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EXCERPTS FROM BOOK

                      FRONT COVER                                                     BACK COVER
 
      

                      
Table of Contents (PDF)
Chapter 12 (Margo St. James)
Chapter 28 (Jimi Hendrix)
Chapter 29 (Jim Morrison)
Chapter 47 (Elvis)
Chapter 48 (George Foreman)
Chapter 65 (Gianni Versace)




 Chapter 12 - IN THE ‘BAY TO BREAKERS’ I MAKE THE RECORD BOOK BUT MARGO ST. JAMES ‘STREAKS’ TO ESTABLISHING AN INSTITUTION

   Besides Carol, the other grand dame of North Beach in those days was Margo St. James. She
liked to think of herself as more of a ‘working girl’ than a topless dancer but no one will ever forget how shepacked the Condor on ‘Amateur Topless Night’ dressed up as a Nun. Yeah, and with the North Beach Catholic landmark, St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, a stone’s throw away, she purposely thumbed her nose to those ‘Papal hypocrites’ as she called them. She later walked her talk and went on to establish ‘The Hookers’ Ball’ (whose legacy is the present day popular annual ‘Erotic, Exotic Ball’) and the prostitute protection organization, COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics). Her class on ‘Women’s Sensuality’ (what women want sexually) at my Marina Greens Running Club, some years later, was standing room only, as Margo explained graphically the art of making love, highlighting female sexual sensations. With remembrances of Sausalito’s ‘Madam Mayor’ Sally Stanford in the 40’s, Margo narrowly missed out being elected City Supervisor by a handful of votes - a real loss for San Francisco because she would have been joining champion neighborhood feminist, supervisor Sue Bierman.

   The memory for me that stands out by far of Margo goes back to May 16, 1965. Let’s travel back to that beautiful sunny Spring day: I remember I was way out in front, running like the wind through Golden Gate Park. I could smell victory intertwined with the fragrance of the Eucalyptus and Monterey Cypress trees that line JFK Drive. This was the seventy-fifth running of the Bay to Breakers, the biggest footrace in the world. Jeff Fishback, the Olympic steeplechaser and the guy who edged me out of the winner’s circle the previous year, was out of sight - this time behind me. I was about to wear the laurel wreath of victory. You see, running was my thing, long before North Beach Leathers. In fact, running begot leather. As I previously explained, that year after winning the National title I ran in the World Championships in Brazil. Loving Rio, I returned as a buyer for Cost Plus and the leather for the first NBL jacket came from there.

   But back to the Race: Jeff’s course record was history if I could maintain my blistering 4:45
per mile pace. It was at the Buffalo Field that I was taken aback. In front of me was another runner. In the mixture of confusion and fatigue I faltered with the thought of having to sprint to the finish line with this mysterious runner. I peered through my sweat stained sunglasses and noticed a shapely butt that looked familiar. Even more shocking was the fact that it was buck naked. I soon realized this nude runner was my friend and occasional lover, Margo St. James, playing one of her merry pranks. I had been to a party at Margo’s cool apartment on Telegraph Hill a few days earlier and she had hinted of a surprise for the Bay to Breakers. I hadn’t expected anything like this. Margo (one of the first fitness buffs) and I would occasionally workout together. She would pick me up at Cost Plus and we would go over to nearby Galileo High School, climb the locked gate and run on the grass field. After the workout Margo would drag me under the spectator stands for some extra curricular activities.

   In this Bay to Breakers she had taken a big head start and at the Polo Fields, stripped down for the finish. Once I realized who she was, I relaxed and pulled up to Margo just before the
course reaches the Pacific Ocean and the final turn down the Great Highway. “A blowjob if you break the record”, the wisecracking, crass, grand dame yelled out. I slapped her on her shapely tight tush as I sped by her, now in a full sprint to the finish. I ended up breaking Fishback’s time by forty seconds and established a record that would stand for eight years - something I will always cherish.

   My feat, however, pales in comparison to Margo’s introducing to the Race a zany flavor that
would continue to grow as the years went by until today when 100,000 persons participate, the big attraction is the weird outfits and especially the nude runners.

   Needless to say, Bob de Celle and the other race officials were highly upset, but Margo
slipped away into the bushes of Golden Gate Park, chuckling to herself I am sure. I never did collect the ‘trophy’ she promised me for breaking the course record.

