It was the very last month of the
decade of the 60's and, as I said, was getting a little dark and
drizzly up in Seattle and we really didn’t know what we were doing
or wanted to do when I got a call from Dale (he would call often)
from Los Angeles.
It was warm and sunny, he said, and
he had gotten a little place to stay and he thought our kind of
imaginative, original, creative and new street theater would be just
the thing to be a big hit in Hollywood! And why didn’t we come
right down and join him, like, right now?
Well, hell! We’d already done over
three months (we were telling ourselves) of street theater in
Seattle! And been a big hit, and, well, time for a change! And we
were hippies and free and lots other hippies were going south too,
and, sure, they would need hippie street theater there too!
Russell looked on with a bit of
horror as we started talking about it in the group. Brenda couldn’t
go, she said, nor Kathy, a stringy-haired skinny girl with us, but
Bob Gallager said Sure! And John Counter, the bespeckled quiet gay
boy Russell had recently recruited into our theater, could go too.
He had a large dog named Lobo.
Russell had a car then, a regular old
heap, of course. We would drive it to Los Angeles. Nobody had any
possessions to speak off, except Russell, of course, who’s little
Capital Hill furnished duplex and attached garage had fairly filled
up with junk. I remember he had many large boxes of pornography.
We would decide to take them all, of course.
And then I had a bunch of junk left
over from my studio in the old B & W Café; in particular, I had made
off with one of those big, beautiful neon beer signs from the
place. I had to take it with me!
So we were ready to go and we began
loading the car with all our stuff, carefully leaving the top of the
car empty for the big, beautiful neon beer sign. Below, everything
else would travel and very tightly and everybody very grouchy about
taking all this junk. So, we rolled the car slowly out of the
garage and parked at the curb to put the big, beautiful neon beer
sign on top. We had some old quilts and lots of rope to tie it down
with and we thought we would be fine. We slowly positioned the big,
beautiful neon beer sign on top of the car and began to secure it
into place, carefully threading the rope through the windows of the
car. We gave it a slight tug and...POP. It broke.
POP, it broke again, and then POP
again and I said Well, hell, throw it out. It was no good any
more. And we threw it out on the curb right there. So now we could
put all of our junk up above, and have plenty of room in the car,
but nobody could figure out how to tie anything down securely and
finally we said, Hell, let’s just throw the junk in the car and go,
man. Which we did, leaving the big, beautiful, broken neon beer
sign right there on the street, irresponsible hippies that we were,
and drove to LA.
It was a long trip.
But we made it to Los Angeles and, of
course, headed to Hollywood and Vine! Russell said he had been here
before and knew his way around. We had called Dale and he came to
meet us there, towing along a plump sort of hippie guy named Don
Duffy. Dale said “He’ll be a new member of our theater.” (!) He
also said he knew of a good, cheap hotel, well, attached bungalows
anyway, just a couple blocks away. So we went over and decided to
take the place for a few days as we looked around for something more
permanent. We were just Russell and I and Bob Gallaher and we
rented the room. John Counter had arranged his own ride to LA and
would be joining us in a few days. And now this Don Duffy,
freeloader bum that he would turn out to be, began sneaking in and
out and sleeping over whenever he could.
So that’s where we were over
Christmas, 1969, and Russell and I walked on Christmas morning over
a couple blocks to where there was a little fruit and eggs type
breakfast stand and sat out on the street at a little picnic table
in the sun and ate and drank coffee and smoked cigarettes. We would
later say it took us a week to get to LA and six months to get out.
But we didn’t know that then.
One night that week, I hooked up with
three teenage boys. We all went to their hotel nearby and got
naked. I was all over them but I remember them constantly talking
in their nelly ways about movie stars and other stupid stuff, till I
thought I’d scream. Well, it was worth it.
I had noticed the “NO Dogs” sign in
the hotel office but hadn’t given it much thought. That is until I
return to the room one afternoon and found John Counter sitting on
the floor with a new boyfriend getting stoned, and, right next to
him on the floor, this big old mangy German shepherd type dog.
“John! Like, how you doing, man?” I
said, genuinely glad to see him. John smiled up at me. “And like,
how’d you get that dog in here, man?”
“Lobo, sit!” John said
unnecessarily. The dog was already laying down.
