Monday, February 6, 2017


This is the cover of a book-length poem I wrote c. 1990, with a reproduction of a postcard photograph of one of the most inspiring creative artists I've ever encountered or heard about: Marta Becket. There are sections in the poem that describe my experience making a movie in Death Valley over a period of weeks, during which the cast and crew stayed at the hotel Becket had revived and painted murals in all the rooms and hallways of, but had never let anyone stay in until us.

It was part of a bracket-shaped set of connected buildings in Death Valley Junction, a crossroads in the middle of nowhere that had been totally abandoned except for a gas station that would also soon be deserted when Becket and her then male companion and partner stopped to get a tire fixed in 1967 when she was a dancer touring the country doing one-woman shows, often in colleges paid for by student funds that were at that moment beginning to dry up for cultural entertainment like Becket's.

While the tire was worked on, she wandered into an end building that had been used for a hall for workers meetings and I believe even church services back in the days of borax "mining" (more like collecting) when the hotel section housed visitors stopping over during train rides from the East Coast to L.A. But in 1967 was falling apart, with holes in the ceiling and warped floors etc. She decided on the spot to make this crossroads her home and did.

She restored the hall, turning it into a theater she named The Amargosa Opera House, where she performed her one-woman show (later with the help of a male companion who acted as her comic foil). Because in the early years of this venture her shows often were performed with no audience, she painted the walls of the theater with murals depicting a packed house made up of Spanish royalty of the 1600s, jugglers and other entertainers, and the less royal, including Native "Americans" brought back to Spain.

It was one of the most amazing places I'd ever been, and her show one of the most uniquely inspiring. When I was there the audiences were packed with visiting gray-haired tourists from Las Vegas and beyond who arrived in tour buses, a result of the attention she garnered after Natioanl Geographic had done a short documentary about Becket her theater and her one-woman show. She was in her late sixties when I saw her dance ballet on point (as well as other types of dance), with the most beautifully articulated movements and poses, and then after the show sit on the edge of the stage to sign autographs and/or books and art work sold in a little shop attached to the theater.

She was obviously multi-talented and a true original. Perhaps the purest artist I ever met to heard of. She was 97 at her death, and had lived life on her terms, ignoring the rest of the world's standards and limitations for what an older woman should do with her life, or anyone for that matter. If you never heard of her, go find out who she was and what she did (Starting perhaps with the pretty good NY Times and L.A. Times obits here and here).

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