Madame Spivy: A Tropical Fish

This is the plea of a poor little tropical fish. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

Ladies and germs, it’s time once again to visit that celebrated lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe. To the uninitiated, allow me to get you up to speed:

Spivy (1906-1970) was a lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here:

The Alley Cat

The Tarantella

Auntie’s Face

100% American Girls

Today we will focus on A Tropical Fish. As with the previously mentioned Alley Cat, this song was co-written by Spivy with Jill “Billy” Rainsford. Both songs were featured on the 1939 78 record album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs By Spivy.

As with Auntie’s Face, Spivy begins this song with her trademark “It’s very sad and we must be very quiet” spoken intro before launching into the tune, which tells the story of a tropical fish writing a letter of complaint to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City (1934-1945).

A Tropical Fish

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the clerk and the trombone player,

The child on the street and the ultra-elite all write letters to the mayor.

La Guardia’s most conscientious – he tries to grant everyone’s wish

But they went him one better when he got a letter from somebody’s tropical fish.

 

Dear Mayor,” the letter began, “I’m writing as fish to man.

Our tank’s overheated and we’re being treated like common sardines in a can.

The way people watch us is quaint. Our privacy’s something what ain’t.

So be a good fella, my dear Fiorella and hear a poor fish’s complaint.

 

To be quite specific, the food is terrific.

We’re on the hay diet – you really should try it.

It tastes like the hook – gee, I wish we could cook.

The service is lousy – we have no back-housey.

And it’s some spot to be in with no pot to … cook in.

 

The innocent faunas are hiding in corners

Their love life is wearing with human eyes staring…

Why can’t we have covers like those birdcage lovers?

They’re hidden each night ‘til the morning sunlight

Then brought out to bath with no questions asked.

 

Dear Mayor, I’ve been very frank… but you don’t know life in a tank.

Believe me, it’s hellish and you wouldn’t relish to sleep in the water you drank.

Now here’s what we tropicals wish: Some bedrooms to give us ambish.

Less public relations and more comfort stations.

Yours truly,

A. Tropical Fish”

Lastly, here’s a syndicated article about Spivy that ran in newspapers across the country in late November, 1948. Note that her last name is mispelled “Devoe” with no mention of Bertha Levine.

Spivy Church 1948 full

WWII Boys Of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

Welcome to our third installment of photos celebrating WWII-era men of U.S. Navy pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at the school in Moraga, California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. You can see more photos in our previous posts here and here.

Only the earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. An anonymous person offers a helping hand as the men are photographed in profile.

Comparative photos from June 13 & August 18,1942

All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps. In all of the photos, the men stand behind some sort of grid fencing to better illustrate misalignment and spinal curvature.

The photos were taken to measure the fitness progression of each recruit as they underwent extreme physical training. Each picture was accompanied by an index card containing body measurements and physical achievement test results over the course of several months.

This allows for some contrasting images that Weight Watchers might want to consider emulating.

Before and after a summer of training: June 26 & September 8, 1942

This installment focuses on photos of cadets as they underwent summer training in the California sun. The results speak for themselves. #tanlines

My collection of photos gathered from around the internet now includes close to 500 different cadets. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching the origins as well as the fates of these brave men. Those featured in this post passed away as young as 22 and as old as 94.

Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition, sun dappled as they trained to serve their country. Nearly 80 years later, we salute and admire their fine forms and dedication.

Tom Ammiano Gets His Letter

Tom Ammiano is nearly 80 years old and recently dyed his hair blue. Not your traditional “grandma’s rinse” – it’s a punk-ass electric blue. It suits him.

If you don’t follow California politics, you may not be familiar with the name of this San Francisco legend who served for years on the city Board of Supervisors as well as the State Assembly. But you may remember him from the Academy Award winning documentary The Times Of Harvey Milk. Or perhaps you caught the documentary See How They Run, about one of his two San Francisco mayoral campaigns. Or his appearance in the documentary To Be Takei. In Gus Van Sant’s movie Milk, he portrayed himself. In the miniseries When We Rise, he was played by Todd Weeks.

