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Citizen Kael vs. ‘Citizen Kane’

“‘Voice in the Wind,’ a heartfelt shoestring quickie shot in 13 days, is a pretty awful moving picture, I realize, but I was touched by its sincerity and by a number of things in it, and was sympathe­tically interested in a good deal more. It is being advertised as ‘a strange new kind of moving picture,’ and that makes me realize, as the excitement over the ‘originality’ of ‘Citizen Kane’ used to, that already I belong to a grizzling generation.” 

James Agee, the Nation, March 18, 1944, reprinted in “Agee on Film”

Pauline Kael’s two-part article on “Citizen Kane” (“Raising Kane”The New Yorker, February 20 and 27, 197[1]) reportedly began as a brief introduction to the published screenplay, but, like Topsy, it just growed and growed into a 50,000-word digression from “Kane” itself into the life and times and loves and hates and love-hates of Pauline Kael.

My disagreement with her position begins with her very first sentence:

“‘Citizen Kane’ is perhaps the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened.” I can think of hundreds of “American talking pictures” that seem as fresh now as the day they opened. Even fresher. “Citizen Kane” is certainly worthy of revival and reconsideration, but it hardly stands alone even among the directorial efforts of Orson Welles. To believe that “Citizen Kane” is a great American film in a morass of mediocre Hollywood movies is to misunderstand the transparent movieness of “Kane” itself from its Xanadu castle out of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”  to its menagerie out of “King Kong” to its mirrored reflections out of old German doppleganger spectacles. Not that Miss Kael makes any extravagant claims about the supposed greatness of the film on which she has devoted so much newsprint. “It is a shallow work,” she decides, “a shallow masterpiece.”

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One wonders what Miss Kael considers a deep masterpiece. “U-Boat 29” perhaps? Actually, the closest she comes to comparing “Kane” with the higher depths of cinema is in a parenthetical aside of dubious relevance: “Like most of the films of the sound era that are called masterpieces, ‘Citizen Kane’ has reached its audience gradually over the years rather than at the time of release. Yet, unlike the others, it is conceived and acted as entertainment in a popular style (unlike, say, ‘Rules of the Game’ or ‘Rashomon’ or ‘Man of Aran,’ which one does not think of in crowd-pleasing terms).”

“Man of Aran,” with its excessive sea-pounding on the soundtrack making it as falsely exotic in its own time as “Ramparts of Clay” is in ours, was certainly never conceived in crowd-pleasing terms. But “Rules of the Game” and “Rashomon” are something else again even in French and Japanese respectively. If anything, both films are more rousingly entertaining and more satisfyingly lucid than “Kane.” Their emotions are stronger, their gestures broader, their climaxes more violent, their narratives more vigorous, their visual styles less ostentatious, and, no small consideration, their women infinitely warmer and more sensual. Besides, the comparison is even factually questionable. “Rules of the Game” has never been too popular anywhere, but “Kane” and “Rashomon” were instant sensations when they reached the right audiences. It is no derogation to say that they were immediately impressive whereas “Rules of the Game” takes longer to appreciate because of the apparent artlessness of its ironies. Not that Miss Kael bothers to commit her own personal prestige to the greatness of any film. Note, for example, the cautiously impersonal construction of “films of the sound era that are called masterpieces.” Perhaps this tone of cold-fish objectivity is the price of a normally warm-blooded film critic must pay to climb Onward and Upward with the Arts at The New Yorker.

1971 4-part Village Voice essay in which Andrew Sarris challenged Pauline Kael's assessment of "Citizen Kane"

The plot thickens considerably when Miss Kael drifts away from a half-hearted analysis of “Kane” to the most lively gossip imaginable about the alleged birth-pangs and labor-pains of the script. Bit by bit, “Raising Kane” becomes an excuse to lower the boom on Orson Welles so as to resurrect the reputation of the late Herman J. Mankiewicz. By interviewing only the sworn enemies of Orson Welles, Miss Kael has made herself fair game for Mr. Welles and his more fervent admirers. At the very least, we may expect a reprise of the recriminations exchanged between Peter Bogdanovich and Charles Higham on the occasion of the publication of Mr. Higham’s “The Films of Orson Welles.”

How much of the final script of “Citizen Kane” was written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and how much by Orson Welles? I don’t know, and I don’t think Miss Kael, Mr. Bogdanovich, and Mr. Higham do either. Undoubtedly, there will be affidavits aplenty from all sides, but literary collaboration, like marriage, is a largely unwitnessed interpenetration of psyches. Miss Kael demonstrates conclusively that Mankiewicz could have written the entire script unaided, but she cannot possibly know where and when and how and from whom and from what derived all his ideas. As it happens, RKO was successfully sued in 1950 for plagiarism on the officially credited Mankiewicz-Welles script of “Kane” by Ferdinand Lundborg, author of “Imperial Hearst.” Miss Kael tries to pooh-pooh Lundborg’s lawsuit because of the shadow it casts on her own one-sided lawyer’s brief for Mankiewicz. RKO might just as well have been sued, Miss Kael contends, by John Dos Passos for the passages on Hearst in “USA.” Precisely. Who among us can claim complete originality in anything? “Raising Kane” itself bears the by-line of Pauline Kael and of Pauline Kael alone. Yet thousands of words are directly quoted from other writers, and thousands more are paraphrased without credit. Miss Kael deserves her byline because she has shaped her material, much of it unoriginal, into an article with a polemical thrust all her own. Her selection and arrangement of material constitutes a very significant portion of her personal style.

Similarly, Orson Welles is not significantly diminished as the auteur of “Citizen Kane” by Miss Kael’s breathless revelations about Herman J. Mankiewicz any more than he is diminished as the auteur of “The Magnificent Ambersons” by the fact that all the best lines and scenes were written by Booth Tarkington. It is only by virtually ignoring what “Citizen Kane” became as a film that Miss Kael can construct her bizarre theory of film history, namely that “Citizen Kane” along with all the best moments in movies of the ’30s must be credited to a consortium of New Yorker writers gathered together by Harold Ross at Chasen’s, the West Coast auxiliary of the Algonquin. Indeed, Miss Kael writes of Harold Ross in “Raising Kane” with much the same awed tone employed by General Lew Wallace in writing of Christ in “Ben Hur.” Writing of a Ross visit to Hearst’s San Simeon, Miss Kael lacks only a divinely capitalized “H” (“He” for “he”) to achieve a completely Biblical tone: “Harold Ross must have wondered what drew his old friends there, for he came, too, escorted by Robert Benchley.”

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What is most startling about “Raising Kane” is how little it adds to old stories that have been circulating in film magazines with fewer readers than The New Yorker. For example, “Persistence of Vision,” edited by Joseph McBride and publish by the Wisconsin Film Society Press in 1968, contains not only McBride’s “Kane” analysis which Miss Kael snickers at in “Raising Kane” without bothering to identify the author, but also an extended quote from John Houseman to Penelope Houston out of the Sight and Sound of Autumn 1962: “… we had done some work together on ‘Heart of Darkness,’ which was to have been his first picture at RKO, and on something called ‘The Smiler with the Knife.’ After I’d gone back East, Orson continued trying to find a subject. We had a mutual and very brilliant friend, Herman Mankiewicz, a celebrated Hollywood figure, who had recently broken his leg under tragicomic circumstances that I haven’t time to go into. Having goaded each studio in turn into dismissing him, he had sunk to working on some of our radio shows. Orson arrived one night in New York, and over dinner told me that Mankiewicz had come up with an idea for a movie: a multi-faceted story about William Randolph Hearst in which [Welles] would play the title-part and direct. He asked me whether I would work with Mankiewicz as editor and collaborator on the script. I agreed and returned to Hollywood. After several conferences, at which Mankiewicz continued to develop his ideas, we moved him — nurse, plaster cast and all — up to a place in the mountains called Victorville, about a hundred miles from Los Angeles. There we installed ourselves on a guest ranch. Mankiewicz wrote, I mostly edited and the nurse was bored. Orson drove out once for dinner. At the end of three months we returned to Los Angeles with the 220-page script of ‘Kane,’ later called ‘Citizen Kane.’

“This is a delicate subject: I think Welles has always sincerely felt that he, single-handed, wrote ‘Kane’ and everything else that he has directed — except, possibly, the plays of Shakespeare. But the script of ‘Kane’ was especially Mankiewicz’s. The conception and the structure were his, all the dramatic Hearstian mythology and the journalistic and political wisdom which he had been carrying around with him for years which he now poured into the only serious job he ever did in a lifetime of film writing. But Orson turned ‘Kane’ into a film: the dynamics and the tensions are his and the brilliant cinematic effects — all those visual and aural inventions that add up to make ‘Citizen Kane’ one of the world’s great movies — those were pure Orson Welles.”

The Houseman-Houston interview reads like a digest of “Raising Kane,” and Joseph McBride was obviously aware of this interview when he analyzed “Kane” as “a tragedy in fugal form; thus … also the denial of tragedy.” Aside from cackling at still another film scholar for the benefit of the philistines, Miss Kael creates the impression that McBride and his ilk never had the foggiest notion that Herman J. Mankiewicz had written the screenplay. McBride’s greatest sin is apparently his willingness to consider “Citizen Kane” as a work of art rather than in Miss Kael’s terms as “kitsch redeemed,” a culturally defensive attitude for readers and editors who would be shocked to have any movie taken too seriously. Indeed, by the time Miss Kael is through taking “Kane” apart, it seems considerably more flawed than “The Owl and the Pussycat.” More important, “Kane” is viewed by Miss Kael almost exclusively as a product of the newspaper yarns that preceded it, and not at all as an influence on the inner space excursions of Fellini and Kubrick that followed it. McBride explicitly compares “Kane” to “8 1/2” and is not that comparison more apt than Miss Kael’s likening of “Kane” to “The Front Page,” for Pete’s sake. And what is the black slab in “2001,” but the burnt sled “Rosebud” of “Kane,” the black slab representing the memento of an old civilization, and “Rosebud” the memory of an old man.

1971 4-part Village Voice essay in which Andrew Sarris challenged Pauline Kael's assessment of "Citizen Kane"

Part 2, April 29, 1971

“‘Citizen Kane,’ The American Baroque” is the pretentious title of a solemn, pedantic, humorless re-evaluation of Kane on the occasion of its revival in 1956. The piece first appeared in the ninth issue of Film Culture (1956) and did not cause too much stir one way or another. The reviewer (or rather rereviewer) was a 28-year­-old New York free-lancer (more free than lance) with a severely limited education in film history. He had just started reviewing movies in the mid-’50s, first under the name of Andrew George Sarris and then merely Andrew Sarris, and by 1956 he had decided that the three greatest films of all times were “Odd Man Out,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Sullivan’s Travels.” Then from 1961 through 1969 he held that the three greatest films of all time were “Lola Montes,” “Ugetsu,” and “La Regle du jeu, ” and now in 1970 he has replaced “Lola Montes” at the top with “Madame de … ” He still likes “Citizen Kane,” “Odd Man Out,” and “Sullivan’s Travels,” but not as much these days as “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Third Man,” and “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” “Hail the Conquering Hero” and “The Palm Beach Story,” not to mention “Sunrise,” “Liebelei,” “La Ronde,” “Day of Wrath,” “Ordet,” “Flowers of St. Francis,” “French CanCan,” “The Golden Coach,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “The Diary of a Country Priest,” “Au Has­ard Balthazar,” “Brink of Life,” “Oharu,” “Seven Chances,” “Sherlock, Jr.,” “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” and “Shop Around the Corner.” Also, the Russians deserved a look-in at least for auld lang syne since there were more personal styles in heaven and earth than were dreamt of even in Orson Welles’s eclectic philosophy. No matter. “Citizen Kane” seemed infinitely less original and revolutionary in 1971 than it had in 1941 or even 1946, and not only because time had passed but also because the past had become more timely. If “Kane” once seemed like a tree in a clearing, it now seemed like a tree in a very large forest, and not even the topmost tree at that.

Nonetheless, despite the current reservations of its author, “Citizen Kane, The American Baroque” has been well received by acade­micians in recent years and repeatedly anthologized, most recently in a fascinating compendium entitled “Focus on Kane” (edited by Ron­ald Gottesman) with contributions by Gottesman, Juan Cobos, Miguel Rubio, J. A. Pruenda, William Johnson, John O’Hara, Bosley Crowther, Otis Ferguson, Cedric Belfrage, Tangye Lean, Orson Welles, Bernard Herrmann, Gregg Toland, Roy A. Fowler, Peter Cowie, Arthur Knight, Jorge Luis Borges, Andre Bazin, Francois Truffaut, Michael Stephanick, and Charles Higham. Some of these pieces constitute the kind of “incense-burning” against which Pau­line Kael’s wise-guy criticism seems to be directed in her wild-swinging mayhem-causing “Raising Kane,” but most of the pieces raise formal and philosophical questions far beyond the dimensions of gossip culled from old newspapers.

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Borges (in 1945) interprets Kane, perhaps predictably, as that “centreless labyrinth” mentioned in Chesterton’s “The Head of Caesar.” But Borges is curiously dubious about the place of Kane in film history: “I dare predict, however, that ‘Citizen Kane’ will endure in the same way certain films of Griffith or of Pudovkin ‘endure’: no one denies their historic value but no one sees them again. It suffers from grossness, pedantry, dullness. It is not intelligent, it is genial in the sombrest and most germanic sense of the word.”

Truffaut makes a curious reference to The New Yorker (no per­son’s name is given) description of Welles as “a genius without tal­ent.” One might just as aptly describe The New Yorker as talent without genius, and Miss Kael’s approach to “Kane” and Welles as more intelligent than insightful. She spends infinitely more time on preliminary (and subsequently discarded) drafts of the script than on the final form of the movie as it materialized on the screen. Her bias is thus as always inescapably literary rather than visual. And it follows that she would be impatient with the visual, aural and emotional coup represented by “Rosebud.” “The mystery in Kane is largely fake,” Miss Kael contends, “and the Gothic-thriller atmosphere and the Rosebud gimmickry (though fun) are such obvious penny-dreadful popular theatrics that they’re not so very different from the fake mysteries that Hearst’s American Weekly used to whip up — the haunted castles and the curses fulfilled.”

The operative words in the preceding passage are “though fun,” a familiarly quaint Kaelian reconciliation of what she can enjoy viscer­ally with what she can endorse cerebrally. As it happens, Miss Kael is not alone in being ashamed of “Rosebud.” Orson Welles has long since repudiated “Rosebud,” or at least since a 1963 interview with Miss Dilys Powell of the Sunday Times (London) excerpted by Peter Cowie in his “The Study of a Colossus”: “It’s a gimmick, really,” said Welles, “and rather dollar-book Freud.”

I disagree with both Miss Kael and Mr. Welles on “Rosebud,” with Miss Kael for the anti-genre prejudice her repudiation of “Rosebud” confirms and with Welles for — who knows — his canny instinct for self-preservation in repudiating “Rosebud” before it came out of Herman J. Mankiewicz’s ghostly past to haunt him.

When I interviewed Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1970 for Show magazine, I had no idea that he would reveal to me the origin of “Rosebud” as a bike that Herman J. Mankiewicz once lost as a child in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Nor did I have any idea that there then was and always had been a bitter feud between the Herman J. and Joseph L. sides of the Mankiewicz family. All I knew was that I had forged a crucial link with the scenarist of a strangely compelling movie called “Ladies’ Man” and “Citizen Kane.” But my feeling of discovery was based first of all on my abiding attachment to “Rosebud,” as not only the key to but also the beating heart of “Citizen Kane” as a movie. It is “Rosebud” that structures Kane as a private-eye investi­gation of a citizen in the public eye, and thus brings us much closer to “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep” and the burning R’s on the pillowcases of “Rebecca.”

The problem with defending “Rosebud” as a narrative device is that its very vividness makes it a running gag in our satirically ori­ented culture. How can we possibly take “Rosebud” seriously, Miss Kael complains, after Snoopy has called Lucy’s sled “Rosebud?” The same way, I suppose, we can take Potemkin seriously after Woody Allen has sent a baby carriage rolling down the steps of a Latin American palace in “Bananas.” Both Snoopy and Allen are paying homage to bits of film language transformed by the magical contexts of their medium into poetic metaphors. But whereas Eisenstein’s baby carriage moves from prop to agitprop as it becomes an arche­typal conveyance of revolutionary fervor, “Rosebud” reverberates ­with psychological overtones as it passes through the snows of child­hood (les neiges d’antan) into the fire, ashes and smoke of death. Indeed, the burning of “Rosebud” in Xanadu’s furnace represents the only instance in which the character of Kane can be seen subjec­tively by the audience. It is as if his mind and memory were being cremated before our eyes and we were too helpless to intervene and too incompetent to judge. It is an act of symbolic summation and transfiguration worthy of Truffaut’s passionately paradoxical tribute to the film itself: It is a demonstration of the force of power and an attack on the force of power, it is a hymn to youth and a meditation on old age, an essay on the vanity of all material ambition and at the same time a poem on old age and the solitude of exceptional beings, genius or monster or monstrous genius.”

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The redeeming value of “Rosebud” is its suggestion that men of a certain size and scope and stature are not fully accountable even to history. This implied absence of accountability tends to slow the flow of moralistic molasses dumped over Kane on the most dubious pretexts. Through the years I have seen Kane about thirty times, but until very recently I never bothered to wonder what Kane’s side of the story might have been if there had been somewhat more of his story on the screen. What, for example, is Jed Leland so outraged about in his rambling reminiscences of a rich friend with feet of clay? That Kane’s two marriages failed? Leland’s apparently sexless existence hardly makes him more “human” on that score than Kane. Besides, Kane’s two wives never remotely suggest the stuff of which Rosebuds are made. Ruth Warwick’s Emily is frigid, prissy, conser­vative and, from her quietly hysterical aversion to the idea of Bern­stein in her son’s nursery, at least incipiently anti-Semitic. Dorothy Comingore’s Susan is harsh, raucous, vulgar and almost maniacally mediocre. Ray Collins’s embattled Tammany tiger seems every inch the thief and scoundrel Kane claimed him to be, and Leland himself seems to have no greater ambition in life than to be a drunken dilet­tante full of moral superiority. If Miss Kael had analyzed the Kane-­Leland relationship more fully on its own terms, she might have traced a parallel between Kane and Leland on one track and Hearst and Mankiewicz on the other. There is probably a great deal of Mankiewicz in Leland, and especially in that moment of alcoholic self-righteousness when Leland attacks Kane for not knowing how to get drunk. In vino veritas and all that. Hearst might even stand for all the Hollywood moguls in Mankiewicz moralistic rhetoric. But the Leland-Kane relationship doesn’t play so one-sidedly in the deli­cately pitched intimacy provided by Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. Cotten is an actor who can swim under the surface of a characterization with less splash than Welles, and so when Cotten-­Leland talks about drinking with Welles-Kane, he could be talking also about acting. Welles can’t really lose himself in a part the way Cotten can, perhaps because Welles has so much more to lose. Even so, Welles and Cotten climb piggy-back on each other’s lines with such zestful expertness that there is less conflict than complicity in their big renunciation scene. Leland becomes Kane’s alter ego in the peculiarly Wellesian pattern which later couples Othello and Iago, Arkadin and Van Stratten, Falstaff and Hal, and Quinlan and Vargas, not to mention Welles and Cotten in repeat interperform­ances in “Journey into Fear” and Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.” Indeed when you add up everything Welles did after Kane and com­pare it with everything Mankiewicz did before and after “Kane,” the sour humor and intransigent ambiguity of “Citizen Kane” would seem to arise more from the personality of Welles than from that of Man­kiewicz. What Mankiewicz has provided is an apparently big subject with faint hints of scandal from one side and large helpings of social consciousness from the other. And “Rosebud,” a symbol that turned out to be more personal than social.

