Youtube Gold

By Corinna ‘Merm’ Tomrley

There are countless things on Youtube that are rather marvelous. There’s a handful, though, that are just so wonderful, so extraordinary, that we wonder why when we mention them to most people they’ve never seen them or even knew of their existence. These are videos we’ve even posted a lot but that for some reason still don’t get the attention and acclaim and cult status that they so deserve.

Ethel intends to put this right and give you – THINGS ON YOUTUBE YOU REALLY SHOULD KNOW ABOUT



There is so much about this that is just really ace. Firstly, it’s Christopher Walken cooking chicken. It’s on shitty video in his kitchen. His hygiene practices are questionable (touching poultry and then touching your salt pig, Mr Walken? Salmonella City!). There’s his descriptions of things in that voice. There’s the cat.

Chris did go on to remake this with a proper TV crew and some bloke from that thing as his guest. We really wish he hadn’t because it takes away from the raw weirdness of the original. So don’t ever bother to watch that one but instead what this version over and over and over.

Best moment: the insipid, vile looking result that he produces.



We were alerted to this treasure by the sublime Stargayzing. David Munk wrote so wonderfully about this bizarre ad that we won’t witter on ourselves too much. Suffice to say that the very idea of this film is enough to make the camp heart flutter. But the actuality of it surpasses anything you could imagine from such a concept. Warning: the opening music may make your ears bleed. But hopefully you’ll still be able to hear what comes out of Joanie’s mouth as she does her shop. Because it’s something else.

Best moment: Did she say ‘weirdo’?



As far as we’re aware, there was a plan for a full musical film of Lego SOTL, but this is all that got made. You may wish for more but it’s kind of great that this is all that there is. It’s enough. The concept itself is genius. The execution perfection.

Best moment: Put the fucking poodle in the basket



Say it: ‘Mandom’. What a word. Who can we possibly get to advertise this ultra butch cologne? Who else but masc god Charles Bronson? The theme tune (one of the best ever, you’ll thank us for this earworm) tells us ‘All the world loves a lover’, but who exactly is Mr Bronson the lover of? For, although he has his Mandom shrine of products at home and he basically fucking showers in the stuff, there isn’t a single woman in this ad. There’s the piano player, there’s the creepy doorman and then in his apartment there’s… his pipe. Marvel at Mandom. We can only presume it stank to high heaven and could be used to remove varnish from the floorboards, just like all 70s perfumes.

Best moment: How Chuck takes off his shirt. There’s no chick to bitch about it strewn across the flat, after all.



It was informing our soul sisters Graham and Pal about Mandom brought the Dunaway egg film into our lives. Yes, the Bronson ad is extraordinary and funny but had we seen the egg advert? What? No. What? When Pal said ‘it’s Faye Dunaway eating a boiled egg’ he wasn’t exaggerating. Because that’s literally what it is. Actually, forgive us, it’s Faye Dunaway peeling and eating a boiled egg. Why is this sexy? Because it’s Faye Dunaway. Why is this weird? Because it’s a film star eating an egg. Why is it really weird? Because that’s all she’s doing in a beautifully lit black space. Why is it super weird? Because this egg eating activity is advertising a department store.

Best moment: Um… when she eats the egg? Actually, when she peels it and gives sexy cheekbones to camera. What is she going to do next? Oh she’s going to eat that bit of egg, the saucy minx!



Ethel loves radical feminist theatre, darlings. Ever since Corinna Mermaid was earnestly doing her Theatre Studies A Level and emerging as a baby feminist and baby queer she was ravenous about all things thespian and right on. Cut to many – ehem – decades later and a new pussy posse of rad fem performers are bursting forth and in your face with their fannies, celebrating cunt and doing it with dance, fun and glitter. You KNOW we would be had by all that…

Corinna Tomrley: Tell us about Pussy Patrons (and plug the last few days of your kickstarter!)

Pussy Patrons: The PUSSY PATRONS are a company of four, born out of an anger and frustration with taboo attitudes around women’s bodies within society, focusing on the vagina, our pussy. We use storytelling, image making, food as an art material, comedy and poetry to liberate ourselves and hopefully others. We researched, devised and performed our piece, Cabaret of Cunts, in the Pinter Studio as part of a performance festival at Queen Mary, University of London. As we approach our final year at university, we are lucky enough to be taking our PUSSY PATRONAGE beyond our university walls and on tour. We hope to spread the funny, feisty, fearless and feminist style of performance around like a glorious bout of STI and fill the world with PUSSY PATRONS.

CT: Gonna be really obvious and crass now and I bet you’ve been asked a billion times, but how is this show different to The Vagina Monologues?

PP: Hahaha! Don’t worry, we’re definitely in a similar vein. I would say that we have a lot of similarities. We are both feminist, both concerned with our vaginas and we both use anecdotes and our personal experiences to try and make sense of our pussies’ place in the world. I think perhaps our biggest differences lie in the way we present our material. As a company, it is important to us to first and foremost celebrate ourselves and other women and what better way to celebrate then a massive, messy party?! We also differ hugely in aesthetic. Like the best parties, Cabaret of Cunts is tacky, colourful and sparkly with a lot of incredibly serious (!) dance routines thrown in. The party atmos also allows a bit more scope for everyone to muck in and get involved. Girls just wanna have fun after all.


CT: What is feminism and feminist activism for you?

