Judy

posted by Madame Bubby


I was dating a part time fireman in Milwaukee some time ago, and he made a comment that the gay guys in one bar should have gotten out more, rather than sitting inside said bar and listening to Judy Garland. (A rather ironic comment, I might say, as he spent 12 hours Saturday and Sunday inside bars himself, but he of course was better than listening to Judy.) Our romance was intense but ephemeral. He was, I found out via the internet many years later, after getting his dream job as a full-time fireman, arrested for drunk driving.

And some time ago, a former friend opera queen type decided to become an older gay “auntie” type and teach me Gay 101. I fit the opera queen stereotype, but he seemed put out that I showed very little interest in Broadway and the “older” female popular singers who were gay icons. And number one on that list was Judy. He bought me the CD Judy at Carnegie Hall. One could say I failed to understand its significance. I ended up giving it away. At that point, Judy’s significance for me was her role in The Wizard of Oz.

(And in that movie, I was more interested in Margaret Hamilton’s tour de force as the Wicked Witch of the West.) And of course I was supposed to think that Stonewall was caused by all those closeted “sweater” gays in tight trousers upset about the death of Judy Garland. (No, that was not the reason.)
 

Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall CD cover

Fast forward many years later. The younger gays’ divas include figures such as Lady Gaga (significant because she starred in a remake of A Star Is Born, one of Judy’s most famous movies and performances) and someone named Lizzo (I found out about her only because I joined Twitter). I live in the past. Perhaps many younger gays are into Judy, Barbra, or even Ethel. Perhaps.

Perhaps. I admit I did go through a brief Ethel Merman phase about the time I failed to worship Judy, mostly because I was fascinated by the famous conductor Toscannini, after hearing her, saying she was a castrato. It was the voice.

And now my love affair with the female voice includes Judy, mostly because of one book and because of youtube. Henry Pleasants, the late great music critic, wrote a book The Great American Popular Singers, which I think managed to pierce to the beating heart of the matter (and in Judy case, that heart one could say ended up killing her more than the pills), when he reflected that she “had the most utterly natural vocal production … it was an open-throated, almost birdlike vocal production, clear, pure, resonant, innocent.”
 

Henry Pleasant's Great American Singers book cover

The innocence of what became her anthem of the heart, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, always remained inherent in all her performances: more than emotional honesty, more than the bond of love she experienced with her live audiences, gay and straight, that reached a type of apotheosis in that Carnegie Hall performance I have since listened to again and again in conjunction with youtube clips of the short-lived Judy Garland Show.

Judy, born with that immense talent, it’s true, never really experienced that idealized innocence as a child. (Who has, really?), according to the admittedly at times very depressing bios (the stage mother, the closeted gay father, the pills, the sexual harassment at MGM, all those men, yes, the gay and straight and bi husbands, in her life) I recently read. By the time she was 18, she experienced, suffered, more than what most persons experience in a lifetime.

Yet I think it’s too easy to get swept up in all the over the top, truly frightening personal drama of her life, because in her case, life and art aren’t mutually exclusive categories.

I now, perhaps because I’m in a different point in my life (yes, I’ve lived, lived, lived in my own way) can really hear the voice (I always appreciated the lustrous beauty of her lyric contralto in its prime), but now the art that in her case is organically a part of that voice. I thank youtube, because I was able to see and hear her performance of “Old Man River” on The Judy Garland Show.
 

Judy Garland performing Old Man River

Give a listen. Take a look. She doesn’t just sell that song. She doesn’t just intuitively understand the style of that song which is often treated as an operatic aria or a piece of campy cultural appropriation. It’s her, and she’s doesn’t need, like some divas, all the glittery trappings which are now Instagram and other social medias to portray her image. She’s no illusion here. She is the song.

When she sings “land in jail,” it’s not a phrase to show off low chesty notes, sung in a melodramatic way. Just in those words is heartbreak, resignation, even a bit of wry humor, a twinge of hope that she’ll get out of jail, the river will keep rolling along, and just maybe, and in her case, tragically, she might herself find the elusive love over the rainbow.

She did find that love when she sang to her audiences. Or rather, when she is singing, because she still is.
 

Judy Garland Wizard of Oz image

(P.S. I haven’t seen the movie with Renee Zwelleger, yet.)

Sources:

Anne Edwards, Judy Garland

Gerald Clarke, Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

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I Love a Gay Halloween Parade!

posted by Madame Bubby

Yes, it's coming up, the unofficial LGBTQ holiday, Halloween! I was looking online for more information about Halloween events going on next week, and I noticed that the famous Greenwich Village, New York City Halloween parade is now in its 46th year.

