Naked, Kickass Katie Lee

Much publicity has been garnered from the beautiful black and white photos of Katie Lee nude in Glen Canyon in the 1950s that were taken by photographer Martin D, Koehler and printed for a special fine arts edition by master printer Richard Jackson of Flagstaff, AZ.

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The photos are now part of the Katie Lee archives at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the special collection “Colorado Plateau.”

At no level did I ever see these photos of Katie as being ‘sexy.’ Katie was as natural in the wilderness as any wild animal, completely unselfconscious, in a manner that very few people are when they are naked.

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“The Nymph,” photo by Martin D. Koehler, is part of a poster sold by Glen Canyon Institute. www.glencanyon.org

Yes, she was a remarkably beautiful woman when the photos were taken, but when she was in those canyons, she was part of the sandstone that she said she was born with in her veins. It was as though these canyons were part of her body.

In Katie’s comments about the photos, she said, “When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight—a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon—climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”

Hiking and Boating with Katie

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can and not put them on again until she gets close to her car.

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Although this photo was taken when she was able to boat down Glen Canyon I had the pleasure of hearing her play her guitar in Gravel Canyon when we backpacked there together many years ago. She was singing in harmony with the coyotes.

Wasn’t she afraid of getting ‘scratched’ someone once asked. I remembered walking naked with Katie and Joey in an absolutely fabulous cactus forest in Southern Baja California. You just had to pay attention, a perfect lesson in ‘being present’ in that silent, but very vibrant world.

 

The second of Katie Lee's trilogy about a lost eden

The second book of Katie Lee’s trilogy of a lost eden., Cover art by Serena Supplee. http://www.serenasupplee.com

In her book Sandstone Seduction: Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, Katie wrote: “When I suggested to someone that reveling in that nude world was like taking a bath in awareness, they asked, “Of yourself?”

“Oh no,” Katie said. “Awareness of the earth, the elements, that blue roof up there, the old stone dune with its birthmarks, that fitting hollow, the sound that sometimes comes from the tone when I put my ear to it.” For her, it was the canyons that were sexy: “The luscious sandstones of Glen Canyon began their beckoning call to me after my first year in these sequestered erogenous zones—those deep sinuous paths between Mother Earth’s labia, so private, so impermissible, I’d back away. Should we even be allowed to see such things?” (page 162)
Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie’s book, Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, featured herself nude, =grinning and pointing a Ruger at her friend and lover, the cowboy-miner Buck.

Book cover of Katie Lee's latest book.

Dandy Crossing was a ferry crossing on the old Colorado River between Hite Village and White Canyon, about three miles downstream from what is now Hite Marina.  The book is still available from her website www.katydoodit.com

Perhaps more than any other book about Glen Canyon that Katie wrote, this one is about the people that lived and worked there before the canyon was dammed—the miners, cowboys, the ferryman, people who explored and settled the west. She felt at home with them and vice versa, whether or not she was nude. Their lives were upended with the building of Glen Canyon reservoir, a sadness some did not recover from, including Katie, who made her life’s work getting rid of the dam and restoring the flow of the Colorado River.

She had no airs in the company of those folk. She always said that the life she led as a performer was only to make money to get her back to her friends in Glen Canyon, exploring its labyrinths and byways.

KT 2 at The Gate

Katie Lee, the glamorous folk singer in the nineteen fifties.

And in those days, that meant performing in places like the Gate of Horn in Chicago or the Hungry Eye in New York.

Perhaps one of the more poignant passages in that book is when Jason, one of her river companions, goes to visit a glamorous Katie when she was singing in Chicago, an awkwardness between them that can’t be bridged, both unable to reach the easy communication with each other that was part of their river journeys, where she was always totally naked.

Do Any Famous Artists Live in Jerome?

Katie was comfortable with her nudity throughout her old age, when her body was full of sags and crinkles, freckles and liver spots. She just didn’t care. Sometimes you’d go to her house, and she’d meet you nude at the door.

I was once asked by a tourist visiting Jerome, “Do any famous artists live in Jerome.” I thought about this and answered, “Katie Lee.” “Oh, isn’t she the woman that rode naked through town on her bike?”

