Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jack Wrangler died

I just read the obituary in the paper. I knew Jack, not well but I worked with him in San Francisco in the late 70s but hadn't seen him since then. Jack had come up from LA to do a play titled “Rusty”. He played the title character. Reading the obituary had that time and circumstance come flooding back to me.

I had been engaged to build the set, and design and run the lights for the show. It had been written by a teacher at what had been Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. It was about an aging college teacher and his relationship with one of his students – Rusty. Frankly it was a bit of a soap opera. Rusty has affair with other young men; aging teacher is jealous; Rusty goes off on an odyssey; returns and is diagnosed with some unnamed but fatal disease (no it was not aids, at that time aids was not really on anyone’s radar screen and was just beginning to have an impact on homosexual men).

If you think if sounds a bit like Camille, you’re right. In the end Rusty is responsible for reconciling with the aging teacher and gathering around him on his death bed all those who were important to him: aging teacher, his mother, and one of the young men he had had a relationship with. Then he dies.

The author, of course took this all very seriously. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for the box office) the audience did not. The gay community flocked to the show. It was a hoot. For them it was too campy for words and every night they just howled. Word of mouth was great and we were a financial success. Author was not happy.

What really made this ironic is that the play was being staged in what had been a legendary burlesque house on Broadway in North Beach, the Chi Chi. Up until the play opened at the Chi Chi (managed by a Japanese Fan Dancer named Miss Keiko) it was continuing to do traditional burlesque strip tease, complete with a runway down through the center of the audience. The girls would come out and do their striptease vignette (one girl had a roll-on bathtub in which she pretended to run water and then strip to get in the tub). They only stripped down to a g-string – bare breasts but no full nudity.

At any rate, the runway remained and at every opportunity, the script called for Rusty to become completely naked and work his way up and down the runway while doing his dialogue. As I said it was a hoot.

This all came back when I read of Jack’s death.

P.S. Miss Keiko also managed the Chez Paris just south of Geary off Union Square. It to was a strip club but not in the traditional sense as was the Chi Chi. Girls did the standard pole dances, etc. What was always interesting to me about this club is that in an earlier incarnation it was a traditional night club and was the location for some of the night club scenes in Frank Sinatra’s “Pal Joey”.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spade & Archer & San Francisco

Other than re-reading The Maltese Falcon, what better book to read over a long weekend in San Francisco than Joe Gore’s Spade & Archer?. Atmospheric and entertaining, Spade & Archer is a ‘prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

I am a long-time fan of Hammett and Sam Spade. And also as a long-time – though now former – resident of San Francisco I have always seen the three – Hammett, Spade and the City - as of a piece Gore’s tale of Sam Spade, told in the style of Hammett, fits nicely in that piece.

The novel follows Sam Spade over a number of years in the 1920’s as he moves from working for Continental Ops in Washington State to setting up his own detective agency in San Francisco. As it is a ‘prequel’ and as the title suggests, it culminates just at the point that The Maltese Falcon begins.

Along the way Spade is involved in a series of investigations, each in its own way leading to the books conclusion. We also meet characters that will populate The Maltese Falcon: Spade's secretary Effie Perrine and San Francisco cops Dundy and Tom Polhous. We learn much about the relationship among Spade and Miles and Iva Archer and how the Spade & Archer partnership came to be. We learn more about Sam Spade and the picture of the character we see in The Maltese Falcon becomes fuller.

But then there is that wonderful character, the city of San Francisco. Gores puts us on the streets, in the neighborhoods. He evokes the essence of the City. We feel the chill of the fog, we hear the the sound of the harbor and the bay, we taste the food.

I read the book while in San Francisco and as I noted that was so appropriate. But you don't have to be there to enjoy the read. Pick up the book, it will take you there.