Bill Wolf






            Around the first of May that year, 1971, Dale called from San Francisco saying he had gotten us a great opportunity!  Russell rolled his eyes, of course, and would later say, many times, “every time we’ve ever gotten a call from Dale ...” and generally mutter “...it’s been a !%*¡ª/@#**,” or something like that.

            It seems Dale was acting in a theater downtown, getting paid, and as the current show was about to close, he had talked with the producer and told him about the great theater company he had up in Seattle, all ready to come down to San Francisco with there enormous hit, “The Dr. W.C. Waterhorney Traveling Medicine Show,” and that the producer would be a fool not to grab this exciting new act now!

            Well, here’s the other side of the story:  it seems this producer was a soft-core porno guy named Hank Donnig, the man behind Carol Doda, of breakthrough topless fame in North Beach, and had been experimenting with a sort of X-rated theater, I guess to compliment his topless acts then in the skids from being old hat.  He had been rather successful with a piece called “Geese” with Carol Doda and Charles Pierce (of all!), and had followed that with a truly rotten piece about “sex counselors” who give couples hands-on advice while the audience watched, or something like that.  Well, Dale somehow got the part of the sex counselor, with his dirty-old-man imitation, and was very much enjoying the theater again.

            So poor Hank Donnig somehow agreed that W.C. Waterhorney would be just the thing to follow his other shows.  I think he was getting disillusioned with the theater or at least tired of such laborious projects and was ready for anything that he didn’t have to do.  And, according to Dale, the show was all rehearsed and ready to go.

            Well, Dale had explained that Dr. W.C. Waterhorney was played by the marvelously talented Billy King, a rolly, naughty, modern W.C. Fields.  This kind of thing is just what Billy loved to hear and, though the rest of our group couldn’t see it in their interest to accompany us, we finally headed south with Billy and his wife, Olga, myself and Russell, still rolling his eyes, I tell you.

            So, we all went down, on the bus, I think, to San Francisco and crashed around in friends houses and began to work on the show.

            The Encore Theater, we found, was a basement space under a big movie theater right downtown on Union a half-block from Geary Street and the three or four legitimate theaters of which San Francisco boasts.  In a sort of dark and creepy environment, we met the producer, Hank Donnig, a kinda young, sleazy guy who wanted to see what we had.  Well, we pulled out a couple of our old skits, the Chicken and the Egg, for example, and a few scenes from the Cowboy Story and he wasn’t very impressed but Dale and a few hangers-on were rolling in the aisles with laughter.  Dale was always good at that.  He had also convinced Hank that Hank really knew very little about the theater but that he, Dale, knew all about it and could spot a hit.  So, Hank left us alone and Dale said OK, let’s get this show on the road!

            We announced try-outs to fill out the cast a bit and got a few actors and actresses who came into the show not really understanding much about our style of working or sense of humor (one, a stunning woman, would drop out before the show opened; “I’m sorry,” she would say).  The show would be a series of skits based on nothing really, except held together by the fabulously funny master of ceremonies, Dr. W.C. Waterhorney, Billy King himself.

            Thinking himself a real theater producer now, Hank contacted the biggest publicity agency in town, run by an experienced older couple, and turned Dale loose on them.  They were getting paid well, no doubt, and fed back all the same enthusiasm for the piece as Dale and assured us that, with their help, we had a huge hit on our hands.  They would run big ads in all the papers and we would get a lot of publicity.

            The show slowly took shape, or rather didn’t take much shape, with only some silly excerpts from out previous hits, The Gangster Story, Dimples, and Cowboy Bob.  A tall, lanky, long-haired hippie named Terry MacDonald came on board and got a bunch of Bob Galleger’s parts.  He was a great guy who would be with us for a long time.  Dale added a sacarine little piece which was supposed to be the semi-sweet counterpoint to all the rest of the hilarity.  I don’t really remember it.

            We had recontacted our friends Ed and Alma Weingold up at the Julian Theater and they had come around a few times.  Dale felt we needed some live audiences to judge our reactions by (Boy, did we!)  and so Ed and Alma started bringing around some friends, one, a great girl and laugher, Marge Rooney, whom Alma had known in the theater back east, their friends David De Montluzin and Maria Scattuccio.  Somehow our ridiculous humor was right up their alley and they screamed at all our antics.

