Part 19-2 of the series. The year is 1976.
Many thanks to vivacious for the great header!
"Take It To The Limit”
On May 23, 1976, the news broke a scandalous story: For nearly two years, Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), powerful chairman of the House Administration Committee, has kept a woman on his staff who says she is paid $14,000 a year in public money to serve as his mistress. "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone," says Elizabeth Ray, 27, who began working for Hays in April 1974 as a clerk. Since then, Ray says she has not been asked to do any Congress-related work and appears at her Capitol Hill office once or twice a week for a few hours. Her “office” was next to that of Rep. Bella Abzug.
The phone at C.A.T. rang.
“This is Buffy, how may I direct your call?”
“Is this the right number for the...ummm, organization that helps hookers?”
I laughed. “Yes, in a manner of speaking. What can we do for you?”
“My name is Carol Conners, I’m a songwriter. I wrote the lyrics for the film, “Rocky” among others.”
“Oh yes, I was at the awards this year. Great song!”
“Thank you. I understand you are going to Washington D.C. soon for a convention. I have a proposition for you, one that could make you a lot of money.”
“I’m all ears.” Hard to imagine why she was calling, but I was about to hear.
“You know about Elizabeth Ray...the mistress of Congressman Hays?” She said in a lowered voice.
“Sure, who doesn’t by now?”
“Well, I have it on good word she has a decent singing voice...even if she can’t type... “ she laughed. “I’ve written a song for her. It’s called ‘Anything Goes On the Hill’. I recorded a cassette of it and am proposing you take it to Washington, and if you can get her to listen to it and agree to sing it, I’m prepared to give you 10% of all proceeds when she records it.”
We took the deal, just as we would take the cassette to Washington with us. How difficult could it be to get Ms. Ray to listen to the tape? She probably needed the money by now; even if the sheer flattery that a song had been written for her hadn’t occurred to her.
There was no doubt we were excited and thrilled to be going. We printed our C.A.T. T-shirts, boxed them up, packed our suitcases and took off for Washington D.C. . On June 20th the two of us young, smart, attractive and politically naive, were off and running headlong into the biggest adventure of our lives.
It is of some note, that in order to incorporate The Feminist Party Convention, The National Organization for Women, and the National Democratic Council (among others) to come up with a Hooker’s Lobby, C.O.Y.O.T.E. was holding a co-convention at the Sheraton-Park Hotel on June 21. It was to address the issues of prostitution, rape, family-violence, as well as the economic exploitation of women.
We (as a group) were also hosting a Congressional Reception on June 21, from 5:30 to midnight. (A no-hostess bar.) It would be held at The Wellington Hotel in Georgetown. We would also be showing a documentary video production of the organizing and de-criminalizing efforts in the United States and Europe. Speakers would include Florynce Kennedy, Margo St. James and myself.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug wrote us back (on official Congress of the United States stationary) to wish us the best, letting us know she could not see us at the cocktail party due to her commitments running for Senate in New York. Would we consider coming to New York during the Democratic Convention?
The night of the cocktail reception Lois and I mingled with the guests, of whom most turned out to be press, though not all. I found myself having a lively chat with a very attractive, charming aide (Steve Hammond) to the Senator (Robert Tunney) from California.
This is me and Margo St. James at the party, as written about the next day in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
I was assigned a meeting room upstairs from the main party to give my talk, so I left ...with nearly all of the press following me, much to the dismay of Margo. My speaking kept the press mesmerized in the room for, over an hour. Margo had maybe three reporters to the thirty or so in my room. I was a thorn in her side, as one reporter rubbed in when he wrote in his newspaper; “I was interviewing Margo St. James. She was interesting but not as interesting as Buffy Wilson ...” This was her dog and pony show, but the youngsters from Hollywood had, quite literally by accident, stolen the show with their freshness.
The following morning I found a letter in my mailbox at the hotel from Steve H. (the aide), asking me to call him for a promised dinner date, and letting me know he’s seen my movie and my part got, “3 stars” from him.
I did call Steve, and we had a wonderful time together. He was so different than men I had known. Raised in the South and son of wealthy parents, Steve was Ivy League, very preppy, tall, with classically good looking features and well-mannered with a natural ease I appreciated. He was a true southern gentleman, in every sense of the word.
He lived in a great big leased house in Georgetown, and invited us to stay there, using it as our home base. His roommates had gone home for the summer but he stayed. The price, and location fit our budget perfectly, so I did take him up on his gracious and generous offer. I must confess... I was completely totally infatuated with him and looked forward to spending time with him.
The convention included the First International Hooker’s Film Festival in Georgetown, with my film kicking off the various groups of women’s films. The film festival would run for three days. My assigned job was to take care of the desk in the lobby, checking off the names of the people (press) who had paid to see various films showing on each day. Of course it was also ideal to autograph items, answer questions and sell additional T-shirts.
Manning the lobby of the theater.
The next day’s Washington Post article and photo showing me there.
The entire convention had been a resounding success, so much so we decided to stay in town longer, over the Bicentennial weekend. Steve had a friend with a boat, and we all would spend the evening partying on the Potomac River watching our nations fireworks celebration of the Bicentennial. It was an unforgettable night.
