One night in 1983, my wife Barbara answered an unexpected knock at the door. There stood our friends Bill and Phil carrying the limp body of Perkins Harnly. They had found him passed out on the floor of his room at the Culver City Hotel, disoriented, dehydrated and not long for this world. After a couple of days of Gatorade and chicken soup, he felt well enough to see a doctor, who diagnosed the flu, Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer. He recovered from prostate surgery at our place, but couldn’t get the hang of his catheter bag, tending to drag it behind him like a very long tail. The Alzheimer’s progressed rapidly, making it practically impossible for him to care for himself. He gave up his apartment, quit his job at the cafeteria where he had worked for 38 years, and moved into our spare room. It was one of the happiest periods of our lives. Sure, it was a lot of work; but he compensated us handsomely with wisdom, inspiration and good humor.  Concerning our hospitality, he conveyed constant gratitude, hardly believing that anyone would care so much about “a dilapidated old queen.” He was 82 years old and feeble— shaky on his legs even with a cane—but he was still the proverbial life of the party. Our friends adored him, and he thought they were all “first rate.”  A raconteur nonpareil, he regaled us with his vast knowledge of old Hollywood (particularly the naughty parts), peppering his tales with charming, archaic phrases such as “extreme hair- letting,” as in “I went to an orgy in 1925 and took part in some extreme hair-letting down.”  He was a master of self- deprecation: Once, on the 90way to a soiree, we struggled several minutes to extricate him from the back of a
Our Friend Perkins Harnly by  Tom Huckabee
 I was initially mortified at the wake, when they started doling out Perkins’ ashes. But when people who barely knew him took scoops, I got in line. I’ve been living with my portion of Perkins Harnly for many years, now. It is on the shelf in my den underneath a painting he did of Victorian prostitutes dancing on furniture, entitled "When the Madame's Away, the Girls Will Play.” Next to that is a photo he took of himself made up to look like a psychotic Mary Pickford. I talk to Perkins on a regular basis, and he always provides good company.    --Rocky Schenck
 twodoor sedan. When the ordeal was over he exclaimed, “Now, that you’ve gotten the corpse out of the car, what are you going to do with it?” We arranged for a new-wave art gallery to exhibit his last batch of watercolors. The subject matter combined Victoriana, erotica and Dada. Gerry Casale from Devo bought a picture of a flower opening to reveal a vulva inside. Everything about Perkins was extreme: His life experience vacillated between asceticism and libertinage. He was equally comfortable in a cathouse or a cathedral. Although he gave the impression of being obsessed with sex, he claimed to not have actually had any in 40 years.  He called himself a necrophile, as opposed to necrophiliac, (a thin distinction in most dictionaries) by which he meant that he loved anything having to do with death: funerals, tombstones, mummification, etc. He collected photos of cemeteries from around the world, most of which he snapped himself with an instamatic, pinching pennies from his meager salary to afford the airfare. This morbid interest led him as a young man to seek employment at a mortuary, where he worked as an embalmer and make-up artist.  He liked to shock us with detailed descriptions of the beautiful young cadavers on which he gave extra attention, provocatively hinting at deeper transgressions.  He appreciated conservative morality but would not live by it. Homosexuality was a perversion, he believed, ergo, he was a pervert—and proud of it. Interestingly enough,the politician he admired most was Ronald Reagan, with whom he corresponded. In his younger days he had been, in his own words, a pimp, alcoholic, pothead, reprobate, unfaithful husband and deadbeat dad. But in his twilight years, as far as we knew, he was nothing less than a model citizen and perfect gentleman.