Pretty amazing, if one thinks what year it was 46 years ago: 1973. Thus, celebrating Halloween was part and parcel of the then young and militant gay liberation movement.

I remember seeing from a distance many years ago Chicago's own LGBTQ Halloween parade on Halsted Steet, and now the event has become “Haunted Halsted Halloweek and Parade,” running from Saturday, October 26 to the great day itself this year, and the day of the parade, Thursday, October 31.

Why am I essentially advertising the above events? Because I think, in tandem, Bijou Video provides its own parade of Halloween porn movies you can enjoy anywhere and throughout the entire year. In fact, I would even say Bijou is carrying on the legacy of directors and producers and actors who originated the genre of Halloween porn or horror porn.

Here are some of our films of that genre:

The anthology Scared Stiff features scenes from some of the titles described below, plus others like Gayracula and Four in Hand.
 

Scared Stiff box cover

Vintage Gayracula ad

Four in Hand still
Image from Four in Hand

Night of the Occultist, a Jaguar film from 1973 (year of the first Village Hallloween parade!) directed by Kenneth Andrews, is certainly overall quite “trippy,” but the major Halloweeneseque scene in this campy yet also complex film is an ancient Egyptian ritual, a sacrifice to Osiris, the judge of the dead (he serves as the gatekeeper between life, death, and the afterlife), which involves gay sex in an temple.
 

Night of the Occultist still
Image from Night of the Occultist

A Ghost of a Chance, also from 1973, features some ghostly sex with a deceased boyfriend, but the overall story is not just about the crossing of the seemingly insurmountable boundary between death and life, but about how sex with multiple partners itself is a way of liberation from imposed boundaries.
 

A Ghost of a Chance stills
Images from A Ghost of a Chance

Strictly Forbidden, a Hand in Hand film from 1974 directed by Jack Deveau, reimagines the ancient trope of a statues coming to life as the main character enjoys sexual contact with many in a Parisian museum.
 

Strictly Forbidden stills
Images from Strictly Forbidden

Falconhead, a complex, profound film from 1977 directed by Michael Zen, plays with some archetypal images such as mirrors and falcons as several men undergo rituals of initiation that involve mysterious, ambiguously violent interactions.
 

Falconhead stills
Images from Falconhead

And, perhaps the true depths of the genre occurs in Peter de Rome's The Destroying Angel, which combines religion, psychedelic drugs, sex, and violence in one amazing conflagration as a young priest abandons his vocation and plunges into what is really the depths of himself he had previously repressed.
 

The Destroying Angel stills
Images from The Destroying Angel

What's interesting and significant about these films is that, yes, they are related to Halloween, but not in the conventionally “spooky,” explicit way.

By wrestling with the endlessly mysterious and fascinating conjunctions between sex, death, religion, and violence, they really end up targeting the deep, primal roots of the holiday, something LGBTQ persons, themselves cultural boundary-crossers, can connect with intimately.

It's a day when boundaries dissipate, masks and costumes make us aware that persons are not all what they seem, and somehow we end up experiencing on various levels death and life becoming one.

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The Legacy of Scotty Bowers: A Brief Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Scotty Bowers, recent photo

Scotty Bowers, a legend in Hollywood’s sexual underground in the 1950s and 1960s, died at home in Los Angeles on October 13 at the age of 96.

When I found out about his book, Full Service, I must admit I was excited to read it, mostly because I always enjoyed titillating, “Hollywood Babylon” scandals. And here was someone who actually made satisfying the sexuality of Hollywood royalty of that period (and others) his business, literally.

He started his “infamous” gas station procurement network in the late 1940s, mostly hiring out young studs for closeted gay actors and others in the Hollywood business (and there were many).

According to his book, his career as a sex worker began in 1946 while he was working as an attendant at The Richfield Oil gas station located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Van Ness Avenue. In 1950, Bowers stopped working at the service station, and he then began working as a party bartender (one his party “tricks” involved using his schlong to stir drinks), while continuing his sexual services to both men and women. And he himself, because he was gifted with such a stunning endowment, according to Bowers, was quite popular.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Young Scotty Bowers

I must admit I was surprised that the famous Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, whom I call Mr. Miniver (he was Mrs. Miniver’s [played by Greer Garson] husband in one of the most wholesome, inspiring, patriotic 1940s movies, Mrs. Miniver), was one of his first clients. It’s still sometimes difficult to separate the screen persona from the real person (and in Pidgeon’s case, he was married to a woman, of course), but that was Hollywood: ultimately, illusion.

