DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun

By Josh Eliot

 

My roommates and I lived at 19th and Castro for many years starting in 1984 when I was 22. The neighborhood had everything we needed. Between Market and 18th, just across from the Castro Theatre, was Marcello’s Pizza where they sell pizza by the slice to a non-stop line from opening to closing time. Two doors down was Louie’s Barber Shop which was always filled with guys checking each other out while they waited for their haircuts. Every three weeks or so I plopped my ass in one of those chairs for a crew cut on the sides while keeping it a bit longer on top, with spiking gel. While I changed my haircut over the years, it always seemed to revert back to that same look.

 

Louie's Barber Shop and Marcello's Pizza

Louie's Barber Shop and Marcello's Pizza

 

Donuts 24 was on the corner of 18th and Castro and was the place to cruise for your last chance hook-up after all the bars let out at 2am. For those truly too horned up to go home, a block away was Collingwood Park which was basically a baseball field with some extra land. Men would line up along the chain link fence, cruising the passersby and sometimes jumping into whatever random car might pull up. It was all a bit dark, murky and desperate, but my roomies and I would end up there from time to time.

 

Donuts 24 and the Patio Cafe

Donuts 24 and the Patio Cafe

 

The infamous Elephant Walk bar was kitty corner from Donuts 24 and became notorious as the place the cops came to when they exacted their revenge for the gays setting City Hall ablaze after the Dan White verdict. Police descended onto the Castro and the Elephant Walk, violently striking the bar patrons who were already filled with complete fury and disdain for the police state and justice system. The gays fought back and set police cars on fire. By the end of the night, dozens of police cars were set ablaze and 20 people were arrested.

We cooked at home a lot, but when we were too lazy we could pop across the street from our flat to the Canton Bistro for Chinese takeout. My roommates were: Alvonne, a student at San Francisco State University, Paul, a waiter at the Patio Café on Castro, and Brian, who did odd jobs like mover, waiter, bar back and call boy, advertising in local gay classified ads. We spent a lot of time at the Patio Café which had an incredible outdoor setting and a great cheap meal, because Paul would leave most of our ordered items off the bill. My aunt and uncle visited once with my parents so we took them there for lunch. Eating at the table right next to us was porn star Rick Donovan, with his sister I think. The café was buzzing about it so my aunt took the opportunity to swipe the ashtray and salt and pepper shakers while everyone else was transfixed on Donovan. The four of us were inseparable and, because we were in our early 20s, we related mostly to the Midnight Sun Video Bar as our top choice for a local hangout.

 

Josh with Castro Street roommates Alvonne, Brian and Paul

Josh with Castro Street roommates Alvonne, Brian and Paul

 

The Midnight Sun was a new concept at the time born from the new and exciting MTV generation. We were there for milestone moments like when Madonna rolled around on the floor while performing "Like a Virgin" at the MTV Awards, gathering anxiously to see premieres of videos from The Talking Heads, The Bangles, Bananarama, The Go-Go’s, Psychedelic Furs, Human League and Queen’s “I Want To Break Free.” Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry was tripping my trigger in those days, especially the Avalon album. There was a waiter friend of Paul’s at The Patio Café who was a dead ringer for a young Bryan Ferry. I tried every trick in the book to peak his interest, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

The Sun was not a place to necessarily brush up on your cruising skills, but more of a gay social scene where we all could form comradery with complete strangers who appreciate music and visuals on the big screen. Charging only $1.75 for a Seagram’s 7 and 7up and $1.25 for Budweisers, the small space was a gold mine for the owners. Literally a standing room only place with ledges for sitting along the side and back wall.

 

The Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun

 

Wednesday Night was Dynasty night and you needed to get there at least 45 minutes before the show started or you would be stuck outside in line, not getting in until after the show - if you were lucky. Watching Crystal push Alexis into the lily pond for the very first time was the ultimate high. Everyone went wild! I remember seeing the episode on Halloween in 1984 where Alexis is put in jail, after which we hit the packed streets of Castro to take part in all the costumed madness! Dedicated fans didn’t miss a beat as we saw several drag groups with their “Free Alexis” banners! I guess it wasn’t only the Castro that was clicking with Dynasty’s theme that night. You know, I like to rummage through my spouse’s photos (as you might have read in my blog “Is That Al Parker In Your Photo?”) and, lo and behold, there he and his friends were, that same night in West Hollywood… dressed in drag and carrying “Free Alexis” signs!

 

Free Alexis Halloween costumes after Dynasty viewing

Free Alexis Halloween costumes after Dynasty viewing

 

The Midnight Sun’s VJ followed the crowd pleaser cues from the Dynasty clips and regularly showed classic fight scenes. I remember one in particular from The Turning Point with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, fighting and pulling each other’s hair on a rooftop! Anne Bancroft’s real name was Anna Maria Italiano and she was cousin to my spouse’s father. Unfortunately I never got to meet her!

