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Glitter Bomb! The Lasting Legacy of the Cockettes

by Steve Desroches

Just like glitter, the Cockettes are everywhere, and forever. While the sparkle was spilled 50 years ago in San Francisco, the influence of the hippie, psychedelic drag performance troupe went worldwide, visible to this day, including on the stages and streets of Provincetown. It all began in Haight-Ashbury at the Kaliflower Commune in 1969 when George Edgerly Harris III, who by then was known as Hibiscus, formed the first incarnation of the Cockettes, a multiracial theater company featuring members of a variety of genders and sexual orientations, all bathing in glamour and LSD. Making their debut at the Palace Theater in North Beach on New Year’s Eve, the Cockettes quickly became counterculture heroes in San Francisco, and in the process sparked a revolution that would introduce the hippie movement to the LGBT world at large, challenging any norm or sense of establishment that came their way. Quite literally, the world would never be the same.

In celebration of the golden anniversary of the Cockettes, founding member Fayette Hauser published The Cockettes: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy, a lush, detailed account of those wild, trippy days. From 1969 to 1972 the Cockettes didn’t just capture lightning in a bottle; they were the lightning. Any time they performed at the Palace Theater, or their guerilla street shows that popped up everywhere from Golden Gate Park to Grace Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1970, the hippie glitterati would assemble in a wild communion. What at first glance may have appeared to be an unruly theatrical bacchanalia, was, in reality, a committed ensemble eager to push the boundaries of performance to revolutionary peaks. There was an ethos and a vision, one that wasn’t hindered by their frequent use of LSD, but inspired by the mind expansion they experienced. As outrageous and fun as it was, it also was in earnest.

Fayette Hauser

“San Francisco at the time was a sophisticated place,” says Hauser, from her home in Los Angeles. “It was very intellectual and so were the Cockettes. People came from all kind of backgrounds, and we were examining and questioning everything. I came from an art history background. And what we were doing was the next level of high art. It’s why I stayed.”

Shows like Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma, Hollywood Babylon, and Pearls Over Shanghai packed the house and quickly drew the attention of celebrity, with Truman Capote and Janis Joplin in the audience, and mainstream media landing the Cockettes in the pages of Rolling Stone and Esquire. No one had seen anything like it before. The staging, the performance style, the sets, costumes, and makeup; all of it was so fresh and exciting. A Cockettes show was so electrifying that the energy would shoot off the stage and bounce back capturing the power produced by the audience on its way. It was a shared experience, scripted in its way, but open to riding the crest of the moment. And then there was the glitter! So much glitter!

Word of the Cockettes spread far and wide, especially quickly in the underground press as well as those newspapers and magazine covering the counterculture and the burgeoning gay liberation movement. Also at the same time, filmmaker John Waters’ movies were making their way out of his beloved Baltimore and finding early success in two locations: San Francisco and Provincetown. Hauser recalls the Cockettes going to see Multiple Maniacs, Waters’ 1970 shocker, which she thought was the most fabulous film ever made. Kismet quickly took over as Waters, who by then had spent nearly a decade in Provincetown, headed to San Francisco that winter and soon made his way to see the Cockettes.

“There was just nothing like them before,” says Waters, from San Francisco where he is on a virtual tour for his own book Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. “They were a little too hippie-ish for us. We were kind of punk before there was such a thing. But what they did was so unexpected. Gay hippies?! Here’s this gay hippie with glitter in his beard, when gay guys didn’t have beards before the clones, and he’s reading from Lenin.”

Sylvester, who would become the breakout star of the Cockettes. Photo: Fayette Hauser

Soon some of the Dreamlanders, the repertory cast of Waters’ films, followed, including Cookie Mueller, Mink Stole, and Divine. All had been living in Provincetown, where there was a vague awareness of the Cockettes. But the Cockettes were already very aware of the Dreamlanders and greeted Divine with a ceremony fit for royalty. They invited Divine to appear in their show Journey to the Center of Uranus, where she turned the song “A Crab On Uranus Means You’re Loved” into a showstopper. That she was dressed like a giant crab in a flaming red dress made it all the better.

Waters notes that the first real sign of the Cockettes’ influence was on fashion. Before them, gay people were “kind of square,” says Waters. But in Provincetown, where in the 1970s gender and sexuality were as fluid as in San Francisco, hippie drag caught on quickly. Cookie Mueller in particular really adapted the Cockettes’ look to her own aesthetic, as did rock stars like Janis Joplin and David Bowie. At that time in Provincetown, people spent all day putting together their look for that night, says Waters. After hours everyone met on the benches outside of Town Hall, says Waters, much the way they do outside of Spiritus, in a congregation where the lines of gender and sexuality washed away in a hippie sea of denim, long hair, and glitter.

Fifty years on, historians and academics continue to explore the contributions made by the Cockettes, ranging from pop culture to rock and roll to fashion to theater to film to politics, as well as LGBT representation. And clearly looking at the cabaret scene in Provincetown over the past 50 years, the Cockettes’ influence continues to be here in abundance. The 2002 documentary The Cockettes and subsequent books by surviving members like Hauser continue to introduce the wild bunch to new generations. Much has changed over the past five decades, including a surprising narrowness of drag, completely counter to the Cockettes pioneering sashay into history. Everyone, regardless of gender, did drag. Today seems more rigid and uptight than those nights at the Palace Theater.

“Somehow the modern queens think when it comes to drag it’s just for the guys,” says Hauser. “The thing we were doing was breaking down barriers, tearing down hang-ups. Labels didn’t matter. We were doing high drag. It’s a fluid, natural version of yourself, a higher version of yourself. It wasn’t limited to just one thing. Why would you want to have a binary view of drag? It’s so boring.”

The Cockettes: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy is available wherever books are sold. Support your local bookseller. For a signed copied and more information on the Cockettes and Fayette Hauser visit or The Films website is

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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