IN THE CIRCLE OF WALLACE BERMAN

From the mid-fifties on, Wallace Berman was greatly appreciated not only by his fellow West Coast visual artists but by writers and performers in the wider world as well. Besides such well-known literary figures (and contributors to Semina) as Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and William S. Burroughs,  actor/director Dennis Hopper so appreciated his work as to give him a small role in Easy Rider. (Not his only unexpected appearance in the wider world of pop culture: Berman is one of those who appear on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, his photo having been taken by actor Dean Stockwell.)

One of the more unusual people to enter Wallace Berman’s orbit was certainly Marjorie Cameron (1922-1995), the woman whose artwork appears in, and whose photo appears on the cover of, the first issue of Semina (below). After being discharged from the Navy following World War II, Cameron settled in Pasadena and married rocket scientist Jack Parsons, an Aleister Crowley acolyte and head of the local OTO. Parsons believed her to be the “Elemental Woman” he’d earlier invoked in a ritual performed with his perceived friend, pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard. In short order Crowley thought them all louts, Cameron moved on, Parsons accidentally blew himself up with nitroglycerin, L. Ron Hubbard went on to bigger things.

One of those bohemians who show up unexpectedly over the years at various Scenes, Cameron met Berman and fellow California artist George Herms in the early 1950s, and was well-known and regarded by the West Coast beats andartists. Reinvoked through a different sort of magic, Cameron also appeared as “The Scarlet Woman” in Kenneth Anger‘sInauguration of The Pleasure Dome.