Camp David


By • Jan 1st, 2007 • Pages: 1 2 3 4

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This being the first Camp David of the New Year”, I thought it was about time I exposed my readers to the wildly intoxicating talent of Frances Faye. Her legend is ever-growing among devotees of the now lost era of nightclubs (especially the jazz showcases of New Orleans) who were among the privileged to see her perform in person. I am one such person. In 1977 the hottest nightspot in LA was the STUDIO ONE BACKLOT THEATRE. It was there that I got to see legends like Eartha Kitt and Barbara Cook perform their nightclub acts that only devotees on the east coast usually got to savor and enjoy. At some defining point that year a TV movie of the week entitled ALEXANDER, THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN was filming in and around West Hollywood using the infamous gay cabaret in their story line, and I for one will always be grateful that they included the then-current act which was, of course, the staggering Frances Faye (and the ‘Live If You Can Take It’ revue). It is worth renting this rather tired soap opera involving a small town hunk who arrives in Hollywood on a Greyhound bus and guess what – winds up selling his ass on Hollywood blvd before finding true love with a small town girl who also happens to be a hooker (the “Dawn” character we are on the other side of…I told you it was a movie of the week…).

Anyway the director, John Erman, allowed me to be part of the working audience while they were filming, and Francis was up there banging madly away on her piano when it was brought to her attention that Tab Hunter was in the audience so, without missing a beat, she launched into her version of “Red Sails in the Sunset,” a tune once recorded by Tab in his teen idol period.

Frances was held in a state of awe by the waiters and busboys of the club for an incident that occurred during this run when, overcome with way too many hits of coke, she passed out over the keyboards, but before the paramedics could be summoned she came out of it and started singing right where she left off…talk about being professional… She was one of a kind. I was quite a late bloomer when it came to being hip to her wild scene, as Frances Faye has been a world famous best-kept-secret for the last half of the 20th century. This woman, who inspired Peter Allen to be a performer, was an influence on most of the musical talent of the last five decades, including The Beatles, Judy Garland, and Sammy Davis Jr., not to mention Bette Midler. They all saw Frances Faye perform and it blew their minds.

Frances Faye was pro-gay before anyone knew or cared to know what gay meant. All the jazz greats lined up to work with her, such was her reputation. After I saw her act here at the Backlot (and I mean I saw every performance), the great French director Louis Malle and his designer Polly Platt (the former Mrs. Peter Bogdonovich) came to see Francis and soon after cast her in his film PRETTY BABY (1978) in a pivotal role as the coke- snorting madam who first places child prostitute Brooke Shields up for sale. My old friend and former client Barbara Steele had given the STORYVILLE novel, on which the film is based, to Malle as a possible film project years before when she was involved with Louis romantically, and as a result Barbara was rewarded with a small role in the film as well. It was Barbara who first told me of the wild, wild nights at the old St. Charles hotel in New Orleans where the film company was quartered: Frances Faye, well into her seventies, her girlfriend in tow, held court in her hotel suite filled to the rafters with musicians and crew doing bags of coke, yelling “Eat my pussy” at the top of her lungs, as the divine Faye could care less what other people thought of her. Barbara remembered fondly her first encounter with the diva: “I can’t tell you how many times I had to remove Francis’s hand from my leg, as she always made a passes at me, and listen, I was flattered, but still she was older than my grandmother.” When the film was done and Barbara returned to LA we all went back to STUDIO ONE to see her again.

There is just no way to capture the party-like atmosphere this entertainer could create. She took a lifetime of songs and broke them down into cues for her own amusement. For example, Francis would begin “Up the Lazy River” and then go into “Besume Mucho” while making cracks like “This song is dedicated to Johnny Mathis, wherever SHE is…” or she began Nat king Cole’s standard “Mona Lisa” like this: “…Mona Lisa..Mona Lisa… men have laid you….” Then there was “Bewitched, bothered and Bea Arthur,” or changing a tune from Lionel Barts’ OLIVER to “As long as SHE needs me,” a decidedly lesbian take on a familiar melody. It seems Francis was also a groundbreaker for never backing away from her bi-sexuality, even in the forties…Her candor may have cost her mainstream immortality but she deserves her place in the sun as a truly one of a kind entertainer.

It pains me to think she might be forgotten when we still remember Mae West and Sophie Tucker, and believe me when I say Francis Faye is every bit as great as these ladies. A number of her recordings have made it to CD so please check out this fabulous entertainer for your own edification….Also you must go…go…go…to her fabulous new website This is one of the most comprehensive websites I have seen so far and, as Frances would say,”It’s WILD…log on ASAP.”

I will close by quoting the lady herself: “When you’re pretty it doesn’t matter how you fix your hair.” Remember if you ever watch the infamous Ed Wood’s PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE again, to watch for the saucer flying by a nightclub in Hollywood and check out who is headlining the joint — Frances Faye… she’s gay.. gay.. gay.. Is there any other way…

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