James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Christopher Hewitt Papers

Christopher Hewitt
(Credit: Richard Kanuck)
Christopher Hewitt was a gay poet, disabled activist, recovering alcoholic, editor, and college teacher. His writing is often autobiographical and addresses the issues of disability, discrimination, and communication, among others. The Hewitt Papers (GLC 67) document his life and work. The collection includes poetry, prose, correspondence, journals and diaries, photographs, sketches, drawings, and audio-visual materials.

Mightier Than The Mouth
Born on February 2, 1946 in Nottingham, Hewitt grew up in the villages of Welland and Upton-on-Severn in Worcestershire, England. He was born with a brittle bone condition called osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair from the age of nine. He came to the United States for university and lived and worked in the U.S. until his death in 2004.

Hewitt received an M.A. in English from the University of California, Davis in 1976, and an M.F.A . in Poetry at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1981. He taught creative writing and English at Fordham University, John Jay College, and University of San Francisco.

Love's Fool
He was also Associate Editor of Art & Understanding, a magazine in which writers and artists respond to the AIDS crisis. One folder contains writing by others that Hewitt considered for publication in The James White Review, Able-Together, or Art & Understanding.

Hewitt was gregarious and had the ability to engage people he did not know in conversation. A frequent denizen at Cafe Flore in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, Chris titled one of his poetry cycles "Cafe Society." He published chapbooks of poetry, including The Careless Days, and The Infinite Et Cetera, and his poems appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Salmagundi, and Cimarron Review.

Interview with Armistead Maupin
Hewitt wrote the libretti for two song cycles, Metamorphosis and Amours, music by Benton Hess, which were performed in New York City and Oberlin, Ohio. He also wrote the libretto for a cantata Cantata V: Raggedstone Hill, music by Dennis Riley, which was performed in New York City. Hewitt was asked to provide an introductory poem for The Great Spangled Fritillary by Andrew Thomas. The collection includes an audiorecording of Seeing with the Heart, with music by Richard Maltz and text by Hewitt.

"Of Course I Have My Regrets"
drawing by Hewitt
Often Hewitt's writing draws from his own experience. There is a notebook with drafts of Hewitt's memoir Brittle Bones, a more final version of the same in the typescripts, and an audiotape with a reading of Chapter One in Series 7. Some of Hewitt's writing touches on his recovery from alcoholism, his work with people with HIV and AIDS, and interviews with writers such as Armistead Maupin, Paul Reed, and Ruth Felt.

The papers contain sketches and drawings by Hewitt, a small mounted painting by his mother J. M. Hewitt, and some printed posters by others. Several of the drawings by Hewitt have satirical captions. Many of the drawings are unsigned.

The Lifting Team
The collection contains three VHS tapes: one is a portrait of Hewitt, another is a reading by Hewitt. The third, Crip Shots, is a short documentary film with portraits of artists with disabilities. It features Judy Smith, Greg Walloch, Chris Hewitt, Bill Shannon, and Terry Galloway. There are also audiocassette tapes of readings and interviews by Hewitt. These include performances of The Blaspheming Moon and Seeing With The Heart.

Hewitt died due to complications from pneumonia on July 13, 2004 in San Francisco. He was survived by his mother Joan Hewitt. Hewitt's Papers were donated to the library by Robert Guter, September 29, 2005.

"Chris typing" (uncredited photo)
The Christopher Hewitt Papers (GLC 67) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Puttin' on the Ritz

Kreemah Ritz, 1970 (c) Fayette Hauser
Kreemah Ritz, that is! Born Daryl Simmonds in 1947, Kreemah Ritz was his stage name when he performed with the San Francisco-based theatrical troupe The Cockettes (1970-1972). His Papers are now available for research.

Ritz is probably best known for his parody of Richard Nixon in the cult film classic Tricia's Wedding. He also played Bald-Headed Sally who is eaten by a giant lizard in the film Elevator Girls in Bondage. He helped write and direct over twenty of the Cockettes' shows, which ranged from unscripted reviews to scripted productions.

Tricia's Wedding, 1971

The Kreemah Ritz Papers contain flyers, posters, scripts, correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, and audio-visual materials that document the performances of The Cockettes, and of Sylvester, a singer who performed with The Cockettes and then pursued a solo career.

Diary of a Cockette in...New York, 1971

The Subject Files series contains clippings and ephemera about The Cockettes and the members of the troupe after it disbanded. Of special note are the Cockettes history and the Diary of a Cockette. There are also materials about Sylvester, such as concert tickets, posters and flyers, bumper stickers, and biographical information.

The Ritz Papers have a fairly complete collection of the posters and announcement cards produced for Cockettes shows, Nocturnal Dream Shows presentations, and various performances and events by troupe members after the group disbanded. Early posters are often hand-drawn. The posters are organized by size and then by date, and run the gamut from purely informational to beautifully detailed artwork by Todd Trexler, Pristine Condition, John Flowers, Steven Arnold and others.
March 1972
Miss de Meanor, July 1972

Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma (Dani Gray, artist)

The photographs of Cockettes performances and of particular performers primarily cover the years 1970-1972. The photographers include Scott Runyon, Fayette Hauser, David Wise, Rink, Clay Geerdes, Cheese Dream, and Puck Perkins. One folder contains images taken by San Francisco Art Institute students in 1970. There are some later photographs by Daniel Nicoletta.

