Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger

Young Bill and JoAnne all dolled-up in front of The Movie.

Young Bill and JoAnne all dolled-up in front of The Movie.

HIS NAME WAS KENNETH ANGER, or Kenneth Anglemyer as his parents called him. One afternoon at The Movie, this polite, mild mannered guy rings our doorbell and tells us he’s the filmmaker come up from L.A. to help with the advance publicity for Scorpio Rising. Since he had not yet found a hotel, we invited him to spend the night on the vacant second floor above The Movie. Kenneth moved in with us and remained for a year, during which we learned many a strange and curious thing.

One day our angry young guest introduced us to Free Wheeling Frank, all dressed up in black leather outlaw biker garb. In addition to being a biker, Frank was also the poet laureate of the Hell’s Angels. The two of them wanted to have a special screening for the Angels. Here was a stunt neither JoAnne nor I would have thought of but, there being no business like show business, a few days later found us with a street full of motorcycles, most of which were parked illegally on the sidewalk in front of the theatre. Now here is a question: how do you tell the Hell’s Angels to go move their bikes?

When I was projecting films for an audience at The Movie, I tried to spend time in the auditorium with the audience so I could gauge their response. That afternoon JoAnne and I were concerned about the possibility of a violent response to Ken’s homosexual motorcycle movie. Free Wheeling Frank said not to worry, the Angels were cool. When assorted muscle-bound gay bikers dressed to the nines in tight black leather appeared on screen, along with their immaculate, glistening bikes, the Angels cheered and the Angels booed, a response that made no sense to us. It didn’t seem to be total hostility but sometimes more like ridicule punctuated with lots of strange ooohs and aaaws, and, on occasion, even a cheer—none of which made any sense. Not to me at least. Fortunately when the lights came up at the end, everyone seemed happy, which boded well for the grand opening. Later that afternoon, Freewheeling Frank explained it was not the guys and their outfits the Angels were booing and cheering but rather was their bikes.

A week or two later brought opening night with bail money in the refrigerator and a line down the block. Scorpio Rising received good reviews and played to packed houses for several months, during which Ken became part of our family. To our great dismay, however, there came nary a peep from the cops.

Death, Bike, Anger

Death, Bike, Anger

A lot of crazy things started happening during my first year in show biz. One day JoAnne and I read in the trade magazine Variety about an art theatre in L.A. that had been closed down for obscenity. There had been a trial and the conviction of a theatre operator who had booked in a half-hour long 16mm film titled Scorpio Rising. With its gay motorcycle-mania theme, it sounded perfect for San Francisco. But with an obscenity conviction hanging over its head, that conviction had become a legal precedent within the State of California. We would be asking for trouble to show it, so we tracked down the distributor and told him we wanted to show it and perhaps go to jail in the process. In the motion picture theatre business, an obscenity trial is the finest publicity money can buy.

Our newly invigorated publicity machine soon swung into action. Scorpio Rising was an art movie and the word “art” was a code word for sex. So we decided it would be best to first have a private screening so that when the police closed us down on opening night there would be people who had seen Scorpio and could thereby testify as to its “redeeming social value.” Back then, that was one of the tests for obscenity. Scorpio Rising was the film we hoped to have everyone in San Francisco talking about soon. So we contacted the ACLU and told them what we were up to, and would they perhaps be interested in a juicy First Amendment case? No? Well then how about some free popcorn and a free movie at an exclusive pre-opening viewing of the most controversial film of the year? Then we contacted all the media. Would their reviewers like to attend a very special advance screening of a film that had been busted for obscenity in Los Angeles, which film just happens to be coming soon to a theatre near you? You bet they did. In addition, we invited some local lawyers, university professors, sociologists, psychologists, radical historians and anyone else we could think of, in order to make sure we had a pool of well-educated expert witnesses available to testify on behalf of us at our upcoming trial. Soon, our advance screening was a “smash hit,” as we say in show biz.

