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Cameron as the Scarlet Woman in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron as the Scarlet Woman in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

One would probably not guess that this woman had joined the Navy in World War II, gone through boot camp, and made maps for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Marjorie Cameron, who preferred to be known as Cameron, was a visual artist, an actress, and a certified, practicing witch. Jack Parsons believed she was an “elemental,” having learned about such creatures from Aleister Crowley’s circle of warlocks, the Ordo Templar Orientis. Parsons was an interesting guy, a Caltech rocket scientist and a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as Aerojet Corporation. He was a pioneering genius whose work with solid fuel and other aspects of rocketry made the US space program possible.

Parsons wanted to bring a divine being, a goddess, into a human body, and thus change the course of history. Fortunately, the Crowley brand of magick provides a technique for just such a purpose. The magickal process is called a “Babalon Working.” (That’s Babalon with an A, no connection with Babylon the legendary city. Two entirely different things.) It’s powerful, difficult magick and requires some help, so Parsons was aided in making the invocations by another black magick aficionado, L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology guy.

The spells worked, and Cameron came into Jack Parsons’s life. They got married, and were both up to their eyeballs in Thelema . Parsons also corresponded with Anton LaVey and helped found the Church of Satan. It’s doubtful, today, whether anyone with such an unconventional personal life would be allowed in the defense industry, no matter how much of a genius. But the Jet Propulsion Laboratory employed not only Parsons and Cameron, but four of her relatives, which was nepotism on a grand scale.

The couple lived in Pasadena in a communal household full of occult practices and sexual irregularities, very unlike what the staid local citizens were accustomed to. One source indicates that Cameron traveled some during the marriage, for instance, to Switzerland, where she is said to have hung out at a convent, and to San Miguel Allende in Mexico. In 1952, Jack Parsons was killed by an explosion at their home, an accident which has been called mysterious and possibly not accidental. After her husband’s death, Cameron went to the desert to grieve and seek a vision.

Apparently she next lived in Malibu, and in 1954, along came the opportunity to be in Kenneth Anger’s film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Cameron played the roles of The Scarlet Woman (aka the Great Mother; the Mother of Abominations) and Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change, including destruction and death.

Cameron in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Cameron led fellow artist Wallace Berman to the study of kaballah and the occult. He founded the very influential zine, Semina. In 1957, Berman’s art was shown at the Ferus Gallery. The show was closed by the police and Berman was arrested, but not for any artwork of his. The installation included stuff strewn about on the floor. One of Cameron’s drawings, which appeared in Semina, was found to be obscene. Tripping on peyote, she’d depicted in Beardsley-esque style a woman being taken from behind by a demonic or alien creature.

Cameron also apparently went by the name Moonchild, although that’s a little confusing, because it seems the Moonchild was supposed to be the magical being that she and Parsons would parent together. Artist George Herms was also influenced by Cameron, saying that she had “molded and formed” him. Joseph Campbell is said to have been Cameron’s mentor, but there doesn’t seem to be much information about that.

Dennis Hopper is said to have found her frightening. They co-starred in Night Tide, a black and white film made by Curtis Harrington in 1960. (Harrington was also in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.) Night Tide is described as a “supernatural thriller” in which Cameron portrayed a sea witch, which must have been not much of a stretch.


She remarried, and in the late 1950s torched most of her paintings in a gesture of symbolic suicide. This happened, it is said, when she and husband Sherif Kimmil had both been awake for several days, on speed, and it is also said that he slit his wrists as the artwork burned.

In early 2007 the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery mounted an exhibition of Cameron’s work. Many of those pieces can be seen at the gallery’s website under “Past Exhibitions.”

Here’s a very detailed bio of Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel.

In 1955 Curtis Harrington made a film about her art, The Wormwood Star.

NOTES:

Art historian John Perreault says,

If you have the patience to find out what Parsons might have had to do with the Philadelphia Experiment, the so-called Montauk Project and what this time/space shift, real or not, actually was, then you will be driven totally over the edge.

How did I miss this? There was an exhibit of Cameron’s work at the MOCA in Los Angeles.

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Samson De Brier

 

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Disclaimer:

Go ahead and read this article if you want, but since it was first posted, several things have come to my attention. You might want to wait for the extensive rewrite. For the moment, the only change is to put a space between De and Brier in the subject’s name. Even though you find more instances of it in a search engine with no space, I’m assured by one who knows that there actually should be a space. But that’s the least of it. There is a great mystery here, and quite a few minor inconsistencies too.

Pat Hartman, August 8, 2008

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The consensus seems to be that Samson De Brier was 90% poseur and 10% original eccentric, with the ability to attract and create synergy among people where that equation is reversed – people like Jack Nicholson, for instance. But that was later.