PP: Woah-ho-ho! That’s a big question! Feminism is a really difficult term to define, not just academically but in everyday life. A lot of discourse and a fuck load of shit surrounds the word. We feel that feminism is unapologetically embracing and embodying yourself in a particular time, or space, or just always.  Appreciating yourself and your body, especially within a society in which we are constantly and wrongly reminded that we are not good enough. We as a company feel it is important to celebrate feminism and use it as an active and adaptive ‘thing’ that takes into account other stories, other women and other points of view, especially within issues of intersectionality. Feminism is not something we switch on and off or only do in a rehearsal or performance, it’s formed by your environment and becomes a lens from which you see your environment. We are consistently inspired by the women that surround us and the everyday acts of ownership and strength that they show. We like to adopt a style of feminism that is accessible to all, celebratory and sticky with a sprinkle of glitter on top!

CT: You just described not only my own ethos but pretty much my life. You were at Split Britches Retro(per)spective weren’t you? How glorious are they?! I’ve always been in love with feminist and queer theatre but I would go out on a limb to say there’s not enough feminist – or even generally radical – theatre about now (beyond cabaret) – would you agree? Or are we missing something going on out there?

PP: Yes! They are amazing. We love their style of performance, their cabaret form, their work with desire and they’re unapologetic authenticity in performance. They’re funny, sexy and timeless.

Hmmm, actually we feel there’s a plethora of emerging performance artists, even in our immediate circle. We feel like this is a fantastic time, we are emerging as a lot of other artists are emerging, from what we feel is a gap from the exciting and radical work of Lois Weaver and Split Britches… a bit of an artistic revolution round 2!!!  What we would argue, though, is that there are not enough platforms or theatres to expose this exciting work. There is also the issue of how to survive as an artist in London, fighting for funding and the role of economic capital.  But luckily with funding programmes that exist like Kickstarter, Grants for the Arts etc. there are ways around it, it’s just finding these options. We are so grateful and lucky to have so much support on our Kickstarter, we are on our final push and any further funds, however small, would be so appreciated.

CT: What next for PP?

PP: Well……………our performance of CABARET OF CUNTS is coming up very soon – 23rd January – At the fantastic and beautiful ballroom in Limehouse Townhall (watch this space!).

After that we would like to continue to develop work and make a new piece combining a lot of elements of Cabaret of Cunts, but go into more depth and focus. For whatever happens, women remain our focus – along with a lot of heart, humour and, of course, Shania Twain. What is next for us is hopefully a lot of fun, bonding, empowerment, liberation and maybe some paid work.

Oh and did we mention we have a Kickstarter…………

PicMonkey Collage


We’re going to tell you something funny about vaginas…
There is nothing funny about vaginas.
They leak, they seep, they smell and they squeek
and they enjoy a good Phillipe.
Roll up, roll up, to the cabaret of cunts.
We do have to warn you, we may be upfront.
Expect a laugh and a cry and a cringe and a sigh, maybe even a bit of cum in your eye!
For your flower, pussy, fanny and foof,
We do hope you find some proof.
Of our struggles and triumphs,
As we refuse to suffer in silence.
With Bobby and Tracy and a bit of Dapper too,
We explore the functions of our precious foo foo.
So, wilkommen bienvenue welcome!
We hope you enjoy and have lots of fun with your chums!
We are sure that everything will go to plan,
Because man, should you feel like a woman!

Find you Pussy Patrons:

Fanny face(book)

Twat Twitter 

Ethel Loves… Lou Papalas

When I wrote about the puntasticly, fabulously named Barber Streisand recently, it brought to mind a similar – but more Babtastic – wonder that I heard about some years ago: The Barbra Shop. A regular barbers by day (albeit with Babs stuff on the walls and Babs busts for sale) and a Streisand themed museum by night. I mean. You know? I tried to track down Lou Papalas, the fabulous man behind The Barbra Shop museum collection for that article, but didn’t manage to by deadline. When he got in touch after the fact I told him I simply HAD to interview him for Mermania. As a man with the largest Streisand memorabilia collection in the world, he’s Ethel Mermaids material through and through.

Corinna: How did your love of Babs begin?

Lou: In 1963, my Mom called me into the living room to watch this “kooky girl” on The Mike Douglas show.  I was drawn to her for many reasons—among them, her non-conventional looks and atypical candour as well as a plethora of what seemed self-confidence.

After that a friend gifted me with The Barbra Streisand Album – Barbra’s first… LOVED IT!  Then Barbra was in Funny Girl on Broadway. My buddy (he also loved Barbra) and I both purchased the Broadway Funny Girl album. Not only did we know all the songs, but we used lines (in falsetto) from the musical in our everyday conversations. We would always crack up at the applicability of those lyrics to situations in our lives.

C: How did your collecting begin?

L: I began collecting quite by accident. Initially I obsessively cut out any article I found in magazines or newspapers and stuffed them in my bedroom dresser drawer. If I went to the doctor or dentist and Barbra was on the cover or in a magazine in the waiting room, of course I would take it home with me when I left the office. Soon I began looking for articles, scanning periodicals in hopes of finding more.

