Rita Moreno is having a great season, with an acclaimed documentary and an appearance in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, which she also executive produced. She celebrated her 90th birthday while making countless appearances on news and talk shows promoting these projects. In sharp contrast, though, the passing of fellow Shark Girl Yvonne Wilder on November 24th seems to have gone relatively unnoticed.
She was still known as Yvonne Othon when she played Consuelo in the 1961 film. Born in the Bronx in 1937 with Cuban/Puerto Rican ancestry, she attended New York’s High School of Performing Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London before getting cast in the West End production of West Side Story alongside George Chikiris. According to her website, she would go on to play Anita for over 1,500 performances on Broadway and stages around the world.
Throughout the 1960’s Wilder was partnered professionally with Jack Colvin (1934-2004). As Colvin & Wilder, they were one of the most successful comedy duos of the decade, with appearances across the U.S. on stage and television, including The Dean Martin Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show, culminating in their farewell appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Over 30 years, Wilder racked up dozens of television appearances on shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Room 222, The Partridge Family, and 227. She was Archie’s girlfriend on Archie Bunker’s Place and co-starred in the sitcom Operation Petticoat with John Astin, Adam West and 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis.
Wilder is perhaps best remembered for her role as Aurora De La Hoya, housekeeper for Glenda & Ira Parks (Goldie Hawn & Charles Grodin) in Neil Simon’s Seems Like Old Times (1980).
One of Wilder’s final roles before retiring was as the grandmother of the Olsen twins on Full House. She then focused on her work as a watercolor artist and sculptor. Her work was shown at the Santa Monica Art Institute and can be viewed on her website.
Adios, Ms. Wilder. Thank you for all your fine work. And for the chicken pepperoni.
Three years ago, I posted two collections of artist / photographer Don Herron’s Tub Shots, a series of photographs featuring the famous and near famous posing in their bathtubs. This coincided with an exhibition of 65 of the images at the Daniel Cooney Gallery here in NYC. My blog posts (Pt. 1 and Pt. II) still garner a considerable amount of traffic, so I thought I would share more of these photos – ones that didn’t make it into those original posts and others that have resurfaced since that time.
Pat Loud (1926-2021) was the matriarch of the Loud family, subject of the first reality series on American television. She later recalled that she only agreed to Don Herron’s request for a photo shoot if her friend and interior designer Richard Ridge posed as well. NYC (1978)
I was a freshman theatre major at Syracuse University when I scribbled this in my journal one bright spring day in 1988:
I’m writing at Oakwood Cemetery, where we are sitting on the steps of the Brown Mausoleum. People might think it’s morbid to hang out in a cemetery, but I love it here – so beautiful and peaceful. If we were sitting in the Quad, with radios blaring and frisbees flying around, I couldn’t relax – it always feels like a fight is just waiting to break out. There’s no judgement here. Other kids walk by every so often but it’s very quiet. I’ve heard that drug deals go on here at night though.
So young. So innocent. So little insight. Then again, I was 19 years old and this was before that kid boiled John Crouse’s head.
Oakwood is an 160 acre cemetery adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Their website advertises “a grand array of monuments and mausoleums which form a virtual outdoor museum of funerary sculpture and architecture while mirroring the lives of Syracuse’s Victorian families.”
The cemetery was an alternative hangout for us – actors and artists clad in vintage chic attire, toting journals, sketchbooks and cameras. We didn’t come to SU for the sports or fraternity life. The typical campus hangout spots weren’t always the best places to relax so we went to the cemetery. We were respectful, but not everyone else subscribed to the ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ credo and this is why we can’t have nice things.
In October of that year, freshman art student Kevin McQuain thought it would be a good idea to steal a human head from a mausoleum “to use as a model for sculpture class.” He brought it back to his dorm – the nearby Flint Hall – and proceeded to try and clean the odious noggin by boiling it with bleach in a trashcan placed on the stove of the 3rd floor common area. Residents were alarmed by the stench and even more so when they discovered the source. McQuain and two of his friends were arrested.
Two factors helped this to become a national news story:
a) It was Halloween season.
b) It wasn’t just any old skull in the trashcan.
The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John J. Crouse served as the mayor of Syracuse. All of the coffins in the tomb were vandalized, but the cranium in question belonged to John Jr.
