Anyone who knows me knows that there are two things I never leave home without, my lipstick and my camera. I always carry at least two of each; my lipstick because I’m forever losing tubes in the bottomless pits of my purses, and cameras because you never know what will pop up in front of you and you don’t want to be without some way of capturing it should one photographic device malfunction. Not that I take it with me anymore, but a constant companion in my former years was this great looking, incredibly clunky Lipstick Camera, much more effective for its mental effect on the people it was shooting –  they always smile when they see it – than for  the grainy, patchy photos it took. Last night when I started writing my blog, where I like to tie in objects from my collection into what’s really going on in my life, the Lipstick Camera seemed like the perfect artifact to feature as I was on my way to a party for famed photographer and friend, Greg Gorman, honoring his 1970 – 2010 retrospective at The Fahey/Klein Gallery. As one who likes to match clothes and accessories to the event, I even thought about bringing the Lipstick Camera with me. But I knew I’d be seeing too many old friends and didn’t want to capture all of it with crappy photos.


I first met Greg Gorman when I moved to LA in 1976. He was the up and coming photographer to the stars and my friends, Bette Midler’s Harlettes, already back in New York, asked me to pick up some proof sheets from their photo session with him. He was really friendly and as I walked out of his tiny apartment on Laurel Canyon I remember thinking how great it would be to take photos of everything I saw that was interesting or significant to me so I would have this incredible documentation of  my life. That began my habit of forever buying cheap novelty cameras as I was forever on a budget. Meaning most of the documenting I did until I stumbled on my first Canon Elph in 1996 made for some very grainy memories. Even when I knew where to buy film for the Lipstick Camera, the photos it took were pretty awful.  But as someone who loves to play it as it lays, there was also always something so soulful about them.


When I started making furniture out of found objects in 1984, Greg Gorman was one of the first people to buy a piece. I know it’s embarrassing to show this fuzzy of a photo of a famous photographer but all I had with me the day I delivered his table made out of a window from a World War II fighter bomber plane I painted on and a spring from my 1955 De Soto was one of my cheap, nasty cameras.


A few months after that, Greg shot actor Christopher Atkins at my house. The white throw draped across my couch is Chris.


Here’s a much more flattering shot of him that Greg took that day.


And here’s a much more recent shot of Greg, taken last night at his reception. Unfortunately, we were standing in front of the only section of the gallery where his photos weren’t hanging.


Just as unfortunately, when I opened my photos once I got home, all of them were so pixelated they looked like a can of vegetable soup had spilled on them. It was as if they were taken on the Lipstick Camera, not the most ideal situation when you’re capturing you and one of the most iconic celebrity photographers of all time. If I had had half a brain cell awake in my brain last night I would have checked the settings on the Elph every time whoever was taking the photo said, “did the flash go off?” because it never did. Each and every time I said to myself, “hmmm,why isn’t the flash going off?”, only to get distracted by someone else I hadn’t seen in a zillion years until a few minutes later the same thing happened and I would say to myself, “hmmm,why isn’t the flash going off?”.

So what I have are a bunch of grainy, yet totally evocative of the evening photos. And here’s where my love of kitsch kicks in, allowing me to make sense of these moments of catastrophe. Had my Elph been on the right setting I would have had beautiful photos of people I saw at a photographer’s opening to feature in a post about a funny looking vintage camera. But now I have photos that look like they were taken with the Lipstick Camera itself! It’s so cosmic, so organic! And it’s these collisions of high and low art in the manifestations of my creative expression that I absolutely live for.

So knowing that I know that these photos look like they were pulled out of a landfill, here’s me with some other friends I bumped into last night. This one with my Earth, Wind & Fire compadre, Verdine White, and his  fantastic wife Shelly, who I’d just seen last week at the life altering Earth, Wind & Fire(works) concert at The Hollywood Bowl, looks like it’s one of those early Polaroid color camera shots that you slopped that stick of goop on.


