Costello Presley and 80’s Gay Porn Guilty Pleasures

Amy Sedaris is the queen of Instagram – her offbeat posts highlight the weirdly funny and/or oddly sweet. I am just one of her million+ followers. If you need a daily pick-me-up – and who doesn’t at this point? – check out her feed.

A couple of months ago, she posted this:

This clip has more than 300k views, 23,436 likes and 897 comments…. but apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t just click the heart, post “LOL” and move on. No. I’m the gay porn nerd spewing info that the general population really does not give a shit about, pointing out that it’s Eric Manchester & Billy London admiring Dean Chasson’s talents in Head Of The Class (1988). Music by Costello Presley!

The comment garnered no “likes” or “responses” – it just dissipated into the air like a public fart as crickets chirped in the distance. Whoooo cares?

Taking my killjoy vibe to the next level, I would also like to point out that the blond, Billy London, was brutally murdered and dismembered in Hollywood back in 1990. He is sometimes referred to as the gay “Black Dahlia.” Circus of Books filmmaker Rachel Mason is currently working on a documentary looking into the unsolved crime.

I know I’m not the only one interested in finding out more about these videos. Amy Sedaris reposted this clip from Instagram user @homomacabre, whose followers also care about the minutia. His posts highlight the kitsch of old gay porn, with acting thinner than the flimsy sets, not to mention the tacky period clothes and hairstyles. And then there’s the music of Costello Presley.

I wanted to do a blog post about the mysterious synth-pop wizard who scored several dozen gay porn films in the 80’s and early 90’s, but have not successfully uncovered any info about him, including his true identity. I am not alone in my appreciation of Costello Presley: There are multiple soundcloud files and a reddit post with a filmography of approximately 40 titles that feature his music. A porn-adjacent friend of mine does not remember his real name, but assures me that Mr. Presley has left the building.

In 2017, synth band Parralox did a faithful cover of Costello Presley’s “Animal Reaction” from William Higgins’ Class of ’69.

In addition to Head of the Class, another Scott Masters/Catalina video in the Costello Presley oeuvre is John Travis’s Powerline (1989), which also starred Eric Manchester. This film features one of my favorite unintentionally funny scenes from that era.

I purchased a VHS copy of Powerline while on spring break from college. I had gone into New York City to see a Broadway show with some school friends and was about to head back to Long Island. I couldn’t manage to break away from the group and go into a porn shop, so I said my goodbyes at Penn Station and headed down to the train platform. Once the coast was clear, I ran back up to 8th avenue and went into the first smut shop I could find.

I made my way over to the video racks as a stripper in a silver bikini and stilettoes danced on the stairs to the upper level, beckoning shoppers to partake of something more tangible. I grabbed Powerline and headed to the register. With a $39.99 price tag, it was more than I would normally pay for a porn videocassette but my train was leaving in 5 minutes.

All the “acting” scenes are priceless but this one is my favorite, featuring gay-for-pay cover model Tom Steele as the cable guy with Lou Cass and Troy Ramsey as the couple from downstairs who catch him jerking off on the roof.

Porn legend and uber music fan Lou Cass was a frequent guest on The Robin Byrd Show in the early 90’s when he was dancing in New York. The Bay Area resident still has a strong social media presence and occasionally releases his own music. This is one of several versions of Pat Benatar/Nick Gilder’s “Rated X” that he has recorded through the years:

If and when I find out more information about Costello Presley, I will be sure to update the post.

Dusty Springfield Sings Kate Bush

It’s hard for me to believe that I am well past 5 years into this blog nonsense and I have never written a single post about Dusty Springfield. I am a huge Dusty fan – she’s my diva. When I had my public access show here in New York City, I ran performance clips of Dusty so often that I received condolence calls and letters from viewers when she died in 1999.

Too much?

Back then, there was still much to discover: whole albums of unreleased material were unearthed and LPs that had been out of print for decades were remastered and reissued. But now the cupboard is bare, with even incomplete performances cobbled together to produce somewhat finished products.

I do appreciate collections that present the tracks in different contexts. A couple of nice recent compilations: Real Gone Music’s Complete Atlantic Singles (1968-1971) and Ace Records’ Dusty Sings Soul are welcome additions to my dusty Dusty collection. And then there’s Goin’ Back: 1964-1971, a 2-CD set of radio and TV recordings that is about to be released in the UK.

With a career spanning close to 40 years and hundreds of recordings in genres from folk to disco and everything in between, it’s easy to forget about some of the lesser known Dusty performances. I was recently reminded of the time she covered a Kate Bush song.

