Back in the mid 1980s, a juice bar was somewhere you went for high interest, short term loans. Pole dancers were girls from Wisconsin with names like Wryzykowski who did the polka. It was also when the issue of nude dancing in nightclubs being “protected speech” reached the U.S. Supreme Court, YOUNG v. ARKANSAS, 474 U.S. 1070 (1986). Before its elevation to legal precedent, the debate was played out in hearing rooms and run down buildings with flickering beer signs in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, where I was working as a television street reporter.
The battle against lewd and lascivious nekkidity began with a one-two punch by the forces of decency: a series of crackdowns by the local vice squads followed by liquor license revocations by the state alcohol beverage control board. My witness to U.S. legal herstory – uh, history – began one afternoon when we were sent to interview one of the bar owners who had been cited by the ABC board.
“Petitioner was a nude dancer at D.L.’s Darkroom, a tavern in Little Rock, Arkansas. Along with nearly every other nude dancer in the metropolitan area, petitioner was arrested in one of two “sweep” operations conducted in February 1984.”
– Justice Byron "Whizzer" White, (predictably) dissenting
YOUNG v. ARKANSAS, 474 U.S. 1070 (1986)
“Snug Harbor” was a windowless shack on a gravel parking lot in a rural area off the Interstate. Way off the Interstate. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness after we'd walked into the place and the heavy steel door had slammed shut. I was greeted by the owner, a broomstick of a woman with heavy makeup and stringy blonde hair, who bore a striking resemblance to Dee Snider of “Twisted Sister”. On stage, as advertised, was the first act of the afternoon. Ken Hazlett, my videographer and companion on many a video adventure, set up his camera. We interviewed Twisted Sister. On stage, another performer, the one with the neat surgical scar, began her foray into artistic expression to the scratchy strains of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, quite nicely ruining the song for me for the next twenty years or so in the process.
The interview done, I struck up an off-camera conversation with the first performer, now thankfully clad in a robe, while Ken shot some very strategically framed video of the act on stage. In the spirit of the free expression debate, I asked the girl about how she prepared for and otherwise choreographed her interpretive dances. She didn’t understand the question. I don’t remember her answer.
The story, and the strategically framed video, ran at 6 and 10.
One upshot of the afternoon: “Twisted Sister” had taken a liking to me, probably because I treated her with common courtesy and took some kind of interest in what she had to say. From this day forward, whenever she had a comment to make, my phone rang. We would soon meet again at her hearing before the alcohol beverage control board.
The ABC board was not nearly as simpatico as I had been. After a by-the-book hearing, the board yanked Snug Harbor’s license to sell beer and alcohol, effectively a death sentence. Twisted Sister said she would remain open and sell non-alcoholic beverages. We thought she was loopy. Orange juice instead of Busch? This was years before “juice bars” became a common dodge for skin joint owners looking to, er… skirt the law.
If Dee Snider wasn’t fully coco-loco before, the hearing apparently drove her the rest of the way. A week or so later, the phone rang in the newsroom. Dee was looking for me because she wanted to “make a statement”. Mercifully, it was my day off, so another reporter and videographer were sent to Dee’s house, just across the gravel parking lot from the bar. Dee greeted them at the door, buck naked. The reporter and photog immediately retreated back to their car. Dee followed them off the porch and across the parking lot.
What does a good news video crew do in this situation? Why, roll tape, of course! While the photog started shooting, the reporter called the newsroom on the two-way radio and told them to send the county sheriff. Dee sat down on the gravel parking lot while her dogs ran excitedly around her. “Come to me, my children!” she yelled, arms outstretched. Cut to the next shot on the tape: a Pulaski County patrol car arrives. Without preface or fanfare, and in much the same manner as one would handle a freshly opened bucket of fried chicken, the deputy grabbed an arm and a leg, hoisted Dee up off the ground, pitched her into the back seat of the patrol car, slammed the door shut the and drove off in a cloud of dust. It was a full rectal eclipse, right in the middle of the day.
This latest interview did not make the 6pm show. It did, however, make the outtakes reel at the station Christmas party.
One day several months later, the newsroom phone rang again. I was mercifully gone on vacation. Dee talked to the news director and requested a dub of the video from the parking lot. She wanted to see at what point during the incident she had been “reincarnated as her grandmother”.
It would be the last communique we would ever receive from Twisted Sister.
When telling people war stories of my adventures in television, this was usually one of the first tales I would drag out. By 1980s standards, it was outrageous. In 1989, the first episode of “COPS” aired on the fledgling Fox television network, bringing raw street scenes into living rooms every Saturday night at 8 p.m. (7 Central). Today, my story rates little more than a yawn. Psychoses and sociopathic behavior are just one more entertainment choice on television.
“Dee Snider” is one character I will never forget. I just never thought I would consider her quaint by comparison.