It shouldn’t be any surprise to find out that the creator of such classic children’s characters as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the Cookie Monster was a Gay man. Even the most cursory study of LGBT history shows, time and again, that same-sex people were typically …archetypically … the culture carriers and, perhaps more to the point, the teacher of children. We were always the ones in the tribe to whom the children were given to make sure they learned how to be "one of us."
Sadly, Kermit Love (now there’s a name to reckon with, eh?) who also played Willy the Hot Dog Man (at the left here) on Sesame Street, and had a whole other career designing for Jerome Robbins, Agnes DeMille and Kurt Weill, died June 21st in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the ripe and delicious age of 91. He is survived by his partner of 50 years, Christopher Lyall.
Love spoke about how he designed Big Bird so that he would subtly shed feathers in the course of normal movement, "Not unlike a tree shedding leaves in the Fall." He believed this made Big Bird appear more natural to young viewers. From this, Love went on to design Mr. Snuffleupagus. Despite the coincidence of names, Love is not the namesake for the most famous of the Henson puppets. He was quoted once as saying,"Nope. No connection. He’s Kermit the Frog and I’m just Kermit the human."
Hail and farewell to another Gay elder.
As anyone who is familiar with White Crane knows we don’t do advertising. We only run displays for people, goods, products and services that are in keeping with our educational mission. So…the Heinz company (the ones that do ketchup here) sells mayonnaise in Great Britain…and they were running this ad (which, alas, they’ve just pulled…apparently it really upset Bill O’Reilly.) We think it deserves to be seen. And you might write Heinz and let them know how much you like it, too:
After I posted this, Heinz or someone went in and added a "CENSORED" plate just at the point the two men kiss. I managed to find the original, which is now here. Apparently Heinz is saying that the idea isn’t to represent a same-sex couple with children, but that their mayo turns any mother into a "Brooklyn deli man"…whatever.
The story keeps changing: Now, apparently, a few Members of Parliament are demanding that Heinz restore the advert. As they say in Britain: brilliant.
A lot has been written about George Carlin’s passing. He was a brilliant comic but also an astounding wordsmith and a constant champion, in his own way, for the rights of people’s freedom. He was also a fierce cultural critic who loved pointing out the absurdities of dogma, whether political or religious.
Since he was a far-ranging cultural commentator, I was curious to see his take on gay people and went searching for any of George Carlin’s takes on Gay people and found an interesting interview he gave to the New York Times about playing one of those "Gay neighbor" roles for the movie "The Prince of Tides."
"He was written as an out-of-the closet Gay," said Mr. Carlin, speaking by telephone recently from Cincinnati, where he was preparing to give a stand-up comedy performance. "The stage direction said ‘flamboyant,’ I think. At any rate, I knew he wasn’t a Marine drill sergeant trying to hide his Gayness. The challenge was how to be a Gay man acting effeminate but not be a cartoon or a stereotype."
That challenge raised touchy questions for a comedian who has made a career out of scathing social and political commentary. Would the actor be playing into the hands of homophobic viewers? "I have a position on that," Mr. Carlin said. "That sort of behavior is part of the reality among some Gay males. At times it’s exaggerated, depending on mood or the company. To banish the behavior is to punish it. Unless the behavior can be seen as O.K., then you’re burying it."
Much easier, Mr. Carlin, said, was Eddie’s comic delivery. "I’ve always admired Gay humor," he said. "It’s bittersweet, bitchy, to-the-point and honest. So that was already in me somewhere."
Carlin also famously took on the absurdity of some of the Catholic church’s positions:
"Catholics are against abortions.
Catholics are against homosexuals.
But, I can’t think of anyone who has less abortions than homosexuals! "
But most stunning of all my finds was an old comedy bit that Carlin did WAY BACK in 1973. It can be found on his Toledo album and is just pretty stunning given the time. Keep in mind, this is five years after Stonewall and still the early 70s. Carlin was headlining huge comedy tours and was at the top of his game.