Suffice to say he has been in a lot of documentaries. Although he did not make the final cut of the groundbreaking 1977 film The Word Is Out, his 30 minute pre-interview surfaced online several years ago:

“I’ve never taken much shit but I do get the shit beat out of me because of it.”

In short, Tom the school teacher turned activist, politician, stand-up comedian, and pothead is always a compelling interview. His recently published memoir is titled Kiss My Gay Ass – a phrase he once yelled at then California Governor Schwartzenegger. The book reads like a private uncensored conversation with the author.

Tom AmmianoThere’s a story from the memoir that has garnered Ammiano a surprising amount of attention as of late. 63 years ago, he was a 106 lb. effeminate teen trying to fit in at a Catholic High School in Montclair, New Jersey. Although unsuccessful at contact sports, he excelled at track – running from bullies had trained him to be fast. Among those bullies – the football coach who would physically assault him in the hallways along with the other jocks.

By the end of the school year, Ammiano had performed well enough to qualify for a varsity letter. But before the ceremony, the rug was pulled out from under him. The letter sweater – that symbol of athleticism and masculinity – could not be allowed on the back of faggy Tommy Ammiano. The powers that be – namely, the football coach – would not let that happen. So they moved the goalposts: The track meet that garnered him those last few points towards his letter was suddenly disqualified. And Ammiano’s dream of acceptance through that symbol of “normalcy” went unfulfilled.

He writes of the humiliating experience in his book; “Shame. I hate that. I think shame was a very big deal growing up. During those years everything was about controlling you through shame. Then struggling against that shame – knowing, somehow, it was all wrong. But what are your options?”

Ammiano chose to bury it away and move on with his life – getting as far away from New Jersey and the innumerable aggressions and slights that many a “weird” gay kid suffered while growing up. He moved to San Francisco – “Oz” he calls it – and seldom looked back.

Kiss-My-Gay-Ass_Front-Cover-600x910

But when you write your memoirs, you have to.

Ammiano recounted the story during a radio interview while promoting the book late last year. “It’s something that still hurts,” he said, “even a hundred years later.” A listener decided to try and correct this situation. He wrote to Immaculate Conception High School to request that they award Ammiano his long overdue varsity letter.

Unaware of this , Ammiano was floored when he received a letter from his alma mater in February of this year. “We most certainly would like to ‘right’ this ‘wrong’…… You truly posses the ‘heart of a Lion’…. You are an inspiration.

Last month, the cameras rolled as Ammiano was presented with his sweater. At age 79, the man of many documentary appearances has one of his very own. Granted, it’s 7 minutes long, but it’s beautifully done. And it’s on ESPN. He must have had a laugh over that.

ESPN also has an excellent article here. See the documentary here:

http://www.espn.com/core/video/iframe?id=31622926&endcard=false

http://www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/31622926

Remembering his time on the track team, Ammiano wrote; “I especially liked the long distance runs… I got really good at those.”

He had no idea.

More Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis Shower Pics Surface

Who would have thought that 2021 would be the year that nude photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would drop… and keep dropping?

Well – I guess the guy who is selling them on eBay knew, but the rest of us continue to be surprised by the release of these playful pics. I first wrote about them here in a post that was picked up by a dozen websites around the world, including the Advocate. Since then, two other pics have surfaced.

This photo, which I added to the previous post, sold on eBay for a whopping $1,600:

The pictures were part of a 2018 Sotheby’s auction of items belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. The auction description listed “4 candid photographs of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

To recap – three of the four recently sold on eBay:

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the most recent photo popped up for auction, as it was partially visible on the Southeby’s website. SothebysCropped, low-res versions of this shot and a couple of others are also on Pinterest, with captions that they were taken at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel in 1952.

dean-martin-jerry-lewis-a-shower-el-mirador-hotel-1952-1

While I was able to clean up the sauna and first shower shots by removing the eBay seller’s watermark, which was strategically placed over Dean & Jerry’s nether regions, this time around the cheeky monkey has opted for a post-it note on Dean’s dong.