Once Barbra starred in Funny Girl on Broadway, starred in her own one woman hour-long TV special, the movie magazines and tabloids chose Barbra as “the celebrity.”  It was so easy for me to collect, however, my collection quickly out grew my dresser drawer. I then purchased a foot locker to accommodate it. All through college, while others were listening to the classic rock beginnings, I had Barbra. My college fraternity brothers teased me about Barbra all the time. Fast-forward to the 90’s. EBay came into my life and collecting Barbra got a whole lot easier and a lot more expensive. I purchased thousands of items from around the world. I had many of them framed to preserve them—hundreds of them. My collection now occupies six 10 x 10 X 15 climate controlled storage units, 9000 cubic feet. My quest to have it all became a reality and fulfil my goal to open a non-profit Barbra Streisand museum/performing arts centre seemed a lot closer. With that in mind, as if my collection wasn’t large enough, I started attending auctions to purchase more Streisand items.



C: What led to your setting up the museum above the Barbra Shop?

L: I retired from a management position at Ford Motor Company in February of 2002.  By that time my collection was an obsession totally out of control and had grown into the tens of thousands. I had also acquired thousands of duplicate and triplicate (and more) of the same item. Some of them were purposefully purchased, but most were purchased only because I kept no written inventory and could not remember if I already had one.  I figured that when I opened my museum, I could sell those duplicate items to raise funds to support it.

April 24 of 2002 was Barbra’s 60th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of the Caucus Club in Detroit. I befriended the owner of the Caucus Club, the first of Barbra’s non-New York venues. I proposed taking over the décor of the restaurant for a half year which culminated with a Barbra Streisand 60th birthday party and for the anniversary of the Caucus Club. I displayed over 100 items. The rich cherry panelling was the backdrop for beautiful professionally framed Streisand posters, articles and mixed memorabilia. I even had the ladies room painted pink with rose floral accessories.  The owner purchased pink linen tablecloths. The restaurant and my Barbra display was featured in articles and front page stories

My wife and I purchased a winter residence in Palm Desert, California. I had all of the “Streisand stuff” relocated to California from Michigan. After seeing the enjoyment people experienced viewing the items at the Caucus Club, I wanted to create a smallish museum. I did just that and my first location was the “BARBRA SHOP” in Palm Springs California …the Castro of Palm Springs. It was a barber shop by day and a Barbra museum by night. The walls were entirely covered from floor to ceiling with framed posters and significant display items. Additionally, mannequins with different Streisand hairstyles from her career were placed throughout the shop. The barbers wore black Barbra Streisand T-shirts and to complete the mood, Barbra albums provided background music and the TV showed Barbra movies. This clever shop became an international Palm Springs tourist destination and during evenings, after the barbers departed, from 6pm to 10pm many display items were added and the barber shop was transformed into a Barbra Shop Museum.


C: Why and when did that have to close?

L: Our landlord had legal problems and we needed to vacate. Initially the shop moved to a downtown location, not easily seen and seldom patronized. Therefore we closed for good…unless someone wants me to do a Streisand themed restaurant, museum, Barbra Shop in any U.S. tourist spot or European location for that matter.


C: Tell me about your experience of the Barbra auctions?

L: Initially I attended a Barbra Streisand Christie’s auction in NYC. I purchased several gowns, one of Barbra’s Chinese antique lamps, some china and three large pieces of antique pottery.  I participated in three other NYC auctions, at one I was high bidder on Barbra’s first eight concerts in New York City.

In 2004, I volunteered my service to assist Julien Entertainment in identifying significant items from Barbra’s career as well as personal items when she started to let go of her career items. I even hosted a two week exhibit of extremely significant career gowns at Takishimaya on 5th Avenue in NYC. During that exhibit I decide that I wanted to become owner of Barbra’s most classic and historically significant and iconic “My Name is Barbra” gown. It was the last item offered for bid in the Her Name is Barbra 2004 auction and I was the high bidder. This gown and the eight contracts are the two most important/valuable pieces in my vast collection.


C: What items were you most surprised about her selling at auction?

L: Actually, it was almost painful watching all of her beautiful career gowns being distribute to others and breaking up what would make a significant career exhibit. I made it a mission of mine to keep tabs on who purchased what by starting the Barbra Streisand Legacy Associates. I requested that new owners of her gowns or other significant items register as associates. Many of those registered items have been exhibited to provide funding for non-profits.

C: What was the thing that got away that you wished you had won?

L: Her Oscars see-through Scassi pantsuit. Scassi won it back for himself. He repurchased many of the items he designed for Barbra.


C: I adore the busts that were in your museum.

L: Those items were actually on consignment for me to sell. They were and many still are owned by Ken Joachim, the curator of the 1996 Hello Gorgeous museum in the Castro of San Francisco. The unsold were returned to him when I closed my shop.


C: You’ve lent items to other museums and exhibitions toured with some of your Babs collection. Where is your collection now and how can people see it?

L: All of my collection is now in storage. My long term goal of establishing a Streisand Museum/Performing Arts centre becomes less pursuable as I am soon to be 70 and that goal is rapidly becoming a short term crisis. I do not want to die not having achieved all or part of my goal, leaving the thousands of items for my family to liquidate.

C: Have you met her?

L: Yes I have. After I curated a 1200 piece exhibit at the Hollywood Museum her manager, Marty Erlichman, called me and wanted to tour, film and photograph it. As a thank you he and Barbra invited me to her Arizona concert as a guest. Marty requested that I go backstage after the concert where I was one of very few guests – her sister Roslyn Kind , David Foster and girlfriend, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Jay Alexander, Renata, Jane Withers and Mrs. David Rose and of course Sammie.

Oh, I forgot the best part. When I met Barbra, she put her hand on her hip, looked me straight in the eyes and said in her Brooklyneese best “so wher’d ya’ get all my stuff?” I will always remember this as it is etched in my brain.

