All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Sleeping in a bell tower is amazing. Not sleeping in a bell tower is more amazing still. Depending on the season, one can lie awake for hours and watch the moon in all its phases, traveling on its nightly journey, from east to west. I love to see the full moon sailing through a sea of clouds. At other times, the moon is a mere crescent, or nowhere to be found. On those occasions, the entire panorama of the sky is studded with a million points of light. And I can recall many a restless night, on which I’ve watched the moon rise, above the mountains on my left, and lay awake till early morning to see it set, blood red, across the Hudson River on my right. This ever changing spectacle is one, of which I never tire.
One of the surprising joys of growing older, has turned out to be these sleepless nights. Recently, when I retire, I feel like a voyager about to embark on a great adventure. After a short interlude of sleep, I find myself awake, and ready to set sail, upon a sea of memories. And I am never disappointed, for remembrances that have, long ago, faded away, in the cold light of many days, unfailingly shine forth, again, as brightly as the stars around me. The voyage is always an exciting one, for I never know where it will lead.
Last night I found myself reliving the long amazing history of a friendship that, to many, would seem improbable. How such an odd matchup could come to be, remains a mystery to me. Fate was surely at its most capricious when it decreed that the wildly avant-garde, brilliant, controversial and most famous underground film maker of all time, and author of the ultimate work of tabloid literature “Hollywood Babylon:” Kenneth Anger would become a dear “friend of the family.”
I attribute this curious phenomenon entirely to my wife’s incredible charisma. Kenneth, being the ultimate connoisseur of Hollywood glamour and genuine magic, recognized that quality in Eunice, the instant that he met her. And she became a kind of Diva to him. And thus, a lifelong friendship took root, and blossomed on the spot. As for me, I saw Kenneth’s appreciation of my wife as the basis for comradery, as both he and I were members of the Eunice Birnkrant fan club. I accepted his adulation of her as a kind of compliment. My unerring intuition told me that Kenneth’s spontaneous infatuation with Eunice was purely idyllic and platonic. Therefore, there was no cause for jealousy. I was just glad to be included on what turned out to be a lifelong journey. On occasion, it was a bumpy, but always fascinating, ride.
I recall the first time I met Kenneth. It was at a cocktail party in the loft of our good friend Jeff Rund. Jeff is a totally unique individual, of whom I could easily write extensively. I’ll try not to get carried away. Jeff singlehandedly created and ran the most esoteric of avant-garde publishing firms, the Bellier Press. He owned the rights to the entire body of work by the notorious S&M comic artist, John Willie. And over the years, Jeff published an entire library of his art. He was also the friend and agent of the iconic pin-up model Betty Page, and he has published the ultimate library of her photos. He is also a close friend of Robert Crumb, having published the first anthology of his work, “A Carload of Comics.” It was Jeff who orchestrated R. Crumb’s visit to Mouse Heaven. I must also add that Jeff is a collector of exquisite taste. His collection of erotic art is breathtaking. His sensitive selectivity elevates subject matter that some might consider vulgar to the highest realms of fine art.
The occasion that this party celebrated was a gallery opening, earlier that day, a one man show of paintings by my good friend, and fellow mouse collector Richard Merkin. I had spent the entire day decorating the Colorforms showroom for an upcoming Toy Fair. Therefore, I could not attend the opening. But Jeff’s loft was just down the street from the toy building, so, I stopped there for the get together in the early evening, before I headed home.
The event was rather dazzling, and attended by many artists, who were either rather famous, or one day, would be. Jeff introduced me the journalist, Tom Wolfe, who was attired in his signature white suit. It took exactly 20 seconds to realize that we had nothing in common. Then he introduced me to Kenneth Anger.
Kenneth turned out to be everything his reputation would lead one to expect: scary! He was clearly the “enfant terrible” of the underground cinema. And he radiated that reputation in person. I had seen many of his movies. Most, like “Scorpio Rising” were graphically homo-erotic. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Nonetheless, that was an aspect of his films that did not appeal to me. On the other hand, I had seen one of his early movies, in Paris, years before, that left a lasting impression on me. It was called, “Eaux d'Artifice.” It had been filmed in the Villa d'Este in Tivoli. It consisted of a mysterious figure, wandering through a wonderland of fountains and waterfalls, to the music of Vivaldi. I found it quite beautiful and haunting, and it still remains my favorite of Ken's movies, of course, with the exception of “Mouse Heaven.”
