Madame Spivy: Auntie’s Face

“She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.”

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.” You can see earlier posts about her here and here.

Spivy Promo pic

Since my last Spivy post, I was thrilled to see that she had been profiled on Dennis Dermody’s Cinemaniac website, and even happier to see that, after a little nudge, I was given some credit for all the “borrowed” photos, video and large portions of my previous posts. Bless his heart, I’m sure it was just an oversight.

Moving on… today we will be listening to Auntie’s Face, a song written by Broadway actor and fellow nightclub performer Guy Moneypenny. Spivy’s recording was featured on her 1949 album An Evening With Spivy.

spivey-evening-medSpivy had something of a catchphrase that she would use to introduce a song: A solemn pronouncement that “This is VERY sad and we must be VERY quiet, please.” She would then launch into a number that was anything but either of those things. At least four of her recordings contain this introduction – one can imagine that it was a playful way to get the attention of a noisy nightclub audience.

Auntie’s Face

We all have strange relatives… but let me tell you about my Aunt Grace.

She’s a MAD thing. This is very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

This is the tragedy of poor Aunt Grace – how she became a complete disgrace

It all began when she lifted her face and decided to be young and gay.

Since she’s become a rejuvenated case, the whole house suffers from her madcap pace

There’s no longer any quiet in the whole damn place

So we lift our eyes to heaven and pray.

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For we’ve all got our backs to the wall.

Her reputation’s battered. Our principals are shattered. She hasn’t any moral code at all.

Her breath now reeks of bathtub gin. Goes out nights in search of sin.

We wake up in the morning to find her coming in… from an all night brawl.

We’re all in such a dither, for heaven knows she’s coarse.

When she brings the milkman with her – wait ‘til you hear this one – why must she bring his horse?

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For nothing is sacred at all.

We caught her teaching Granny to manipulate her fanny in a rhumba with a cashmere shawl.

And just last night they phoned from the jail – it seems they’re holding Auntie ‘til we fork up the bail

They found her on Broadway singing Love For Sale. Yes they did! And the price was small.

She steals cigars from brother. She’s thrown away her glasses.

She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.

She thinks she’s the belle of the ball. We’re afraid that she’s going on call

Dear God we beg your pardon but to hell with Lizzie Arden

If you’ve any mercy left at all… please God make Auntie’s face fall!

lizzie arden

Some of Spivy’s other recordings contain obscure references that require a little research and explanation. Not so with Auntie’s Face: Cole Porter’s song Love For Sale is still a well-known standard. The line “To Hell with Lizzie Arden” is a reference to cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden, whose beauty product empire still stands. And who isn’t familiar with Whistler’s Mother? Furthermore… a song about plastic surgery certainly rings truer today than it did 70 years ago. It may come as a shock to fans of the Real Housewives that the first facelift procedures took place in the early 1900’s.

Be sure to check back – more Spivy to come soon! (Update: Here)

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Spivy card

If You Meet Me In The Bathroom, Be Sure To Shake My Hand

For 10 years (1997-2007) I produced and hosted a late night public access program on the air here in New York City called Bri-Guy’s Media Surf.

1998 Media Surf flyer

This 1998 flyer features the stop-action roiling sea of celebrities used in the opening credits to the show. Amongst the beefcake models and my first grade class photo, we also have: Bette Midler (3x), Goldie Hawn (2x), Diane Keaton (First Wives Club), Erasure (2x), Dusty Springfield, James Dean, Madonna, Lisa Loeb, Mark Wahlberg, Rupaul, Paula Cole, Keith Haring, Greg Louganis, Michael Stipe, kd lang, Julia Fordham and James Dean.

The quote at the bottom is a nod to legendary NYC late night hostess Robin Byrd.

 

One of my faithful viewers (Tammy) Remington Write recently reached out about doing an interview and has written a wonderful piece for Medium. Thank you so much for remembering, Tammy!

mediumIn the article she recounts when we first met on the street back in 2005. Viewers did not approach me often enough that I ever got used to it. I was always thrilled to be reminded that this thing I was creating alone in my apartment was being broadcast and people were watching.

I was going to just post the link to the Medium article here and leave it at that, but while looking for something unrelated on a backup computer disc, I came across this piece I wrote in 2006 for a MySpace blog that I had completely forgotten about:

Every once in a while I’ll hear from a viewer of my NYC public access program, Bri-Guy’s Media Surf. It’s still running, mostly in repeats, on MNN in Manhattan.