C:  We’re a little in love with Babs’ dog Sammie.

L: I have also met Jason and  his dog Eli when I again went backstage at the Hollywood Bowl

C: Lucky! What would you most like to see Babs do in the future?

Aside from Gypsy, I would love her to record a simply produced album of old favourites in the style of early Barbra, with a lot of drama and emotion without concern to be perfect and with minimal accompaniment. Purely classic Barbra.

When she and Bette Midler get a little older and before they retire from the screen, I would love to see them to star together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (I am a little weird that way)

C: That would be the ultimate dream!


Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel

Think about the best thing that could happen. No, I mean, THINK REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS. Imagine a room – what’s in it? Some comfy sofas? Nice lighting? And what’s that all around you? Think about it now – what would be the most perfect thing in the world? We’re all thinking the same thing, right? Spooky eh? Because in our perfect imagined room we are surrounded by Dolly Parton art by some of the most creative Finnish artists and designers.

WELL YOU DON’T HAVE TO JUST DREAM IT – IT IS OUT THERE! You can find the exhibition Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel in London but ONLY until Monday 30th June. So GO GO GO, or it WILL just be a dream!

So how did this happen?

Well, a group of Finland’s top artistic types decided to create a collection of works inspired by one of the most iconic and visually arresting pop culture goddesses of our times. And this isn’t just a celebration of Dolly – it is a deliberate confrontation of what is art, and not just in terms of the content, but the spaces this exhibition has, does and will inhabit. Starting at the Klaus K Hotel in Helsinki, guests were greeted in the lobby by a happy onslaught of Dolly depictions. South Place Hotel – quickly becoming renowned for its art and support of artists – took up the challenge of having a room full of pARTon in their chi-chi Le Chiffre games room. If you miss it in London, don’t worry – you can fly and catch it in its next home in Berlin at the 25 Hours Hotel.

I spoke to Sampo Marjomaa, creator of the piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’, one of the key players behind the exhibition and who also just happens to be a major Finnish TV star with his show Hauskat kotivideot, which reappropriates and recontextualises clips from America’s Home Videos. He said that he’d had criticism from the art world for holding an art show in hotels – ‘it’s SO commercial!’ was the common accusation.

And is not the art world and are not galleries commercial? I asked. ‘Exactly!’ Sampo exclaimed.

So Parton is not only a wonderful muse for this stunning exhibition – like the lady herself, Art Dolly is a fuck you to art hierarchies of high and low, good and bad. Exactly The Ethel Mermaids manifesto, I told Sampo. No wonder we loved this show so much.

But it’s more than just a political statement. This show is viscerally arresting. Comprising 8 pieces by 8 different artists, every artwork is amazing. Every single one. How often does that happen? I cannot remember ever thinking that about an art exhibition.

Mari Kasurinen's My Little Dolly
Mari Kasurinen’s My Little Dolly

The one artist I’d heard of before was Mari Kasurinen, who you will also probably know from her incredibly prolific art collection, My Little Pop Icons: gorgeously sculpted ponies resembling some of pop cult’s favourites – including Gaga, Lagerfeld, Warhol, and fictional characters like Poison Ivy, Chewbacca, Edward Scissorhands. So I was very excited to see her ‘My Little Dolly Parton’. Pictures of the sculptures cannot do justice to the artworks or the impact of seeing them in person. I expected to enjoy Dolly Pony – I didn’t expect to have an emotional reaction. The sculptured ponies are bigger than you’d think, they have presence. And there was something about the scruffy ‘do, the extra long luxurious tail and the disturbingly expressive eyes of the thing that just got me. I revisited that pony several times last night.

Suvi Aarnio’s Fandom Imagined

Suvi Aarnio’s textile piece ‘Fandom Imagined’ evokes that other icon of country music, the Nudie suit, as well as a religious triptych with the exquisitely embroidered Dolly posed like the Holy Mother. Fandom of Christian iconology meets that of The Goddess Parton. The side panels of the triptych are mirrors, reflecting her beauty and also bringing to mind an old fashioned dressing table where Dolly might apply layer upon layer upon layer of makeup. For me, Aarnio’s work – which bears the Dolly quote ‘There’s a heart beneath the boobs and a brain beneath the wig’ – is a sister piece to Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’. A painted glass Parton, you are invited to look at it both in its stunning technicolour and through a red gel viewer, which transforms her boobs into a perfect heart.

Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’
Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’

Experiencing these two artworks, I not only considered the ‘fake on top, soul beneath’ Dolly message but also the heartbreaking fact that this incredibly beautiful, classically pretty woman has never thought she was attractive. Part of Dolly’s charm is the trash and the flash and that she embraces ‘too much’ when it comes to paint, wigs and costume. We love her for it. But she has admitted that this is covering what she sees as a lack. And this is also, of course, the reason for her multiple cosmetic surgeries over the years: the boob jobs to enhance and lift her already massive breasts, the face work, the dieting that keeps her teeny tiny. Dolly Parton is at once a glorious celebration and a mood of melancholy and pathos. And isn’t that so country music?

Sampo Marjomaa’s piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’ (see invite above), painted on knotted wood, is the only artwork that gives us contemporary Dolly. I noted this to the artist and he agreed: ‘most people concentrate on the nostalgic image of Dolly Parton’. At once rustic and plastic, in this piece – depicting her in her currently favoured pale, custard yellow – we have the surgeried Dolly smiling at us (well, as best as she can) hand on hip, emoting that solid Dolly attitude of sass, fun and challenge. We can only hope to rise to it and please her. You so want to please Dolly.

