Tuesday, May 22, 2012
From the ages of 20 to 30 my life went everywhere without, it seems, time to breath. I lived in Miami Beach for a year or two and then moved back to New York only to return to Miami Beach and then again go back to New York. I lost the diaries I kept until 1967 and the only way I can tell where I lived at a particular time was by a movie or Broadway show I saw. As an example I know I was living in Miami Beach when the movie "The King and I" made its 2 a day showing on Arthur Godfry Road (41st Street) and I was living in New York in 1965 when "Drat! The Cat", a Broadway musical, opened and in 1959 at the Studio "M" in Miami I was sitting in a pre-tryout of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth".
I've written about Flo letting me rest for 2 weeks or, as she said, to get rid of the fish smell, before she bought me a white shirt, black trousers and shoes and made me get a job as a waiter, which I loved doing. I started at Picciolo's, owned by Sam and Dorothy and with help from their sons Vincent and Donald. It was one of the best jobs I ever had and one I knew I could always come back to when I came to Miami Beach. I remember a lot about tat job including the waiters Lou the Greek and Joe, the latter who was a pain in the butt to everyone. Sadly I don't remember the names of the two waitresses who were so kind to this young 'know it all'--some things never change--though I do remember they had the stations in the corner in-between the kitchen and the patio.
I volunteered to work the patio because if it rained I would get off early and could go out and party which I did. I spent most of my twenties working 5-6 hours a night, going out eating, drinking and having sex then, if in Miami Beach, going to Wolfie's for breakfast at around 4 AM, then a swim, home, sleep and off to work. The only difference when I was in New York was that I didn't go to the beach but went to after hours clubs.
The only jobs I had when I lived in Miami Beach, aside from Piccolo's, was trying to be a bellhop at the San Souci and Saxony hotels but I didn't make the money I did 'slinging hash' and it was a lot harder.
It was in Miami Beach that I met Joe and Albyn who became my gay 'parents' and mentors. When we met they had been together for 25 years, coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, with Joe leaving his wife and kids as soon as Albyn reached 18. By the time Joe died they had been together over 50 years. They lived in one large room with a small kitchen and bathroom, with Albyn referring to the latter as the only place he had privacy when he closed the door. Every year they travelled to Europe or taking cruises, bringing back works of art. Sadly they had to sell everything when Joe became sick with cancer and the doctor and hospital bills cost them all they loved, except the most important thing, their 'kids' and I was proud being one of those kids. They came to see me in New York when I lost my weight and came to Memphis to see my triumphs there.
Among the family was Joe the Greek, a married man who came down every 'season' leaving his wife and children back in New York. He was the first married gay man I really got to know and his feeling was that as long as he didn't climax he wasn't cheating on his wife. A few years later he bought a small coffee shop on Collins Avenue, had his family come down and used my place when he 'needed' it.
After Joe died, and Albyn was left broke, another one of their 'children', Jack, who had a home in Miami, redid his garage making a small apartment for Albyn to live. Unfortunately Jack was a drug addict who overdosed one night and died, Albyn moved back to the Beach and lived there for a couple of years. The last time I saw him was when I took him to see Tyne Daley play Mama Rose in "Gypsy" at the Jackie Gleason Miami Beach Performing Arts Center before it went on to Broadway in May of 1989 and he died shortly after.
The years I spent in Miami Beach are very special to me not only because of Flo, Joe, Albyn and people I met during that time but things and people I will never forget. There was the Pixie Bar on Park Avenue where Johnny Mathis had to sneak in because while Blacks were allowed to entertain in the the hotels they weren't allowed to be guests anywhere on the Beach. Mary Conover was the bartender and we almost got married but that's another post! There was Armand, the head waiter at King's Arthur Court Restaurant in the Miami Spring Villas, who I was to live with for a couple of months until I spent the day at Dania Beach with a few friends who I brought home to have an orgy. Armand walked in, threw the guys out, we had a fight, I smashed his TV and that was that. I wonder whatever happened to Armand?
There was Frenchie with his beer and wine joint on Alton Road and across town the Charles bar in the Charles hotel, filled with old folks tourists, on Collins avenue and 15th Street where so any celebrities came in after they were finished doing their shows. There was the Alley and Al's, the latter opened until 5 AM.
People talk about 'South Beach' today but it is nothing compared to what it was back in the 40s, 50s and early 60s with gambling and prostitution available to everyone. Martha Raye had her nightclub club, Pearl Williams with her raunch, the biggest stars appeared at the Fountainbleu and Eden Rock and free, open sex was everywhere from the rocks below First Street, for the open to everyone gay beach on 21st Street. People from all over the United States saved up 50 weeks of the year to come to Miami Beach and live like millionaires, doing things they would never do at home.