The Midnight Sun is still going strong to this day but is now featuring a diverse weekly line-up including: drag shows, go-go boys, karaoke, throwback hits with 2 for 1 drinks and Latinx Thursday Nights. Next time you're in San Francisco, pay them a visit If you find yourself on the corner of 18th and Castro looking for some good clean fun.

 

Midnight Sun current lineup and interior

Midnight Sun current lineup and interior

 

Previous blogs in DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO series:
The Castro Theatre - Josh Eliot
The Badlands - Will Seagers

 

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?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

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Fag Hag: A Stereotype of the Past?

 

<em>Will and Grace</em>

 

Was the Will and Grace duo (gay guy and his “BFF” straight woman) that epitomizes, for many heterosexual audiences, a slice of gay life really that much of a groundbreaking novelty? Yes it was, because the show was aired on national TV, so it created a lot of discussion about that type of relationship. But believe it or not, in a late-sixties publication called Sex Play: A Marital Guide for the Gay Male (from our extensive collection of gay sexual history materials) there is an hilarious article on the gay guy and his “BFF” straight woman.Time Magazine: April 4, 1983


In the late sixties, once the Post Office lifted censorship restrictions about showing full frontal nudity, homoerotic publications started showing not only cocks, but couples in a variety of sexual positions (still rather risky for that time period). In order to continue to cover their asses, these publications advertised themselves as “how to” or “guide to” material, and often included articles on various aspects of gay life that may or may not have had anything actually to do with the sucking and fucking going on in the pictures. Thus, this supposed marital guide, though offering relevant articles about gay couples getting married (yes, they did at this time period) and why it is beneficial to be a homosexual, is billed as “educational material not to be sold to minors.”

But why is there material on, as the term on the street labels them, “fag hags,” in this publication? In accordance with its educational mission, the article “Living It Up Together” purports to offer a heterosexual reader a glimpse of the “homosexual life,” which includes feelings of love which can result relationships not dissimilar to “straights,” the author claims (including marriages in “homosexual churches”). But the author also claims to offer insights into some a special relationship prevalent when gays and straights mix in social settings (apparently a more common occurrence during that time period, though either group would be in the minority depending on the party). That relationship is the gay man-straight woman. The article proclaims:

Many “straights” get a tremendous charge out of the company of inverts and actually prefer associating with them rather than their own crowd. Older women are constantly added to the list as patronesses or benefactresses because they adore the flattery and attention lavished up them after the “normal” society has given up complimenting their fading egos. They are caught up in the gaiety and effervescence (more sham and pretense, but usually convincingly so) of the seemingly light-hearted, brilliant conversationalists and exhibitionists of which this (gay) crowd is comprised.

Pretty heady, campy stuff! I won't get into the use of the term invert (now an old-fashioned word for gay, meaning that somehow the usual sexual attribute and desires of one's gender are inverted, turned around, even reserved in gays and lesbians), but what I find really interesting is the now-offensive stereotype here in full force, one that was assumed, hinted at, but not necessarily shouted from the rooftops for many years. For example, gay icon Joan Crawford surrounded herself with gay men (her best friends were a gay, by all practical purposes married, couple, William Haines and his lover Billy), but the darker side of this relationship also applied to her. According to some of her biographers, a few gay men, then called “starfuckers,” supposedly took advantage of her good will as she aged.

Joan Crawford and William HainesThe bottom line in the above: A woman who is not or no longer attractive to straight men supposedly hangs out with gay guys and even hopes that she can somehow “reform” him. Think more like what the comic Roseanne said: thank God for gay guys because fat girls would have no one to dance with. Not exactly the Will and Grace dynamic, as Grace was young and attractive to straight men, more the ditzy young sidekick than the aging lonely dowager. Another fictional embodiment of this relationship, Robert Rodi's novel Fag Hag, humanizes the stereotype, he still maintains some of its brutally campy elements in the character of Natalie, the young overweight girl hopelessly in love with her gay friend and out for revenge when he finds the love of his life. Let's just say she makes Glenn Close's methods in Fatal Attraction look surprisingly amateur.<em>Fag Hag</em>


I think there's more going on here than “times have changed” since the late sixties. Straight women apparently (so I've heard from private sources) can hang out in gay bars with their gay friends and not be derided as “fag hags” as the core parts of what used to be the “homosexual lifestyle” become assimilated into the mainstream. But is the stereotype totally dead? After all, there is a show on the LGBT Logo channel called "1 Girl 5 Gays," in which five “outlandish, fabulous” gay men tackle topics ranging from love and sex to celebrity pop culture, with a female host acting as “ringleader.” Is this show more like entertainment or reality, I wonder...

