Lendon Sadler grew up in Atlanta and visited New York City as a teenager before moving to San Francisco, where he met Hibiscus and joined the Cockettes; he then settled in downtown New York after the Cockettes’ debut in the city.
While the Cockettes’ shows were silly and playful, many of its members had pretty serious activist backgrounds. Lendon Sadler was born in Atlanta in 1950, and he was an active member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Besides the hippies,” he said, “the Civil Rights organizers were the most inspirational movement at the time because they had so much energy.” One fateful day he was walking in his neighborhood to see MLK give a speech when two white people stopped their car to ask for directions. The driver, Ashton Jones, was an infamous pacifist who had gone to jail for not serving in World War II, and he now traveled the country with his wife and pet Chihuahua—sporting “Stop the killing in Vietnam” and other radical signs on the front of their car. After this encounter Sadler began attending antiwar demonstrations in downtown Atlanta. “When we started there, at first I was scared to death,” he said of these protests. “People in suits would save up their shit and throw it in our faces, cursing.” In 1967, Jones convinced Sadler’s mother to let him take him on a trip to New York. “One of the first places I stayed was the Catholic Worker soup kitchen in the Bowery,” Sadler recalled. “I lived in the East Village, but I hung out in the Café Wha in Greenwich Village, and of course hung out in Washington Square. I was naive, and I didn’t know anything about any of these places and then, boom, this world was opening up to me.”
From Chapter 20 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Even though Walter Michael Harris maintained his underground theater roots during his time in Hair at the Biltmore Theatre he was uneasy about being in a Broadway show. One day he called in sick, hopped on a plane, and headed out to San Francisco. He felt a bit hypocritical being paid to play a hippie when he really wanted to be more like his brother, George, and be a hippie—so he quit the show. “I went into Hair as an actor,” he said, “but I came out as a hippie, and it was George who inspired me to come West.” Before forming the Cockettes, George Harris III, aka Hibiscus, initially lived at the Friends of Perfection Commune—informally known as Kaliflower—which was run by Irving Rosenthal, a writer and editor who was part of the Beat scene. “Hibiscus had been a lover of Allen Ginsberg and various bohemians,” recalled Cockette Lendon Sadler, “and Irving immediately fell for him.”
After Hibiscus quit the Cockettes, the group began taking paying offers to perform, which set the stage for their disastrous New York City debut on November 7, 1971. The show’s producers put the cast up in dumpy hotel rooms, and they were forced to stage Pearls over Shanghai in an even dumpier theater. The Anderson seated over three thousand people, and like many similar theaters in the neighborhood, it had been left to decay since the glory days of vaudeville. “The theater was a mess,” Play-House of the Ridiculous member Michael Arian said, “and it was too big, and it just needed to be torn down. It was like going into a haunted house, tile floors with dead leaves and that kind of thing.” When Ann Harris discovered that the producers were using her son’s image in the publicity posters, even though he had left the group, the firebrand matriarch marched down to the Anderson and ripped all of them down. “We only had quick run-throughs,” Lendon Sadler recalled. “We were improvising a show by the time the premiere happened.” The pre-show buzz spread quickly, and opening night became a full-on gala event, with klieg lights and paparazzi; street traffic was so jammed, the attendees had to get out of their limousines and taxis in order to walk a few blocks to the Anderson. With such high expectations, there was only one way to go: down. “That show would have been okay in San Francisco,” Sadler said, “but we had limousines pulling up in front of the theater. Andy Warhol and John Lennon were there, everybody was there. The reviews the next day were so bad that they were good.”
From Chapter 26 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Cockette Pam Tent and Dee Dee Ramone were already an item when he joined the band, which provided the Ramones with a connection to the various downtown arts scenes. He got his cosmetology license and was working for the Pierre Michel Salon, but as Tent recalled, “Dee Dee wanted to be this nasty rocker around downtown. He and I had a lot of fun. Oh, my god, did we have fun. He was like a little boy and he would giggle at things. He would read comic books, but he used to drive me crazy. I came home from work once, and he let Johnny Thunders babysit my four-year-old son. He took him out on the town—Johnny Thunders, of all hare-brained people!” After the Cockettes’ disastrous New York debut in 1971, Tent resettled in the city because she was already friends with David Johansen, who had just started out with the New York Dolls. “David was a good friend and he was around,” Cockette Lendon Sadler said. “Pam had an East Coast connection to lots of people.” She performed in The Palm Casino Revue at the Bouwerie Lane Theater with people from the Cockettes, Ridiculous, and Warhol crowds, and also was a member of Savage Voodoo Nuns. That drag group also included Fayette Hauser, John Flowers, and Tomata du Plenty—all from the Cockettes—as well as Arturo Vega, who later became the Ramones’ longtime lighting designer and also created their iconic eagle logo. Tent was staying with Hauser and Flowers in a loft at 6 East Second Street, right around the corner from CBGB, and Vega lived below them. “We introduced Dee Dee to Arturo,” she said, “and after I left New York it became the Ramones hangout, that whole place.”
From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore