Only a couple weeks after the Tiffany Theater "beamed up," a special memorial was held for the theater's original Frank N Furter, D. Garrett Gafford, who passed away earlier this year. As his ashes were spread at sea, we listened to "I'm Going Home" and tossed red carnations. We thought of tossing cards, but not all in attendance were of the Rocky clan so we passed on that idea. I also refrained from tossing an SS Titanic life preserver in the mix, though I know Garrett would have appreciated either gesture.
Below is my long and rambling blog from when we heard of Garrett's passing earlier this year.
Cards for Sorrow 6/1/13
Time was on my side, back when I was young and summer was forever - Paul Williams
No words were ever truer. The lyric, from an early Paul Williams song called (appropriately) Time, really captures how I feel as of late, especially after hearing of the loss of a very special friend from Rocky Horror's early days.
When I was a teenager in the 70s, all road led to Rocky Horror. There were other theaters for me as the cult was growing, but I had found a weekly home from the moment I walked in the door at the Tiffany theater a week after seeing Tim Curry open his Read My Lips tour a the Roxy, a few blocks down Sunset Blvd.
The Tiffany was already a major Rocky Horror location, having hosted the film beginning the summer before I arrived. My friend Corky Quakenbush (the same guy who later created the fabulously twisted animated parodies of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on Mad TV) had been performing as Riff Raff at both the Tiffany and Fox Venice, along with one of the first-ever Frank-N-Furters, Michael Wolfson (who was featured in the Bill Henkin book.)
Michael, however, was not the only Frank at the Tiffany. From the earliest screenings (beginning on June 10, 1977) another, very passionate, Frank was sharing the pre-show stage. Back in those days, there was not yet such a thing as a cast, not in the current directed sense, anyway. I don't mean just at this theater, I mean anywhere. People just started showing up dressed up, and a variety of people took the spotlight, so to speak.
Because Michael lived on the west side, he eventually stuck with the Fox Venice. Using his theatrical aspirations, Michael created The Rocky Horror Revue, which may have been the very first organized cast with applications, rehearsals and a name. Once that took hold, Michael, Corky and their crew left Hollywood (which was really their second theater, anyway), and Garrett remained the lone Frank-N-Furter on the Sunset Strip for then next several years during Rocky Horror's peak years.
Garrett once told me, there was never a competition between the two of them, as Garrett immediately established dominance at the Tiffany. Though for those of us who frequented both venues appreciated the both, there was a big difference. Where Michael played a role, Garrett became a character. It was more than a hobby to Garrett; it was a lifestyle. I'm sure many of you can relate.
Although there are similarities to all Rocky theater histories, the Tiffany in Hollywood was a sought-out destination. Rocky Horror played in many theaters in the Los Angeles area, but every Rocky regular at some point heard about he Tiffany and thousands made a pilgrimage there. There was a lot of international media coverage of the ongoing insanity. After all, it was Hollywood in the late 70s. Over time, the Tiffany became legendary, as did Garrett. Part of Garrett's awesome presence came from the fact that Garrett was a living, breathing, transsexual. Garrett was born a woman but lived as a man. This was, not surprisingly, what drew Garrett to the movie and the character. I don't know that I've ever heard of another true transsexual playing Frank, and, honestly, in 1977 that took more than "balls" to pull off.
I had been going to Rocky there for a several weeks before actually meeting Garrett. One night, my best friend and Rocky companion, Lisa, and I went dressed as the American Gothic couple from "Dammit, Janet" because Little Lisa (we shared the same name, though she became "Little" Lisa and me "Big" Lisa, much to my chagrin) had found a pitchfork in her garage. I also frequently wore a pair of overalls. Add my sister's granny glasses and a black blazer and a Judy Jetson ponytail, and there I was. Not surprisingly, we were invited to join the pre-show that night, and got a lot of laughs. Sound mundane? Trust me-it was different back then. It really hadn't been done before.
After the movie, Garrett came up to Lisa and I in the lobby and thanked us for joining in. Garrett also said I see you here a lot-what're your names? I didn't miss a beat. In a loud, mock-Magenta, I replied "I'm Lisa, She's Lisa (at which point Little Lisa caught on and joined) You're Lisa, we're ALL LISA." It was quite cinematic, if I do say so myself. From that point forward, Lisa and I were part of the furniture at the Tiffany, and became friends with Garrett both inside and outside of the theater.
I could easily write a book about the next couple of years. There were highs, lows, and a fair amount of drama. Sex, drugs and rock n roll do take their toll, and by the time the Tiffany closed in 1983, Garrett hung up his/her cape and moved on to real life. We all splintered off at some point, and so many of us did not keep in touch.
Many years later, I started searching for Garrett. The only trace I could find was a medical study from UCLA that referenced Garrett as a cancer survivor. The paper was old, but I took it as evidence that Garrett was alive. Friendster came and went, as did MySpace. Finally, Facebook took hold and so many of our old group reunited, but we all had the same question--what ever happened to Garrett?
There's a longer story, but eventually, all the pieces seemed to fit into place. I found a man in Las Vegas that I became convinced was our Garrett. Armed only with a mailing address, I sent a greeting card with a picture of the Roxy Theater on the front inquiring if this was indeed the same person, and letting him know that there were many who remembered him fondly, and wanted to welcome him back into our growing community. I included my phone number and mailed the letter.
Less than a week later, I got a phone call, and heard the familiar voice. We hadn't spoken in over 30 years, but it was like only a few weeks had passed. We talked for hours. The most moving part was the admission from Garrett that when it all ended, he felt like an outcast. He thought everyone hated him. He was truly touched to know how many still cared. The icing on the cake? We were having a reunion in a few months, and Garrett couldn't wait to be part of it.
We spoke several times after that, and it was devastating to all of us when Garrett suffered a stroke towards the end of the year. Down but not out, Garrett was still planning on attending when he suffered a second stroke. It was discovered that Garrett had a brain tumor a few weeks before our March reunion. Garrett was not going to make the reunion, but let us know he still planned on coming to Los Angeles for a visit as soon as he was up and able.
On May 5th, 2013, D. Garrett Gafford joined a growing list of absent friends.
Although I am deeply saddened by Garrett's passing, I can't help but feel the joy from our brief reconnection. Sometimes, things happen for a reason, and I feel that there were so many positive revelations and emotions that came from Garrett finding out late in his life how loved he was, and how he was remembered by so many people, and how important he was to the early days of the cult. For Garrett, the days at the Tiffany were some of the best in his life, a feeling that is shared by so many. It truly was a gift to be able to speak with Garrett in his final days, providing blues skies through the tears.