    He first entered our lives in 1981, after our friend Rocky met him on line at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood.  They were both there to see the avant-garde rarity, Salome, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s version of the bible story, with sets inspired by Aubrey Beardsley. The film featured Nazimova, a notorious lesbian, cavorting with two dozen male homosexuals. Rocky initiated the conversation, asking the little old man in the bow tie if he’d seen the film before.  “I should say so!” boasted Perkins,  “I was at the premiere in 1923!  And I've wanted to see it again ever since!”   The other guy was a lot taller, prompting the ancient diva to lambaste Perkins for not holding up his end.  By the time they arrived at her room on the tenth floor, he despised his former idol, and he took revenge by sneaking into her room while she was out, swiping the bottom layer of her chocolates and devouring them with glee. At some point, I don’t know when, he married a prostitute and pimped for her. They had a son; and a year later, his wife—who was more than plump—felt sick to her stomach.  He took her to the emergency room, where the doctor said she was in labor. “No I’m not,” she exclaimed, “I’m not even knocked up!”  Before long, out dropped a healthy baby girl.  Mr. and Mrs. Harnly were neither ideal parents nor compatible spouses; and following the divorce, Perkins had little contact with her or their children. During the Depression, he fled Nebraska for the West Coast, followed by an extensive excursion south of the border. Long fascinated by religious iconography, he made dozens of renderings of Mexican altarpieces, which he transformed into vivid watercolors of true spiritual feeling.   These pictures and others of his home state’s Victorian interiors led to his first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Francis Toor Gallery in Mexico City which in turn resulted in his New York debut a year later at the Julien Levy Gallery.
Rocky’s friend Bill arrived, and they all sat together during the show.  Afterward, discovering Perkins had taken the bus to the theater, Bill drove him home; and the two became devoted friends. Bill inspired Perkins to start painting again; and Perkins served as a mentor to Bill, advising him on his burgeoning acting career. Perkins Harnly grew up on a farm outside Lincoln, Nebraska, where his absurdly libidinous nature was first drawn to fruits and vegetables, then animals, and, ultimately, girls and boys his own age or older. He taught himself to draw by copying pictures of objects from the Sears Roebuck catalogue (which could explain why he never mastered the human form).  Just when she arrived, clutching a heart-shaped box of chocolates, the elevator broke; so Perkins and a co-worker had to schlep her up the stairs in her wheel chair. (cont.) His work caught the eye of an editor at the New Yorker, who hired him to produce line drawings for the publication. During his time in Manhattan, he also designed department windows and illustrated a few magazine covers for the Hearst Syndicate.  Soon after, he was drafted by the Work Projects Administration to “document the interiors of America in watercolor.” Carrying a letter of introduction from the federal government, he visited most of the 48 contiguous states and made thousands of sketches of interior spaces, complete with relevant furniture, tools and ornamental items. Upon returning to Washington, DC, he cut and pasted the drawings, until he had a blueprint of the most ideal sitting room, architect’s office, tobacco shop, automobile factory, etc. These pictures can still be viewed at the Index of America Design section of the Smithsonian Institute. Albert Lewin, the movie mogul, paid his way to Hollywood in 1945 to exploit his knowledge of Victoriana for The Picture of Dorian Gray. Riding the success of Dorian, he made friends with Vincente Minnelli, who hired him to work on Meet Me in St. Louis.  A subsequent dispute with Minnelli caused Perkins to quit his job and bite his thumb at the movie business forever. He got a job at the Ontra Cafeteria on Vermont and served as their “hot supply man” for the next 38 years. When he turned his back on Hollywood, Perkins also gave up making art of any kind for more than twenty years. In the late 1960s, however, he began painting again, this time pursuing his muse as an amateur, churning out vibrant watercolors full of iconoclastic wisecracks, surrealistic nostalgia and scatological Americana, e.g., flying outhouses, transvestite farmhands and Christ blasting to heaven via a rocket pack. He gave away dozens of these pictures, many of which he made for specific friends, based on what he thought would amuse them.
In his younger days he had been, in his own words, a pimp, alcoholic, pothead, reprobate, unfaithful husband and deadbeat dad. But in his twilight years, as far as we knew, he was nothing less than a model citizen and perfect gentleman
He liked to shock us with detailed descriptions of the beautiful young cadavers on which he gave extra attention, provocatively hinting at deeper transgressions.