Katie told me she’s likely to be more famous in Jerome for her ride than for her books and music. Sadly, she was right. No stores in Jerome carry her books and music. During the last couple of years, a few Katie-come-lately’s (as my friend Richard Martin put it) laid claim to knowing her, but few have read her books or listened to her music.

An exception is the song written by Katie’s friend Kate Wolf called “Old Jerome, which Wolf wrote while staying at Katie’ house. The song was adopted as the official town song by the Jerome Town Council in the 1990s and is often played and sung by Jerome’s Ukilele Orchestra.

And yes, Katie is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was seventy-seven years old. She howled with laughter as she sailed the mile downhill from Main Street to her house. It was her way to shed the glum, sad feelings she had after a close Jerome friend died.

Katie on her bike

Jane Moore, one of the owners of Made in Jerome, made this plate for Katie for her 93rd birthday commemorating her famous ride

The day she decided to do it was the kind of sticky and hot it gets just before a summer monsoon. “Friends were snapping at each other like loony birds in a tank of toxins and the humidity was a wet, down comforter under a 110-degree heating pad.” (Sandstone Seduction, “The Ride”)

She streaked past bar owner Paul Vojnic as he talked with Ray, the town cop. Paul said, “Well, aren’t you going to arrest her?” “What am I going to arrest her for” Ray said. “Floppy tits?”

Even before Katie reached her house, people who saw her started shaking the phone calls with their laughter. “Do you know what Katie Lee just did?”

Years later, friends put together a memorial to that ride on Katie’s maybe 87th birthday, where they rode their bikes, dressed up in fake big balloon boobs and padded bras over their clothes, before congregating on the steps opposite Paul and Jerry’s Bar. Only Katie and I showed up bare-breasted.

Foul-Mouth, Kick Ass Katie Lee

Maybe more than the nude photos, Katie was known for her foul-mouth. “It took me almost 20 years to get used to her saying the word ‘F. . . .K’, a close friend recently told me. The word would just roll out of her mouth—in conversation, but especially at lectures on the loss of Glen Canyon and the bottled up Colorado River.

Although most of our friends knew that Katie in the nude was her natural self, Katie in front of an audience put clothes and words together for shock and awe, including swear words. She was trained as an actress and used that training when she sang and lectured or was being filmed. Her appearances were not only unforgettable, but often brought audiences to tears. She was a fabulous performer. Then, she was happy to be known as a bad ass or a kick ass. It’s what she was going for. (The phrase ‘Kickass Katie Lee’comes from a short film by the same name that is produced by Beth and George Gage and shown at the 2016 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf7eaeY36tE

The only time I saw Katie embarrassed was when she delivered a commencement address at Prescott College to graduating teachers sometime in the 1990’s. It was laced with swear words and rants. Many graduates were Navaho women who were hugely offended. Afterwards Katie said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever given a speech when absolutely NO ONE came back to tell me how great it was.” “Well, Katie,” I said, “look at your audience, young Navaho women, who had never heard another woman swear like that.“ First time I ever saw her blush.

Katie wouldn’t back off when I suggested she rename her book Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy I Song, Story and Verse. She instantly hit red-line anger and screamed at me, “It’s a famous f….king cowboy song, goddammit.” That book might have been a classic hit among ranchers were it not for the title. The famed Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada wouldn’t carry the book; and many cowboy poetry festivals wouldn’t hire Katie either.

One of the best histories ever written about cowboys.

“A beautiful job, exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many year to come.”  Edward Abbey

I sure hope the University of Arizona Press, current publishers of the book, will continue to reprint it and keep it alive. Some copies are still available at Katie’s website: Katydoodit.com (The odd website name, by the way comes from a conflation of the word Katydid, one of Katie’s favorite insects, and the phrase ‘doo dit.’ She couldn’t call the website by her real name because there was a cookbook author and chef by the same name who had taken the website name for herself.

The word tact was not in Katie’s vocabulary. Whatever she said or felt, she told you. I once chided her: “Katie, sometimes it might pay to be more tactful.” Again, full redline scream: “Tact is a f…..king waste of time.” She said that to me when she was just about the same age as I am now (78) and I try to say exactly what I mean, just not using the swear words.

