Bill Wolf






            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 on south.

            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 again.


            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 dad?”

            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 course).

            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 high creativity!


            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 Chicago. 




           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 Governor.

            “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 Wilson's “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 fuck instead!”

            “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 Seattle.


* * *