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Strange Days: Obituaries

Curtis Harrington

Actor and photographer Lisa Jane Persky pays tribute to legendary B-movie director, avant-gardist and esotericist Curtis Harrington, and reports from a very strange memorial service.

 
He had barely started when he was int­err­upted by Anger, who shouted juicy ‘corr­ect­ions’ to Larson’s speech

Curtis Harrington, dir­ector of famed weird B-movies such as Night Tide (1961), Games (1967), Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) and What’s the Matter With Helen? (1971) was one of very few avant-garde dir­ect­ors to succ­ess­fully make the trans­ition into comm­erc­ial film­mak­ing. He passed away at the age of 80 in Holly­wood on 6 May 2007 from com­plic­at­ions rel­ated to a stroke he had suff­ered in 2005.

“HID­EOUS BEYOND BELIEF… with an IN­HUMAN CRAV­ING!” was the tag­line for Harr­ing­ton’s best known cult class­ic, Queen of Blood (1966); strangely, it could have been app­lied to his fellow avant-gard­ist and occult cele­brity Kenn­eth Anger when he made an app­ear­ance at Harr­ing­ton’s burial serv­ice last month.

I met Harrington in 2006, at an open­ing for Dennis Hopp­er’s photo­graphs and paint­ings. Were were intro­duced by Greg­ory Poe, a friend with an apt last name. Harr­ing­ton was a life­long fan of Edgar Allan Poe and he began and ended his career with diff­er­ent vers­ions of 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Greg­ory told me that he de­signed fun­eral urns and that Curtis had already ord­ered his. A year later, at the For­ever Holly­wood Ceme­tery adjac­ent to Para­mount Studios, Harr­ing­ton was ready to put Mr Poe’s handi­work to use.

Harrington’s mem­or­ial serv­ice was an open-casket affair held in the ceme­tery’s small chapel. Among other guests was Kenn­eth Anger, who arr­ived with a cam­era­man in tow. Best known for his films Fire­works, Inaug­ur­at­ion of The Pleas­ure Dome (in which Harr­ing­ton app­eared, along­side Anaïs Nin) and Luc­ifer Rising, Anger is also the author of two com­pendia of trashy Holly­wood scandals, Holly­wood Baby­lon and Holly­wood Baby­lon II, and his name is often linked to those of Sat­an­ist Anton LaVey and the not­or­ious Aleis­ter Crow­ley.

Acc­ord­ing to Harr­ing­ton’s exec­utor, screen­writer Robert Mundy, Harr­ing­ton and Anger had been ‘friends’ since child­hood but had carr­ied on a life­long feud, during which Anger had repeat­edly been cruel to Harr­ing­ton. Be­cause of this, as well as the att­end­ant cam­era­man, Mundy asked Anger to leave. Anger in­formed Mundy that he would have to call the police to get him off the prop­erty. Event­ually, they reached a com­pro­mise, and Anger turned off the camera. But this didn’t pre­vent him from kiss­ing the em­balmed face of Harr­ing­ton or from taking a seat in the front row. Anger, who is also 80, looks hardy and sports the in­tense, bullet-headed look of Aleis­ter Crow­ley in his later years.

Actor Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson in the 1950s Super­man tele­vis­ion series), who was to be the only speak­er at the serv­ice, de­scribed the Holly­wood mil­ieu that he and Curtis ent­ered in the 1940s. He had barely started when he was int­err­upted by Anger, who shouted juicy ‘corr­ect­ions’ to Larson’s speech. Larson per­sev­ered as Anger con­tin­ued to pro­vide a runn­ing comm­ent­ary in a we-of-the-theatre tone. Larson re­ferred to a mutual friend, ‘Paul’ from Pasa­dena, who ran a ‘coven’ which att­racted many people, includ­ing Harr­ing­ton and him­self. At this, Anger shouted “NO! NO! It was an order of the Ordo Templi Orientis and it was of as high a degree as 33rd degree Mas­onry. I am a 33rd-degree member through Crow­ley.” Previ­ous to this, Larson had already men­tioned Crow­ley and Anger had corr­ected his pro­nun­ciat­ion: “Crow as in Crow. Then Lee.”

Larson men­tioned that ‘Paul’ had supp­os­edly created a hom­un­cu­lus. Anger agreed – “OH HE DID! I saw it. It held my hand. Its little hand, like a ten­tacle, wrapp­ed itself around my finger. There were 33 others in the crib, but not in full-fruit­ion like this one” – sugg­est­ing that deg­rees of Mas­onry and hom­un­culi litter have some­thing in common. A number of act­resses were in­volved in the “coven”, one of whom report­edly saw the hom­un­cu­lus. Anger in­formed the guests that who­ever sees a hom­un­cu­lus is hence­forth re­spons­ible for its life, and this, he sugg­ested, may be why she ult­im­ately became a re­cluse.