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Media Surf promo shot (1997)

I got an IM yesterday from a viewer that I have conversed with from time to time over the years. He’s a nice guy – perhaps a little off, but aren’t we all in one way or another? He still hasn’t gotten over the fact that sapphic little Dana Owens who worked in his record store in the late 80’s morphed into Queen Latifah. He brings it up in every conversation. That, and his obsession with Sylvia Miles. I’m not kidding. He scared her and now she won’t talk to him.

He lives in New Jersey but a friend would tape my show and pass him VHS copies. That ended at some point a few years ago and I wasn’t sure if he was still watching it. I don’t hear from him for long stretches of time and then he will suddenly IM me out of the blue.

This was today’s exchange in its entirety:

(curtain up)

Him:  I used to trick with a fuckbuddy in Harlem so I could see your show
Me:  You what?
Him:  I would time it just right
Me:  How funny.
Him: Sex after your show – I am not kidding
Me: That’s so sweet!

(curtain down)

Now… who could ask for a better compliment than that?

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Media Surf promo shot (2003)

 

This is actually the second person to extol this type of adulation. Last summer a guy came running up to me on the street to let me know how much he loved Media Surf, and that he had a regular Friday night tryst with his “one night a week boyfriend.” This had gone on for years: they would get together to watch the show and then have sex. Or vice versa. In their case, I’m not sure if the show was an appetizer or dessert. The point is, it was on the menu.

This is my fan base, if you will. For a while, it seemed like viewers who recognized me would only come up and talk to me when I was trying to pee in public. Apparently I am most approachable in public bathrooms. Not that I make a habit of hanging out there. Shut up.

Once after I disembarked from a flight at La Guardia Airport, I entered the restroom with some urgency and a member of the janitorial staff greeted me with a hearty “Hey Bri-Guy!”

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On the set: Media Surf (2005)

It wasn’t a terrible welcome back to New York City – the one place where I have just a smidge of recognition.

A guy reached over the toilet stall to shake my hand as I stood at the urinal one drunken evening in Dick’s Bar. I guess I’m less intimidating with my fly open. Or more vulnerable, at the very least.

In the realm of things, hearing that someone would choose their rendezvous to accommodate Media Surf’s broadcast schedule is high praise, considering that after 9 years on the air, I rarely bother to stay up late enough to watch it myself.

It means enough to these people to approach me and let me know that they like the show that I put together. To be a part of their philanderings – in some tangential way, without ever taking my clothes off or having to shower afterwards – is kinda cool.

Isn’t it?

Or am I just reeeally starved for attention?

San Francisco In Touch (1979)

I recently posted two San Francisco-based articles from the September 1980 issue of Blueboy magazine – one by Armistead Maupin and another by Randy Shilts. I was ready to move back to the east coast when I came across a third article – written by Dan Turner for the Nov/Dec 1979 issue of In Touch Magazine. It seemed to work as a literary triptych with the other two articles. Also… it looked somewhat familiar….

The flipped version of the shot below accompanied the Armistead Maupin piece in Blueboy. And no, those are not nude sunbathers on the roof – it’s an overlapping photo.

SF Flipped Blueboy photo

The shot below was from the Nov/Dec In Touch Magazine article. Same guys, same clothes or lack thereof. Some people have shifted around a bit, so it was taken at a different time on the same day.

SF IT photoThrough internet magic, I did a little “Google map virtual walk” down Castro Street, which led me to the corner of 18th st. And there it is: the boys’ perch, 40 years later. The pharmacy is now a Walgreens:

495 Castro 18th st

I felt like I was slipping down the rabbit hole. Next stop: YouTube with a search of 1979 Castro Street Fair videos! Sure enough, there they were – captured in grainy home movie footage.

Theses guys were photographed more than the soldiers at Iwo Jima. Call it Gay-wo Jima.

Before I started to save videos and crop and edit and convert to gifs and blah blah blah, I took a step back from the edge. I felt that I had lost the plot at this point. Where were we? Oh yes.

IT 11_79aa

 

In Touch Magazine.

Nov/Dec 1979, Issue #44.

San Francisco: Ever Onward.