   In introducing a little zaniness to an otherwise serious endeavor, Margo made her mark on the whole fitness phenomenon that came out of the sixties. A case could be made that this movement of ‘Health and Well Being’ really started with the Bay to Breakers. Yes, President Kennedy, in seeing the horrible physical condition and lack of exercise of most Americans, both young and old, made an impassioned speech, urging the populace to exercise; however, it took a footrace in San Francisco and a band of fitness nuts like Margo, Pax Beale, Elaine Peterson, Walt Stack, and Jack Leydig, just to name a few, to launch the movement. Also, the motivational articles of newspaper writer Walt Daley inspired out of shape couch potatoes to get out on the trail and train for next year’s race. His sagas of people like blind Harry Cordellos running the eight miles across San Francisco or ninety five year old Dr. Paul Spangler jumping in the Ocean after sprinting the last mile couldn’t help but inspire the populace to heed JFK’s plea.

   A further case could be made that the fitness/health movement that came out of San Francisco in the sixties was really born out of the 60’s Cultural Revolution which took place in the City by the Bay - one of the good and beautiful elements of which I spoke about. Along with free thinking, tolerance, creative expression, etc. there was the embracement of the concept of developing one’s mind and body. This was evidenced by the acceptance of Eastern health oriented ways and philosophies such as Yoga, Acupuncture, Zen, Meditation and Tai Chi. Many of my hippie friends got into running and actually it was they who carried on the zaniness that merry prankster Margo St. James started in the 1965 Race. No one, not even Jerry Garcia or Timothy Leary, was more hip than Margo.

                                          




Chapter 28 - BUDDIES IN LIFE AND DEATH: THE TRAGEDY OF FRANKIE AND JIMI HENDRIX 

Did they ever come in - one celebrity after another! Where do I start? How about Jimi Hendrix. Here was a guy who loved leather and, as the whole world knows, wore it on stage. I mentioned earlier the very hip Head East boutique that was across the street from our store on Sunset Boulevard. They had the latest in fabric garments, turquoise and silver jewelry, shoes, pipes and hookahs, etc. The owner, Frankie, was a carefree entrepreneur from Puerto Rico. When we first opened, Frankie didn’t like us. He thought we were parasites sucking up his established clientele. This might have been true to a certain degree but competition never hurts. Frankie soon learned that we were an attraction too and he warmed up to us and became good friends. Also, he had very little leather for sale.

   One of Frankie’s best friends just happened to be Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was a good customer and the two of them would go up to Frankie’s palatial upstairs office and get high. Jimi, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, was part Native American and had a bent for leather and especially liked to wear long fringe on stage. Who can ever forget his performance at Woodstock wearing the white deerskin beaded fringe shirt and cigarette hanging from his lips? I cannot take credit for making that garment. We did make several similar ones around that time. I always thought Burray Olsen made it but that master says no, he didn’t craft
it.

   We did make several pieces for Jimi and soon after we opened, Frankie brought the songster into our store. After picking out a couple of leather pieces, one similar to the Woodstock shirt and the other a patchwork shirt, Jimi noticed a guitar resting on the leather couch in the back of the store. It was a guitar that Larry liked to fool around with during slow times. Jimi picked it up and said, “Ah, very nice, like mine. Do you mind?” to Larry as he started strumming and picking the strings. We all listened, enthralled as Jimi ad-libbed some words about ‘leather and lace’ and ‘leather is forever’. He went on making up words as he played. It was good and humorous. Then Frankie joined in on percussion, showing his Latin rhythm by rapping his jangling keys on the coffee table. Larry brought out his harmonica and I showed my woodwind expertise by playing a Native American flute I owned.

   This went on for several minutes, just a jammin’ with Jimi Hendrix till finally we all just started laughing hilariously and falling over each other. It was a lot of fun seeing Jimi and Frankie so full of life.

   Little did we know that within days, Frankie and Jimi would be dead, both dying of drug overdoses on the same day but in different places. How quickly life can go from a comedy to a tragedy.

   Sonny Bono was right. It didn’t take long for the word about us to get out. Hollywood was the center of the entertainment world - music, movies and television - all were there. It wasn’t just rock bands who wanted our leathers. Who would have imagined movie producers and directors wanting a deerskin beaded fringe shirt “like the one Jimi Hendrix wore in Woodstock!” This was the case over and over as the leather boom spread through the entertainment industry. However, it was the bands that spent the big bucks and the so called L.A. Sound, while not as significant as the music phenomenon happening in San Francisco,
was a mighty strong force.


Chapter 29 - WHAT DO CAPTAIN AHAB AND JIM MORRISON HAVE IN COMMON? 