Damn Post-it Note.

Ah well. Nice pic nonetheless.

This appears to be the end of this lot of photos… but it is possible that there are others out there….

The Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

The fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Incoming college students were photographed fully nude to gauge posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues… all while emotionally scarring the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines but had a much darker view of the experience 50 years later in a New York Times Op Ed piece.

In recent years, the Yale photos have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The photos in question were so rare that most online articles on the subject did not actually feature any of them, opting to show similar medical textbook illustrations or military posture pics such as the WWII-era St. Mary’s College Navy Pre-Flight School photos, which I have written about here and here.

In the past year, choice examples of the photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have begun to trickle out on eBay. It was only a matter of time before some familiar names began to pop up. Writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in a whopping $1,225.

Younger readers might not remember Franciscus – the dashing star of half a dozen television series and over 30 films. There is a fan site that dubs him The Patron Saint Of Cool. He was not afraid to show some skin over the course of his career, particularly in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

In her memoir and in a recent segment on The Tonight Show, Jane Fonda remembers him as her first love…and the best kiss she ever had.

james+franciscusjane+fonda

They met while working together in summer stock when she was 18 and he was 20.

“He walked me out to the end of a pier and he kissed me,” she recalled. “The stars began to whirl and the pier began to shake, and my knees gave way and I slid down to a pile at his feet…. I’ve never had a kiss like that ever since.”

As for his Yale photo, which was taken the year before…. unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full Franciscus. The image posted for the public auction has a strip of paper blocking the view. For just $1,225, the high bidder is now enjoying the unedited 8″x10″ all by themselves.

On The Life Of Brian… During The Pandemic

Artist / writer Adam Donaldson Powell asked if I would contribute to his latest project, in which he invites artists, writers, musicians, and other performing artists from around the world to contribute essays about their work and lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath. Here is my contribution:

https://adam-donaldson-powell.blog/2021/05/11/on-the-life-of-brian-during-the-pandemic/

My Mother, The Superhero

This Mother’s Day I’d like to tell you a little bit about my mom. Three days ago she got three neighbors out of their burning house minutes before a propane tank explosion. Here she is being interviewed on News 12 Long Island, followed by cell phone and doorbell cam footage of the explosion.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows my mother. She is half of a dynamic duo, paired for 25 years with Mike, my stepdad. In truth, they are part of a trio of superheroes that also includes my sister Jen the Emergency Room nurse, who I have previously written about here. They are the ones running towards the danger when everyone else is running away.

All three of them have a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. My sister runs out to the grocery store and ends up tending to someone who collapsed in the checkout line. I have lost track of the number of car accidents in which they – singly or in pairs – were the first on scene, comforting and assisting the injured. Two years ago, a trip to Disney landed the three of them in the middle of a suicide scene in the hotel parking lot. Their bill was comped.

Happy Mother’s Day to Mom and Jen – we are always lucky to have you looking out for us.

Mambo Italiano

Back in 2013, I spent 6 weeks on the jury of a murder trial in Manhattan. It ended in a hung jury, which was very frustrating, although the guy was retried and convicted the following year. Throughout the trial, there was one reporter who showed up at court every day. Other reporters would come and go, depending on who was testifying, but this one woman was always there. She looked like a fragile little bird, sitting alone in the courtroom.

After the trial was over, most of the jurors were escorted out a side door to scurry away, ashamed of their inability to reach a verdict. A couple of us went out front and spoke to the press. And there was the reporter. After six weeks, I was finally able to ask what publication she worked for. When she said “The New York Post,” I let out some sort of involuntary laugh/snort. I shook my head and was speechless for a moment. I had decided beforehand that I would not speak to a Post reporter. But it was her – the one who had paid the most attention.