In her 1994 autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Dolly revealed that as she gets sent such an enormous amount of fan art she has had to dedicate a room in Dollywood to it, a room she gloriously refers to as ‘The Arts and Craps Room’. Again with the play with high and low. When I sent her my own Dolly art – Little Tiny Tassle Top – a couple of years ago, I hoped and prayed that it would end up in the Arts and Craps gallery. My life’s ambition is to become curator of that wonderous space in the Smokie Mountains. One day.

That said – let it be known – the Dolly pARTon exhibition is all art and no craps in sight.

Corinna Tomrley 2014


Pay It No Mind – Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson.

She is said to have started the Stonewall Riots by throwing a shot glass at a mirror.

It has been called ‘The Shot Glass Heard Round The World’.

Marsha P. Johnson.

When a judge asked her what the P stood for, she replied: ‘Pay It No Mind’.

Marsha P. Johnson.

Drag Queen, queer activist, sex worker, Saint of Christopher Street, performer with The Hot Peaches, mental health survivor, co-founder (with Sylvia Rey Rivera) of S.T.A.R. – Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries – and ran a house for homeless trans youth, and gave out food, blankets and clothes to the trans kids who were largely ignored and marginalised by the larger gay activist community.


Marsha P. Johnson.

Found dead in the Hudson River. Either an accidental drowning (she believed her father was Neptune, that he lived in the bottom of the Hudson, and she would frequently throw offerings – such as all her clothes and the clothes of anyone else passing by if she could grab them off of them – into the water) or – more likely – she was murdered (she was seen being harassed at that spot, earlier that day. She had just marched in the Pride parade).


Marsha P. Johnson.

Warrior, free spirit, changer of lives, survivor, fighter, light, queer angel.

When I see pictures of her, I get lost in her face. I am altered. I am lit. I am glad to have the privilege to gaze upon her beautiful image. I am absorbed. Head festooned by flowers or fairy lights or feathers, gowns bought for a few dollars from the thrift store, makeup applied to her own Marsha P. style. She grins, she shines. Her smile is everything. She is more than just one of the most important figures from our history, a transformer of our culture. She is Marsha P. Johnson. Lucky were those she passed by and greeted with a cheery hello in the street. Chastened were those who catcalled and got the brunt of her response – she spoke back, she didn’t ignore the hate: she faced it head on. Shot, beaten, she rose above the shit she faced every single day. She bore the scars – and a bullet lodged near her spine – and still she smiled. She changed all who crossed her path.

Marsha P
‘Pay it no mind: Marsha P Johnson’ by Corinna Tomrley

Marsha P. Johnson. Know her name.

Marsha P. Johnson. See her.

She would not be ignored. She will not be ignored.

Marsha P. Johnson. Pay it no mind.

Written with love by Corinna P. Tomrley

Watch ‘Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson’, a film by Frameline Voices


The Macaroni Club and The Pansy Craze


I love sissies, always have. Seeing sissies like Edward Everett Horton in Fred and Ginger movies, darlings,  gave me such a thrill as a kid. I adored his girlyboy best friend characters and would rather have hung out with him than boring old Fred any day. How I’d like to fraternise with Miss Ginger is perhaps the sordid subject for another blog post, another day… (With Miss Ginger Rogers, I’m a big fan of her early work and her later wigs…)

Back to the sissies.

In gay and queer culture there is a troubling anti-sissy stance that I abhor. I am so very, very glad that there are girlyboys out there who are queenie and perrrrrrrroud! And I welcome with big, fabulous open arms that there is a movement to reclaim sissiness. Think, ‘sissy that walk’ in drag. Glory at Alex Creep’s Nancy Zine, just for a coupla references off the tops of my campy head.

So to celebrate all things sissy, I’m gonna take you on a history tour of two points in the past where sissies were celebrated and found a home and a place to shine: The Macaroni Club and The Pansy Craze.

Macaroni and the Pansy Craze. Sounds like the best band name ever, right? Well, don’t nick it, it’s mine, darlings – © Corinna G. Tomrley. The G stands for Glamour. And Gorgeous. And Glitter.

Back to the sissies. Macaroni first.

Macaroni fashion

Yankee Doodle came to town

Riding on a pony

Stuck a feather in his hat

And called it Macaroni

Oh the screeching cry of a thousand ice cream vans! That childhood rhyme, shrilly yelled at playtime! But wait – called it macaroni?!?!?!?!?!? What the what now?

Well. Here’s a lil bit of trivia for ya. Yankee Doodle is a sissy. That’s right. Actually, he’s a buffoon and a sissy, the Doodle part being a dumbass. But we’ll ignore that part because we’re far more interested in the fact that this fella on a horse is a big ole sissyboy. Why? Well that’s where the macaroni comes in. Because the feather in his hat and his naming said bird bit Macaroni is a reference to the Macaroni fashion and The Macaroni Club, ways ways back in the 1700s. Oh my but that’s the olden times, ain’t it? Macaroni’s were dandys. Dandy, of course, is another name for a sissy. But a well-put-together, spiffing sissy. In 1772 a periodical was published called The Maccaroni Magazine: Or Monthly Intelligence of the Fashions and Diversions. Oh to have a subscription. There was the Macaroni fashion, especially very, very tall wigs and small hats atop very, very tall wigs. Actually this tricorn hat atop a wig was the actual Macaroni. The feather was just added flare. So Yankee Doodle called his hat Macaroni because he sissied it up with the feather. Other elements of Macaroni fashion included feathers (natch), flowers, multiple buckles, high-heeled shoes, handkerchiefs and smelling bottles. Those were some sharp sissies. In London there was The Macaroni club. More the collective (often derogative) name for the dandies in the capital it was never an actual fraternity or location. Pity. However, whatever: I’m opening a club and calling it The Macaroni Club. Free feather for your hat on entry.