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Back in 1941, Bosley Crowther qualified his enthusiastic review of “Kane” with a complaint about “Rosebud” and the unsolved mystery of Kane: “And the final poignant identification of ‘Rosebud’ sheds little more than a vague, sentimental light upon his character. At the end Kubla Kane is still an enigma — a very confusing one.” Two days after his initial review, Crowther developed his reservations in a Sunday follow-up: “And when the significance of ‘Rosebud’ is made apparent in the final sequence of the film, it provides little more than a dramatic and poign­ant shock. It does not clarify, except by sentimental suggestion, the reason for Kane’s complexity. And so we are bound to conclude that this picture is not truly great, for its theme is basically vague and its significance depends upon circumstances. Unquestionably, Mr. Welles is the most dynamic newcomer in films and his talents are infinite. But the showman will have to acquire a good bit more discipline before he is thoroughly dependable.”

Crowther’s rejection of “Rosebud” as an explanation of Kane is consistent with his later pans of “Wild Strawberries” and “L’Avventura” for their apparent self-indulgence and obfuscation. Crowther’s most influential period in film criticism was the ’40s when his social approach to films coincided with the world-saving concerns of his readers. “Rosebud” is much closer to the arched fishing pole and line of the protagonist’s father in “Wild Strawberries” than to the out­stretched soldier’s hand crumpling up near a butterfly in “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Few American films up to “Citizen Kane” had been grown up enough to suggest that we never really grow up, and a boy torn away from his mother at an early age, like Kane, like Welles, least of all. The grandeur of “Rosebud” as a memory is that it is meaningless and trivial to anyone but Kane. Its honor is its confirmation that we are isolated from each other by so much more than our politics and morals, by nothing less, in fact, than our very selves. The only way critics and audiences of the period could stomach the profound pes­simism of “Citizen Kane” was to misconstrue it as a detailed denunciation of a certain kind of American plutocrat. In this respect, the scenario is curiously sluggish and undeveloped next to a political hal­lucination like the Capra-Riskin “Meet John Doe,” which opened shortly before “Citizen Kane” and had about a million times more polemical Americana. Miss Kael never mentions “Meet John Doe” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “The Grapes of Wrath” or “The Great Dictator.” Why Hearst should have been a more daring target in 1940 than Hitler I have no idea, and, even today, the California lettuce growers seem to have lost few of their fangs from “The Grapes of Wrath.” By any standard, the few minutes of political talk sprinkled in “Citizen Kane” would seem fairly superficial in a high-­school civics textbook. But the mystical process by which the Mer­cury Players parade across a haunted screen never seems to lose its power to fascinate us.

1971 4-part Village Voice essay in which Andrew Sarris challenged Pauline Kael's assessment of "Citizen Kane"

Part 3: May 27, 1971

Millions of viewers (including this reviewer) who watched the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science presentations of April 15, 1971, were given to understand that Orson Welles had accepted in advance an honorary award from John Huston via a piece of film from Spain where Welles was presumably working on some assign­ment or other. The scenario for this bit of remote-control contrivance had become familiar in recent years: Appreciative Artist Too Busy Abroad to Come to Hollywood but Honored Just the Same. Hus­ton concluded the charade by announcing that he would stop off in Spain (on his way to Ireland) to deliver the Oscar to Orson. But if Hollywood scuttlebutt is to be believed, not only was Welles in town all the time; he shot the “Spanish” footage in his own Los Angeles apartment the week before, and then capped the jest by receiving the statuette from Huston at a local restaurant immedi­ately after the Oscar ceremony. Thus while George C. Scott was attracting all the attention with his public defiance of convention, Welles and Huston, two merry pranksters of an earlier era, were slipping in their own private joke without ever letting their tongues out of their checks.

In their time Welles and Huston had been subjected to the same brand of Faustian rhetoric masquerading as criticism. Both direc­torial careers started out with a bang in 1941, Welles with “Kane,” Huston with “The Maltese Falcon.” Both found themselves a conti­nent away when an ambitious project was being butchered in the cutting room, Welles in South America during the martyrdom of “The Magnificent Ambersons” and Huston in Africa during the re­duction of “The Red Badge of Courage.” Both men had bummed around Europe in their youth, and never really lost their wanderlust sufficiently to settle down in Hollywood for the more tedious tasks of movie-making. Both men supplemented their directorial careers with acting, and both men ended up disillusioning their earliest ad­mirers. But there is really no need to shed crocodile tears over their alleged decline.

Cinema, like politics, is the art of the possible. There are too many conflicting temperaments and forces at work at every stage of production to achieve purity of creation. And not only in Holly­wood, as Pauline Kael seems to suggest in “Raising Kane.” It is only because she is so blissfully unaware of French and Japanese philisti­nism that she can treat Renoir and Kurosawa as miraculously unfet­tered creatures of inspiration in comparison with their Hollywood counterparts. Besides, most of her New Yorker readers salivate sym­pathetically to the mere mention of Renoir because the name re­minds them of the kind of paintings they would like to possess. After a disastrous screening of “The Rules of the Game” at the Har­vard Club in New York, I can assure Miss Kael that most of her readers would despise all but one or two of the master’s movies, painter father or no painter father. As for Kurosawa, his samurai epics are more or less imaginative imitations of the Hollywood westerns Miss Kael professes to despise on principle.

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And what of the many screenwriters associated with Renoir, Kuro­sawa, Antonioni, Fellini and on occasion, even Bergman? When shall we read their stories with any portion of the extended detail Miss Kael has devoted to the late Herman J. Mankiewicz? Indeed, if foreign directors had to satisfy the Screenwriters Guild requirement of writing at least 55 percent of the dialogue to qualify for a writing credit, very few of the art-house deities would qualify. It is therefore maliciously misleading of Miss Kael and her cohorts to argue that directors like Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks had nothing to do with the preparation of their scripts when the astonishing stylistic continuity of their careers demonstrates the contrary. Only recently John Gielgud (no auteurist he) casually remarked on a talk show that Hitchcock had “written in” big parts for Peter Lorre and Robert Young to rival Gielgud’s original lead role in “Secret Agent.” Hollis Alpert has taken up the cudgels for Miss Kael in the Saturday Re­view as part of his long crusade for greater recognition of the screen­writer. (Ironically, Alpert once won an award for criticism from the Directors Guild, and I never.)

As much as I respect Alpert’s point of view, I must point out that auteurism was never intended to enthrone all directors above all writers but rather to identify the source of a style in movies worthy of memory. Often there is more than one source and it is up to the critic to track down every contribution whenever possible. What I find peculiar, however, is the malignant anti-auteurism in the writ­ings of Kael and Alpert as if auteurism were an established religion that had carried the day. As it happens, Sarris, Kael, Alpert, Kauff­mann and even noted “mass critics” King Weed and Gene Shallow are jammed in a phone booth far from the madding crowd. (I don’t even consider such voluntary exiles from the public pulse as John Simon, the greatest film critic of the 19th century, and Gene Youngblood, the greatest film critic of the 21st.) The point is that we are all splitting hairs over questions only vaguely understood and appreciated by the majority of our readers. Still, I must make every effort to keep the record as balanced as possible, and it is in this spirit of scholarly rectification that I am raising some “Kane” of my own.

As Miss Kael makes clear in her own article, it is not entirely the fault of Orson Welles that Herman J. Mankiewicz has tended to be the forgotten man of “Citizen Kane.” Indeed, nothing Miss Kael writes about Mankiewicz is inconsistent with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s cruel but candid write-off in a letter to Maxwell Perkins dated April 23, 1938 (from “The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” edited and with an introduction by Andrew Turnbull): “Hard times weed out many of the incompetents, but they swarm back — Herman Mankiewicz, a ruined man who hasn’t written ten feet of continuity in two years was finally dropped by Metro, but immediately picked up by Columbia! He is a nice fellow that everybody likes and has been bril­liant, but he is being hired because everyone is sorry for his wife­ — which I think would make him rather an obstacle in the way of making good pictures. Utter toughness toward the helpless, com­bined with super-sentimentality — Jesus, what a combination!”

Miss Kael digs into the dry rot that had set in almost thirteen years before Fitzgerald’s letter: “It was a lucky thing for Mankiewicz that he got the movie job when he did, because he would never have risen at the Times, and though he wrote regularly for The New Yorker (and remarked of those of the Algonquin group who didn’t, ‘The part-time help of wits is no better than the full-time of half­wits’), The New Yorker, despite his pleas for cash, was paying him partly in stock, which wasn’t worth much at the time. Mankiewicz drank heavily, and the drinking newspaperman was in the style of the World, but not in the style of the Times.”

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Miss Kael does manage to score a coup for Mankiewicz’s author­ship of “Kane” with an elaborate description of his misadventure in October 1925 with a review of Gladys Wallis (the wife of Samuel Insull) in “The School for Scandal.” Mankiewicz reportedly collapsed on his typewriter in a drunken stupor a la Jed Leland with his un­speakable (and unprintable) notice still in the carriage. By contrast, Miss Kael hastily downgrades the significance of the fact that the name Bernstein meant something in the early life of Welles. We must turn to Peter Cowie’s “The Study of a Colossus” for the informa­tion “that Welles’ own mentor in youth was a certain Doctor Bern­stein who presented him, among other things, with a puppet theatre when he was in his infancy.” Could this puppet theater have been the atrocity about which the first Mrs. Kane complains at the break­fast table? Fortunately Miss Kael’s is not likely to be the last word on such speculations.

Not that Miss Kael can be charged with excessive charity toward Mankiewicz’s weaknesses and afflictions. Especially memorable in a horrible way is her zestful retelling of an Ezra Goodman anecdote from “The 50 Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood” about an alleged gaffe perpetrated by Mankiewicz all over the dinner table of a fastid­ious Hollywood producer named Arthur Hornblow, Jr. According to members of the Mankiewicz family, the Goodman anecdote was heavily embroidered, and it does seem strange that a supposed champion of Mankiewicz should repeat such an unflattering account verbatim.

Even Mankiewicz’s looks at the time of Kane undergo a harsh surveillance by Miss Kael: “It would be hard to explain his sudden, early aging and the thickening of his features and the transparently cynical-look on his face in later photographs.” Miss Kael’s moraliz­ing extends to Mankiewicz’s modus operandi: “Mankiewicz had been hacking out popular comedies and melodramas for too long to write drama; one does not dictate tragedy to a stenotypist.” No, one presumably writes tragedy in a garret with a goosequill. Suddenly we perceive that “Raising Kane,” like Miss Kael’s previous production story on “The Group,” is a saga with no heroes or heroines apart from Miss Kael herself. Orson and Herman, the two protagonists and antagonists of “Raising Kane,” are reduced to the dimensions re­spectively of an exhibitionistic egomaniac and a self-destructive hack. Meanwhile, Miss Kael’s gyroscopic ego preserves her moral superiority over all semblances of otherness. She heaps her scorn promiscuously over radicals and reactionaries, swimming-pool Stalinists and movie-industry moguls, young right-on students and old silent-movie buffs, Bazinians and Kracauerites. And in the process of putting everyone else down, she replaces the scholarly oversimplifica­tions of the past with her own idiosyncratic oversimplifications. Hence, every movie made before 1929 is eradicated from the stream of film history through this curious tribute to the hitherto despised early talkies: “And the public responded, because it was eager for modern American subjects. Even those who were children at the time loved the fast-moving modern-city stories. The common-place­ness — even tawdriness — of the imagery was such a relief from all that silent ‘poetry.’ The talkies were a great step down. It’s hard to make clear to people who didn’t live through the transition how sickly and unpleasant many of those ‘artistic’ silent pictures were­ — how you wanted to scrape off all that mist and sentiment.”

By her own calculation, Miss Kael was about eight years old when talking pictures came in, and it is not surprising that an eight-year-old should prefer speech to titles. Even today children tend to reject foreign films with subtitles. Television, if nothing else, has conditioned young people to listen to language rather than read it. But a generation of immigrants, among whom were my father and mother, actually learned English by reading the intertitles of silent movies. The point of view of this generation would differ from Miss Kael’s, which is why a film historian cannot rely merely on childhood mem­ories. I was born in 1928 just about when sound was coming in, and I can’t depend on childhood memories at all for an appraisal of the silent era, but what little burrowing I have done has revealed a much greater diversity of style and content than Miss Kael’s sweeping gen­eralization would suggest. Twenties movies featured even more fun and knockabout humor than the ’30s, and not merely through their classic clowns — Chaplin,  Keaton, Lloyd, Langdon, Laurel and Hardy, et al., but also through all sorts of relatively straight comedy players, including Marion Davies, the hapless obsession of William Randolph Hearst and the subject of Dorothy Comingore’s shrill car­icature as Susan Alexander.

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Miss Kael is on even weaker ground when she credits all The New Yorker writers her stable of researchers could check out with effect­ing nothing less than a revolution in Hollywood tastes: “They changed movies by raking the old moralistic muck with derision. Those sickly Graustarkian romances with beautiful pure high-born girls and pathetic lame girls and dashing princes in love with commoners, and all the Dumas and Sabatini and Blasco-lbanez, now had to compete with the freedom and wildness of American comedy.” Aside from taking a poke at Stroheim and Ingram, this passage is notable only for the fatuous falseness of its generalization. “Docks of New York,” “Sunrise,” “The Crowd,” “The River,” “Lonesome,” “A Girl in Every Port,” “Beggars of Life,” “That Certain Thing,” “Show People,” “The Jack Knife Man,” to name but a small sampling of the silents, were far closer to a kind of grubby grandeur than to Grau­stark.

A false record of film history is relevant here only to the extent that it contributes to a spectacular misinterpretation of “Citizen Kane” itself. After thousands of words of interesting gossip, “Raising Kane” brings us up short with the terse bulletin: “Which takes us right up to ‘Citizen Kane,’ the biggest newspaper picture of them all — the picture that ends with the introduction of the cast and a reprise of the line ‘I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.’ ” Here at least Miss Kael can be credited with a certain degree of originality, however bizarre, in treating “Citizen Kane” as the last of the Stop-the-Presses movies instead of the first of the Stop-the-World-I-Want-To-Get-Off films. What most other critics take to be a coffin, the irrepressible Miss Kael takes to be a barrel of laughs. A man dies, his best friend spits on his memory, his second wife be­comes an alcoholic, a sled is burned, and everyone gets old in the process. Next Week, East Lynne.

But to support her oddly jocular reaction to “Kane,” Miss Kael is compelled to discount what Herman J. Mankiewicz actually did as a screenwriter for close to 30 years and try to place him as a person in the midst of the Algonquin Circle. Names are dropped with gay abandon, a Dorothy Parker here, a Nathanael West there. No need then to mention such relatively heroic Hollywood work-horses as Robert Riskin and Dudley Nichols. They never dined with Harold Ross, and hence they don’t count even though they wrote a hundred times as many funny lines as Parker and West put together. Besides, once you start mentioning genuine professionals like Riskin and Nichols, you have to start mentioning directors like Capra and Ford and McCarey, and they too had nothing to do with the Algonquin Circle. As for Herman J. Mankiewicz — that is, the real Herman J. Mankiewicz — his forte was never comedy at all but what Miss Kael would describe derisively as romantic melodrama. His most memo­rable movies before Kane are two interesting William Powell vehi­cles entitled “Man of the World” and “Ladies’ Man,” and after “Kane,” two oddly convoluted movies for, respectively, Robert Siodmak (“Christmas Holiday”) and Nicholas Ray (“A Woman’s Secret”), the latter movie strikingly anticipatory of brother Joe’s “All About Eve.”

A man’s life, as Kane suggests, is more than a jigsaw puzzle. Even when we have fitted all the pieces together, we may have difficulty understanding the completed portrait. It may be that Herman J. Mankiewicz’s troubles started long before he came to Hollywood, but once there he encountered a crisis in film history which should at least be considered as part of his malaise. Back in 1931, the plot of “Man of the World” did not cause too much excitement. According to the Harrison’s Reports of March 28, 1931, “The hero was a publisher of a scandal sheet. His system was to appear at the home of a wealthy person with an advance proof of some item that was to be printed about him. He would claim to be desirous of hav­ing this blackmailer prosecuted, but the person involved would never consent to do this as it would be embarrassing. Instead he would pay him hush money, which he thought would be turned over to the black­mailer, but which the hero would keep. At the home of one of his vic­tims he meets the heroine. They actually fall in love with each other. He tells her about his past, but she is willing to marry him. The hero later realizes the impossibility of this when his former sweetheart who was his blackmailing assistant tells him that he can never escape from the past. He prints an item about the heroine and himself and presents it to her uncle. In her presence he accepts a check for $10,000 as hush money, and she is completely disillusioned. The police force him to leave Paris and he goes to South Africa with his former sweetheart. The heroine leaves for America, glad to be rid of him.

“The story was written by Herman Mankiewicz. It was directed by Richard Wallace. In the cast are William Powell, Carole Lombard, Wynne Gibson, Guy Kibbee and others. The talk is very indistinct and at times even difficult to understand. Not suitable for children, or even for adults. Not a Sunday show. Not a substitution. Note: Two con­ceiled advertisements are used in this picture; mention is made of both Duns and Bradstreets.”

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The exhaustively censorious coverage of Harrison’s Reports neglects one slight plot detail. The hero tears up the check from his beloved’s uncle and lets the pieces flutter out to sea. This check­-tearing gesture is repeated more obliquely in “Kane” by Jed Leland via a letter to Kane with the torn pieces of a check inside.

“Ladies’ Man,” the next month, reflected more sordidness and self­ hatred than even “Man of the World.” Powell plays a self-mocking gigolo, almost redeemed from his shameful profession by the true love of Kay Francis, but finally destroyed by the unbridled passions of a mother (Olive Tell) and daughter (Carole Lombard) team in wicked high society. Powell’s actual Nemesis is an implacable banker­-father-husband (Gilbert Emery) who intervenes for the sake of his daughter after tolerating the indiscretions of his wife. It is the night of the masquerade ball. Powell is dressed in the grotesque costume of Potemkin to his elderly mistress’s Catherine. The dignified hus­band comes to Powell’s room and ends up hurling him from the balcony. He then goes downstairs and takes his place alongside his wife for the Grand March. She knows intuitively what has happened and walks beside him fearfully but proudly. The police are waiting. But the march continues round and round. William Everson has compared this extraordinary figure of style to the climactic moments of Jacques Prevert in “Lumiere d’Ete” (directed by Jean Gremillon) and “The Lovers of Verona” (directed by Henri Cayatte). They are, like the climactic moments in “Ladies’ Man,” more the moments of a writer than of a director. If Sternberg had directed “Ladies Man,” it might have been one of the great movies of the ’30s. Unfortu­nately, the director was Lothar Mendes, and the movie was con­signed to oblivion except for the assiduous research of old-movie buffs. Still, I could see at last on the screen some prior evidence of the feeling that went into Kane and suddenly Kane itself took on a new coloration in the frightful tension between an old writer loaded down with fables of shame and guilt and a young director loaded down with fantasies of power and glory. For Mankiewicz, “Kane” may have been the last stop on this earth, and for Welles the first step on the moon.

