Posts Tagged ‘Sixties’


The History of the Tele Times is made from some of the 6,000 hours of film accumulated by wizard documentarian Claire Burch. The focus here is on B. N. Duncan, legendary underground artist of Berkeley, CA. We revisit the esteemed “Fred and Ned” comic strip that Duncan created with Wild Billy Wolf, and the zine they started, which later continued with Ace Backwords, a major under-appreciated genius of our era. (One of his songs is on the sound track.)

From 1978 to 1982, The Tele Times presented the ultimate in outsider art, in every sense of the word. Primitive artist Narayan, for instance. It’s said that life on the streets is many times more difficult for a woman than for a man. It is interesting to be introduced to such a woman, however briefly.

Duncan is seen constantly photographing the kaleidoscopic Berkeley ambiance and interviewing its dwellers. Burch recorded the historic meeting of Duncan and Backwords and the historic meeting of Duncan and uber-cartoonist R. Crumb. We hear excerpts from the lively feud between Crumb and a stripper, and meet his partner Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

The interview with Duncan is very ably conducted by Ace Backwords (who, if there were any justice, would have his own TV show. I’d call him an even hipper Dick Cavett.) They discuss Gypsy Catano, and the occupation of People’s Park, and a whole lot more besides. The conversation turns to the subject of vehicle dwellers or rubber tramps including Vincent Johnson, the founder of Rainbow Village.

Historically speaking, these are the people who later turn out to have genuinely made history, rather than the politicians and armies, as is generally supposed.

The back of the DVD case has a nice quote from Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer, venerable keepers of the psychedelic tradition. (A debate between Horowitz and Backwords would be an interesting event. The latter’s book, Acid Heroes, pretty much trashes the entire scene.)

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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


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.

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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.

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