Tag Archives: The 1960′s

Avery WillardNews & Updates

Ava-Graph Films Present: Unveiling Avery Willard at the Rotterdam Film Festival by


When filmmaker Avery Willard didn’t use the penname Bruce King, he developed his films under the title of Ava-Graph Films. These pieces weren’t for commercial use, they were the kind of art he would create in his apartment specifically targeted for a small audience, then tucked away in a box until now. This coming weekend, In Search of Avery Willard  will screen with a rare full program of Willard films, Unveiling Avery Willard, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, January 26th and 27th. More…

Gay New York

What To Do Until The Poet Comes, Part Two by

The second installment of poet William Leo Coakley’s autobiographical essay about his life with actor and writer Robin Prising takes us from the couple’s move to West 4th street to Jane street, then from New York to Rome. Along the way scores of legends make appearances – Jack Wrangler, George Barker, Djuna Barnes, James Merrill, Franz Kline and Iris Tree, to name but a few. Check back next week for the conclusion!

When I first came down from Harvard to the Village I lived at the corner of West 4th and West 12th (only in New York, I thought). I remember sauntering hand in hand through the pre-Stonewall Village with my charismatic mentor and friend the English poet George Barker. He was 99% straight, having many mistresses and more children, but the soldiers and sailors of World War II had been his lovers too and he was the body in Willard Maas’ 1943 film Geography of the Body. He had such dynamic energy that just walking and talking with him was a sexual experience. “Go and do it, Baby,” he urged me on to poetry, “Go and do it, Dirt.” He said that to strengthen my poetry I must listen to the “compulsive recurrence in the little matter of fucking.”  I later found out that Robin had independently known him in the 1950s in London. There is a fabulous picture of the two of them in the 50s staring at each other over cigarette smoke (that lost aphrodisiac), the sexual vibrations, never consummated, alive in the air between them. When we lived in London and Europe in the mid-60s George was amazed to discover we had found each other and that cemented our life-long friendship with him. When he visited us in New York around 1966 we stopped by the writers’ bar the White Horse Tavern for a drink—and were barred at the door by a bruiser of a bouncer: we were not accompanied by “ladies.” The police were cracking down on gays in bars. George told him to go fuck himself, pulled out his wallet with pictures of his was it 13? children—and put a curse on the dive. It must have worked: the place is foolishly known as the bar where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death and now only tourists congregate there to stare at tourists. More…

Gay New York

What to Do Until the Poet Comes, Part One by

Willie, Robin, Harfleur-1. 1972, photo by George Barker

A few months ago we were delighted to receive a Tell Your Story entry from New York-based poet William Leo Coakley. Poignant and dishy, in the vein of Edmund White’s memoir City Boy, the five paragraphs Coakley sent us whetted our appetite for a larger untold tale of gay life amongst the avant-garde artists of the 1950′s and 1960′s. We asked Coakley if he would be up to the task of expanding his story and only last week we received a sprawling and wonderful memoir which we will publish in a three-part series over the next two weeks. Apart from the details about the lives of the artists Coakley knew, the most poignant story told is that of the author’s relationship with his partner Robin Prising.

James Merrill, the richest American writer (thanks to his father’s Merrill Lynch millions) had a personal foundation during his lifetime that helped his fellow poets. One of them was my friend Helen Adam, the traditional Scots balladeer who somehow was taken up in San Francisco by the Beats and other poets there like Robert Duncan. The grant helped her take her popular ballad-opera San Francisco’s Burning to New York where it had a beautiful performance at the Judson Church Theatre in Washington Square with a new score by its gay minister-composer Al Carmines and Helen’s reprising her bewitching role as the Worm Queen. But a bitchy ex-lover of Carmine’s, then the reviewer for the Village Voice, published his nasty review that killed the opera’s chances.

I was already living with the actor, writer, and pacifist Robin Prising (we would stay together until his death three years ago). Helen was introduced to us by Robin’s previous lover, who had lived in San Francisco on his way to teach in Japan, and she soon became our fast friend. Helen introduced us to many queer writers and film-makers of interest, notably the poet Marilyn Hacker and the novelist and hotly gay memoirist Samuel “Chip” Delaney. Their queer marriage understandably didn’t last, but it brought forth a remarkable daughter.

