The last weeks have passed in the arduous effort to raise money for ArtHouseSF.org, my nonprofit for co-op artists’ housing and venues in San Francisco. The annual anniversary of Proust’s death, November 18, 1922, slipped by without observation. I will surely throw another wake for Marcel in 2022, to observe the 100th anniversary of his death, and hopefully in a place he would love, where artists live and work.
But for the moment, here’s a video, shot by Scott Beale of Laughing Squid, who documented so much of Cacophony Society history, at one of the most spectacular Proust Wakes of all, in the John Wickett Museum of Exotica. The footage was taken during the prep and early hours of the party, when Scott could still get around with his camera.John Wickett was an heir to an enormous fortune, but as the black sheep son, he spent it to create the city’s long-lost Playland at the Beach. His museum housed Playland’s infamous Laughing Sal, that once terrorized children in the Fun House’s top floor corner window
The Fun House offered a wild variety of entertainments, which would never survive in this era of liability lawsuits. Just a few of them: a bumpy, 4-story tall wooden slide, which you sailed down on an empty potato sack, a massive, spinning metal disk with a central pole you sat against, until you were spun off and across the surrounding floor, and holes in the floor unexpectedly blowing out air that lifted your skirt over your head.
John Wickett is the white-haired gentleman in the video amusing my guests with tales of his collection and history. Scott didn’t capture some of my favorite things in the museum, like the 19th century opium den, the bathroom walls covered with odd jewelry, or the medieval iron chastity belt.
This Proust Wake was excellent, but the second one at the Wickett Museum was even better. I staged seance, with uninformed collaborators, asking questions that could be answered with quotes from Proust. My friend Stuart Mangrum was stationed in an aerie above the main floor, dressed and made up as Proust, with a long, thick cardboard tube, through which to read the responses to my questions. His first response, the deeply sonorous “Oui madame, je suis ici,” gave the guests quite a shock. At the end, Proust says that all this conversation is making him feel quite alive, and Stuart came nimbly down the ladder to thunderous acclaim.
This was the kind of thing that happened when the city was full of artists and eccentrics, and we could entertain ourselves, and the city, quite lavishly. I want to do this again.