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.


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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