I could talk for many posts about Miami Beach but we have to get back to Manhattan!
(TO BE CONTINUED)
"Every day we should
hear at least one little song,
read one good poem
and see an exquisite picture."
Monday, May 21, 2012
1964-1974--what a difference 10 years makes--My wonderful Flo
1956--I was 20--had celebrated my 5th Leap Year birthday--and now I was on Hollywood Boulevard with my duffel bag on my shoulder, wearing my Marine Corps shirt, trousers, shoes and my thumb up in the air. I was starting my 3rd decade of life by hitchhiking to Florida planning to surprise my Aunt Flo--my father's sister--who I hadn't seen since I was a kid. Back then she was visiting in New York and promised to take me to Chinatown which she never did. She lived in Miami Beach, Florida, and I was going to knock on her door without letting her knowing I was arriving and ask her why she didn't take me to Chinatown.
I remember my first ride was all the way through to Las Vegas where in a half hour I lost every penny I had gambling. I remember picking up someone in the casino--instinct?--and spent the night in his room. The next morning, without penny to my name, I was out on the road again, and as to prove what happened through the whole trip, I didn't have to wait long before a car stopped and offered me a ride.
You have to remember the world was different then, I was in uniform and people were more willing to help. When we reached Albuquerque, Barry, (yes, all these years later I remember his name, him) suggested we stop for a bite to eat and I explained that I didn't have money. He laughed and said, "I sure know how to pick them. You don't have money and you don't know how to drive. Well, at least your a good talker." He said he had to stop in El Paso to do some business and would stay there overnight. He said that since the room would be paid for and that it didn't make a difference if one or two guys stayed in it I was welcome to spend the evening with, which I did.
There was a lot of kindness shown me on that trip from Hollywood to Miami Beach and it would take a long post to tell all of it so I will just briefly tell you of two other incidents that happened. I remember waking up on a beach in Panama City hungry, thirsty and, in all probability, looking like the bum I was. There was a fishing pier with a bait and snack shop that was owned, I later found out, by a husband and wife. I explained my situation to them and without hesitation the woman told me to use the bathroom in back to clean up while she fixed me something to eat. I explained that I wasn't looking for a handout, that I was willing to work for food and a couple of dollars which is what happened. The 'labor' wasn't hard, sweeping around the store, stocking a few shelves, washing dishes and some of the wares they had for sale. When I was ready to go the man slipped a twenty dollar bill in my pocket and told me where the best place to stand wastoget a ride and I got one almost immediately. By the way I don't remember their names but I do remember sending them a twenty and a thank you card a few months later when I was working.
My last ride from Panama City to Miami Beach was a long, hot one and in the back of a fish truck filled with dead fish and loads of ice and to this day I remember that 8-9 hour drive. The two men driving the truck apologized and said they just didn't have room up front but that we would be stopping frequently to make deliveries which we would give me a breaks. The husband and wife explained that it wouldn't be easy getting a ride for that stretch and so there I was. I remember being hungry and thirsty, taking the ice that smelled of fish, sucking on it and almost having sushi without even knowing what that meant! The guys had brought their own lunch along and each gave me some of their sandwiches. I always have, and always will, remember Blanche in Tennessee Williams' play talking about 'depending upon the kindness of strangers' and I will be the first to admit they came through for me. I hope that I have done the same for othersoverthe years.
I will never, ever forget the look on Flo's face when she opened the door and saw me for the first time in 10 years. When she realized who I was she said, "I don't know whether to throw you in the shower, feed you or let you get some sleep." Flo did all three and so much more over the coming years. I've written about her before, telling about our relationship, and you can look it up in my archives or, if you want, remind me when I am finished with this series and I'll post it again.
Flo was the first person to ever love me unconditionally and the first person I loved unconditionally and that was such a good lesson for me to learn as I hadn't experienced that the first 20 years of my life. And, yes, she took me (and Pepe) to Chinatown 8 years later when she came up to Queens and stayed with us in Sunnyside where we lived at the time.
My trip from Hollywood, California, to Miami Beach, Florida was the start of a roller coaster ride for 10 years from 1956 to 1966, in which a lot happened.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
"If you do not change direction,
you will end up
where you are going."
Saturday, May 19, 2012
"Mame", "Hello Dolly", "La Cage Aux Folles", "Mack and Mabel", "Jerry's Girls"
are just some of the shows that spawned music from the head of Jerry
Herman that is played now and will be played for many futures to come.
He is proud of being 'old school' when it comes to musical theatre and
loves show-tunes with their distinct sounds.
This book was written in 1996 when he had already been diagnosed being HIV+
for a few years. He talks somewhat about his being gay, a couple of
boyfriends, having a very successful second career decorating,
restoring and architectural design and his 'comeback' with "La Cage Aux
Folles" with "I Am What I Am" becoming the gay anthem.
Between "Mame" and "Hello Dolly" he has worked with most of the legends in
Broadway musical history and he loves them all. The only one who seemed
to intimidate him was Barbra Streisand and he feels that was more his
fault then hers.
Jerry Herman is an optimist, as many of his lyrics prove, and when he is
feeling 'down' he tends to stay by himself. He has very little bad to
say about anyone, except maybe David Merrick, and he didn't always agree
with his collaborators but he was definitely a team player and proud of
it. He doesn't seem to have any animosity towards any people he has
worked with and loves telling stories about the greats that put them in a
He writes about his biggest disappointment and that was "Mack and Mabel"
not being the hit it should have been and eventually did become in a
London production when it was scaled smaller than the Broadway
production had been. He also felt there was too much of an age
difference between his stars that worked against teh show from the
moment the curtain opened. Though it hasn't happened yet at the end of
the book he is waiting for a revival of "Anyone Can Whistle" which he
thought was also overproduced in its original showing.
The only show he sort of bad mouths in "The Grand Tour" as he felt it
shouldn't have been produced to begin with and he regrets having doing
it when he knew he didn't 'feel' it.
Just reading about his interactions with Carol Channing, Ethel Merman,
Angela Lansbury, Judy Garland, Bernadette Peters, Lisa Kirk, Leslie
Uggams, Harvey Fierstein, Arthur Laurents, George Hearn, Gene Barry and
many more stars will put a smile on your face the whole time you are
reading the book.
Now at the age of 82, in July, with 2 Tony Awards plus a Lifetime
Achievement Award and recipient of the Kennedy Center honors among many
other recognitions of his life, contributions to theatre and music and a
legacy of songs that will live forever Jerry Herman has deservedly been
called 'the musical man of the moment' and, as the book cover says, 'a
much beloved and uniquely talented man.'
"I Am What I Am"
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
I am what I am
I am my own special creation.
So come take a look,
Give me the hook or the ovation.
It's my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it's not a place I have to hide in.
Life's not worth a damn,
'Til you can say, "Hey world, I am what I am."
I am what I am,
I don't want praise, I don't want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it's noise, I think it's pretty.
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff'rent angle?
Your life is a sham 'til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!
I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
There's one life, and there's no return and no deposit;
One life, so it's time to open up your closet.
Life's not worth a damn 'til you can say,
"Hey world, I am what I am!"
Friday, May 18, 2012
Unless you are a fan of Johnny Depp and/or Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter and/or Tim Burton you will have a hard time sitting through this almost 2 hour film of “Dark Shadows”. Having never seen the original TV show I don’t know whether this is based on that or just taking the original characters and running with their names but if it is suppose to be a take off or camp it fails.
I am a big fan of Johnny Depp but I find most of the films he has made with Tim Burton, except, maybe, “Sweeney Todd” to be uninteresting. The screenplay for “Dark Shadows” was written by Seth Grahame-Smith who didn’t seem to know what he was doing. At times I thought I was watching “Wuthering Heights” or a Daphne Du Maurier novel based film. At other times I wasn’t sure if it was Eva Green on the screen or if Burton had superimposed shots of Meryl Streep from “Death Becomes Her”, especially near the end. When Bella Heathcote appeared on screen as Victoria the part screamed for Christine Ricci.
As much as I love Michelle Pfeiffer, and there is nothing wrong with her performance here and she still looks stunning, Burton should have taken some of her screen time or any of the other actors and had, at least, one scene between Depp and Alice Cooper. Why was he in the film?
The characters Depp has played over the years such as Ed Wood, Scissorhands, his very successful Jack Sparrow films, has brought him fame, awards and money but I would like to see him get away from the make up roles and get back to movies like “Chocolat”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, “Donnie Brasco” and “Benny and Joon” where he did the acting and not his makeup and costumes like he does here.
Danny Elfman’s selection of music is right on and the production design of Collinwood Manor is more interesting than the film itself.
Stay for credits at the end of the film and take a count of how many people were involved with this film which will boggle your mind.
One last thought--maybe it is time to give vampires, and werewolves, a rest from the screen.
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