Written by Dan Turner.

Cover model / Centerfold: Todd Denson.

There is also a New York-centric piece in this issue that I will be posting soon. I wanted to complete this three-part series first.SF1

SF2

SF3

SF4SF5

SF6

Dan TurnerThat last paragraph just hurts. How could anyone have known what the future held? In 1981, the author of this piece, Dan Turner was one of the first people diagnosed with AIDS. This was before it even had a name. He helped found the AIDS Foundation, People with AIDS and the AIDS Switchboard. He was the longest surviving person with AIDS when he passed in 1990 at age 42.

“…they are not just pretending to be the heroes they admired. They are becoming the heroes themselves.”

SF Map

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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.

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

Shilts3

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

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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.

 

RIP Porn Star Turned Activist Terry DeCarlo

Terry DeCarlo was only 57 years old when he passed away earlier this week, yet he seemed to have lived multiple lives. His partner of 23 years, Bill Huelsman announced on Facebook that Terry had lost his battle with cancer on January 27th.

Terry DeCarlo with Pete Buttigieg in June, 2019

DeCarlo held many jobs over the years – his Instagram account lists Communications Manager of Broward County, Co-Hosting Out & About America and USAF Intelligence Officer in addition to his most prominent position as Executive Director of The LGBT+ Center in Orlando. DeCarlo became a national figure when the Pulse massacre occurred and led a grieving community through a tumultuous time.

He is seen here in an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s show:

All of his obits and online tributes – including this New York Times piece – have rightfully focused on his 20+ years of activist work in Florida, so it’s easy to forget that he first came to prominence as a porn star.

In the early 90’s DeCarlo was a fixture on the New York City gay nightlife scene, appearing regularly on the Robin Byrd Show to promote his adult films and ongoing residency at Show World strip club. One particularly memorable performance featured a giant live snake. (Insert python joke here)

Terry DeCarlo (center) with Dave Logan and Mark West on the box cover for Lunch Hour 2 (1992)
Lunch Hour 2 (1992)

He appeared in films alongside (although not necessarily in scenes with) porn legends Jon King, Joey Stefano, Karl Thomas and Mark West.

DeCarlo in Solid Intake (1993)
19 Good Men (1993)
DeCarlo (right) with Storm, Giovanni and Jason Lamont in 19 Good Men (1993)


A partial filmography:
Lunch Hour 2 (Catalina video 1992)
19 Good Men (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993)
Put It Where It Counts (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993)
What Men Do (Tenderloin, 1993)
Solid Intake (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993)
Leather 2 (Catalina video, 1994)
Forever Hold Your Piece (Catalina video, 1994)

Forever Hold Your Piece (1994)
Box cover with Jon King and Devyn Foster

After he retired from performing, DeCarlo moved to Florida and focused on his activist work. Besides those previously mentioned, he also worked at other organizations such are Care Resource and the Broward House, helping to ensure that health care, medication, shelter and basic needs were available for all. He was an integral part of the White Party, AIDS Walk Miami, Dining Out for Life, the Smart Ride and countless other fundraising events.

He dedicated his life to helping others and will not be forgotten. My heart goes out to his partner Bill and their Wilton Manors community.

Armistead Maupin in Blueboy Magazine (1980)

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Back in the early aughts, an older friend of mine was preparing to move out of his NYC apartment and gifted me with a gay time capsule: a closet full of porn magazines dating back to the mid-1970’s. He had moved into this rent stabilized 5th floor walk-up in college and stayed there for 30 years. Roommates and boyfriends came and went – leaving a trail of old magazines in their wake. But my friend stayed in this spacious top floor railroad apartment in the last remaining tenement building on a stretch of East 59th street, with a living room facing the Queensboro Bridge. Why move? The landlord finally offered him a sizable cash settlement to leave, unaware that he was ready to depart NYC anyway. But it was a nice parting gift.

I, in turn was given a King’s Chamber of gay erotica: 7 file boxes full of near-pristine old smut.

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Shocker: porn is lucrative. For a few years I supplemented my income by selling them singly on eBay. The shrinking collection has now moved through 4 different apartments in the last dozen years. Unfortunately I did not have my friend’s tenacity (or luck) when it came to NYC real estate.