Whatever the reality, I wonder if we finally are starting to realize that whatever relationships end up coming our way, we need to see ourselves as whole persons, not get so bound up in dualisms that lend themselves to potentially harmful stereotypes like gay guy/straight woman.

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I Love You, Joan Crawford: Gay Men and Their Big Ladies

 

Joan Crawford Illustration

The other day while on the subway, I heard two male high school students (not sure if they were gay) debate the respective virtues of Beyonce and Adele.

 

Diva worship is apparently still alive everywhere, not just in the gay community! 


But what's the real scoop on the cliched gay obsession with Joan Crawford and other dead or superannuated movie stars, or as movie mogul Jack Warner put it more bluntly, “old broads,” the language he used when referring to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 

 

These larger than life ladies, and others like them, have always enjoyed large gay male followings.  

So my question is: is the “big lady” and her gay entourage now a stereotype of a campy, closeted culture of the past, in which diva worship, according to many cultural critics, was an elaborate “covering” dynamic for gay men's profound social and psychological insecurities?   

The September/October 1977 issue of In Touch Magazine, in those early days when the magazine offered an array of cultural features, offers a tribute to Joan soon after her death, and, most significantly, before the now notorious book and camp cult classic Mommie Dearest came out.

 

This article pretty much rehashes many of the claims made about the late movie legend, such as director George Cukor's paean to her face, “that extraordinary sculptural construction of lines and planes,” her superlative (and some might argue, obsessive) projection of stardom, and her continual reinvention of her image.

 

She was the vibrant jazz baby; the assertive shopgirl who made good and got her man while fighting for her rights; the stylish, glamorous, yet suffering and vulnerable femme fatale; the Gothic horror queen.

 

Gay men found in these personas something they could identify with in their own struggles for individual identity and social respect. 

For gay men, Joan was the star and, for many, still is the star - that luminous, glamorous figure swathed in furs and jewels, kind of a fairy queen, remote but also approachable. Joan was approachable, even if she did supposedly get dressed up to go to the grocery store; she answered ever fan letter personally, sustained relationships with fans, and she would even thank you for a thank you note! "Goodbye, Joan" is the title of the article, and the author once again quotes the gay George Cukor, who expresses disbelief that the legend had actually died. 

Joan, of course, lives on in the movies and a caricature of her lives on, as well; the wire hanger and can of cleanser wielding monster of Mommie Dearest becoming one of the biggest gay camp icons ... ever. And a new generation can still see her (if they want to) on Turner Classic Movies, on DVD reissues, and on youtube.

 

But do the “old broad divas,” especially Crawford, with their larger than life personas, over the top (to many eyes and ears these days) characterization and dialogue, and often striking personal and professional flaws and vulnerabilities, really appeal to today's smoothly tech-savvy, more easily assimilated gay man? 

Yes, I love Joan Crawford, even if I can also also laugh at the melodramatic excesses. But how often in the life we live (as opposed perhaps to the life we dream), can we tell someone off like Joan does in Autumn Leaves, calling someone a slut twice in one harangue? (And not playing for the cameras on a reality TV show!).

 

Most people end up dying in sterile hospitals looking like a pincushion of tubes, or on the toilet; so who wouldn't want to drown on a gorgeous, moonlit beach with a violin playing theLiebestod in the background, like Joan does in Humoresque?

 

And Joan could laugh at herself, as she does in It's a Great Feeling, when she delivers a slap and says that she does that in all her movies. “Get out Veda! Get out before I throw your things into the street and you with them! Get out before I kill you!”

 

The point of this blog is not self-analysis, but if Joan Crawford worship is part of my gay unique sensibility, then so be it. Maybe I was born with it, or is it a social construct because of my generation? And of course, one can also mock the Joan Crawford obsession as a gay cliche, as Debbie Novatny in Queer as Folk says to her brother, when he asked her if she wanted to stay home and watch a Joan Crawford festival, “No one's that gay!” 
 

Divas


For a while, up to the early 90s, a new type of diva, like Streisand, Cher, Bette Midler, and Madonna, looked to replace, or perhaps supplement, the more traditional Barbra, Judy, Bette, and Joan as divas with that gay following, according to Michael Kearns in an article entitled “Heroine Worship” in the November 1984 issue of Male Review.

 

But in 2014, who is the new fairy queen or queen of the fairies (pun intended)? Is that image and its associations even relevant in this culture? 

The author Ethan Mordden, in a past issue of Opera News, focused on another type of diva with a gay following, the female opera singer (think Maria Callas, especially). He recounts that, at a recent dinner party, he deplored the type of gay man who mimics his diva of choice, sprinkling his conversation with “darlings,” pretending to be Auntie Mame. In other words, perhaps he is implicating the “older” gay men in the closet who identities with the diva in all her flaws (but also her assertiveness), taking on a mask to cover his feelings of oppression and discrimination. The younger gay men at the party did not know who Auntie Mame was. Gasp!