C.O.Y.O.T.E. was busy organizing a “Loiter-In”, responsible solely due to the fact the New York legislature had just passed a law “prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution”. It was passed just before the convention expressly to keep “working girls” off the street. That enraged Margo, so she mobilized all of us into action. The plan was to have “straight” women meet, and be dispatched to various points around the convention, with no apparent reason for being there, to see if the “law” was discriminatory. The police did not arrest any women.
The decision to attend the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York was made, and we were on our way via train to New York City on July 15th, invited to stay at the Manhattan apartment of Florynce Kennedy (who coincidentally happened to live in an apartment first occupied by singer Billie Holiday). That night Lois, Flo and I began making signs to be carried in the march in protest of many things N.O.W. and other women’s groups perceived as injustices towards women.
This photo of me (right) and Lois (left) would be published in an article that appeared in Ms. Magazine in 1976.
That night I stood in Billie Holiday’s and now Flo’s kitchen, cooking us a Southern dinner of pork chops with gravy. I remember Flo being impressed that I knew how to make country gravy. We were going to need strength for the march the next morning.
In the morning a call came into Flo’s home just as we were about to leave, it was for me. It seems word about the “not so kind” things I had said about Mr. Conforte’s brothel had gotten back to him and he was livid. The message to me, passed along by the film producer, was; “Shut your f****** mouth, or else!” I assured Rob I would be careful, but Flo, being an attorney refused to let me walk in the march, instead riding in her car. She felt it was a “safety” issue and was taking no chances with our lives.
I, on the other hand, was infuriated by the thought this man would reach out and threaten me, through someone else, from thousands of miles away. He did not know me enough to realize the distance between us ( both since I left the brothel years ago, and the miles) meant I would refuse to be silenced by his threats. I had absolutely no intention of shutting my mouth to satisfy his warped ego. I had a job to do and his threats would never stop me from stating an opinion based on my experiences working there.
Each night in New York, we were invited to several parties. The convention was in progress and parties were a part of it. Studio 54 was in full swing, and though we stood in the line outside with Margo and her friend, Lily Tomlin. We did not go inside when they did because we did not have the money to gain entrance with them. We did make it into a photo People™ Magazine took of the line though.
One night we went up to a hotel room where we were informed a great party was going on. We knocked, and upon entering saw a group of young people. I took a seat next to a cute young man, who introduced himself as David Kennedy. Yes, it was the David Kennedy. I caught my breath, then realized he was ...not exactly sober. Also there was his best friend, Chris Lawford, who in turn introduced us to a very strange man, writer Dr. Hunter Thompson. Chris left shortly afterwards.
At one point Hunter took a cassette tape and put it into a player he then shoved inside of a metal trashcan held by David. The sounds emanating and echoing were absolutely sickening; screams and grunts. Hunter said they were sounds of people being prodded with a cattle prod inside of a mental institution. The sound of it seemed to make David sick to his stomach (or maybe it was drugs he was ingesting) but he ran into the bathroom just in time. Lois and I were both questioning how we had ended up with this group. When David came back he continued to flirt me, and invited me to Hyannis Port to meet his family. I chalked it up to him being “high”. Somehow, I seriously doubted that any of the Kennedy’s would have welcomed me with opened arms. We left shortly afterwards, amazed at what was happening there, and not wanting to be anywhere in sight if they were to get busted.
We left NY after the convention and headed for Washington D.C., once again taking the train. The film was opening in the D.C. theaters beginning the next night. I was slated to appear beforehand to sign autographs, and afterwards there would be a question and answer period from the audience.
As the taxi drove up to the theater I froze. When I looked out of the window, the entire side of the theater had been covered with a poster advertising the film, a poster I had no prior knowledge of. It was depicting my eyes, blown up to the size of a building! It was the most surreal moment so far. While I was in the lobby awaiting my talk at the film’s end, a brown Fiat pulls up and Chris Lawford hops out, comes to me and whispers something into my ear, then turns and leaves! It was reported the following day in the Washington Post gossip column, called The Ear. I have always wondered who reported that to the newspaper. In fact, I would make the gossip columns three times during my D.C. days.
The newspaper clipping of the poster advertising the film and my appearance:
I was also busy doing media, television and radio shows in conjunction with my film. I went to Philadelphia because they were running the film at their annual, “Philadelphia Philmfest”. One tv show I taped, “The Joel Spivak Show”, happen to close with the announcement of the following week’s guests. Incredibly Elizabeth Ray was slated. I looked at Lois and she back at me and we knew exactly where we would be the following week. I called the organizer of the film and asked if we could stay overnight with his family to be at the television studio early enough for the show.
Incredibly, the television shows I was doing in Washington had all booked Elizabeth Ray too, so it became our “mission” to try and get the tape of the song Carol had written to her. We carried a cassette player with us and sang it for the press, we approached her in the ladies rooms begging her to listen, were present at her television appearances, until finally she got so paranoid about the two young women who seemed to follow her everywhere, we were forced to give up on the idea. She threatened not to appear on one show after she saw us there, yet again, and locked herself inside of the dressing room until we left.
It had been ten weeks since we left LA, Lois and I had to get back home. We still had big dreams to fulfill there.