But, for the most part, there was a vaguely sinister quality of impending danger in the films of Kenneth Anger that Kenneth also conveyed in his persona, at least he did on this occasion. Perhaps, my first impression was colored by the fact that I knew he was a disciple of the notorious warlock, Aleister Crowley, and a devotee of some strange religion, related to Satanism. There was an aura about him that seemed both exotic and foreboding. Jeff offered us a guided tour of the artwork that adorned the walls of his spacious gallery, and the three of us, impervious to the other guests, walked around together, for over half an hour, admiring the artwork. During that time, I was picking up the distinct impression that Kenneth unequivocally disliked me.
Thus, I was rather surprised when Jeff called a few weeks later, and said that Kenneth enjoyed meeting me, and would love to visit us in the country to see the mouse collection. They drove up on the following Sunday.
Suddenly, here was a new Kenneth, easy going and friendly. The dangerously demonic individual I had perceived him to be, on first meeting, now revealed itself to have existed only in my imagination. And on this memorable occasion we met the Kenneth Anger we have known, ever since, gentle, soft spoken, eloquent, and spellbinding in conversation. Kenneth, as we came to know and love him, is nothing like his reputation. Part of him tries so hard to appear ominous, powerful, and frightening to the world in general. But I now see these efforts as almost comical. He will always be a gentle pussycat to my family and me. My daughters, Samantha and Alexandra, came to regard him as a kindly uncle, who often showered them with presents, unexpectedly.
On that first of many visits, Kenneth found the collection interesting, interesting enough to one day make a movie. But clearly he was more intrigued by Eunice. He instantly elevated her to the status of “Diva,” and she has remained there, ever since.
I remember on that day, for the first and last time we grilled steaks in the Kitchen. One of our feeble attempts to renovate this ancient schoolhouse to the level of “House Beautiful” had resulted in the acquisition of a trendy counter-top grill. Newly installed, we used it for the first, and last, time, on this occasion. This resulted in a fine rain of grease, all over everything, within a ten foot radius. We also learned that to use the appliance, occasionally, a butane pilot light would have to burn 365 days a year. Therefore, we turned it off, and never used it again. So, that was a once in a lifetime event, but Kenneth’s visits continued to take place, time and time again.
If you were to look up Kenneth Anger in Wikipedia, you would see that his life was complex, eventful and exciting, beyond anything that one can possibly imagine. He led a wild, glamourous, and fabled life. And we were only a tiny part of his amazing, and still continuing, panorama. But Kenneth, on the other hand, was a big part of our existence. His presence weaves its way through much of our history. For one thing, it was he who gave this place the name “Mouse Heaven.” So, in a way, we live our lives in a mythical location of his creation. He is also one of the few individuals on this planet with whom we religiously exchange Christmas Presents, and have, for many years.
Ever since the week after the first time that we met, some forty or so years ago, something extraordinary, sent by Kenneth, has arrived in our mailbox, at least, twice a week. He is not only a voracious reader, he is also an impassioned clipper and collector of obscure and unusual printed matter. For over half a century, he has read everything and anything that might hold something curious and interesting, always, with a pair of scissors in his hand. This unflagging mission to collect every tidbit of intriguing information is what led to the creation of Hollywood Babylon, the book that gave birth of an entire industry, known as tabloid journalism.
Whenever Kenneth finds an article about Disney, or animation, bizarre and odd ball curiosities, or the latest trends in movies, toys, or fashion, he carefully clips it out, stuffs it in an envelope and addresses it to Eunice. I sincerely believe that the amount that Kenneth has spent in postage, over the years, has kept the Post Office in business. We have dozens of boxes of these items, which we have saved. On the other hand, every article Kenneth discovers about strange or bizarre sexuality, he clips and sends to Kinsey. He keeps their mailbox as full as he does ours.
Throughout the years, Kenneth and I became good friends. But clearly I have always been held at arm’s length. Kenneth seems to regard me as a sort of minor deity, distant, and mildly omnipotent, the toy inventor, toy collector, master of Mouse Heaven. He treats me with an undue amount of respect that is essentially undeserved. That has been perfectly all right with me, as all my life I have been busy. I think the term is “workaholic.” I really couldn’t spare the time to foster many friendships actively. So, this relationship has been essentially between Kenneth and Eunice. It is she who has actively maintained it, permitting me to bask in all the exotic pleasures of having Kenneth as a friend, while being quite lazy. But on occasion, I stirred out of my laziness, and put forth a larger effort.