I wish I could remember the exact wording I used to express my distaste for that piece of shit tabloid. I remember her assuring me that she was one of the many good reporters working there – “especially in the online version.” I know the last thing I said to her was “Be nice.” Now that the trial was over, I was able to go back and read what she had written. I found her trial reportage to be accurate and fair.

That reporter was Laura Italiano, who just resigned after being pressured into writing the false “Kamala Harris’s book is being given to migrant children at taxpayer’s expense” front page story.

She should have left The New York Post years ago, when she still had a moral compass.

As one Twitterer observed: “breaking point” implies that there were other false stories. Wouldn’t it be great if she ‘fessed up to the other news items she was “forced” to fabricate? And where is the apology to the Vice President?

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Let It All Hang Out

Photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis have recently come to light that are raising some eyebrows. A nude shot of the duo showering together sold on eBay for nearly $4,500 this past week, while a steam room photo sold for a modest $375.

Sothebys 
 
These photos appear to have sold at Sotheby’s in 2018 as part of a collection belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. 
 
 
The auction description listed “4 candid photographs (8 x 10 in.) of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

Martin & Lewis have a schvitz and a smoke. And who are their co-horts?

While I originally thought the guy on the right was comedian Morey Amsterdam, a reader wrote:

The guy on the right in the sauna photo is Mack Gray, who was Dean’s assistant, and later in life arguably his closest friend. Dean and Jerry met him when they first came to Hollywood; they attended one of George Raft’s parties, and Jerry referred to Gray as Raft’s ‘Man Friday’. (It’s also worth noting, by the by, that Raft and Gray were in a relationship.)

Dean Martin sharing a meal with songwriter Sammy Cahn as assistant Mack Gray attends. (1958)
Jerry Lewis smooches with Mack Gray.

Cropped versions of a couple of these photos can be found on Pinterest, although in poor quality jpegs, apparently scans of photos that ran in a magazine or newspaper at the time. I wouldn’t exactly call Pinterest a reliable source, but if the captioning is accurate these shots were taken in 1952 at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel.

I’m the first to call “fake” on photoshopped images found on the internet, but these new photos are very clear. The only pixel anomalies are the results of my attempt to remove the eBay seller’s name, which was strategically plastered across key nether regions, including Dean Martin’s uncut dong.

UPDATE: Other photos have gone up for auction – see a more recent post about those here.

Martin and Lewis in Sailor Beware (1951)

Photographer Lucas Murnaghan Has Died at 45

Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, a celebrated underwater photographer and orthopedic surgeon, passed away in his Toronto home on March 21, 2021. According to his longtime partner Antonio Lennart, Murnaghan succumbed to cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).

In a Ted Talk posted last year, Murnaghan charted his path as an uptight overachiever following the family tradition by becoming a doctor, coming to terms with his sexuality and the circumstances that led him to become a full-time photographer and entrepreneur in recent years.

I started following Lucas on Instagram a couple of years ago. I knew nothing about him but his photographs spoke for themselves: stark, striking images that often played with what he described as “the balance between vulnerability and confidence, pride and shame, solitude and connection.”

Murnaghan’s photo Suspended Animation on the cover of Bruno Capinan’s 2018 CD.

When he began to promote his photography, his initial impulse was to hide his “day job” as a medical doctor, feeling that it prohibited him from being taken seriously as a photographer, or having an artistic point of view.

 

photo-mar-23-11-41-45-pm-1

 

 

 

“I felt like I was entering the art world from the side door. Well, as it turns out, there is no front door. As an artist, that’s all we can do… gather up our entire lives and transmit it into our work. To do anything less than that is to not be honest with ourselves or our audience.”

For more images and information regarding his book Beneath The Surface, please visit www.lucasmurnaghan.com/