DCS: stephen donaldson

Donny the Punk

Stephen Donaldson was a troubled kid. He had regular run-ins with police, mostly due to his confrontational behavior. He was an outspoken advocate for bisexual rights in a time where homosexuality was classified as a crime. He campaigned and wrote about homosexuals being unjustly, inhumanely and savagely discriminated against by large segments of American society. He had ally in Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society.

Stephen was imprisoned in Washington DC, arrested for taking part in a demonstration. While incarcerated, he was set-up by the head prison guard to be raped by a large group of inmates. This was done in anticipation of an article Stephen was writing about prison reform. His subsequent press conference, during which he spoke freely and openly about the horrific incident, brought the issue of prison rape to the forefront for the first time. He eventually became the president of Stop Prisoner Rape, an organization formed to help prisoners deal with the psychological and physical trauma of rape. (In 2008, the organization became known as Just Detention International.)

Stephen moved on to music journalism, using the name “Donny the Punk.” His articles kept an edgy tone and touched on other related areas, including anti-racist skinhead subcultures.

Still active as an advocate for LGBT rights, Stephen passed away in 1996 at the age of 49. His death was determined to be AIDS-related.

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DCS: elise cowen

hear me roar

Elise Cowen was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. A quiet girl, she found personal solace in writing poetry, using the works of Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas as inspiration. While working as an office typist, Elise was introduced to beat poet Allen Ginsburg. The two began a romantic relationship, even though they were each exploring their own individual sexual identity. Elise and Allen’s friendship grew stronger and the pair remained close for their entire lives. Elise typed Allen’s poem “Kaddish,” a reflection of the life of Allen’s mother. Allen began a relationship with Peter Orlovsky, who became his partner for life. Around the same time, Elise also began a same-sex relationship and the two couples shared an apartment.

Elise moved to San Francisco and became active in the emerging Beat community. While in San Francisco, Elise became pregnant and underwent a hysterectomy during a late-stage abortion. She eventually returned to Manhattan, checking into Bellevue Hospital to seek treatment for hepatitis and severe psychological breakdowns. She checked herself out against doctors’ orders and returned to her parents’ apartment under the guise that she was going to accompany them on a Miami vacation. At her parents’ apartment, she committed suicide by jumping through a locked living room window and falling seven stories to her death. She was 27 years old.

Her parents were devastated. Afterwards, they discovered Elise’s poetry notebooks. Disgusted and embarrassed by the content referencing homosexuality and drug use, they burned every one of them. However, Elise had given one of her notebooks to her friend Leo Skir, a fellow Beat poet. It contained 83 of her poems. Leo had a number of them published in several Beat magazines. A volume of Elise’s poetry entitled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments was published posthumously in 2014.

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DCS: rusty warren

While Julie London was crying a river and Peggy Lee had a fever, Rusty Warren was calling on women nationwide to heed her battle cry of “Knockers up!”

Ilene Goldman studied music at the New England Conservatory of Music. She performed in small clubs in and around the Boston area and even claimed Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler as her musical mentor. But as the conservative 50s became the 1960s, Ilene, using the stage name “Rusty Warren,” relaxed her inhibitions and became the unofficial “Mother of the Sexual Revolution.” Her act went from simple songs with piano accompaniment to bawdy free-for-alls filled with raucous singalongs. Rusty peppered her stage banter with decidedly salty language. She spoke freely and frankly about sex, hoping to encourage women to speak openly about their own sexuality. While up-and-comers like Joan Rivers, Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller were doing their best to break mainstream comedic barriers in the male-dominated field of stand-up, Rusty took a skewed route, aligning herself with folks like Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley. This was the 1960s! Respectable women didn’t speak like this! But Rusty didn’t care. She spoke her mind and spoke for those who were too shy to express how they felt. And she was hilarious! Recordings of her live shows were marketed as “party records,” with instruction to be listened in a social environment.

Rusty released 15 albums over the course of her career. Her most successful, 1960’s Knockers Up!, debuted at Number 31 on the Billboard charts. It remained on the charts for three years and sold over one and a half million copies. Rusty’s modest fan club grew its membership in 1962, swelling to over 70,000 members.

I was around 14 the first time I heard Rusty Warren. I was a big fan of the Dr. Demento syndicated radio show. One night, the good doctor spun Rusty’s 1961 single, the anthemic “Bounce Your Boobies.” Here was this woman — sounding not unlike my grandmother — rallying her female cohorts to “show the guys we have something to give in this world today.” The song was funny and sexy and — to my 14-year-old sensibilities — dirty. I loved it!

Rusty passed away in her sleep on May 25, 2021. She was 91. She left behind a small, but significant, contribution to women everywhere.

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