This one with Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn looks like it’s a still from an airport scene in a way too low-budget 1970’s movie.


This one with John Fleck and Stan Zimmerman almost looks normal but that’s probably because the boys have such good skin. Were you to see this at high resolution my hair looks like it has ants running through it.


This one with Ken Page is almost okay as it was taken in a particularly bright hallway.


So what, I will never be able to blow any of my photos from last night up into giant super graphics and paste them on the side of my house. But I’m incredibly artistically and psychically satisfied that so glued to my fingers is my trusty Canon Elph that it took it upon itself to emulate the Lipstick Camera and give me crappy yet perfect photos to remember a wonderful night by.

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Made of heavy metal and showing signs of many smokables ground out on her head, this petite 3″ long ashtray is one of my favorite pieces of Africana. I bought her in 1979 for 25 cents during my first run of the Earth. Wind & Fire hits, when my Soul memorabilia collection really kicked into high gear. On the African tip, I snatched up every wooden, ceramic or chalkware bust I could find, all excessively cheap because this was way before the frenzy to collect them set in. Since then my collection has tipped way more toward the pop culture soul side, primarily late 60s/early 70s massive Afro laden stuff, but my little expressive African lady is never far away from the pop action.


She has two convenient places to store smokable rolled substances: one, the concave series of necklaces that cover her neck for things already lit and two, her earring, into which a brand-new log can be inserted to stand up vertically until it’s ignited.


I shall never turn my back on this little lady becasue I love her so much.



Despite the fact that The Wibbler is guaranteed “fun for all ages”, the last thing I’m about to do is jump on this thing and start to wibble. All it is is a brittle piece of vacuformed plastic that you stand on with no strap to hold your feet in position and then start to tip every which way. I would bet that rather than having fun more people ended up with broken ankles and chipped teeth from their wibbling activities. This is probably why I never heard of The Wibbler before and why nothing shows up in a Google search for it. Which makes me treasure this toy that’s “scientifically engineered and built like a bridge” even more. Would you want to drive across a bridge called The Wibbler?


I definitely think more time was spent on designing the packaging than figuring out the physics of wibbling.


Although, as an art director I never would have chosen a red background to demonstrate kids wibbling away as it looks like they’re just standing on a black line.


As you can see, most of the Wibbler examples show two people wibbling together. As my life and career are dedicated to promoting socially fun interaction between people I’m usually up for anything that promotes this kind of activity, like say “Twister”.


But as bone crushing as Twister can get, one is standing on their own one or two feet and should you topple over at least there are a bunch of other bodies to cushion the fall. Tettertottering on The Wibbler gives one no such padding. I would suggest having excellent medical insurance before one takes it upon themselves to wibble.


If you still want to know how to wibble, here are some easy instructions:


My guess is that someone like Weldon Smith loved to wibble.


For now, I think I will confine my walking and dancing activities to two feet on solid ground. But should I ever get the itch to wibble, I’ll stand on this plastic bridge, say a little prayer and hope for the best.

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Made of abalone shells sunk into resin with a big gold and red Masonic crest stuck smack dab in the middle, this kind of pen holder was all the rage among 1950’s and 60’s crafters who plopped anything and everything into the gooey hardening stuff to preserve it forever. Seashells were one of the most popular kinds of sunken treasure, right up there with butterfly wings and pennies.


I was never a one pen person, to this day misplacing them almost every time I take a break from writing and put one down. In my pre-computer days, before 1985, I used to have an array of these resin writing mates lined up on all my desks so at least ten writing implements presented themselves before me at all times. Though I had already begun my digital digression by the time I found this one, it was a must to buy as I love any product that has the Masonic or Shriners or whatever that circle and star thing/crest is on it. I have toiletry sets and salt and pepper shakers with it emblazoned on but my seaside pen holder is absolutely one of my favorites of the ilk.


A lot of times, crafters are too lazy to cover the bottom of their resin creations. The action’s all on the top and the bottoms are left to scratch tables and chip until the whole piece cracks. The Masonic shell freak who made this one was not one of those to take shortcuts and adhered cork to the underside of his construction.


