Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gaiety Boys

In 2007, I wrote here about the loss of The Gaiety theater, former dime-a-dance hall and 30-year home of a gay burlesque show. It closed in 2005 with the death of its downstairs neighbor, the last Times Square Howard Johnson's, and disappeared from the face of the Earth when 1551 Broadway was demolished to make room for a big American Eagle Outfitters and its miles of flashing, splashing, digital billboards.

Andreas Feininger, 1980

There are few images of the Gaiety, so I was excited to find a glimpse of it in the Museum of the City of New York's digitized photo archive--just a couple of shots by Andreas Feininger.

Andreas Feininger, 1980

A 1981 Gaiety advertisement sells the "dynamite" of 14 boys on stage--Giovanni, Tom, Jim--plus porn star Eddy Slash, live, and the film Centurians of Rome starring George Payne (NSFW and definitely NSFW). There were also "FREE Snacks & Refreshments!"

A longtime habitue recalls the pre-Giuliani days here: "between acts the dancers loitered in the side-aisles and in the lounge and offered to take interested men behind stage... If the patron was interested in a more complete menu, the boys had a room in a friendly nearby hotel where they gave a 'private performance' for $100."

Advertisement circa 1981

Zooming in on the models in the second-story window advertisements, we see a pair of white-gloved boys in tuxedos tailored for "male burlesk." They're posing with top hats and canes, in oversized bowties and bare chests. It is Broadway, after all.

detail, Feininger

One is serious. One is smiling. Maybe they are 19 or 20 years old. It is 1980. The first cases of AIDS won't be officially reported for another year. There is this wide-eyed moment, here on Broadway, among the lights and marquees, above the tourists dining on fried clams and milkshakes. Just before the storm.

detail, Feininger


Alex in NYC said...

In its later years as a "legit" theatre, I believe it played host to go-nowhere murder mystery play (the liquor store down my street still has an autographed poster from it). My in-laws took me to it one evening, and the entire time I was thinking that the venue must have had an interesting backstory. How right I was, I guess.

EV Grieve said...

A great find, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah Moss said...

that HoJo's post was my first post on this blog. wish it was all still there.

Byrne Harrison said...

You're thinking of Perfect Crime which was at 1553 Broadway in the Duffy Theatre. The Gaiety was a different space.

The Duffy was relocated to the Snapple Center at 50th and Broadway, and Perfect Crime is still running there.

Eric said...

I sort of miss the HoJo's. Yes, it was full of tourists, and it was hugely over-priced, but it was still unpretentious. It was a good place to spend time with your friends after a show.

Caleo said...

It would be interesting to calculate how many "disappearances" your blog has featured since it's inception. Although the number might be too depressing to bear.

Anonymous said...

In the 80's there was a punch bowl in the lobby and it was full of OJ and vodka. All the boys and patrons would mingle there. And I remember seeing Joey Stefano there in the 90's and he was a terrific performer. It was fun before the "no sex in the theatre" crack down in the last years of it's existence.

BabyDave said...

Nicely put, "before the storm."

By the by, what on Earth was "Symposium Night?"

BrooksNYC said...

The house "curtain" was a rippling wall of foil streamers illuminated by rotating, multicolored lights. The audience sat on three sides of a runway that extended from the stage into the house.

The dance routines were divided into two parts. The guys would come out for Part One scantily clad in the usual comic-hot fetishwear (jockstraps, construction hard-hats, leather harnesses, etc.), but with naughty bits covered.

After dancing for five minutes, they'd disappear behind the foil curtain, and re-emerge a minute or two later for Part Two — fully exposed and (if they could manage it) erect.

There were, as I recall, 4-6 dancers per "set". They'd dance one at a time before crowding onto the stage together for group applause. Then a screen would drop from the ceiling, the lights would dim, and porn films would show until the next set began an hour later.

Random stuff....

There were always Canadian dancers at the Gaiety. They'd come down from Canada, dance until their work permits ran out, then return home. Some of the guys had been going back and forth for years.

In the late '80s, Madonna came out with a book of black-and-white photographs called Sex, some of it shot at the Gaiety. The flurry of scandalized "outrage" attending the book's publication only enhanced the Gaiety's allure. Prior to the book's release, the theater had been an all-male venue. After the book's release, there were always a few women and "trendy" types in the house.

JayV said...

I just never had the nerve to enter the Gaiety, but remember the ads. That HoJo's I ate at many times and loved it (Mac and cheese, fried clams and Indian pudding).

greg said...

On my first visit to NYC in June of 2001, a waiter in the Village recommended the Gaiety.

My friend I was traveling with refused to go, so I went by myself. I'm so glad I did. I really knew nothing about it upon my visit, but since then have learned much about its history.

When I returned to NYC in 2005, I was saddened to see it had disappeared along with a gay bar that was only a couple blocks away. Both establishments seemed reminiscent of what the 1970s must have been like in NYC. I was too young then, but it seems like an amazing time to be living in NYC.

It appears both Giuliani and computers are to blame for the demise of Gaiety and others of its ilk. A part of history I doubt can ever be repeated.

Pat said...

Thank you, Jeremiah for an interesting article. I've wondered for years how did Denise take being cooped up all day in that little cubicle. She must've gotten very rich off that place. I heard she went back to Greece. There were different reasons I had to stop going. It ruined it for me once women were allowed in. While that place had better looking dancers, the show palace was more fun. By the way, Greg, it wasn't Giuliani's fault the place closed. Disney had taken over the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Looking for gay film that was surrounded and plot line with the Gaiety. Anyone know who preformed in the movie or the name. Trying to look for a copy of that X rated porn film.

Anonymous said...

Sansy was one of the regulars in the 90's until it's closing.

Anonymous said...

the gay bar a couple of blocks away was called Stella's and it had dancers in the basement level.

Anonymous said...

I'm responding to the Comment by Anonymous seeking info about the gay film that was supposed to have been based on life at the Gaiety. I believe it's called "Times Square Strip," starring Buddy Preston. Released in 1983, it was the last feature by director Jack Deveau. As a former employee and customer of the Gaiety, I can report first-hand that the film offers a fairly accurate depiction on the theater's operation in the early 1980s.

Anonymous said...

I worked as the DJ/announcer/projectionist at the Gaiety for about a year - and danced. It was the cleanest and classiest of all the Boy Burlesque theaters in NYC at the time.

Denise was great to work for (I wonder if she is back in Greece). She did her best to keep the kids off of drugs and encouraged many of them to go back to school. It wasn't all porn and hustling - unlike the movie, however, there were never any drag queens on stage.