Perhaps, one element of the almost mystical relationship that Kenneth and Eunice share is due to the fact that their birthdays are on adjacent days, early in February. When we first met Kenneth, he was obsessed with Rudolph Valentino. And he had a fabulous collection of both knowledge and artifacts, relating to his history. So, for his birthday I drew an image of Mickey Mouse, who Ken collected then as well, posing in the guise of Valentino. As it was Eunice’s birthday too, I made one an exact duplicate for her. She hung it on the living room wall, where it has slowly faded, over the years; haven’t we all. Nonetheless, many years later, my daughter Alexandra, in a misguided effort to please, borrowed it for a day and had it tattooed on her body.
Here is a photograph of Kenneth in his NYC apartment. The drawing is on the wall behind him. There was little chance of it fading there, for no ray of sunlight ever entered that secret sanctuary. The walls, the ceiling, the furniture, everything in the entire room was painted bright glossy red. Meanwhile, in the adjacent room, everything was painted blue.
I have tried to paint an image of Ken Anger, as we knew him. I’m fully aware that there a number of books about him that might portray a vastly different picture. Kenneth has asked us not to read any of these books that others have written, so we have not. On the other hand, we are perfectly aware that the warm cuddly kitty who stopped by here occasionally to purr, was the same ferocious tiger, of which a multitude of legends shout and whisper. Kenneth is capable of being wildly unpredictable, spontaneous and dangerous, mostly to himself.
He has shared with us some of the stories of the outrageous things he’s done. Indeed, there is no drug or hallucinogen that he has not tried. Furthermore, the line between fantasy and reality barely exists for him; he segues from one to the other, effortlessly. There are no limits to the unexpected things that Kenneth can get up to. A day with Kenneth Anger can suddenly become exciting, and not always in a good way.
And then there is a mystical aspect to Ken that I find difficult to convey. There really is an element of magic in him. I mean true “magique,” an elusive commodity that transcends reality. His movies are always reaching for this elusive thing, a state of being, in which things that most consider supernatural become commonplace. When Ken relates the events and apparitions he has seen, even though, they might have been enhanced, or induced, by whatever drug or substance he was taking, that day, you can, nonetheless, believe that they are true. I have firsthand evidence of that , which if you continue reading long enough, I’ll share with you.
And then, there is his determined dabbling in demonology, which I choose to see as humorous. I have no desire to dig deeper into that. Ken’s attempts to be diabolical are an effort that I endeavor to find comical. I’ll never forget the memory of the last act of Fantasia, recreated in our above ground swimming pool. You might recall the sequence, in which “A Night on Bald Mountain” meets “Ave Maria” in the eternal battle between good and evil. I’ll explain:
Another of my charismatic wife’s conquests was a nun, Sister Deloris. She was the Mother Superior and Principle of the parochial school that both our daughters went to. When our eldest daughter, Samantha was having a tough time in public school, Eunice walked into St, Joaquim’s and charmed Sister Deloris into admitting her, and later on, her younger sister, Alexandra, too. Eunice did not accomplish this on charm alone. She also crossed Sister Deloris’s palm with silver, called a monthly tuition that the Catholic students did not pay..
Sister Deloris was one down to earth, no nonsense nun. She was a short, rather dumpy, woman who was tough as nails, and always reminded me, God forgive me, of a bulldog. More specifically a stone-faced pooch, once popular in cartoons, named “Droopy.” Added to that, she spoke with an exaggerated Brooklyn accent, that I found disconcerting. She was exactly like a female version of Leo Gorcey, one of the Bowery Boys. And she rocked my preconceived notion of what a nun should be like to its foundation. But she proved to be an angel, sent by Heaven. She not only let our two non-Catholic daughters attend Catholic school, she also became a dear friend of our family, and a frequent visitor to what was, not yet, called Mouse Heaven. How close a friend was she? When she retired, and was commemorated at a dinner party at the Arch Diocese for being a nun for 50 years, of all the Catholic families in Beacon, it was only us, the Birnkrants, who she invited to the celebration.