1971 4-part Village Voice essay in which Andrew Sarris challenged Pauline Kael's assessment of "Citizen Kane"

Part 4: June 3, 1971

The one expression critics invariably used to describe Herman Mankiewicz’s dialogue was “grown-up,” not witty or New Yorkerish or hilarious, but simply grown-up. And the dialogue in “Citizen Kane” is nothing if not grown-up. The trouble is that after 1933, serious grown-up screenwriters were increasingly plagued by a childish censorship, and only grown-up critics like Otis Ferguson and Meyer Levin even noticed the havoc that was being wrought. I suspect that Mankiewicz became more despondent and frustrated in this period, partly because his bitterness and cynicism could no longer find per­missible plots in which to function and partly because Paramount itself was on the downgrade with its arty, adult projects. In all the space she has devoted in “Raising Kane” to an analysis of the script, Pauline Kael never mentions the brothel scene with Kane and Le­land, a scene that the censors knocked out of Mankiewicz’s original script, one of many elisions that tended to tip the viewpoint of the film from the more sensual Mankiewicz to the more theatrical Welles. Curiously, the rigid censorship that was in force in 1941 worked to the advantage of Welles vis-a-vis other directors with fewer hang ups about women.

Why, then, has Welles virtually obliterated Mankiewicz from view over the years? For one thing, Welles has continued living and, by living, incarnating “Kane.” Pauline Kael, Hollis Alpert and even the usually perspicacious Richard Corliss are in error when they blame the auteurists and other director-cultists for glorifying the director. Welles happened to be everything on “Kane,” producer, director, star and unit publicist. It is as if Marlon Brando, Stanley Kubrick and Darryl F. Zanuck were the same person. And yet it is Welles, more than any director up to his time, who made directing fashionably conspicuous. As Frank S. Nugent noted in the New York Sunday Times of June 12, 1938: “Speaking of Frank Borzage and George Stevens, as we expect to, brings up the matter of the unsung motion picture director. We remember a poll conducted by one of the theatre circuits not so long ago in which the patrons were invited to name their favorite stars, pictures, stories and directors. John Public and his wife sprinted through the first three categories and bluffed or quit cold on the fourth. Adolph Zukor, of all people, was voted the favorite director by some; Sam Goldwyn was an­other contender. As we recall it, Ernst Lubitsch won in a walk. His name seemed to be easy to remember. Actually, it was no contest.

“Since this is a day of quizzes, spelling bees and all kinds of brain-teasers, we wonder how many persons could identify the following in terms of their recent, or their most outstanding pictures: Gregory La Cava, Leo McCarey, Wesley Ruggles, Clarence Brown, Fritz Lang, Al­fred Hitchcock, Robert Stevenson, Michael Curtiz, Norman Taurog and Victor Fleming. Or would you score better if the professor asked you to name the director of “The Informer,” of “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” of “Wells Fargo,” or “A Slight Case of Murder” and “The Good Earth”? (Don’t be upset if you wind up with a dunce cap: you could catch us just as easily.)

“The point, if any, is not merely that we are apt to forget the director after the fact — which would be at most a pardonable lapse of memory but that we frequently ignore him during it. In clearer words, most of us take a film’s direction for granted, whether it is good or bad, and toss the laurel wreath or the poison ivy sprig at the players. Quite possibly the oversight works as often as it does to his disadvantage. Still, we feel it’s high time to make the director come out from behind those false whiskers and take his place in the hot glare of the cinema spotlight.”

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Actually the auteurist are still fighting an uphill battle to make movie audiences conscious of style, despite all the apparent published evidence to the contrary. The player is still the thing, be he John Wayne or Dustin Hoffman or, to the immediate point, Orson Welles. Admittedly, Welles often shows a tendency to swallow up subordinate credits and thinner egos. For years he has been hinting broadly that he had everything to do with the carousel scene in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” and he has never gotten over the bad habit of directing other directors for whom he is ostensibly only act­ing, and sometimes barely that. This is the monstrous side of his personality, but since Kane he has displayed a great many more in­teresting and compassionate sides to this same personality, especially in movies like “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Lady from Shanghai,” “Touch of Evil,” and “Falstaff.” Still, the plot line of “Mr. Arkadin” could be interpreted as a parable of an artist setting out to eliminate all his collaborators.

However, nothing is to be gained in the attempted resurrection of Herman J. Mankiewicz by painting him as something he is not, spe­cifically the comic muse of the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup” and “A Night at the Opera,” movies from which Mankiewicz was fired very early in the proceedings. By crediting Mankiewicz with these movies on the flimsiest evidence, Miss Kael defrauds writers Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, director Leo McCarey (“Duck Soup”), writers George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind and director Sam Wood (“A Night at the Opera”) in much the same way that she claims Welles and the Wellesians have defrauded Herman J. Mankiewicz. Besides, the two funniest episodes in “Duck Soup” — the lemonade war between Harpo and Edgar Kennedy, the mirror sequence — are de­rived from old Charlie Chase and Laurel and Hardy farces, and Mc­Carey directed both Chase and Laurel and Hardy in the silent era. So much for the Algonquin Circle as the sole dispenser of ’30s movie comedy. Miss Kael probably felt that a relationship, however tenuous, with the Marx Brothers would strengthen her argument that Mankiewicz was a man of mirth. She seems unaware that “Duck Soup” was a flop at the time of its release; and the Marx Brothers were let go at Paramount, as was W. C. Fields a few years later. A great many of today’s comedy classics like “Bringing Up Baby” and “Holiday” were box-office failures in the ’30s. Paramount and RKO were two of the better studios of the ’30s and they paid the price by not harvesting the corn as assiduously as Metro did. When I look over the list of great films, here and abroad, that have failed to attract audiences in their own time, I find it difficult to endorse Miss Kael’s neat conspiracy theory to explain why “Kane” did not do better than it did. It was no fault of Hearst’s that “Kane” was a complete commercial flop in England, where Hearst had as little influence as Lord Beaverbrook had here. Also, the New York run began tapering off well before its tenth week, as if the word-of-mouth were getting around that Kane was a cold, gloomy movie at a time when cold, gloomy movies were not nearly as fashionable as they are today, and, even so, have you peeked at the grosses for “Persona” lately?

Nor do I agree that the Academy Awards might have turned the tide commercially. Miss Kael neglects to mention what actually did win the Oscar that year: “How Green Was My Valley,” a movie that, though it would not have gotten my vote over “Kane” at the time, is nonetheless the best movie, apart from “Sunrise,” ever to win an Oscar. (I think it is much more disgraceful that “Mrs. Miniver” won the 1942 Academy Award over “The Magnificent Ambersons.”) And even Welles could not quarrel with the choice of John Ford as best director in 1941 by both the New York Film Critics and the Acad­emy. After all, Welles did study for “Kane” under Ford, Frank Capra, King Vidor and Fritz Lang, and if Miss Kael would take another look at “Stagecoach” and “The Informer,” she would find more expres­sionism than she suspects.

Despite her blatant bias against Welles, Miss Kael is to be com­mended for providing as much information as she has on the life and background of Herman J. Mankiewicz. Since his death in 1953 he has indeed been a forgotten man, eclipsed not only by Welles but by his younger brother, Joe. Richard Griffith credits the script “Kane” to Joseph Mankiewicz in the once authoritative film history co­authored with Paul Rotha and entitled The Film Till Now. To this day the Film Daily Year Book records the name of the Oscar winner for best original screenplay in 1941 (along with Orson Welles) as “John Mankiewicz.” The late great French film critic Jean-Georges Auriol assumed that the Mankiewicz who had coauthored “Kane” (Herman) had also directed “Dragonwyck” (Joseph). Part of the problem is the anomalous position of the screenwriter in terms of autonomous creation, a position accurately described for all coun­tries and all times by Alberto Moravia in “Ghost at Noon”: “I want to say a few words about the job of a script-writer, if only to give a better understanding of my feelings at that time. As everyone knows, the script-writer is the one who — generally in collaboration with another script-writer and with the director — writes the script or scenario, that is, the canvas from which the film will later be taken. In this script, and according to the development of the action, the gestures and words of the actors and the various movements of the camera are minutely indicated, one by one. The script is, therefore, drama, mime, cinemato­graphic technique, mise-en-scene, and direction, all at the same time. Now, although the script-writer’s part in the film is of the first impor­tance and comes immediately below that of the director, it remains always, for reasons inherent in the fashion in which the art of the cinema has hitherto developed, hopelessly subordinate and obscure. If, in fact, the arts are to be judged from the point of view of direct expression­ — and one does not really see how else they can be judged — the script­writer is an artist who, although he gives his best to the film, never has the comfort of knowing that he has expressed himself. And so, with all his creative work, he can he be nothing more than a provider of suggestions and inventions, of tit is then the director’s task to nuke me of technical, psychological and literary ideas; it is then the director’s task to make the material according to his own genius and, in fact, to express himself.”

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The proof that Moravia’s maxims still pertain even after Miss Kael has reconsidered the roles of Welles and Mankiewicz lies in the fact that no one has proposed publishing the original first draft of the “Kane” script. What will appear in print (with “Raising Kane” as an added dividend prologue) is the final shooting script of the film now in the can. The published script of “Kane” will therefore not be an independent literary entity like a published play, but rather a printed reference to a can of film stored somewhere. If “Citizen Kane” had appeared as a Mercury Theatre production on stage before reaching the screen, there would be nothing to stop an enterprising producer from redoing it as a play or even making it as a film with, say, Mike Nichols directing Dustin Hoffman as Kane, Jon Voigt as Leland, Alan Arkin as Bernstein, Ali McGraw as the first Mrs. Kane and Barbra Streisand as Susan Alexander. That is why Don Man­kiewicz’s plaintive letter to the Voice associating his late father with Shakespeare, and Orson Welles with Franco Zeffirelli doesn’t really apply to the admittedly arbitrary situation of cinema. There is no ontological reason why screenplays cannot enjoy an independent lit­erary existence and be remade at will every season. It is just the way things are that Herman J. Mankiewicz must play second fiddle to Orson Welles all through eternity.

But if Welles has never been singularly generous to Herman J. Mankiewicz, he was always more than generous to Gregg Toland, and I would support the majority view on “Kane” (against Kael) that the movie looks more extraordinary than it sounds. Indeed, it is bewildering how Miss Kael can evade the responsibility of systematic visual analysis in the case of a cinematographic landmark like “Citizen­ Kane.” She refers to Otis Ferguson’s critique of “Kane” as the best review of the film without coming to grips with his denunciation of the film’s talky, showy theatricality. She never shows the slightest comprehension of the aesthetic issues raised by the film, issues that are unresolved to this day. Nor does she acknowledge the possibility that critics of good mind and good will may thoroughly dislike “Kane.” Instead, she employs “Kane” as a club to batter many of her pet targets all the more vulnerable for being so vague. One would never read Pauline Kael to find out why the camera moves mystically toward and into the mirror after Kane and his myriad reflections have filed past. This would take Miss Kael into those dangerously stylistic speculations that are the great glory of film. But if we are to believe Miss Kael’s protestations on the subject, she deplores any trace of mysticism or even mystery in the medium. The lights must be on at all times and the mind clear, and the intellect engaged.

Still, one must wonder why Miss Kael’s commercially  successful collections of movie reviews have all exploited a conspicuously carnal relationship with her subject at least in their titles — “I Lost It at the Movies,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and “Going Steady.” Methinks the lady doth protest too much. The great appeal of movies is emotional rather than intellectual. To believe otherwise is to lie to yourself and to your readers. Worse still, you spend your whole life scolding your most charming seducers because they do not go out to seek honest work. I think it is a mistake for critics to scold artists, or even to bemoan their bad luck. Whereas Miss Kael tends to be Faustian in these matters, I tend to be Adlerian. It is better to accept and appre­ciate the supposed “disappointments” of our time — Welles, Mailer, Salinger — for what they’ve done rather than for what they might have have done if we had been able to crack the whip over them. They have all done as much as they were humanly capable of doing, and so did Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Dos Passos before them, and thank God for “The Great Gatsby,” “The Sun Also Rises” and “U.S.A.” and never mind the rude avoidance of encores.

I think Welles, Mankiewicz, Toland, Herrmann, Polglaise et al, did very well, all things considered. It wasn’t their fault that Welles longed to be RKO’s Max Reinhardt when all RKO could afford was Val Lewton. But if we shall always remember Welles from “Citizen Kane,” it is not so much because he created it as because it created him and because also, in some ineffable way, he has never been un­worthy of it. Indeed, “Citizen Kane” has been enriched in retrospect by Welles’s extraordinary tenacity in maintaining his personal vision in an often impersonal medium. To argue, as Miss Kael does, that the absolute freedom of the screen artist is the key to film art is to fly in the face of experience. Mike Nichols was as free on “Catch-22” as Welles ever was on “Kane,” and Miss Kael does not seem to have been enchanted. Bruce Baillie has always been free in his fashion, and he never ceases to bore me. Chaplin was economically free throughout his career, and he ended up driving away most of his audience. (And who remembers that Welles supplied Chaplin with the story for “Monsieur Verdoux?”)

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By denying the emotional, even romantic resonance of the movie­going experience, Miss Kael often reduces her admirable lucidity to the most addled literalism, as, for example, when she drags “Kane” down to the level of a newspaper yarn: “Among the minor absurdities of the script is that the ‘News on the March’ men never think of sending a cameraman along with the in­quiring reporter, though Gable had just played a newsreel cameraman in “Too Hot to Handle,” in 1938, and though in “The Philadelphia Story,” which had just opened on Broadway in 1939, and which Mankiewicz’s brother Joe produced for the screen in 1940, while ‘Kane’ was being shot, the magazine team, also obviously from Luce, includes a photographer. There’s something rather pathetic — almost as if ‘Kane’ were a Grade B movie that didn’t have a big enough budget for a few extra players — ­about that one lonely sleuthing reporter traveling around the country while a big organization delays the release of an important newsreel documentary on the head of a rival news chain.”

Miss Kael’s complaint is unique in the annals of “Kane” criticism. Most everyone else has always been comfortable with the notion that the shadowy reporter is at least partly a metaphorical means of prying the truth loose from the past. Besides, he’s not doing a pic­ture spread for Life but, rather, looking for the meaning of one word, a meaning moreover that can be voiced-over the otherwise completed newsreel. Finally, who needs Ruth Hussey trotting around with a camera when Gregg Toland is already staring at each set with his cruel lenses?

Elsewhere, Miss Kael suggests that Welles was tricked by both his script and his camera crew during the shooting. She can’t have it both ways, treating Welles like Machiavelli in one paragraph and like Mortimer Snerd in another. With all the power Welles pos­sessed on either side of the camera and in the cutting room, it is hard to see how he could be “tricked” without his knowledge, com­plicity and even industrious cooperation. Movie-making is more te­dious and complicated than the ordinary run of ego-game-playing can stand, and the memories of the underlings often sacrifice dull facts for demonic fantasies. As it stands, the best criticism of “Kane” (as of most films) has been written by people with little access to all the gossip. At the moment, I prefer to think of “Citizen Kane” as one of the many good movies turned out in Hollywood in the past half century. Even in 1941 there were other good movies to pass the time, and though there was something special about “Kane,” it was comprehensible in terms of a moviegoer’s total experience. The mo­ment someone tells me that “Citizen Kane” is the only good American film I immediately realize that that someone does not fully under­stand even “Kane.” ❖

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Shirley Chisholm: ‘They will remember a 100-pound woman’

The tiny glittering black woman stood utterly at attention. She wore a suit of stiff brocade that fitted her shoulders so snugly it gave her a faintly military air. There was, in fact, something about her that suggested the Salvation Army. Perhaps it was only her stiff shoulders, or perhaps also her frequent references to the Lord. Then, too, she had a way of drawing herself up even straighter and stiffer in her moments of intensity, looking then totally charged with inspiration, a small quivering ramrod of righteousness.

“I’m here to tell you tonight, yes, I dare to say I’m going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America!” she uttered at the climactic center of her speech. When she said the word “dare,” she fairly squinted with indignation, and, propelled along now by her own anger, she told her audience she was out to prove to the public “that other kinds of people can steer the ship of state besides the white men …”

“Regardless of the outcome,” she continued, more slowly now for emphasis, “they will have to remember that a little 100-pound woman, Shirley Chisholm, shook things up!”

The small and hyper-tense black Congresswoman from Brooklyn was speaking to some 1300 of her supporters in a ballroom of the Americana Hotel three weeks ago. The occasion was the first fund-raising dinner for her Presidential campaign, and she had drawn to it just about everyone of importance in Brooklyn and Manhattan politics, including John Lindsay. A night of glory for her, the dinner raised some $60,000 and demonstrated her considerable drawing power in this city.

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But before another week was out, her still unofficial candidacy would appear to be shaking up Shirley Chisholm every bit as much as it was shaking up the male politicians she so longed to unnerve. For she went at the end of the week to a conference of black elected officials at Washington’s Sheraton-Park Hotel, where she was made to feel only barely welcome. The few female politicians in attendance did react warmly to her, but the black male congressmen, who appeared to be calling all the shots, were almost openly contemptuous of her.

Thursday evening (November 18) a cocktail party for the visiting black politicians was held in a large room in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. It was a gathering of black celebrities, who, like their white counterparts at such affairs, basked in the smiles of pretty girls, looked around to see who else of importance was present, and generally gave off that ineffable air of people who have made it and know it. Success seems to break down all philosophical barriers at Washington cocktail parties, and on this evening, at least, success had gathered in the same room black men as disparately oriented as the Nixon and Kennedy officials who showed up at the first Kennedy Center party.

So Robert Lee Grant, the tall, handsome black Republican who was fired last summer from his HUD job for shooting his mouth off against Agnew, stood easily in the same room with General Chaffee James, the black Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense whose job it is to tell the Pentagon’s version of the news to the press. General James was the kind of man who could sound respectably militant on the color question (“I think there are two blacks we can do without, that first one and that only one”) and the next moment sound like General Turgeson on the subject of his son’s 400-plus bombing missions in Vietnam. If you circulated around the room and listened to the talk, you could become quickly disillusioned about the salvific powers of black skin in America­ — that is, if you were white and liberal and secretly convinced that the blacks just had to be better. They had suffered too much at our hands. But there wasn’t much of the halo effect of suffering floating around that room in the Rayburn building. And there was to be a notable absence of halos among conference members during the next two days, an atmospheric condition which you had to be able to sense in order to understand what was really going on between Shirley Chisholm and what has come to be known as the black political caucus.

Omens of Mrs. Chisholm’s problems were evident at the cocktail party. When cornered and asked about her, Congressman Lewis Stokes (the brother of Carl Stokes) shrugged his shoulders, laughed, and uttered mock groans. Congressman William Clay of Missouri said, “Who’s Shirley Chisholm? You don’t represent The Village Voice, you can’t represent The Village Voice!” And he, too, laughed. Mrs. Chisholm was to be dealt with by the cruelest of all insults — she was to be ignored.

She herself soon around at the party looking as if she was having a good time. She was wearing a more functional woolen suit this time, again with the square-shoulders of a Salvation Army uniform. Women approached her in an almost endless stream, some of them just shyly shaking her hand and walking away, the bolder of them saying things like “We have admired you from afar all the time.” A vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women told me Mrs. Chisholm was extremely popular with black women. And for the next two days she did have an extraordinary way of dividing every gathering of blacks quite neatly along strict sexual lines.