The collection contains an audiotape of the Cockettes' November 26, 1971 performance of Pearls Over Shanghai, and stage song highlights from 1972. It also includes a videotape of Sylvester's concert at Dreamland on June 20, 1980.
Prissy, Kreemah, Sebastian & Miss Bobbi at UC Davis, 1970s
To find out more about Kreemah Ritz and the Cockettes, please come see The Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79) which are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A bit About Abbott

Poster/Publicity, 1977
Steve Abbott (1943-1992) was a poet, critic, editor, novelist and artist. He holds a unique place in San Francisco's literary world as one of the founding editors of the bay area's newsletter Poetry Flash and as the editor of the literary journal Soup. He counted among his friends Dennis Cooper, Aaron Shurin, Kevin Killian and Allen Ginsberg.

Abbott was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduated from the University of Nebraska, and attended Emory University. In the mid-1960s, he was involved with the Students for a Democratic Society. And, in 1968, he declared himself a conscientious objector.

Soup cover
He married Barbara Binder in February 1969 and came out publicly later the same year. Their daughter, Alysia, was born in December 1970. Tragically, in August 1973, Barbara was killed in an automobile accident. The following year, Steve and Alysia moved to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, where Steve became involved with the literary scene.

Abbott was a frequent contributor to The Advocate, The Sentinel, and the Bay Area Reporter. He participated in many poetry readings, and, in 1981, he organized the Left Write conference. Steve was also a respected critic and the first to use the term "new narrative" to describe the work of Bruce Boone and Robert Gluck.

Left Write! transcripts
The Steve Abbott Papers (GLC 77) contain correspondence, subject files, works by Abbott, publications and writing by others, photographs, and computer disks. The correspondence includes some letters to family members, friends, poets and writers, and publishers. Of particular interest are the letters to his wife Barbara which include an illustrated letter written to their daughter Alysia. Notable correspondents include Dennis Cooper, Aaron Shurin, and Allen Ginsberg.

Clipping regarding draft trial
The subject files contain materials gathered about and documenting Abbott's different interests. Of note are the conscientious objector materials and clippings, reviews of some of Abbott's published work, Abbott's posters and publicity for readings.

Abbott's work forms the largest part of the collection. It includes draft, manuscript and final printed copies of his poetry, stories, essays, and books. Wrecked Hearts, The Lives of the Poets, Holy Terror, View Askew, Holy Titclamps, and Stretching the Agape Bra are all represented in the collection. There is also some artwork in the form of cartoon/comics, drawings, and collage.

His writing covers a variety of subjects from the Watts riots in Los Angeles to the future of gay culture in the years following the AIDS crisis. My favorite piece is "The Touching Ballad of Princess Lulu Magoo," a handmade book, illustrated and written by Abbott for his daughter Alysia. The drawings are beautiful and mounted on pages torn and stained to simulate aged vellum. The fable is a lovely example of Abbott's innocent approach to complex concepts.

Page from The Touching Ballad of Princess Lulu Magoo
As a writer, critic, editor, artist, conscientious objector, bisexual husband, gay father and single parent, Steve Abbott could have found himself narrowly delineated by labels. Fortunately for us, he colored outside the lines and defined his own artistic and intellectual landscape.

Abbott died of complications due to AIDS on December 2, 1992. His novel The Lizard Club was published posthumously.

Last year, W.W. Norton and Company published Alysia Abbott's Fairyland: a Memoir of My Father (New York). The memoir draws in part from the Abbott Papers (at the library) and from his journals (which are retained by his daughter). Her website www.steveabbott.org contains a wealth of interesting archival material about his life and their relationship.

If you'd like to find out more about Steve Abbott, please come take a look at the Steve Abbott Papers (GLC 77) which are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection

Sylvester and Peter Mintun
When we think about musical performances, we often picture the headliner. Elvis, Celine Dion, Leontyne Price. Equally vital, but often less memorable, is the accompanist or backup band. These performers are integral to a successful performance and have a view that's far different from the audience perspective.

Allow me to present Peter Mintun. Due to his talent playing 1920s and 1930s songs, he was recruited by John Rothermel to become the piano accompanist for the Cockettes, an experimental theater troupe. Mintun served as accompanist for the Cockettes for many of their early 1970s performances, often under the stage name Peter Arden. When the Cockettes went to New York in 1971, Mintun remained in San Francisco. His last performance with the troupe was Vice Palace in October 1972.

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78) contains photographs of the Cockettes, especially Sylvester and John Rothermel, flyers, show sequence sheets and some scripts for Cockettes performances. It also includes correspondence and contracts, newspaper clippings and published articles about the Cockettes, and some audiorecordings. The finding aid is available through the Online Archive of California.

Three items (a flyer, cast list, and song sheet) from Mintun's collection are on display at the de Young Museum's photo exhibition: Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Friedkin documented GLBT life in Los Angeles. In 1972 he came to San Francisco and photographed the Cockettes. One of those images is of Peter Arden (Mintun) and John Rothermel at the Palace Theater. The final result of Friedkin's work was a book, The Gay Essay. His maquette of the book is on exhibit and it's also available through Daylight Editions. The Mintun/Rothermel image appears in the book's Theater section. I'm happy to note that the Mintun collection has a print of the same image.

Sylvester outside 946 Haight St.
John Rothermel and Sylvester were both successful in pursuing solo careers outside of the Cockettes. Mintun accompanied them both. The collection includes some wonderful snapshots of Sylvester, along with flyers and advertisements for Sylvester's and Rothermel's performances.

The song sheets, performance lists, flyers, photos and contracts, all provide a back stage perspective on the shows with the Cockettes, Sylvester, and John Rothermel. Taken together, the collection also manages to give us a better glimpse of a performer who did not seek the spotlight.

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.