Hookers had Balls


In the late 70’s I became aware of an event that was taking place at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco.  It was the Hookers’ Ball, a Halloween event promoted by Margo St. James, one of San Francisco’s famous characters.  Margo headed an organization called Coyote:  Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, which represented prostitutes and ex-prostitutes to get less hassling by law enforcement, help getting back into society,  and legalize prostitution.

COYOTE

I called Margo and she gladly allowed BASS to sell tickets.  We sold out what we had, and when I went to the Hotel the night of the event there were several disturbing things:  people heading up the escalator in little costume or none at all, and a ballroom that was oversold by about 1000.  I found out that Margo just had all agencies selling tickets, without any regard to the legal capacity.  Obviously the fire marshall could have shut her down, but for whatever reason he never showed up.

I talked to Margo after the event and said she was in the wrong venue (I was sure they would not let her back in; imagine the tourists from Kansas with their family at the front desk), so I said that if we could handle the ticket sale exclusively, we would get her in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.  We booked it for her in October 1977 and it was a blast:  bands playing, costume judging, things we don’t talk about, and OJ and Nicole even showed up (she was so young and beautiful).

We had generated great publicity:  Prince Charles was in San Francisco, and we rented a horse and carriage and Margo rode around Union Square and in front of the St. Francis Hotel she would bellow:  “Here Prince, Here Prince, come to the Ball”  He didn’t show, but the cameras caught her and it was on the news (there are no accidents in PR).  One of the top city officials got in trouble because at the Ball he was in a photo with one arm around Margo and the other around “Super Whore” (I believe that was her name).  The photo was in the Examiner the next day and I can’t remember if he had to resign or not.

So I said to Margo, it is time to really go all out.  Her resources were limited, and she was willing to go into a full partnership with me for a three-year contract.  I booked the SF Cow Palace for October 20,1978 (I guess they still had good feelings for me because of all the Roller Derby I had scheduled there)   Margo was to work with all of feminist organizations to provide volunteers, entertainment, and aid in the production.

(“little”) Ron Gibson, a 6 foot 7 inch promoter who had produced Van Morrison and other shows in Tahoe and in Hawaii had joined our organization, and he and I started the promotion.  Since Coyote was actually a legitimate non-profit organization, we were able to run public service announcements and get a lot of things donated.  For little money we were able to book bands and entertainment along with Margo; we know what the attendees wore or didn’t wear would be the main attraction.

Margo held a press conference and announced she was running for President on the Republican ticket.  Her theme was if we could elect a crook (Nixon), why not an ex-prostitute.  Of course it had great coverage.  Among the items donated, Ron was able to get Schmidt prophylactic company of New Jersey to donate 10,000 vari-colored contraceptives.  A brilliant conceptual artist had them all blown up and  created the most beautiful Dali-esque butterfly which was huge and was suspended from the ceiling of the Cow Palace.  There were booths of the most interesting items, most of which defied description (“how in the world would anyone think of that”).

The next big question we put out there, is what Margo would come dressed as.  Ron got on the phone to Marine World and convinced them to send an animal so Margo could ride it in.

At 7 PM on October 20th the doors opened at the Cow Palace and over 18,000 people poured in the building…..there were few coats or anything else to check.  I have never had people watching to equal that evening.  At 8 o’clock sharp the house lights dimmed, and the parade began with tap dancers, cheerleaders, Dykes on Bikes (Harleys) and finally the curtain opened and riding in on  an elephant was the star of the evening, Margo St. James, costumed as Dianne Feinstein, the very proper Mayor of San Francisco.  The crowd went crazy, the fun began, much dancing, dangling, drinking, and a hazy cloud of smoke enveloped the arena……No one felt any pain.

I had scheduled a surprise through my friend Brian Murphy, who has the head of Avalon Productions in LA and the manager of George Carlin who was appearing that night in San Jose.  I paid a fee and at 11:30 we announced George Carlin was going to perform a short set, but no one cared,  and George did his shortest paid show anywhere, just yelling obscenities in the mike and left (cost us $3000).

The evening ended with no one killed, a reported rape which wasn’t,  a small part of rowdiness by people who weren’t into the evening but just came to stare at naked or almost naked people.  Margo received a huge paycheck for her organization.

Ron and I went to talk to Margo about plans for the next year, when she informed us that someone who we had hired to do a particular function for the event had convinced her that he could take it to New York, Chicago, Miami, LA and she would make a killing.  She begged to get out her agreement with us.  Ron and I looked at each other, figured we were lucky that this whole event didn’t fall apart considering with whom were dealing with and let her go with no compensation.

The event flopped in other cities (modesty prevents me from saying why), and I occasionally saw Margo after that and we always said hello.

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10 comments on “Hookers had Balls

    • Jerry, thank you for allowing me to work on The Hooker’s Ball! You had me escort Chevy Chase around the 1977 Ball! If you remember correctly I was the only one of your staff that continued on to the 1979 debacle as the “PR” person. There were supposed to be three Balls in SF, LA and NYC and the “new” promoter had paid tens of thousands of dollars for Billboards in Times Square and on Sunset Blvd and in SF. But because he wanted to go “mainstream” he would not call them The Hookers Ball, but Margo St. James Masquerade Ball…the beginning of the end. The name of the new production company was SEEN SAL, Inc. which supposedly stood for “Save Everybody’s Enviornment Now, Society of Animal Lovers” in fact Sal, was the promoters drug connection…white powder was EVERYWHERE in the office. The first day I walked in the man in charge called me into his office and handed me a mirror with a huge pile of “stuff” on it and made it clear that I could refill it anytime…unfortunately I enjoyed that stuff then.

      Bottom line, 1979 lost over $250,000 in one night and LA and NYC never happened…

      • Jerry, I was also ticketing coordinator and I hired Peggy Brown to run the box office the night of the show specifically because I knew that she wouldn’t stand for any BS…it was a good move because a few hours before the doors opened “the man in charge” informed me that we wouldn’t be tearing tickets, we would be taking the entire ticket so we could “resell them over and over…” The only reason I agreed to it was because we had only sold about 5,500 tickets out of 10,000 and I knew we would be lucky to have 500 door sales. Peggy was pissed when she found out, but understood when I explained that nothing was going to happen, and even Stan Damus of the SFPD questioned what was going on…end result was that before the evening was over I went to a handful of people that were working on the event including Bruce Jenny (who was handling security) and told them to get to the bank first thing Monday morning and cash their checks because there was enough money to cover them all…a couple listened to me and got paid the others didn’t…
        I was the first at the bank door when it opened on Monday morning…

  1. This was covered extensively in one of my first purloined copies of Penthouse.

    I’ve found a nice local lit group, The Rumpus. Where I think some other stories of it might be floating around.

    Points on handling WordPress so well, btw.

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