Perkins’ room at the Culver Hotel had no a bath, toilet or stove. He showered down the hall and cooked canned food on a hot plate. The washing machine in the basement was often broken; and one day I found him cleaning his underwear by boiling them in a saucepan. The ancient boiler in the basement inspired one of his quintessential works: “Halleluiah, Halleluiah, a Boiler is Born!” a parody of Raphael’s Madonna and Child, substituting hot water heaters for human figures. Perkins rarely signed his paintings.  He said that an artist’s style should be so distinctive that anyone would recognize it; and, therefore, it was the height of vanity not to sign one’s work.  By leaving his own pictures unsigned he was putting on airs, playing the prima donna.     Possessing neither a TV or telephone, he spent most of his free time reading, writing and listening to the radio. A compulsive correspondent, his letters were often bawdy recollections, lewd enough to make Redd Foxx blush, and/or literate discourses on religion, history and art. Regardless, a letter from Perkins is a treasure, preserving the essence of a man who was as spiritually two-faced as America itself: free thinking and traditional in equal measure. According to his wishes, his body was cremated at a mortuary in Westwood. However, we could not bring ourselves to fulfill his other directive, which was to throw his ashes in the garbage. Instead we placed them in a bronze urn, bearing his name, which he had purchased years before but had decided not to use.  His desire to treat his remains so ignobly was not, as one might think, due to any sense of worthlessness on his part, but, rather, a final act of vanity, since he wasn’t able to afford the memorial he really wanted. Indeed, among his papers there is a sketch of such a monument: a small pond with a Roman column and his urn sitting on top. Ideally it would have been located at his beloved Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank, unfortunately out of reach to a self- made pauper like himself. At his wake we watched videos of him, told stories and distributed paper bags of the ashes to anyone who wanted them— after tossing a token spoonful in the trash. Subsequently, little bits of Perkins ended up in a half dozen states and one foreign country. But there’s still plenty left in the urn, which bears the inscription “Perkins Harnly, 1901. . . .” The lack of an end date is appropriate, as our memories of him are so vivid that it does not seem like he’s gone. In fact, I can see him now, quite clearly, standing in the gutter with his head in the clouds—an impish trickster in a bow tie, cheap suit and horn- rimmed glasses, smiling and buggingout his twinkling eyes, laughing as though at an all-night party.
One night in 1983, my wife Barbara answered an unexpected knock at the door. There stood our friends Bill and Phil carrying the limp body of Perkins Harnly. They had found him passed out on the floor of his room at the Culver City Hotel, disoriented, dehydrated and not long for this world. After a couple of days of Gatorade and chicken soup, he felt well enough to see a doctor, who diagnosed the flu, Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer. He recovered from prostate surgery at our place, but couldn’t get the hang of his catheter bag, tending to drag it behind him like a very long tail. The Alzheimer’s progressed rapidly, making it practically impossible for him to care for himself. He gave up his apartment, quit his job at the cafeteria where he had worked for 38 years, and moved into our spare room. It was one of the happiest periods of our lives. Sure, it was a lot of work; but he compensated us handsomely with wisdom, inspiration and good humor.  Concerning our hospitality, he conveyed constant gratitude, hardly believing that anyone would care so much about “a dilapidated old queen.” He was 82 years old and feeble— shaky on his legs even with a cane—but he was still the proverbial life of the party. Our friends adored him, and he thought they were all “first rate.”  A raconteur nonpareil, he regaled us with his vast knowledge of old Hollywood (particularly the naughty parts), peppering his tales with charming, archaic phrases such as “extreme hair- letting,” as in “I went to an orgy in 1925 and took part in some extreme hair-letting down.”  He was a master of self- deprecation: Once, on the 90way to a soiree, we struggled several minutes to extricate him from the back of a