Torso cover 1980Recently I cracked the boxes open again and came across an article I thought was worth sharing. Yes, an article. As the old joke goes – I like these old porn mags for the articles. Well… the photo layouts are nice too, but… the articles do give a window into what gay life was like before the plague.

The September, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine was dedicated to the city of San Francisco – The Promised Land for gays. Presented below is an article titled The City That Dare Not Speak Its Name penned by Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin.

Armistead 1980a
Author Armistead Maupin at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Although this was written just before the AIDS epidemic blew the gay community sky high, San Francisco had already been through some shit, as Maupin mentions in his opening paragraph. The Zodiac Killer, Jonestown Massacre, Patty Hearst kidnapping, the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone… followed by Dan White’s acquittal…. I am unclear what “Decadence” he is referring to, but surely it was a bloodbath.

Maupin sensed that the press was sharpening its knives to criticize his beloved city. And he wasn’t wrong in his assessment. Like his Tales of the City series, the article is a love letter to San Francisco, capturing the time and place as nobody else could. It was the best of times… it was the worst of times….

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Article1

Article2

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A couple of notes:  The mayor mentioned in the article is Dianne Feinstein, now the senior California senator. And the 30-inch girlfriend he refers to was Tamara De Treaux, basis for the main character in his novel Maybe The Moon.

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Armistead Maupin photographed in 1978 as part of Don Herron’s Tub Shots photo series.

In the spirit of “everything old is new again,” Maupin observes “…. some local lavender ward healers (that) propagate the Cult of the Politically Correct can grow tedious beyond belief, and I wonder, in my heart of hearts, whether the immeasurable joys of cocksucking are worth the price of being either political or correct.” Yes, he ultimately concludes that nobody embraces eccentricity as unconditionally and as joyously as do San Franciscans.

40 years later, I think those who love the city would agree… even if they do complain about all the human feces in the streets.

Jackie Old

The article concludes with a reference to a novel Maupin was working on: Jackie Old – a fictional piece about Jacqueline Onassis at age 70. Unfortunately she did not live to see 70 and this novella – initially published as a 5 part series in New West magazine –  would not get an official release until a 2014 Kindle edition. Even so, it is not included in his bibliographies.

Also featured in this mag is an extensive piece by another prominent gay San Franciscan:  the late great Randy Shilts, author of And The Band Played On. I will post this piece – What If They Gave A Backlash And Nobody Came? -if there is interest. Lemme know if you want it. (UPDATE: I posted it HERE)

Or…  I could post more photos of these guys:

Men of SF

The Christmas In Connecticut Delivery Woman

Christmas-in-Connecticut-movie-poster-1945-e1481204669230
“Have you ever seen Christmas In Connecticut?”
It has been many years since I was first asked this question, which always seemed to be posed by a gay friend or acquaintance. Each ensuing discussion regarding why this 1945 film is a Christmas classic inevitably includes a mention of The Delivery Woman. “Just wait for her;” they would say.
Christmas CT gif
The Delivery Woman appears 11 minutes into the film – just after we meet leading lady Barbara Stanwyck. She enters carrying a large box tied with a bow – it’s a mink coat. She has two lines – six words: “Miss Lane?” and “Same to you, Miss.” She smiles throughout her performance – she is beautiful. Stylish. She wears a hat, cape and gloves. Tasteful earrings. And she has a musical cue – a slinky clarinet riff. She seems to know things.

One friend described her as “sassy” although I think that assessment is a modern projection. She is on screen for just over 10 seconds. And then she is gone. She has other places to go. Other minks to deliver.

“Wouldn’t it be great if postal workers dressed like that?” is another comment I have heard more than once. I think she is actually a department store delivery person and not a postal worker. In any case, yes, I agree – capes and hats and leather gloves would be a welcome addition to any FedEx, UPS or Amazon Prime uniform.

Deliverywoman closeup

We do not know the actresses name. The IMDB does not list her. One day I expect to receive a blog comment that says “You uneducated fool! Everybody KNOWS it’s a young Rudy Dee / Hazel Scott / Dorothy Dandridge.” Until that time… the mystery remains. At least in my house.

Reginald Gardiner as John Sloan

In the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet about the history of homosexuality in Hollywood, writer Susie Bright says something along the lines of “A gay audience is so accustomed to crumbs that you will watch a whole film just to see a hint of a gay subtext.”