            The opening neared.  Russell and Olga got their picture on the cover of the Chronicle’s Datebook section and we were told all the critics had been invited and tickets were being sold!

            Opening night was June 17th and packed, especially with our friends all comped and the general excitement.  The agency couple were fluttering about and seats on the aisle were taken by all the city’s big critics.

            Billy King started with his terrible raw-egg-juggling act, which actually got egg on some of the audience and all the big critics walked out after ten minutes.  About half the rest of the house would leave before the end, but our new friends, Marge, Maria, David, Alma and others laughed and screamed all the way.

            The next day, all the reviews were terrible.  Some called it the worst show to hit San Francisco EVER.  The show was canceled immediately and Billy and Olga flew back to Seattle, Dale went to Los Angeles, and Russell and I looked at each other and said “Now what?”


            Well, it seems Russell had gotten a little friendly with Hank, the producer, and, of course, Hank had this empty theater on his hands (he probably had some kind of lease he couldn’t get out of), so Russell says, well, the thing he, Russell, really was best at was booking wildly popular bands into clubs and making lots of money.

            Hank even had us out on his boat on the bay one day, a small sort of thing and a stunning young woman Hank kept around named Venessa and we all went out and talked about how to make the Encore a really happening place!  So Hank said, go for it guys.

            Well, of course, Russell knew no wildly famous bands nor how to contact them.  He did manage a few high school groups from Laffayette and Walnut Creek who thought it was cool to play in the city, even in a dump like the Encore.  Once we had Sopwith Camel, but that was the extent of our famous bands.  A local, that is Tenderloin, improv theater group directed by a real weirdo named Monty Pyle did this kind of slice-of-low-life, endless piece, to very small houses and sort of took over the space for a short run; the dark, dank basement was much to their liking.

            Terry MacDonald hung around and helped out and then Hank had also brought in a ticket girl for the box office, one of the girls he had worked with in North Beach for a long time.  Her name was Joy Phipps and at one point a few years back, Hank had tried a new gimmick to get around the nudity laws; he covering the naked Joy with paint and had her roll across a canvas, thereby making “art.”  She was billed as Joy the Living Brush and had a short dalliance with fame, her picture was on the cover of LOOK magazine (BELOW) and I think Hugh Hefner bought one of the paintings.  Anyway, she was now our ticket girl and somehow found us hilarious.  We soon recruited her into our skits.



            You see, to keep our wits about us and something to do, we would produce a few silly, short skits and living tableaus to go between the acts which Russell was booking.

            Often during the show or intermissions, off on the side of the stage, we would have a tableau on view, sometimes with a little peephole for the viewer to look through.  We had started the idea out with a silly piece called “Locker Room Follies”  (I would use that brilliant title several times again), in which the viewers, through a row of five simultaneous peepholes, saw the TEAM returning from the FIELD and STRIP down NAKED, until it is discovered that ONE of the team is a GIRL and they all SCREAM and run off CHASING her.  Then we would cover the peepholes and line up fife more viewers and do the whole thing again.  And again and again.

            One particularly eerie tableau was called “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and the viewer had to poke his head into a little slot; there he came face to face with a bloody killer (Terry) with upraised dripping knife about to be plunged for the second time into the bleeding heart of an old lady (Joy) stabbed while reading her now blood-splattered Bible.  That kind of thing.



            Upstairs, at street level, the box office opened into a small white room before the stairs down into the theater, which we filled with art shows from time to time.  We would let anybody show their work, of course, and one guy came with a very large (about eight feet!), polyfoam sculpture of a turd, and quite realistically done, brown and bubbly, you know, I think he was one of Monty Pyle’s group.  Well, we never saw the artist again, but he left us the sculpture, which we had for years.