Yes, Kate Bush.

And I’m also a huge fan of Kate Bush. But somehow, I had forgotten about this.

It’s like artists converging from different dimensions. Or maybe not. We live in an age where Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett duets are a thing.

Programme for the Drury Lane shows, 1979

Dusty always had a great ear for music, whether choosing her own material or introducing the Motown Sound to the UK. She was also instrumental in getting Led Zeppelin signed to Atlantic records. It’s not surprising that she would have taken notice of Kate Bush from the very beginning.

Picture it: London, April 1979. Dusty has just turned 40 as she returned to the UK after living in the US for most of the 1970’s. Meanwhile, 20 year-old Kate Bush had released her first two albums within the previous year. Dusty was performing several shows at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Unfortunately there are no official recordings of the performances but we do have a couple of bootleg audio recordings. Dusty introduces the song:

“When I came here last year, I was surprised and mostly pleased at the musical changes that had happened here. I like things like (Ian Drury’s) ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ just as much as you do…. anyway the thing that impressed me most was that so much originality was around. In particular one young lady came through with a song called ‘Wuthering Heights’…. Kate Bush has an immense amount of originality and I was absolutely staggered by her. I’d like to sing a song that I think is one of the prettiest ones ever written, certainly by her. It’s called ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes.'”

She then goes on to, as Neil Tennant would later say, “Dustify” the song. It’s a beautiful performance of an unexpected song choice:

Dusty was not alone in her praise of “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”. Besides reaching the #1 spot on the UK pop charts, the song also won an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting.

Later that year, Dusty’s performance at Royal Albert Hall was properly recorded for posterity. Unfortunately, by that time the song had been removed from the set list.

Today would have been Dusty’s 83rd birthday. She is still sorely missed and I’d trade my eye teeth to hear her sing a duet with Lady Gaga.

Revisiting Kate Bush’s gayest songs.

Blueboy 1980: Gays of NYC

It’s not nice to stereotype. This may be especially true of homosexuals, who have borne the brunt of unkind pinpointing for so long that they believe it themselves.

…so begins an outrageously stereotypical article from the May, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine, titled “Is There A Typical New York Faggot?”

Now… before you lose your shit over the title, keep in mind that those were different times. The “F” word wasn’t taboo. Larry Kramer’s book by that name had been published just a year and a half earlier. So let’s put that sticking point aside. There’s plenty more to discuss.

Another caveat: This is from Blueboy. A gay porn magazine. It ain’t the Advocate or The Village Voice. Presumably author “J. Greller” was the pen name of a jaded queen with his tongue firmly planted in his own cheek and his head up his own ass. Who can say for sure? I wouldn’t want to, you know, stereotype… but Harold from Boys In The Band could deliver this piece as a monologue.

It’s mean and bitchy, but not in a fun way. It’s like the author had one martini too many and his New York City rant went to a dark place that was no longer funny or clever. The specificity of many of the “types” described gives the indication that he had an axe to grind with very particular unnamed individuals.

Have a read:

To be fair, the entire piece isn’t completely tone-deaf. There are glimpses that ring true, especially in the downtown neighborhoods. This is due in part to the quotes from others – Doley the Third’s observation on Harlem, for example.

I find the piece to be out of sync with the NYC neighborhoods as I have known them since the early 1990’s. But this is my perception over a 30 year period. I wasn’t there in 1980, but I have to wonder if the author has based his observations on, say, a 30 year period prior to that. Were there were really still old vamps & flappers on St. Marks in the CBGB era? Did 57th Street really have its own gay male type that needed dissection? Did nobody ever travel out of their own neighborhood to socialize? Were the streetcars not running?

Interesting to note that, for all this compartmentalizing of Midtown East neighborhoods: Kips Bay vs Turtle Bay vs. East Side…  there is no mention of Murray Hill. At the time, according to older gay New Yorkers that I have known, it was referred to as “Mary Hill” due to the large number of gay bars and homosexual residents. J. Geller missed a golden opportunity. 

Kudos to the graphic artist Favio Castelli, though.

No More Chicken Pepperoni: RIP Yvonne Wilder (1937-2021)

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.

“I know you do!” Yvonne Wilder as Consuelo sings ‘America’ alongside Rita Moreno in the original ‘West Side Story’.

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.

Colvin & Wilder on ‘The Hollywood Palace’ (1964)

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.