So, John and Lobo snuck in and out of
the room for a few days. There was even a minor confrontation with
the owner who said, “You can’t keep that dog here!”
Our “What dog?” was beginning to run
a little thin.
So we started looking in earnest for
another place to live. Somebody went to a realtor, they said, and
came back and reported, and, yes, there was a possibility of a
really neat place, if we wanted it. Well, to a bunch of hippies a
“real neat place” is usually a falling down old big house with many
rooms where everybody can crash. This one was located just off
Western Avenue, we were told. Great! We all knew Western, only a
few blocks from Hollywood.
Well, Western Avenue also has the
distinction of calling itself the “longest, straightest street in
the world.” That is, I guess, the longest straight segment of
uninterrupted straightness in, I guess, the world. It’s a real
phenomena and I recommend you look at it on a map, you’ll see! It
comes out of the Griffith Park area of the Hollywood Hills, hits the
flat valley, early crosses Hollywood Boulevard and then begins its
long, long straight journey south. Crossing all of the Los Angeles
basin, under the Santa Monica Freeway, past the University of
Southern California, on and on into Long Beach, past Long Beach and
Our house, yes we took it and moved
in, was an old, two-story Victorian located in the West Adams
district, so named for the streets Western and Adams, not far from
the University of Southern California, but far, far from Hollywood.
Also, the entire neighborhood for miles around was black, except us,
skinny, white, homosexual hippies wearing little clothes, an old car
and the dog Lobo. We never cut the grass, of course, or took out
the trash, so pretty soon the place really looked like shit.
We were Russell and myself, John, Bob
Gallager, Dale, and now Don Duffy, who we all assumed was Dale’s
trick, until, that is, Don Duffy began bringing home his own
tricks. Well, of course, Bob wasn’t gay, and Dale was, well,
himself, but everybody, it seemed, brought home tricks and the place
had a kind of constant stoned crash pad party kind of atmosphere,
and you never knew who was around.
And, of course, we had no money. So
we were all really attentive one night when somebody said, Hey, you
guys, I got us a great job! Good money, and not a lot of work!
We were thrilled, of course, and said
we would take the job at once!
The job: well, first, it seems we
would hook up with a truck which crossed Western Avenue once a week
late at night and in the truck we would ride out to a printing plant
in a place called City of Industry (far, far away) where they
printed the Los Angeles Free Press, a sort of hippie, alternative
weekly newspaper and which was printed in two parts, an outer
section and an inner section, and at the printing plant is where we
workers would insert the inner section into the outer section
beginning just when they first started coming off the presses around
midnight and lasting until they were all inserted, around six or so
hours later, and after which we would ride the truck, now loaded
with LA Free Presses, into town and get off wherever we wanted with
our pay, which was in the form of four tied bundles of LA Free
Presses, which we would then stand on the street and sell until they
were gone and that would be our job.
Everyone agree that we all had to do
it together or we couldn’t possibly come up with enough money to pay
the rent. So we all went. And, of course, working those hours, and
especially that horrid repetitious work, inserting the inner section
into the outer section, and then selling on the street corner in
Hollywood, or wherever we went, we all needed heavy chemical drugs
just to get through it and usually by the time somebody sold enough
to make a score we would decide to just dump the rest of the stupid
papers and go get stoned or laid or whatever. So, it really wasn’t
a very good job for us but we would stick it out for a while, till
we could at least get back on our feet, we told ourselves.
With our house in West Adams, and now
a job, we began rehearsals for our street theater debut. We had a
very pared-down version of Brecht’s “The Clown Play” which we had
done at the old Ensemble, and decided to dust off our silly skit
“The Chicken and the Egg” which featured one of us clucking around
and “laying” one other of us, and was always somewhat funny to our
stoned Northwest Pacific fans. Unfortunately, neither was in anyway
appropriate to our current situation, which was to take the (very,
very long) bus ride up Western Avenue to Hollywood and there wander
around Hollywood and Vine, and spontaneously hatch our show.
The sidewalks in downtown Hollywood,
of course, were not wide enough for our acts and spectators besides,
and we never really got an audience, so we mostly just looked like
“a bunch of freaks acting stupid in public.” At one point Don Duffy
and John Counter were clucking about in the unfathomable “Chicken
and Egg” when a big bull dike walked up and shouted “How would you
like my foot up your goddam ass, faggot?” We called it a night and
went to the nearest bar.