Our year with Kenneth Anger turned out to be a true revelation. One day I came down the stairs to get the morning newspaper, whereupon Ken saw me coming and grabbed it before I could get to it. Before handing it over, he told me that he was leaving, and that we would never see him again. I glanced at the huge dark black headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, which read: “DOCTOR’S TORTURE CHAMBER FOUND ON PENINSULA,” along with the name Kenneth Anger whose address was listed as 1032 1/2 Kearny Street, the address of The Movie. Ken immediately headed upstairs to pack while I brought the paper up to JoAnne. Together we read the bizarre story.

It seems the cops had uncovered a torture chamber down on the San Francisco Peninsula where someone appeared to have been murdered. The problem was, they could not find the corpse, or the “corpus dilecti as they call it in Latin. At first, I wondered whether perhaps someone had eaten that corpse because it was so delectable, but JoAnne soon got me straightened out on that one. However, rather than try to explain all this, I am simply going to quote Judge P. J. Shoemaker who wrote in People vs. Samuels (1967) 250 CA2d 501 as follows:

Defendant Samuels, an ophthalmologist, testified that he recognized the symptoms of sadomasochism in himself, and that his primary concern became to control and release his sadomasochistic urges in ways which were harmless. Through his hobby of photography, he participated in the production of several films on the east coast. Three of these depicted bound individuals being whipped. Defendant wielded the whip in two of the films and acted as the cameraman, producer and the director for the third film. He testified that the apparent force of the whipping was “faked” and that cosmetics were used to supply the marks of the apparent beating. Defendant produced one of these films at the trial.

In early September 1964, defendant met Kenneth Anger in San Francisco. Anger was a self-employed film director who had made such films as “Fireworks” and “Scorpio Rising.” He had also been a close friend of Dr. Kinsey from the institute by that name, had been a buyer for the institute for seven years, and had an authorization to send material through the mails.

On the night of their initial meeting, Anger introduced himself to defendant and inquired whether defendant had seen Scorpio Rising. Defendant replied that he had not. Defendant had seen Fireworks, however, and considered it the most sadomasochistic film he had ever seen. He told Anger that he himself had made two or three rolls of film dealing with sadomasochist activity and was interested in having them developed. Anger volunteered to have the films developed and also told defendant that he believed that the Kinsey Institute would be very interested in examining the footage and might want the films for their collection, since they were then studying the subject of sadomasochism…. Anger deposited the films at Schafer’s Camera Store in San Francisco [and] subsequently returned to the camera shop and was told that only one of the films had thus far been developed and returned to the shop. He paid the developing fee and picked up the film. The other roll of film had been sent by the camera shop to the
Eastman Kodak Company in Palo Alto for processing. The company contacted the Palo Alto Police Department and projected the film for certain peace officers and prosecuting attorneys, who confiscated the film. A dummy role of film was left at Schafer’s Camera Store.

On November 20, Anger picked up this film and was apprehended by the police of San Francisco… Later that day, the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office obtained a warrant authorizing a search of defendant’s home for whips and other instruments of torture… the officers then entered the house and observed that the living room was in semi-darkness and that a movie screen was set up in the living room and a projector was on the dining room table. Two canisters of film were on the table by the projector…

One contained a travelogue entitled Fire Island, which defendant had made on the east coast. Nieto accompanied defendant into the bedroom and… then asked defendant the name of the man who was strung up from the beam… Defendant replied that he did not know his name and that he had met him in a San Francisco bar … [The man] was an individual whom he had met either at a “gay” bar or at Fosters. [Yikes—I used to work there! ] Defendant thought his name was “George,” but he did not know his present whereabouts. The man approached him and stated that he was an “M” looking for an “S.” The man thereafter came to defendant’s home and voluntarily submitted to the beating. Defendant admitted that he was a well-known sadist and stated that he was one of the best in the business… After the filming had been completed, defendant drove him back to the bus depot in the “same condition he came in… The conviction as to aggravated assault is hereby affirmed.”

People say pictures don’t lie, and that seeing is believing. As a professional motion picture projectionist, I can assure you that moving pictures don’t move. We told Ken to sit tight; he didn’t have to move either.

