Musings & Meditations

Dr. Tiller In Memoriam

Posted in Politics, Sexuality and Culture by Pam Keesey on June 26, 2009

From a wonderful tribute to Dr. George Tiller by Dr. Warren Hern:

“George Tiller was kind, gentle, considerate and compassionate. He was funny. He was devoted to his family and friends. He was not vengeful in spite of the opprobrium, violence and hatred heaped upon him by opponents of abortion. He was generous in every way to his friends, community and good causes. He was an outstanding asset to our society, and he was a joy to those who knew him. He was a man of peace.”

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Wolf Song

Posted in Art & Society, Books, Mythology and Folklore, Sexuality and Culture, Werewolves by Pam Keesey on April 2, 2009

Poking around the ’net, I found this interesting piece on a site dedicated to “an understanding of the wolf, its natural, history, its varied relation to humans throughout the ages, and its role as a major symbol in folklore, myth, legend, art and religion, through education, science and public awareness.”

Among other things, they have a commentary on my book, Women Who Run with the Werewolves, and its inspiration, Women Who Run with the Wolves.

I’m particularly please with how they summarize my introduction to Women Who Run with the Werewolves:

This article is certainly not suggesting that modern women wish to go out and devour those who have wronged them in the past, but it does suggest that the use of both the wolf as well as the wolf-human hybrid monster can be transformed into tools of reflection on women’s contemporary social condition. A huge part of the appeal, again, is the simple escape from constricting ties. Commitments to work, family, friends, and society at large are not monstrous and they do not have to be domineering, yet a key feature of modern feminism lay in emphasizing the emotional need to feel in control, to be wild and free, to single-handedly determine the course of one’s own path. This is why many women choose to run with the wolves, as well as with the werewolves; the important part is the ability to choose itself.

The ability to choose. The power to choose. Yes, it’s all about empowerment.

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This Was Seattle Burlesque: The Palace Hip

Posted in Art & Society, Sexuality and Culture, Travel by Pam Keesey on February 21, 2009

Cynthia and I decided we needed a little adventure. Nothing too far, nothing too expensive. So we hightailed it to Portland for the weekend to see what there is to be seen. She and I have both been through Portland, stopping long enough to perhaps eat something, but the chance to explore had escaped us both until now.

We stayed in a hostel in the northwest part of the city which was right near a bohemian arts and shopping area that we knew nothing about until the friendly staff at the pointed us in the right direction. And there we found such treasures!

Before I get too far ahead of myself, Cynthia and I both love burlesque, and we’ve both relished the resurgence of burlesque as an art form. So we were absolutely delighted to find vintage burlesque items in the nooks and crannies of different stores throughout the neighborhood.

One of the stores we stumbled upon was a little boutique full of vintage ephemera. “All things lovely and strange” it said on the sign outside the door, and we found it to be quite true. Upon entering, I spotted an old photograph propped up in a 1950s chair along with some other unrelated items. Very 1920s in style and quite worn, the photograph was of a woman — yes, a dancer — in a faux Chinese sleeveless jacket with unattached kimono-style sleeves, holding a large Chinese style fan above her head. Posed beautifully, it was quite clear that she was one of the star attractions of a long forgotten show.

“How much for this photograph,” I asked one of the clerks.

“Both items go together,” he said. “I can’t sell them separately.”

“Both items?” I asked.

“The fabric on the chair,” he said. “It’s the jacket she’s wearing in the photograph.”

I picked up the fabric and unfolded it. Torn in places, quite threadbare in others, it was most certainly the very same jacket she was wearing. There were a few other delightful items — a 1964 paperback entitled The History of Burlesque which I found propped up next to a statue of the Pope, and a July 1951 issue of Eve: The Woman’s Magazine for Men, part cheesecake, part women’s fashion and feminine culture, but distinctly targeting a male audience. But it was really the photograph with the matching burlesque costume that was the exceptional find.

In looking more closely, I saw the imprint “Anderson/Seattle.” This photograph had been taken in Seattle. I asked the clerk what she knew. “The owner went to a big sale in Seattle back in the 80s. They were tearing down a theater, and she bought lots, brought them back to Portland, and bit by bit has been offering pieces for sale.” I asked her the name of the theater. “The Palace Hip.”

Palace Hip, Seattle, 1921

Palace Hip, Seattle, 1921 (from the Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI, Seattle; used with permission and available for purchase directly from MOHAI)

The Palace Hip, it turns out, was the Palace Hippodrome, part of the Ackerman and Harris circuit. It was located on 2nd Avenue and Spring Street in downtown Seattle. The Palace Hip was the most popular vaudeville theater in Seattle, and hosted performers who would later become some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Designed as a multipurpose theater, the Palace Hip was also a first-run movie theater in its time. But it was primarily known for its cabaret acts.

Chorus Girls at the Palace Hip, Seattle, 1922

Chorus Girls at the Palace Hip, Seattle, 1922 (from the Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI, Seattle; used with permission and available for purchase directly from MOHAI)

These two pieces are now among my favorite possessions. They are both great reminders of burlesque — and Seattle — days of yore. At the same time, I’m disappointed that I’ll never be able to visit the Palace Hippodrome. The theater was torn down in 1981 to make room for a new parking garage. Then again, if the theater hadn’t been torn down, these two items might be, to this day, sitting in a box somewhere in the storage rooms of the once famous Palace Hip.