Colvin & Wilder on ‘The Hollywood Palace’ (1964)
Colvin & Wilder on ‘Playboy After Dark’ (1969)
Coleman & Wilder reunite for a 1986 episode of ‘Gimme A Break’.
Yvonne does a “comic rope routine” on the ‘Johnny Cash Presents The Everly Brothers Show’ (July, 1970)
In 1971, Wilder and third husband Bob Kelljan co-wrote and co-starred in the cult horror movie ‘The Return of Count Yorga’.

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.

Yvonne Wilder was reunited with Rita Moreno in the ABC series ‘The Rita Moreno Show’. Hamilton Camp co-starred. (1978)

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.

Don Herron’s Tub Shots – Part III

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.

Signed poster for a 1991 exhibition in Provincetown.
Writer/Performer/Filmmaker John Heys as Diana Vreeland (1992)
Amos Poe, Filmmaker
Tales of the City Author Armistead Maupin – San Francisco (1978)
Cassandra, Photographer – Houston, Texas (1979)
Queer San Francisco performer Harmodious, aka Anthony J. Rogers (1947-1992) was photographed in the same tub at Fey Way Gallery as Robert Opel, his sometime boyfriend, and Christine McCabe, who later sued Herron and the Village Voice for publishing her photo.
Everett Quinton, Actor – NYC (1992)
Bill Dodd, Jeweler – Austin, Texas (1980)
Victor Bockris – author of many rock biographies who also wrote for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
Warner Jepson (1930-2011), Composer – San Francisco (1980)

A selection of Tub Shots were featured in the April, 1980 issue of Christopher Street, with football player David Kopay’s photo on the cover.
Winston Fong, Performer – San Francisco, CA

After the publication of the 1980 Village Voice layout, one of the subjects, Christine McCabe sued Herron and the Village Voice. McCabe was working at Robert Opel‘s Fey Wey gallery in San Francisco where she posed for Herron in 1978. Although the signature on the model release was dubious, McCabe admitted that Herron did tell her that he wanted to publish a book of the photos. The suit was settled with McCabe receiving an undisclosed sum.

When the Village Voice Online edition posted an article about the Daniel Cooney gallery exhibition in 2018, they chose to post just 3 of the 23 photos from the original layout: Robert Mapplethorpe and McCabe’s photos were 2 of them. Whether or not this was a random occurrence or a belated turn of the screw towards McCabe is debatable.

David Middaugh – Painter

Jerry Burchard (1931-2011) Photographer, San Francisco (1978)
Liz Derringer – ex-wife of Rick Derringer, she is a rock journalist & publicist who also wrote for Interview, NYC (1979)
Ron Jehu (1937-2007) was a San Francisco gallery owner who also hosted avant-garde exhibitions and events featuring Sylvester, Divine and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002) was a surrealist poet, magazine editor, filmmaker, photographer, collage artist and diarist. He was also the partner of artist Pavel Tchelitchew. NYC (1980)
Cornelius Conboy was the owner of 8BC, an East Village nightclub, performance space and gallery. Although this print is dated 1987, he remembers that the photo was actually taken the previous year, as he then moved to Italy.
International Chrysis (1951-1990) was a transgender entertainer and protege to Salvador Dali. She is the subject of the 1993 documentary Split. NYC (1988)

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)

Richard Erker (1945-2004) was an artist, sculptor and jewelry maker. He owned a shop in SoHo in the early 1980’s and later moved to Palm Springs, where he was the victim of an unsolved murder.
Richard Hartenstein, Makeup artist. NYC (1980)
Fashion designer Geoffrey Mac’s (unintentional?) homage to the “Tub Shots” series, as recently posted on Instagram.
Don Herron, Self Portrait (1993)

Whatever Happened To The Kid Who Boiled John Crouse’s Head?

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.

Hanging out with friends at the mortuary chapel in Oakwood Cemetery (Spring 1988)

Oakwood-cemetery_1909_syracuseOakwood 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. PICT0018 copyWe 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.

Flint and Day Halls – two Syracuse University dorms – are adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery

Two factors helped this to become a national news story: John Crouse

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.McQuain court 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”?13221477_10156961022720441_5205862542119871686_n 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.

Revisiting Blueboy Magazine (1980)

Torso cover 1980

A recent post – the one featuring an essay written by Armistead Maupin for the September 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine – was my most-viewed ever. This was thanks in part to links from Queerclick and KennethInThe212. I threatened to upload another article from the San Francisco-themed issue written by Randy Shilts: What If They Gave A Backlash And Nobody Came? Several people requested it, so here it is.