On the track called "Gay Lib" Carlin gives his insights into what that means to him at the time and then tears apart the "unnatural" and "abnormal" arguments against homosexuality by first arguing for Gays as an understandable evolution and then (stunningly) giving a description of what certainly sounds like a backroom encounter to argue for its normalcy. Here’s how it went:
"Gay Lib. Now interestingly, here is an attempt by a hooked down and kind of persecuted minority to insist on their place rightfully, and their treatment rightfully, without it having anything to do with ethnic or religion or anything! It’s really an exciting separate part of liberation. …Sometimes we, if we’re younger, we react to that in a way that we’ve been schooled. Then you kinda get your chops, and you get things okay and you understand and it’s all right to be able to talk about that. Here’s what I mean. The word "homosexual," many people who aren’t in the position to having to decide this, they wonder:
"Is homosexuality… Is it normal? Is it natural? I ask you. Is it normal or natural? Is it unnatural and abnormal?"
Now those two words seem to revolve around it. Now let’s look at those words for what they are…
"Natural." Hey. Means "according to nature." Is it according to nature? Well…probably not in the strictest sense because nature didn’t presuppose it. Nature only gave us one set of sexual apparatus. A girl’s got something for the guys, a guy’s got something for the girls. [low laughter in the crowd] As it is now, a homosexual is forced to "share" the apparatus that the opposite sex is using on this person. Certainly if nature was in command there’d have two sets of goodies. So nature was not ready. We leaped past nature again in our sociological development, way down the road ahead of nature.
Is it normal? Normal? Well what’s "normal?" Well, let’s see.. if you’re standing in a room, stripped, and it’s dark, and you’re hugging a person and loving them and rubbing them up and down, and they’re rubbing you, and you’re rubbing together and suddenly the light goes on and it’s the same sex, you’ve been trained to go
"AAIIIAUUGGGAIIIAEAAHHHHHHHH!" (crowd laughs)
But if felt okayy…. So maybe it was normal without being natural. (crowd laughs strongly)
Again, given the times, it was a very pro-Gay acceptance message.
Last night Harry Shearer (another comic genius I love) mentioned Carlin’s brilliance in one of his recent bits called "Modern Man." Seemed an appropriate way of acknowledging Carlin’s passing.
Hmm…. attraction at the most physical level:
I especially love Carbon’s snaps and that crazy zapping electricity.
This is a short video of Gary Kasparov making a speech…and being interrupted by…wait for it….A Flying Penis…kinda makes me wish I spoke Russian…
Oh no they’re not…they’re just breathing hard!
Thursday, June 5. 7:30 – 9 p.m.
LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street, Kaplan Assembly, First Floor
Admission: FREE, no reservations required.
Join the largest New York gathering of Cockettes since their theatrical catastrophe at the Anderson Theater in 1971. In 1968 this psychedelic-fueled gender bending troupe of men, women, children, Gay, straight and in-between became legendary for their performances at San Francisco’s Palace Theater. At the cultural forefront of Gay Liberation, these bearded hippie drag queens showed generations to come the creative potential within us all. Moderated by Steven Watson, chronicler of the American avant-garde and author of Factory Made, The Beat Generation and The Harlem Renaissance, and hosted by John Waters’ superstar Mink Stole and HRH Lee Mentley of the Hula Palace, the evening promises to be historic. Cockettes scheduled to appear include Scrumbly, Sweet Pam, Rumi, Fayette, Harlow, Jet, Tahara, Sebastian, Toots Taraval, Jim Campbell and Dolores DeLuce.
Contact: Robert Croonquist at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Cockette Symposium is one of a series of events in New York the first week in June will bring a dozen of the original Cockettes together on the East Coast for the first time since 1971 to mark the donation of the Martin Worman Cockettes / Gay Theater Archives to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theater Division at Lincoln Center.
The other events include:
The Northeast Radical Faeries and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Present
AN EXTRAVAGANZA TO BENEFIT FAERIE CAMP DESTINY
Monday, June 2. Bazaar, Refreshments and Films from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Performances at 8 p.m.
At Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue at 10th Street.
Admission, $30. Bake Sale and Bar, Faerie Wares and Services—Priceless
Rumi Missabu of the Cockettes & the Camaraderie Art Salon present:
A COCKTAIL OF GLAMOR AND ANARCHY
Wednesday, June 4. 8 p.m. with a possible second show at 10 p.m.
At Monkeytown, 58 North 3rd Street between Wythe & Kent, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Bedford subway stop.