What I found to be, according to Scotty (and I don’t dispute at all his reliability in this case, as many others do), the close to ultimate Hollywood illusion: the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn romance. I remember when growing up, it was pretty much a given that these two were the romantic Hollywood power couple of the period (at least before Burton and Taylor came along). Yet, according to Bowers, both were gay (or in Tracy’s case, probably bisexual), and Scotty apparently was one of his sexual partners. Hepburn, who some have argued was really more fluid in her relationship to gender and sexuality, used Bowers as a means to “hook up” with several women.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

But what I think when reading the book and also viewing the documentary (I made a special trip to see it), Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, is that one can get distracted by all the Old Hollywood “scandal” and peccadilloes.

Scotty himself suffered many tragedies in his life that are perhaps closely related to, or perhaps not, his life a sex worker. He lived with a common-law wife whom he met right after his service in WWII, but they grew apart, and the daughter by this marriage, Donna, died young from complications after an abortion.

He did finally manage to find happiness with his last wife, but looking at the documentary, it’s clear Scotty suffered, especially later in life, from a hoarding disorder. I remember, and this behavior is that of a typical hoarder, a scene where he is going through memorabilia in a rented storage space stuffed to the maximum. Yes, there’s history made visible in the things he cherishes, but it seems buried, hidden, physically and mentally in clutter, multiplicity out of control.

Hidden and buried, yet now, no longer a secret. Scotty helped others keep secrets, but he never made his sex life a secret. He gloried in it. And I also think it wasn’t just a case of someone who knew he could use his sexuality as a commodity. Of course, he did, if one interprets his legacy very literally. Old Hollywood needed and wanted him to keep its illusion of heteronormative glamour intact.

But in doing so, he ended up exposing that illusion, not out of spite, but because in a world that was built on dreams and illusions, he actually fulfilled in the most primal, honest way the personal dreams of the stars who embodied on screen the dreams of people who probably got their gas pumped (and much more) at the Richfield Oil Gas Station.

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The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, Still There in Chicago!

posted by Madame Bubby

Lucky Horseshoe exterior

Yes, it is still there. I had to ask, especially now that that the area around it is gentrified and homogenized in so many ways since the last time I was there, early 1990s.

Why was I there? The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, known to its regulars as the “Shoe,” is a gay bar yes, but one that features dancers. Not strippers (no nudity), and they usually are already stripped down to something skimpy that barely covers up the cock.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer in jockstrap

Jason Heidemann, a while ago, wrote a piece in the Chicago Reader describing his experiences in detail, and he also makes the point that the place actually seems to be evoke a feeling of “shame-based resistance” for many gay guys. Like, oops, why are you there? What's really going on with you? Or even, in an online exchange, a LOL.

It's an exotic dance club, and I am thinking perhaps there could be a couple underlying cultural stigmas. First, the whole go-go girl men's club business that caters to heterosexual men contains some obvious structurally exploitative/misognynistic dynamics. Whether this dynamic strictly applies to what goes on gay male strip clubs is open to question, and I also think it ties closely into the stigmas associated with sex workers in general.

Secondly, in the gay community itself, there's a stereotype that the types of customers the place attracts tend to be “dirty old men” desperate for copping a feel on a young, lithe body. Heidemann makes the point that the place for many couples serves “as a compromise between one partner who wants monogamy and the other who has an insatiable libido.”

That dynamic reminds of me of my experiences there in the early 90s. I was involved with the LGBTQ Catholic group, Dignity, and I sang tenor in its amateur choir. After church, the choir director, the priest, one religious brother who sang in the choir, and whoever else wanted to tag along, hit the Shoe. (In fact, we were at the Shoe when the Bulls won their famous “threepeat” game!)

It turns out, that Sunday night at the Shoe was called “priests' night out.” One could say that in many cases, sticking dollar bills in the lush baskets of the dancers was a way of not literally violating a promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity. The choir director I think just liked the dancers, a lot, and I also think, because he was partnered, he would hang out there to “blow off steam.” (I'm not sure if he ever hooked up with one of the dancers, but I vaguely remember hearing he did invite one over to his house.)

I must admit, most of the dancers were too thin, smooth, and “twinkish” for my taste, but one night, an anomaly. A particularly beefy muscle guy wearing heavy boots appeared, and I was smitten. I not only got to touch his basket, but we even made out a bit. We had one date. He worked in sales at Marshall Fields full time, days. In real life gear he looked much less imposing. Too “nice” for me, alas.

And I did hook up with a real hot number, beard, blue collar, cowboy boots, there one night, an out of town guy on a conference. A weekend romance ensued. I looked him up on the internet. He is still working at the same job he did in the 1990s. He looks older and grayer. It happens to everyone, even the dancers.

