Own a Piece of Divine, Sylvester, and the Cockettes

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2012 5:00 AM ET

If you are old enough to remember these posters for the Nocturnal Dream Shows at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco, it will be a happy (if maybe dizzy from drugs) walk down camp memory lane. If this is your first view of these historic pieces, they are a great record of the most delirious days of post-Stonewall San Francisco nightlife.

The artist Todd Trexler, best remembered for his iconographic posters and handbills for the Cockettes and Nocturnal Dream Shows at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco in the early '70s, has released reproductions of the famed posters for the first time in 40 years. These posters feature rising new stars of the time, including Randy Newman, Tower of Power, the Famed Cockettes, Sylvester, and Lady Divine — who trimmed her name to Divine after her live performances with the Cockettes.

The concerts and the Nocturnal Dream Shows were famed as much for their audiences — queers, beatniks, intellectuals — as for the performers, and Drexler's posters could be found on the kitchen walls of hippies, freaks, and gay men all over the city. As time passed and the success of the shows increased, the posters evolved from single color pen-and-ink drawings on inexpensive white paper to multicolored and color-separated images using mixed media and photography.

Trexler, who worked with Divine on the Vice Palace poster and photo shoot, says, "I absolutely adored working with Glenn [Milstead, Divine's given name] on the few occasions that I did. The day that we planned to take photos for the Vice Palace poster I'll never forget. Glenn and I sat in the backseat of a car with [business partner] Sebastian in the front. We drove around San Francisco looking for a place to use as a backdrop. We ended up at the Palace of Fine Arts and decided it was perfect. Glenn was in makeup, bib overalls with the sides split to make them large enough. He had tossed a couple of '50s net prom dresses in the trunk of the car. He slipped into a pair of open-toed backless mules and wrapped the prom dresses around himself and instantly became Divine. I took the photo, and that poster is an all-time favorite of my poster career!”

Trexler, who currently lives in Seaside, Calif., later became a registered nurse and HIV/AIDS educator and says he hadn't thought about those San Francisco days until a few years ago when Strange de Jim contacted him for his book San Francisco's Castro. Thus began his foray into his own archives. See them all at ToddTrexlerPosters.com.

On the following pages, find a few great samples.

Nocturnal Dream Shows
The Cockettes & Sylvester
New York City Show
November 1971

Divine
The Heartbreak of Psoriasis
Kabuki Theatre
June 1975

Nocturnal Dream Shows
Divine onstage in Divine Saves the World and on-screen in Multiple Maniacs, directed by John Waters
March 1972

Live Stage Show
Divine in Vice Palace, Goldie Glitters, and Pristine Condition, John Rothermel and Peter Arden in concert
October 1972

Finchley Boys and Sylvester, undated

Sebasian, Dennis Lopez & Greg Gobel, Sylvester & the Hot Band
Palace Theatre
December 31, 1972

Todd Trexler
San Francisco, 1972
Photo by Skosh

Todd Trexler
Monterey, Calif., 2012
Photo by Troy Bonnes

Todd Trexler and Sylvester
San Francisco, 1971
Photo by Tom Haehl