Tag Archives: History Project

SEX & FLIER

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As the original “hot mess,” Sex, Inc.’s impact on our community can be measured by the fact that eyes still light up and smiles broaden at the mere mention of their name. What’s more, they were among the leaders of a generation of female impersonators who poured themselves into service through outreach, education and fundraising when our community needed it most.

Recently my friend Daniel Flier, better known as Vanessa Vincent, Miss Gay Missouri 1982 and co-founder of St. Louis Effort for AIDS helped arrange an interview with Atteberry. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to talk Sex—(and Flier):

“I’m the most talented, the prettiest and the sole survivor of Sex, Inc.,” Atteberry begins.

“He tells everyone that,” quips Flier. “The others aren’t here to say any different.”

With that—I knew this was going to be a fun interview!

Atteberry got his start in female impersonation in 1968 as a member of the famed Smokettes at Smokey’s Den in Springfield, Ill. Opening in 1966, Smokey’s was one of the state’s first gay bars and was owned and operated by Mary  Lou”Smokey” Schneider until 2003.

“Smokey got away with a lot in Springfield,” Atteberry explains. “People of the same sex could dance at her bar when they couldn’t at bars in Chicago. The reason was the legislators used to bring their girlfriends in there—it was a safe place for them to go because nobody ratted on them.”

With no drag to speak of in St. Louis, Bob Martin’s would bus patrons up to Springfield to see the Smokettes perform. The troupe proved popular and toured throughout the Midwest and South before settling in St. Louis in 1970. Here they began performing at Peyton Place in Gaslight Square and in doing so, became St. Louis’s first drag troupe—predating The Peytonettes and The River Queens.

“I remember when we had shows there they had people in the alley watching for the cops because it was illegal,” Atteberry recalls.

In 1969 The Mandrake Society was founded in St. Louis. The group was our city’s first LGBT rights organization and held the popular Mandrake Ball each Halloween to raise money.

“That’s how Sex, Inc. came about,” Atteberry says. “Dean and I were doing fundraising for Mandrake and we thought we should do a comedy act of ‘fat girls.’ And Dean said we really need three—who can we get? Wait—there’s a bartender at the Onyx Room. ‘She’ thinks ‘she’s’ pretty—let’s ask ‘her’! And Michael had only been out about a month.”

Indeed, Lavin was drafted and rehearsals began in late 1972. At first it was thought that the big men looked too pretty—so out sprang the big white hair and outrageous outfits. As for music, they started off with anything that was a trio, like The Supremes—but added their own comedic twist.

The name Sex, Inc. was a takeoff on Barry White’s “Love Unlimited” and the threesome stole their names from the biggest sex symbols of the time: Dingler was Ursula (Andress), Atteberry was Raquel (Welch) and Lavin was Elke (Sommer).

“I have to say back in those days so many of the drag queens took themselves so seriously,” explains Atteberry. “When we came out and were just berserk and drug guys up on stage and did all sorts of stuff—people just ate it up.”

 “I remember very clearly the first time I saw Sex, Inc.,” recalls Flier. “I was like—I don’t know what they are—but I love them.”

While their numbers were cleverly choreographed and rehearsed, audiences never saw the same act twice given the trio’s slapstick comedy, zany antics and penchant for audience participation. For Sex, Inc. was a crossover hit—appealing to everyone from queer and straight audiences alike to their unlikely camaraderie with the leather community. Yes Sex (Inc.) was big at club runs country-wide.

“The one thing that I think is so fascinating about them is how they would go to these leather events where you would have these insane, rough leather-crowds and they would be so well received,” offers Flier.

“They loved us,” adds Atteberry.

Asked if he has a favorite number that Sex, Inc. performed over the years and Atteberry doesn’t hesitate:

“We started out with the music from “Chariots of Fire” and the stage is black,” he excitedly explains. “Dean has this huge turkey leg and he sticks his hand through the drapes and then he comes out and the strobe light is going. The “Chariots” music is playing and it’s in slow motion and its Michael and I chasing Dean for the turkey leg. And then it goes into “Let’s Get Physical” mixed with Diana Ross’s “I Want Muscles,” because we’ve got on running gear. I loved that!”