“Got any Lizard?” the handsome, boyish looking, long haired but clean shaven hippie asked rather sheepishly. I had been dozing off on a rather warm Hollywood afternoon. I was alone in the store and didn’t hear or see the sinewy guy come in - almost like a snake. In fact, there was something reptilian about the man. Maybe the initial question he posed made me think that way. I looked closer at him now that I was awake and recognized he was Jim Morrison. I had met Jim a year or so earlier when he jumped on stage and jammed with the band AUM at one of our first parties at the Bratskeller Club in San Francisco. He was the first person that I remember who wore black leather pants. And did he look good in them.

   “Lizard is tough and stiff”, I finally replied to Morrison’s question. “They are small too. It would take a bunch to do a pair of pants”, I continued, wondering in my mind what they would be like. “What about snake?” he now hissed (I so imagined). It just so happened that a few days earlier a guy came in and scared the shit out of me and my staff and a few customers. Dressed in khaki and actually wearing a pith helmet, this guy looked right out of an African Safari movie. He said he had a trophy snake skin he wanted to sell. When I asked where it is, he took the rolled up skin from the large bag he was carrying, and in front of everybody, dramatically threw it out. The unfurled skin went the entire length of the store and had
spectators grasping each other in a frenzied attempt to escape the beast. Then the great white hunter, who was obviously quite good at this act, did a maneuver that made the monster move slowly across the floor. Everybody scurried away again as if the darn thing was alive. He then explained in his British accent, which only added more Safari reality to the scene, that this was a 16 foot anaconda, the biggest of all reptiles. This one was especially big. They are from the Amazon and quite rare. Thank god he stopped short of describing his capture of the monster in his dissertation, as I wasn’t in the mood for a hand to hand combat story.

   I have to admit that I was quite impressed with the skin. It was absolutely wondrous. I didn’t use a lot of exotics, snake even less so, but I wanted this one. I was so impressed I paid cash under the table, not knowing whether it was legal or not. This was before the Endangered Species Act and just about everything was still legal but one never really knew - not even Fish and Game. Anaconda today is mostly illegal and rightly so. I would never do today what I did in Hollywood in ’69. In fact I do not use any wild animal skins or furs. This was an issue I anguished over for the last forty years - loving furs and exotic skins yet having a conscience about killing another living being for its hide. It is a debate in which both sides have their arguments. I have made my decision and I will live with it.

   Back then it was a different story so I paid the ‘bounty hunter’ his blood money and rolled the long skin back up and put it in the back where it stayed until I brought it out to show Jim Morrison. I tried to remember how the Great White Hunter unfurled the skin. In front of Morrison, I did a pretty good imitation of Hunter’s maneuver, throwing it right pass Jim’s nose. He jumped back about five feet, his eyes wide as saucers. It wasn’t an emotion of fright that flashed across his face as it was with the customers a few days back. It was more an emotion of reverence and awe. Once unfurled, I laid the giant skin down on the floor so Morrison could examine it closely, as he obviously had great interest in it. He stood there in total amazement of the hide of what had been a magnificent creature. He showed a fascination I thought somewhat akin to what Captain Ahab expressed for the Sperm Whale Moby Dick - although Jim did not show the scorn that the delusional Ahab had for the giant whale. In fact, he displayed adulation and reverence. Of course Jim didn’t lose a leg because of the snake like Ahab did to Moby Dick. The comparison of Moby Dick and the Anaconda went even further. If you remember in the epic by Melville, Moby Dick was an albino, that is, white - not common in sperm whales. This particular Anaconda was white. Whether this is normal in Anacondas, I don’t know. This was the only one I ever saw. Also keep in mind that both creatures are the largest of their species.

   Jim started slowly walking beside the skin, taking tiny little steps, intently studying every inch of the skin as he slowly progressed up the 16 foot hide, totally immersed and oblivious to
me and the world. I admit I was impressed by this skin as well. It was magnificent. To imagine any land serpent this big was mind boggling. But Morrison seemed like he was with a deity, somewhat akin to Hindu worship of Cows. He said nothing but continued to walk up and down the length. Leaving him to his communion, I went back to the desk. Whether Jim was having a spiritual experience with a dead snake is hard to say. It certainly wasn’t a normal or simple admiration.

   Finally he came over to the desk, his face ashened and a bit sweaty and in a very humble un-Morrison like manner said simply, “Thank you very much. I’d like to purchase that if possible.”

   I replied, “Sure, we could make you a nice pair of snakeskin pants.”

