Ghosts From Halloweens Past

There's no better crowd to hang out with than the Cockettes

Back when San Francisco's Flower Power era was beginning to merge into the long hangover of the '70s and "gender illusionists" were a staple of naughty nightclub revues for titillated straights, the Cockettes were the first groovy drag queens, with a motley crew of men, women, and even babies donning far-out gender-bender costumes for midnight musicals at North Beach's Palace Theater.

Though the group was a sensation in S.F., with shows like Hell's Harlots drawing sellout crowds and rave reviews from none other than Truman Capote, a disastrous New York engagement and bitter infighting led to the Cockettes' 1972 split. The circle of friends went their separate ways, but the remarkable 2002 documentary The Cockettes has effected a renaissance of sorts, with the group reuniting for live performances.

Given the troupe's penchant for freaky costumes and rampant silliness, there's no better crowd to hang out with on Allhallows Eve. "Halloween With the Cockettes" can't promise the stage-show bedlam of old, but attendees will see 1971's rare flick Elevator Girls in Bondage, starring filmmaker/Cockette Rumi as Marxist wage slave Maxine, who proselytizes through song and sex. Bondage is followed by a Cockettes fashion show MC'd by Rumi in Maxine's drag.

The Cockettes at Large, Ray and 
Courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery
The Cockettes at Large, Ray and Rumi.

The evening also includes a screening of another little-seen film tidbit: The Palace documents the Cockettes' 1970 Halloween production Les Ghouls. Why spend the holiday watching movies when multiple street parties abound, you say? Because the celluloid version of a now-30-year-old spectacle is more exciting and fresh than just about any pay-at-the-door bash, that's why. Given the recent resurgence of Cockettes-related activity, we hope this night is the first of many in which we continue to be enraptured by their iconoclastic charm.

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