Our Friend Perkins Harnly by  Tom Huckabee
 I was initially mortified at the wake, when they started doling out Perkins’ ashes. But when people who barely knew him took scoops, I got in line. I’ve been living with my portion of Perkins Harnly for many years, now. It is on the shelf in my den underneath a painting he did of Victorian prostitutes dancing on furniture, entitled "When the Madame's Away, the Girls Will Play.” Next to that is a photo he took of himself made up to look like a psychotic Mary Pickford. I talk to Perkins on a regular basis, and he always provides good company.    --Rocky Schenck
 twodoor sedan. When the ordeal was over he exclaimed, “Now, that you’ve gotten the corpse out of the car, what are you going to do with it?” We arranged for a new-wave art gallery to exhibit his last batch of watercolors. The subject matter combined Victoriana, erotica and Dada. Gerry Casale from Devo bought a picture of a flower opening to reveal a vulva inside. Everything about Perkins was extreme: His life experience vacillated between asceticism and libertinage. He was equally comfortable in a cathouse or a cathedral. Although he gave the impression of being obsessed with sex, he claimed to not have actually had any in 40 years.  He called himself a necrophile, as opposed to necrophiliac, (a thin distinction in most dictionaries) by which he meant that he loved anything having to do with death: funerals, tombstones, mummification, etc. He collected photos of cemeteries from around the world, most of which he snapped himself with an instamatic, pinching pennies from his meager salary to afford the airfare. This morbid interest led him as a young man to seek employment at a mortuary, where he worked as an embalmer and make-up artist.  He liked to shock us with detailed descriptions of the beautiful young cadavers on which he gave extra attention, provocatively hinting at deeper transgressions.  He appreciated conservative morality but would not live by it. Homosexuality was a perversion, he believed, ergo, he was a pervert—and proud of it. Interestingly enough,the politician he admired most was Ronald Reagan, with whom he corresponded. In his younger days he had been, in his own words, a pimp, alcoholic, pothead, reprobate, unfaithful husband and deadbeat dad. But in his twilight years, as far as we knew, he was nothing less than a model citizen and perfect gentleman.
    He first entered our lives in 1981, after our friend Rocky met him on line at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood.  They were both there to see the avant-garde rarity, Salome, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s version of the bible story, with sets inspired by Aubrey Beardsley. The film featured Nazimova, a notorious lesbian, cavorting with two dozen male homosexuals. Rocky initiated the conversation, asking the little old man in the bow tie if he’d seen the film before.  “I should say so!” boasted Perkins,  “I was at the premiere in 1923!  And I've wanted to see it again ever since!”   The other guy was a lot taller, prompting the ancient diva to lambaste Perkins for not holding up his end.  By the time they arrived at her room on the tenth floor, he despised his former idol, and he took revenge by sneaking into her room while she was out, swiping the bottom layer of her chocolates and devouring them with glee. At some point, I don’t know when, he married a prostitute and pimped for her. They had a son; and a year later, his wife—who was more than plump—felt sick to her stomach.  He took her to the emergency room, where the doctor said she was in labor. “No I’m not,” she exclaimed, “I’m not even knocked up!”  Before long, out dropped a healthy baby girl.  Mr. and Mrs. Harnly were neither ideal parents nor compatible spouses; and following the divorce, Perkins had little contact with her or their children. During the Depression, he fled Nebraska for the West Coast, followed by an extensive excursion south of the border. Long fascinated by religious iconography, he made dozens of renderings of Mexican altarpieces, which he transformed into vivid watercolors of true spiritual feeling.   These pictures and others of his home state’s Victorian interiors led to his first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Francis Toor Gallery in Mexico City which in turn resulted in his New York debut a year later at the Julien Levy Gallery.