I had first seen Robin, gloriously all in white, leading an anti-capital punishment protest march he had organized in the spring of 1960 with Elaine de Kooning and the great American Socialist and pacifist David McReynolds. More…

Avery Willard

Reflections by

The following clip is taken from Avery Willard’s 1966 experimental short, Reflections, starring Paul Ritchards. Here we see Willard’s keen implementation of double exposure, a recurring technique in his film work. As the camera moves elegantly across Ritchards’ body, abstract, superimposed images of New York City drift in and out of frame. The urban landscape begins to align with the landscape of the male physique. Provocative and hypnotic, Reflections calls to mind the mid-60s work of fellow avant-garde filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, Bruce Baillie, Tom Chomont, and many others.

Avery Willard

The Sirens by

Untitled portrait by Avery Willard

In our last posting on Avery Willard, we spoke with the legendary drag performer Adrian about his friendship with Willard. This week, we turn to Amanda Hammett, one of the members of the hard-working team helping to put together In Search of Avery Willard. In the following post, Amanda gives us a little more background on Willard’s talents as a photographer and how he was seen by the photography community at the time. She also shares four astonishing shots of female impersonators from Willard’s never-before-seen collection. Here’s Amanda…

We were overwhelmed when we attempted to highlight Avery’s photographic work. The New York Public Library has ten boxes of his photos. As we started to examine the work, we noticed that Avery’s reputation as a master of the portrait was well earned – and he earned his income from it – most notably for stars on Broadway. But he didn’t stop there, moving from actors to friends, ad models to female impersonators to animals.

In one of our interviews for the documentary, photographer John Cox, who was Avery’s friend and collaborator, reflected on Avery’s work: More…

Avery Willard

Adrian and the Dance of the Seven Veils: The Story of An Unknown Camp Classic by

Adrian (Henry Arango)

The story of Salome, the femme fatale who danced for the head of John the Baptist, has long been a source of fascination to scholars and artists. When Henry Arango saw a production of Salome at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1965, his first thought was, “Hell, I could be Salome.” In those days, Arango was one of the bright stars of the legendary East Village underground drag nightclub the Club 82 after emigrating from Castro’s Cuba in 1956. Arango performed under the stage name “Adrian” and was always seeking inspiration for production numbers to entertain the highbrow crowds who would descend into the 4th Street lair (now the location of the Bijou Sex Theater) to watch the glamorous, show-stopping female impersonators. When the cast was booked into a show in Florida, Arango went to work on the Salome number and mentioned it to his friend, filmmaker Avery Willard. Willard thought the duo should make it into a film. Thus begat the one and only filmed collaboration between Arango and Willard, Salome and the Dance of the Seven Veils, a 10-minute color film that remained in Arango’s possession, unwatched until many, many years later when drag scholar Joe Jeffreys presented it for an admiring audience at one of his Drag Show Video Verite screenings. Director Ira Sachs and documentarian Cary Kehayan, who are working on In Search of Avery Willard, a documentary about the forgotten gay experimental filmmaker, headed to Arango’s home in Astoria to talk about the film, Arango’s friendship with Willard, and what it was like being a gay man in New York in the ’50s and ’60s.

Ira Sachs & Cary Kehayan: When were you born?
Adrian: I wasn’t born. I was created, because I’m a goddess.

But you left Cuba in ’56, right? How did you get from Cuba to Miami?
I had a friend of mine who actually was gay and who worked at the American Embassy. And I said, “I have to get out of here.” I was working at a nightclub called Montmartre. It was a beautiful penthouse club with a bar and an elevator that opened up into this huge space. But Castro, I think, uh—There were a couple of guys with machine guns and they wanted to kill a couple of people there, and they did, they killed a couple extra people who were there. So they closed the place.

Were you there every night?
There had never been a female impersonator. But they created a whole themed show about Madame du Barry. They made me a huge contraption with a powdered wig and all that. And they had a line of eight boys who actually gave me a hard time because they didn’t want to back-up a drag queen. Though there were no drag queens. They were called “impersonators.” But we did it. The show lasted a week because they killed these guys and then my friend said, “I think it’s time for you to leave.” Already I had an audition at the Club 82. Two friends of mine who were working there got me an audition. I arrived. Got the job. Met Avery Willard in the club—he was one of the customers—and we were friends for many years. More…