THOSE OLD ENOUGH will recall the classic photograph of the blond young man sticking flowers into the rifle barrels of soldiers who were there to defend America against the hippies who had vowed to levitate the Pentagon in a massive demonstration in October 1967. The young man was George Harris III, who went through many transformations before his death from AIDS in 1982. Not long after the Pentagon demonstrations, Harris could be seen dancing with inexhaustible energy, as if in a dervish-like trance, on the green fields of rock concerts in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. His wardrobe and demeanor in those years was beyond “drag”: sporting beard and moustache, he was more like the village magician, covered in beads and bones, feathers and fur, sparkle and mascara. He had become Hibiscus and would go on to found the Cockettes, a drag troupe that was popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Terms like “gender-bending” or “drag queen” don’t begin to describe the Cockettes, who emerged at the end of the 1960s at the old Palace Theater in North Beach, San Francisco. Thanks to the 2002 feature-length documentary, The Cockettes, directed by David Weissman and Bill Weber, that special moment in gay history has been saved from oblivion. While the film offered a behind-the-scenes look at the Cockettes, it did not focus on the shows from the audience’s perspective, as footage of the actual shows was not available.