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September 07, 1999
With deep sorrow we inform you that photographer & Gay
pioneer Avery Willard Parsons, Jr.
AVERY WILLARD PARSONS, Jr.
The Roll Call (updated 9/15/98)
Avery Willard began his career as a kid who loved movies & theatre growing up in the 1920s & 1930s. He wrote to film stars & collected autographs. As he got older he was able to meet some of these greats. His autograph books, now given to The ARCHIVE, you'll find the signatures of Lum & Abner, Laurel & Hardy, Judy Garland & many others.
In his 20s he realized his dream of being an actor & began a career in theatre. He even had his name up in lights above the title on a marquee when he was in "Abie's Irish Rose". But, as he admitted, he wasn't a very good actor & the productions he was in were out of town productions.
He then discovered his true talent & career as a photographer. He had a flair for studio lighting & found a wonderful apartment just off 5th avenue in the 1940s. He photographed there, at Stars homes, & outdoors. He was hired by a jewelry company to photographer Broadway Stars wearing their wares. He photographed plays & did numerous headshots and portfolios of rising talent. Among the names he photographed are: Lillian & Dorothy Gish, Paul Newman, Butterfly McQueen, William Redfield, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, Tessie O'Shea, Jessica Tandy, Polly Bergen, Marie Powers, Luise Rainer, Richard Burton, Maureen Stapleton, Peggy Lee, Alice Ghostley, Geraldine Page, Paul Lynde, Gwen Verdon, Robert Culp, Charlotte Raye, Dody Goodman, Ruth Brown, Hermione Gingold, Louis Jourdan & Lotte Lenya
His personal passion was leather & his interest drag. He loved going to drag shows & became friends with Ray Bourbon, Charles ""I'm not a drag queen" Pierce & many more. Privately in his 20s he started photographing male nudes. Then in the 50s he started spending more time photographing rough young men in his studio before hopping into bed with them. He dressed them as cowboys, policemen, sailors, soldiers, bikers, etc. These he offered to physique mags under the name Willard & also sold prints to the public. He continued with a passion into the sexually free 60s. Then in 1968 the totally corrupt NYPD under orders from the totally homophobic powers at Gracie mansion went too far. The NYPD got regular bribes from the Mafia who owned the Gay bars.Just for show they would stage raids on the bars to please the mayor & right wing. Neither the cops nor the Mafia gave a damn about the fag clientele. Their only use was their money. On that night in 1968 at a bar called The Stonewall justice awaited the corrupt. The Drag Queens had PMS & bashed the cops to a pulp. Whimpering they locked themselves inside the bar & the fags through bottles & bricks & even tried to burn the bar down. Gay Liberation had arrived & gifted all with PRIDE.
Willard had the vision to start a Gay newspaper. As Bruce King he started publishing GAY SCENE. From then to 1992, over 20 years, he put out the paper that featured Gay & major studio films, Gay & non-Gay plays on & off Broadway, explicit nudes & was the first to have obits.
His health suffered over the years. He developed Parkinson's Disease & urinary tract problems. Sales of Gay Scene drastically fell as the national Gay Press came into being. The Advocate & Vector started coming into the city from California. Mandate, In Touch, Blueboy, The Native, Christopher Street, etc. etc. etc. the flood never ended. Willard liked what he was doing & never changed. Gay Scene looked the same year after year & sales dropped further & further.
In 1980 Willard developed a cancerous growth on the back of his neck & needed surgery. He contacted Man-Age Studios about being the new house photographer for Gay Scene which they accepted. He recovered & went on.
Things worsen for him. He had to find jobs for additional income to afford to be able to publish his newspaper. He & it had become a regular & he was on everyone's mailing list. Books were sent in to be reviewed. He was on the press list for all motion picture studios & all Broadway Press Agents. He went to screenings of new films & attended new plays. Studios like Falcon sent him comp copies of their new videos. This was what he lived for. In 1991 he lost his typesetter & hired photographer/journalist John Cox to typeset the newspaper which he put together up at his studio.
On a Sunday in May of 1992 he called John to say he had fallen & broken his hip. He asked John if he would drop the typesetting off of at his studio. John thought it odd since you go to a hospital for a broken bone & here was Willard saying he was staying in bed like he had a cold. Monday came but there was no answer at the door & no response via phone. John figured he had gone to the hospital but calls to hospitals showed he wasn't there & still no response to calls. On Thursday John went over & get another tenant to let him into the building. He knocked at Willard's door & he called out that he was in bed & couldn't get to the door, leave the stuff with someone. John said "if you can't answer the door I can't leave you". He called 911. EMS workers talked to him through the door & then police broke in the door. There Willard was, in his boxers on the floor in a pool of urine. His eye swollen up & blackened. He was delirious. Piecing things together John concluded he had gotten up to go to the bathroom after they spoke & he had fallen very hard on the cement floor knocking himself out. There he lay till they broke in. He was rushed to St. Like's/Roosevelt Hospital. His kidneys had shut down, he suffered from exposure, malnutrition, concussion, shock, lack of his medications, dehydration. John was told by the officers & paramedics that he was 24-48 hours from death.
A month in Roosevelt then on to a nursing home where he resides today. Thanks to wonderful caring he's doing well. His medication keeps the Parkinson's as much at bay as can be. He's been interviewed by local newspapers about his career as a Broadway photographer. His images of Lillian Gish were accepted into the permanent collection by the Museum of Modern Art. He also gave two talks to residents about his Broadway career.
All of Avery's theatre images have been given to the Library For The Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Some were featured in the Library's 2005 exhibit celebrating 50 years of Joe Papp's Public Theatre. The New York Public Library has established "THE AVERY WILLARD COLLECTION" to cover all of Avery's work from theatre to fashion to male nudes. Such is their evaluation of his contribution to the Arts. John Cox also gave the library the nation's only complete collection of Avery's historic newspaper GAY SCENE. The Library is being given all of Avery's photography of the early Gay Liberation Parades and the Greenwich Village Halloween parades. They were given his Ava Graph drag films and his explicit male films. His male nude photography will be turned over to them at a later date.
Man-Age Press owns his nude images. Contact them if you have an interest.