Which is great because this honey gets moved around a lot. It’s also like a big Tetherball pole to my cats who bat it back and forth until the pen finally flies out to join the legions of others that collect under my couches for their 4 AM playground breaks.



In the land of kitschified 1960’s and 70’s decor there was no higher form of craft art than a bunch of resin grapes stuck on wire, drilled into driftwood vines and, if you were lucky, turned into lights. As much as resin grapes spread through living rooms of yore like asphalt, this is one of those buying trends that really exploded decades later with the growth of eBay. Ripped from the belly of garages and attics, these vestiges of middle class decorating tastes used to go for a few bucks a bunch. But in more recent years many have climbed into the hundreds. Yeah, you can still find a ratty little grouping of three or four scratched up grapes in the low-end of the pocketbook but the sets that are still in great shape, and especially the ones that have been turned into lamps and hanging lights, can go for a king’s ransom. But make no mistake about it, there are resin grapes and there are resin grapes. The 20 inch long grape beauty featured here is a masterpiece of RESIN GRAPES!

I’ve been collecting grapes for decades. I have plain old bunches that I scatter around the yard:


Some of them are multicolored:


Sometimes I group them with some of the ceramics that have hit the yard because they’ve cracked or chipped but are still too pretty to throw out:


There’s an area of my yard that’s like a retirement home for the grapes. I haven’t found their final resting spot yet but here they sit among their fellow fruit waiting for placement:


The really pretty grapes get to stay inside:


Among resin grapes, pink is one of the rarer colors.


Even rarer are the grapes that are lucky enough to have been turned into pineapple lamps. I have two of them:

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As many resin grapes as I have, I haven’t gone as fruity as this person in East LA has:


My dream in life is to befriend whoever lives in this place. Can you even imagine what it’s like on the inside?!

But no matter how many grapes I should acquire over the coming years or how many more houses I stumble upon that treat the grapes like paint to cover drab walls, my twenty inch long hanging bunch is still the Godfather Big Kahuna Mighty Mighty of resin grapes as far as I’m concerned, lighting up my yard and life in all of its sweet grape spectacularness.




When I was young, “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” spun on the hi-fi every Jewish holiday. I loved Connie F., especially for her song “Teddy”, a lesser-known Francis spin but one of the first songs where I noticed how important a sweeping melody could be to a record. As a kid, music was like religion to me. Whereas RELIGION always felt so serious. So the fact that there was a Pop influence infiltrating the holidays in the Willis household was of great comfort to me. That Connie Francis was Italian and so far away from being Jewish did not deter me at all. The first paragraph of the liner notes was good enough for me:


I wish that all it took these days to satisfy and amaze everyone was an impeccable Jewish accent.


I only knew a few of the songs Connie chose to sing and am not quite sure how the “Anniversary Song” got in there but back then it was rumored she was dating Bobby Darin so I was fine with whatever she wanted to sing.

Last night I was hitting Jewish high notes myself when I partook in the Rosh Hashanah feast at Street restaurant, my favorite haunt be it Jewish holiday or not. I came dressed for the occasion.


Just as Connie Francis wasn’t on the playlist at every Jewish household during the holidays, Rosh Hashana at Street wasn’t the usual latkes and macaroons fare either. Although my favorite, Gefilte Fish, wasn’t on the menu Matzoh Ball Soup was. It was seriously THE BEST Matzoh Ball Soup I have ever tasted.


We also had Whitefish Salad with Apples, Celery and Bagel Chips. Though I never liked whitefish as much as I liked Connie Francis.


The killer food of the night was the Brisket.


It was served with carrots, onion and fresh herbs and Noodle Kugel.


Sorry for the blurry photo. I was too excited to eat once I realized the kugel was topped with Sugar Frosted Flakes. The Feniger-tweaked food slid down the throat of this Chosen Person faster than freshly skimmed schmaltz.