   To that comment, he replied, “No, in good conscience I couldn’t cut that skin in pieces. I just want to make love on it.”

   I squirmed a bit at that thought and wasn’t sure if he said “love on” or “love to”. Before I could think further about that weirdness, he asked, “How much you want for it?” I had paid $300 to the White Hunter and I wanted to make a little on the deal. “$500 Jim,” I replied. I hated to part with it but after seeing Morrison’s emotional attachment I felt satisfied it was going to the right person. As Jim Morrison left with his Deity tucked under his arm he said, “You know, this building has been very good to me. It was here at the Sea Witch I had one of my very first gigs with the Doors and now this. What can I say except it is a magical space, at least for me.” Before we moved in, the Rock Club Sea Witch occupied the building and besides the Doors, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds played there. What happened to the trophy Anaconda after Jim Morrison’s tragic death, I do not know.    
                                          


Chapter 47 - A DATE WITH ELVIS AT THE HILTON ‘RUNS’ LATE - THANKS TO VEGAS’ COPS 

“I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!” I couldn’t help but think of the Mad Hatter’s ditty
as I was being questioned by Las Vegas Metro Police one spring day soon after we opened our
Stardust Mini Mall store.

   I was jogging down Sahara Boulevard when a police car pulled me over for - no, not
speeding - but for ‘suspicious activity’. I had arrived in Vegas the previous evening and was
staying at store manager Joseph’s eastside house near Valley High School and was jogging to
the nearby newly built Hilton Hotel. This was before the running and fitness boom and anyone
running in Las Vegas then probably robbed a bank or convenience store to help pay off a gambling debt. I am sure having long hair and a beard didn’t help matters with the uptight Metros.

   The important date I was late for was with none other than the King himself - Elvis
Presley. Our Vegas North Beach Leathers shop had been open for a few months and entertainer
Jackie Wilson was in and bought some stage outfits. He was so pleased with them that he said
he was going to tell his buddy Elvis we now had a store in Las Vegas. Elvis, with Priscilla’s
guidance, bought some pieces from me in Hollywood back in 1970. Their marriage unfortunately
was on the rocks. I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the personable King
until I got shanghaied by the fuzz. When I told the police about my important date, the one burly tough cop laughed, “Yeah, and I’m having lunch with Frank Sinatra. Ha, Ha, Ha!”

   After an hour or so of being held and checked out, they finally released me, reprehending
me not to run on the streets anymore. I realized I was not going to make the fitting for Elvis but continued to walk (not run) to the Hilton Hotel, only a few blocks away now. I arrived there as Joseph and Denni were getting ready to drive off. They had met Elvis briefly and he ordered
eight deerskin handlaced and painted outfits. All were in white and the eight hundred dollar price tag for each made their day. Joseph did the honor of measuring the King. That was supposed to be my task and the reason I came to Vegas. Upon my relating what happened to me with Metro, they shook their heads in disbelief. Joe simply said, “Maybe it is time to get a haircut, Bill.” I wonder to this day if Elvis would have remembered me from the Hollywood store in 1970, maybe even have asked me to go jogging with him. I know he wouldn’t mind long hair.


Chapter 48 - CHAMP GEORGE FOREMAN KO’S SUPERSHIRT 

I commented that the workshop in Pitiquito, Sonora had started producing some marvelous
hand laced pieces for our Las Vegas store. Under the supervision of Arturo and now with
master lacer David Spoileter present, the little village was humming with activity. One of the
most noteworthy and popular designs being made there was the Supershirt. This was special
because of the incredible amount of fancy lacing that went into the shirt - many, many hours.
For the Vegas entertainers and superstars we added stone and exotic skin inlays and some were also adorned with artwork.

   The biggest events in Las Vegas in the 70’s and 80’s, besides Elvis and Sinatra, were the
big championship fights. The moneyed, gold and diamond ladened fight crowd made our month.
Almost always the Champion and the Challenger would find their way to our doors. One of the
first was George Foreman - a young George Foreman with a full head of hair and an Adonis like
body with sculptured biceps like steel beams.

   The day George came in we had just received a shipment from Pitiquito. In it was a size
46 Supershirt of top grain goatskin. George liked it immediately and after slipping it on his
massive frame we all saw it fit perfectly. Besides the intricate lacing, the buttons on the Supershirt were special. They are called Turkish knot buttons which only top-notch lacers master in making. They take an eight inch goatskin lace, and through some magical maneuvering known only to these chosen few, turn the lace into a perfectly round half inch button in diameter. The Supershirt requires eight of these.

