Tomata du Plenty was a former Cockette who formed the punk band the Screamers in Los Angeles after settling in downtown New York during the mid 1970s.
There were few places to present video in the early 1970s, aside from screening venues like the Kitchen (in the Mercer Arts Center) and the pirate broadcasts of Lanesville TV. Into this vacuum emerged public access channels on cable television. In the early 1970s, public access stations began popping up around the country, channeling underground culture into people’s living rooms. Before Chris Stein cofounded Blondie in 1974, the guitarist collaborated with his friend Joey Freeman and some former members of the Cockettes on a public access show called Hollywood Spit. “It was the four of them—Fayette Hauser, Tomata du Plenty, Gorilla Rose, Screaming Orchids,” he said. “They considered themselves kind of the Drag Beatles. We just edited in the camera, carefully in sequence, as we were shooting, and it was just a weird, ahead-of-its-time drag situation comedy. Unfortunately, the tapes were destroyed in a fire in my friend’s loft.” Interview magazine contributor Anton Perich—who documented the scenes at Max’s Kansas City and the Mercer Art Center with his Super 8 film and Portapak video camera—also began making his own public access show, Anton Perich Presents, which debuted in January 1973. “Video was the freshest flower in the machine garden, fragrant and black and white,” he said. “The Portapak was this miraculous machine in a miraculous epoch. It was truly a revolutionary instrument. I was ready for revolution.” In one infamous episode of Anton Perich Presents, downtown scenester (and soon-to-be Ramones manager) Danny Fields acted out a scene in which he tried to cure a television repairman’s hemorrhoids by inserting a lubricated lightbulb into his anus. “The show was censored during the cablecast,” Perich recalled. “They inserted a black screen and Muzak. It was the biggest scandal. Every major media outlet did a story about it.”
From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
In 1973, Harry Koutoukas waltzed up to Lisa Jane Persky on the street and said, “Darling, I’ve written a play for you. Rehearsal starts Sunday. The pay is twenty-five dollars a week. I’ll send someone to pick you up.” That Sunday, actor Benton Quin came by and walked Persky to La MaMa for a rehearsal of Grandmother Is in the Strawberry Patch. Quin was cast as Eunice, the Woman Next Door, and Persky was Cordelia Wells, the World’s Most Perfect Teenager; Grandmother was played by Koutoukas’s favorite actress, Mary Boylan, who had worked in film during the 1930s and 1940s, and television in the 1950s. The script was a rich source of drama and comedy, as was the playwright—who had another meltdown during the show’s opening night. About twenty minutes in, the actress who played Persky’s mother forgot her lines and froze. It felt like ten minutes, though it was probably only sixty seconds, but Koutoukas rose from the back of La MaMa and stormed down the aisle. He was trailed by large swaths of fabric, screaming, “Stop. Stop! This. Is. Professionalism?! Begin again! Start over!” And they did. Koutoukas replaced the actress with a woman he claimed was his therapist, which could have been a complete fiction—or not. Later in the 1970s, Persky ran into her friend Tomata du Plenty (a former Cockette who formed the punk band the Screamers in Los Angeles). “He knew me for a long time,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘I had been meaning to ask you. When Harry came down and freaked out, was that part of the play?’ And that was the first time it even occurred to me, like, ‘Oh, yeah. They didn’t know.’ ”
From Chapter 29 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore