SAMMY LEE AND LES GIRLS
Sammy Lee (born Samuel Levi in Canada in 1912) was the other half of the subversive nightclub and sex business that gained prominence at Kings Cross during the early 1960s. Lee came to Australia in 1937 as part of a touring jazz band, and had prior experience with clubs in Canada. He began with The Roosevelt and Sammy Lee’s Theatre Restaurant, both on Oxford Street, where the illegal liquor sales and late bar hours saw him (as well as Saffron) dragged in front of the Liquor Royal Commission in 1954. Lee’s nightclub and restaurant portfolio grew to operate other popular venues during the era, such as the Latin Quarter (a favourite haunt of Sydney gangsters), Club Flamingo and the strip club Pigalle, but undoubtably his most enduring venue was the Carousel Club and its celebrated revue Les Girls, located in the heart of Kings Cross at 32 Darlinghurst Road.
The Carousel Club was originally opened in 1963, jointly by Lee Gordon, Reg Boom and Sammy Lee, Gordon’s last major venture before his death. The venue began exhibiting drag queens under the title Jewel Box Revue, a name Gordon likely took from a Miami-based drag revue that operated in Florida during the 1950s. Gordon had exhibited the French transsexual performer “Coccinelle” at one of his Kings Cross venues in 1959, and sneaking men into the line-up had become an in-joke at strip clubs, but this was the first proper drag queen venue in Australia, specifically dedicated to openly cultivating this form of homosexual gender-bending “art.” Operating in a building owned as you would expect by Saffron, Lee took over sole management of the venue in 1964, remaining until his death in 1975. The drag queen revue changed its name to a performance name which ended up being more identifiable than the name of the club itself. This troupe included the performer “Carlotta” (Richard Byron), who became Australia’s most famous drag performer and transsexual media personality while at the venue, and led the revue for nearly 20 years. Lee brought Les Girls to Melbourne in 1971, premiering at the Ritz Hotel in St Kilda, allegedly the first (official) drag performance to take place in the city, which included a performance of Hava Nagila by drag queen “Cinnamon Brown.”
LEE GORDON TAKES ON WHITE AUSTRALIA
Up until the 1950s, the music industry in Australia was a quaint affair and most historians use the word “parochial” as a description of the scene at the time. Live entertainment and music promotion were still dominated by variety-entertainment companies Tivoli and J.C Williamson, and foreign musicians rarely made it to Australia, as promoters had to contend with the “tyranny of distance” that marked the country for its first 160 years. The sheer remoteness of Australia made bringing out foreign acts an expensive and time-consuming affair, in particular for the most popular performers, who balked at the 22-day boat trip. As such, the country managed to keep the worst excesses of the jazz age and the ensuing eroticism far from its shores. To listen to famous jazz musicians, Australians had to settle for imported gramophone records produced by the Jews at Tin Pan Alley. In the aftermath of a disastrous first Australian tour by a Black jazz troupe in 1928, Australia even established a de-facto color ban on Black jazz performers entering the country.
The tour, promoted as “Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea” by J. C. Williamson, was marred by scandal after members of the band had their Melbourne apartment raided by police, who found five Australian women amongst a group of revellers. The band had successfully toured Sydney (residing in apartments in Kings Cross) but came under intense scrutiny by the Commonwealth Investigation Branch and local police. There was no law against women simply drinking while being in the presence of a man, colored or not, so the women were let off by a judge due to a lack of evidence that anything untoward occurred. O’Connell alleges that two of the women were in fact police informants, working as part of an entrapment plot designed to get the Sonny Clay troupe deported. Nevertheless, the incident was turned into a major miscegenation scandal in the press and the government acted swiftly to deport the band, while introducing new criteria on entrance applications for negro performers. Alongside being “of general good character,” they also had to demonstrate an ability to “raise the local standard”—a control designed to exclude jazz music, which degraded the local character. How exactly these criteria came to be abandoned by 1954 is unclear; in all likelihood, the evolution of jazz music diminished the overtly racial nature of genre, and the criteria had fallen by the wayside. But what is clear is that a Jew saw an opening and soon made it his own. Enter Lee Gordon.
Brought on by the jet age and the ever-increasing dominance of American music, Lee Gordon was the first to demonstrate that the tyranny of distance was broken, and he became the pioneer in bringing leading American performers to Australia. Born Leon Lazar Gevorshner in 1923, Gordon was a former sales merchant and bookings manager at the Tropicana nightclub in Cuba. He moved to Australia in 1953 to pursue concert promotion at the suggestion of friend and fellow concert promoter Arthur Schurgin, who remained Gordon’s business partner and American contact. Once settled, Gordon set up an office at the periphery of Kings Cross (on Bayswater Road), close to the stadium where he would soon be exhibiting the Sydney leg of his tours.
Under the name Big Show tours, these star-studded performances combined multiple artists as a package event, which at the time was more economical than running individual tours for each artist. The list of names Gordon brought to Australia is a who’s-who of the most prominent performers at the time, covering every popular genre, but Jazz and Rock & Roll were the main fare. Gordon didn’t just bring his shows for a whirlwind Sydney/Melbourne trip, he ran lengthy country-wide tours that brought performers to even the smaller cities like Newcastle and Hobart. With his Big Show tours, Gordon had also broken the de-facto ban on bringing Black jazz musicians to Australia that had held since the Sonny Clay incident. His first tour in July 1954, six months after the Saperstein brothers brought the all-Black basketball troupe the Harlem Globetrotters to Australia, featured Black singer Ella Fitzgerald in a racially integrated jazz line-up alongside Jewish artists Buddy Rich and Artie Shaw (Arshawsky), all paid on a percentage basis and not a fixed fee.
Black performers imported by Gordon (as well as Martin and Brodziak) just kept on coming during the 1950s—names like Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, Eartha Kitt, Nat King Cole, Winifred Atwell and Harry Belafonte—and it has not subsided ever since. The impact of these racially integrated tours on racial sensibilities, through mass exposure to the racial “other” that had so perturbed earlier generations, cannot be underestimated. With every new successful Black musician brought into the country by Jews, the White Australia Policy was looking more and more out of date. Fitzgerald’s arrival in Australia was even accompanied by teary headlines that she had been racially discriminated against by Pan-Am Airlines. Perhaps, people were starting to think, we Australians were being too harsh in our racial policy and there is no real harm in letting some in; did Australia really need protection from people like Ella Fitzgerald?
Gordon shifted into the nightclub scene in the early 1960s and his spendthrift ways and financial woes eventually led him to collaborate with cash-rich Abe Saffron. In need of a successful tour, Gordon invited Saffron along on a trip to Las Vegas in 1959 to secure another Frank Sinatra tour, where it is likely Saffron made (or strengthened) his connection to the Jewish mob. Among Gordon’s last endeavours was the notorious Sydney tour of Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce (Leonard Schneider) in 1962. Bruce spent much of his fortnight in Sydney lurking around Kings Cross and searching for heroin, but Gordon made the mistake of booking Bruce at a genteel venue, the Aaron’s Exchange Hotel in the city, instead of a seedier Kings Cross location, as would have more suited his “sick comedy” style. Bruce became agitated by hecklers and headlines the next day carried the outrage of the performance:
SICK JOKE MADE AUDIENCE ILL; SICK COMIC’S SEX JOKES, WOMEN DISGUSTED; DISGUSTED BY ‘SICK’ JOKES, 4 WOMEN WALK OUT.
Bruce’s further performances were all cancelled, another disaster for Gordon who had yet again pegged much of his financial stability on a successful tour. Gordon fled to London in 1963 after being arrested for drug possession and he was found dead in a hotel room shortly thereafter. Observing the Lenny Bruce scandal from afar—and brimming with scorn at how he had been treated—were three university students, Messrs. Neville, Walsh and Sharp, the future founders of the far-left OZ magazine which I discussed previously.
BRODZIAK Vs. MILLER
There are any number of events that can be pointed to as the definitive arrival of the sexual revolution in Australia. Some would say the approval of the birth control pill Anovlar in 1961, others the founding of Saffron’s strip clubs. Another contender would surely be the arrival of the Beatles on a wet and windy Sydney morning in July 1964, a catalytic event of the sexual revolution that flared the passions of Australian youth like no other before it. This was the cultural event of the decade, with wall-to-wall media coverage, and people lined up around the country to catch even a glimpse of the Beatles in a passing car or on a hotel balcony in Kings Cross. Sensible society just didn’t know what to make of the young women screaming their heads off in ecstasy at Beatles concerts, something that had not been encountered before in the country on this scale. Those who attempted to warn Australia about the Beatles, their sexual lyrics, and the impact their style had on the young and on notions of parental authority, were exposed by the massive crowds and media frenzy as out of touch moral busybodies who no longer had a monopoly over moral discourse.
The man responsible for the tour was music promoter Kenneth Leo Brodziak, who had fortuitously (and cheaply) booked an Australian tour of the Beatles with manager Brian Epstein through his London agent (Cyril Berlin), as part of a talent scouting trip in July 1963. This was well before their explosion in popularity in the UK and their subsequent appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US. Born in Sydney in 1913 to an established Jewish family, Brodziak, alongside Harry M. Miller, followed in the wake of Lee Gordon’s ground-breaking tours as the next generation of Jewish promoters importing the biggest foreign entertainment acts to Australia.
