It’s perhaps ironic that Bethany Bultman ended up being a Mardi Gras queen, reigning over last weekend’s Krewe du Vieux, considering the ruckus she stirred up in 1992.
She’d kept a story about Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) under her hat until after his death. In 1988 he had come to town for a show at The New Orleans Museum of Art, and was invited to the Boston Club — and then uninvited, because he was Jewish.
The anecdote came up when Dorothy Mae Taylor, the African-American city councilwoman known by many as “the Grinch who stole Mardi Gras,” took issue with the practice of banning women, Jews, blacks and everyone else who didn’t fit their bill from select krewes and clubs. Bethany wrote a tongue-in-cheek but very critical letter to the editor of The Times-Picayune supporting Taylor’s position.
I wasn’t living here at the time, so didn’t see the whole thing go down, but I know she got fierce blow-back, including her family being socially “excommunicated” from their parish church, being banned from her health club, and having neighbors quit speaking to her (even to this day).
In an era when we have a bi-racial President, and gay marriage and marijuana are on the cusp of being legalized, this brouhaha may seem quaint … or maybe not. As Bethany says, “silence is violence.” She is still a staunch defender of those who need defending, as evidenced by her founding of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC), formed to provide health care to our city’s beloved local musicians.
As her consort in Krewe du Vieux, an organization as tongue-in-cheek and witty as the queen herself, Bethany chose the extraordinary Christophe E. Jackson, who played the part of the great Ernie K-Do, sent back to Earth by his wife Antoinette for three days from Musicians Who Find Themselves in Heaven. He studied Ben Sandmel’s Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans to get down the language and the background of his doppleganger for the Naughty Nurses Shakedown, a benefit in which the sexy gals from NOMC visit Decatur Street clubs from Cafe du Monde down to Snug Harbor for donations to the clinic.
With his “Shake it down, burn girl burn, Charity Hospital may be gone but the Musicians Clinic goes on,” and singing “Mother in Law” like a pro, you would think Christophe was born and bred to this town and its music … that is, until you had a normal conversation with him and learned he’s only been in NOLA for two weeks, and is the winner of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in the Physiology of the Voice (or something like that).
As someone asked, “Does this guy have a motor inside him? Where can I get one?”
Krewe de Vieux is definitely not Uptown and elegant, even though Bethany was very queenly in a magnificent dress and crown, the dress sewn by McGehee School science teacher Lee White. The regal wave seemed to come naturally to Bethany, who, while visiting Santa at D.H. Holmes when she was 6 years old had asked the fat man if she could be Queen of the French Quarter in a parade. Santa finally delivered!
This year’s theme was Krewe de Vieux Comes Early — which it did, last Saturday night, early so as not to interrupt Super Bowl events. Floats were pulled by elegantly dressed mules, rolling with great brass bands. K de V is always satirical, wild, down-and-dirty, with sub krewes the likes of Krewe of C.R.U.D.E., Krewe of Space Age Love, Krewe of Underwear, Seeds of Decline, Krewe of L.E.W.D, Mystic Krewe of Comatose, Mystic Krewe of Inane, and Krewe du Mishigas. This is a thinking man’s hilarious smut.
I was there for the transformation of my longtime friend Bethany into Queen MAGNA CUM LOUDLY, made up by Sally Cornelsen, wife of Reggie Scanlan, whose band The New Orleans Suspects (and Radiator’s bassist) put on a spectacular, can’t-stop-dancing fundraising concert for NOMC at Howlin Wolf on the Thursday before the parade. Bethany had booked this date for the fundraiser one day before she learned she would be Queen of K de V on the following Saturday. Kismet!
As the parade wove through the French Quarter and onto Frenchman Street, Float #1 was preceded by Bethany’s two sons, marching with The Naughty Nurses from NOMC (New Orleans Musicians Clinic; see above).
Queen Bethany paused in front of us up on the balcony above Snug Harbor. She toasted past queen Charmaine Neville and former duchess Tee Eva, as well as Music, Beauty, Humor, a Great Cause, and, of course, a really big dose of irony.
Catch NolaVie contributor Glen Abbott’s video recap of Krewe de Vieux here.