            The sculpture inspired, in fact, one of our most, well, memorable tableaus.  It was called “Flies on Shit” and featured Terry and I dressed up like flies, black leotards, fly masks, socks on our hands, and climbing over the turd and licking it and above on a ladder, Russell squatting with his pants down and his ass toward the audience, like he’d just taken this huge dump.  We decided to do it during the intermission of one of our teeny-bopper band concerts.  The scene was set up sort of next to the stage, on audience level and Vanessa, for some reason, was there and at the intermission of this high school band the announcer announced a “living tableau by the AAA Acting Company --- ‘Flies on Shit’.”  The lights came up on the beautiful Vanessa, in a skimpy outfit and the audience hooted and whistled as she slowly drew back the curtains on our scene.  The young sort of family, teen audience from Walnut Creek let out a silent gasp, then scream and the audience, especially the young girls, on dates and such, did not take to it at all and half walked out right then.  The band was pissed, let me tell you.

            So, the month of July passed like that and having a great time in the dark bowels of the theater, drinking cheap wine in gallon jugs and taking odd jobs like Terry and I hosing off awnings of nearby stores in exchange for booze.

            But it was a doomed adventure, and soon Hank cancelled the whole thing and we found ourselves without a theater and Russell and I moved into a big old Victorian in Noe Valley where John Counter happened to be living, it belonged to his parents.  The place had a nice back yard and a big garage/basement, which was perfect for rehearsals.  So, soon we dusted off “Pals of the Saddle” with Terry in Bob’s role, and Joy in Olga’s and hawked it around North Beach.  We would do it for free, of course, just pass the hat after the show and so we were soon performing at the Coffee House on Broadway, and, occasionally up at the Julian on Potrero Hill, and again having the time of our lives!


            Then we came up a new piece.  We wanted to stage something like our “20-minute spectaculars” that we had done in Seattle, with music and silly singing and dancing and lewd innuendoes, that we could play around in some coffee shops and such.  We set it in the Bay Area, a spoof of those 50's sci-fi pix and called it “The Triple-Dick Monster from Outer Space” with a very graphic poster, of course, about a monster from outer space who has three dicks and lands in Piedmont and is the last of his species, and whose mission is to mate with as many young high schools girls as possible, his anatomy, of course, allowing him to impregnate three at once.  Terry would play the monster.

            Soon the show was ready for an audience and we invited our usual bunch of friends to preview it in our basement and everyone got very stoned.  Well, the ceiling in the basement was a little too low for the big monster costume we had made and Terry was having a hard time, always hitting his head on the rafters and then too, he had some problem with his pants, his actual pants under the costume, which kept coming undone and would fall down.  For some reason he didn’t have underpants on and it was hard holding up his pants and working the three dicks and saying lines at the same time.  It was a sight and our audience thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.  Alma said we should call it the Quadruple Dick Monster.





            So we played it around North Beach during the Fall of ‘71 and further enhanced our reputation.


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            Around the end of the year Dale was back in town, I guess, the past faded sufficiently to show his face again and we got the idea to do a Gertrude Stein and try to interest the Julian Theater.  I had always liked a piece called “Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It” and so we cast Dale, Joy, Terry, me, a couple others, and Russell as Gertrude Stein playing the piano and narrating the piece directly to the audience.  Dale also played the silent role of Alice B. Toklas sitting with Gertrude at the piano during the interludes and eating brownies.  Well, the whole thing was very obtuse and strange but with some great scenes, like Dale as Mark Anthony and me as Cleopatra watching “our son” partaking in the military games with the soldiers.  That kind of thing.



      In another scene I played "William," the young innocent whom Dale seduces with the sins of gambling and smoking.  He was always good at the dirty, old lecher.




            Most of the Julian people didn’t know what to make of it, but we had a good house and a growing bunch of our friends who were into our kind of humor and the piece went over very well.


            Perhaps most memorable, to us, part of the evening, though, was our opening act.  With the play running only about forty-five minutes, we had asked around if anybody knew a musician or somebody who could open for us and kind of pad out the evening into a full show, if you know what I mean.  Well, somebody said they had this good singer who could come, so we said OK.  Well, it turned out to be Maria Scatuccio, whom we had met briefly, friend of Alma’s and Marge’s.  She loved our piece and we loved her singing and we would go on to become long and best of friends.


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            So, it was the spring of 1972 and we were having a great time and being hippies.  John Counter had moved back to Seattle and Russell and I stayed in the big old Victorian on Vicksburg Street in Noe Valley, long before the area all became cute, you know?  And rehearsing in the basement and playing around town in our silly shows.  We were Joy, Terry, Dale, Russell, me and a couple hangers-on as usual.