My favourite sissies are probably the Pansies. The Pansy Craze at the Pansy Clubs was The In Thing for a short while in the 20s and 30s in the US, most specifically in New York, San Francisco and LA.

Pansy clubs were cabaret that was explicitly queer, with sissies, drag kings and queens entertaining gay and straight audiences with their comedy and song. These cats were cool and super gloriously talented. Just the thought of them makes this queer gal swoon! Known as ‘Lavender Spots’, ‘Queer Clubs’ or Panze Joints’, Pansy clubs were openly written about in the entertainment press: gives us some idea of the crossover these sissies (and kings and queens) had. Some of the more famous Pansy club performers were

Jean Malin

gene malin

Rae Bourbon

Rae Bourbon

Bruz Fletcher

Bruz Fletcher

Gladys Bentley

Gladys Bentley

and Karyl Norman

karyl norman

‘The Pansy Craze’ referred not so much to the performers themselves – they did their acts before and after the craze rose and fell – instead it referred mainly to the fashionable attraction to these joints by a straight audience. Het punters were drawn to the exotica of the queer performers, who were letting them into their world for a night. But what I love about the Craze is that the Pansy performers had all the power, often insulting any patrons who expressed outrage (sound familiar?) and dazzling those who appreciated the fabulous wit and expertise of the Pansy star. Their tunes were love songs to another boy or girl or, for drag performers like Rae Bourbon, were about being trans. They were pioneers of out, in your face queerness. Prior to the Pansy Craze, to be queer was to be hidden and to only socialise in secret with your own. The Pansy Craze temporarily allowed queer performers to be out and celebrated, expressing themselves in a way previously unheard of.

As if you needed another reason to love ‘em, another aspect of the Pansy scene were drag balls. Again attended by a mix of gay and straight patrons, the drag balls were an outright celebration of queerness. Where in the Pansy clubs the drag and cabaret was presented as pure entertainment and usually always comedy-based, drag balls were an elegant party, a space for queers to be explicitly queer in a fancy place at a fancy party celebrating THEM. And these balls were fancy schmancy, darlings. They were based on cotillions or debutante balls which are, of course, also known as ‘coming out’ balls. And – get this sister – there would be a parade on a stage. But these parades weren’t a cabaret act. These were displays parading pure fabulousness, honey. But alas the parade was just for the queens. Where in the Pansy clubs women patrons in drag would sit in the audience watching the drag king performers on stage, at drag balls women in drag only appeared as party revellers – as far as I can tell, drag kings did not parade. Drag balls’ loss!

These are – of course – only a couple of examples of sissy history, culture and fabulousness but they are pretty rad examples, yes? Now. The only question is: as host of The Pansy Craze Ball at The Macaroni Club am I going to go as a dandy flaneur sissy or as a hot, dapper drag king? Decisions, decisions, darlings.

Written, darlings, by Corinna Pansy Tomrley

Read more about LA’s Pansy scene in Willam J Mann’s sublime and vital Behind The Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood

Ethel Loves Wayne Hollowell

We at The Ethel Mermaids love a good recommendation. People who’ve hung out with us or hung out on our facebook page get a pretty good idea of our sensibilities. So when Mermate Jussi recommended artist Wayne Hollowell to me, Corinna Mermaid, we knew that our message had solidly permeated our devoted Ethelites. We haven’t been this excited about an artist in a very long time. I immediately invited Wayne to become an Honorary Mermaid by featuring him here on Mermania. We like to support, profile and chat with kindred spirits. Wayne is certainly that. But also, so much more. His art depicts those we love but in such a way as to truly tap into the Ethel Mermaids’ ethos: camp, queer, New Kitsch from old kitsch and a celebration of the spirit of the Diva and high-gay icon. With his new show ‘Drama Queen’ opening on the 26th June in New York’s Michael Mut Gallery, the timing could not be more perfect to share with The World of Ethel the work and the amazing artist who is Wayne Hollowell.

Describe your journey to becoming an artist?

I grew up in rural North Carolina the only son of a preacher and a teacher (I had 3 sisters). I was BLESSED to have parents who did not question my obsession with Streisand at age six! I cannot remember a time when I was not drawing. I also was lucky to find a best friend in 6th grade named Zane who shared my Hollywood obsessions! We spent hours pouring over the latest movie magazines, obsessing over CHARLIE’S ANGELS and wearing out Donna Summer albums! My mom and dad sacrificed so much to send me to North Carolina School of the Arts in the 11th and 12th grade where I had the greatest teacher Clyde Fowler (he is quite a legend). He introduced me to Warhol and even better John Waters. Again, my mom and dad somehow found a way to send me to Atlanta college of Art and while I cannot say I learned that much from the teachers there I did learn a lot from my friends (including RuPaul who lived near the school).