Our passing the hat had been a dismal
failure and we saw no future for our kind of theater on Hollywood
Boulevard. But, that’s when we heard about a rock festival about to
happen in Griffith Park, on the big lawn, and there would be
thousands of stoned-out hippies like us who, we knew, would just
love our kind of theater and so we went to work.
We decided to pull out our old
version of Kenneth Koch's “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” which had been
a big hit, or so we remembered, during Radical Theater Week in
Seattle. In our silly, cardboard tri-cornered hats and hippie
greatcoats, we descended upon the crowd, unannounced between a
couple of bands and began to rally the troupes, that is getting the
audience to become a “part of the action,” so avant-garde we were,
and call the loyal British on one side, to march against the rebel
Colonists on the other amidst great flag waving and firing of our
cap pistols. The audience really never saw what was happening nor
the point of it but laughed at our antics and hooted a bunch of
wizecracks at us, and finally showed an enormous enthusiasm when we
brought out the American flag, which they immediately seized and
burned! Grand cheers were sounded and the next band took the
stage. We considered it a huge success!
Then it was February already and we
were looking around for something else and noticed that in our
neighborhood in West Adams there were LOTS of kids, kids and mothers
all over the place, and we had always got on OK with the kids who
would sometimes come over and chat a bit, curious, I guess, about
this house of white hippies in the midst of this huge black area. A
good, clean children’s show, we said, would be just the thing! And
get the mothers involved and have a grand parade down the street
with our marching kazoo band!
So somebody talked to some of the
mothers on the block and plans were laid. We thought our Chicken
and Egg would do much better here than in Hollywood and for all the
kids we made up a silly little skit called
“The Cowboy Story,” in which Bob Gallager wonderfully played Cowboy Bob and Russell the drunk Mexican, Pedro.
Without any girls (temporarily) in our troupe, the mustachioed John
Counter would play the female lead and love interest, Miss Kitty.
Our meager, marching-kazoo band
parade failed to attract much interest but we somehow ended up on a
front lawn of one of the houses near by and a bunch of kids and
their suspicious looking mothers. The show was going terrible and
the kids were not a good audience for us, always trying to run up
and steal our guns, when Cowboy Bob let out a big “Awww, shit!”
right in front of the mothers. We never did a children’s show
So with our stupid job in City of
Industry and very little street theater being done, our big old
house in West Adams mainly became a drug pad and we were stoned all
the time and took acid and anything else we could get. Everybody
was smoking cigarettes and pot and drinking lots of beer or cheap
wine and asleep at all odd hours. So one night, not too late, Russ
and I were asleep upstairs when John Counter comes up and says
there’s somebody here to see you, Bill. “Who?” I asked groggily.
He didn’t know. I stumbled downstairs to the living room, which was
also Dale’s bedroom, looked in where Dale was seated and ... gasped!
“Dad!” I exclaimed.
“Well, hi, Bill. How you doing?” my
father said, smiling broadly. Dale’s eyebrows flew up his
forehead. He later said he had thought he was one of my tricks.
“Uh, Dad, what are you doing here?” I
stammered, looking around at the empty beer bottles and roaches and
pornography all over the floor.
“Oh, I just thought I’d drive down
and see how you were doing,” he said. “I brought your bed!”
“My bed?” I said.
A little explanation: q long time
ago, in high school in Sanger, California, outside of Fresno,
California, I had, of course, been studying art and been painting a
lot and had managed to sell a small oil painting, a San Joaquin
landscape, I think, for a hundred dollars. It was my first sale of
a work of art and everyone in the family was very proud and excited.
My grandmother mentioned that it would be a good start for my fund
for college, for example, and there was much discussion about what I
should do with it.
Well, I had an old car then, which I
drove back and forth to school and daily passed a little barn-like
“antique” shop on the road, where I would occasionally stop in and
browse. I liked old stuff. I guess because my family hated it so.