So picture this! It is a scene that I will never forget: On a glorious day in summer, Sister Deloris and Kenneth Anger are paddling around our backyard pool together. Sister Deloris is in her one piece nun-type bathing suit, and Kenneth Anger is adorned with the word “LUCIFER” in two inch high letters, tattooed across his chest! Sister Deloris was the very essence of kindness and acceptance. She was not the least bit shocked or offended.
Those were fun days. Kenneth was still living in New York City, and he became a familiar, and always welcome, face, around our house, practically, a member of the family. Here is a photograph of the three of us together, along with our beautiful cat Fritz. All of us, including Fritz, were still young then. These were happy times.
Very early in our friendship, I overcame my propensity to never reveal the contents of my collection, and promised Kenneth that, whenever he was ready, he could make a movie about the collection, which he had, by then, christened with the name “Mouse Heaven.” In those days, one could not simply pick up a camcorder and shoot a video. All of Kenneth’s movies were shot on film, and still are. Making a movie on 16 millimeter film is expensive. Mouse Heaven would have to wait until he had sufficient funding.
Kenneth happened to be a close friend of the British millionaire J. Paul Getty, who, on and off, assumed the role of Kenneth’s patron. Suddenly, he gave Ken a hundred thousand dollars to make Mouse Heaven. Being the most generous person that Eunice and I have ever met, Kenneth celebrated the occasion, first, by buying me this incredible German poster.
And then, he took Eunice on a fantasy vacation, a trip to Washington DC, traveling first class, all the way. Kenneth booked a suite at the Watergate hotel. He was dressed impeccably, like a foreign dignitary, and tipped everybody in sight, lavishly. Eunice observed that he appeared to be enjoying the fact that people assumed that they were married.
The insane highlight of this journey is a story that I have heard so many times I feel like I was there, already. This memorable event took place at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. They went there to see the spectacular presentation on the giant screen of the then new Imax Theater. The time of this trip was early in January of 1986. I can accurately pinpoint the date, because it happened just one week after seven American astronauts had lost their lives in the tragic Challenger disaster. Seven figures, dressed in full astronaut's attire had been set up in the museum lobby, as a kind of memorial. The base of the display was piled high with wreathes and flowers.
Inside the packed auditorium, Kenneth and Eunice were able to find fabulous seats, right in the middle of the inclined wall of reclining chairs, with the enormous screen extending all around them. As soon as the lights were dimmed, but before the anticipated show began, a dramatic presentation, commemorating the tragic deaths of the seven astronauts filled the screen. The stunned audience witnessed the, now familiar, explosion they had seen on TV a thousand times in the preceding week. But this time, it was larger than life on the gigantic Imax screen. Next, the faces of the seven astronauts were featured, one after another. Then, as the music soared to a crescendo, the face of Ronald Regan, the President of the United States appeared. Now, in his most dramatic voice, he spoke these moving words: “These brave astronauts reached up, and touched the hand of God!”
Suddenly, Kenneth flew out of his seat, stood up, and shouted: “WRONG! THEY KISSED THE FIERY ASS OF SATAN!”
Needless to say, he was immediately, and forcibly, removed from the auditorium. Two massive guards, one on either side, lifted him off of the floor, and with his feet kicking in the air, deposited him outdoors., with Eunice following.
Later that evening, Kenneth took her to see Pia Zadora in concert. Somehow, he managed to convince the guards that he was famous and important, and talked his way back stage, and into Pia's dressing room, to meet her. That, too, proved to be embarrassing, for Pia had never heard of Kenneth Anger.
Soon after the trip was over, Kenneth was broke again. It was a classic case of easy come, easy go. And, with the money, went the first failed opportunity to make a movie of Mouse Heaven.
As crazy as that incident in the Imax Theater turned out to be, it didn’t hold a candle to an incredible day, several years later. I remember exactly how it came about. Maurice Sendak and I were meeting with Bonnie Erickson in her New Your studio. Bonnie, who, by the way, was the creator of Miss Piggy and many other famous Muppets was working on the patterns for the Wild Things dolls. Meanwhile, Maurice had just discovered Kenneth’s book, Hollywood Babylon, and he was absolutely infatuated with it. Throughout lunch, he enthusiastically related many of the scintillating legends it contained, reciting every one verbatim. Maurice found the tale of the star whose body was devoured by her doggie, and other equally grisly stories, absolutely fascinating.