With the arrival of our newly adopted baby, Zerky, life with Kenneth Anger started becoming increasingly untenable. One day we discovered he had moved some guy we knew nothing about into one of the vacant rooms on the middle floor of the theatre building, where Ken was still living. The guy’s name, it turned out, was Mike. Kenneth explained to us that Mike was a merchant seaman whom he had picked up at the Waterfront YMCA, and that, besides being a sailor, he was also the incarnation of Lucifer who was now starring in Kenneth’s new film, Lucifer Rising.

After a year in residence up above The Movie, Ken had become virtually a part of our family, our mad artist in residence, our enfant terrible, our angry young man, our Kenneth Anger. But JoAnne and I took a very dim view of Mike. He wouldn’t be there long, Kenneth assured us. Still, neither JoAnne nor I liked the idea of some strange guy we had never even met now living with us, even if he was largely out of sight. You see, we never got to meet Mike because he was always fast asleep. In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder whether he might have been a heroin addict. The room Kenneth had stowed him in didn’t have a door on it, so we tried to keep an eye on Mike as we were coming and going from our place upstairs on the third floor. Sometimes Mike was asleep and sometimes Mike was gone, which struck us as being weird, but then again we were learning to our increasing discomfort that Ken was acting pretty weird, too.

One day Mike was indeed there—asleep as usual—while Ken was busy as a bee. Out of some chairs and tables, boxes and blankets, he had constructed a movie set in the form of an altar surrounding Mike. Upon the altar were countless burning candles, “to light up the shoot,” Ken explained. At last he was shooting his new film, Lucifer Rising. We did not understand Ken’s fascination with astrology, all we hoped was for Lucifer to rise up and—having arisen—get the hell out of there.

Ken was all hyped up like a mad scientist running back and forth, putting the finishing touches on his set. He told us Lucifer Rising had a part in it for Zerky. Little Zerky, with his fine blond hair, was about to become the Christ Child.

By then JoAnne and I had become more and more worried because we were still under the standard six-month investigative period during which the Department of Social Services would determine whether Zerky’s adoption was going to be finalized or whether he might have to be given back to the State of California. Our social worker had already explained to us that part of her job was to drop by, unannounced. Now, how were we going to explain to the State of California that our pending adoptive home included both a comatose seaman and a satanic priest who were making a movie together about our adoptive child who was believed to be the incarnation of the Christ Child? It was time to have a talk with Ken. We told him we could lose our little boy because we were under investigation, and that he had to cool it.

A few nights later, we were awakened in the middle of the night by some loud noises up on the roof. It turned out that Ken and his friend Michael McClure had scaled the fire escape hanging out over the entrance to the theatre, and then climbed up the ladder onto the roof of this three story building. They were probably high on something, we figured. But what if they fell off the building? We were not in the market for any more newspaper headlines about strange goings on at The Movie at 1032 1/2 Kearny Street.

As the days went by, Ken’s behavior started becoming more and more bizarre. He was indeed making Lucifer Rising, we discovered, not by filming it but by being it. In the end we had to give him an ultimatum: either he settle down or pack up his things and leave. Our meeting, which we definitely had not been looking forward to, began to grow tense. Soon we got into an argument, at which point Ken picked up the sculpted papier-mâché head of a bull that was part of his movie set, and held it high up over his head as if he were going to hit me with it. He was about to “destroy the world,” he yelled. Tugging and twisting the horns of the bull, he began getting red in the face, while sputtering incantations that made no sense. Then, just as it appeared that the horns of the devil were going to get the best of him, a banging sound came flying through the front window overlooking Kearny Street. As fast as I could, I slid up the window to see what was going on down in the street below, wondering all the while about whether the building was beginning to collapse. Ken rushed over and poked his head out, too, to see a crowd down on Kearny Street acting wild and drunk as if they were forerunners of the apocalypse. But no—wait—there was music! A coterie of drunken Stanford Band members and students celebrating their victory over my old alma matter, U.C. Berkley. With our heads out the window, side by side, JoAnne and I watched in utter fascination as a totally freaked out Ken went running wildly down the stairs and out into the street where, from our upstairs vantage point, we found him marching at the head of the Stanford victory parade, spinning in circles and jumping up and down, while waving his arms as if they were a musical director’s batons, and as if he were an all-powerful movie director. At long last his invocation of the Devil had been answered. Kenneth Anger and his parade turned left onto Broadway, as this mad cacophony of sights and sounds slowly vanished into the true heart of North Beach at Broadway and Columbus Avenues. At long last our prayers had been answered and Mister Anglemyer was finally gone. Or so we thought.