When I went to pay for the meal I realized that some of my accessories may have been slightly inappropriate for the evening.


I cannot attest to being the world’s greatest practicing Jew but I’m always happy to honor the holidays in above manner.  And I would hope that “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” would always be on the menu.



I’ve never been on a cruise.  I’ve gone sailing twice. I’ve been in a motor boat maybe 10 times. But make no mistake about it, I love boats. I love the sound of the water lapping up against them when you’re in them, I love what they look like. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise – between the buffets, lounge acts and seafaring decor what’s not to love? But for now, I content myself with ship artifacts like this 1940’s plastic salt ‘n pepper shaker.


I have a lot of help around my house creating a perfect atmosphere for the ship salt and pepper shakers as it abounds with portholes. These particular ones came off a 1952 Chris-Craft boat.

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I turned this porthole into a laundry chute.


When I had to spend tons of time in New York between 2002 and 2007 during the writing and production of my musical, The Color Purple, I insisted on staying at the Maritime Hotel. This is one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world as far as I’m concerned. Built in 1969 as the National Maritime Union, it’s 12 stories of pristine one inch white mosaic tiles with a four foot metal rimmed ship’s porthole in every room, of which there are are twelve on each floor.


The rooms are decorated like a ship’s cabin – dark wood, curves including the ceiling and laid out meticulously other than  the contortions one must get into to operate the TV remote from bed. The lobby has  stone reliefs of maritime activites and the floor echos the giant portholes in the rooms. But I’m not here to give a hotel tour and I’m not in New York and God knows if I’ll ever get my ass on a cruise. But when I look at this little seafaring salt and pepper shaker, its gorgeous red and white perfect 1940’s plastic self, it chills out my brain as if it were riding the waves instead of racing to post this blog.



Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t go to concerts. I don’t like the crowds, I don’t like the walking, I don’t like someone singing next to me or standing up in front of me dancing. I understand this is the nature of concerts and I’m not out to change that so I was always happier sinking my head under a set of headphones and listening to the intricacies of the music rather than the  idiosyncrasies of the crowd. This includes concerts where my own music is being performed. Of the hundreds and hundreds of songs of mine that have been cut I’ve seen maybe ten of them performed live. One of the most memorable nights ever for me was in 1979 at the Los Angeles Forum when half of the songs performed by Earth Wind & Fire were mine, including “September”, “Boogie Wonderland” and “In the Stone”.  Although I’m blessed to have some of my tunes among their most popular I never saw the band perform live again. Until last Friday night when I saw a performance that blew my head off my shoulders and still has me skipping along the sidewalks of Los Angeles, a very happy girl.


On the slight chance you don’t know “September”, my first hit with the group, this will jog your memory. For “Boogie Wonderland” go here. There’s a lot more of them but that will suffice as context for this post.

About six months before “September” came out at the tail end of 1978 I started writing with Verdine White,  founding member of EWF, pictured with me at the top of this post, and to this day my favorite bass player in the world. We wrote a theme song for a short-lived TV dance show called “Hot City” for a singer named Shelly Clark. Verdine married Shelly and also put me in one of my most important relationships ever, my collaboration with Maurice White, Verdine’s brother whose vision EWF was.  Although I’ve seen Verdine often over the years I just saw Shelly for the first time last night since we did “Hot City”.  That kind of time span will never happen again.


I wouldn’t have even been at this concert if my friend Nancy Ferguson hadn’t insisted that I go after almost every person I knew told me they were going.  The one photo I didn’t take last night was of my little family group, Nancye, Jim Burns and Prudence Fenton, who I go everywhere with and who schlepped me to The Bowl on Friday. Here we are a couple of months ago at a vintage slide show:


I also hung out a lot with my excellent friend and EWF fan number one, Luenell.


Luenell, Shelly and I took excellent head shots throughout the evening.