When I informed him that Kenneth Anger was our friend, he was absolutely blown away, and insisted that he had to meet him. And so a get-together was arranged. Kenneth would come to our house for the weekend, and Maurice planned to arrive for lunch, on Sunday.
Kenneth arrived by train on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night was uneventful. Kenneth was fascinating as usual, and extremely well behaved. Then Sunday morning came, and the pandemonium began.
Kenneth was sleeping in the bell tower, where I sleep now. It served only as the guest room in those days. Eunice and I woke early, and made the observation that Kenneth was clearly sleeping late. Eventually, we became aware that no sounds were emanating from upstairs. Finally, around nine-thirty, we were beginning to get worried. Therefore, I decided to go upstairs and see if Kenneth was OK.
I wish I could convey how surprised I was by what I saw in the bell tower. Or, I might better say, by what I didn’t see. For Kenneth was not there! The shock of this discovery was compounded tenfold by the fact that his clothes were. His shirt, and coat, and even his underwear were neatly folded, and meticulously laid out on the perfectly made bed that looked like it had never been slept in. These articles of clothing were topped, by his belt, wallet, shoes and socks. I didn't take a careful inventory, but my first impression was that, wherever Kenneth was, his clothes were not, and therefore, he might be completely naked.
Now, the frantic search began. Logic would dictate that with no shoes he had to be someplace in the house. Alas, with the whole family looking in every closet, as well as the garage and basement, and every conceivable hiding place, that did not prove to be the case. Then, I began to search outside. I circled the house several times, calling his name. He was nowhere to be heard or seen. Panic, along with the realization of the complexity of this problem, was quickly creeping up on me. What could one do in this situation? Clearly, it was logical to assume that drugs must be involved. With that in mind, does one dare call the police? That could result in Kenneth being arrested, when and if he was found. Where the Hell could he go anyway, without shoes, on our gravel driveway? Of course, I hadn’t taken into account the possibility that in his potential state, he might be impervious to pain.
Just then, the phone rang! My heart sank. Now what? Could this be the police? I rushed to pick it up. It was Maurice, sobbing uncontrollably. His beloved German shepherd, Erda had passed away that Morning. My God! What a Horrible day! Needless to say, he was not coming. I expressed condolences profusely, and did not tell him about Kenneth being missing.
As soon as I could appropriately get off the phone, I got into the car and started driving down the road. As our driveway heads in a northerly direction, I drove all the way to Beacon. No Kenneth! Then, I turned around and came back again. Passing our house, I continued slowly heading south, carefully studying the terrain, on either side of the highway. My heart was beating like a tom tom, when, suddenly, I saw Ken! He was way up ahead, staggering and weaving along the middle of the road. Thank God! Also, thank God it was a Sunday, for there was no traffic. He was wearing only a pair of pants, half falling down, without a belt, shirtless and barefooted, as I had anticipated.
I drove up beside him and invited him to get into the car. I was stunned when he refused. Soon, I was begging and pleading, and Kenneth Anger was getting angry. He vehemently insisted that he was heading back to the schoolhouse, but was determined to get there on his own steam. So I had no choice but to drive a little farther, until I found a place where I could turn the car around, and slowly drive behind him, thinking that would, at least, prevent a car from hitting him. Miraculously, we made it back, safely, without encountering another vehicle on the way.
Kenneth staggered up the driveway, and as he climbed the steps to the front door, I noticed something hanging out of his pocket that appeared to be a squirrel tail.
Once inside, he excitedly recounted the following story. It did not include the reason why he had left the house and meandered, nearly naked, out into the night. But, he did describe, in detail, what happened while he was out there.
His adventure, as he told it, began with wandering through the darkness, aimlessly. Eventually, he decided to rest beneath a tree. While he was sitting there, a squirrel, suddenly, leapt out of the branches above him, and tried to bite him on the neck. So he bit it on the neck, instead, then strangled it, in self-defense! Now, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the rest of what was attached to the tail that I had been eying, all the while he had been talking. Yes, it was a dead squirrel, and it did look rather fresh. Nonetheless, I didn’t buy his story, and assumed that it was road kill.
