Bette, Bruce, and the Cockettes Circa 1971

Bay Area Reporter
Pearls Over Shanghai
by Roberto Friedman

Two Sundays ago, funnyman Bruce Vilanch , in town for Richmond/Ermet’s One Night Only with the casts of Young Frankenstein and Wicked, took in a performance of Pearls Over Shanghai, running at the Hypnodrome thru Dec. 19. Vilanch loved the show and posed for countless photos with the adoring cast. He related his recollections of seeing Pearls at the Palace Theatre, and the Cockettes in 1971, when Bette Midler was in SF doing her Divine Miss M show. Vilanch has written for Midler for over 40 years.

“Bette was playing the Boarding House (960 Bush St.), touring behind her first album, The Divine Miss M. We noticed some exotic types in the audience, not unusual for her crowds and certainly not unusual for San Francisco, but they struck us as people who didn’t just dress up to go out. One of them, Pristine Condition, a.k.a. Keith Lyle , a slightly built but heavily endowed boy from rural Texas, kept coming back, and soon he was part of Bette’s entourage. They told us they were Cockettes, and soon we knew Tomato Du Plenty , Goldie Glitters and Fayetta, a.k.a. Fayette Hauser, who became Bette’s dresser.

“Some of the Cockettes wound up doing odd jobs for us, sewing, fluffing up drag, item-shopping. We carried a trunk full of things like Lucy and Desi salt-and-pepper shakers to pep up a drab dressing room.

“When Bette opened for Johnny Carson at the Sahara in Vegas, Fayette was arrested for getting off the plane wearing six dresses, with eight joints braided in her hair. Her brother is Tim Hauser, creator of Manhattan Transfer, which Bette brought to Ahmet Ertegun for their first record deal.”

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