Luenell came with Constance Tillotson.  Amongst the three of us we’re known as as Twinkie (Constance), Luenell (Ding Dong) and Hostess Snowball (me).


The concert itself was astounding. It never hit me until it started that for the first time in my life I was about to hear  my songs played with a live 70 piece orchestra. It was actually the first time Earth Wind and Fire heard their songs this way too.


Songwriting can be a lot of work. For me personally, many times along the way it was also a lot of trauma as when you’re a songwriter it’s oftentimes like being the attendant in a restroom; the restroom attendant is there to change the towels and service the patrons/ the songwriter is there to deliver options of music and lyrics and service the artist. I started doing art and videos and later, technology, because I was someone who needed to create all the time.  Whereas much of my time as a songwriter was spent babysitting, waking up an artists’ brain from seemingly eternal sleep, waiting around for hours while they decided whether it should be an “a” or a “the” in the lyric or to go to a D in the music and me knowing it should be none of the above.  But I have news for you – Every inch of blood, sweat and trauma was worth it when I saw EWF play “September” with a big  mofo 70 piece live ass orchestra and fireworks going off throughout the song. I think you can tell how excited I was by this little movie I took on my Canon Elf.


People who filled the 17,000+ seats posted a zillion videos of this on YouTube. This one is shot from further back and shows all of the fireworks.


Now I know I’m about to stay up all night writing this because I keep finding all these videos shot from different seats at the Bowl.  This one’s from about halfway back. As much as I’m tempted to post the at least 20 of these I’ve seen so far because I’m so eternally grateful for people around the world who’ve embraced “September” for all these years, I promise this will be the last:


About a year ago, when I first opened my social network, The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch @ AWMOK.com, me, Luenell, Verdine and Larry Dunn, original EWF keyboard player who played on all my EWF hits, did a slightly less orchestrated and lit performance of “September” when we performed it at the opening night party in an alley playing on thrift shop instruments.


Not at the party that night but always in my heart is Philip Bailey.  As anyone who’s ever listened to EWF knows, Philip has just about the most extraordinary falsetto voice as any human being ever created. Until last night at the Bowl it had been at least 15 years since we’d seen each other.


I can’t tell you how happy I was to be reunited with Phillip. Just like I can’t tell you how proud I was to be part of this extraordinary group whose message  has been rock-solid-2010-spiritually-evolved since they began recording in the late 60s. Phillip felt the same way about me as evidenced in this video that unfortunately cuts off right when he gets going. (I suppose I should be grateful for having even this much of the conversation on tape though truth be told, my heart felt like battery acid was lacing through it when I saw the camera dangling from the arm of the person I had given it to to shoot as opposed to being pointed at us capturing every single once-in-a-lifetime word.)


I know it’s hard to hear so I’ve stooped to typing out what Phillip said because it meant the world to me. Phillip: “Allee Willis is one of the greatest writers who ever lived or breathed.  Without Allee Willis, a lot of those songs wouldn’t be here for us, for Earth Wind & Fire….”

Luckily I only went for a photograph when I saw Ralph Johnson, the third original member still in the group.  We hadn’t seen each other since the early 80s. It will most certainly not take another 30 years for this to happen again.


Even the Godhead himself and the man without whom I would never be where I am today as a songwriter took the stage for a few moments. Maurice White hasn’t performed with the group for years and the audience went insane when he walked out. He left before the party afterwards but here’s a photo of us taken a few years ago at the opening of Hot Feet, a musical featuring all EWF music in which I had seven songs. We’re with two of my all time favorite songwriters in the universe, Ashford and Simpson, and LaChanze,  who won the Tony for playing Celie in my musical, The Color Purple, playing just down Broadway from Hot Feet at the time.


Now back to The Bowl. Here I am with Greg Phillingaines, the completely brilliant artist and keyboard player who also was a prominent part of my musical history, not to mention playing on every important Michael Jackson solo record and about a trillion other ones you know.  Not to mention that he’s also playing on “I’m Here”, a song of mine from The Color Purple that’s on Fantasia’s new CD.