Nazimova and DeBrier in Salome

Nazimova and De Brier (?) in Salome

The early history of Samson De Brier was lived as Arthur Jasmine, the name under which he appeared in more than 20 films in the 1910s and 1920s. In one, he played an Eskimo who pursued his wife and her lover over the ice. In 1922, he appeared in the vanity production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a black and white silent film starring the vamp known as Nazimova. It’s unclear whether Jasmine played Herodias or one of Herodias’s servants, but experts seem to agree that it was an all-gay cast. The sets and costumes were designed to resemble Aubrey Beardsley’s spectacular illustrations of the play’s print edition. Glenn Erickson says,

Proving once and for all that bizarre artsiness in film didn’t begin with 40s experiments, or exist only in elitist European circles, Salomé is a home-grown attempt to raise the artistic level of American films.

Then, in another phase of life, Arthur Jasmine was Samson De Brier, who is best remembered for his appearance in Kenneth Anger’s 1954 experimental film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. It was filmed in De Brier’s house, with props and costumes supplied largely by him, and he played five roles: Lord Shiva, Osiris, Cagliostro, Nero, and the Great Beast 666.

Samson De Brier as Shiva

It is said that De Brier was a male witch, and liked to dress as a silent film star (presumably a female one), and was called La Perversa by his intimates. He wore a favorite antique necklace formed like a dragon, and was a great fan of Mary Miles Minter. In the Fifties, Sixties and possibly the early Seventies, he held salons which attracted both the prominent and the marginal. Gavin Lambert (author of Inside Daisy Clover, among other books and screenplays) was introduced to De Brier by filmmaker Curtis Harrington. One of the features of these gatherings was the reading of Tarot cards, long before the Sixties revival of their popularity.

Mary Miles Minter

Mary Miles Minter

Several undergrounds intersected at the point where De Brier held court – not only the shadowy world of occult Hollywood, but the gay network, the drug scene, and who knows what else. We get a personal glimpse from Lambert, who noted in his journal a visit with De Brier:

Sly eyes flashing up at me, he quickly brought up two names, waiting for their effect: J.E. and M. (lost lovers). I didn’t mind. He’s not really malicious, just can’t resist little barbs at everybody.

Lambert notes that De Brier’s mystic-flavored gatherings might include such creative types as “…the sculptor who had modeled James Dean, the astrologer who had written to Jung and received a reply….” James Dean himself also supposedly showed up at the notorious get-togethers, as did Marlon Brando, Vampira, Steve McQueen, Sally Kellerman, and Richard Burton.

In Jack Nicholson’s 1972 Playboy interview, he talked about De Brier, although whoever transcribed it dropped the ball and put the name down as DeVreer. Nicholson said,

He had a sort of a running open house for crazos over there, all the local eccentrics…Every once in a while Samson would turn off all the lights and read from his memoirs. I didn’t know many people who had been Andre Gide’s lover, so it was very exotic to me.

De Brier is said to have resented the strangers who called him up asking to be invited just because it was the stylish thing to do.

DeBrier at 78

De Brier at 78

The picture above was clipped from another magazine, where it accompanied a small piece about De Brier at the age of 78. It says his life as a gentleman of leisure and a collector of movie memorabilia was made possible through a real estate investment he had once made. The house he owned was usually rented out, and he lived in a smaller rear building. But there must have been more real estate, or something, because another source says that when De Brier died, his bank account contained $5 million, despite the fact that he lived like a miser and a scrounger.

Supposedly, the many volumes of his diary, detailing his love affairs and a lot more, were to be published after his death. Why some of the fortune he left behind wasn’t used for the publication is a mystery. Maybe he just never got around to organizing it. A 2008 memoir by David del Valle throws a different light on things:

Samson De Brier is of course a character, not a real person, rather the invention of an aging, self-styled Hollywood courtesan who knew only too well that time was always on his side, especially if you start outliving all the witnesses to your life.

This seems to be a reference to the Gide claim, among other suspected prevarications. Del Valle says De Brier had no life of his own but was only a reflection of other people. He also implies that De Brier bit the hands that fed him. (Although del Valle doesn’t use it, there is an appropriate British expression – he was a tuft-hunter, or what would now be called a star-fucker.) He calls De Brier self-centered and out of touch, although longing to hang out with the hippest set of people. But when he had a chance to meet Quentin Crisp, a personage on a whole different level, De Brier chickened out.

DeBrier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

De Brier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Del Valle discusses the animosity between Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington, the flames of which De Brier enjoyed fanning in all the ways open to a gossipy social climber. Apparently, Anger rented a house from De Brier; extensively redecorated by, among other things, painting all the rooms different colors; and then moved out, much to De Brier’s dissatisfaction. But this sounds like what might have been done for the sake of filming Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, if it was indeed the same house, so presumably De Brier would have know what was going on.

The building out back where De Brier actually lived, del Valle calls a shack, and characterizes its kitchen as being the most filthy he had ever seen. Elsewhere, a woman called Eris Andys wrote about being taken to De Brier’s by Jack Nicholson in the 1960s. She was told, and apparently believed, that the hundreds of bottles strewn about the kitchen each contained an imp or small demon.

