Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?

By Josh Eliot

 

My spouse Tony Fontana and I are super-organized. We keep the place spotless. All things of importance have their own binders. The filing cabinet folders get edited yearly, and our desk calendar is always up to date. One thing we did during the initial Covid-19 lockdown was go through our photos and separate them into categories inside manila envelopes. A bit much? All that aside, the other day I was going through the envelopes to pull pictures for a recent blog about my past partner, Mark Rutter. Tony worked with Mark Rutter at the Gold Coast Bar and they shared a history as well, so I was looking to see if there were any shots in his envelopes with Mark. I didn’t find Mark, but I came across this one shot that kind of blew my mind. I pulled it out and went up to Tony and said: “Is that AL PARKER in your photo?”

 

Al Parker and friends at a Renaissance Fair, 1980s

Al Parker and friends at a Renaissance Fair, 1980s

 

It was, in fact, Al Parker in the photo. Al and his group of friends were photographed at a Renaissance Fair in the 1980s. My partner Tony is standing in the photo facing the group of friends, which included the woman wearing the blue outfit. Probably a Fred Segal outfit, as she loved to shop there. Her name was Nancy Cole Sawaya, and she was the “glue” that united this large group of friends.

 

Al Parker's friends at Ren Fair

Al Parker's friends at Ren Fair

 

Nancy lived in a mansion off of LA’s infamous Mulholland Drive. A typical weekend for the group would be to start Saturday night off at Greg's Blue Dot, a Hollywood gay hot spot, whose clientele was the crème de la crème of the best looking studs. Around 1 a.m., the group would walk a few doors down to the members only disco Probe and stayed there until well past dawn. The Probe would feature “A-list” divas like Viola Wells , Angela Clemmons (“Give Me Just a Little More Time”), Fun Fun, Linda Clifford, Madleen Kane and many more. When Nancy and the boys showed up there, the staff would see to their quick entrance. After dancing the night away they would all end up at Nancy’s place poolside, where the party would go on throughout the day; even the DJs from Probe and Blue Dot would follow and spin records.

 

Nancy at Probe and a backyard pool

Nancy at Probe and a backyard pool

 

In October of 1982, Nancy and her friends Matt Redman, Ervin Munro and Max Drew attended an emergency meeting featuring a presentation from the San Francisco Kaposi’s Sarcoma Foundation about Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease. Stunned by what they learned, these four friends set up a telephone hotline to answer questions from the community, because fear about the new disease was rampant. Over the holidays, Nancy and her small group of friends threw a Christmas party at her place called “A Christmas Present,” where guests were asked to donate money in the spirit of the season. Shortly after, Nancy took Tony to a small office in Hollywood on Cole Avenue she was thinking of renting to get his opinion. With the funds earned from the Christmas party, around $8000, she leased the office with her team of friends and offered counseling services to about twenty people known to have Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, making it a first in Los Angeles County to do so. This small office, through it’s hard work and dedication to the gay community, became APLA, AIDS Project Los Angeles. APLA’s early fundraisers were held in gay bars and discos and they went on to raise millions of dollars over the next few years with the help of such celebrities as Joan Rivers and Elizabeth Taylor. Nancy served on the Board of Directors for nearly two years while continuously offering one-on-one counseling to the members.

Co-founders Nancy Sawaya and Max Drew tested positive for the disease and by August of 1986. Nancy had been hospitalized six times. Nancy and her husband Lou adopted a baby girl named Morgan who was two years old when her mother passed away in October 1986 at age 40. This was the same year Al Parker lost his partner of eleven years, Richard Cole aka Steve Taylor, with whom he started Surge Studios. Surge Studios was one of the first studios to mandate safe sex practices. Al Parker passed away on August 17th 1992, also at the age of 40, and his ashes were scattered near the nude section of San Gregorio State Beach. Seeing both Al and Nancy in this random photo and hearing these stories about them was really quite extraordinary. They both became icons of gay history, giving so much of themselves to the gay community. Such a tragedy to lose them both so early in life.

 

Al Parker and Richard Cole (Steve Taylor); Nancy on Newsweek cover

Al Parker and Richard Cole (Steve Taylor); Nancy on Newsweek cover

 

As I started to put away the photos, I saw a manila envelope labeled “Tony and Friends,” so I thought I would look in that one to see if there were any more shots of Al or Nancy. I carefully scanned each and every photo, checking to see if I could recognize any faces when suddenly... I saw another one! Tony was facing the camera making a silly face, but it was the person who was to the right of the shot that again blew my mind. I took the photograph, marched down the hallway to the office, went up to Tony again and said : “Is that ESTELLE GETTY from GOLDEN GIRLS in your photo?”