   Because goatskin is so tough, we guarentee the shirt for a lifetime. Joseph, who was helping George, remembered the trick of popping the turkish knot buttons from their button holes by quickly tearing upwards of the front panels, making a popping sound as the buttons explode out of the holes. He did that with George looking on in amazement. Then he made the mistake of boasting to the Champ, “No one has ever torn out a seam of our double laced Supershirt. Go ahead George, try to”, he teased. George inflated his hearty chest to its magnificent fullest and with a mighty inhale thrust his shoulders skyward. A ripping sound was heard across the store. Both shoulder seam lacings popped like dominos falling in a row. The broken, frayed ends stood straight up! The other salespeople and customers who were watching stood aghast. George’s black silk shirt now showed through the ripped out shoulders.

   Joe, always a cool dude simply said, “Well, that certainly is a first. Don’t worry Champ,
I’ll have my seamstress Ana replace the lacing and the shirt will be ready after lunch.” George
apologized profusely and philosophically replied, “I guess the ‘Irresistible Force’ against the
‘Immoveable Object’ won that fight.”

                                        


Chapter 65 - GIANNI VERSACE 

   One admirer, who was always at our Ocean Promenade fashion shows, was a handsome
Italian designer from Milano who introduced himself to me simply as ‘Gianni’. He came by my
cabana store occasionally and we would discuss the merit and beauty of different styles and
designs - many, the ones I had in my store. As I related, my South Beach inventory included
many original designs from the myriad of great stylists that worked with us back then: Burrey
Olson, Michel Jacques, Ren Ellis, Clifford Olsen, Robert Warner, Charlotte, Arturo, Nigel and
my original partner Michael with his cutting edge styles and designs. They were truly head and
shoulders above anything else - just ask my Italian designer friend and soon to be neighbor,
Gianni. “Maravilhoso Bill”, he would say in his intriguing thick accent. “Your pants are the
best ever - so sexy - and design is all about sex. A woman is not going to spend 400 dollars on
a pair of pants except for seduction”, he would philosophise. We would talk endlessly about
this subject. He would never get tired of it. I did, however, and would finally have to excuse
myself, making up some reason to leave my highly interesting friend.

   It wasn’t until one day when I was in the Bal Harbor Shops Mall that I found out who he
really was. I bumped into him getting out of his Mercedes in the parking lot and he said I must
come and see his new shop. I questioned, “You have a shop here Gianni?” I thought all this time, he was an unknown aspiring designer. I wasn’t used to such modesty, especially from egocentric designers. It is usually, “My designs, My store, My styles.” All this time he was interested in ‘my work’. We walked into the Mall’s first floor. This was a quite impressive retail lineup of designer stores and right in the middle was a large beautifully decorated store with an incredible window display of chic colorful men’s and ladies’ garments. The ornate gold leaf window lettering outlined boldly ‘VERSACE’. I disbelievingly blurted out, “You are Versace?” He
replied, “Yes, you didn’t know that Bill?”

   I was obviously embarrassed but Gianni graciously made my guffaw seem like a minor
thing, escorting me into his palacious store. This was a period for Versace that saw him do
some overstated designs, something that only he could pull off and he did to the tune of millions of dollars.

   Besides seeing Gianni at our Saturday show, I would also hobnob with him occasionally
at the News Café just up Ocean Avenue a few art deco blocks. My friend Carolyn was part
owner of this hip, funky and trendy coffee house. Spirited conversation was always coming
forth from Gianni’s table. Sadly and ironically, it was near here that several years later, poor
Gianni was brutally gunned down by a lone, deranged admirer, thus snatching away far too soon one of the world’s great designers.

   During this period, Versace bought the venerable art deco hotel, The Amsterdam. I had
stayed there a couple of nights before he took it over, when I first arrived in South Beach.
Although highly unique, it was real funky at 20 dollars a night - so bad I had to ‘upgrade’ to the Tides Hotel just down the block. Gianni spent a fortune on the remodel and after it was
finished it became his magnificent contribution to the South Beach Revival, together with his opulent abode and design studio. Unfortunately I was long gone from South Beach after the remodel and sadly missed the gala dinner parties and festivities that Gianni and his sister Donatella hosted. Years later, after his sad demise, I returned to South Beach and had an opportunity to tour the grounds. I paid homage to the great designer and tipped my hat to his efforts in bringing back life to the old Amsterdam Hotel.

   Oh, the name of my shop in South Beach - no, not North Beach Leathers, but . . . yeah, you got it!


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