosenburg (BELOW) went to work on ten
mannequins displaying “Fashions of the Decade,” including the Yves
St. Laurent peasant dress, a Iranian woman in burkha, a sado-masochists
leather outfit, and the famous see-through jeans.
Behind a simple white
curtain, we built the offices of the exhibition, now with couches
and lamps (from the pornos, of course) and my big, portable plywood
work table. It was a great hang-out room and often filled with
friends and hangers-on.
We got a good amount of
publicity and opened the day after Christmas and ran for a week,
through January first. A lot of people came but nothing like for
the Box Luch and it was cold and long hours.
At one point my parents
even showed up! Well, they had called first to say they were coming,
I guess I had told them about it and all. They walked through the
whole thing and made a few little comments. They took only a peek
into the Our Gay Heritage room, of course. Entering into the Jim
Jones room, my mother gasped and said, “Oh, how terrible! ...Awful,
And of course, everyone
was very solicitous and amiable with them, and at the souvenir stand
they bought a bunch of Bill Wolf stickers and buttons and stuff. We
joked that they had tripled our total sales in just five minutes!
At one point I started
to show them into our little office of the exhibition, thinking
they’d like to see a bit back-stage, you know. I held back the
simple white curtain over the opening and my mother started to enter
but looked in on the always-messy big table where Freaky Ralph and a
few other long-hairs were suddenly looking up guiltily from what
looked like rolling a joint, and the dim light over the big sofa
from the pornos where were seated some more low-life types and
turned right around and said, “Oh, no.”
So they didn’t go in
insisted in taking Russell and me, and Karolyn and a few others out
for “a bite!” We met at the old German restaurant on Geary and had
a nice meal, I guess. At one point, my mother accepted a taste of
the Dr. Brown’s soda that Russell was drinking and commented that
she was sure it had an alcoholic content, and was he trying to get
Poor Russell assured
her that he would never try such a thing but that he was quite
certain that she had higher alcoholic content in her own kitchen.
“I do NOT!” she replied.
“Well, do have vanilla
extract in your kitchen?”
It was a short
conversation which my mother clearly won by insisting that HER
vanilla extract had NO alcoholic content.
Then, too, during the
meal, my mother made a big deal over Karolyn, who was sitting beside
me, and constantly laughing and smiling up at me and my mother was
like trying to “set me up” with Karolyn (!). As we’re going out the
door, mother says, she’s so sweet, isn’t she?
“Yes, she sure is,
Mother,” I answered.
My mother looked in to
my eyes and implored, “Oh, if only... oh, but...”
I think she looked at
* * *
Ron Blanchett and Bill
Bathherst were (still!) doing a lot of video, those days, and came
around the Salute to the 70's early on and wanted to tape some of it,
the preparations and back-stage type stuff. Now Ron and Bill have
always taped our stuff but never with much great insight, if you
what I mean. But we all said sure! Come on in anytime!
Well, they got just
miles and miles of tape on it, lots of dogs wandering around and
useless “real-time” waiting around for something to happen and doing
nothing. Later, however, Ron and I would edit a great little
30-minute documentary which we still have and enjoy occasionally.
Maria’s been making some copies and passing them around.
So, we ran Bill Wolf’s
"Salute to the 70's" through the first of the year as we had planned
and had a great time. We closed down the big, cold, old factory and
just about filled the poor little AAA Studios to the rafters with
all the neat new junk we had accumulated from the show.
* * *