Larson re­counted that ‘Paul’ supp­os­edly had a tail. Anger con­curred. “I SAW IT!” he shouted. “I showed it to Kinsey and he said that wasn’t so unus­ual – one man in 50,000 has one.” In the 1950s, the sex­o­lo­gist Alfred Kinsey became int­er­ested in Anger and his films, and in 1955 the two visited the site of Crow­ley’s ‘Abbey of Thel­ema’ in Cefalu, Sicily.

Acc­ord­ing to Larson, ‘Paul’s’ home burned to the ground. Anger exp­lained why. “HOWARD DID IT!” he ex­claimed. “Howard Hughes, who was crazy because he had syph­ilis of the brain.” For once no one dis­ag­reed, al­though this did prod­uce some uncom­fort­able laugh­ter.

Toward the end of Lars­on’s speech, Anger ann­ounced that he and Harr­ing­ton had both been dying of pros­tate cancer (al­though Harr­ing­ton didn’t die of this) and that he had told Harr­ing­ton that he would out­live him. Anger then in­formed every­one that his own mem­or­ial would be here, in the same place. He turned toward the crowd and said “Oh yes, It’s been con­firmed. I know the date of my death. On Hall­ow­e’en 2008. My mem­or­ial. RIGHT HERE! HALL­OW­E’EN 2008!” Then, as an after­thought, he added, “INVIT­AT­ION ONLY! Sorry.”

Across from Anger’s seat was a huge floral bouq­uet. The card read: “For my old pal Kurtiz (sic) from his old rival Kenn­eth Anger”. The note, which usu­ally bears the name of the dec­eased, read “Dr. Kenn­eth Anger,” making it look as though it was Anger’s fun­eral in­stead, well ahead of sched­ule. One of the themes Harr­ing­ton exp­lored in Queen of Blood and other films is that of beings who feed off others. With this in mind, one ass­umes that Anger won’t starve to death.

A second mem­or­ial serv­ice sans Anger was held at the Acad­emy of Motion Pict­ure Arts and Sciences on hist­oric Vine Street. Speak­ers there in­cluded scream queen Barb­ara Steele, dir­ect­ors Peter Medak (The Krays) and Bill Condon (Dream­girls), and Dennis Hopper, who app­eared in Harr­ing­ton’s early work Night Tide. This film also feat­ured Marj­orie Cam­eron, the widow of Jack Pars­ons, the sci­ent­ist at Pasa­dena’s Jet Pro­puls­ion Lab­or­at­ory who was also a foll­ower of Aleis­ter Crow­ley. Cam­eron app­eared in Anger’s Inaug­ur­at­ion of the Pleas­ure Dome and was part of the occult bo­hemia de­picted in John Carter’s Sex and Rock­ets: The Occult World of Jack Pars­ons, and it’s quite poss­ible that Pars­ons was the ‘Paul’ that Super­man’s pal and Crow­ley’s dev­otee had argued about at the previ­ous serv­ice. Pars­ons blew him­self and his house up in an ‘acc­id­ent’, al­though there are sus­pic­ions it may have been sui­cide. Then too, they may have been speak­ing of Paul Mathi­son, the art dir­ec­tor and actor who played Pan in Inaug­ur­at­ion of The Pleas­ure Dome.

In a short docu­ment­ary screened at the Anger-free event, Harr­ing­ton had the last word: “There is the exo­teric and the eso­teric… That’s what I’m int­er­ested in. The eso­teric. What goes on be­neath.” He also had a sense of humour. “Did you know,” the hus­band asks his wife in Games, “that Aimee Semple McPher­son was buried with a tele­phone?” “Why?” “Just in case,” a nod, to be sure, to Poe’s “The Pre­mat­ure Burial.” Harr­ing­ton is now en­tombed at Holly­wood For­ever in an urn made by another Poe, in which, sadly, there is no room for a tele­phone. The obit­u­ary in Vari­ety claimed Harr­ing­ton had no sur­viv­ors, but this isn’t true. He has Anger, wheth­er he wants him or not, along with a cot­e­rie of friends and admir­ers. Most im­port­antly, he is sur­vived by the prints of his films, which have been willed to The Motion Pict­ure Acad­emy.


Curtis Harrington, director and occultist, born 26 Sept 1927; died Hollywood 6 May 2007, aged 80.

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