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

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)

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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.

 

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

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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

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!”

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“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:

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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.

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