In Christmas In Connecticut, it’s pretty clear that Barbara Stanwyck’s sham fiancee – a disinterested interior designer – would be gay if 1940’s society and the movie code allowed. But that’s beside the point. The same statement can be applied to any minority in a classic Hollywood studio film – you wait for someone to show up, cross your fingers for a positive depiction, and then hold onto it when you find it.


The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website mentions The Delivery Woman in a 2016 post dissecting the film.  “PERSON OF COLOR. PERSON OF COLOR;” they scream upon her entrance. “This movie is already more inclusive than several films released this year.”

And this is why, 75 years after it’s release, I am writing about 10 seconds of this film.


I tip my stylish cap to that nameless actress. We salute you!


Retired (?) Porn Star(s) Trevor Knight and David Bradberry Have Split

Trevor David2
Social media followers of porn legend Trevor Knight were starting to suspect something might be amiss in his relationship with longtime partner David Alanson Bradberry. The normally effusive Knight had not mentioned his significant other in quite some time, instead focusing on his workout regime while posting increasingly revealing selfies (one of which resulted in a temporary Facebook suspension).
Trevor Now
Last week he posed the question of whether he should resume his porn career, because ” …guys today don’t make anything like I used to.”  Surprise! The responses were overwhelmingly in agreement.
On Thursday Trevor posted to Facebook what many had already suspected: the couple had split a while ago.:

 

 

Hey,

I feel a need to let everyone know that David Alanson Bradberry and I are no longer together. I’ve been single for awhile now. I don’t need any calls, texts or DMs. I’m doing it alone. I will not answer any questions.

He was part of me for 9 years and I will never forget him nor lose contact with him. We made a family together and so we work together with that..

Thank you for understanding and respecting my space..

-The very single, Trevor Knight

 

david-bradberry-full

Bradberry had been a cast member on Bravo TV’s Below Deck and his engagement to Knight was captured on the show in 2013. In an interview at the time, Bradberry said; “We actually first met during pre-production of my first feature independent film, Bite Marks. I had already been cast, and I was helping with the readings for the other principle roles. Trevor was working as the film’s Assistant Director. This was my first ‘mainstream’ project following my short stint in the adult industry. And Trevor never (really) left the adult industry. I’m certainly not proud of the fact that I worked in adult films, but I’m not ashamed of it either.”

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Under the name David Townson, former Marine Bradberry filmed two versatile hands full of memorable scenes for Active Duty and other military-themed gay porn sites.

(I’m always surprised when one of these guys actually DOES turn out to be a real military man.)

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In case you forgot, Trevor Knight is a gay porn legend, having appeared in over 120 films between 2000-2016, working with every major company from Falcon to MEN to Raging Stallion. His return to the industry seems inevitable… and not unwelcome. We wish them both all the best at this difficult time.

Trevor2

Madame Spivy’s Tarantella

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to reintroduce you to someone you should know (if you saw my earlier post about her): the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy piano

Spivy owned a chic NYC piano bar called Spivy’s Roof, which was on the top floor of a building that still stands at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde.

Here is Paul Lynde talking about Spivy on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, April 30, 1976:

“I played another club – Spivy’s Roof. Do you remember Spivy’s? It was a penthouse club and it was very, very “in” when it was hot.  Well… I closed it. I closed Spivy’s. I really did. I was the last person to perform there and as I said it was up on top of the roof. And Spivy and I would be sitting back in the corner all alone and we’d hear the elevator and she’d say “Get your props, you’re on!” And I would get my props out… and it was just the elevator man… he was lonely and wanted to talk to us…. or the landlord trying to collect the rent.

“It was just incredible and you know Spivy… when we did have people, like on the weekend… I would announce her after I was through and she’d run in the john and lock herself in there until the club closed. She never would come on. She would as soon as the club closed … and Judy Garland and Martha Raye and Judy Holliday… they used to come in and Spivy would entertain all night long for them…. but she would not for the audience.

“Finally one night I went to work and the piano was down on the sidewalk under the canopy so I knew it was over.”

Spivy 7 gay LP copy

I previously posted her song The Alley Cat. Today we have The Tarantella – both such short recordings that they fit on the same side of a 78 record as part of her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. This is one of the few compositions credited solely to Spivy.

The Tarantella

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that darling quill.

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that goddamn quill.