Brodziak in 1994, showcasing his original Beatles contract (Rennie Ellis—State Library of Victoria)
Brozdiak founded Aztec Productions in 1946 which became a successful theater company, often working with David Martin at the Tivoli. His early productions skirted the line of what was acceptable under obscenity law at the time, often all-male performances which indulged his homosexual tendencies, and his first self-written play, Desire Brings Welcome, was banned in 1937 by the NSW government. Other Aztec theatrical productions such as Rusty Bugles and The Square Ring (first performed in 1948 and 1953 respectively) came under scrutiny for obscenity, and the company held the Australian performance rights to the works of controversial playwright Lillian Hellman. By the late 1950s, Aztec was bringing in musical acts from Britain and America as well, including many Black artists, taking over from Gordon’s headlining tours which had fallen out of success.
At the time, Brodziak’s main commercial rival was the young Harry Maurice Miller, the founder of Pan-Pacific Promotions. Their rivalry during the mid-1960s intensified into a tit-for-tat music promotion battle, each attempting to outdo the other. In 1964, Miller toured a group of Liverpool artists as the “Liverpool Sound” to take the wind out Brodziak’s Beatles tour. Brodziak responded with an exclusive stadium partnership deal that locked out Miller from the biggest Australian concert venues, and Miller countered with a tour of the Rolling Stones, held at a refurbished pavilion in the Sydney Showgrounds. Miller was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1943 to a Jewish rag-trader who migrated from London in the 1920s. Miller made Sydney, specifically Kings Cross, his base of operations from 1964 and used his prior New Zealand connections to also arrange for many New Zealand tours of his contracted acts.
Brodziak and Miller soon put their differences aside and were collaborating on theater and music promotions. The pair, now in a partnership, were behind the Australian premieres of all the largest obscene and blasphemous theatrical productions and musicals (many written and first directed by Jews) that were coming to Australia at the time. Such is their reputation now as theatrical trailblazers of the cultural and sexual revolution, that even people who have never stepped foot in a theatre in their life would recognise some of the names: Hair, The Boys in the Band, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Godspell, and A Chorus Line.
Their joint production of The Boys in the Band in 1968 precipitated another major obscenity trial in Australia in the lead up to the Portnoy’s Complaint victory. During the Melbourne performance leg, three of the actors were successfully charged with obscenity, much to the outcry of the press. It was a sign of the times that the police could no longer ban a production even with blatant homosexual themes, and had to resort to targeting utterances of the word “f*ck” to record any sort of conviction.
For the first Australian production of Hair in 1969, Miller and Brodziak set up the Minerva Theatre in Kings Cross for a two-year performance stint. The challenge was, how to get the scene of full nudity (which became the first in a theatrical production in the country) past the government censors in the form of Sir Eric Willis. Miller’s solution was to reduce the length of the scene and adjust the lighting of the stage to be as dim as possible, and he deliberately invited Willis to the afterparty of the preview, where he was bombarded with people praising him for allowing the performance. In the end, Miller got the result he wanted and Willis backed down:
I told them it was not my kind of show. That it denigrated all of the basic standards of life that we had been reared to believe were correct … the nude scene in my opinion was completely unnecessary … but it was so brief that, you know, I just thought it was harmless.
Both Miller and Brodziak continued their careers into the 1990s, by then eclipsed by the next generation of Jewish promoters in Australia—Michael Gudinski and Michael Coppel.
DEATH ON THE CROSS
The progression to violence, anarchy and death, unleashed by sexual passions, is the seemingly inevitable result of sexual liberation, one that has played out throughout history. The sexual license of the French Revolution, spurred on by pornographic pamphlets and the Marquis de Sade, gave way to the Terror, Jewish perversion in Weimar Germany stoked the inferno of communist and fascist violence in the 1930s, and the ’68 generation mutated into terrorist groups like the Weather Underground and the Baader-Meinhof Gang. The sexual liberation that Saffron and other Jews had help unleash at Kings Cross was no different. By the latter half of the 1980s, the Cross had devolved into a drug-infested horror show, beset by violence and gang warfare, and the homosexuals that had made the Cross their spiritual home were dying by the dozens of AIDS—a far cry from the once glitzy and glamourous Cross. By 1989, the situation had degenerated to such an extent, that some members of the NSW government even privately invited Abe Saffron, about to be released from prison, to re-take his throne as “King of the Cross” from the Lebanese criminals that had taken over and help the police clean up the mess that it had become. That it was Jews like Saffron who had caused this mess in the first place was apparently not understood.
In Parts I and II of this series, this writer explored the important Jewish role in the downfall of obscenity laws in Australia in 1972, through the vehicle of Portnoy’s Complaint. At the time, Justice Ewen Ross upheld the ban on the book in Victoria, but in his judgement, he couldn’t help but admit that there was a ”new frankness” in the community when it came to matters of sex that made his decision a more controversial one. This essay has outlined strong contenders for the origins of this new frankness amongst Australians—ones that can be strongly attributed to Jews. Centred around Kings Cross, it was the venues of Saffron and Lee, the Jazz and Beat music imported by Gordon and Brodziak, and the performances staged by Miller, that had done more than their fair share in grooming wider Australian culture prior to 1972 for the downfall of obscenity and the arrival of sexual modernity.
The death of Kings Cross finally came in February 2014, when the state government, tired of the amount of money and energy they were forced to invest into the precinct to stop the constant alcohol abuse and deaths from drunken brawls, implemented new “lockout laws” under the Liquor Act. These regulations, which applied selectively to Sydney’s nightlife precincts, barred patrons from entering venues after 1:30 am and from purchasing alcohol after 3 am. Opponents were quick to blame the laws for the shuttered strip clubs and the for-lease signs cropping up all along Darlinghurst Road; however, gentrification had already begun to take hold prior to this. Despite evidence that the laws had successfully reduced alcohol-fuelled deaths, the people of Sydney spent the next six years listening to wailing from progressives about the return of temperance and the death of their icon.
True to form as useless conservatives who fail to conserve anything—let alone even try to uphold basic moral standards, the NSW Liberal government gave in to public pressure and rescinded the laws in 2021. Hopes are high that the Cross can return as Australia’s premier “space for transgression,” but it almost doesn’t matter, Australia doesn’t need places like Kings Cross anymore:
The cruel reality is that Kings Cross has served its purpose. For decades it was the vanguard of modernism, sexual mores, design and nightlife and an escape from a parochial and puritan Australia. But now all that has changed.
In an era where internet pornography is in every household, where “pride week” is celebrated at places of employment, and where drag queens read to children at local libraries, it no longer has any currency in shocking the country and there is little left for Jews to transgress. In a way, every suburb in Australia has now become Kings Cross.
 Founded by “Danny Brown” and “Doc Benner.” Their background is unclear, but their slightly ethnic appearance and all too generic stage-like names hint at a Jewish heritage.
 H. Jay 1971, ‘BOY THESE LES GIRLS!’. Australian Jewish News, Friday 13 July, p.8.
 The phrase was popularised by historian Geoffrey Blainey in his book The Tyranny of Distance (1966), which argued that remoteness had shaped the development of Australia as a country.
 Organiser Harry Muller of J.C. Williamsons even had to lie on their visa applications to get the band into the country – D. O’Connell 2021, Harlem Nights: The Secret History of Australia’s Jazz Age, Melbourne University Press, Australia, p.65.
 Ibid., p.84.
 The Australian equivalent of the American FBI at the time.
 O’Connell, Op. Cit., p.184.
 Ibid., p.243.
 F. Van Straten 2007, ‘Lee Gordon – Hall of Fame’, Live Performance Australia, retrieved from: https://liveperformance.com.au/hof-profile/lee-gordon-1923-1963/.
 The Sun-Herald 1954, ‘Sydney Filmgoers to See STARS In The Flesh’, Sunday 11 July, p.44.
 The desire to avoid the emergence of a “colored problem” like that in America was a crucial impetus to the creation of the White Australia Policy.
 Saffron, Op. Cit., p.104.
 D. Kringas 2012, ‘Lenny Bruce’s Visit to Sydney 1961’, Dictionary of Sydney, retrieved from https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/lenny_bruces_visit_to_sydney_1962
 Sydney Morning Herald 1937, Ban on Play, Thursday 11 February, p.10.
 Co-founded by Dennis Wong of Chequers nightclub.
 D. Kimball, ‘Kenn Brodziak’, Milesago: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964-1975, retrieved from http://www.milesago.com/industry/brodziak.htm
 The name ‘Miller’ is likely an anglicized version of an eastern European Jewish name. Miller himself doesn’t give it away in his autobiography, or perhaps he simply doesn’t know either: H. M. Miller & P. Holder 2018, Harry M Miller- Confessions of a not-so-secret agent, 2nd edition, Hachette, Australia.
 P. Mullins 2019, The Trials of Portnoy, Scribe Publications, Australia, p.124.
 Miller & Holder, Op. Cit., p.82.
 D. Kimball, ‘Hair’, Milesago: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964-1975, retrieved from http://www.milesago.com/Stage/hair.htm
 Saffron, Op. Cit., p.242.
 Mullins, Op. Cit., p.147.
 Nowra, Op. Cit., p.454.
 Drag Queen Story Hour is now a thing in Australia as well.