Call Me Stormy

Finding righteous currents in turbulent times

Archive for the tag “Lewis Beach Marvin III”

Before There Was PETA

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was founded in 1980 in Virginia, but not too surprisingly, the radical animal rights movement first became a fad in California. Perhaps none of the activists to the cause was more eccentric than Lewis Beach Marvin III, wealthy heir to the S & H Green Stamp fortune, as his late father had served as the chairman of Sperry & Hutchinson Co. In the 1960s, Marvin established a 60-acre compound near Topanga Canyon above Malibu, where, emulating Noah, he gathered together and sheltered scores of animals of many different species, allowing them to roam freely. At his mountaintop retreat, he also built the Moonfire Temple, site of orgies, Acid Tests and pagan rituals involving countercultural figures ranging from The Doors to members of the Charles Manson Family.

What specifically did Marvin believe? We can get a sense of his hardcore dogma from this 1966 clip when he appeared in “the beef box” on The Joe Pyne Show to assail the slaughter of any animal for any purpose whatsoever.

Notice the distinctive skull and crossbones hat he’s wearing? He let Jim Morrison wear the same hat on the night of March 1, 1969 when The Doors performed in concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida — the infamous concert in which a highly intoxicated Morrison fondled himself on stage, leading to his arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious behavior in public after allegedly exposing his genitals.  Did Morrison really whip it out? No known photographs prove that, but stills show the singer arriving on stage carrying a lamb — one of the creatures from Marvin’s menagerie. Watch this compilation (extreme language alert)  to get a sense of what transpired that night.

The Doors had hooked up with Marvin in 1966 when they agreed to perform a benefit concert at Will Rogers State Park in California to raise money for Marvin’s campaign to ban weapons-related toys during the height of the Vietnam War. Marvin continued to press his activism, helping to establish the Animal Freedom Fighters in Venice, California, and addressing the throngs at Woodstock with an anti-meat message, again carrying a lamb on stage, and telling the masses, “The killing of animals causes the killing of men.” He died in 2005 at a monkey refuge in Panama.

Why bring up Marvin now? For starters, he plays a prominent role in Mondo Hollywood, today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, containing two extended interludes devoted to him. In the first segment, starting at 12:34, we meet the multi-millionaire shacking up with his pet monkey, Mr. President, in a rented garage for $10 a month while he builds the Moonfire Temple, having already dropped a bundle on acquiring his mountaintop. He resurfaces much later in the film, at 1:08:47, cavorting in the temple as he delivers a sermon that evolves into a full-blown rant: “The universalist, the pacifist, the vegetarian and the compassionate are smothered, are overwhelmed and driven to the place of death. Each of us must become a Christ. Each of us must die before we would take the life of another.”

Exploring Marvin’s life and his connection with The Doors brought to mind all of the recent celebrities going nude to publicize PETA’s militant broadsides against its latest targets. These celebrities actually aren’t as daring or shocking as they might think. In retrospect, they are simply upholding a tradition that’s now a half-century old, with roots tied to a pagan temple in California and a quixotic, early animal rights activist. Kinda figures.

Trillion Dollar Movie (8-03-12)

The first of the Italian-made Mondo Cane documentaries appeared in 1963. These weren’t documentaries so much as shockumentaries that journeyed to remote and usually primitive corners of the globe, capturing the bizarre and titillating habits of the natives. Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Mondo Hollywood, is an American-made riff on these lurid Italian travelogues, except it represents a departure of sorts from the Mondo formula by exposing what was primitive and bizarre among the supposed artistic and intellectual elite of Hollywood, then the undisputed movie-making capital of the world.

Writer-director-producer-editor Robert Carl Cohen began shooting his footage in 1965 and wrapped two years later in 1967. The film earned a release in the United States, albeit with a dreaded X rating, forbidding admission by anyone under the age of 16. However, the lucrative European markets proved off-limits when a scheduled 1968 premiere at the Avignon Film Festival was canceled after French censors banned the showing on the grounds that Mondo Hollywood “presents an apology for a certain number of perversities, including drugs and homosexuality, and constitutes a danger to the mental health of the public by its visual aggressivity and the psychology of its editing.”

Will you be tainted by watching it now? Let’s just say, if Mondo Hollywood came out today, it wouldn’t be slapped with an X rating or even an R, more likely a stiff PG-13. There are a few scenes of topless women, or as the poster boldly promises “Topless Girls! Trip Girls! Freak-Out Girls! Body Painted Girls! Mind Blowing Girls! Cycle Girls!”  But by and large, the visuals are tame by today’s standards.

Not so tame are the strange, freaky denizens from the underside of Hollywood who attracted much of Cohen’s attention. He introduces the first hippies, the first New Agers, the anti-war protesters, those practicing alternative sex and those experimenting with drugs inspired by LSD guru Richard Alpert, who later transformed himself into Baba Ram Dass. We meet celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, murdered along with Sharon Tate by the Charles Manson Family, and also catch a glimpse of a young member of The Family, Bobby Beausoleil, modeling as Cupid. The creepiest scene captures fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, creator of the topless swimsuit and a co-founder of the Mattachine Society, producing a children’s fashion show with a topless six-year-old swirling around to reveal her “sexy” body.

Besides these hedonists, Cohen documents the forces of conservatism gathering to preserve morality, including newly elected California Governor Ronald Reagan. But Cohen’s sentiments clearly align with the fringe dwellers, who are given the opportunity to narrate their own stories,  while the conservatives are portrayed as stiff caricatures and never allowed to explain themselves in their own words. In hindsight, that might be a blessing in disguise, as the thrill-seekers idolized by Cohen now come across as vain, vacuous, silly and, quite often, stupid. “Everything bores me to death,” says onetime B-movie actress-turned-sculptor Valerie Porter. “The only thing I find interesting is myself.”

Also of historical note: Mike Curb, the musical director, later composed campaign theme songs for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and Curb himself ran successfully, as a Republican, for lieutenant governor of California. His opponent, Mervyn M. Dymally, used Mondo Hollywood to bludgeon Curb, claiming the film was “pornographic” and that Curb “sang falsetto in a bathtub scene with two lesbians.” Curb first denied the charges, then admitted them, going on to win nevertheless.

Do see the accompanying Call Me Stormy post, “Before There Was PETA,” for more on Mondo Hollywood.  And join us next Friday for another Trillion ($) Movie.

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