1970 -


“Wonder Years” by Maria Manhattan


          I arrived in San Francisco in 1970 – the hippies had left for Marin, and Haight Street had the leftovers of the previous very heady three years.  The Greatful Dead were still doing free concerts in Golden Gate Park, but the summer of love was over.



          I had come from New York City and a very traditional theater background.  (I had studied with Uta Hagen and Herbert Bergof at the HB Studio.  I had performed in dinner theaters and my best moment was performing in a national tour of Tom O’Horgan’s Tom Paine.)  Alma Becker was working at the theater on Potrero Hill and asked me to sing a few songs before a performance of a Gertrude Stein play.  Little did I know that that play would change my life and create life long friends.  The play was "Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It."  It stared Bill Wolf (as Cleopatra), Russ Ellison, and Dale Meader.  These guys had worked in alternative theater in Oregon, and were doing this funky, hilarious, campy interpretation of a very obscure play with gender bending and cardboard sets and this playful approach to theater that I had never seen!  I was totally taken in!  You mean this is theater too???  I had seen the Living Theater in New York, and Liz Swados productions at the Public, but this was sooo over the edge.


          Sometime around then I caught a San Francisco Mime Troupe free show in the Panhandle.  Again, total awe! Here was a show that captured the politics of the times – Vietnam – in a broad comic style that was part Vaudeville, very handmade, and something I’d never seen before.


          I started working at the Sierra Club as an office temp.  Fresh from New York City, I had no idea what the Sierra Club was.  I thought maybe it was a fancy Dinner club that needed help with some back office work.  Well it turned out to be a bastion of alternative eco types who all needed a day job. 


          I worked in the membership department which was growing beyond anyone’s control.  It was the beginning of ecological consciosness and everyone wanted in.


          I met the greatest people working there, many of whom turned out to be lifelong friends.  It was one of those jobs – you’re lucky if you get a couple of these work situations in your lifetime – where everyone is on the same wavelength and the lunatics are running the asylum.  No one was afraid to be who they were.  I met Norman Core there – my dear friend from New Orleans.  I heard this southern accent one day saying something totally outrageous, and I just had to meet this guy. Norman came to a costume party I threw as Ingrid Tulin’s character in Visconti’s “The Damned.”  We hit it off, bigtime.  I met Ken Noble who was a gem.  He introduced me to his 3 housemates who took me under their wing – Jill, Ev and Bobby.  They lived on Steiner Street in a duplex.  I lived in an apartment in a Victorian on Fell Street on the Panhandle.  My downstairs neighbors and I were great friends – Bob & Kathy and Aaron their son.  So the Steiner Street crew and the Fell Street folks started a tradition of doing pot luck dinners with international themes.  We started with Greek night – somebody played the “Never on a Sunday” album.  The next dinner was Russian night – Russian shirts and Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. And, the food had to be authentic.  Well, we went on from there and every dinner grew in extravagance.  I did Italian night – cleared out all my furniture, borrowed my neighbors kitchen tables, went to Good Will and got old tablecloths, and candles in jars with plastic netting, and turned my apt into an Italian restaurant.  It was a major event!  The last of these dinners was at Robert’s when he did Martian night.  Lots of dry ice and strange colored food.


          I spent a lot of time in Golden Gate Park as my job was from 7am till 1:30.  So, afternoons I’d walk or bike over Hippie Hill to my ceramic class.  I remember seeing Hibiscus (of Angels of Light, and Cockettes) dancing in costume with some little kid. I saw him on Castro Street several times.  He was always a total vision. It was an amazing time.  There was something going on.  It was a community. It was outrageous.  There was real freedom, now it looks like anarchy, but then it was just freedom.


          Friends took me to a Cockettes show at the Palace – Journey to the Center of Uranus with Divine. Hilarious!  Original is an understatement.  Some of their drag was soooo over the top and totally fabulous, then some of it was shocking because of it’s banality.  I’d only seen drag queens doing the glamorous Gina Lolabridigida thing. Here was Pristine Condition dressed like a midwestern housewife.  Norman took me to a show Divine did called “the Heartbreak of Psoriasis”.


          I had seen Sylvester previous to this.  He was Elton John’s opening act at the Fillmore on Elton’s very first tour.  Sylvester came out dressed like an Oakland housewife.  I remember the 50’s wig, and the sequined capris … again, my mind blown with this concept of drag.  And of course, Sylvester’s show was great.  But Elton, blew the lid off the place.  No one had ever seen him and he knew how to put on a show.  Elton was spotted around San Francisco in later years just hanging out, enjoying the scene.  Lots of celebs would come to San Francisco for the party.  Rock Hudson used to be seen in the bars.  Lily Tomlin was always around town after her shows at the Boarding House.  My best surprise happened at a party in a flat in the Castro – it was packed – lots of gay men, and my friend Ken and I made our way through the throng into the kitchen to get a drink, and who was leaning against the sink, wearing a stunnnig lavendar cowboy hat that looked amazing against her beautiful skin – Lena Horne!!!  She was so cool, just smiled and nodded ... no big deal she was playing the Fairmont.


          Ken and I loved music and went out a lot.  We saw Freddie Murcury and Queen open for Traffic at Winterland!  What a show! Freddie gave Mick Jagger a run for his money.  An amazing performer. I think Patti Smith opened.


          We saw some great shows at the Oakland Paramount – the Pointer Sisters first tour, after they hit it big.  Everyone went decked! The audience was always just as much of a show as the performers especially if it was for Bette Midler, or Laura Nyro, or LaBelle!  When Laura played the Paramount there were always lots of women in black.  The most unforgettable concert of her’s was when she brought out LaBelle for her 3rd encore!  (The absolute audacity to wait till your 3rd encore!!!) They then proceeded to sing most of the Gonna Take a Miracle album.  The audience was totally spent at the end of that night.  Unforgettable!


          San Francisco celebrated Halloween like it was Christmas.  It was still a minor holiday in New York, but in San Francisco, it was a major chance to get out and strut your stuff. We always dressed.  My neighbor Henry and I went to a party at Greg’s as Space creatures – we were fabulous in mylar and beads. The scene on Polk Street and Castro Street was to die for.  Nuns with beards on roller skates.  A whole class of catholic school girls in uniforms – also with beards.


          There were fabulous parties.  Greg and I would sometimes watch them go into the big party at the Galleria.  They went alllll out.  Egyptian pharoh with his queen and entire court. Mayan courts.  Then there was the Hookers Ball that Margo St. James threw.  Greg and I went as fabulous witches.



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NOTE:  This is an unfinished work in progress with more to come.  Maria



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