Admission FREE with two drink minimum. Dinner reservations encouraged, 718 384-1369
Further info at: mailto:email@example.com
The Cockettes emerged from the communal movement in San Francisco in the late 1960’s. Founded by Hibiscus and other members of beat writer and publisher Irving Rosenthal’s Kaliflower commune, the Kitchen Sluts, as they were first known, would entertain as they delivered food and newsletters from Rosenthal’s Free Press to an intercommunal food network of over 300 households. Known for their outrageous bearded drag, sequins, glitter and camp, the queerly androgynous troupe made street theater and performance history on the stage of the Palace Theater at the Nocturnal Dream Shows, midnight showings of camp film classics. Word of their shows spread by word of mouth and through San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. The Cockettes were officially discovered by Rex Reed, Truman Capote and Joanna Carson and were whisked off to New York where they were feted by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and held court at Max’s Kansas City. Their cockeyed optimism was welcomed by many but at odds with the irony and cool of New York during the Warhol era. Those who flocked to see their premiere at the Anderson Theater included Anthony Perkins, Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon. As Sylvia Miles said, “Everybody who was anybody was there.” And they were not amused; the evening was a catastrophe. Angela Lansbury is said to have risen from her seat midway through Act One and exclaimed, “Get me the fuck out of here,” and Gore Vidal quoted Arthur Laurents’ Gypsy, “Having no talent is not enough.” After the glitter settled, the Cockettes returned to San Francisco where they created their most successful shows. Cockettes who became famous in their own right include disco diva Sylvester, Café Society pianist Peter Mintun and Cockette guest star Divine.
The Martin Worman / Cockettes / Gay Theater Archives
Martin Worman was a playwright, director, actor and lyricist during the height of the Gay Liberation movement in the 1960’s through his death of AIDS in 1993. A Vietnam Era veteran from Paterson, New Jersey, Worman left Fort Dix for a life in the theater in San Francisco where he was a member of the legendary troupe known as the Cockettes. He wrote book and lyrics for several of their most renowned shows including Hot Greeks and Vice Palace which featured John Waters’ superstars Divine and Mink Stole. He was known as “The Cockette Who Can Read” because of his multiple academic degrees, a secret he carefully guarded from the street-based, anti-professional ethos of the time.
Worman continued his musical collaboration with Cockette Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn, writing musical revues and plays, most notably the 1972 musical Rickets: A Day in the Life of the Counterculture. Influenced by the theater of Bertolt Brecht, Worman viewed himself as a cultural worker and saw theater as a weapon in the struggle for Gay Liberation. In 1975 he co-founded the San Francisco-based Gay Men’s Theater Collective whose award-winning play Crimes Against Nature was brought to New York. There Worman assisted Robert Wilson and Jack O’Brien, directed Lola Pashalinski in her Obie winning performance of Steven Holt’s Cold, Lazy and Elaine and adapted Sherwood Anderson’s The Man Who Became a Woman for Steven Keats at Theater for the New City. At his death he was Associate Professor of Theater at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he adapted Meridel LeSeuer’s Midwest populist writings to the theater. The 90 hours of interviews he conducted with Cockettes in 1987 during the height of the AIDS epidemic include a deathbed interview with disco diva Sylvester. His unfinished dissertation at NYU on the history of the Cockettes became the basis for David Weissman and Bill Weber’s acclaimed documentary The Cockettes.
Worman created extensive archives of his work in the theater, including 600 pages of Cockette interviews transcribed by his partner Robert Croonquist who safe-guarded the archives and is now donating them to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theater Division at Lincoln Center.
I have to say that the few times I’ve seen a drag performance I’ve found them pretty uninteresting. They have usually consisted of people doing VERY bad lip-synching.
Anyway, this clip, from a Drag performer named "Anita Mann" is pretty damn funny. And very clever. It gets better as it goes.
For other reasons altogether, I was in search of the source of the quote:
Now…a quip of that nature can only have come from a limited handful of sources…I was initially guessing Oscar Wilde…Mark Twain probably said something similar. But no. It was our dear, dear Noël Coward, of course, putting the words in the mouth of his beloved Gertrude Lawrence as she played "Amanda Prynne" in Private Lives (a role he wrote specifically for her, with him playing opposite as "Elyot Chase".)
And so…apropos of nothing other than my own recent reading of The Letters of Noel Coward (a delectable read of the first order)… and, of course, it’s Friday and it’s been a long week…here, ladies and gentemen is the estimable Sir Noël Coward potently–and inimitably–singing one of his own, most famous, but hardly cheap, songs.