It was what Kenneth said, next, that I will never forget. His words were absolutely chilling! Whether the vision he had seen was drug induced, or real, their impact would have been the same. A sudden shiver wracked my body, and I felt as if I had been touched by an icy finger, from beyond the grave.
Kenneth explained, almost casually, as through it was no big deal, that in his ramblings, he had seen the ghost of a boy riding a bicycle. He described the apparition, both the rider and the bike, as being pale white and transparent. The spector rode along the highway, with its arms outstretched, forming the letter “T.”
What Kenneth was unknowingly relating was an accurate description of an actual event that had happened recently. Our next-door neighbors who lived in the first house, about half a mile south of us, along 9D, the very place where I found Kenneth wandering, had lost their ten year old son, just three weeks before. He was doing tricks on his bicycle, balancing with his arms outstretched, and gliding down the steeply inclined mountain road, adjacent to his home, which was actually Pete Segar’s driveway. With his hands off of the handle bars, he sailed out onto Route 9D, where he was struck by an oncoming car, and killed instantly. Kenneth, of course, had no way of knowing this.
And I had no reason to doubt the truth of it, or believe it was merely fantasy. The unique imagery of a ghost riding a bicycle was simply too unusual to be merely circumstantial. I sincerely believed, and still do to this day, that Kenneth’s ghostly encounter was truly supernatural. Curiously, when I excitedly filled Kenneth in on the history of what he had seen, and the fact that it was the aftermath of a real event, he was not particularly impressed. Such visions and apparitions were commonplace to him.
I wish I could say that was the end, but, alas, this eventful day was not over yet! Now, Kenneth requested that we find a suitable coffin for the squirrel. And while we were doing that, he insisted that we put it in the freezer to keep it fresh. God knows what he intended to do with it, but he was determined to take it home with him. So we wrapped it in a plastic bag, and put it in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. Then, we looked around the house, and found the perfect coffin, a fairly large flat wooden box that once held six bottles of wine. It had small hinges and a latch made of brass. and a rope handle on the side. There was a printed illustration of a vineyard on the lid.
Later on, when Kenneth had somewhat simmered down, and was preparing to go home, he went outside and picked some flowers, and several handfuls of grass. He sprinkled the grass in the bottom of the box, then, he carefully, almost ritualistically, arranged the flowers artistically. When he decided that everything was just right, we took the squirrel out of the freezer, removed the plastic bag, and he laid its now stiff carcass gently in the middle of the floral arrangement, shut the lid, and fastened the latch.
With a huge sigh of relief, Eunice and I drove Kenneth to the station. I guided him up to the platform, and made sure he was securely seated on a bench. Then I went down to sit in the car with Eunice. We didn’t drive away, but waited in the parking area, just below where Ken was sitting, to make sure he got on the train safely. Kenneth sat there, waiting patiently, tightly holding the wooden box, securely, on his lap. He was taking great care not to tip it, and disturb the idyllic scene inside.
It was still quite early in the day, so, the platform appeared to be nearly empty. Then, way down at the other end, we noticed a large black man. At the same time, he clearly noticed Ken, and began to slowly wander in his direction. As he got closer, he began looking around furtively, while studdying Ken intently. The next thing we knew, he was standing right beside him. Kenneth immediately began to engage the stranger in an animated conversation.
Now, we heard the train approaching, and just as it was arriving at the station, the black man grabbed Kenneth’s box by the little hemp rope handle on the side, and ran. The southbound train pulled in, and blocked our vision. We assumed that Kenneth boarded it, for when it pulled out again he was nowhere to be seen. The thief, as well, was out of sight. Perhaps he had descended the stairs on the other side of the platform, or got onto a rear car of the train. I would have loved to see the look on that felon’s face, when he opened up the box!
As the years went by, daily mail from Ken continued to arrive, and many Christmas presents were exchanged. Then, suddenly, in 2004, Kenneth announced that Getty had, once again, agreed to finance the making of Mouse Heaven; this time, less lavishly. He had offered thirty five thousand dollars, and, for once, a newly serious and inspired Kenneth spent every penny of the money on the movie. He arrived in Beacon with a cameraman, Doug Henry, an exceedingly charming young man, who was getting paid, and put up in a nearby motel, while Kenneth stayed with us.