Overall, I'm glad the place is still there, and given its longevity, I gather it has probably adapted to the bachelorette party culture, which has created some controversy lately in gay male bars. In fact, given the vicissitudes of social and cultural change, it's perhaps an even more unique space that still keeps the dancers dancing and a diverse array of customers coming/cumming.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer
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Tales of the City: I Read It, Finally!

posted by Madame Bubby

Oh wow, this summer has certainly been a summer or reading for me, in addition to the process of assembling many of these blogs into a book format. I guess I am lucky, to enjoy such large amounts of time to sit there and read. For hours.

As usual, I am way behind the trends. I tend to get interested in media after it is popular (for example, I only got interested in Seinfeld in reruns). I've known about Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City for some time, I know there was a miniseries in 1993 based on the books, and now there's one on Netflix (I don't get it, yet). But I just wasn't that interested.

Until a friend loaned me a huge volume that contains the first three novels, Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City. I read all three Sunday night through last night. For someone who reads much dense scholarly material, it was a quick read, and I don't imply it is superficial. It actually read much like a screenplay, and I mean that as a compliment; less is more in the description, and the dialogue shapes the characters and moves along the action.
 

Cover of Maupin's 28 Barbary Lane

The 1978 one, the first one, was most interesting, as it really gave one a slice of the “sex and the city” life in San Francisco during the swinging seventies. The place was certainly comparable in some ways to the “blue bubble” cities (a scary thought in hindsight) of today.
 

Ad for 21st St. Baths, captioned Definitely for the Discriminiating Male
Ad for gay bathhouse in Mission District, definitely for the discriminating male, from: http://www.missionmission.org/2010/09/17/the-21st-street-baths-were-definitely-for-the-discriminating-male/

But it wasn't just LGBTQ persons who flocked to the city like the young ones did in the 1960s to the Summer of Love; they often were persons perhaps a little more daring than Mary Tyler Moore (who ended up in Minneapolis, not exactly the Babylon of Sodom of the 1970s) trying to figure out how to shape an identity that didn't necessarily conform to that of their Greatest and Silent Generation parents, who themselves, especially if they had the money to do so, were swinging themselves in their suburban sprawl.

But by 1978, the Summer of Love had degenerated into drug abuse, Milk had been assassinated, and Anita Bryant was vomiting her orange juice of bigotry on a national level. Liberation had come at a cost, but Maupin explores these times in a range from biting satire to gentle humor to bittersweet melancholy. Ultimately, the tales are about persons caught up in the wildest and even dangerous escapades (Jim Jones did not die at Jonestown? Oh, that's in the the third one I read) but still, somehow, never losing their ability to laugh at themselves.

One incident in the first novel that happens to the oh so hot straight guy who lives in the wonderful building of Mrs. Anna Madrigal at 28 Barbary Lane (Maupin gives us so many titillating descriptions of him sliding in and out of jeans and various forms of undergear) I found most interesting. Apparently, in San Francisco at that time, “the tubs” or the gay baths weren't the only places to enjoy no strings attached sex. Brian goes to some kind of co-ed bathhoue on Valencia Street. And there was The Party on Monday night, and also that night women were admitted free.
 

Valencia Street, San Francisco in the '70s
Valencia and Market Streets, San Francisco, 1970s, from: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/northern-california/san-francisco/1970s-san-francisco/

He does meet a woman in her private room, (she invites him), but she assumes he is at least bi, and she builds on the fact that most of the guys who go to this bath are bi or gay (but of course!). And I find one ends up feeling sorry for Brian. Yes, he is the heterosexual equivalent of a gay “slut" and he knows it, and he want to get laid, not psychoanalyzed at the baths.

But Maupin's description of the main space is telling, perfectly selective detail, with a real zinger at the end:

There were twice as many men, mingling with the women in a space that seemed strangely reminiscent of a rumpus room in Walnut Creek; rosy-shaded lamps, mis-matched furniture, and a miniature electric train that chugged noisily along a shelf around the perimeter of the room.
A television set mounted on the wall offered Phyllis to the partygoers.
On the opposite wall a movie screen flickered with vintage pornography.
The partygoers were naked, though some of them chose the shelter of a bath towel.
And most of them were watching Phyllis.


Yes, Phyllis, a spin off the Mary Tyler Moore show. Mary's middle-aged friend Phyllis Lindstrom played by Cloris Leachman ends up in San Francisco after her husband dies to start over. And it's got one of the campiest beginnings to any sit com, ever. (Think the big number Hello, Dolly reworked by someone on acid.)
 

Phyllis oepning credits
Phyllis opening credits

But that allusion pretty much says it all about Maupin's take on the topsy-turvy, paradoxical yet also wild and wonderfully campy world that was San Francisco in the late seventies. A world where persons of any orientation could still afford to live in an apartment with a view of the wharfs and where they party with the neighbors and go out to diners at all hours and their landlady tapes a joint to the front door as a welcoming gift.

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