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.

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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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My Mother Meets Katie Lee

(Copyright 2013. Short excerpt about Katie Lee from Diane Rapaport’s forthcoming book: Home Sweet Jerome,

I was once asked, “Do any famous artists live in Jerome.” I thought about this and answered, “Katie Lee.”

She is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was 77 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.

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.[i]

She rode 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. “For 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?”

Katie says she’s likely to be more famous for her ride than for her books and music.


[i] Lee, Katie, “The Ride,” Sandstone Seduction (Johnson Books, 2004), pp. 185-192

Photo: Katie on her bike.  Ceramicist and painter Jane Moore’s birthday present to singer songwriter and anti-dam activist Katie Lee on her 93rd birthday was a ceramic bowl commemorating Katie’s famous stark naked bike ride through Jerome. Photo courtesy Katie Lee.

Photo: Katie on her bike. Ceramicist and painter Jane Moore’s birthday present to singer songwriter and anti-dam activist Katie Lee on her 93rd birthday was a ceramic bowl commemorating Katie’s famous stark naked bike ride through Jerome. Photo courtesy Katie Lee.

Katie says she’s likely to be more famous for her ride than for her books and music.

Mother Meets Katie

Katie was absolutely unforgettable to my mother after I introduced them at a party at Wylci Fables and Jore Park’s art studio in the old high school.

My mom and Katie were contemporaries. Both were stunning women throughout their lives. Katie was a sensuous and provocative blue-eyed Irishwoman. My mother, a black eyed beauty with a quick smile and a great deal of charm, was crowned Miss Greek America when she was eighteen. They were the center of attention in any room they entered.

Mom grew up in upper middle class Washington, D.C. surrounded by lawyers, bankers and foreign embassy personnel. 8My mother was the only one in our family to get a job. In 1942, she was the first woman lawyer to be hired by the National Labor Relations Board. When Katie met her, mom had just been appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the same board.

Katie grew up like a Western fox, shrewd at survival and defense against predators. The downturn in real estate was her family’s downfall in the depression. She was western and country, a native Arizonan who grew up near the foothills of Tucson. She shot quail, squirrels and rabbits for the stew pot with her .22 rifle. She camped in the mountains and canyons around Tucson with a couple of cowboys that taught her their songs and took her to the cantinas and brothels of Nogales, Mexico where she learned Mexican border songs.

Katie Lee, activist, singer, songwriter.  Author Glen Canyon Betrayed and soon The Ghost of Dandy Crossing.

Katie Lee, activist, singer, songwriter. Author Glen Canyon Betrayed and soon The Ghost of Dandy Crossing.

They met during my mom’s second visit to Jerome. My mother could not believe that we had settled into this dilapidated town full of pot smokers. She thought smoking pot led directly to heroin and she lectured us about it every time she could. This second visit though, she made a little peace with Jerome. She said it reminded her of the mountainous northern Greek village that her parents had come from.

Nothing prepared her for the party at Wylci and Jore’s. I told my mom she would meet my close friend Katie, whom I described as a well-known published author and singer/songwriter who was about her age. My mother smiled with relief at the possibility of meeting a respectable friend of mine.

Mom walked up the forty-five iron steps to the second floor of the gym. As soon as we were at the top, I handed her the brown paper bag that contained her high heels, which she primly substituted for her walking shoes. As we walked down the corridor, we could hear ripples of music and laughter. Soon we were immersed among fifty rowdy-looking hippies, gussied up in their gypsy best, a wilder and more raucous group than my mother had ever been in. I looked around for Katie so I could introduce them. It was not until I looked up that I found her as she swung upside down on a trapeze. The skirt that hung over her body exposed the white ruffled pantaloons she had sewn for the occasion. She waved her high heels, which were, oddly enough, the same color as mom’s.

It was an irresistible moment for me. I marched my mother up to Katie and introduced them. It was one of the few times I ever saw my mother at a total loss of words. Katie invited her to lunch the next day without missing a swing. Eventually, they became good friends that admired each other for their independent and outspoken natures.

For more info on Katie’s book and music: http://www.katydoodit.com/


[i] Lee, Katie, “The Ride,” Sandstone Seduction (Johnson Books, 2004), pp. 185-192