Once again, through no choice of my own, I assumed a distant role. The dolls called, “Friendz n’ Family” that had been held by Hasbro for three years had been returned to me in a state of utter ruin. I had one week to try to fix them up again, in time for an appointment with the Play Along Company. So all the while Kenneth and Doug were working in the room below me, I was upstairs frantically trying to save the dolls. The effort turned out to be worthwhile, for Play Along bought and produced them, afterall.
Meanwhile, I could look over the wall and see them filming the movie. Here they are, shooting a sequence with Mickey in an airplane. Kenneth spoke of having this appear to be actually flying through the sky. But the idea didn’t materialize in the final cut.
It was only on the final day that the dolls were nearly finished, and could take the time to participate in the making of Mouse Heaven. I opened up some showcases, and wound up some rare toys, and operated the ventriloquist figures. Here is Kenneth, setting up that shot, now.
Alas, just as we really got into photographing some of the rarest objects, on this, the final day of shooting, Kenneth ran out of film. All the rest of the week, I had trusted Ken completely to have his way with my collection. I have to say he was amazing; never once, during the week did I get nervous or upset in any way. And the few times that I stopped work to watch the two of them in action, I was exceedingly impressed. The way that Kenneth could direct every nuance of a shot, from clear across the room, while Doug executed his directions perfectly, was amazing. It was a joy to watch them work together.
One day, during the filming, my daughter, Alexandra “just happened to drop by” with her friend Keith, the tattoo artist who had contributed several of the images that now adorned the art gallery that used to merely be her body. He is a huge fan of Kenneth. It was Keith who had so accurately reproduced my drawing of Mickey Mouse as Valentino, on my daughter’s shoulder.
Something tells me she was not surprised when Kenneth put her tattoo in the movie. In fact, this image became somewhat iconic., It is one of the stills that came to represent the film. Here it is, as pictured in the New York Times.
In the end, this was really Kenneth’s movie. I wasn’t there to mix in, or make more than a few suggestions. In a way, I wish I had been. So many rarities that were shut in cases, and all the many things upstairs never got into the movie. Then again, the film was not really about the collection. So much of it is about Kenneth’s vision. The objects were little more than a jumping off place for him to do his thing. Many of the most exciting images were created post-production, through special effects and creative editing. Kenneth mentioned, recently, shooting Mouse Heaven again, this time, in 3-D. Of course, that will never happen, but it is a pleasant fantasy.
Naturally, Eunice had told many of our friends about Kenneth’s upcoming visit. And one of them, Maggie Rudel, who I might have assumed would be the last one to have heard of Kenneth Anger, surprised us all by turning out to be one of his biggest fans. She absolutely had to meet him. So, mostly for Maggie’s sake, our good friends the Cullens, Kathleen and David, arranged a dinner party on their island in the Hudson, to take place on our final evening. It was a glorious event. Kenneth was at his charming best, and Maggie, who is equally charming, was absolutely charmed by him.
Doug took some photographs, which really didn’t do justice to the event. But a few turned out all right, so, here they are. The first shows Kenneth , Eunice and me, crossing the bridge to Rabbit Island.
Here are some of the group on the deck. The problem with most of the shots is the fact that no one was looking at the camera. Sometimes, candid shots can be too candid. But one thing that does show in all the photographs is the fact that Kenneth and Maggie were enchanted with each other, and really hit it off.
Last of all, this crazy photo of Eunice, Maggie, Kenneth, and myself. All in all, it was an historically lovely evening, and a fitting celebratory ending to the filming of Mouse Heaven.
I can’t believe that this took place, ten years ago. In the years that followed, Kenneth‘s career has continued to blossom. He has shown his films, lectured, been wined and dined, and celebrated, the whole world over. And he has continued to make movies. Nonetheless, throughout all this, in spite of holding down the fulltime job of being famous, he has still found time to faithfully keep our mailbox full and interesting. Apart from his movies, Kenneth’s means of communication has always been the written word, the pen, and only when working on a book, the typewriter. He once told me that the epitaph he is going to have engraved on his tombstone will be: “He hated typing.” He does not have a computer, and he has rarely owned, or used, a telephone.
I just now, descended the spiral staircase. On the kitchen counter, I noticed a newly arrived envelope from Kenneth. Beside it, is another, adorned with Eunice’s dramatic Victorian script, addressed to Ken, and waiting to be sent. Having Kenneth Anger in our lives has been a blessing.