I was fortunate to know most aspects of Katie— at home sewing, making beads, hiking nude, driving, performing—a giant kaleidoscope. And wherever I landed, what I saw is what I got. Inimitable Kick Ass Katie Lee.  I am still immensely sad at her passing on November 1, 2017.

If you want to read more about Katie: My personal tribute: https://homesweetjeromedrapaport.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/katie-lee-death-the-grande-dam-of-dam-busting/

And a great obituary in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/obituaries/katie-lee-folk-singer-who-fought-to-protect-a-canyon-dies-at-98.html?module=WatchingPortal&region=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=thumb_square&state=standard&contentPlacement=2&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2017%2F11%2F10%2Fobituaries%2Fkatie-lee-folk-singer-who-fought-to-protect-a-canyon-dies-at-98.html&eventName=Watching-article-click

Copyright 2017 Diane Sward Rapaport

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Happy Birthday, Katie Lee

Katie Lee will be 95 on October 23.

Activist Katie Lee

Katie Lee is a vibrant, energetic and eloquent 95-year old singer, author and activist. Photo: Katie Lee archives

Ever since Glen Canyon was buried by Reservoir Powell in the nineteen sixties, Katie Lee has sung, stomped, photographed, written about, fought to restore the magic of Glen Canyon and to let the Colorado River run free. She is venerated as the most flamboyant of knights among a growing legion of pro-wilderness activists. She refers to the reservoir as ‘Loch Latrine’ and ‘Rez Foul.’ Her auto license plate reads ‘Dam Dam.’

Katie Lee: Wild Riding Career

Katie had an eclectic and wild-riding career. She began her professional career in 1948 as a stage and screen actress. She performed bit parts in motion pictures in Hollywood; had running parts on major NBC radio shows, including The Great Gildersleeve and The Railroad Hour with Gordon McRae; was a pioneer actress and folk music director on The Telephone Hour with Helen Parrish in the early ’50’s; she left Hollywood to spend ten years as a folk singer in coffeehouses and cabarets throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

When I met her in 1980, she was the foremost documentarian of cowboys and their songs in western ranching circles.

One of the best histories ever written about cowboys.

“A beautiful job, exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many year to come.” – Edward Abbey.

She brings them to life in her book Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse; and in her recording Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle. The book might have been a bestseller among ranchers if goddam hadn’t been part of the title. Ranchers are a conservative and religious lot. My entreaties to change it would be met with angry expletives followed by “It’s the title of a famous cowboy song.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Katie performed at cowboy poetry gatherings in Ruidoso, New Mexico; Medora, North Dakota; and Elko, Nevada, among others. Those festivals revived the West’s great legacy of cowboy songs, which are different from the songs sung at country western music festivals, which Katie loathes. “Country and Western is neither,” she once told me in an interview for an article I wrote for Sing Out! (a folk song magazine). “Its lyrics are about tight miserable places like phone booths, dingy bars, and stuffy bedrooms and some poor twit whose wife or girlfriend just dumped him.” She dismissed country superstar Waylon “f*#!ing” Jennings, “He wouldn’t know a cowboy from a cow.”

There’s no mistaking what Katie feels about anything. “Tact is a f*#!ing waste of time,” she once told me.

Her books, Glen Canyon Betrayed and Sandstone Seduction and recordings “Folk Songs of the Colorado River” and “Colorado River Songs,” and DVD, Love Song to Glen Canyon are paeons to the magic of a canyon now lost under the waters of Reservoir Powell.

Cover illustration by Serena Supplee, renowned artist of the Colorado Plateau. www.serenasupplee.com

Cover illustration by Serena Supplee, renowned artist of the Colorado Plateau. http://www.serenasupplee.com

“Why Glen Canyon,” I asked her over lunch one day, I was hoping my question would take her by surprise and that she might give me an answer that was not in her books. Without even a pause, she said, “Because Glen Canyon is always present in my mind, it’s hardly ever in my dreams. It’s as if my feet are still stuck in the sand at the edge of the river. It’s where I live. This other life I walk around in all day—well, that’s a passing thing. And in many ways it’s my defense against the sadder mechanisms of life around us. And God knows we all need those mechanisms from keeping ourselves from going crazy in this mad world.”