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Indeed if there had been a larger proportion of women among the 300-odd blacks who attended the conference that weekend. Mrs Chisholm might have gotten the the endorsement of the black political caucus. As matters stood, however, she was treated to chilly courtesies, being asked to sit on the dais at one luncheon to introduce a speaker, and being given the moderator’s seat on a panel discussion of childhood and early development.

The latter assignment royally peeved her, and she stood up in the first Friday morning session of the conference to let the assembled men know she couldn’t understand why she had been left off the important political panels when she was the only serious Presidential candidate among them.

“For over 21 years this has been a part of my life,” she said, quivering with rage. “They’re always plotting and planning for me, but Almighty God has burned me up… Shirley Chisholm is the highest elected black woman official and, for those of you who don’t know it, the Democratic National Committeewoman from the State of New York. You’d better wake up!”

Her outburst made the evening news and a New York Times headline the next day. It did little to change her status with the black male congressmen.

The conference itself produced little news, and though there were closed discussion sessions, nothing conclusive was decided beyond the vote to hold a black political convention sometime early next year. There were sessions on techniques for designing districts to preserve black Congressional seats, sessions which made the whole black caucus seem like a tardy and futile effort, for it was generally agreed that redistric­ting plans should be ready and presented to the courts by the end of the month, wherever legislatures were gerryman­dering blacks out of their seats. (But one reporter thought even court efforts would yield small gains for blacks, the courts themselves being frequently political provinces.)

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Thus the interesting drama of the conference was the unspoken game of tug-of-war between Shirley Chisholm and the center of the male congressmen’s group, which appeared to be somewhere close to wherever close to wherever the Stokes brothers hung out. Ever since the black Congressional caucus had been meeting with other black politicos and civil rights leaders (a series of meetings, regional and national, which began several weeks ago), reporters had been hearing rumors that the male congressmen had wanted to run Carl Stokes as the black Presidential candidate. But Julian Bond, who had attended some of the meetings, had told people he was for running locally popular blacks in each of their various states. And by Friday night of the Washington conference, Lewis Stokes was to say the same thing.

In any case, Shirley Chisholm had definitely out-maneuvered her male colleagues, spoiling any chances for multiple black candidacies, locally based, and embarrassing them by making the rift between her camp and theirs very public. The whole point of their effort was to bring a solid bloc of united black delegates to the Democratic Convention, to bargain on plat-form issues of importance to their constituents. Perhaps as a result of their efforts, the National Democratic Committee chair­man, Larry O’Brien, had met with Congressman Charles Diggs (the leader of the black Congressional Caucus) and promised him blacks would get 20 per cent of the action in 1972 — whatever that meant. (The 20 per cent was a figure derived from the percentage of blacks who voted for Humphrey in ’68)  O’Brien later made some grand gestures to a group of female leaders (Mrs. Chisholm included), which may mean that by the time he is through dealing with factions, he’ll have promised away a good 200 per cent of “the action” before the convention. (A ‘youth caucus’ is expected to go begging to O’Brien in a few weeks.)

Throughout the conference, Mrs. Chisholm told people she had decided to run in response to the urgings of various individuals and groups. One source, an aide to a powerful New York Democrat, told me he thought she’d decided to run largely because she resented the way the male black leaders had ignored her in their initial efforts to build a national black political caucus. But she had been invited to a large meeting they held in Chicago several weeks ago, and she’d declined the invitation, sending a representative who asked the group to support her candidacy. Imamu Baraka (LeRoi Jones) is reported to have said, in response to this appeal, “Don’t women have race, too?”

When I asked her in Washington who some of the individuals and groups urging her to run were, she got quite indignant.

“I don’t have to reveal my strategy to you!” she snapped. “They’re groups of women, groups of young people, Chicanos. That’s all I want to say.” (She rattled off the same list of groups to a soft-spoken black student reporter.)

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What may really have decided her is something her most trusted political adviser discovered in Brooklyn before she ran for Congress in 1968: there were approximately 3000 more registered females than registered males in the black assembly districts of her Congressional district. Her ad­viser, an old statistician and experienced pol named Wesley Holder, told me he didn’t know whether this kind of sexual demography was the same nationally in black districts — but it may be an educated guess that it is.

There is no question about her appeal to black women. At a reception she held Friday night the weekend of the conference, one man approached her with a warm offer of help for her North Carolina campaign. “My wife is so impressed with you,” he said. He was not alone.

And she can turn on young crowds with her blazing, intense oratory. At the September voter registration rally in Pittsburgh where Lindsay was less than triumphant, she was interrupted by wild cheers and got a hearty standing ovation when she’d finished her talk.

These powers failed to move her black male colleagues, however, and during a reception she held for conference participants Friday evening, she was challenged on her dealings with them. Some of the questions put to her appeared to be drawing blood. She stood, surrounded by the admiring and the curious, answering their question and ultimately taking off into an impromptu speech.

Someone asked her a question about her strained relationship with the black male Congressional leaders.

“This is very, very distressing to me,” she said. “As of this moment the black elected officials have not really come up with their strategy. Meanwhile, people are moving, and the essence is time. This is politics! … In good conscience, I can’t hold back.”

She put in a special word of praise for Ronald Dellums, the freshman congressman from California (he was to make an unsuccessful bid for a Chisholm endorsement in a closed con­ference session later that evening), then she got angry again. Her body quivering, her voice fiercely lowered, she said, “How many of them assembled here do not already have a commitment someplace and still talking about a black thing?” She apparently wanted that to sound like more than a rhetorical question, but she never named a specific conference member who might be committed to another candidate.

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A man asked her whether it wasn’t true that she had been “initially asked to write the black agenda?”

“I don’t care to get involved in those details,” she answered quickly. “I was invited to the big meeting they had out in Illinois, but they knew I couldn’t go because I was in Texas and New Mexico collecting delegate votes … Because I am a woman, because I am black I’ve always had to do that work.”

“Was the caucus involved in your decision?” asked the same man.

“Not involved,” Mrs. Chisholm curtly replied. “Further question,” she said impatiently, turning her head away from the man. Then she appeared to think she ought to expand her answer. “My candidacy first developed from many, many people,” she said, asserting once again that she’d been urged to run by several groups six months ago.

After several additional questions, she warmed to the group and made her impromptu speech. She held her audience spellbound, skillfully alternating the rhythms and tones of her words, at the end looking truly possessed, with her arms drawn in, her eyes shut tight, and her voice deadly serious. She was moving and appealing; her feminism compellingly drew upon the sympathies of her almost solidly black audience, people who knew only too well the cruel pinches of discrimination. But there was a high strain about her, and a constant hint of paranoia. She sounded as if she knew she’d never capture the black caucus and as if this had been a great hope she was having trouble relinquishing.

“I can withstand the abuses, the insults,” she said passionately, “but I’m not gonna let anybody cover me up in a dirt hole.” Then, growing gentler, she said, “My brothers, if you can’t come along with me, I ain’t mad at you. But please, for God’s sake, you know my record. Don’t becloud the picture. Don’t lie!

“When people go out and say, Shirley Chisholm, she may become a captive of the women … and when you hear brothers saying you can’t talk with her, that’s because I’m a different breed of politician. I don’t wheel and deal morning, noon, and night. I am truly unbought and unbossed.”

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“Unbought and Unbossed” is the title of her autobiography. It’s a phrase that does not totally fit her politics. For her trusted ad­viser, Wesley Holder, is on a small scale a very competent political boss. He was borrowed from Brooklyn in 1958 to help J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell win a difficult Harlem race. And Holder himself says proudly that “Shirls” makes no major decision without consulting him. Holder handles her Brooklyn office, dealing with most constituent problems and maintaining a policy of non-involvement in local controversies.

There are some indications that Mrs. Chisholm is closely allied with the Lindsay camp, although one certainly couldn’t say that means she has been bought by Lindsay at this point. Lindsay was the chairman of her fund-raising affair at the Americana three weeks ago. And Mrs. Chisholm will, in turn, be a sponsor of a $25-a-head Barry Gottehrer testimonial dinner in mid-­December, which should raise money for Lindsay’s campaign. One Lindsay aide told me that the Mayor’s and Mrs. Chisholm’s organizations in Brooklyn were synonymous. (This aide also spoke highly of Holder, recalling the days during the 1969 mayoral race when Holder would get all the local Lindsay people holed up in his unventilated office, drinking straight bourbon. By the time such meetings were over, said the aide, “I’d agree to everything he said.”)

And Mrs. Chisholm is considered a pragmatist on Capitol Hill. She is reported to be quick­-witted and effective in committee meetings. Mrs. Chisholm made startling news, of course, when she first arrived at Congress and refused her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee. Since then, however, she repor­tedly made her peace with the House leadership. And though she now denies it, it is widely believed on Capitol Hill that she voted for Hale Boggs as majority leader in exchange for an appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee. That vote was done by secret ballot, so even Boggs’s people can’t prove she voted for him, but Washington reporters recall that she didn’t deny it at the time. (In Washington more recently, she angrily told me she had never voted for Boggs.)

Among reporters she is described as a politician who does not do her constituent homework. But she does so much public speaking that such criticism may just be clever speculation. She gets $1500 per speech, and her schedule during the week I followed her fortunes was so packed that her staff told me to interview her between sessions of the conference. (She was always too busy to stop for an interview with The Voice, although she found time for CBS.)

One reporter who is most critical of her — although reluctant to lash out at her in print — is Dick Oliver of the Daily News. In 1969, Oliver was assigned to look into the case of Lance Corporal Ronald V. Johnson, a black Marine who had been convicted for allegedly raping an Okinawan girl. Ultimately Oliver’s investigations got Johnson a new trial and he was acquitted, but along the way, Oliver and Johnson’s supporters found it difficult to get Shirley Chisholm interested in his case — ­though Johnson’s home was in her district.

In the fall of 1969 a Daily News political reporter approached Mrs. Chisholm at a news con­ference to ask her whether she’d seen the stories about Johnson. She told the reporter she was too busy to get involved.

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In early 1970, when Johnson was scheduled to have his second trial, his attorney began to fear he would be hit with a drug charge because the military authorities were so angry with him. The at­torney called Oliver who in turn called Mrs. Chisholm’s office. She was out of town, but her staff did give Oliver permission to say she was upset about Johnson’s predicament. And as Johnson’s case looked better and better, said Oliver, Mrs. Chisholm began to champion it more strongly. “When we needed her, we didn’t have her. But later on, when we didn’t need her, she was there,” Oliver said recently.

Now Mrs. Chisholm is thought of as a staunch defender of blacks in the military. She recently sent one of her aides to Germany to in­vestigate racial problems among American GIs there.

Shirley Chisholm is a mixed bag. She can be calculating and manipulative; she can sacrifice principle to expedience; she can be courageous and moving; she can be hysterical one moment, sharply, dazzling rational the next.

She has announced that she will enter the Florida, North Carolina, and California primaries, the last of which makes no sense for a black who wants to contribute delegates to a black caucus at the convention. Whoever wins the California primary takes all the delegates to the convention; thus California blacks would do better to ride on the slate of a strong black candidate.

At this point, Mrs. Chisholm’s candidacy is obviously troublesome to her black colleagues in Congress. And though reporters find her good copy, they can’t understand why she’s running. It may be sheer ego; it may be her tenacious feminism that has motivated her. But this is the reason I overheard her telling a cluster of black women at the conference: “After this is over, I’ve done my thing for America … This is my legacy for the folks. Somebody has to have the guts to show the others we can do it.” ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Angela Davis on Trial in Marin

Angela Davis & Ruchell Magee: Of love and money and the shoot-out at Marin

SAN RAFAEL, California — This is what it means to be well off in California. It has nothing to do with driving the right car or living in the right kind of house or receiving the right invitations and answering them the right way. Being well off in California means sun and space, a tender ideology, and plenty of padding so the crowded people and the criminals — especially the criminals — can’t possibly intrude.

This metaphor of class and space seems most apparent to me whenever I come west from New York, where crowding is endemic and the same fumes strangle all. In Marin, the hills roll and tumble like a calm Van Gogh, and the sun shines in calculated brightness, and I’m left feeling as though I’ve been living with a pair of sooty windows for eyes. Marin is full of good places to get stoned in; easy to feel transformed amid all that sequestered ease. And though these places are accessible by freeway — even by bus — you seldom see a man who isn’t living well on the street. The niggers of Marin are country hippies. They stay, for the most part, in their own wooded enclaves, and they too are busy being well off.

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I’ve often wondered why crowded people don’t come pouring down from the slopes of San Francisco, and out of the baked Chicano flats? Why not a general invasion of the green zone — even for a day? But it seems to be part of the deal that crowded people stay put. The country pro­tects itself from the city, and soon the city becomes an idea, like ecology, to be studied and directed and reformed by remote control. Crowded people are ac­knowledged with bumper stickers and benefits, and its sympathy for the devil as long as they keep their distance. But whenever a crowded man passes through, it makes a little niche. Sometimes it makes a hole, an explosive hole in the green shield. Some of the pad­ding gets ripped away, and then the cops come in. And you can always tell how serious tbe rip is by how long it takes the locals to settle down to being mellow again.

Last August 7, a young man with tawny skin walked into the Marin County Civic Center with three guns inside his coat. He walked into court. He said, “This is it.” He gave the guns away. Three crowded men held them over five country people: the judge, the assistant district at­torney, and three female jurors. They walked into the sunlight. They climbed inside a yellow van. They started the motor up. There was some confusion. The Judge died in his robes. The young man died in his tawny skin. Two con­victs died in their courtroom fatigues. The jurors lived. The young D. A. lived, his spine severed. The third con, shot bad in the stomach, lived to be ac­cused.

And that evening the people of Marin took to their happy trails to find that someone had ripped a nasty hole in the shield. Since then, they have lived with these apprehensions: that the hole is only a beginning, that there are more moths in the closet than camphor can kill, and that. by some genetic quirk, the moths have developed a taste for silk.

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***

The Civic Center of Marin must be the most mellow courthouse in the world. There is no rhetoric in its function or its design. It sits nestled in the sunny side of a hill a few green miles from San Rafael, a concrete cylinder in pink and blue and gold. To reach its gates you pass through landscaped gardens and clusters of trees in bloom. A smell of sweet manure hangs over the lawn, a smell of tended earth. Inside, there are sub-tropical gardens under plastic arches open to the sky, and the floors are earthen red, and the bathrooms smell faintly of evergreen.

“Beauty is the moving cause of nearly every issue worth the civi­lization we have,” Frank Lloyd Wright told the people of Marin back in 1957, when he first presented his plans for the new Civic Center. Seldom has one man’s sense of beauty been more insidiously applied. In this Hall of Justice, form absolves function; everything possible has been done to detoxify the business of dispensing punishment. Bureaus and offices sit off the main arcade like booths at a bazaar. There is a lending library on the top floor and a cafeteria on the third. Hidden springs and fountains along the terraces. An exhibit of paintings by local artists on the walls. Even those who have the most to fear from this building have contributed (though not by choice) to its success. Every piece of walnut furniture in every court or office has been carved and polished by an inmate at the California pens.

Jacques Ellul tells us one dif­ference between fascism and the technological state is that fascism is visible. If this is so, Wright must be counted among the archi­tects of the current tyranny, in which dominance is intangible, even to those who rule. His Civic Center is a graceful cabana of slopes and arches. Every detail, from door knobs to ceiling fix­tures, is a fully realized curve. Every structural chord has been resolved. There are no flags or emblems within the building, no quotes from Jefferson in raised letters over the door. These symbols of a punitive past have given way to a lushness so profound that it seems impossible to equate the power in its purpose with the beauty in its line. You walk down its corridors filled with a sense of fluid harmony. I am gentle, smiling, curving like these walls, pink and earthy and at ease.

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Of course, the jail is a mite less lush. But even here, all that is possible has been done to spare the rod from those who live out­side. Like the rest of the Civic Center, it is functionally invisible. There are no bars because no cell contains a window; only nubbly concrete walls, painted tan. The rooftop exercise yard (four walls with wire strung across the top) is invisible from the ground. The prison has its own lobby, its own elevators, and its own video sur­veillance system. Each prisoner may be observed on closed circuit television. Each courtroom con­tains a corridor which leads directly to the cell block, so that suspects may be transferred in complete isolation.

(It is the state’s determination to isolate its criminals from its citizens which facilitated the shoot-out itself. Louis P. Moun­tanos, the sheriff of Marin, claims he gave his guards orders not to open fire on the yellow van. Ap­parently, radio signals were crossed and the order never reached those guards who had been assigned to the case from San Quentin, where the three con­victs were serving time. It was those guards, indoctrinated to prevent fugitives from escaping into the community, even when they hold hostages. who opened fire on the van.)

In Marin, each prisoner lives in isolated neutrality. He is denied the privilege of impact, either as an individual or as a class. No one can see him or hear him or feel him unless the state consents. Or unless the prisoner breaks the shield.

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***

Dig it:

Cat bops into court carrying three guns. One sawed-off, all right on! “This is it,” he says. Defiling the presumption of im­munity (Lenny Bruce used to call that “pissing on the velvet”). Judge and jurors, jive D. A., marched under the intemperate eyes of reporters, tourists, and pigs. Through the parking lot. Into the yellow van. BAM. BAMBAM.

Dig it:

“HOSTAGE
TELLS TALE
OF TERROR”

Judge Calm
Before Death

“Christmas put his left arm around me and in his right hand he had a gun pointed at me and two flares, but he said they were dynamite. 

“I believed everything he said and he had the gun pointed at my head and he kind of ducked behind me as we left the court­ room.

“In the truck, the judge, he was sitting in the right rear corner, he said he was sorry us jurors had to go through what we had to go through. And I was thinking, not out loud but to myself, well, if you’re going to torture me, just shoot me now. I don’t want to be tortured.

“Seconds later, the shotgun blast killed Judge Haley.

“And you know what? When I got home, there was a tooth in my hair and some glass in the tooth.

“This was my first experience on a jury, and believe me, my last.” 

 — from the San Francisco Examiner, August 16, 1970

Things have changed since the shoot-out. The Marin County Civic Center now looks like a luxury liner doubling as a battleship. Guards and bailiffs are armed; one judge admits to carrying a gun under his robes. A row of bars has been constructed along the corridor which runs beside the courtrooms. Employees and visi­tors are pat-searched and passed through a metal-detector at the gates. Townspeople can no longer return their library books in the slot outside the Hall of Justice. And reporters who wish to cover trials within the building must be especially accredited by the county, a process which involves being photographed and fin­gerprinted, one finger at a time.

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There has been talk among the more intemperate of staging trials involving convicted felons behind prison walls. ”It is time to rise up, people of Marin,” writes Mrs. D. C. Ely, in the Indepen­dent-Journal of San Rafael. “Why can’t we have a small but attrac­tive court area or room inside the walls of all our penal institutions for felons who have stabbed or abused other unfortunates inside the walls of said institutions? The courtroom could be well aired, sunny, and even a few potted plants may help the morale of all present.”

Since the shooting, and the bombing which demolished a courtroom last October, every visitor to the Civic Center has had some inkling of what it means to live under guard. The people who work inside the building seem bewildered by all that has hap­pened to them since August 7. Of course there is security in a metal-detector and an armed guard, but the fact remains: if you need to be protected, you need to feel afraid.

The District Attorney, Bruce Bales, seems uneasy at his desk, surrounded by golf and tennis trophies, a stunning view of the Pacific to his right. He is a small man with a face like an earnest airedale, easy to like and even to believe. As he sat talking to me two weeks ago, I felt as though I had come up against a man whose moral precepts simply could not encompass politics outside the voting booth, or violence outside the arena of crime.