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A Date with Prince Sirki

Posted in Art & Society, Friends, Sexuality and Culture by Pam Keesey on November 22, 2008

Death, the one appointment we all must keep, and for which no time is set.

 — Charlie Chan

Some of you know that I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks in Los Angeles with a dear friend who, soon to be 92, is nearing the end of his life. When I left somewhat unexpectedly, we weren’t sure that he was going to make it through the night. He did, and showed considerable improvement until the following Saturday, when we thought once again we were to be witness to his date with Prince Sirki, the figure of Death as portrayed by Frederic March in Death Takes a Holiday (1934). An atheist since the age of 15, Forry has often spoken of the end of his life as his date with Prince Sirki, and it seems that the time of their rendezvous is fast approaching.

For those of you who are familiar with Forrest J Ackerman, he needs no introduction. For those of you who might not know him, his names are legion: 4SJ, the Ackermonster, Dr. Ackula, Les Angeleno, Weaver Wright, Laurajean Ermayne. While there is no question that Forry was influential in the formation of science fiction and horror film, writing, and fandom, it remains to be seen if the monumental influence of Forrest J Ackerman on the world of speculative film and fiction can be quantified.

Forry, born in 1916, discovered science fiction in 1926 through the magazine Amazing Stories. He was a founding member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, the first of its kind, where he befriended the equally young Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451). He later became Ray Bradbury’s first literary agent, at one time represented L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Bloch, as well as many others, and has famously said that he was Ed Wood’s “illiterary” agent. He coined the term “sci-fi,” a term that, I’m told, will soon have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary citing him as the originator.

Forry is, perhaps, most well known for his monster movie magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, first published in 1958, and as the creator of the sexy vampire alien comic book character, Vampirella, first published in 1969. In his years editing Famous Monsters, Forry became friends with some of the most famous names in the industry, including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Fritz Lang, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price, just to name a few.

I wasn’t the avid Famous Monsters reader growing up that most I’ve met through Forry have been. But I was a fan, and know that it was his influence that helped pave the way for the plethora of monster movies, music, and pop culture that was so formative in my early years. Forry has raised several generations of monster kids, and has been fondly referred to as “Uncle Forry” by innumerable fans, young and old alike.

An extraordinary number of today’s most well known names and faces credit Forry as one of their earliest influences: Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, John Landis, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and so many others. Even Gene Simmons has recently written that “Forrest J Ackerman invented Gene Simmons.” In a wonderful line from his tribute to Forry in the magazine Rue Morgue, Gene writes, “I am all I am because Forrest J Ackerman taught me to love and respect the monster/sci-fi genre.” And he isn’t the only one. 

I first met Forry in 1994 at Gaylaxicon after my first book was published. I was invited as a professional guest, and had no idea who the guest of honor was. In fact, I was completely new to the whole science fiction convention phenomenon, this being only the second convention I’d been invited to. I wandered into the main event space, and there was Forrest J Ackerman, sitting in a chair, casually chatting with people who stopped by to have a word or two with him. I joined the fray, thinking that this would be my one opportunity to tell him how much he and his magazine meant to me. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Forry made kids like me — introverts, geeks, misfits — feel like they belonged somewhere. Which is why Forry had been invited to this gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered science fiction, fantasy, and horror aficionados. Little did they know just how much a part of gay culture Forry was. An avid reader, Forry discovered lesbianism in Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. He shared it with a woman friend who was also a science fiction fan, and in those pages, she found herself reflected back. Adopting the pen name Lisa Ben (an anagram of lesbian), she started the first lesbian themed magazine, Vice Versa, which first appeared in 1947. Lisa hoped her friends would contribute to this new endeavor, but afraid of being outed, they chose not to. Lisa turned to Forry and asked him to write for the magazine. Forry enthusiastically agreed and, under the pen name Laurajean Ermayne, wrote lesbian romance and fantasy stories. In Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-century America, Laurajean Ermayne is quoted as a formative figure in the development of lesbian fiction. Forry was also involved with the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the U.S. formed in 1955, who named him an honorary lesbian for his support for and assistance to the organization.

Forry and I have been good friends since that fateful day in July 1994. Through him I’ve met people that I would never have otherwise had the pleasure to meet; not only Stephen Spielberg, John Landis, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Gene Simmons, but also Ray Bradbury, Vampira, Elvira, Hugh Hefner, Martin Landau, Olivia. I’m not even sure I can remember all those I’ve brushed shoulders with because I was by Forry’s side.

Most importantly, there are the lifelong friends I’ve made in L.A. and around the world that I would never have met if it hadn’t been for Forry: Joe, Jessica, Ogre, John, Glen, Lee, and many others. And, of course, there is Forry himself. I’ll never be able to fully express just how much he has touched my life, what an influence he has been, or just how much this dear, sweet man means to me.

And perhaps, whether you are aware of it or not, he has touched your life in some way through his words, his work, and his influence.

I love you, Forry, and I treasure the time I have left with you.

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Instant Sex

Posted in Sexuality and Culture by Pam Keesey on September 13, 2008

For flavor, instant sex will never supersede the stuff you have to peel and cook.

— Quentin Crisp

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