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”.


buff said...

Howdy Denis. Wow, you worked with Jack Wrangler. That is definitely something to be proud about.

Yea, his beefcake personna was awe inspirng, but some of this early work in the legit theater was raw.

I saw him in T Shirts. I guess his humpy, hunky bod carried his performance.

He defined the Daddy, that a lot of us continue to emulate today.

He will truly be missed.

Mega hairy muscle hugs of thanks for sharing. A new fan.

Denis B said...

There were many funny stories that came out of that production. One I particularly remember:

For years the Chi Chi had been a regular stop for Japanese tourist tour buses. When the club changed from burlesque strip joint to housing the play, no one thought to inform the tour operators. So one night right after we opened, and in one of the scenes where Jack was on the runway completely naked (in full glory if you will) in walk 30 middle-aged Japenese tourists. They had been expecting to see G-String clad women but what they got was something else...Frankly it was hilarious, they didn't quite know what to do.

You have to remember that a good portion of North Beach in those days was dominated by "He/She Love Act" shows. Simulated heterosexual sex on stage. No one in that area was prepared for a play about Gay men. That was confined to the Castro or Polk Steet.