Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Gay Gossip/Gay History: The Deliciously Gossipy Books of Robert Hofler

I just spent the last few weeks living in a world of wild parties and carefree sex courtesy of three books by Robert Hofler: Money, Murder and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts; Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock ’N’ Roll starring the Fabulous Allan Carr and Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange—How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos.
It all began with an excerpt from Dominick Dunne in The Daily Beast, which showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. The excerpt dealt with the filming of the Elizabeth Taylor film Ash Wednesday in Rome, when Liz was in the midst of her relationship with Richard Burton. In addition to her frequently being late for her call time (and drunk), the excerpt also detailed her conversation with her co-star, Helmut Berger, about being constipated. We're also told that Burton was jealous of the handsome (and gay) Berger, who at the time was having an affair with director Luchino Visconti.
Dunne was the producer of Ash Wednesday, but he's probably most famous for being a writer for Vanity Fair, as well as the author of several novels.
Dunne's specialty was true crime stories, and this was probably due the murder of his daughter, actress Dominique Dunne (Poltergeist), by her boyfriend and Dunne's subsequent disillusionment with the outcome of the murder trial. (Her boyfriend wound up spending only a few years in prison.) Dunne may have led a charmed life career-wise, but his personal life was beset by tragedy. In addition to his daughter's murder, his wealthy and beautiful wife eventually developed MS.
That all may sound like a downer (and it is), but there's plenty of excitement in this book as well. Dunne would go on to write about two of the most notorious murder trials of the 20th century: O.J. Simpson and the Menendez Brothers (the former, the subject of a recent TV series and the latter about to be.)
Before that, we see Dunne's rise from stage manager at NBC to movie producer, to his career at Vanity Fair and as a novelist. There's also some literary gossip about his strained relationship with his brother and sister-in-law, the writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion.
Oh yeah, and Dunne was also gay (despite having a wife and three children). There's one great story about Dunne inviting a hustler to his New York apartment and barely escaping with his life. That's probably the most extreme example of the struggles Dunne went through in coming to terms with his sexuality.

Then there's Allan Carr, who never made any bones about his sexuality, but struggled with his weight throughout his life. Carr is best known as the producer of the movies Grease and Can't Stop the Music (which featured The Village People and a pre-transition Bruce Jenner) and the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles. Carr was perhaps equally well-known for his wild parties and some of the best sections of Allan Carr describe these parties, as well as his four homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu, New York, and Hawaii. (His Beverly Hills home had a disco in the basement!). I also enjoyed the many behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, like that of a 30-year-old Harvey Fierstein being invited in his down jacket held together with duct tape to Carr's St. Moritz Hotel penthouse to work on La Cage with Jerry Herman and Arthur Laurents.

Sexplosion deals with the sexual revolution in movies, theater, books and TV between 1968 and 1973, a period I think of as a golden age in American culture. Hofler shows us the evolution of such cultural (and sexual) landmarks as the films Midnight Cowboy, Carnal Knowledge, Women in Love, Last Tango in Paris, and Deep Throat; the plays The Boys in the Band, Oh! Calcutta! and Hair; the books Portnoy's Complaint, Couples, Myra Breckenridge and Fear of Flying and the TV shows All in the Family and An American Family. What's remarkable is how many of the artists involved in these projects were gay (Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger, The Boys in the Band playwright Mart Crowley, Women in Love screenwriter Larry Kramer, Hair creators Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Myra Breckenridge author Gore Vidal and American Family's Lance Loud.) What's also remarkable is how shocking such things as nudity (especially male nudity) and homosexuality were back then and how strange it now seems that people (including celebrities like Jackie Onassis) once watched pornography in movie theaters!
In spite of the now wide availability of pornography on the Internet (and, before that, on video), I'm struck by the feeling that being an adult from 1968 to 1973 was much more interesting and exciting than it is today.
Perhaps Hofler’s next books can tackle talent manager Sandy Gallin, record industry-turned-movie mogul David Geffen and former Paramount Pictures and Fox TV honcho Barry Diller. Velvet Mafia, anyone?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Gay Bars That Are Gone

