Photo circa 1988. From top, left: Michael Musto, Trade, David Goldman aka Betty Jack DeVine, Albert Crudo, Randy Barbato, RuPaul Charles, Nelson Sullivan, and Fenton Bailey, photographed by Dick Richards outside his Atlanta home.
“At the time, we were broke, living in a sixth-floor walk-up in crack-infested Alphabet City. It had that inverse kind of glamour that people bedazzle as ‘bohemian’: drug dealers, addicts, hookers, and even a psychotic murderer. The fag-end of the American dream. We loved almost every minute of it!
“There was a lone club, the Pyramid, on Avenue A and 7th Street – the very edge of civilization. There was something about the place. It pulled people in. Fabulous drag artistes. Hapi Phace. Tabboo. Faye Runway. Sister Dimension. Lypsinka. And occasionally, from Atlanta, the not-yet-famous RuPaul and Lady Bunny. Todd Haynes debuted his notorious Karen Carpenter film there. Victor Weaver and Trey Speegle hosted “Straight to Hell” strip parties on Sunday nights. And on hand almost every night was Nelson Sullivan, a gentleman charmer with the most languid southern drawl and a fag in his mouth, videotaping everyone and everything.
“That camera was like a pirate’s parrot, permanently perched on his shoulder. He said that one day he was going to edit his thousands of hours of material into a public access cable show. But on July 4, 1989, he dropped dead of a heart attack. Nelson’s death was our call to action. We didn’t really know what public access was, but we soon learned. Cable companies had to make a couple of channels available for local community access. In other words, people could make their own shows and get them on TV. Simple as that. They could be about whatever they wanted them to be. There was no editorial screening process. Slots were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Manhattan’s public access channels presented a glittering seam of talent. Willa Sands – possibly tipsy – hosting Happy Hour. John Wallowitch – no less tipsy – banging out “Sing Along in Lithuanian” on the piano and knocking back Long Island Iced Teas. He was friends with Warhol, reportedly. Mrs Mouth, who painted a face on her upside-down chin then talked about picking her nose. And, for the adults, Voyeur Vision, where viewers could call in and talk to comely Lynn lying on a bed, touching herself where they requested. And veteran fixture Robin Byrd, in her trademark crocheted bikini, introducing strippers.
“It was pure Videodrome, but without the inconvenience of sprouting a video vagina. We figured there was no reason we couldn’t make a public access show, so we came up with the idea of Flaunt It! TV, a talk show taped once a week at New York’s Limelight nightclub, and hosted by us. Quentin Crisp, Kate O’Toole, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Michelangelo Signorile, Michael Musto, and a monosyllabic Stephen Saban were some of the long-suffering guests on the short-lived show. It wasn’t exactly ratings gold. It ran for four episodes before we collapsed in exhaustion, followed by a prolonged period of deep depression. Not that failure ever stopped us. In the long run it was our fuel.”