“I don’t understand why people are calling this a political trial,” he told me. “From what I’ve seen and studied, a political trial is when someone is put on trial for holding certain political beliefs, and that’s far from the case here. Nowhere in the indictment is any­one charged with being a Communist.”

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Normally, Bales himself would be the prosecuting attorney in the trial of Angela Davis and Ruchell Magee, who are charged with conspiring to kidnap and murder Judge Haley. But last December, he withdrew from the case and the state appointed Albert W. Harris, Jr., an assistant attorney general, in his place. Bales was a close friend of the murdered judge — Haley had been his first employer — and remains close to Gary Thomas, his assistant, who was paralyzed during the break and who claims to have shot three of the escapees.

“Judge Haley was a real gentle­man. That’s the irony of it. Of all the judges in the county, he was the most courteous. Conscientious in the extreme. He would extend civil rights to everyone, despite rebukes and … oh, things you would never expect to hear inside a courtroom. He was certainly not a tough judge in the sense of pil­ing on punishments. You’d never hear him swear or anything like that. He was a gentleman. Some judges, hell, you can tell if they’re former prosecutors, ’cause they’re tougher than any cop. Or a legal defender if they’re overly lenient. But sitting on the bench, you couldn’t tell what his back­ground was. He was a gentleman. But I’m biased. I really liked the guy.”

The county would breathe easy with a change of venue, though it cannot legally request one. Re­moving the trial from Marin would save every taxpayer about $20, but more than money is in­volved. Moving the trial would give the county time to regain its battered equilibrium, to get back, to being mellow again. Bales, too, could use a cooling out. Even now that he has removed himself from the case, reporters monitor his opinions, and every black man in the state knows him as the man who went to New York to bring Angela Davis back.

“I could have tried it,” Bales muses, looking out into his view. “I don’t know. I’m glad I got out. For many reasons. For a long time, I still thought I was gonna do it. I couldn’t have done it im­partially, but … I don’t know.”

“Did the shooting change your head around?”

He looks me in the eye for the first and only time.

“Nope.”

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***

”We are not alone. We have allies everywhere. We find our comrades wherever in the world we hear the oppressor’s whip. People all over the world are rising up; the tide of revolution is about sweep the shores of  America. A picture is worth a thousand words but action is  supreme.”

— Huey P. Newton, from his eulogy at the funeral of Jonathan Jackson and William A. Christmas, August 12, 1970

“What of the convicts who died in their attempt to escape, and what of the teenage boy, also killed, who smuggled the guns which made the whole tragic epi­sode possible?

“Surely the Lord God himself challenges us all to say, as Christ did on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.‘ “

   — from an editorial in the Independent Journal, San Rafael, August 12, 1970

***

First I show my press card to a guard who checks me off on his list. Then I empty my pockets into a plastic container. Then remove my watch, my ring, my shoes, my belt, and anything else which is likely to show up on a metal-de­tector. Once through the machine, I stand in the middle of the corri­dor with my arms and legs spread apart, while a deputy pats my shoulders and pockets and crotch, with a deferential touch not unlike a handshake. I’m reminded of my draft physical, especially the he­morrhoid check, and that pros­pect is so unpleasant that I flash on being a felon, naked against the wall while pigs patrol my in­nards and fishermen hold flowers. The fantasy is exciting (you think I’d bring guns in there?) until I re­alize that I am suspect. The guard searches my hair for weapons. A photographer snaps my picture as I fumble with my belongings, trying to detach my ring from my pen without dropping my shoes. Finally I stagger into court, drag­ging my belt along the carpet.

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The courtroom, like the rest of the building, is sinister in its infor­mality. The judge sits behind a simple wooden desk; you don’t rise when he walks into the room. The defendants, their lawyers, and the prosecutor’s staff are ar­ranged around a semi-circular table which runs the length of the room. The jurors (when there is a jury) sit in nine bucket seats, a short rise above the defense. There is no docket, no banister be­tween the jury and the accused, only a low partition between spec­tators and officers of the court.

This room seems well equipped to handle a seminar or a minor convocation, but surely not a murder trial, not inside this tepid chamber. Think of the courts in New York. Think of the room where the hearing to extradite Angela Davis took place: high ceiling, Flash Gordon chande­liers, the Honorable Thomas Dickens presiding in his robes, like the driver of some decaying hansom cab. What has happened to our sense of justice as a vengeful father? It has evolved into this verdant baggie, in which the law can only be perceived as an organic process, a hyacinth. In the California tradition of being­-there-first, this is truly the court­room of the future: with a decor so neutral and a procedure so in­formal that it’s hard to think of death as anything more than an inconvenience, meted out by common consent as the only rea­sonable alternative to life outside.

I strike up a conversation with a young free-lance reporter. We talk about Laing and Hesse and schizophrenia as a vanguard ex­perience. But our reverie is inter­rupted by the appearance of two armed deputies, one holding a three-foot length of chain, similar to the one I use when walking my dog. The chain is a restorative, and also the first sign that a black man convicted of kidnapping and robbery and attempted rape is about to enter the room. He walks in, already chained at the waist. A thick flat man with shoulders like a stump. He shoots a smile and a half-raised fist at the audience, and sits in a chair which has been bolted to the floor. The guards wind the chain around his waist. Then they fluff his shirt over the chain so that it is invisible to the court. All you see if you look at Ruchell Magee is a man sitting calmly in his bucket seat, hands resting on his lap, his shoulders slightly hunched. That, you might assume, would be the natural pos­ture of a man who has spent his lion years as a con.

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Then Angela Davis walks in, unencumbered, and takes a seat at the other end of the room. A smile and a raised clenched fist. Scattered applause. Reporters start to snip. “I heard she had some work done on those teeth of hers.” And “I wonder where she found the time to go shopping for that dress.” This is envy-patter, but it is delivered with such audible venom that a brief scuffle ensues, with members of the “committed press” demanding respect, or at least silence from the straights. Earl Caldwell, the young black reporter from the Times, smiles into his lapels.

The judge walks in. A slender clear-faced man with shoulders like a steam iron. He smiles. He introduces himself. “I’m Judge Alan Lindsay from Alameda County, over here on assign­ment.” He introduces the prose­cutor. He smiles again. He speaks softly, almost in a whisper, defer­ential as the guard who searched me on the way in. Think of him as the perfect dinner guest: atten­tive, respectable, and more than willing to remain invisible beyond the etiquette of the occasion.

He addresses Ruchell Magee, who is attempting to file another writ demanding the removal of his case into federal court. This document, like all the others Magee has filed in the eight years since his last conviction, is written in a stiff hand on prison stationery, and contains the basis of what Magee regards as his defense: that he is being railroaded by court-appointed lawyers and the “flagrant rac­ism” of the system itself; that the state is attempting to suppress ev­idence which he intends to use in his own behalf; that an attorney, A. Leonard Bjorklund, offered him immunity (if he would testify that Angela Davis provided him with the gun he held during the escape) and threatened him with the death penalty when he refused to cooperate; that he is being ”criminally oppressed, harassed, and tormented in prison.”

The right to conduct your own defense is, in fact, a privilege which may be conveyed upon a defendant at the court’s discre­tion. Magee’s motions, with their alien, forceful style, have not disposed the bench to grant his request. And though it was a writ by Magee which helped Judge John P. McMurray decide to remove himself from the case, Al­bert Harris, the prosecuting at­torney, has said: “The defend­ant’s below average intelligence, subnormal education, inexperi­ence, and indisposition toward courts of law do not adequately equip him to save his life.”

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Judge Lindsay smiles. He ac­cepts Magee’s motion, although the defendant cannot move his arms away from his lap to present it. “We’re having some difficulty with the chains,” says Robert Bell, a court-appointed lawyer for Magee.

“I understand,” the judge replies. “Would you furnish Mr. Magee with all necessary assis­tance?”

I remember the time I spent in Judge Julius Hoffman’s court during the pre-trial hearings of the Chicago Seven. I remember Hoffman’s craning presence on the bench. I remember his syntax, the way he chewed at­torneys’ names like tough meat. And I remember thinking then, this petulant old man will make the perfect foil for these people, and will secretly enjoy their disobedience and his own power to keep their anger in check. Judge Hoffman was prairie jus­tice: he was energetic and arbi­trary, and when he hit, he hurt.

Alan Lindsay is as well-tem­pered as Julius Hoffman was spiteful. Yet, if anything is appar­ent from the way he runs his court, it is how little it matters what tone the judge maintains. The effect of courtesy is nil: as in Chicago, a man is chained to his seat and denied the right to choose his own representation. As in Chicago, circumstantial evi­dence is applied to a political in­tent. Anyone who doubts that this is a political trial should consider the indictment against Angela Davis which mentions, as “overt acts” to be regarded as evidence of criminal intent, specific speeches and activities on behalf of the Soledad Brothers. The defense should have little trouble establishing — if it is permitted to — that Angela Davis was regarded as a criminal before Jon Jackson ever handled any guns.

She sits at the hemispheric table, looking as she always does in court: alert, assured, and pro­vocative. The judge takes note of her behind his smile, and the guards take note behind their guns, and the reporters take note behind their notes. Sex and race hang in the soft air, contradicting the structural intent of the room and turning the gentle little meet­ing hall with its placid judge irre­vocably into a court of law.

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***

As its major business, the defense files a 27-page statement accusing Judge Lindsay of “biases and prejudices … that impede his ability to conduct a fair trial.” As evidence, the defense cites his prior association with enforcement agencies, his term as an assistant district at­torney in Alameda County, his membership in the Oakland school board during the NAACP’s intensive campaign against that city’s districting policies, and his pressured loyalty to Ronald Reagan, who appointed Judge Lindsay to the Superior Court in 1967. The defense concludes: “The racism inherent in the American judicial political system is clearly manifested in Judge Lindsay’s career, a classic of our time.”

It would be 10 days before Judge Lindsay responded to the charges by denying he was prejudiced and insisting he had done nothing in his career to fur­ther segregation or racism. It would be another two weeks until a hearing before another judge could be convened. At that hearing, the charge of bias was rejected. With an appeal pending on that charge, Judge Lindsay has scheduled a hearing this Wednesday to rule on a petition by Ruchell Magee’s lawyers, who want to withdraw from the case. Still to be argued are pre-trial mo­tions for dismissal of the indict­ment, for bail, and for the right of Angela Davis to act as co-counsel in her own defense (an arrange­ment which is rare in American courtrooms, though not in other judicial systems — the Soviet one, for example).

It is unlikely that Judge Lindsay will react with much enthusiasm to the prospect of a series of hearings which could last longer than some trials, but neither is he likely to rush things un­ceremoniously. Not this judge, who has said, in the tradition of the green shield: “Everybody involved in this matter must not only receive a fair trial, but they must also have the feeling that the trial has been fair.”

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Today, the only day Judge Lindsay has actually encountered Angela Davis and Ruchell Magee he adjourns the morning session after 12 minutes. In the afternoon, he returns to announce that he will take the Davis challenge under consideration. He assures Magee that his hand-written mo­tion will also receive its due. He smiles. Then he turns to face the press.

“Indicating we are going to ad­journ in a few minutes,” he purrs, “everyone will remain with the exception of those necessary to escort Miss Davis and Mr. Magee from the courtroom.” Guards as­sume their places, first undoing Magee and then accompanying Davis out the door. The judge departs, and so do the rest of us — reporters and spectators, artists with sketches of Angela (and none of Magee) which invariably make her look huskier and swarthier than she seems, ministers and defense committee types, a cou­ple in overalls.

Outside in the hall, I watch Howard Moore, chief counsel for the defense, cornered by the press.

“People call Alan Lindsay ‘The Smiling Judge.’ What do you think of that?”

“I wouldn’t want to comment on his teeth.”

Afterward, I ask who calls Lindsay the smiling judge, and a reporter answers: “I do. Me and the lady sitting behind me.”

I take the elevator up to the caf­eteria for a cup of coffee and fruit salad. I sit looking out on the ter­race with its fountains and gardens. I watch a young mother hold her baby up near the edge of the terrace, looking out over the hilltops into the still-green Pacific and the still-blue sky. She’s wearing a poncho and print bells. Her cheeks are the color of the walls around me. So are her breasts, I imagine and her hips. I fancy she is happy, with space enough to move and time to be. I fancy she is free.

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***

Listen, lady:

“Flowers, guitar music, and a priest speaking words of joy con­trasted today with the quiet of the mourners at the funeral of Judge Harold J. Haley. 

“Reverend John P. Tierney, pastor of St. Sylvester’s Catholic Church, urged hundreds of persons who had jammed inside for a funeral mass to rejoice with Judge Haley ‘on his entrance into eternal life.’

“The bells in the tower of the First Presbyterian Church across the street from Keaton’s Mortu­ary in San Rafael tolled as the hearse pulled slowly away­ — preceded down Fifth Avenue by a line of 25 police cars, their flashing red lights emphasizing the silence of their sirens.   

“A policeman armed with a rifle stood watch atop San Rafael’s City Hall, which was closed to traffic until the funeral procession had passed.

“Judge Haley’s parish church in Peacock Gap was already crowded as the hearse and line of cars made their way out of San Pedro Road, through the hills, and along the bay the Judge has known all his life.”  

— from the Independent-Journal, August 10, 1970

Categories
Equality From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Year 2: Toward a Gay Community

Happy birthday, gay liberation, happy birthday to you! The baby is two years old and the song is sung by Martha Shelley and Allen Young and Judy from New York’s defunct Gay Liberation Front, under a Christopher Street banner, a stone’s throw from the old Stonewall Inn, so long ago and far away. Helping along with the cel­ebration are about 6000 birthday guests. They’ve come from Toronto and Washington and Hartford and Columbus and Amherst and all five boroughs and flood Christopher Street from Sheridan Square almost to the river, Sunday under a cloudless pansexual sky. Early gay libera­tion faces — Jerry Hooze and Craig Rodwell and Marty Nixon­ — have come out for the celebration. Young serious politicos. wearing granny glasses and toting knapsacks, buss the likes of Eben Clark and Jean De Vente. “Happy birthday. Isn’t it beautiful?” “Beautiful, just beautiful.” Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday.

Sylvia of STAR is there — and Marsha and Bebe and Natasha. Yellow balloons on long strings are printed GAY and tied to wrists and headbands. Oc­casionally one breaks away and flies up, up, over, liberated, free, and gone. Jill Johnston is there. She gives me a bear hug and says “Sometimes I wish I were a male homosexual,” as Pete Fisher and Marc Rubin pass by, arm in arm, caressing. Kate Millett arrives. “This is a very beautiful day,” she says. “A very important day. It’s fantastic, this whole sense of freedom and euphoria. I feel a sense of common identity with ev­eryone here. It’s a strong feeling and happy and fine.”

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Media, media everywhere. Global Village with a crew of four, and the Life and Newsweek re­porters who’ve been following us around these many weeks, and radio and TV networks, and amateur camera buffs shooting away at the crowd and at each other. Out of the closets, into the media, and into your living room. America, beware!

The big parade starts. A marshal shouts, “Keep behind the Christopher Street Liberation sign!” Somewhere back there, a contingent from Perth Amboy totes a sheet spray-painted and stenciled: “A dream is a dream, reality is real, open the door, to the way that we feel.” I see a Gay Jewish Revolution banner and the Gay Activists Alliance lambda and all those lambda shirts.

As the march progresses up Sixth Avenue, past Foam Rubber City, past the flower and plant block, the up-front banners move farther behind and the three city blocks of marchers become nine city blocks. By 34th Street, we’re up to 15. There are no incidents. Some sidewalk observers heed the call and join us. At a 42nd Street construction site, three hardhats make ha-ha gestures. At 45th Street, an observer remarks, “I’m getting to feel like a real creep here with my husband and baby. I’m getting to feel abnormal.” Near the Statler Hilton a group of young women sing “I enjoy being a dyke.” “Join us, join us,” shout the marchers to the bellhops and hotel guests. “Beyond the moon is Lesbos,” says a frizzle-haired woman to a passing hooker. “This is a flex­atone — the first gay musical in­strument,” says a flexatonist striking his pocket-sized in­strument. Two, four, six, eight, organize and liberate.

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The parade enters Central Park. Michael, in a Billie Burke-Wizard of Oz outfit with additional silver cardboard wings, tells the cameramen, “I’m just showing the straight people what a good fairy is.” Miss Philadelphia does a belly dance near the zoo en­trance. “I’m here because it’s my day,” she says, “and I want to be beautiful” and the beads and tassles shake, and click, click go the cameras.

We enter Sheep Meadow. An army of 200 or 300 more gay peo­ple enter from another pathway. We climb a hill. From a vantage point I see hundreds upon hundreds of shirtless men, braless women, give me a G, give me an A, give me a Y. They float, they dance, arms interwoven with arms, fists in the air. The Chris­topher Street banner lies limp on the grass. No one walks over it. The man next to me is crying.

Small vignettes are played on the grass. The woman with daisies in her hair is plucking out a baroque something on a guitar. An Indian headband falls off someone’s head and a stranger picks it up and gets a kiss in re­turn. Five naked men pass by and one says. “Why don’t you take off your shorts? Don’t be embar­rassed, don’t be shy.” Tarot cards are read. And Jim Owles says, “I’ve never seen so many beauti­ful faces in my life.”

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***

Three days prior to the march, I spotted Bob Kohler in front of The Voice office. Kohler is one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front. He’s quieted down lately, seldom seen at marches, no longer a fixture outside the late Women’s House of Detention with bis dog and his pamphlets. He’s kvetching less and looking better.

“I lived, ate, slept, shit gay lib­eration for two years,” he said. “I was leading a closed, incestuous existence. A few months ago, I just dropped out. Now I’m getting myself back into the mainstream and putting my body where my mouth was. You can talk gay lib forever and picket until you’re blue in the face, but the time has come for me to relate to the department store clerks, the sani­tation people, the workers of the world who don’t know ‘move­ment,’ to try to raise their con­sciousness.

“I no longer feel the need for an organization as a crutch. Gay Lib­eration Front in New York, as it had been set up, is no longer in ex­istence. It was used as a spring­board from which other organizations and collectives were formed. We have a Gay Activists Alliance now, but for anyone to hang on to an organization is wrong. I’d like to see the move­ment use its sixth sense like an animal and kick its young out when they’re ready and push them into something better. Encourage people to leave the great father and go into the world and relate.”

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Gay Activists Alliance, with its constitution and its structure and its committees that range from Theatre to Municipal Govern­ment, is about the most popular of the gay groups in New York. Orig­inally set up as an activist organi­zation, it still specializes in politi­cal zaps, but has lately broadened its scope to encompass the social and sociological aspects of gay liberation. Its members are pri­marily white, young, middle-class males, gung ho enthusiasts, politi­cally middle to radical middle. GAA is into reform within the system, fuck the slow motion methods, it’s been too long, we’ve had it already, gay power, gay identity, now.

Far more conservative are the Mattachine Society and West Side Discussion Groups, both pri­marily male, both “service” organizations. There are campus groups, like Gay People of Columbia, and spin-off groups, like Gay Youth, for the under-21s, and the Beyond family, a con­sciousness-raising group made up of a dozen past and present GAA members. There are radical groups like STAR (the Street Transvestites Action Revolu­tionaries) and the Gay Revolution Party, which believes that the root of oppression is in the struc­ture of sexual castes — the domi­nant male and the woman his pos­session — and that liberation depends on the breaking down of the caste system and the smashing of sexism.

