Martin Worman was an actor, playwright, lyricist, director, female impersonator, activist and academic, working in the United Stated, primarily in San Francisco and New York from the late 1960s through the early 1990s. The bulk of this collection, which ranges in date from 1960-1993, extensively covers the professional career of Martin Worman, including production files, materials relating to his academic career and materials on The Cockettes; and also includes some personal materials.
Biographical/historical: Martin Worman was an actor, playwright, lyricist, director, female impersonator, activist and academic, working in the United Stated, primarily in San Francisco and New York from the late 1960s through the early 1990s. He was born on July 19, 1945 in Paterson, New Jersey, and attended Eastside High School in Paterson. He received a B.A. from Rutgers University and an M.A. in Theater Arts from Long Island University. After being drafted into the United States Army in July of 1967, Worman was stationed in Fort Irwin, California where he served as the editor of the publication Tank Tracks, until his discharge in December of 1968 for "Unsuitability."
After his discharge, Worman travelled in Europe and North Africa. He returned to the United States and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where he found himself drawn into the gay liberation and counter-culture movements. Worman joined a cross-dressing improvisational theatre troupe called The Cockettes and in July of 1970, he appeared in his first Cockettes show, Hollywood Babylon. Worman had been a fan of The Cockettes since he had seen one of their shows, Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma.
The Cockettes had formed on New Years Eve, 1969 when a handful of hippies dressed in drag, lead by Hibiscus (George Harris, a young actor/model from a prominent theatrical family) offered to perform an opening act at San Francisco's Palace Theatre, in exchange for free tickets to see the movie. The Cockettes were an immediate success with the audience and the manager of the Palace, Sebastian, offered them a regular spot. Their popularity grew, as did the sophistication, length and size of their shows, eventually upstaging the classic film screenings as the principal draw to the Palace.
By the end of 1970, ideological differences among The Cockettes had become apparent. One faction, including the management, wanted to charge for tickets and wanted the shows to be more scripted and the other faction, lead by Hibiscus, believed in performing for free and having the shows be less scripted and more improvisational, so Hibiscus and several followers left to form their own group, the Angels of Light.
The remaining Cockettes went on to produce more structured shows. When members of the group discovered that Worman had a graduate degree in theater, he was asked to write material, including scripts for sketches and lyrics for songs with music by Richard "Scrumbly" Koldewyn. Their popularity grew and press coverage followed, as did prominent visitors, such as Truman Capote and Rex Reed, culminating in a one month engagement in New York, at the Anderson Theatre in the East Village in November of 1971. The bill also featured sometime Cockette and future disco star Sylvester. Despite arriving in a roar of publicity and a star-studded opening night, the show was a notorious flop.
Back in San Francisco, The Cockettes put up several more shows, including A Journey to the Center of Uranus, with special guest star, Divine, Hot Greeks, a revival of one of their most popular shows, Pearls over Shanghai and L'Etoiles de Paris. Eventually the Palace started hosting solo shows for Cockettes, including Divine and John Rothermel. Gradually, more and more members of the Cockettes left town or accepted other engagements and by the autumn of 1972 the group dissolved. Earlier in 1972, Worman met Robert Croonquist, who became his life partner.
After the dissolution of The Cockettes, Worman received a grant from the Wurlitzer Foundation to work on a rock opera, The Passion of Barbara Martinez, which was sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission in 1975. Some other projects Worman worked on during this period were Rickets: A Day in the Life of the Counter-Culture (1974), with book and lyrics by Worman and Janice Sukaitis and music by Scrumbly Koldewyn and directing Les Nickelettes' Peter Pan (1976).
In 1975 Woman co-founded the Gay Mens Theater Collective with David Baker. One of their notable productions was Crimes against Nature (1976), an autobiographical piece written and performed by 10 gay men about their own struggles for survival and acceptance in society. Crimes against Nature was performed originally at the Gumption Theater won the San Francisco Drama in San Francisco and subsequently played engagements in New York and Toronto. He directed and starred in Noel Grieg's The Dear Love of Comrades (1979), a musical about Victorian socialist and homosexual Edward Carpenter.
Worman moved to New York from San Francisco in 1979. He worked as assistant to the director for Robert Wilson on Edison (1979, Lion Theatre, New York) and Medea (Kennedy Center) and for Jack O'Brien on Porgy and Bess, which was performed in Chicago and in New York at Radio City Music Hall. Worman also worked as a director, often of solo shows, including Flight Nurse, written by and starring his long-time friend Michele Linfante, Lola Pashalinski in Stephen Holt's Cold and Crazy and Elaine, Hibiscus in Hibiscus and the Screaming Violets and his own adaptations of short stories by Meridel LeSueuer and Sherwood Anderson, The Man Who Became a Woman (1983) and Prairie Solitaire (1984).
While in New York, Worman also attended New York University for a doctorate in Performance Studies, studying under Richard Schechner and Brooks McNamara. He created a persona, Dr. Queen (known as the "Margaret Mead of Drag") in which he conducted panels and presentations on drag, travesty theatre and The Cockettes. Worman wrote his doctoral dissertation on The Cockettes and was also planning a book. As research for this project he conducted interviews with as many living members of The Cockettes as he could find. He also taught at NYU in the late 80s and early 90s and then worked as an assistant professor of drama at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was hired in 1992 to develop a regional theater company at Antioch College. While working at Antioch, he died of AIDS in Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton Ohio on November 25, 1993.
Content: The Martin Worman papers, the bulk of which dates from 1960-1993, document Worman's theatrical and academic careers, the history of the Cockettes, drag, travesty theatre, and San Francisco in the early 1970s. The extensive production files relate to the Cockettes and Worman's other theatrical endeavors, as writer, actor and director, while the academic files chronicle his activities as student, instructor and scholar. A small amount of personal papers in the collection survey his childhood, youth, military career and adult life. The collection contains correspondence, biographical materials, writings, military and legal documents, scripts, sheet music, publicity materials, programs, photographs, research materials, and recordings of performances, rehearsals and demos of songs. Notable is Worman's research for his dissertation on the Cockettes, which includes 80 taped interviews with former Cockettes among them Sylvester, Goldie Glitters, Kreemah Ritz and John Rothermell . The collection also includes transcripts of these interviews along with draft versions of Worman's dissertation.