As the psychedelic San Francisco of the 1960s began evolving into the pansexual San Francisco of the 1970s, The Cockettes, a flamboyant ensemble of hippies -- gay, straight, and undecided -- decked themselves out in gender-bending drag and tons of glitter for a series of legendary midnight musicals at the Palace Theater in North Beach.
The Cockettes were born on stage, New Year’s Eve, 1969. The collective passion was to take every fantasy, desire, idol and dream and in the most joyously flamboyant way possible, put it onto the stage.
Founded by Hibiscus (real name, George Harris, Jr.) the troupe performed outrageous parodies of show tunes (or original tunes in the same vein) and gained an underground cult following that eventually led to mainstream exposure. With titles like Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma, Hell's Harlots and Pearls over Shanghai, these all singing, all dancing extravaganzas featured elaborate costumes, rebellious sexuality, and exuberant chaos.
The Cockettes were soon heralded as the cutting edge of Freak Theatre appearing in Rolling Stone, Paris Match and even Playboy magazines. They attracted admiration from Diana Vreeland, John Lennon and Marlene Dietrich, among others. Truman Capote and Rex Reed attended a San Francisco performance of Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, and Reed wrote a glowing review calling it "a landmark in the history of new, liberated theater..."
For a time "The Cockettes [were] where it’s at," as Truman Capote put it on the Tonight Show. But all that ended with their catastrophic 1971 New York début, when the Anderson Theater’s large stage overwhelmed their cardboard sets and their flower child anti-professionalism seemed merely unprofessional. Gore Vidal delivered the kiss of death by remarking as he left mid-performance, "A lack of talent is not enough," Apparently, what had seemed so fabulous in San Francisco did not translate well in New York City.
Fayette Hauser performed with the group and contributed to the look and structure of many of the shows, and photographed them as well until its demise in the spring of 1972. Fayette went on to perform with Tomata Du Plenty and his Whiz Kidz in Seattle and then, with Tomata, in New York at CBGB’S, Café Cino, La Mama and the Bouwerie Lane Theatre.