On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 1

Years ago there was a story in a Stephen King collection called “Full Dress, which was about a formal tailcoat that turns its wearer into an insane monster. Eventually it gets worn by a struggling young conductor, and the usual King bloodletting evolves (“It’s not you, it’s the coat!!!” shrieks the pretty soprano, right before Tillotson plunges his baton into her neck).

For some reason that came into to my mind. But just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (really, I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures.

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, striped trousers, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as classic film director Rouben Mamoulian’s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP

So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a pushover for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Paul, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, and it wouldn’t be the last)…

Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 3 “Sausalito Hot Tub” here.
Part 4 “Lovelace” here.

*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**

**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.

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Carol Doda’s Condor Club on Broadway and Columbus, San Francisco

Carol Doda’s Condor Club on Broadway and Columbus. I used to work the live hetero sex act at Adam and Eve’s (upstairs from Spec’s on Broadway) on this street in the late 70s, around when this picture was taken. Yes, Carol’s tits lit up at night.

Carol Doda's.jpg

In November 1983, I heard, bouncer Jimmy Ferrozzo and his girlfriend, exotic dancer Theresa Hill, decided after hours to do the deed atop the famous white piano upon which, after being lowered from the ceiling by cables, Carol would make her nightly entrance. They accidentally hit the On switch, and the piano rapidly rose to the ceiling, trapping the couple. Ferrozzo was asphyxiated. Hill survived, only because she was thinner than Ferrozo.

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“Autumn” by Robert Chesley (1943-1990), Chosen by John Corigliano and Played by Members of the NY Philharmonic

I knew Chesley in San Francisco when I was working (when not working in a porn movie) as second electrics at the old Eureka Theatre (the good one, the one that produced David Rabe, Trevor Griffiths, Caryl Churchill etc) and he was a stage critic, composer and nascent playwright. He had been a fan of a show Mister Grumble and I were lighting at the time called The Rosy Black Life, and eventually we ended up following him to New York and lighting some of his own shows there at venues like the Three Dollar Bill Theatre in Chelsea. He was The Kid’s godfather.

Chesley.jpg
[Portrait by Rick Gerharter]

In tonight’s (1 June 2019) music series called Nightcap curated by composer John Corigliano members of the New York Philharmonic will perform Bob Chesley’s art song, “Autumn”, in their program Music of Conscience, which focuses on young composers who died of AIDS.

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The Mighty Wurlitzer at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco

San Francisco, open your Golden Gate
You’ll let no stranger wait outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one
Saying I’ll wander no more

The Castro Theatre was our neighborhood picture palace back in San Francisco. Went to dozens of movies there, sometimes with Mister Grumble (this is when he still could see), sometimes with the The Kid, sometimes with both: King Kong, Casablanca, The Garden of Allah, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, that movie Steve’s son was in called Brokeback Mountain, etc etc etc. But the organ was always the best part.

David Hegarty at the Might Wurlitzer

Here’s David Hagerty between evening shows giving the best of The Mighty Wurlitzer and ending (starting at 8:17), as he always does at every performance, with an inspiring rendition of the official anthem of my spiritual birthplace, “San Francisco” (Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann, lyrics by Gus Kahn, 1936).

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Frank Sinatra Sings “It Can’t Be Wrong” from Now, Voyager by Max Steiner (1942) and Sends His Moose to Love Up Herb Caen

But before Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, the real Sinatra made a big hit of this tune.

Frank Sinatra, 1945
Could you say no to this boy?

From legendary San Francisco journalist Herb Caens column, 1995:

Fast forward through World War II to Al Williams’ Papagayo Room in the Fairmont Hotel. It’s 2 a.m. Al’s place is the hangout on the late shift. Mexican food in the middle of the night? We were young and indestructible. Frank was on his own now and headlining at (again) the Golden Gate. The critics weren’t impressed with “Frankie,” as they called him, to his disgust, but the schoolgirls were cutting classes to catch his shows and I was giving him sincere plugs. At the Papagayo Room on his closing night, a burly broken-nosed guy in a polo coat came to my table and said, “You Caen?” When I nodded warily, he slipped me a small package, said, “Frank says t’anks” and disappeared. The package contained a solid gold Dunhill lighter. It was the first but not the last time I would be reminded of Sinatra’s penchant for extravagant gifts…

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