Gay women’s groups span the political spectrum. Gay Women’s Liberation Front believes the gay revolution is part of the revolution of all oppressed people. The key to Radical Lesbians is living new radical life styles and finding new ways to relating to women. Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) func­tions as an umbrella organization. It recently had two palace revolu­tions. It’s re-inventing itself in an effort to end a hierarchy of power and is now made up of a series or nine or 10 collectives with two coordinators.

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The DOB Center on Prince Street is now called the Lesbian Center and serves the entire les­bian political structure. The center has a lesbian school where courses are given by members of all three groups on carpentry and creative writing and collective theatre and dog training, among other things.

Sidney Abbott, writer, active in the gay women’s movement, says that as a result of the re-struc­turing “young women who were conservative are relating to the radical women and loosening up and getting more progressive. For instance, some radical les­bian women at recent dances stripped from the waist up and danced around in a circle hora style. The purpose of this was to affirm the beauty of being lesbian women. It’s a profound statement about feelings about self, if you take into mind that all women basically don’t like their bodies — ­their bodies are supposed to be dirty and objects of comments by men. It’s doubly true to lesbians. Even beautiful lesbians find their bodies too fat, too thin, ugly. The positive dance statement was un­derstood by the older women. Last Saturday some of them took off their bras too and joined in. It’s a whole new spirit. The joke going around now is that we think we’re so great we may want to reproduce. GAA may have to start a sperm bank for the women so that we groovy people can make even groovier people.”

The feeling of pride, the methods and means of achieving it, the development of a gay iden­tity, varies from group to group, from individual to individual. Many of the older professionals who regularly attend the West Side Discussion Group’s Wednes­day meetings feel a camaraderie exchanging pleasantries at the social hour that follows the dis­cussion. There’s an x-ray am­bience over coffee and fig newtons generally missing at the “sex object” haunts, the bars, the baths, the dark corners. The coffee klatsch exchanges about “taste” during the gay pride march and poor Lawrence of Arabia would send a gay activist screaming to his nearest fire­house. But to the doctor and law­yer who are not yet ready to risk a TV close-up with a picket sign, West Side is a push out of the clos­et, a step from consciousness zero to consciousness one.

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The consciousness of homo­sexuals into a pre-Vietnam war life style could be further height­ened by the passage of the fair employment bill sponsored by City Councilmen Burden and Clingan and Scholnick and Weiss, supporting the right of fair employment and fair housing for New York’s estimated 800,000 homosexuals. Discrimination on the basis of one’s private consensual sexual orientation would be illegal. The bill has recently been supported by John Lindsay; it’s also supported by Percy Sutton and Bella Abzug and a strong ma­jority of city councilmen and by a number of important citizens and organizations. But it’s been stag­nating in the General Welfare Committee since January­ — Thomas J. Cuite, vice-chairman and majority leader of the City Council, will not allow the bill to be released.

Richie Amato, head of Gay Ac­tivists Alliance Fair Employment Committee (he was Richie X until yesterday — he came out on television in celebration of Gay Pride Week), claims “Cuite promised that if we’d get councilmen outside of Manhattan to support the bill, it would be voted on. We did, and nothlng happened. He said we needed support from each borough. We got the support. Still nothing. Cuite’s decided single-handedly to block the bill. As far as I’m concerned, the democratic process is a fraud, and I’m speaking as a Democratic com­mitteeman.”

All of this past week there’s been pamphleting in the City Hall area to bring attention to the bill. On Thursday night there was a silent candlelight march from the Lesbian and GAA centers to City Hall. On Friday there was more pamphleting, more picketing. At 2 p. m. that day several GAA members tried to enter City Hall to lobby. They were stopped. A melee followed. There was push­ing and shoving and the police set up a barrier at the top of the front door steps. There were gay power and justice chants and nine arrests were made. Almost methodically, and perhaps more than coinci­dentally, four of the nine arrested from a crowd of approximately 80 protesters were four of the five elected GAA officers. Jim Owles, president, was the first pulled in. He had a 3:30 appointment with the Knapp Commission, where he was to report on rumored raids of gay bars scheduled for the week­end. He couldn’t keep the appoint­ment, since he was handcuffed to a chair. Arnie Kantowitz, vice-­president, and Steve Krotz, secre­tary, two of the less vociferous demonstrators, were picked from the crowd. Arthur Evans, the new delegate at large, and five other people were also arrested, all for disorderly conduct. They were taken to a room in the basement of City Hall, kept there for an hour, then transferred to the Fifth Precinct, and four hours later released on vera summonses. Cuite wasn’t around for any of this, nor was the Mayor. I talked to Michael Dontzin, the Mayor’s counsel, however, who assured me that the Mayor urged the pas­sage of the bill but has no control over the calendar of the legisla­ture and suggested that GAA work more on the Council to get the bill passed. Head against a stone wall time. One can only wonder again how much further we have to go to push past the trumped-up excuses — and cant.

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Straight-jacket laws, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” (the boys in the band in jail), and staggered con­sciousness degrees notwithstanding, there’s a hell of a lot going for the homosexual this year, year 2, going on year 3, Stonewall A. D. The rather recently rented GAA Firehouse is a gay community center from which a gay community and a gay culture are quickly developing. It’s a four-story late 1800s job, located on Wooster Street in the SoHo district. In addition to the general meetings that drag out every Thursday evening, there’s committee work done throughout the week, symposiums, sensitiv­ity workshops, and the Saturday night liberation dances, a heaven cross between Woodstock Nation and Dante’s Inferno.

At the Saturday dance a week before Gay Pride Week, the joint was jumping with some women and hundreds and hundreds of men, swaying their bodies, stamping their feet, spouting movement talk and little nothings that could hardly be heard over the amplifying system that blared acid rock. Four floors of new free. The main dance takes place on the ground floor. In the basement, the air is cooler, the place less packed, the dancing less intensified. Tins of beer in iced gar­bage cans stand free form, and lambda-shirted attendants beckon one and all to help them­selves free of charge. The second floor is laid out with bridge tables and chairs and there’s a coffee nook at the side of the room, a “collapse” area away from the dance floor, a place to chat and dig. On the third floor, a video tape indoctrines a spellbound au­dience with a showing of the March to Albany for Fair Em­ployment.

Outside the Firehouse, there’s a line from here to Radio City. Two attendants at the door are not allowing anyone in because no one is coming out. Kissing is hello at the Firehouse, a handshake taboo, dancing the liberation con­nection. The firehouse dance that evening bit into the take of two of the three Village bars I visited. A bartender at Danny’s said their business was down 75 per cent from normal on Saturdays since the GAA dances began. An assis­tant manager at the Stud said their business was off 20 to 40 per cent. A bartender at the Triangle said “we don’t get the crowd that goes to those dances. The dances don’t affect us. Nothing GAA does affects us.” None of these bars, incidentally, are dance bars.

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A fashion show took place at the Firehouse during Gay Pride Week. It was put together by Ron Diamond who emceed in a top hat with pink plumes, sequined butterflies, open white fluff shirt, and shorts. Ron’s message, repeated over and over by the men and women models who paraded down the Firehouse steps and posed on a makeshift stage in rhumba outfits and bird of paradise feathers and leather and chiffon and satin and lace, is that gay people are now expressing their inner feelings in costumes that are an extension of the inner self. We are no longer hiding behind the jackets and ties and prissy dresses of the ’50s. If we care to be outrageous in our unisex clothes, in our role reversal outfits, in our see-through caftans and little foxes, right on. If bat­tery-lighted earrings are what we like, flash those lights. If a batman cape from the Pampas suits our fancy, spread those wings. If studs and leather are our scene, flaunt our scene. Ron claims it’s too bad we have to wear clothes at all, we’re beauti­ful without them. But since we wear them, wear what we feel. What we feel is what we are.

This week also included a drama titled “Requiem” put on by the Theatre Group. It had to do with the crucifixion of Christ and it was performed earnestly and some good wine and cookies were served as part of the pro­ceedings and it ended with a gay power chant that spelled out JESUS (give me a J, give me an E … ).

“What, if anything, can the arts do for gay liberation?” was the question posed by the moderator at a roundtable rap attended by Jill Johnston and Stuart Byron and yours truly from The Voice and Merle Miller who confessed in the Times and Jean-Claude van Itallie who wrote “America, Hurrah!” and Charles Ludlam, Jeff Duncan, Gordon Merrick, and John Button. The answer was bounced around a dozen different ways and the discussion frag­mented into a dozen different dis­cussions. When a homosexual ar­tist makes it big in a heterosexual society, he makes it big as a he­terosexual. Why the camouflage? Merle Miller said, “It would have been an immense help to me as a kid to know that Tchaikovsky was gay. Had I known that, it could conceivably have changed my life.” Out of the closets and into the arts. Charles Ludlam said “homosexuals have a responsi­bility to sabotage seriousness,” and shortly after disrobed, and he might as well have lighted a ciga­rette since no one paid any mind to the action. Jon-Jon, a move­ment staple, zapped the sym­posium for saying too many words and said the demon­strations as art forms are beauti­ful and that the transvestites and the street people are the real gay artists. Jeff Duncan said, “I can’t come out in my heart until the social structure is broadened.” Miller said, “The reason for coming out is essentially per­sonal. To me, it’s leading your life fully so your art can be full.” The moderator said, “We’re degen­erating,” and Ludlam said, “If we don’t degenerate, who will?”

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The man who heads the Culture Committee said, “Building a gay community is important. We dis­cover as we do it that the guilt has been lifted, and we find loneliness there. The loneliness will disap­pear when we finally become a community.”

The community will come. It will spring forth from the Lesbian Center and from the Firehouse and from the dozens of parlor dis­cussions and coffee klatsches and tete-a-tetes on park benches and shout-outs at committee meet­ings. The community will ema­nate self-respect and self-pride, those little things we want from gay liberation which ultimately come from ourselves.

Coming out is a beginning. Changing straight-jacket laws is a beginning. Zapping is a begin­ning. Marching to Sheep Meadow is a beginning. Dancing our way to liberation is a beginning. But only a part of it. Consciousness-­raising is another part. The day is coming when all of the parts will fit together and our history and experiences will be different from what they are now. Soon? Maybe. There are a hell of a lot of us working on it.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Equality From The Archives Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Mike Umbers: Christopher’s Emperor

A week ago last Monday, Mike Umbers sat on the deck of his Gay Dogs on Christopher Street, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand, a Lark in the other, and talked about prostitution and pornography and real estate —  and himself. He said he was worried that the feds would soon be cracking down on him. Late Thursday, Christopher’s End, his heavily patronized all-male after-­hours bar, was raided and cleared out for the night for ABC liquor violations. Sunday morning, 4 a.m., the place was raided again, this time by the feds as well as city cops. Two of Mike’s employees were arrested and charged with failure to have the $56 federal tax stamps required for retail liquor dealers. Mike, who was not on the premises, escaped arrest.

Mike’s three big Christopher Street operations are Chris­topher’s End, when it’s open, the Studio Book Store, and Gay Dogs. All right-out exploitative. Mike calls himself a gay catalyst and flesh peddler. He deals in boy-boy sex. He describes Mark Litho, his publishing house, as a means to produce paper flesh that his Stu­dio Book Store peddles. Gay Dogs is cruising flesh. And Christopher’s End, with its backroom and nude boy shows, is climax flesh. Mike is also rumored to have his finger in the controver­sial Stonewall Inn. It was boarded up June 27, 1969, and won’t be re­opened until a liquor license is issued. Negotiations have been going on for several months. Right now, the second floor of the two-story Stonewall is occupied by a bevy of young men. The Stonewall proper is in construction limbo.

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Mike Umbers may be the “soft­-spoken maverick looking for sexual and financial freedom” described by Women’s Wear Daily, but he’s hardly the Umbers they depict who left his security analyst job at Hayden Stone eight years ago because “I disliked the coat and tie, the pretentiousness of the scene, and hated being packed into subways.” Eight years ago, Mike wasn’t riding subways. He was serving time on a first degree attempted grand larceny charge. Five years, from 1961 to 1965, shuttling between Clinton and Greenhaven and Auburn and Sing Sing. He says he went up on an insurance fraud and it was his first arrest, in fact the first time anyone from his Long Island family ever went to jail. In all four prisons, he worked for psychiatrists, pulling $5 a day. Prison was a tuition-free educa­tion for Mike, “the best education you can get.” When he came out, he had a grand total of $86 in his pocket and owed $40,000.

Contrary to Women’s Wear Daily (“after Wall Street, he began his own construction busi­ness”) Mike went into the boy-girl whoring racket. He says he was “the best male madam in New York with three houses on the East Side, all very luxurious.” One wonders how an ex-con up to his neck in debt, with no credit rating, can make it big and quick in the world of high-class uptown prostitution. The way Mike tells it, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of this good looking broad. The deal was for $300. The money came in dribbles. The broad would intermittently ex­cuse herself from the sitting, disappear for 20 minutes or so, come back, and pay Mike a little more.

The way fate has it, the broad was a whore, a high-class one, the highest in town. She and Mike took to shacking up together. He became her man. She gave Mike a daily allowance of $100. For some reason or other, they went off to Canada. He got busted on a white slavery charge. They came back to the States. But there was a long period when Mike was left alone with Susie’s fancy apart­ment and a ringing phone. So Mike took it upon himself to meet Susie’s girl friends and a few new girls to help satisfy Susie’s clien­tele. Soon Susie returned to reclaim her turf. Mike slipped into the male hustler scene. It’s a heavy scene. Mike got tired of fucking different women three or four times a day and got tired of playing the head games, telling this one I love you truly and as soon as she’s departed, telling that one I’ll marry you. Mike’s energy petered just in time. Three weeks after he got out of the business, the local cops busted down doors of apartments he’d moved out of. The FBI produced a two-inch dossier on him. He says, “I saw it when they tried to make me do something I didn’t want to do.” For the record, the blotter shows 10 Umbers arrests in addi­tion to the larceny term. The ar­rests include procuring and obs­cenity and criminal receiving and petty larceny.

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Mike in the summer of ’71 is not the slim Lothario he was a few summers back. He’s a little paunchy, a little tired, an air of defeat underneath the bravado. All things considered, though, he looks good at age 36. He’s got great pearly white teeth, short salt and pepper hair, kind green eyes, and a native intelligence that would work for him in any business, including security ana­lyst. Plus, he listens. The kids who fetch his cigarettes and sweep his Gay Dogs floors and fix his peep show machines react to Mike like kids trying to please a father. Mike in turn gives them a verbal pat on the head. But his eyes are miles away.

Mike Umbers is not the only one who is having his share of troubles. The July 18 raid on Christopher’s End was one of nine that took place on after-hours bars that night.

The Daily News labels the raids “a move to cut off one of or­ganized crime’s sources of in­come, estimated at $2 million an­nually from nine after-hours clubs alone.” It’s unlikely that income will be cut off for long. The cop at Christopher’s End figures the place could re-open in a few days. And the fed at Christopher’s End figures this is just small pickings in the over-all big syndicate scheme.

“What’s the next step,” I ask Mike Umbers. “Are we heading toward legalized prostitution?” Mike says he’s been approached by a buddy, a super cop on the In­telligence Division, a cop with only a few more years before ret­irement. The cop propositioned Mike about setting up a house. “He claims it’s the next thing Lindsay will do. He’ll legalize prostitution in special districts, maybe within the next year or two, allowing houses to exist. It’ll be a terrific source of revenue, and the Intelligence guy is smart enough to want to get into it at the start.” I ask Mike if he’s into prostitution now. Yeah, sort of, soft sell, through the Studio Book Store. He calls it a male escort service. It works like this. A dude hits town and heads toward the bookstore. He buys $40 worth of porno. So the next question to the clerk is “where can I score?” Out comes the models portfolio. Shots of 10 boy beauties, available at $25 to $50 an hour. The connec­tion is made. The customer pays. And Mike splits 50-50 with the model. All nice and clean, no hassle, everybody’s satisfied. What the model does on the job is his business. Mike doesn’t want to know from it.

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Mike, however, knows his sex business well. Well enough to give an impromptu lecture on the as­cending ladder of whoring. At the very bottom is the streetwalker. It’s the lowest form. The boys peddle their wares on Third Ave­nue in the 50s and West 42nd; the girls play the 40s and West 70s. They trick out of hotels, they do a lot of stealing and beating up of johns for money. They work the hardest and still earn nickels and dimes. “There’s little whoring in the West Village,” says Mike. “It’s the land of boy hustlers and the land of the freebies.” Next step up is the massage parlor. A girl works in the back room of a storefront that’s been converted. Mr. Customer walks in, gets a massage, and if he sounds right, gets more than a massage. The masseuse averages $100 a day. Step three is the man or woman who toils under a madam(e) in a house. The average pay is $150 a day and life is easy. Top of the heap is the call boy or call girl who has his own apartment and his own clientele. If his stamina and business sense are good, he can pull $300 a day.

Mike’s West Village real estate holdings include 714 Greenwich Street, a five-story residential building between West 10th and Charles, and 178 Christopher Hotel, which houses the Krone Gallery and is adjacent to the Christopher Hotel, home of Christopher’s End. He claims he owned these buildings before he went to prison. He also owns two East Village buildings (one is the former STAR house — see last week’s Voice) and East Side. The Christopher Hotel was one of the last addresses of Jerome John­son, Joe Colombo’s attempted killer. Did Mike Umbers know Johnson? “I’d seen him around,” he says. “He was a junkie. He used to hang out at the Keller Hotel. Like most junkies, he’d do anything to hustle a score.” Had Umbers been questioned about the Colombo shooting? “The cops were here three or four hours after it hap­pened. They got what I know.” (On Monday afternoon, after the weekend raids, Chief of Detec­tives Albert Seedman, who has been investigating the shooting of Joe Colombo, announced that Umbers was the link between Di Bella of the Mafia and Johnson.)

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I ask him what’s to become of the STAR house. “I plan on making it into a gay hostel” he says. ”It’ll have three floors of dormitory, and I’ll charge $1.50 a night. Anyone can stay there. I’m not interested in making money. I have gay businesses and I employ gay people. I started this whole empire myself, and I’m doing more for the gay community than any organization.”

I wonder what Mike means by “any organization.” Is he talking about gay liberation?

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Now That We Can’t Be Beatles Fans Anymore

In early 1970, Tom Paxton released a single called “Crazy John.” Paxton is one of those ex­-purist folksingers whose major talent is persistence: when Dylan went electric, he commented, “Where it’s at is a synonym for rich,” but a few years later he was riding the heretic’s tail at Isle of Wight. “Crazy John” was evi­dence of Paxton’s new vocation, offering that wonderful nut, the John Lennon of bed-ins and peace billboards, some sage folk ad­vice: “They never can hear you, John/So how can you reach them?/They never come near you, John/So how can you reach them?” It’s appropriate for a folksinger to offer such a sterling example of that contemporary usage, the paranoid they, because the very idea of the folk connotes an integral audience, us, separat­ed by time and/or values from the shapeless mass, them. Paxton thinks John is crazy because he does not recognize this dichot­omy, and in an ass-backwards way he is right, for if John were capable of such easy formulas he might be almost as boring as Paxton himself. But John is a media artist, and like any media artist he continually confronts a maddening question: Where is my audience? More than any other pop star (except perhaps Dylan) he enjoys a creative rela­tionship with his own celebrity, plying it not merely out of ambi­tion or self-protection but because the process piques him aestheti­cally. John Lennon in public is like a filmmaker at the Movieola or Yoko Ono at a happening in 1963.