Rocky’s friend Bill arrived, and they all sat together during the show.  Afterward, discovering Perkins had taken the bus to the theater, Bill drove him home; and the two became devoted friends. Bill inspired Perkins to start painting again; and Perkins served as a mentor to Bill, advising him on his burgeoning acting career. Perkins Harnly grew up on a farm outside Lincoln, Nebraska, where his absurdly libidinous nature was first drawn to fruits and vegetables, then animals, and, ultimately, girls and boys his own age or older. He taught himself to draw by copying pictures of objects from the Sears Roebuck catalogue (which could explain why he never mastered the human form).  Just when she arrived, clutching a heart-shaped box of chocolates, the elevator broke; so Perkins and a co-worker had to schlep her up the stairs in her wheel chair. (cont.) His work caught the eye of an editor at the New Yorker, who hired him to produce line drawings for the publication. During his time in Manhattan, he also designed department windows and illustrated a few magazine covers for the Hearst Syndicate.  Soon after, he was drafted by the Work Projects Administration to “document the interiors of America in watercolor.” Carrying a letter of introduction from the federal government, he visited most of the 48 contiguous states and made thousands of sketches of interior spaces, complete with relevant furniture, tools and ornamental items. Upon returning to Washington, DC, he cut and pasted the drawings, until he had a blueprint of the most ideal sitting room, architect’s office, tobacco shop, automobile factory, etc. These pictures can still be viewed at the Index of America Design section of the Smithsonian Institute. Albert Lewin, the movie mogul, paid his way to Hollywood in 1945 to exploit his knowledge of Victoriana for The Picture of Dorian Gray. Riding the success of Dorian, he made friends with Vincente Minnelli, who hired him to work on Meet Me in St. Louis.  A subsequent dispute with Minnelli caused Perkins to quit his job and bite his thumb at the movie business forever. He got a job at the Ontra Cafeteria on Vermont and served as their “hot supply man” for the next 38 years. When he turned his back on Hollywood, Perkins also gave up making art of any kind for more than twenty years. In the late 1960s, however, he began painting again, this time pursuing his muse as an amateur, churning out vibrant watercolors full of iconoclastic wisecracks, surrealistic nostalgia and scatological Americana, e.g., flying outhouses, transvestite farmhands and Christ blasting to heaven via a rocket pack. He gave away dozens of these pictures, many of which he made for specific friends, based on what he thought would amuse them.
In his younger days he had been, in his own words, a pimp, alcoholic, pothead, reprobate, unfaithful husband and deadbeat dad. But in his twilight years, as far as we knew, he was nothing less than a model citizen and perfect gentleman
He liked to shock us with detailed descriptions of the beautiful young cadavers on which he gave extra attention, provocatively hinting at deeper transgressions.
Perkins’ room at the Culver Hotel had no a bath, toilet or stove. He showered down the hall and cooked canned food on a hot plate. The washing machine in the basement was often broken; and one day I found him cleaning his underwear by boiling them in a saucepan. The ancient boiler in the basement inspired one of his quintessential works: “Halleluiah, Halleluiah, a Boiler is Born!” a parody of Raphael’s Madonna and Child, substituting hot water heaters for human figures. Perkins rarely signed his paintings.  He said that an artist’s style should be so distinctive that anyone would recognize it; and, therefore, it was the height of vanity not to sign one’s work.  By leaving his own pictures unsigned he was putting on airs, playing the prima donna.     Possessing neither a TV or telephone, he spent most of his free time reading, writing and listening to the radio. A compulsive correspondent, his letters were often bawdy recollections, lewd enough to make Redd Foxx blush, and/or literate discourses on religion, history and art. Regardless, a letter from Perkins is a treasure, preserving the essence of a man who was as spiritually two-faced as America itself: free thinking and traditional in equal measure. According to his wishes, his body was cremated at a mortuary in Westwood. However, we could not bring ourselves to fulfill his other directive, which was to throw his ashes in the garbage. Instead we placed them in a bronze urn, bearing his name, which he had purchased years before but had decided not to use.  His desire to treat his remains so ignobly was not, as one might think, due to any sense of worthlessness on his part, but, rather, a final act of vanity, since he wasn’t able to afford the memorial he really wanted. Indeed, among his papers there is a sketch of such a monument: a small pond with a Roman column and his urn sitting on top. Ideally it would have been located at his beloved Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank, unfortunately out of reach to a self-made pauper like himself. At his wake we watched videos of him, told stories and distributed paper bags of the ashes to anyone who wanted them— after tossing a token spoonful in the trash. Subsequently, little bits of Perkins ended up in a half dozen states and one foreign country. But there’s still plenty left in the urn, which bears the inscription “Perkins Harnly, 1901. . . .” The lack of an end date is appropriate, as our memories of him are so vivid that it does not seem like he’s gone. In fact, I can see him now, quite clearly, standing in the gutter with his head in the clouds—an impish trickster in a bow tie, cheap suit and horn-rimmed glasses, smiling and buggingout his twinkling eyes, laughing as though at an all-night party.