Del Valle goes on to say,

There were antiques to be sure, but everything was covered in dust and grime, things piled on top of one another. Samson really did live like a bag lady, even clipping coupons and always dining out on everybody else. He slept in a small bedroom off from the parlor in a red and gold Chinese frame bed.

When De Brier died in 1995, he had occupied the property for fifty years, and had not cleaned the interior since he stopped hosting salons in the early Seventies. Maybe he was following the housekeeping philosophy of Quentin Crisp, who once noted that after the first three years, the dust doesn’t get any deeper.

The house, at 6026 Barton Ave., Los Angeles 90038 (between Vine and El Centro) was last offered for sale in the autumn of 2007, described as “Former home of the infamous celebrity warlock, Samson De Brier. Check out this relic from Hollywood’s pre-hippy LA Freak show history.”

In 1979, De Brier published an article titled “On the Filming of The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” in Film Culture, No. 67-69. In The Sewing Circle, by Axel Madsen, he is named as a major source of information about the lesbians of old Hollywood. There’s something about him in Richard Lamparski’s Hollywood Diary, and a nice photo of him with director Paul Mazursky and some other folks on this website. Someone even put up a Samson De Brier page on MySpace, but the most recent login is 2006 and there’s nothing on it except the still from the Salome film.

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Cameron: Artist and Witch

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One frame from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

With classics, the thing to keep in mind is: what looks like a cliché, today, was once fresh as the morning dew. It’s also a cliché to poke fun at vintage film, for being terminally old-school. Yes, the temptation is almost irresistible. But Anger and Deren and Harrington and filmmakers of their ilk were the cutting edge. They invented some special effects that had never been done before, and did many things for the very first time; and to get the full effect, you need the first-time eye. The key to real appreciation of this material is, surrender to it like a virgin. Roll one, and let yourself sink into the celluloid weirdness.

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, for instance, is definitely a stoner movie. It goes slow for the modern audience, but it’s a trip. Kenneth Anger made this 38-minute film in 1954, financed by an inheritance. One of its interesting aspects is the numerous incarnations it has gone through. Some people think the first sound track was by Harry Partch, but it wasn’t, really. The second version, distributed through 1966, was synched to the Glagolitic Mass by Leos Janacek. This version can be seen and heard via Google Video. YouTube offers another version with different music than what Anger used, and the title, for some inexplicable reason, changed to Inauguration of the Crushed Velvet Pleasure Dome. Yet another source mentions seeing the film at a screening with sound by the Electric Light Orchestra. One edition carries a dedication to Aleister Crowley, and the revised 1966 version is known as the Sacred Mushroom edition. During what are called the Sixties, it was popular on or near university campuses.

Subtitled “Lord Shiva’s Dream,” the film was conceived at a costume party thrown by Renate Druks, a friend of Anais Nin (of incestuous and erotic literature fame, though she did so much more.) The theme of the bash was “come as your madness,” and director Kenneth Anger was so inspired, he brought several of the participants to the home of a friend who not only had the space to play around with, but owned a houseful of costumes and props. In the film, Druks plays Lilith, and Nin plays Astarte, with her head in a birdcage. (Don’t ask.)

Samson (or Sampson) De Brier as Lord Shiva

The owner of the house, sets, props, and outfits was Samson De Brier (or Sampson, as he is credited in the film), and he portrays five of the iconic, mythological characters. Kenneth Anger himself appears, in a female role (Hecate) and fellow filmmaker Curtis Harrington is the slave, which seems to be the guy in whiteface who passes out the party favors. There’s a blond youth so smoothly and coldly handsome, he could be an android. This may be the character called Ganymede, or the one called Pan, or both, or neither. Even with some scholarly application, it’s hard to figure out who is what.

Two roles are played by the strange and dangerous woman known as Cameron. She was one of those people who seem to show up in unexpected places, and to be absent from expected places.

Left, Cameron, the real-life witch, and Samson De Brier as the Great Beast

The 1960s edit is said to have been accomplished with the help of Bobby Beausoleil, who is said to have been Anger’s housemate in the flourishing Haight-Ashbury days. Beausoleil means “beautiful sun” and he was a memorably angelic specimen of young manhood. He went on to become a follower of Charlie Manson and was imprisoned for life after he killed a music teacher. Beausoleil’s own music, however, carried on. Ten years later, he scored Anger’s film Lucifer Rising. This was remarkable for two reasons, the first being that Beausoleil managed to record the sound track in a studio inside a penitentiary. Also, before going to prison, he had stolen and destroyed most of the footage Anger had shot for Lucifer Rising, and the filmmaker had to start all over again. But ten years later, the old friends made up and Beausoleil wrote and performed the music.

Anger’s whole crowd was heavily into witchcraft, warlockism, magic, magick, and conjuring. Later on, he became known for his influence over the hearts and minds of the Rolling Stones, whose 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request resulted from that intellectual and spiritual collaboration.

RELATED: Cameron: Artist and Witch, Samson De Brier, Harry Partch and Kenneth Anger

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