New York artists used to look at the six o’clock news or, perhaps, some wonderful new rock and roll group from England, and think, “Huh, what a weird thing to reach so many people at once.” They perceived masscult outreach as a basically formal quality, irre­spective of content, and experi­mented with it by devising art events which if they were very clever might make Howard Smith’s column, once Howard Smith had devised a column to deal with such phenomena. In this context, the Lennon/Ono mar­riage was the most successful multi-media move of the decade. Yet the taint of the avant-garde has stayed with Yoko, for after all, the cover of Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy just ain’t the cover of Life, and if Ono/Lennon appear on Cavett you can expect Mc­Cartney/McCartney to show up on Carson any time now. Ex­-groupie or no, Linda Eastman McCartney has class, and bank­er’s daughter or no, Yoko Ono doesn’t. John married genius and Paul married power, and in the world of public media it’s hard to be sure which is more important.

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None of this is to imply that Paul, or John, married for conven­ience. Like all artists, great pop­ular artists believe their own myths, and for popular songwrit­ers of the pre-Beatle era — which is exactly how Lennon and Mc­Cartney began — there was only one of those: romantic love. Repeat: they were popular songwriters. Even though the staple of rock and roll in the ’50s was teen schmaltz of wondrous innocence and vapidity, and even though the popularization of black music meant romanticizing the hard-­assed realism of rhythm and blues, the sheer physicality or rock and roll — its sexual underpinnings, always implied a nega­tion of such escapist rhapsodies. But the Beatles, unlike blues-influence fellow geniuses Jagger and Dylan, never showed much interest in this negation. Instead of projecting sexuality, they evoked it and made fun of it si­multaneously, just one more ex­ample of the insistent popness that always tempted the cynical to suspect they were finks. After turning out enchanting variations on the permissible themes of union and parting for three or four years, their version of the myth gradually became more acerbic (“Girl,” “If I Needed Someone,” etc.) but their formal commitment to pop remained unchanged — those later songs are reminiscent of the down Smokey Robinson, especially on the all­-important pop surface.

It was only during their mature period — including Sgt. Pepper, their best album, and The Beatles, their most inconsistent and probably their worst — that they abandoned the subject al­together. Great popular artists believe their own myths, but like all artists they do so from a dis­tance. As his relationship with Jane Asher became more prob­lematic, Paul’s romantic experi­ments became more outre. He never quite gave up on romance, but it is significant, that “Hey Jude,” one of his truest and most forthright love songs, was omitted from the white album, while “I Will,” a piece of fluff that seems designed to fit unobtrusively into that pastiche of musical exer­cises, was included. When Paul took up with Linda, however, he also took up the love theme with fresh enthusiasm. Typically, John’s withdrawal and return were more extreme. He discov­ered Yoko well before the white album, but not until “I Want You,” on Abbey Road, did he signal his renewed embrace of the myth. For both moderate Paul and manic John, romance was a lot of what getting back was about. After desperate years, each decided love is all you need, because each found his one-and-­only, doo-wah doo-wah.

But the revitalization of the myth of romantic love almost inevitably contributed to the disintegration of another myth, the myth of the Beatles, and it is significant that it was the group’s songwriters and resident movers who swung so precipitously from one myth to the other. In Hunter Davies’s official biography, Cynthia Lennon chides her hus­band for preferring the group to his family. “They seem to need you less than you need them,” the quote goes, and John admits it: “I did try to go my own way after we stopped touring, but it didn’t work. I didn’t meet anyone else I liked.” At that time, according to John, Paul had just about taken over leadership of the group. En­gaged to Jane Asher, Paul regretted that he was still so much a bachelor, but he wasn’t­ — he was married to the Beatles: “We’re all really the same person. We’re just four parts of the one.” At that time, Pattie Harrison was thought of as the independent Beatle wife because she still did some modeling. Now Ringo describes her as “a long­-legged lady in the garden pickin’ daisies for his suit,” and the mar­riage seems ornamental, the sort of show-business union that might just end some time. This impression may not be factual, of course, but there’s no doubting the accuracy of Davies’s description of Ringo as something of an Andy Capp, albeit solider and more devoted — Ringo is a common man in ways that don’t inspire our ready identification as well as ways that do. In any case, we re­alize in the context of more recent history that George and Ringo did not separate themselves from the group by marrying, although each gained a margin of autonomy. That margin proved necessary, because when John and Paul married they married hard, replacing the Four Mates with “Man We Was Lonely” and “Love is you/You and me.” It was as if their ambivalent relationship to the sexuality of rock and roll fi­nally caught up with them. Men in groups gave way to couples.

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John started it, of course. His mates mated with suitably mod types — an actress, a model, a hairdresser. Yoko, whatever else you might think of her, was a rather unbirdlike original, from her mature, buxom body to her obsessive creativity. She was strong — too strong. It is possible, I suppose, that the other Beatles bore her some faint racial or (more likely) artistic prejudice, but her deepest offense was to their male chauvinism. She aroused John’s male chauvinism, too, but because he was in love with her he responded dif­ferently: he actually thought she could become the fifth Beatle. And when he found he couldn’t work her into the Beatles, he began to rework the other available myth instead. Like all artists, great popular artists not only believe their own myths but carry them to new extremes: the dream is over, long live the dream. The myth of romantic love is usually a trap for women, but a sufficiently potent woman can transform it (as has been done before, after all) by com­pounding it with that vague notion of the perfect equality of all free spirits that can also be described lurking around our culture. Actu­ally, the combination isn’t so much a compound as a colloid, mixing disparate elements in suspension. Nobody just screams away his entire oedipal heritage, and even as John acts out the fierce symbiosis of his marriage, he remains a jealous guy who interrupts his wife on Howard Smith.

Paul, the born romantic, came more readily to the new roman­ticism, but naturally in a much more sentimental way. John has dedicated an album to Yoko, but it is hard to imagine him doing something so cutesy as con­cealing an Y.I.L.Y on some secret border. Paul and Linda are also much more moderate — in fact, it might be argued that they cop out on the new dream altogether. Linda is a creative partner, but in a traditionally sub­ordinate way, not just in the view of her husband’s fans but in the view of her husband. Her work is the mod art-craft, photography, and she has looked to rock as an energy source for years; in con­trast, Yoko is a conceptual artist who was completely outside the music when John came to her. John now calls himself John Ono Lennon, but it’s Paul and Linda McCartney, or even on their first co-authored song, “Another Day,” Mr. and Mrs. Paul McCart­ney.

In its radical or liberal version, however, romantic marriage has destroyed the group. The Beatles were an aesthetic unit, but what did they transmit in common? Exuberance, yes. Cheek, although George’s head change changed that somewhat. Youth, and then youthfulness; rock and roll, and then rock. But above all, what the unit transmitted was unity, the possibility that four very different individuals could constitute a harmonious and functioning whole. That image was very im­portant to the way we thought in the ’60s, and Yoko and Linda have made it impossible, not only by inspiring a counter-myth but by intensifying their husbands’ divergences. John and Paul com­plemented each other; Paul was conservative, John mercurial; Paul was fascinated with the silly history of pop music, John with its grand future; Paul was more comfortable with money, John with fame. But their women augmented rather than complemented. In class terms, Paul married up to Linda and her show-business wealth, while Yoko married down to John, who seems unlikely to abandon his scrappy lower-middle class heritage no matter how many possessions he accrues. But psychologically, the spirit of the husband, focused by the wife, dominates each marriage.

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These personal changes are reflected in their musical work, except perhaps for McCartney, which despite its melodic in­terludes I find difficult to take seriously as anything more than a million-selling wedding announce­ment. In a way, though, Mc­Cartney can be said to have provided impetus for John’s Plastic Ono Band, from ego­centric title to spare production. It’s as if John is saying, “This is what personal minimum music ought to sound like.” Plastic Ono Band is conceptual in the Yoko Ono rather than the Sgt. Pepper sense. It is one of the few albums I admire that does not permit casu­al enjoyment. You have to listen to it. Those who can do that — and there are many not in the cat­egory — customarily praise its lyrics, whereupon those who can’t conclude that John has not only gone off the deep end but dragged his friends with him. It is dis­tressing that anyone can take a collection of psychotherapeutic truisms as revelation, although “I Found Out” and “Well Well Well” are more than that on even the most obvious level. It is more dis­tressing, however, that others still consider John a simpleton (or perhaps a wonderful nut) who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Anyone who loves Rosie and the Originals the way John does un­derstands the value of dumbness. Of course the lyrics are crude clichés. That’s just the point, because they are also true, and John wants to make very clear that at this one point truth is far more important than subtlety, taste, art, or anything else.

I am not encouraged by John’s admission that he now writes melodies for lyrics rather than the opposite, because I believe music will get you through times of no lyrics better than lyrics will get you through times of no music. I also believe, however, that music overwhelms lyrics on Plastic Ono Band. Carman Moore thinks John has emerged as the most musical Beatle in terms of chords, melodic lines, and other such arcana, which only shows what I’ve said all along — ­that you can perceive that stuff without analyzing it. For me, the musicality of Plastic Ono Band can be summed up in one word: strength. At first, of course, what came through was the crudity. The music sounded stark and even perfunctory compared to the free harmonies and double guitars of the Beatles’ rock and roll. But the music of the album doesn’t inhere in its instrumenta­tion but in the way John’s greatest vocal performance, a com­plete tour of rock timbre from scream to whine, is modulated electronically. Like so much great rock and roll, it depends on studio gimmickry, with the great­est of the gimmickers, Phil Spector, providing the expertise while stripped of his power to grind 16 tracks down to mush. John’s voice unadorned appears only twice: on “Working Glass Hero,” and after the non­believing malediction of “God,” when John says, “I just believe in me/Yoko and me/And that’s re­ality.” Elsewhere it is echoed, filtered, and double-tracked, with two voices sometimes emanating in a synthesis from between the speakers and sometimes dialec­tically separated. In addition, the guitar and even the drumming is distorted.

This trickery slips by because Plastic Ono Band just isn’t a tricky album. It does sound strong, even primal; there really is something quintessentially raw about it. Yet it isn’t. John is such a media artist that even when he is fervidly shedding personae and eschewing metaphor he knows, perhaps instinctively, that he communicates most effectively through technological masks and prisms. Separating himself from the homemade pretensions of, say, McCartney, he does not bullshit himself or his audience about where he is in the world­ — namely, on some private pinnacle of superstardom. As always, he wants to reach us with a message that is also a medium and really equals himself. Like any great ar­tist, the great popular artist feels compelled to embody his myth in a form that offers its own pleasure. Plastic Ono Band had to be a one-shot, and Imagine follows it as inevitably in ret­rospect as New Morning followed Self-Portrait. Its myth is twofold: Yoko plus the move­ment. The word “imagine” is a Yokoism crucial as well to Mar­cusian theory, which regards the ineluctable utopianism of the ar­tistic imagination as essential to social transformation — we cannot change unless we can envision change. If “Working Class Hero” is John’s movement credo and “Power to the People” his move­ment marching song, then the title cut of the new album is his movement hymn.

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Chances are the movement is just another of John’s phases, though he has always shown that mix of genius, indignation, and pugnacity that characterizes the movement media heavy. In any case, it is certainly an in­vigorating development for those of us who have been straining to link rock and politics. Yet the movement’s ability to get across to masses of people has proven so sporadic that a part of me sus­pects John’s new stance is a por­tent. The thing is, Imagine doesn’t quite make it. At its best it is richer and more exciting than Plastic Ono Band because its potential appeal is much broader. “Gimme Some Truth” is the union of Lennon unmasked with the Lennon of Blunderland word play, the kind of venom Dylan never quite managed to spew. “It’s So Hard” is the perfect blend of big blues and metapolitical despair. “I Don’t Wanna Be a Sol­dier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die” is a proper Spectoral extravaganza. “Oh Yoko!” is pure spontaneous joy, and captures more of the spirit of fun than all of Ram. And other songs succeed, too. But the combination of nasty lyric and good-timey ricky-tick on “Crip­pled Inside” has been exploited by every ex-purist folksinger since Phil Ochs, and “How?” is so psychotherapeutically lugubrious that it might not even have worked on Plastic Ono Band. Nor are these mistakes simply bad tries. They are symptomatic of Lennon’s limitations as an indi­vidual artist, limitations which contrary to suggestion are not musical. John’s music suits his vision perfectly. It’s his vision which is lacking.

As indicated, I think Ram is a very bad record, a classic form/content mismatch. If music is just gentle, fey, and oc­casionally funky, then why labor over it so assiduously? If you wanna have fun, then have it, don’t just succumb to conspicuous consumption. I am infuriated by the McCartneys’ modern young marrieds image — just normal folks who happen to have a wee recording set-up on their Scottish estate. Since Paul’s political perspective seems to be limited to Zero Population Growth, the production lavished on this album amounts to an ecological ob­scenity. Yet Ram is far from Muzak, and offers amenities that John could use. Paul’s voice conveys a warmth and sophistication that might make John’s manic-depressive extremism more palatable at those times when we just feel like lying around and listening to the stereo. Also, Paul uses Linda well. John seems unable to understand that although Yoko is a good artist, all that distinguishes her from a number of her fellows is access to media. This is indeed an impor­tant, and legitimate, distinction, but it ought to demonstrate once and for all that the function of avant-garde art is to inspire other artists, not the public. Yoko has entered John’s music successfully only once (on “Do the Oz” by the Elastic Oz Band) and although her own records are interesting they will never reach a large public unless she makes the move. But Linda’s participation on Paul’s records works in a good way, another example of the trend to allow women as well as men to sing in their everyday voices. It is not his commitment to yesterday, or another day, but to everyday, that might eventual­ly render Paul’s music pleasant again. Let’s hope so.

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What John needs most, you see, is just that acceptance of the ev­eryday that in Paul-without-John appears to us as repellent complacency. He needs continual reminder of his pop heritage, to balance his oedipal heritage and his lower-middle class heritage. That balance is what the Beatles always reflected back to us, because we’re all like that and tend to forget it. It is missing from the New York artistic/political avant-garde, which is why that avant-garde never lives up to its genius. John really does need it. But it’s obvious that John will never get it from Paul again. “How Do You Sleep” is the kind of public act committed by a lover who wants to make sure he will never return in momentary weakness to the one who has rejected him so cruelly, the best proof yet of how deep the Beatles’ unity once was. Perhaps he’ll find it in himself, or in George, who is capable of songs of rare beauty, or elsewhere, but although I’ll always love him I wouldn’t be surprised if it were lost to him for­ever. It is strange to foresee the artistic death of an artist who is still so vital, but I often do.

What the break-up of the Beatles represents on the largest symbolic scale is a central social problem of our time — the inability of couples to coexist within coop­erative groups. Perhaps they’ll all survive to lead happy truly productive lives, or perhaps like so many of us they will be trapped by this dilemma. John will be a tragedy, George and Paul some­thing not so affecting. But for Ringo it will be worst of all, and since Ringo is all of us, we’d better figure out what there is for us now that we can’t be Beatle fans any longer. Find our own love, maybe — and form our own group.

Categories
Uncategorized

A History of Hype: The Cockettes Conquer New York

Cockettes in New York: A History of Hype
November 25, 1971

New York is dead, everyone complained. The last thing to hit town was Jesus Christ Superstar, and it was so unbelievably crass. The major art openings were over, and the holiday parties hadn’t yet begun. Dull dull dull. But didn’t Rex and Truman rave about some divine hippie drag queens from San Francisco who actually wear glitter on their “private parts” as well as their eyelids? Right. “The Rockettes like rocks, and the Cockettes like—” How utterly outrageous! And weren’t they opening down in the slummy crummy East Village along with Sylvester, a black rock queen who sings falsetto? How off off can you get? And isn’t this the Year of the Gay? — it’s all right for men to dig other men in public. Everyone understands now. And hasn’t the underground press been covering the Cockettes favorably for over a year, even though the regular San Francisco press accepts their ads but doesn’t review them? Isn’t it time for something different? Let’s discover the Cockettes!

Not since Andy and Edie had New York made a group of society’s freaks its very own darlings in one short week — seven days to scale the highest media peaks, only to fall opening night with a great dull thud. How come? One reason is that the media-heavy audience came opening night expecting to see some sort of new art form and got comatized instead; but more importantly, the Cockettes were victims of the Big Hype — that peculiar New York phenomenon whereby people and things are declared hot, cool, in, out, under, and over. The poor little gold differs of ’71 from San Francisco made a big mistake — they believed it.

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Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality to the Cockettes. Their life style is carefully contrived to blur if not actually diminish the distinction between the two. So when the Big Apple gave them the Hype they were ready for it. “Darling, we’re the toasts of the town, they love us to death!” said Big Daryl, a Cockette leader. Never mind the hassles with the producers, the el cheapo production, the lack of a sound system to rehearse with, the cockroaches and the broken plumbing in the hotel, or even the parties the nights before that made rehearsing almost impossible, because the Tinsel Tarted Broadway babies were having their pert little behinds kissed bought up and downtown and Ziegfield wasn’t around to ask if they could sing or dance. Nobody did. “I’m Goldie Glitters, and I go to all these ritzy penthouses every night, and these photographers keep wanting to take my picture.”

Performance for the Cockettes is mostly an excuse to live a freaky life style. Why be a hairdresser or work in a third-hand store if you can be a Cockette and spend all day getting dressed up like your favorite movie star? The drag’s the thing — the Tinsel Tarts spend a lot more time on themselves than they do on the shows. In San Francisco the Cockettes are pure hippie-nostalgia street theatre with rinky tink piano, clever lyrics, and tons of glitter thrown in for good measure — gay hippies plus women who love to show off for their friends. There are far too many freaks in San Francisco for them to be considered avant garde, political, or revolutionary. It’s a $2.50 midnight show at a funky old Chinese movie house where you can watch Betty Boop festivals and dig the spectacle. Stoned at 2 in the morning, you don’t care if it moves. The indulgent audience is half the show, and knows it.

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But the Big Apple declared the Cockettes media myths, the “fashion and faggot aristocracy” came out en masse to view their drag for inspiration, the ticket price shot up to $6.50, and Time, Life, Women’s Wear Daily, etc., all showed up to review them. The opening night’s theme song should have been “Please baby,” pant pant, “give us some new freaks to love.”

It’s easy to love the Cockettes. Their zany behavior turns on even the most hostile people, and every personal appearance is a major production. Integral to the making of the myth were the word-of-mouth reports spread around town by key writers, editors, or celebrities who saw the Cockettes behave outrageously at the Whitney, in Max’s, and at all the posh parties where they were honored guests. Everyone expected they’d be better on stage, but that’s a misconception. The Cockettes are much better in real life. I traveled with them for 10 days, and it was pure insanity all the way.

***

At the San Francisco airport pandemonium reigned from the moment the Cockettes stepped off their chartered bus, along with three tons of luggage that was heavy on the cardboard and tinsel. “Remember, girls,” Pristine Condition yelled, “The password for New York is Sugar Daddy.”

“Did you see that?” Mr. whispered to Mrs. Iowa at the baggage check as Link floated by in a one-piece latex bathing suit with a beauty queen banner of girl scout badges pinned to the front. And when Wally — in six-foot plumes and a pair of plastic Halloween pumpkins filled with gold tinsel suspended over his breasts — began beating his tambourine and asking for “tricks or treats,” four people canceled their flight.