________________________________________________________

That goddamn quill. It always surprises me to hear swearing on a 78 record. Even light swearing. It’s not as if she dropped an F-bomb. But we are so used to the sanitized Hollywood version of the 1930’s that it is easy to forget that curse words were not invented in the 1960’s. It’s not the last expletive that we will hear from Madame Spivy, as future posts will show…

Click here for Auntie’s Face.

Click here for 100% American Girls

Click here to revisit The Alley Cat

Spivy Manchurian Candidate
No quill in her hat: Madame Spivy in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to a long lost lady of song that you should know: the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I would add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy cover2In the 1930’s, the former Ms. Levine entertained as a singer/pianist in the back room at Tony’s, a Fifty-Second Street speakeasy and celebrity hot spot. In 1939, the New York Times wrote that “Spivy’s material, witty, acid, and tragicomic, is better than most of the essays one hears about town, and her delivery is that of a sophisticated artist on her own grounds. She knows the value of surprise in punching a line, she uses understatement unerringly, and her piano accompaniment is superb.”

Spivy opened her own chic piano bar, Spivy’s Roof, in the summer of 1940 on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde. Spivy’s Roof makes an appearance in the seminal book Gay New York and pops up in several memoirs and biographies of performers, artists and notable society personalities of that era.

Spivy's Roof

Writer Ignacio Schwartz fondly recalls visits to Spivy’s Roof when he was a Holden Caulfield-esque 16 year old boarding school student seeking adventure in New York. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

She was a plump lady (one writer said that she was “squat like a bulldog.”) She wore her hair in a tight pompadour with a white streak down the middle. She would place a tall glass of what was probably chilled gin on the piano before her. During her time on stage, she would drain a couple, but her singing — her low, throaty voice — would always be perfect.

The one (song) I remember best of all is The Alley Cat. I cannot for the life of me remember more than a couple of lines of Hamlet that I was taught in that Prussian military school. I still have trouble remembering which novels were written by the Brontë sisters and the ones that came from the pen of Jane Austen. But to this day I can recite most of the words of The Alley Cat, along with the intonations, the riffs (and the pauses for laughs) exactly as it has been tricked away in my memory-bag for the last fifty years.

Spivy Alley Cat copy

The Alley Cat, which Spivy co-wrote with Jill Rainsford, was a staple from her live show and recorded for her 78 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs (1939).

Here’s a video that I put together with lyrics included:

The Alley Cat

On the 14th floor of a walk-up flat, I used to keep an alley cat.
Each night I’d walk him down the stair, and waited while he got the air.
He grew up fast and developed a yen, no sooner was he in than he was out again.
I hated to spoil his fun, but I knew what must be done.

So I called the cat and he staggered home, with a ragged ear and a broken dome
But I knew he felt like hell that day, so I spoke to him this way:
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to yowl around til neighbors call the cops?
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to have nine hundred kittens call you “Pop”?

You’ve been an awful wild cat – you should welcome a vacation.
Just to sit around and brood and think about your operation.
I’ll give you one more night out to complete your education
Then the sheltered life is good enough for you.

I took him to the vet and had his profile bobbed, and when he sat down he said, ‘Hell, I’ve been robbed!’
He went out that night but came right home to bed, and the look on his face was a scream as he said:
“Well, you’ve done it. Now the operation’s over, I’ll never be the same, it seems so strange, but you’ve done it.
Now the operation’s over, no longer will I take chances with the mange.

I had so many wives, I didn’t know where I was at.
But since my change of scenery all the girl cats holler ‘Scat!’
I pass them by and hear them cry; ‘There goes that pansy cat.’
But the sheltered life is good enough for me.”

Spivy 7gay copy

Spivy recorded approximately 15 of her most popular songs. Some she co-wrote with Rainsford, others with lyricist John LaTouche. None of these recordings – originally issued on 78 record albums between 1939-1949 – were ever reissued in any format. I am slowly uploading them to youtube and will dole them out along with other Spivy tidbits in the near future.

(UPDATE: Click here for The Tarantella, here is Auntie’s Face and here for 100% American Girls)

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, check out the Queer Music Heritage website , which has a lot of information on Spivy, although the site is rather antiquated and some browsers won’t support it…. If you choose to heed the “unsecure site” warnings and avoid it… then the sheltered life is good enough for you.