But first… a couple of other items of interest from this same issue:

 

Uncle CharliesGrace Jones

There used to be a whole lot of Uncle Charlies in New York City! None of those advertised above is the one that lasted longest: The Uncle Charlies bar on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village, which closed in 1997. And then there’s the one that has been on E. 45th st for 10 years now.

And Look! It’s an advertisement for Grace Jones’ fourth LP… her first good album!

2 tuns of fun

Record review: San Francisco’s very own Two Tons O’Fun. Izora Armstead and Martha Wash had been Sylvester’s backup singers. They soon changed their name to The Weather Girls when it started raining men… and the rest is history. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

PM Movies
10 time capsules from PM Productions. Check ’em out! They’re a hoot. And Christopher Street Blues has a zippy little theme song.

And now for our feature presentation. This article recounts several significant incidents where backlash against the San Francisco gay community was anticipated, but did not happen. It’s interesting to read Shilts’ account of what had been accomplished up to this point in time – with no idea that they were standing on the precipice of a health crisis that would decimate the community and undo so much of the work towards assimilation that he was highlighting.

Shilts1

Shilts2

Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk ca1977_8
Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk (1977/78)

Shilts3

Shilts4

Randy Shilts CRose 1993
Randy Shilts on The Charlie Rose Show (1993)

Shilts5

Shilts Lily 1993
Randy Shilts with Lily Tomlin (1993)

Shilts would go on to write three books, all important documents of gay history: The Mayor of Castro Street – a Harvey Milk bio, And The Band Played On, which chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians In The Military. He died of AIDS complications in 1994.

Just imagine what he would have to say about the current administration. Or Mayor Pete. Picture him as a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow. His voice is sorely missed.

 

Don Herron’s Tub Shots, Part II

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.

Village Voice 1980 trio

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.

Paula SequeiraFred Brown tub 1978Phoebe Legere tub 1988

Some alternate pics have surfaced of the two most ubiquitous Tub Shots featuring Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe:

Keith Haring alt shotRobert Mapplethorpe alt3Robert Mapplethorpe alt tub shot

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:

A Charles Buschagosto-machado-tub-2017.jpgA Musto tub 2017

Here’s a little more info about some of the other luminaries featured in Tub Shots :Bob Opel Tub 1978

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.

Mink Sole tub 1978

Actress Mink Stole is one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders and has appeared in all his films, most notably as Connie Marble in Polyester, Taffy in Female Trouble and Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom. She also played Aunt Helen in all of the Eating Out films.

Cookie Mueller bathtub 1978

Cookie Mueller (1949-1989) was another John Waters Dreamlander who appeared many of his films, including Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living – her Tub Shot includes the poster for the latter. She also penned a column for The East Village Eye  and half a dozen books.

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.

02-victor-hugo-2Victor-Hugo-artist-vfront_GAYLETTER

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)

PPeter Berlin Tub2eter 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 dan@danielcooneyfineart.com or give them a visit at 508-526 West 26th St., #9C, NY NY.

Ethyl Eichelberger Tub2 1982Elke Rastede Tub 1982Matthias Mohr tub 1982

Belle deJour tub 1979Tom Nichols tub 1980Ellen Stewart 1993

Don Herron

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…

UPDATE: Tub Shots Part III is here.

Don Herron’s Tub Shots

Felice Picano bathtub 1980A 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.”

Peter Berlin 1978aHolly Woodlawn bathtub 1981aSur Rodney Sur 1980

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.

Agosto Machado tub 1992Victor-Hugo-artist-vfront_GAYLETTERAnnie Sprinkle tub 1992

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.

David Kopay bathtub 1980a   Robert Shifflett bathtub 1980

Charles Busch bathtub 1987

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.

George Stavrinos dared me to do it;” he said “But I’ve never seen one of him!”

mel-odom-bathtub-1978.jpg

“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:

1980_0414_60-61_Don-Herron_OP-1366x2043

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.

Robert Mapplethorpe Tub 1978Keith Haring tub 1982

Ethyl Eichelberger Tub 1982

Random pics pop up on Pinterest – this one  of Ethyl Eichelberger, for example –  but I have not found any online collections.

Adam Powell bathtub 1978

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 dan@danielcooneyfineart.com or give them a visit at 508-526 West 26th St., #9C, NY NY.

UPDATE:

Tub Shots Part II is here.

Tub Shots Part III is here.

Michael Musto Tub 1987John Kelly bathtub 1993ataylor-mead-bathtub.jpgJackie Curtis bathtub 1980