I had the time of my life Friday night but I still don’t like the crowds, the walking, the people singing out of tune next to me or blocking my view because they’re up on their feet dancing. But if anything could change my mind it was this experience of 17,000 people going nuts while the group who changed my life, a dream orchestra and easily some of the most spectacular fireworks I’ve ever seen accompanied my music.





For all of you wielding BBQ tools this Labor Day there is now a fashionable addition to your tool universe, the BBQ Sword! I love stuff like this. Kitsch to be sure but also incredibly practical as the stainless steel hand guard protects your precious digits from the flames and spitting fat.


Made from heavy gauge stainless steel, the BBQ Sword is perfect for grilling in safety and style. It even comes with a Musketeer Mask. I was never into swashbuckling stories or pirates (though I did take fencing in camp one summer) so I’m not really up on the importance of the need of the swashbuckling barbecue-e’s identity to remain secret, but as they’re throwing the mask in for free I’m willing to explore it.


Besides, I’ve never been the person to take on the grilling of the meal. I’m the one choosing the perfect BBQ from among on my collection of vintage ones, a couple of my favorites pictured here:


I’m also the one choosing the perfect dishes and serving pieces:

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Though I suppose that my possession of the BBQ Sword might induce me to take on the task of cooking the dogs one day.


The sword, made by Slam Hebe, takes itself very seriously:


And I take my hamburgers and hotdogs very seriously:


I’m actually out the door on my way to a friend’s house who reliably takes on such cooking tasks on the holidays. I would bring him this BBQ Sword but I only bought one and have grown too attached to it while writing this post to give it up now. Perhaps I’ll wear the mask so the identity of the guest who walks in empty-handed is not revealed. But I’ll make up for it with my sparkling swashbuckling personality.



As we in the states scrape down the barbecues and pack the picnic baskets getting ready for big Labor Day feasts tomorrow, it’s only fitting that I drag out my Capital Metals Company Inc. ashtray and shine it up as best as one can shine a piece of 60-year-old textured metal, so those who still smoke have something labor-themed to squash the labor of their puffing out in.  As we stuff hot dogs and hamburgers and baked beans and potato chips and potato salad and coleslaw and, if we’re lucky, barbecued chicken down our gullets this Labor Day, I hope we all remember what we’re celebrating. Especially this year when less and less people can even say they’re a part of the labor force. Some people fly a flag. I just  rummage through my drawer of over 200 vintage ashtrays and pull this one out for the weekend.

Although I spent almost every Saturday of my childhood poking through piles of metal in my father’s scrapyard in Detroit and thus have a much healthier knowledge of metals than the average gal, I don’t really know what the two mechanical wonders in the tray of the ashtray are.


I’m assuming they’re both some kind of metal stamping or forming apparatuses and weigh several tons. I’m also assuming that they make a spectacular sound as they do whatever they do to the metal or whatever it is that passes through their jaws and conveyor belts. These are the kind of machines to this day that I’m obsessed with making recordings of and using as percussion loops under my songs.

Who knows if these babies are still around…? They probably met the same fate the Capital Metals Company Inc. that doesn’t show up in a Google search did. Depending on what these machines popped out and how they triumphed in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, they may have taken a tumble in the 70’s when the transition from labor driven factories really started to kick in.

There’s no address or area code with the phone number on the ashtray so I have no idea where the Capital Metals Company was/is. One might think Washington DC from the little Capital dome at the bottom but being such a ubiquitous icon it still could be from anywhere.


As we celebrate the once great tradition of the American workforce, I personally celebrate the fact that I had the good sense to snap up this ashtray for the 10 cents the labor force at Salvage Masters, “The Champagne Operators Of The Salvage Industry”, in Long Beach, CA asked for it.


Here I am there moments before I stumbled on the Capital Metals Company metal ashtray in 1984:


On this one-day-before Labor Day, all hail labor and, of course, gorgeous metal ashtrays!