 

Estelle Getty at a West Hollywood party, 1980s

Estelle Getty at a West Hollywood party, 1980s

 

Thank you to Josh Eliot for use of his photos.


Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?

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David's Chicago Sexual Underground 9/2/22 & P(r)ick of the Week

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Greetings P(r)icksters!

Been pretty busy at the bar, still training new staff. I have also been hosting regular vax parties for this monkeypox mess. Lots of guys have been coming round getting a shot and thanking me for doing this.

When I came to Chicago back in 1976, I checked out several bars, looking to make new friends in a new town. Then I walked into a leather bar and after a while, I found what I was looking for.

Back then, gay bars were pretty much low key. They didn’t draw attention to themselves, and they were easy targets for police raids and harassment. A gay press was just developing at the time, so finding where bars were in any town wasn’t easy, more word of mouth.

Folks could be friendly in most gay bars but when things went down, a bar raid for example, patrons would dash off and look for another bar to hang out at. The concept of a cohesive community was not quite there yet. One bar getting the spotlight and folks ran to another, being as they were just as much in a closet.

The thing about leather bars back then was the leather clubs that called them home. I’ve talked before about how biker clubs formed up after our GIs returned from Europe and abroad from WWII. These close-knit clubs looked out for their club brothers and, when needed, brothers in other clubs. They were my mentors that brought me to this scene and taught me that we take care of each other as no one else would.

These clubs did a lot of support for members like helping them put a roof over their head or a find job to pay for it. When one got sick, their brothers would take care of them. And a lot of times, when it was serious, say a major accident that had one laid up for a spell, they all stepped up to help. Early fundraisers were just for this, paying someone’s rent or car payment.

As our community grew, so did the leather circle, and our financial support went towards early community efforts. One of my favorite memories from that era was a Toys For Tots Show the various clubs came together and put on. Image a bunch of bearded bikers singing, dancing, some in drag, while raising thousands of dollars for a worthy cause. (Unfortunately, the Salvation Army returned our donation because it came from gay men; why I never put a nickel in one of their kennels)

Most people these days are familiar with Howard Brown Health Center here in Chicago. A huge operation, with clinics across the city providing medical care for LGBTQ+ folks from the northside to the southside and west. But back in 1976, Howard Brown’s focus was on STDs in the gay community. You got a drippy dick, you went to Howard Brown for a swap and a shot. They operated in the basement of a church, one a day a week. There was no charge, just a place to receive care that gay people were fearful to ask for from their doctor or city health clinics. After all, we were just a bunch of queers and because we had sex with other men, we deserved what we caught.

We would host tag nights at the bar where we’d ask for a buck at the door so Howard Brown could get the medical supplies and penicillin to treat us. We did that for Howard Brown and other small groups trying to serve the gay community as it grew.

When HIV/AIDS struck in the 80s, Howard Brown grew from a doctor and nurse in a church to one of the leading efforts to figure out what was causing this unknown disease that was killing gay men. Early on, the leather community put a lot of effort towards support for Howard Brown’s work to help us survive.

Covid came around a couple of years ago and we stepped up to educate and take care of those stricken with this disease. Even during shutdowns, we would check up on each other, get friends to doctors when needed, make soup, shop for others and encourage others to pitch in and get vaccinated.

Now it is monkeypox. Just like HIV/AIDS, this one hit gay people first. It started spreading around before we knew it was here. But, we are leathermen and we take care of our own. That’s why the only gay bars in town hosting vaccination events are the leather bars. Not one other gay bar here has done so.

It is what I have been taught and shown, and as a leatherman we will continue to take care of our own. Even those that have never stepped inside the bar before. Of course, I am making sure they understand Touché is the only bar hosting weekly vax parties, suggesting maybe they should check out what we are all about. More than just hot kinky sex.

So for all my horny bastards out there reading this blog, get a pox vax. It’s two shots, four weeks apart. Once you do that, in another two weeks your body will develop the immunity you need to avoid getting monkeypox. Six weeks and we can put this mess to rest and end the spread.

While you are waiting out those six weeks, grab my P(r)ick and keep it hot.

David

To order from Bijou, visit bijouworld.com, call 800-932-7111, or email bijou.orders@gmail.com

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Pictures from the Black Dance images
Pictures from the Black Dance (DK0047) - On DVD and Streaming

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Mr. Chicago Leather Contest 1988 (D00568) - On DVD and Streaming

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