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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International Mr. Leather 2019 Fashion

posted by Madame Bubby

I passed by a booth at the leather market, and I noticed witches' hats. Yes, the kind with the peak. I heard a woman cackling. No, I am not making the above up, and I am not recounting a surrealistic dream.

And this booth was also selling a particularly hot item at the mart, a leather crown (for Baby Boomers like me, it resembles the head gear of the character Jughead in the Archie comics).

jughead leather crown

To be honest, I've noticed changes in the types of items sold at the market over the years, but this one was certainly, let's just say, interesting. The leather market is no longer solely a gay male space, or for that matter, a “traditional” gay cis leatherman space, with guys wearing the iconic Village People gay macho gear.
 

Village People

Through the years, as a diversity of genders have competed in various contests, the overall inventory of the mart and those who attend it has changed to reflect a more fluid, self-defining identification with and practice of kink.

Thus, the witches' hats could reflect, however superficially, a Wiccan influence, and many gay leathermen have rejected traditional monotheistic religions in favor of other forms of spirituality, often veering toward transmutations of beliefs and rituals prominent globally before Christian domination and colonization. In fact, the polyamorous life of many leatherfolk meshes well with a fluid polytheism.

Other kink/fantasy trends that have integrated themselves into International Mr. Leather include costume play. Think Renaissance fair, think Lord of the Rings, think Game of Thrones. Opera masks, capes, pirate boots with the cuff.
 

Renaissance men's clothing

I also noticed a couple of furries, though the fox had to take off the head (the mart tends to become hot and claustrophobic).
 

Leathermen and furries at IML

And, surprisingly, because I had thought it was not trending, steampunk fashion. I noticed a couple of guys with this gear attached to their hats.

One of the events this year was a discussion of the superhero fetish; this event makes sense, as the culture is replete with multiple constructions, reconstructions, and deconstructions in this genre. The line to get into Avengers: Endgame merges with the line to get into the mart.
 

Men in superhero fetish attire at IML

Even the conventional leather gear is taking on the colors of the rainbow. No longer black and red leather shirts: I noticed bright yellow and a green that somewhat resembles a lawn turf.

Uniforms composed of cloth are now composed of leather. I noticed a boy scout uniform produced completely in leather, and a couple of leather football shirts. Leather for those who can afford it or who want to combine looks and textures, while the cloth will fulfill the fetish/fantasy on its own terms.

Overall, dizzying! A traditional Old Guard type might lament the diffusiveness and lack of authenticity he sees in these fashions, while a millennial might rejoice that she can find something that fits her sensibility and budget. Leather gear has always been expensive. In fact, I noticed substantive price increases all around), and I am not trying to perpetuate the broke millennial stereotype, but the traditional leather scene has tended to attract older, established guys who possess the time and money to be kinky.

But who can really determine not just how to appear non-normative, but be non-normative? The leather kink world thrives on the tensions between hierarchy/freedom, appearance/reality, norm/taboo.

Perhaps the kaleidoscope of colors and textures shows this tension as the scene embraces generations who assume sexuality develops on a spectrum, and for whom reality shifts at a dizzying pace between a cyberspace primarily visual and private: pics, gifs and memes, and the physical, public space of the mart invaded by all the senses: the smell of leather and sweat, the sound of boots, the touch of meaty hands and moist tongues.

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