Raquel, Elke and Ursula were larger than life and in-demand throughout the country. The trio traveled to Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas and even Black Water, Mo. They performed at bars ranging from the hottest discos to the cruisiest dives.

“We did a show at a leather bar in Dallas and they had a dressing room that neither of us could fit into—but they had their own chicken coop out back,” laughs Atteberry. “So we dressed out back in the coop with the chickens roaming around and it was 100-degrees. So we constantly made jokes about the chickens and the eggs and wiping our feet when we got on stage.”

In 1979 Sex, Inc. bought the Miss Gay Missouri America pageant which exploded in popularity and participation under their 8-year stewardship. Icons including Genevieve Ryder, Georgia Brown, Vanessa Vincent, Vicki Vincent (later Miss Gay America 1989), Melinda Ryder, Dan Curry, Zsa Zsa Principle, Mona Desmond, and Charity Case (later Miss Gay America 2001) were each crowned during this era.

“One of the things that Sex, Inc. did was they took drag to a whole other level,” says Flier. “They were the ones who said, no—if they aren’t going to pay you $75—you’re not performing. Because of them we learned to stand up for ourselves and not work for $25—unless it’s a benefit, and that’s an entirely different thing. I am Miss Gay Missouri and you will pay me what I’m worth.”

Sex, Inc. disbanded in 1985 but would reunite for the rare benefit performance—their last for Gateway MC’s 20-anniversary. The legendary trio had enjoyed a 13-year run unprecedented and to date, unduplicated in the Gateway City.

Dingler passed away in 1997 and Lavin, a little over a year later.

“Drag is constantly evolving,” concludes Atteberry. “We came along to do what we did just at the right time when people were ready for that kind of silliness. And then it got really serious again. It seems very serious to me now.”

  B&W PHOTOGRAPHY  BY:  JACK BEAL

 

V-Squared a Success

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Emcee Siren kicked off the evening with a tribute to Icons and Lady Gaga. GlitterBomb Productions provided entertainment throughout the event with performances dedicated to each of the past year’s Vital VOICE covers with the help of Trish Busch, Lola Van Ella, Dieta Pepsi and a host of dancers and models.

 

“In the end, this is all about you,” Publisher Darin Slyman told the capacity crowd. “We look forward to many more years of celebrating our dynamic and prismatic LGBT community.”

A trio of video tributes were shown to honor Vital VOICE as well as the 40th and 50th birthdays of Senior Writer, Colin Murphy and On-Air Hostess, Dieta Pepsi, respectively.

V-Squared benefited SAGE and was Powered by Bud Light, Just John, GlitterBomb Productions, The Maytag Store, Lou Fusz Subaru, Pure Power, Salon Service Group, and We Make Art.

BY: COLIN MURPHY – SENIOR WRITER

StL LGBT Media: Our History

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For the rise of the LGBT press throughout the latter half of the last century is a uniquely American tale. At that point in time—and some may argue, to this very day—the mainstream media had no interest in reporting our stories and local publications wouldn’t place our ads. Undaunted, we created our own publications that despite slim budgets and demanding deadlines, began to flourish. They are a slice of urban individuality that helps to inform, celebrate, entertain and shape our community.

THE 1970s

As early as the 1940s, area African American newspapers like The Whirl and Crusader were known to cover certain events (mainly drag) in the LGBT community—but the first official homophile publication in St. Louis was Mandrake, a monthly newsletter published by The Mandrake Society. 01_May1971Mandrake was St. Louis’ first LGBT rights group founded in 1969 when nine female impersonators were arrested at a gay bar following a police raid. The publication ran from 1970-1973 and featured bar ads, articles and national news items copied from The Advocate.