            We loved the little back yard and hung out smoking pot and planting flowers.  Charlie liked it, of course, up and down the stairs all day long.  I painted a little watercolor looking out the kitchen window.




            My dad had given me an old 50's GMC pick-up truck which had been on the farm for just ever and we tooled around San Francisco in it, first picking up some hauling jobs and then putting an ad in the paper to do gardening.  The ad said, "I can make anything grow.  Bill"  Well, the double-entendre worked to our advantage in San Francisco, of course, and soon we had a nice few little jobs.




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            Meanwhile, Ed Wiengold from the Julian Theater and his wife Alma were planning to go back east for the summer to work stock, which they had done several times before.  Ed was hired as general manager of the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut, of which I’d never heard, and Alma as actress.  So he started talking to Russell about a job in publicity during the summer, an area in which we’d always been strong.  Then he mentioned that they needed a costume designer and pretty soon it was arranged that I would be costumer and we would all go to Connecticut!

            We had the old ‘50 GMC pick-up and, of course, our dog, Charlie.  Totally broke, we decided to drive the pick-up across country, with Charlie, starting plenty early and going slow and enjoying seeing the countryside.  Remember, this is 1972 and we were long-haired hippies.

            We packed up the truck and nailed a couple of antique tin “Hires Root Beer” signs onto the sides and headed out to my Dad’s ranch in Fresno as a first stop.  It sure was a long way!  There in the barn we changed the oil and lubed the thing as best we could, my dad sort of shaking his head and wishing us luck.  We saw from coming to Fresno that the freeway was going to be difficult for us; we were going so much slower that the traffic.  So, when we finally departed we took the back roads all the way.  Through Sanger, Centerville, Reedly, Dinuba, Visallia, and on past Bakersfield.  I felt I was passing through my old life, remembering the hundreds, thousands of hours on slow old school buses carrying me to school and back through these same old roads.  I think we got about half way to Los Angeles the first night and, trying our procedure planned for the whole trip, we pulled off the road at a wide spot and bedded down in the back with Charlie at our feet.

            The next morning we rose early and looked out on the California road and studied our map.  Golly, we had come a short way!  And golly, were we tired and sore and dirty and hungry!  But we fired up the Jimmy and headed slowly on our way East.

            It was a wonderful trip, really, May and Spring in the desert, and the truck ran well.  It was a steady ol’ boy.  Charlie rode in front with us and loved the scenery going by.  Sometimes we would take turns having a nap in the back while the other drove, and about every three or four nights we’d treat our selves to a little motel and showers and sheets.

            We were always on back roads and, therefore, stopping in little back-road gas stations, where the country attendants would talk and idle away the time.  “How far you goin’ with that thing?” they would ask, pointing to the truck, seeing our California plates.

            “Connecticut!” we would answer.

            “No, you ain’t,” they would comment with a chuckle, especially at the first.  The farther and farther we went, however, they began to change their tune.

            “You come all the way from California in that?” they would ask, looking at our plates, and our proud grins got broader as we traveled across they big, wide country.


            Now Sharon, Connecticut, is one of those adorable little New England villages you see on greeting cards and ads for things like White Christmas and such, nestled into the rolling hills in the upper part of the state not far from the borders with New York and Massachusetts and just like lots of others we would see around there that summer.  All the lawns and bushes were always neatly trimmed and the houses painted white and little bronze “darkies” on the front steps to hold your, I guess, reigns.  And all the houses had these little stuck-on, green painted shutters.  I would later come to see these shutters as a metaphor for the town and the area and the people there.  The shutters would be open, and in would come light and friends and the people just loved you to come visit and be so sweet.  And then the shutters could be closed.  And you would not be welcome.  And the people would not be sweet and welcoming.  And the shutters would be closed.

            We had come to the theater, to do summer stock, to stay for the summer and only the summer.  The townspeople were welcoming and just loved us and our work in their cute little summer theater, and they would accept our long-haired ways and hippie looks and think we were just so cute and so talented for their cute little theater.  And then we would be gone.