Liz Taylor Virginia Woolfe by Wayne Hollwell Acrylic on canvas 36x36
Liz Taylor Virginia Woolfe by Wayne Hollwell Acrylic on canvas 36×36

You made some amazing art films with Rupaul – how did that working relationship come about?

I had kind of lost interest in painting and was thinking I wanted to be a director. I cast RuPaul in several video movies which we would premiere at the local clubs. He was so fun and great to work with and was just full of pop culture knowledge. We really worked our butts off making those movies and it was just so much fun! Ru was always a star! We made “Mahogany 2” and I did this epic called “Comes the Blood” about a girl born with the head of a hog in turn of the century GA who is in love with her gorgeous brother. It was totally inspired by “The Color Purple” but I am sure Ms. Alice Walker would not have been amused. I went to NYU film school for one year but I just really could not afford it. I spent 14 years in NYC just sowing my wild oats, waiting tables, working in a leather bar, a hotel – you name it! All the while, feeling so frustrated that I was not doing what I was meant to do, which was to be an artist. It took a while to get to the point (I’m in my mid-40s) where I finally gave in and just said “this is IT… you are going to do this… do what you were BORN to do” (years of OPRAH finally sunk in to my brain). So now I live in Virginia, very dull and I cannot wait for the weekends when I can open my pinot grigio, put on my Max Steiner soundtracks and paint my Hollywood idols and the characters that have haunted and fascinated me since childhood.

Bette Davis Margot Channing by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Bette Davis Margot Channing by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

In the statement for your new show, Drama Queen, you twin camp with tragedy in relation to the women you depict. This really spoke to me: I’ve long been fascinated by how the tragic diva is intrinsic in gay iconology. It’s part of what draws us to them but it’s still hard to put a finger on why they fascinate. For The Ethel Mermaids bad art is about camp, kitsch and queer. It’s also about a true joy and love for the subjects. It’s affectionate as well as being sometimes humorous. When I think about the queerness of bad art it’s the queering, a queer subversion. And the subjects were usually queerly subversive in themselves. Does that make sense to you in terms of your art, your interest in these stars and characters, and what attracts you to these subjects?

I think I am the living proof that we are BORN gay and I do believe we share a special love and appreciation for art, camp, tragic divas, beauty and fun that is almost universal.

I remember the first time I saw “A Streetcar Named Desire” when I was 11 on the late movie! Even though I didn’t totally understand it I was quoting Blanche, absolutely obsessed with her (the trampy teacher seducing her students in a run down motel). My friend Zane was equally obsessed and we set out to see everything with Tennessee Williams’ name attached to it. I don’t know what it is that attracts us to these characters and the actresses that bring them to life but I know it is something a lot of gays respond to. I have facebook friends in Brazil that are obsessed with Joan Crawford.

My mom tried to make me play junior high football but NO WAY was I having that, lol. Child I was in my room listening to Barbra belt the love theme from “Eyes of Laura Mars” over and over and drawing pictures of Faye Dunaway!

You’re an incredible, accomplished artist. Would you align your recent work in any way to the Bad Art work that the Mermaids do?

Wow! Thanks so much! I try to capture the sadness that draws me to these characters and also the camp which I love. I spend so much time alone painting but I LOVE every minute of it. I am the worst at drawing and each painting has about 15 versions underneath the final image. My sister Mary is a genius and always can tell me what is off about my drawings. I really could not do these without her. She gives me so many wonderful suggestions (the stars on the Little Edie painting were her idea). It’s just part of my process to consult with her, draw, re-draw until somehow I get the image Ok. I’m always amazed that I get it to look like who I am trying to paint. It’s always a struggle to get the eyes even, the nose correct, I am just a mess with proportions and I cannot draw ears and hands lol. I love the work you guys are doing. I think there is such a sense of fun and freedom and celebration in it! I hope my work conveys those same qualities! I think we both share a sincere love of our subject matter and so glad we are keeping these great ladies and characters alive through our art!

Oprah Vajayjay by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Oprah Vajayjay by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

If you could have one of your subjects (alive, dead, character, your choice) sit for you in real life, who would you choose and in what setting?

I would choose Truman Capote! I just love him! I think he had such a wit and would have just been hilarious! I love he had martinis for breakfast and was such a gossip! The second subject would be a young Marlon Brando and I would do an extensive collection of nudes! Although Crawford is my favorite subject/muse, I think she would have intimidated me!

I’m relatively new to any kind of art scene and so far The Mermaids is it for me. Is there a gay/queer art scene either in your community, the US and/or online?)

I have found several wonderful artists on facebook who work in similar subject matter. Rocky Helminski and Mark Ritchfield are fantastic artists and a lot of their work celebrates the idols of old Hollywood. I don’t think it’s really “pop” art, I would say it’s kind of “pop” expressionism as I think our work has more feeling and emotion than “pop”, which tends to be kind of cold. I have been so amazed at the response to my work and it seems people really do enjoy the fun, the pathos, everything I am trying to put in it!

My first NYC show is 26-30 June at Michael Mut Gallery so my fingers are crossed! I’m so thankful to Michael Mut as well. I went and met him about my show and he was just so cool. He showcases a great roster of artists (George Towne is following me with a one man show) so I am humbled and so excited to be showing there! There are lots of great gay artists I have connected with just on facebook. The Leslie Lohman museum is a great resource and gallery!

Liza Minelli by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Liza Minnelli by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

What’s next for Mr Hollowell?