A few days later, a disheveled Ken returned to his pad up above The Movie, where once again we tried talking to him. In no uncertain terms did we tell him he had to move. A few days later he was still there. Now what? Maybe it was indeed time to call the police.

Ken had told us earlier that he was a correspondent for the Kinsey Institute. Alfred Kinsey had recently died and his position at the Institute taken over by Paul Gebhardt, who had been in San Francisco recently while checking out the topless mania that had recently turned North Beach into the cutting edge of the sexual revolution. The Kinsey Institute had recently been studying San Francisco’s gay community and Ken had been one of its many contacts. Paul Gebhardt and Kenneth Anger were friends, it turned out. When Paul had been in town recently, JoAnne and I had taken the two of them out to dinner at a classy North Beach restaurant. Our conversation that night had been mostly about non-standard sexual activities, which made for a memorable evening. I especially remember Gephardt’s interest in a new sadomasochistic act being pre-advertised for opening night at a nightclub across Kearney Street from The Movie, on the corner of Kearny and Broadway Streets. The posters were already up for Monique Von Cleef, a Dutch female sadist who was going to take volunteers from the audience up on stage for lessons in punishment, whipping, bondage, and discipline. Because this was a first, Gebhardt was particularly interested because it would provide the Institute with a new line demarcating the border between sexual activities that could be conducted in public and those that only could be only performed in the privacy of one’s home. JoAnne and I were interested in this, too, because the movie industry had issues with sexual content, and because JoAnne and I had our share of prurient interests as well. An argument could be made that we were libertines, but then again we just thought of ourselves as curious, horny young people. What did become clear that evening was Ken’s great respect for Paul Gebhardt. Perhaps Gebhardt might help us now in our hour of need. Luckily, I still had his telephone number.

After outlining Ken’s behavior to Gebhardt on the phone, and explaining our new-found touchy situation, we found his response disappointing. Somehow we had expected the world’s foremost expert on weird sexual activities to come up with some kind of a magic potion. Instead, he suggested we send Ken off to the Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic at the University of California. When we mentioned this to Ken, he had a fit. Woe be unto us. After a couple more days of weirdness, we finally did call the cops.

All they could do, it turned out, was to take Ken to San Francisco General Hospital where the staff could put a seventy-two hour hold on him. At that point, we had become convinced he had been getting high all the time, most likely on methedrine, a new state of the art recreational drug that was starting to worm its way into San Francisco’s beatnik counter-culture. Then, almost seventy two hours exactly after a sympathetic cop had taken Ken off our hands, we unexpectedly discovered he had come back to us again. This time he promised to clean up his act, and to stay off drugs. The following day saw us climbing the walls again.

We simply did not know what to do with our one time friend Kenneth Anger who had somehow or other become part of our family. Our only avenue of escape appeared to be trying to have him forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital. But we liked him, both personally and professionally, and besides, Scorpio Rising had made us some money. And what’s more, he appeared to have some more films in the pipeline, having recently completed a ten minute demonstration reel of KKK (Kustom Kar Kommandos), while Lucifer Rising appeared at last to be going into production. When you have a movie theatre that is going broke because it can’t get the first-run films the public wants to see, you have a problem on your hands for which you tend to make allowances. Or so we told ourselves.

In desperation, we finally started calling up Ken’s friends for advice, friends who had known him the best and the longest. Jamie Broughton, San Francisco filmmaker and poet, told us that Ken had a long history of biting the hands that had fed him. The highly respected poet Robert Duncan had also known Ken for many years, and was willing to have a talk with him.