“It [queer life in the early 1970s] was all word of mouth,” recalled LGBT activist, scribe and Left Bank Books proprietor, Kris Kleindienst in a 2002 interview with Vital VOICE. “There wasn’t much else—you went to bars, you went to parties and you read of national things in underground newspapers and books. There was no radio, no paper and nothing in the mainstream news. There was a lot more fear, discretion, and actively-expressed self-loathing. We were homosexuals. The language was archaic.”

Kleindienst was part of a lesbian collective in the early 1970s which met in houses up and down Westminster, Washington, and McPherson in the Central West End, which was run down at the time. It was called “Women’s House” and together they published an underground newsletter which grew into one of St. Louis’ first LGBT publications. Moonstorm, first published in 1973 on a printing press in the collective’s basement ran throughout the decade.

In 1975 the first issue of Primetime was published by the Mid-Continent Life Services Corporation (MLSC), an early gay rights organization that operated the St. Louis Gay Hotline. The organization soon changed the publication’s name to Gay St. Louis—a daring and empowering title for the day. It published until 1978.

Realizing the importance of having a LGBT publication, Gay Life Magazine was founded in 1978 by the late, Bill Cordes to fill the void of its predecessor. His would become a full-size, color publication that was extremely popular, and included various local talent such as the late, Lisa Wagaman (MoDyke). But due to the fact that advertisers were reluctant to purchase space in a gay magazine, a one dollar charge was levied at newsstands throughout the city—including one at Lambert Airport—a first for any St. Louis LGBT publication. Gay Life ended its run in 1979.

THE 1980s

The 1980s proved a defining decade for LGBT publications. No Bad News hit the streets in 1980 and ran for five years. The Lesbian and Gay News Telegraph started its 19-year run in 1981. Viewpoint debuted in 1986 publishing for a couple of years. Plus (the city’s first all glossy gay offering) premiered and disappeared in 1987 and The Show Me Guide enjoyed a healthy run from 1988-1992.

These publications played an intricate role in informing a frightened community in the face of AIDS. In the early days of the disease the mainstream media mirrored the government’s silence and inaction. It was the LGBT media who rang the alarm. It was the LGBT media who postulated on whether the disease was sexually transmitted, reported the body count, and investigated new drugs and therapies. Despite the decimation, it was the LGBT media’s finest hour.

THE 1990s

The 1990s were the pinnacle for LGBT print media. Lestalk was published “by womyn for womyn” throughout the early 1990s before changing its name to the short-lived Kolours in 1996. The St. Louis Advisor premiered in 1991 publishing for a few years. TWISL ran from 1992 -1996 before becoming EXP and running for another decade. Slam! Magazine proved popular from 1995-2000. For a brief time there was Slam! Extra, a tongue-in-cheek National Enquirer spoof. Lookout published from 1997-1998 as did GALLIP. And Outlook rounded out the decade publishing in 1997 and then sporadically for a couple of years.

The 1990s also saw the embrace of other forms of media. “Outlook St. Louis” aired 12 half-hour episodes on cable access from 1995-1996. Taped at Webster University, the show was hosted by Carol Robinson and Rodney Wilson and was all about the Gateway City LGBT community. Brad Graham did commentaries, Thomas Long did reports, Bert Coleman did entertainment and Ken Haller did some commentaries. Ellen Dubinsky and Mark Griepenstroh produced.

Similarly, in 1989, “Coming Out of Hiding” debuted on radio’s KDHX and ran throughout the next decade.

The 1990s also gave birth to the Internet and its myriad websites, including St. Louis’ oldest queer offering, gaystlouis.com founded in 1997.

2000 & BEYOND

By the dawn of the Millennium it was clear that people were getting their news and information from cable and Internet and the gay community was no different. For what was a boom for webzines and blogs meant lean times for many LGBT publications.

TwiSt.Louis made a run for it in 2002 and was shuttered after two years and Kansas City carpet bagger, St. Louis Exposures fell flat in 2007/2008, and St. Louis Unlimited enjoyed a three year run from 2008-2011. Today, Vital VOICE, founded in 2000 and Outrage Magazine, which made its debut in 2010, are the lone LGBT print publications in the Gateway City.