From The Syracuse Herald, 10/21/88 and a 1920’s postcard for Crouse College:
By the time McQuain and his friends went to court in early 1989, national news outlets had lost interest, leaving reportage to the local Syracuse papers. McQuain pled guilty and was properly contrite under advice of council. The charges against his accomplices were dropped, yet all three received the same sentence: 200 hours of community service.
From The Syracuse Times, 1/26/89:
Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors. Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Follow up newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.
There is a 2002 follow-up piece from the Syracuse Post Standard that keeps getting… ahem… dug up… every few years and reprinted around Halloween. It’s about how poor Kevin McQuain got stuck with a nickname that he could not shake. His friends dubbed him “Skully.” And he decided “to embrace it.” He went on to form a Goth/Rockabilly record label called Skully Records, which he apparently still runs himself as a side hustle to his every day technical services job.
In 2015, he self-published a vampire/punk novel under the name Kevin Skully McQuain. He also designs t-shirts.
Somehow this unavoidable handle does not force itself onto his professional resume: it just leaks into his side projects when the macabre notoriety might help bump things up a notch.
But oh, how the nickname plagues him! He CANNOT escape it.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been called several things throughout my life that I have hated. I assume that you, dear reader, have had one or two nicknames as well. But I don’t know yours and you don’t know mine… because we did not hyphenate them into our names.
How contrite is a person if he is still trying to milk the last ounce of notoriety out of something he stupidly did over 30 years ago? If you made a mistake at 18 – and who hasn’t? – would you allow that thing to be the defining moment of your life? Would you still call yourself “Farty” because you once let one rip in gym class? Is that all ya got?
McQuain is married and a father now, and I can’t help but wonder: at what point in the dating process does one explain the origin of “Skully”? Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did boil the mayor of Syracuse’s head, but listen…. that was a bad idea, ok?”
Back in 2002, McQuain said “That was a mistake I made when I was young, and I’m fortunate that it didn’t stigmatize me for the rest of my life.” And yet, at 50 years old, he still holds on to the “Skully” nickname, with the backstory tucked into the pocket of his aging punk-rock jeans, ready to whip out and exploit whenever he has a new artistic endeavor that might need a little publicity boost.
In 1988, Kevin McQuain walked out of Oakwood Cemetery with the head of John Crouse in a paper bag, intent on using it as a prop for his art. Over 30 years later, he still finds it quite useful.
What a difference a week makes! It has only been 10 days since my original blog piece about Don Herron’s Tub Shots was posted to coincide with the opening of the Daniel Cooney Fine Art exhibit. The article was then re-posted on Queerclick, while Out magazine posted their own piece about the gallery exhibit, as did numerous art photography websites and blogs. Each time I do a Google search, I find more information about Don Herron and his series of photos, which had very little internet presence up to this point.
The digital skeleton of the Village Voice even resurrected their feature from April, 1980. This is curious, considering a) The paper had been declared officially dead two weeks ago, and b) One of the subjects in their 23 photo spread sued for invasion of privacy when it was published the first time, claiming that the model release form was forged.
Some alternate pics have surfaced of the two most ubiquitous Tub Shots featuring Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe:
Daniel Cooney Fine Art posted several Instagram photos from the September 13th exhibit opening with original subjects standing next to their photos.
Left to right: Charles Busch, Agosto Machado and Michael Musto:
Here’s a little more info about some of the other luminaries featured in Tub Shots :
Robert Opel (1939-1979) was a conceptual artist, Advocate photographer and gay rights activist who achieved notoriety when he streaked through the 1974 Oscar Ceremony. He launched the first openly gay art gallery in San Francisco, where he was murdered in 1979. He is the subject of Uncle Bob, a 2011 documentary directed by his nephew Robert Oppel.
Victor Hugo (1942-1993) was a Venezuelan artist, window dresser and nightlife personality. Hugo designed window displays for his partner Halston‘s Madison Avenue store. He later became one of Andy Warhol’s assistants at The Factory where he worked on the oxidation paintings. As a model, he also appeared in Warhol’s Torso and Sex Parts series.
As the different subjects recount how they got involved in the project, a thread emerges: Robert Mapplethorpe brought in Felice Picano, who in turn suggested Victor Hugo and George Stavrinos, who then connected Mel Odom. (Read part 1 of this post for more on them)
Peter Berlin‘s statement about Don Herron and his Tub Shots is exactly what you would expect from the legendary narcissist:
“He may have approached me for sex and then asked to take my photo. I have no recollection of him or the photo shoot.