 

A younger employee of the Bijou confused Betty White with Bette Davis. Does he deserve the mockery his mistake created? Or are the older gay men, those “old queens,” the ones to be mocked and pitied for their now outdated diva worship that reeks, like Norma Desmond's tube rose perfume in Sunset Boulevard, of the pre-Stonewall closet? 

All cultures undergo transformations in response to a complex variety of factors. But I do wonder if the lack of the old variety of diva worship in gay culture is a simple either/or, now/then issue. Generation Y and  the Millenials may not subscribe to the same values as preceding generations, but I do find some fault with the “ahistoricism” of said group, that somehow they have outgrown the old gay icons or replaced them with others less gay orthodox campy.

 

Yet even if the whole culture sees something like Joan Crawford worship as camp or kitsch, or even if some gay “hipsters” appropriate such imagery inauthentically as only parody, to deny even a glimpse of the power and beauty that these women uniquely conveyed to previous generations is a sad loss. 

We are so afraid of the grand gesture, the big emotion that these big ladies could generate, somehow seeing it as false or hollow or silly or politically incorrect. Perhaps we have cheapened big emotions with reality TV, with American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, where everyone, not just the few larger than life stars, can groan and weep and spit out insults for the omnipresent cameras.

 

Does being liberated from social oppression mean a liberation from .... feeling? Perhaps we can't truly experience the high without experiencing the contrast of the low.

 

But as I see it, one of the great cultural enjoyments is to let yourself experience the campy pleasures of truly big, talented personalities. 
 

Joan Crawford

 

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My Strange Addiction and the Dynamics of Power

My Strange Addiction and the Dynamics of Power

It's not porn (not really a strange addiction), and it's not my strange addiction. What is it? The series My Strange Addiction on the The Learning Channel. Everyone seems to be baring privates, or in this case, mostly eating publicly what they are doing privately, on TV these days, but what I find most fascinating is the eating. Yes, people addicted to eating objects one would not consider to be food. And we aren't talking about the sexual fetishes of eating/drinking piss/cum and the like that often appear in porn movies, though, recently, the show featured a woman addicted to drinking her own urine, which sometimes tasted "lemony" (she claimed it was a type of holistic therapy for cancer).

 

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Beer, instrumental in the creation of the world, part two

Beer, instrumental in the creation of the world, part two

 

Great advancements in modernization came about because of beer. Just listen to this, some German immigrants (think they were Miller & Coors) brought a new type of beer to America, lager beer which is cold brewed. Well to keep it cold they needed some form of refrigeration. So the first refrigeration was developed not to keep your milk cold, but to keep your brew beer perfect for drinking. Did you know that beer produced the first manufacturing plants. That's right and everyone thinks is was Ford who modernized manufacturing to built the Model T car. Not so, modern mass manufacturing plants were built to make bottles to hold all that beer.

 

Even advances in medicine comes from beer. The concept of germs and bacteria came from beer.  Distillers showed how the heating process in the brewing killed the crap in water that was making people sick. I learned in that wonderful Discovery Channel show that distillers took water from a duck pond and brewed beer from an old recipe, while the water was foul from the fowl, the beer was not. All because of the technique of distilling with boiling water. Need I say more, even the very idea of washing your hands came about because of beer.

 

Scientists in the 20th century discovered Tetracycline in Egyptian mummies which was long before the discover of this antibiotic in the 1940's. How was this possible? That's right, the brewing of beer from an ancient Egyptian recipe.

 

There was a lot more to this show and everything they presented about the evolution of mankind was based on the discovery, the production and consumption of BEER. All the way back to mankind settling down.

 

Now what they didn't show was how beer brought us porn, so let's just run with that idea for a moment. Because of beer we can relax in cool comfort on hot days (or cold days), grab a little something to eat (or not) and a beer from the fridge. We have our TVs for entertainment where we watch ball games and all those beer commercials and low and behold came the VCR, and "whala!" here comes porn right on my TV. So here I am with a bottle of beer in one hand and my joint in the other. So because of beer there is a lot of one handed entertainment.

 

Didn't I tell you that the educational valve of the Discovery Channel will give you a whole new perspective on beer?

 

Speaking of beer, we have plenty of freshly brewed beer on hand at Touché everyday and every night.

 

Touche's since 1978,  6412 N. Clark Street Chicago,  773-465-7400. M-F 5 pm - 4 am SAT 3 pm - 5 am SUN noon - 4 am)

 

Bijou/bijouworld.com the only name for Vintage/Classic gay porn films and magazines. 800.932-7111

 

Keep it hot,


David

 

 


 

 

 

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