Katie Lee 1971

Jerome in 1971 scarcely looked like it does today. Big buildings were in decay. The Little Daisy had no roof and no windows; the old hospital was boarded up; the deterioration of the Victorian houses on Company Hill were symbols of the ghost town Jerome was purported to be. Although the population never dipped below 200, journalists portrayed it as one most famous ghost towns of the West.

Iconic view of Jerome AZ from the old cemetery. Photo by Bob Swanson (www.swansonimages.com)

View of jerome from an old cemetery. Photo by Bob Swanson (www.Swansonimages.com)

Here’s how Katie Lee described moving to Jerome 1n 1971.

“Betty Bell had a gallery uptown and it was her fault I was here. She knew of a house for rent. ‘No way I’m going to live on damaged earth. It’s a dead town.’ ‘Yeah,’ said Betty, ‘but you’ll love the price.’ I went to see it. Ninety dollars a month was way less than the $250 a month I paid in Sedona. There was black and white linoleum in the front entrance, and one wall was painted the most god-awful purple with green trim. It was the most horrible color combo I’d ever seen. The windows faced down the gulch, which looked like an ugly junk pile. I paid the rent, moved my furniture and plants, put my bags down, and handed the keys to the only two guys I knew and asked them to please water my plants. Then I headed to Princeton, New Jersey, to begin another tour of the United States as a folk singer.” (From the book: Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City)

 Katie Lee: Career Milestones in 2014

The year 2014 marks three major milestones in Katie Lee’s career: she’s featured in two major documentaries and published a new book. A special edition of black and white art photographs highlights Katie’s 37-year old nude body in Glen Canyon. No wonder Katie is in a triple tizzy.

Producer ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched is a gut-wrenching documentary about the community of activists that were inspired by the work of Edward Abbey, who wrote so eloquently about the lonesome and beautiful places of the Southwest. (www.wrenched-themovie.com)

"Wrenched"-the film

Cover of the DVD of ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched.

DamNation documents the loss of America’s endangered rivers and the dams that block them. www.damnationfilm.com

DamNation

The film “DamNation” is a documentary about the adverse effects of dams

Katie sings and talks her way into the heart of the films, grabbing viewers emotionally.

Hite Marina before Glen Canyon Reservoir

The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, published in 2014 by Dream Garden Press, is a triple love story: the characters that lived around Dandy Crossing, now Hite Marina, before the river rose to drown it; the love of the beauty of Glen Canyon that would soon be drowned; and Katie’s love affair with a cowboy/miner that lived at Hite. Katie is one of the few writers whose words can weave us into the magic spell that the canyons of the southwest have—and this book does it very well. The book is one of the few historical documents about the life lived in Hite Canyon before the dam before it was flooded by Glen Canyon dam.

Katie Lee near Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie Lee’s book published in 2014 by Dream Garden Press (Salt Lake, Utah).

Naked Katie: Classic Portraits

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can, and not put them on again until she gets close to her car. In her words, [I have been]” hiking freely and in tune with nature for at least half of those years. When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight— a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon—climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”

The limited edition of black and white portraits of Katie Lee at 37 years old is now available from Hance Editions, http://katie-lee.hanceeditions.com/about-us.

Naked Katie in Glen Canyon

A black and white photo of Katie Lee nude in Glen Canyon hangs in the Patagonia offices. (www.patagonia.com)

Katie Lee: A Rich Legacy Realized in Her Own Lifetime

Happy Birthday Katie. I’m so glad you are able to feel the effects of your eloquent activism in your lifetime. And I’m so happy to be your friend. www.katydoodit.com

Diane Sward Rapaport is the author of Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City

Environmental Activist and Author Katie Lee and her Triple Tizzy

Katie Lee, now 95 years old, may be seeing the edges of her considerable legacy as one of the Southwest’s most outspoken environmental activists and authors. She just returned from Colorado from a screening of award-winning film DamNation.The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, Katie Lee’s newest book, has just been published by Ken Sanders’ Dream Garden Press. Hance Editions in Flagstaff has just released a special edition of a dozen black and white classic portraits taken by photographer Martin D. Koehler of a nude Katie at 37 years old in the canyons of Glen Canyon that she so loved. No wonder Katie Lee is in a triple tizzy.