And I noticed they had a couple of
big, classic brass beds, just the head- and foot-boards and
connecting rails, and one had been cleaned off real nice and
polished up and was for sale for $125. The second bed, just as
good, but darkened green with years oxidation, and not polished up
at all, was for sale for just $90. Now, these prices nowadays are
unheard of but at the time it was a lot of money and especially for
a young kid on the farm, and especially for a bed! The hundred
dollars sat in my pocket. I decided to buy the ninety dollar bed
and the heck with saving for college or anything else.
It caused a lot of discussion in the
family, I tell you, and most shook their heads and said they’d never
understand kids. Well, I bought a small bottle of Brasso, brass
polish and went to work. Boy, was it hard! I worked all summer and
managed to clean only one small piece, to a shining yellow gleam,
which at least could give you the idea of how it would all look when
it was finished.
I never finished, of course, and the
dark green brass bed sat in my room at home as I left for college
and then for Seattle the following year and there it remained still
in my family’s house.
So this was the bed which my father
had put in the back of his pick-up and driven down to me in Los
Angeles, a good eight or ten hour drive. It was still dark green
except for that one bright bar across the top.
“Thought you might like to have your
bed, Bill” he said.
I was really very touched that he
would do that and asked him to stay or eat or something.
“Oh, no, thanks, Bill, I gotta be
getting back, you know” and he drove off with a big farewell smile
after a short time.
“Wow!” everybody said, “That was your
And now I had my brass bed.
So, like, there we were in West Adams,
miles from anything, Russell’s poor old car not really up to
freeways or long hauls, a big house full of stoned out hippies, the
grass quickly way overgrown and brown, the house a mess, our theater
work non-existent, and the stupidest job in the world. It was time
to move on. People started creeping away and Russ and I, the last
to leave, closed up the old house, loaded the brass bed on top of
his car, and headed north to San Francisco.
We made it that night to Russell’s
folks’ house in Laffayette, California, a sleepy suburb about thirty
minutes from San Francisco. He had arranged that we could stay in
the “upper room” for a few days, a little bungalow, which was (thankfully)
separated from the house on a pretty four acres of oaken hills. I
had met his mother one other time, we had hooked up with her in
North Beach on our way through once and went with her to a bar
(!!!). I could not believe someone’s MOTHER could go with you to a
BAR and have a DRINK! So, I remember taking to her immediately,
and, I think, she to me; we would be close for many years.
So we were having a good time and
driving into San Francisco a lot, but I know that being in his folks’
house was a little too much for Russell (I can hardly blame him!),
and so after a couple of weeks we found a crash pad with some
friends over in the city and sort of moved over there.
Some friends said we should check out
the Julien Theater up on Potrero Hill, sort of a neighborhood house
program or something and so we went up and met the people there.
Seems they were about to cast parts for a new production of this
silly, mildly anti-war piece called “Pigskin” which (avant guardely)
conceived the Nixon presidency as a football game, on the football
field, with running and passing and such. A guy named Ed Wiengold
would direct. Well, Russell got the role of Richard Nixon, of
course, and I got the role of Billy Graham (we told them of my
extremely successful impersonation of Billy Graham as part of the
Radical Theater Week at the University of Washington in Seattle, of
course), and the director’s wife Alma Becker would play Pat Nixon (of
Well, as I say, it was a silly piece
and I don’t think attracted much attention, but we did the run and
made a bunch of friends, and enjoyed the summer in San Francisco but
we were getting a bit antsy and were wearing out our welcome on the
floor of our hippie friends and so Russell and I decided to bundle
up our stuff, except for the brass bed, which we stored at his folks’
house, and head north again in time for autumn in Seattle.
* * *
It happened there was this little
apartment available in the old Hamilton Arms on Capital Hill in
Seattle, where Brenda still had Dale’s old apartment where we used
to rehearse and so Russ and I moved in and called our friends and
decided to fire up the Ensemble Street Players again.
Billy King was around, of course,
with his wife Olga, and Brenda. Bob Gallager had returned from LA.