I am doing two new series at the moment. The first is called “the GAY SAINTS” and is a series of portraits of great gay men and women who truly changed our world. From Harvey Milk to Bayard Rustin to Capote and Nureyev. I have around 12 done to date and I am planning on the series being about 50 portraits. I want it to be our collective KISS OUR ASSES to the DC monsters like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Boehner all our “leaders” who fight so hard to DENY gay men and women basic human rights (although they sure do not mind taking our tax money to fund their wars). I also want it to be a series that young gay teenagers can see and be filled with PRIDE and inspiration!

The second series I am working on is called “LONESOME COWBOYS” (a nod to Warhol’s film) but it’s a collection of homoerotic cowboy paintings of some of Hollywood’s tragic cowboys and of course the camp figures. Joe Buck, Jack Twist, Montgomery Clift in “Red River” and of course, Joan Crawford (my favorite cowboy) in “Johnny Guitar”.

I also want to do more figure work. The artists that truly inspire me are Rocky Helminski, McDermott and McGough, Warhol and Alice Neel. My dream is to just be able to paint full time and I am working hard to make that happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am so thankful to be an artist. I am thankful for the friends, teachers and my amazing mother who pushed and encouraged me. It’s not the easiest path but I am so thankful it is mine. I just look forward to making more art! As OPRAH said on her last show “To God be the Glory”! I LOVE Oprah as you can tell lol.

You can catch Wayne Hollowell’s show ‘Drama Queen’ at Michael Mut Gallery, New York City, 26-30 June. See more of Wayne’s work on his Web site and his facebook art page.


In defence of weird, weird celebrity art

Checking out the stats on The [now defunct] Ethel Mermaids’ Etsy shop I noticed a lot of recent traffic came from this blog. Thrilled to think we’d got a mention I found the entry. The author laments that there is a lot of ‘weird, weird celebrity “art” out there’ and asks of my portrait of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, ‘HOW?! WHY?!’

For those of us who get bad art the answer to the first questions is acrylic and pen on card. For those of us who get bad art, the second question needs no answer because it is not asked.

I’m not upset and I’m not being defensive. In terms of bad art, I find this fascinating. I’m actually perversely stoked that she reacted to it so strongly that she needed to bitch about it on her blog. (And that we got some traffic!) The description of the piece states that it is by a bad artist but she either missed that or didn’t think what it meant in terms of the picture. Or didn’t care. I’d gladly have a dialogue with her about it if she wants to, but can’t be bothered to initiate it as she didn’t ask me directly ‘why’ before she blogged and linked to my art in the first place. Instead, I figured I’d reciprocate by blogging about her blog post on our blog. Blog.

If we did have that conversation she might find out that whilst the pictures she  features in her blog post as examples of good, accessible, not amateur, not weird, weird celebrity art are very nice, bad art is about breaking down rigid, judgmental binaries of good and bad, talented and nontalented, capable and incapable. Bad art questions ideas of taste through undermining the classic hierarchy of high and low art. And bad art actually gives a lot of joy to a lot of people. For some bad art is simply about that pure joy. It can be all about the weird. Bad art is loved because it is camp and subversive and radical and fun and silly and righteous. It can be light as air or incredibly deep. Bad art can upset because it disturbs and that disturbance can come from all kinds of places – some valid, some that should perhaps be considered and questioned.

Bad art also offers a lot to those who do it. For the trained and those who might otherwise make art that would be judged as ‘good’ or ‘correct’, doing bad art can be an extremely liberating – if sometimes challenging -endeavour. It can offer a freedom, and bring the fun and joy back, to the process of creating. For those of us who are not trained and have always believed that we can’t and so shouldn’t bother trying, doing it can change our lives. I get tons of pleasure out of it and that would be enough. The fact that I have had enormously positive feedback since I produced my first piece and had requests, commissions, sold pieces and had work so tempting and wanted that it was stolen (and later paid for when the thief was suitably shamed), tells me that there are people out there who do get bad art and enjoy it enough to want it to happen. Some people will get and like bad art, some won’t. It’s all fine. Different (brush) strokes for different folks, eh? I for one can’t get enough of all the weird, weird celebrity art out there. I’ll keep on bad arting for all those who do get it, and even for those who do not.

By Corinna Mermaid


Once upon a time, Avant Babs stepped out into the futuristic world to spread her electro-love on the planet. First sighted in the late 3060s she was noticed infiltrating the swinging sphere where she is reported to have found it ‘far out’. Grooving onto the theatre of a central park she hung with Marty the Martian and enchanted the throng with her meshuggena madcappery, drifting into an era called: Disco.

AvantBabs, earlier today
AvantBabs, earlier today

Through the DiscoAge she stumbled on a world electronica, entrancing earthlings to perform for her using their kitchenette implements: Concrete Chic at her beck and call. Avant Babs fought the good fight, swung the great swing and grooved away until she met up with the PermAge. Of this time little is known. What is depicted is that The GreatFro – as she was then known – ruled, but met with great resistance from the Misogynons. Fearing her strength and GlamaGroove, they grappled with the AvantBabsGlamatron until eventually denting her sense of humour.

Entering the StrutAge she spoke to her PeopleWhoNeedPeople from a vast platform and connected to their groovething, where a Silver and a Fluff and a Spawn took her to the level of the GreatOrangeShoulder, restoring humour and raspy magic. The GreatOrangeShoulder AvantBop rose invincibly to conquer the hearts of her minions and reign supreme.  AvantBabs will forever be entrenched in our LadyHeartsFoundation.