Katie Lee near Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie Lee’s book published in 2014 by Dream Garden Press (Salt Lake, Utah).

May 17, Katie Lee Reading in Sedona, Arizona

Katie Lee will be reading excerpts from her newest book, The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing Saturday, May 17, at Well Red Coyote, 3190 West Hwy. 89A, Sedona, AZ at 2. p.m.  The book is a triple love story: the affair between Katie and a cowboy/miner; the characters that lived in Dandy Crossing before the river rose to drown it; and, the love of the beauty of Glen Canyon that would soon be drowned. www.katydoodit.com.  She is one of the few writers I know whose words can weave us into the magic spell that the canyons of the southwest have.

Sharing the billing will be Diane Sward Rapaport, reading from her newest book, Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City. www.homesweetjerome.net

Glen Canyon Betrayed: Let the Colorado River Run Free

Katie Lee is a remarkable woman. Ever since Glen Canyon was buried by Reservoir Powell, Katie Lee has sung, stomped, photographed, written about, fought to let the Colorado River run free. She has inspired many to reconsider the issue of dams, particularly the ‘deadbeat’ dams that are have become obsolete, and to consider the considerable environmental damage they have spawned. The words “Dam Dams” is the license plate of her Prius.

Katie Lee's book about Glen Canyon.

Cover of Katie Lee’s book Glen Canyon Betrayed

Katie Lee makes audiences cry when she shows her photographs of the old Glen Canyon and describes what was lost. Her book Glen Canyon Betrayed is a paean to a place perhaps more beautiful than the Grand Canyon.

Naked Katie: Classic Portraits

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can, and not put them on again until she gets close to her car. In her words, [I have been]” hiking freely and in tune with nature for at least half of those years. When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight— a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon— climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”A poster of a nude Katie in Glen Canyon hangs in the offices of Patagonia (outdoor clothing). www.patagonia,com 

Katie Lee in Glen Canyon

This is a way to truly be in touch with Mother Earth. I swim the pool with tennies, chimney up the crease to the vulva, throw my tennies into the pool and rest here, ten minutes or more—then Marty clicks the shutter. I wedge half way down and jump into the pool—no way out the top. Photo by Martin D. Koehler

 

The limited edition of black and white portraits of Katie Lee at 37 years old is now available from Hance Editions, http://katie-lee.hanceeditions.com/about-us.

The Films: “DamNation” and “Wrenched”

In 2014, two films show Katie being interviewed and singing about the loss of Glen Canyon—“Wrenched” and “DamNation.“  Both will be shown at the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride May 24-27. Check the schedule around May 15. http://www.mountainfilm.org/festival/schedule

DamNation

The film “DamNation” is a documentary about the adverse environmental effects of dams

“DamNation” is about America’s lost and endangered rivers and the dams that block them. Producers Travis Rummel and Matt Stoecker dub Katie Lee“The Grand Dame of Dam Busting.” Stoecker recently wrote Katie Lee a letter: “I just wanted … to say how thankful I am to you for all you do and for being the heart and soul of our film. Every time we show it, folks come up after and are just in awe of you and teary eyed about what happened to Glen Canyon. Your description, humor, and pure joy while immersed in that beautify place is inspiring a lot of people to take up the sledgehammer and get ready for battle.” www.damnationfilm.com

Producer ML Lincoln’s film “Wrenched” is a gut-wrenching documentary about the community of activists that were inspired by the work of Edward Abbey, who wrote so eloquently about the lonesome and beautiful places of the Southwest. www.wrenched-themovie.com.

"Wrenched"-the film

Cover of the DVD of ML Lincoln’s film Wrenched.

Abbey fought with his pen to help prevent wilderness desecration from industries that care only for the money they produce. Today, profits from pollution are virtually synonymous with big business.  Katie Lee sings and talks her way right into your heart in that film.