And, miraculously, so had John Counter, with a new boyfriend. We
started into lots of rehearsals and entered an exciting period of
That’s also when we got our little
dog, Charlie. Seems this tall, hippie friend of ours named Leo had
a snippy, awful little dachshund female who got pregnant by a big
old street dog and out came a bunch of puppies. We could have one
if we wanted. Well, the combination dachshund and big mangy street
dog turned out a fairly handsome little dog, short-haired and rather
normal looking. I named him Charlie after my grandfather and in
part I guess for Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie” which I had been
reading. Being on the third floor at the back of the Hamilton Arms,
we just opened the doors for the little guy and figured that by the
time he could go up and down the back stairs he’d be smart enough to
go where ever he wanted, irresponsible hippies that we were. We
would have him for many years.
We got invited to a women’s
conference and did a reading of Gertrude Stein’s Ladies Voices with
the guys in drag. We did a wonderfully ridiculous “living tableau”
called Meet Me at the Soda Fountain, in which a cute girl and a cute
soda-jerk in a fifties soda set flirt silently with each other all
day, the girl sipping her chocolate malt and each time letting a
little bit drip down her chin until slowly, throughout the day, she
and the stool and the set and the floor are covered in a brown mess.
It took place in a new, swanky art gallery downtown and a contact of
Billy’s, the Polly Friedlander, where she, Polly, the owner, didn’t
quite know what to think of our chocolate mess, but we were a big
hit with the gallery visitors and so she liked us.
Then we started a series of full-length,
well, twenty-minute spectaculars, with music and costumes and
dancing, mostly spoofs of old genres. We elaborated our silly
cowboy skit from Los Angeles and called it “Pals of the Saddle,” a
cowboy show with Bob Gallager as Cowboy Bob, John Counter and Brenda
as the old missionary couple, and Russ as the drunken Mexican,
Pedro. I believe the missionary’s wife gets raped. It was a
popular show and we played it around town in bars and such.
Then came “The Gangster Story,” Billy
King’s tour de force! He played the blustery king of the mafia in old time
Killer Russ at one point being tortured by the Governor’s
henchmen, threatens to pee on the Governor’s desk.
“You wouldn’t DARE!” shouts the
“OH, YES I WOULD!” and Russell lets
fly a stream of yellow piss all over the Governor and his men and
half the audience. You see, we had cleverly hidden a bottle of
yellow liquid in Russell’s pants just for this big moment. The
audience loved it!
Then, too, we were getting
invitations to parties and such and a few of the frat houses at the
U of W, wanted our shows, but more, you know, racy! they said.
At that time Zap Comics were real big
and all the hippies read them and they were full of well-known
characters, the big-ass girl of R. Crumb, the Fabulous Furry Freak
Brothers and such, to name a few. A popular series was S. Clay
“Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates,” a ridiculous series about
a ship full of ugly pervert pirates who sailed the seas, fucking
each other and such.
Well, we pieced together a few of the episodes
and amplified the story of the attacking dike ship of the Captain
Fatima and her butch lesbians, sworn enemies of Captain Pissgums and
our heroes. Billy King played Pissgums, Brenda played Fatima, Russ
Pissgum’s thug, John Counter the Captain’s favorite cabin boy, all
with big rubber dicks and false titties for the girls. At one point
the cabin boy is sucking Captain Pissgum’s dick while his thug
bodyguard watches the door with gun drawn and jacking off himself
and at a high moment of climax the gun goes off accidentally and the
bullet smashes into the cabin boy’s ass, passes through him and
finally plugs up the end of Pissgum’s dick, eliciting a hugh howl.
That was the kind of special effects in which we excelled.
Finally the dike ship attacks the
pervert pirates and it’s hand to hand combat between the two crews!
Fatima takes special delight in threatening Pissgums, of course.
Suddenly they notice the ships have been blowing holes in each other
and are at the point of sinking and all is lost. As the ships
slowly lower into the sea, Captain Pissgums says,
“This fightin’s hard! Hell, let’s
“Yeah, big boy! That’s more like it.”
And the two crews of dike and
perverts start fucking each other and conclude as the two ships
slowly sink into the ocean:
“Make love! Not War!”
Our audience cheered!
So we played it around at the frat
houses and got ourselves a bit more reputation. As I say it was a
productive and exciting fall, with rehearsals in Dale’s big old
front room, performances all the time and Russell and I in the
apartment across the way. Then too, our little dog Charlie was all
over the neighborhood, living the free life of a dog of a couple
irresponsible hippies who let him in and out of the apartment
anytime he wanted and we were generally enjoying the hippie life in
* * *