At the time, I never cared for photos taken by other photographers, not even Mapplethorpe’s photos of me. I realized how critical I was looking at my image, so I probably would have seen this photo and not liked it. Looking at the photo now, I don’t mind it. It’s not a typical Peter Berlin photo that I would have taken of myself. I like everything but the dick and my expression in the face. But I have no recollection at all of him or this shoot.”
The Daniel Cooney Fine Art exhibit with 65 of these photos at their gallery in New York City runs from September 13 until November 3, 2018. Contact the gallery for reservations via phone at 212-255-8158, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or give them a visit at 508-526 West 26th St., #9C, NY NY.
Congratulations to the late Mr. Herron on this recent rediscovery of his work. As artist Adam Donaldson Powell posted in the comments of Part 1: “…he deserves due credit now. His other paintings and silk screen art were even more impressive than Tub Shots. I would love to see that work praised online as well.” We shall see…
A recent Out Magazine article about Felice Picano featured a 1980 photograph of the author lounging in his bathtub with a cigarette and a glass of wine. I immediately recognized the photo as one of Don Herron’s Tub Shots, a series that the photographer snapped over a 20 year period, spanning from San Francisco to New York and covering a wide swath of his legendary friends, lovers and fellow artists.
Don Herron (1941-2012) was living in San Francisco in the early 1970’s when he began shooting the bathtub photos, having been inspired by medieval sculptures set in niches. Herron told the Village Voice in 1980, “I decided to do a series of photographs of people in containers. The bathtub was the logical container to use. I started with my friends and it grew from there.”
He continued the series after moving to New York City in 1978, where he was a part of the vibrant East Village art scene. Among the many who posed on the porcelain for Herron: Keith Haring, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkle, Peter Berlin, Ethyl Eichelberger, Michael Musto, Phoebe Legere, John Waters’ leading ladies Mink Stole and Cookie Mueller as well as Warhol factory superstars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead and Holly Woodlawn. The Tub Shots were featured in the Village Voice, New York Magazine, Christopher Street and Art Forum.
My first encounter with the photos were a couple of postcards I picked up in an East Village shop back in the late 1980’s. I had just finished reading David Kopay’s autobiography and was quite happy to see (almost) all of the gay footballer on display. Another card I purchased was of a director named Robert Schifflett, about whom I know nothing other than the charms on exhibit in the photo and his ability to hold his breath.
Recalling his bathtub session with Herron and the noir photo it produced, performer Charles Busch recently said “My crummy 12th Street tenement tub amazingly looks kinda glam. If memory serves, after we called it a wrap I believe the charming photographer ended up in the tub with me. I think so.”
Another subject was artist Mel Odom, whom I recently asked about the experience.
“Don did two shoots with me – the first one was without the mask. He wasn’t satisfied with that and we did a second shoot. He was probably right.”
“My parents didn’t know that I had posed nude and it was published in the Village Voice just as I went home to visit them in Ahoskie, North Carolina… and there was the issue sitting on their friend’s coffee table!” Odom managed to pilfer the newspaper and, as far as he knows, his parents never found out about the photo.
Odom’s Tub Shot was also reprinted as a full page when the series was profiled in Christopher Street around the same time. When I mentioned the postcard series that was my introduction to the photos, he recalled “Mine wasn’t used for the postcards because I received weird phone calls after it was printed in the magazines. ‘Hey! Are you naked like you were in the Village Voice?’ I got letters from prisoners, too.”
Here’s the Village Voice feature from April, 1980:
I still have the Kopay and Shifflett postcards I bought 30 years ago. Every once in a while, I Google around looking for other Tub Shots online. With the exception of the Mapplethorpe and Haring photos below, they are fairly obscure in the digital age.
Random pics pop up on Pinterest – this one of Ethyl Eichelberger, for example – but I have not found any online collections.
When Herron passed away a few years ago, his ex-lover, artist Adam Donaldson Powell paid tribute to him here. Herron’s estate has created a Tub Shots website but there is currently no content.
That might be about to change. Daniel Cooney Fine Art will be exhibiting 65 of these photos at their gallery in New York City from September 13 until November 3, 2018. Interested viewers may contact the gallery for reservations via phone at 212-255-8158, via email email@example.com or give them a visit at 508-526 West 26th St., #9C, NY NY.