            Ed had made arrangements for us to stay in the little guest house of a nice family who lived about five miles out into the woods.  It was a cute little place and we drove the poor old truck back and forth about three times a day.  It was completely surrounded by woods and fields and Charlie loved it, of course.  The first day he ran out into the wilds and didn’t come back for the whole day.  When he finally staggered back to our little cabin, he was limping something fierce.  We examined his paws and they were swelled up with blisters on every pad.  He had to lay on the floor for three days.  The poor little guy had run his feet off!


            The theater was in a big, old converted barn and in the adjoining shed was housed our costume shop and collection of clothes.  I was planned to design, I think, eight of the ten shows.  The two others were to be designed by another person from the area and we would overlap our working for several weeks.  Turns out he was this old queen, who had done lots of shows there and the first thing he did was fill the costume room’s sink with ice and set up a complete martini bar.

            “Drink up!” he proclaimed.  We had a good time.


            So, Russell and Ed were across the street in the offices of the theater and I was around it all and enjoying the work.  It was a ten-week season, through the summer, with a different show each week, and this year called “Ten Decades of American Theater” (!).  With a bunch of old war horses like “The Great Divide,” “The Front Page,” “End of Summer,” “Dark of the Moon,” “Light Up the Sky,” “Watch on the Rhine,” “The Gingerbread Lady,” “The Price,” and “A Touch of the Poet.”  Creaky, at best, you know?


            And I also noticed that the theater lobby was pretty bare, and suggested I could help decorate it a bit.  Ed said, wonderful!  And Russell had lots of big glossies of all the cast members, some fairly big names, too, Olympia Duccacas, and such.  So I made ten big collages of the plays and actors and hung them up as lobby cards.  Russell got a nice big article about me doing collages for the plays in the local newspapers, and featured the drama, “Watch on the Rhyne” and featured Alma Becker in the lead.  It was a big, broken swastika and I always liked it.  The collages were all tossed out, of course, but I still have the newspaper clipping.




            Russell and I had never been to New York and here we were just a couple hours away, so one day, Ed and Alma, who had been lots, of course, suggested we motor down, in their car, thank God, for a visit.  We could only go down one evening and come back that same night.  Oh, well.

            It was a nice ride and we were getting excited, and headed for Greenwich Village.  As we pulled off the West Side Highway to the first stop light, a tattered old bum was standing in the street singing at the top of his lungs, “…It could happen to you!”

            We went into a little dark coffee house in the Village for a bite to eat and I got a blow job in the bathroom.  I gotta come back here, I thought to myself.


            The theater also employed a big crew of apprentices, well, didn’t pay them, of course.  Like my apprenticeship in Helena, Montana, the apprentices work for free, for the experience of working in the theater, and for the credit on their resumès.  They also had a tradition of sutting on “apprentice productions,” usually one performance only on an afternoon matinee.  I convinced Ed to let my direct a silly little script I had been writing called “Rocket To Mars.”  It was perfect for the apprentices, and we had a great little performance, if sort of stupid.  The script would be dusted off again later for our big, full-length movie.  But that was later, as I say.


            So we’re nearing the end of the summer, when one day Russell comes gasping in to the costume shop and says “Oh, Bill!”

            “Russell, what’s the matter?”

            He collapsed into a chair and began to explain.  Seems he was at the cabin with the family and Charlie, of course, and the Grandmother of the family is visiting and agrees to give Russell a ride into town.  They get into her big long car and she can hardly see over the steering wheel and starts forward.  Then there’s a bump and a painful howl.  She’s run over Charlie.

            “He’s dead???”

            No, she just ran over his rear end.  Well, she feels terrible, of course, and they all rush Charlie to their local vet and he’s undergoing surgery.  She’ll pay for everything.

            We went to the vet.  He’s put a pin (!) in his hip to hold it together and, yes, he’ll be fine, but he needs a long recuperation.  And, no, he can’t walk for, well some months.  Holy Toledo!

            So, we have to carry poor Charlie outside and inside and everywhere but, of course, he’s always trying to get up and hurting himself and the vet said he must be completely prone in order to heal, so we finally build this big chicken-wire cage that just fits in the back of the truck and is only about a foot high to keep him from getting up and he has to lay there all the time and look up at us with his big sad eyes and we finally leave Sharon, Connecticut, for about the longest ride back to the west coast you can imagine.


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