Bystanders were treated to a wacked-out visual feast. In addition to 35 Cockettes, Sylvester’s musicians came with their old ladies, groupies appeared bearing gifts (Grasshopper, a favorite Cockette groupie, even flew to New York), several dozen awestruck airline employees gathered to gape, and one uptight tv cameraman was furious. “This is worse than a double X movie.” Nobody’s mother came to wave goodbye.

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The “Cockette party” of 45 had to sit in the back of the huge 747, along with a few straight passengers who got mixed in. They either opted for stereo headphones and tuned out for the duration of the flight or slumped way down in their seats behind books on California redwoods.

The stewardesses couldn’t handle the commotion. One dropped her oxygen mask when the Cockettes applauded her act, and her partner, a blank-looking blond in a pinafore, just stood watching quizzically as one of the Cockettes called out, “Hey, we made a movie about a girl whose drag looks just like yours — Tricia’s Wedding.”

The Tinsel Tarts spent the rest of the flight “ritzing” around the economy lounge of the 747 where they allowed curious passengers and shy closet queens to buy them beers. One little old lady in an orlon sweater set and mink hat squinted at Wally. “Are you girls in high school or college?” “Neither. We’re Miss America contestants.” A belligerent drunk confronted Lendon, resplendent as Carmen Miranda: “Are you a man or a woman?” “We’re both, honey, and that’s just for starters!” By the end of the long flight everyone was getting very cozy. The Cockettes were singing show tunes for fellow passengers, who joined them, happily posing for one another’s Instamatics and Nikons just as if the Cockettes were some stray Indians they had found in the Grand Canyon. Smile click. Smile click. “My wife won’t believe this. Heh heh. Thanks a lot.”

The flight marked the culmination of more than three months of broken promises and tight money while trying to plan the New York tour. The New York people had originally come to them. The Cockettes were not actively seeking an eastern tour. Two New York producers had strung the Cockettes along from July to October, promising a Halloween opening at the Fillmore East. The Cockettes — most of whom are on welfare — stopped doing new San Francisco shows, and when the rent fell due at their three communes, they couldn’t pay it. One of Bill Graham’s yes men, after taking a month to make the decision on the Fillmore, decreed “The Cockettes will diminish the Fillmore East’s reputation as a rock palace,” which ought to be news to the neighborhood junkies.

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Finally a San Francisco rock lawyer got them the Anderson Theatre, a block down from the Fillmore. Harry Zerler, a young, former talent scout at Columbia Records who had never produced a theatrical show before, but whose father, Paul Zerler, had been around the business for years, flew out to California and saw the same wild and funny Cockette show that Truman Capote loved and that sent Rex Reed to wondering enthusiastically, “Will the Cockettes replace rock concerts in the ’70s?” The Cockettes were thrilled. Long snubbed by the local aboveground press, they had at last been discovered by the big-time New York media. Zerler promised to bring the Cockettes to New York, and the myth began.

Even though the Daily News wouldn’t print Reed’s raving review, the Washington Post and many other papers throughout the country did. I wrote a favorable piece on the Cockettes for The Voice, and Rolling Stone published an article a short time later. Those three articles became the basis for all the hype in the Cockettes’ ads: “This is the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen” —Truman Capote. “Insanity becomes reality, fantasy becomes truth, etc.” —Village Voice. Both quotes were taken out of context, but that sort of hyperbole is justified by the producers in terms of the amount of money it takes to transport 45 people across the country and put them up for three weeks, especially people who sign the hotel register “Miss Creemah Ritz,” “Eatapuss Rex,” and Scrumbly. Paul Zerler figures it cost him $40,000. The Cockettes didn’t think setting the ticket price at $6.50 was fair, but they didn’t fight it — after dividing the money 40 ways they were only making $75 a week each plus lodging. The Cockettes have also yet to see a penny of the profits from their film, Tricia’s Wedding, but they are usually too engrossed in fantasy to seriously worry about finances.

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Until the moment they landed, the Cockettes had no idea where they were going to stay. Rumor had it they were going to be put up in a one-bath, three-bedroom house in Connecticut with 25 cots set up in the basement. They got the Hotel Albert instead, in the Village, where on a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit. Miss Bobbie, 17, the youngest of the Cockettes and so beautiful he was offered a modeling audition at Harper’s Bazaar, cried upon seeing the Albert. She expected maybe the Plaza. The rest of the troupe amused themselves with cockroach counting contests in their suites. There was no room service. Pretty tacky for swishy West Coast queenies, but not so different from the Haight either.

It was very difficult to reach any of the Cockettes by phone at the Albert since several had changed their names when registering. Big Daryl vacillated between Harold Thunderpussy and Miss Creemah Ritz and confided his fears of being typecast forever as the whorehouse madam, especially after two janitors mistook him for Mae West on Halloween night.

If the hotel wasn’t “fabulous enough,” the Cockettes’ arrival at Kennedy had more than made up for it in advance. Danny Fields, the skilled rock PR man, had everything arranged. About 100 freaks were on hand, including two third-stringers from the Factory, and Superstar Viva’s husband, Michel, shooting videotape. Few of these people had actually seen the Cockettes perform, but that didn’t seem to matter. The rest of the New York airport crowd watched silently bemused with a so-what-else-is-new expression that contrasted sharply with the jovial hilarity at the San Francisco airport. I sensed New York would be a lot more difficult for the Tinsel Tarts and wondered if the Cockettes felt it too, but they were surrounded by local admirers, including suave Errol Wetson in total black velvet, the “fabulous millionaire hamburger king” as Dennis Lopez, Sylvester’s manager, referred to him. Suave Errol had wined and dined Dennis one night along with Warren Beatty and Roman Polanski. Dennis, used to paying for his own meals with fellow record company flacks, was properly impressed. (Actually Wetson is part owner of Le Drugstore and heir to a chain of 153 hamburger joints.) Suave Errol was dying to introduce the Cockettes to New York — there’s more to life than burgers — and thereby launch himself as the arbiter of a new social phenomenon in the process. “I heard about the Cockettes from my friend Truman, and New York’s been so quiet, so dead, something’s gotta happen. No, I haven’t seen the Cockettes perform. I don’t have to. I can feel their vibrations.”

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Later that night Wetson hosted the Cockettes’ first New York party at this empty East 62nd Street townhouse. Diana Vreeland, grande dame of Vogue, designer Oscar de la Renta, and executives of the hamburger corporation came along to catch the action. The Cockettes gave it to them — in wild costumes they uninhibitedly danced, sang, romped, and stomped. Wetson’s comptroller, perhaps sensing his young boss’s enthusiasm could have some future financial implications, commented, “They’re great at a party, but can they act?” Diana Vreeland was much more positive. She was truly impressed with the originality of the Cockettes’ drag and felt they had put on the best fashion show she had seen in a long time. “What’s so marvelous is that they look happy, truly happy, and that’s so rare these days, don’t you think?”

Meanwhile the Cockettes were digging the plush surroundings, their usual milieu being a couple of joints or a bottle of Cold Duck in the Haight. “Wow, we’ve never been treated like this before, with champagne and all,” said Lendon. After Suave Errol’s bash the group made a pilgrimage to Max’s Kansas City and turned the place upside down. In two days they completely revitalized the sagging dragging atmosphere at Max’s, and according to the regulars, “brought the place alive again.” After the third straight night there the Cockettes were allowed to charge hamburgers and Harvey Wallbangers, which was fortunate since they hadn’t been paid and were actually going hungry — but they were getting lots of attention, hype hype. The first night at Max’s, Pristine Condition fell out of her chair when she saw Trash star Joe d’Allesandro. She swiped his bread roll, brought it back to the Albert, shellacked it, and sewed it on a hat. That night rock critic Lillian Roxan told Prissie, “I always wondered what it was like to take New York by storm, now I know.” That was the sort of comment that got passed around town by word of mouth to turn on the general populace.

During the week before opening night I must have gone to 27 parties with the Cockettes, on the East Side, on the West Side, in the Village, in penthouses, lofts, museums, and basements, gotten a total of 15 hours sleep, met two thirds of the freaks of New York, and began to suspect that all of Manhattan was gay. New York was bored and the Cockettes were so joyous they were almost wholesome. The Tinsel Tarts became the hottest numbers in town. They got a standing ovation at the Brasserie on Halloween night, then a ride home to the Albert in Marlene Dietrich’s silver limousines, which stretched the fantasy beyond all imagination. “The chauffeur, who evidently just cruises around picking up freaks, told us she’s out of the country and doesn’t own a television set. Honey, it was outrageous, and lucky, because we didn’t have the money to pay for a cab.”

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The fantasy hardly ever stopped. Robert Rauschenberg flipped for Pristine Condition, John Rothermel, and Goldie Glitters at a Whitney opening and gave them $1000 when he found out they were hungry and broke. “The only people who support artists are other artists.” “Honey, that was Bingo with a B,” Prissie said. Taxi drivers usually turned off their meters and often gave the Cockettes drinks and joints. After Goldie Glitters offered to put one particularly polite cab driver on the guest list for opening night, he declined, saying he had a “very square wife.” “That’s okay,” said Lendon, dressed in a girl scout uniform with saddle shoes, “so do I.” Candy Darling acted like a perfect lady and invited them to her press conference. Holly Woodlawn taught them how to scarf dinner from fancy hors d’oeuvre trays. The Fontainebleau wanted the Cockettes for December!

Throughout this madness the Cockettes starred, wherever they went — at the erotic film festival party, the Screw anniversary party, Le Drugstore, where Suave Errol gave them another party and fed them, and in front of the clicking camera phalluses of scores of photographers who invited them to pose. David Rockefeller, shy about attending opening night, sent his chauffeur down to the Anderson to buy 11 tickets for the second night’s performance. Rex Reed, given 30 free tickets by Paul Zerler, was organizing a busload of celebrities to attend opening night and Suave Errol was throwing the after-the-opening party at guess where?

Days began at 2 p.m. and ended at dawn. The Cockettes were living just like the girls in the ’30s musicals they parodied. Stage door Johnnies that would have freaked Busby Berkeley were saying goodnight early in the morning. One evening at Max’s, after underground star Taylor Mead’s boyfriend stood on a table, sang to Taylor, and simultaneously stripped for the benefit of the Cockettes, I asked John Rothermel, “Madge the Magnificent” in “Tinsel Tarts,” and Big Daryl, in Eleanor Roosevelt drag for the evening, what they thought of New York. “I know we’re degenerate,” said John, flipping her boa, “but we weren’t prepared for the nihilism of New York.”

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Early on in the week the New York establishment press began to get very interested. The Post ran a story saying the Cockettes were to drag shows as Niagara is to wet. Life’s entertainment department was dying to cover them, “but we’ll never get it past our managing editor.” They sent a photographer opening night anyway. Esquire decided to go ahead with a story, after having been told about the Cockettes over a year before. A Harper’s Bazaar editor was ecstatic. “That sounds just like the sort of thing we want to get involved with.” Time and Newsweek were coming to the opening, as was the Sunday TimesWomen’s Wear was really in a tither. They wanted to run something but felt uncomfortable using the word Cockette in print, especially since they had recently run an interview with rock star Sly Stone and quoted him as saying he was “happy as a motherfucker,” and a big Chicago garment mogul had canceled his subscription. The Washington Post, already hipped to the Cockettes from Rex Reed’s review, sent the same reporter to cover opening night who had just returned from writing about some other queens at the Shah of Iran’s 2500th anniversary bash. Even the local tv news, usually much too conservative to cover drag shows was sending a crew to film at the Anderson. I was approached to revive a Cockettes film project I had begun and then dropped. We decided to go ahead, and got the Maysles Brothers to shoot opening night.

The producers were spending an inordinate amount of time hyping instead of insisting the Cockettes rehearse, but Harry Zerler still wasn’t satisfied that the Cockettes had done enough to promote the show(!). “I haven’t seen any handbills passed out on the streets of New York,” he yelled at Sebastian, the Cockettes’ mild-mannered manager, “and why are they so filthy? All the front rows are littered with bottles of Ripple. Next time I’m going to produce a bunch of compulsive anal retentive people.”

Danny Fields said the Cockettes were the easiest act he had ever promoted. “I haven’t seen such enthusiasm from the press since the Rolling Stones’ tour of the U.S. in 1969.” Opening night was over-sold and everybody was clamoring for tickets. “No,” barked one of the theatre staff. “I don’t care if John and Yoko come to opening night. There’s no excuse for mediocrity.”

Every once in a while reality would rear its ugly head. Dusty Dawn felt terrible. It was bad enough that New York laws prevented her from dancing on the stage with her son, 16-month-old Ocean Michael Moon, “the world’s youngest drag queen,” on her back, but Ocean had developed a terrible rash. Eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant Sweet Pam’s baby dropped. And Wally, still wearing the plastic Halloween pumpkins, had had an emergency appendectomy five days before leaving San Francisco and was afraid he had glitter in his incision.

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The producers didn’t have time for such mundane details. They were trying to cope with an inadequate budget — the Cockettes had kicked out 24 footlights and the soundmen were scrounging around for $25 mikes — but the Big Hype continued, so I took Wally and Dusty to the emergency room of Columbus Hospital for a check-up. Nonplussed would hardly be the word to describe the good sisters upon Wally’s arrival, but they remembered charity begins at home — they let him keep his 47 bracelets on. He had to leave his gold tinsel outside with me, however. The doctor told Dusty she obviously didn’t bathe her baby. She was indignant. “I bathe Ocean twice a day — it’s just in New York when he rolls around on the sidewalk he gets a lot dirtier.”

By the end of the week the Cockettes had barely rehearsed. The sound system hadn’t been installed and the Tinsel Tarts insisted they needed a different set. Harry Zerler balked, so the Cockettes stayed up all night Friday anyway, building a new, special-for-New-York cardboard set. On Saturday they could barely keep their eyes open. At dress rehearsal Saturday night the hastily put together sound system broke down completely. Such was the power of the Sunday Times, however, that three Times photographers interrupted dress rehearsal for over an hour to get “exclusive” pictures.

Meanwhile, Sylvester’s three back-up singers had left for Washington to sing the Black National Anthem at the White House. From the Cockettes to Nixon? I would have believed anything at this point — but the girls didn’t return and nobody knew where to find them. “They were last seen with the President.”

Dress rehearsal was really the first full rehearsal. The Cockettes didn’t know how to use mikes or project their voices and on the big Anderson stage they came across like a parody of a parody, only it wasn’t funny — it hurt. Obviously opening night would be a painful experience, but the Cockettes didn’t understand.

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They consistently refused to deal with reality. Sebastian, worried about technical difficulties, pronounced the show “great.” Suave Errol didn’t think so. What a dilemma — hundreds of people invited to his big party and his social standing was on the line. Where was Truman now that he needed him? Out in California.

The Cockettes declined rehearsals Sunday and toddled off to one more press party, at John de Coney’s, a hip barber shop on Madison Avenue where scores of reporters and photographers were invited to watch the Cockettes get their hair done. Before leaving I asked Goldie if she didn’t think it would be better to spend the time rehearsing, but the PR girl from the barber shop had arrived, not about to be thwarted. “But they’re waiting for you and Jacqueline Susann will be there.” Miss Susann never showed, but the Cockettes sipped wine under the dryers, posed endlessly for the 20 photographers present, and answered reporters’ questions that were definitely a case of life imitating Grade B flicks.

The Crawdaddy man: “Is it true the Cockettes had an orgy via closed circuit tv?” Answer: “No.” “Well then, what do you expect to get out of tonight’s performance?” “Enlightenment.”

Then Goldie divinely ensconced under the dryer, started telling her dreams to the film interviewer. “I dreamed I was an olive in a martini glass, but no one would swallow me — oh hello dahling, come be in my movie.”

Opening night was everybody’s movie, from Footlights Parade to Phantom of the Opera. According to Rex it was the “craziest, wildest in New York’s history.” The Big Hype had really worked. The Anderson was jammed. Hundreds of fashionables pushed and shoved their way through the one open door. Beautiful People and big-time celebrities had to plough through just like the hoi polloi. Literati, glitterati, and culturati rubbed shoulders with dreaded freaks and every important drag queen in town. Some groupies had sprayed their bodies completely silver, others carried teddy bears, one even brought a whip.

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The WWD photographer was beside himself. How could he shoot Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Rex Reed, Peggy Cass, Diana Vreeland, Nan Kemper, Clive Barnes, Sylvia Miles, Kay Thompson, Bobby Short, Elaine, Bill Blass, Estevez, Tony Perkins, Dan Greenburg, Nora Ephron, Mrs. Sam Spiegel, Jerry Jorgensen, Ultra Violet, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, John Chamberlain, Cyrinda Fox, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, the entire cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, the President of Gay Lib, a dozen Vogue editors, two real princesses, and the night clerk at the Hotel Albert?

At 8:30 Sunday night, when the doors to the Anderson were supposed to be open, Sylvester was still on stage rehearsing. His backup singers had suddenly reappeared at 7:30 and now he was arguing with one Sweet Inspiration and one Supreme who he had hired to take their place. The Cockettes, dead tired and not yet dressed, were quietly munching turkey sandwiches in the front row while half the “ritzy penthouse” people of New York were shrieking and fighting to get in the door. Truman sent an encouraging telegram — “keep it gay light and campy” — and the delighted Cockettes dedicated the show to him.

The audience came to get wrecked and thrilled by a fantastic new set of freaks. But as soon as the curtain went up it was all downhill. The audience was dying to be surprised, outraged, anything. They loved Sylvester, even after 45 minutes, but the Cockettes were hopeless. The sound system was terrible, the show was too slow to crawl, and the Tinsel Tarts were even too tired to be themselves. They forgot lines and bumped into each other, all this for the media heavies and literati. “My god, how could they disappoint us like this?” After 40 minutes, when Taylor Mead shouted “Bring back Jackie Curtis,” people began to get up and leave. (Jackie should love the Cockettes. After being panned everywhere when Vain Victory opened, he’s suddenly hot stuff in all the comparative reviews.)

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One man in the audience, who had slept through the entire show, awakened and promptly vomited all over Princess Delores Rispoli, one of Rex’s guests. The usher was indignant. “What are you, some kind of vomit freak?” It was a fitting climax.

The critics were unanimous. “Having no talent is not enough,” declared Gore Vidal. “Dreadful,” pronounced Women’s Wear. The Sunday Times headlined, “For This They Had to Come From Frisco?” Lillian Roxon wrote the only favorable review, for the Daily News. She said the Cockettes were 15 years ahead of their time.

The party later a Le Drugstore was the expected mob scene. Inside Wally was trying to explain to an unsmiling woman reporter from Time, “But you don’t understand, we’re not professionals, we’ve never been professionals.” And outside, late-arriving Cockettes were barred from entering because too many people were already inside. “But it’s our party, let us in,” pleaded Reggie.

By the next morning Suave Errol had dropped the Cockettes forever. Ironically the strong dose of failure reality opening night was like a shot of adrenaline for the Cockettes. By the second night they had improved considerably, and the audience loved them, but none of the hypesters were around to see it. The Cockettes blew it. They had embarrassed the media moguls and weren’t about to get a second chance.

Harper’s Bazaar no longer wanted to get involved. Dick Cavett made them sit up in the balcony, and David Frost’s producer, alienated by Sylvester’s “being nothing but a queen,” canceled them one hour before showtime. The Big Hype was already looking for something new to swallow whole — and then spit out.