Robert Duncan showed up late one night at The Movie and managed to get Ken to come downstairs so he could talk to him. A half-hour later, Robert told us that Ken would be out the following morning. We held our breath. The next day, Ken truly had disappeared, along with his new Dalmatian dog. By nightfall neither had returned.

A few days earlier, Ken had somehow acquired a Dalmatian, explaining to us that this particular dog was unique in that he was a negative image who was going to be one of the stars of Lucifer Rising. Because, you see, this was not a black dog with white spots but rather a white dog with black spots, a total reversal just as Ken’s role model Aleister Crowley had been a total reversal from the norm—all of which I suppose depends upon how you feel about eternal death and eternal life. Ken considered himself to be a devout Crowlyite, one of the many branches of the Church of Satan. JoAnne and I were not much into religion, one our biggest problems being that Ken’s negative image had been leaving dog shit on the stairs, another token of appreciation for our social worker to look into.

The following evening we received a telephone call from the Jack Tar Hotel, then San Francisco’s newest tourist hotel. They had just checked in a certain Mr. Anger along with his dog. Mr. Anger appeared to be a most unusual guest, the room clerk told us, even though in San Francisco there are lots of unusual people. When they questioned Ken, he explained that he was a well-known filmmaker from Hollywood. He had apparently given the desk clerk the phone number of The Movie when they had asked him for a reference. Was this guy on the level, they wanted to know. “Yes, we know Mr. Anger quite well, and it is true that he is indeed a famous film maker.” Now both JoAnne and I were happy. We never saw Kenneth Anger again.

Let me now show you a couple of letters we received from Paul Gebhardt, Alfred Kinsey’s successor at the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. The first one is about an article I wrote for Censorship Magazine in the U.K. about how censorship was crumbling in San Francisco.

Click image for greater clarity.

Monique Van Cleef was a Dutch woman who had recently been putting on an act at a nightclub a half block up Kearny Street across from The Movie, an act that was unique in that she was a female sadist who was an expert at inflicting bondage and discipline upon men who enjoy that sort of thing. She would first give the audience a lecture about the various ways to make men happy, and then call for volunteers from the audience to come up on stage, where she would inflict her various punishments upon them with an assortment of whips, chains and other devices designed to persuade men to grovel at her feet in ecstasy. JoAnne and I had gone to that nightclub on Monique’s opening night. Disappointed, we walked back to The Movie empty handed, so to speak. A stripper I knew once told me that Monique was not alone in delivering bondage and pseudo torture acts in San Francisco. But I do think Ken had it right when he told us that the Doctor Samuels case was in reality a let’s pretend affair. Why else would anyone want to be tortured in their basement? But unfortunately Monique did little more than lecture to JoAnne and I and the audience that night at the North Beach nightclub, because it was too full of cops, detectives and undercover agents waiting for an opportunity to haul Monique Van Cleef off to jail.

Click image for greater clarity.

The second paragraph of this next letter from Paul Gebhardt at the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research concerns Kenneth. Paul had recently written to him telling him that JoAnne and I were concerned about his self-destructive behavior. The truth however is that we were much more concerned about Zerky whom Ken had started worshiping and to whom he was invoking incantations. The truth is that Ken was too far into the new and little understood drugs, one of which we suspected to have been LSD. We parted with Ken on bad terms, but I still consider him to have been a very talented filmmaker. Paul’s letter follows.

And now finally here is a picture of Kenneth Anger in what must have been one of his happiest times of Kenneth Anger’s life, when he was playing the changeling prince in Max Reinhardt’s extravegent production of Shakespear’s and Felix Mendelsshon’s “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.”

Kenneth Anger, Child Star

Kenneth Anger, Child Star

—Taken from “In Search of A Lost Penny,” a work in progress by Bill Raney.


Kenneth Anger – Scorpio Rising (1964)

Eaux d’ Artifice by Kenneth Anger