515 West 18 Street, former site of The Roxy

Yesterday, I went on a walking tour called Gay Bars That Are Gone, organized by Michael Ryan and Kyle Supley as part of Jane Jacobs Walks1.
We started out at The Roxy2, a huge former disco on West 18 Street. I recounted my story of how once I had gone to see Chaka Khan perform there and she invited some man up on stage to sing with her. That was brave enough of him! But this man had the audacity to criticize Ms. Khan’s singing, to which she replied, “I have perfect pitch, bitch!” (OK, she didn’t actually say “bitch.”) That was the end of him!
There were other shows I saw at Roxy, in addition to going to their regular John Blair Saturday nights, which were probably the preeminent gay dance party of the ’90s. I saw Malcolm McLaren there when the venue was booked by an English woman named Ruza Blue, who promoted hip hop nights there. I saw New Order in concert there when it was called 1018. And I was supposed to see Dee-Lite there when they were at the peak of their popularity (after “Groove Is in the Heart” was released), but they never showed up. Roxy was never really my scene, though, because it catered to what were then known as “Chelsea boys” (i.e., gay men who worked out and generally lived in Chelsea). In fact, Supley even mentioned that Blair had a rating system to determine who got in the door.
I was not surprised.
Then we moved on to The Anvil. Now that was my joint!
Although I was too young and naïve to even know what was going on in the catacomb-like backroom, I was there for New Wave nights every Tuesday (deejayed by Bill Bahlman), which featured performances by a lip-synch artist named Bernard Zette, who later appeared in the film Last Exit to Brooklyn. My former neighbor, actress/comedian/playwright Nora Burns, told about how she was prevented from getting in at a nearby disco called Alex in Wonderland by the doorman and later wound up appearing in a play with him.
On the way to our next stop, we paused around the corner from Little West 12th Street to talk about the notorious Mineshaft. This was a club that was known for its wild sexual exploits and its strict dress code, which was as follows:
Cycle leather & Western gear, levis
Jocks, action ready wear, uniforms,
T shirts, plaid shirts, just plain shirts,
Club overlays, patches, & sweat.

Apparently, such celebrities as Mick Jagger and Elton John were refused entry for not dressing the part.
I only went there once when I was very young and ran out screaming like a frightened schoolgirl (OK, I exaggerate slightly) when some gentleman tried to pick me up and, shaking his hand, I realized it was covered with the same lube that was covering his bare buttocks.
The next stop was Florent, the much-missed French bistro owned by the eccentric Florent Malloret. (There’s an excellent documentary about him called Florent: Queen of the Meat Market3). In addition to their reasonable menu, Florent was probably most famous for its Bastille Day street fair, where the owner would sometimes dress up in drag as Marie Antoinette. They were also known for being very accepting of HIV-positive people at a time when that was a very rare thing. (Florent himself was openly HIV-positive at a time when that was also very rare and would keep a running count of his T-cells on the menu.) There was also a famous nude photograph of HIV-positive people which appeared on the cover of Poz magazine, which was taken in his restaurant.4
Then we continued to Jackson Square (passing the former site of the notorious Hellfire5 and J’s Hangout6 on the way) to talk about a lesbian bar called Sea Colony7, which I’d never heard of. (Perhaps I can be forgiven for that, since they were open in the '50s and '60s and I'm not a lesbian.)
Me talking about watching the season finale of "Dynasty" (where the entire cast gets shot) at Uncle Charlie's.
On to Uncle Charlie’s8, where I talked about the night I watched the season finale of “Dynasty” (in which everyone was shot). Uncle Charlie’s was a chain of gay bars (the other branches were in Midtown, the Upper East Side and the Village). They had a reputation as a “stand and model” (or “S&M” as it was jokingly abbreviated) bar and the customers were generally young and preppy Izod-wearing All-American Boy types (as in the clothing store that used to be on Christopher Street). It was also the site of the first anti-gay terrorist attack in the United States, and the owner was allegedly involved in a murder.
After Splash opened in Chelsea in the early ’90s, all the preppies migrated to Chelsea, which marked the beginning of Chelsea’s reign as the preeminent gay neighborhood of that decade.
Next stop was The Ninth Circle. I was never a big customer there, but apparently it was a very cool place (according to Burns, it had a great jukebox). I know that it’s featured heavily in Brad Gooch’s memoir Smash Cut (it’s where he met his lover, film director Howard Brookner), and it’s where Edward Albee allegedly got the idea for the title of his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.
Further down West 10th Street was the Snake Pit. This bar was a contemporary of the original Stonewall bar, and its history was equally marked by violence. In March 1970, for example, after a police raid, a terrified young Argentine jumped out of a second-floor window and impaled himself on a 14-inch spike while attempting to escape from police custody.9
Walking down Grove Street, we passed what used to be a veritable “piano bar row” of Marie’s Crisis, the original Duplex (later Rose’s Turn) and the Five Oaks. The only one remaining is Marie’s Crisis.
Finally, we stopped in Christopher Street Park10 (now a National Historic Landmark along with the Stonewall) to talk about the Duchess, another lesbian bar which apparently had a lot of fighting outside (again, according to Burns), before adjourning to Julius (another landmark11, and New York’s oldest gay bar) for drinks and dancing.