There was once a time when the hottest, most coveted golden ticket to a Halloween party in San Francisco was to something called the Exotic Erotic Ball, a combination of swinger party, fetish ball, and porn convention that had a thirty-year run as an internationally notorious Halloween attraction. Born in 1979 the very same year of the first Halloween in the Castro when that party moved from its previous Polk Street location the Exotic Erotic Ball would lay the groundwork for today’s annual ragers like Halloween at the Armory (now called Phantasm) and the party formerly known as Ghost Ship (now LoveBoat Halloween). But the Exotic Erotic Ball is probably best remembered for its spectacular 2010 flameout, the year the ball was canceled the day before the event, leaving a trail of furious ticket holders, lawsuits, and eventually, a jail sentencing.
The website of the Exotic Erotic Ball still exists, and a screenshot is seen above. The site proclaims plans to resurrect the event in 2014, which did not happen, but all of the site's links and galleries to “Perry Mann’s World Famous Exotic Erotic Ball & Expo” are still active.
SFist did not receive a reply to our request for comment from Mann, and phone numbers provided by his associates were no longer in service. But we did speak to some of the ball’s previous emcees, organizers, and staff some of whom Mann fired regularly, only to rehire the next year about the origins, influence, and eventual wreckage of what had been the longest-running adult-themed event the world (until Folsom Street Fair passed it this year, with its 32nd annual iteration.)
January 2002 Playmate Joanie Laurer dominates a member of the audience at the Exotic Erotic Ball at Webster Hall November 28, 2001 in New York City. A tradition in San Francisco and newly launched in New York, the Ball draws those interested in role play. (Image: Getty Images)
The First Exotic Erotic Balls: 1979-1989
Mann first held a 1978 private party in his Tenderloin apartment called the Nudist’s Ball, and was encouraged when hundreds showed up to get naked with him. Sensing success, he booked a Turk Street venue called the California Hall (now an Academy Of Art University building) for the first Exotic Erotic Ball in 1979. Between 800 and 900 guests showed up and paid $10 a pop for admission (about the same price you would have paid to see The Clash that month). The event was a fundraiser for Mann’s business partner Louis Abolafia to run for president in 1980 as a Nudist Party candidate.
There aren’t many accounts of that 1979 party, but the Chronicle did find one woman who was there and quoted her in a 2004 article. “It was black-tie optional, so people showed up with black ties and that was it,” attendee Susan O’Neil said.
Still, it wasn’t easy being kinky in Ronald Reagan’s America of the early 1980s. “Mardi Gras in New Orleans was one of the only big sexy, creative masquerade events in the U.S.,” said Ev, a stage manager and talent producer with the Ball from 1998 to 2002. “Festival culture had not [yet] existed.”
That notion was seconded by Paul Nathan, creator of Dark Kabaret and host, emcee, and entertainment director of the Exotic Erotic Ball for more than 20 years. “Before the internet there were people who wanted to learn more about sexuality,” Nathan told SFist. “Many folks had heard about alternative lifestyles like poly, swinger, bi, trans but they had no idea how to access them. They knew there were sex positive parties and events but had no entry into that world. The ball served was a meeting point, a place to learn.”
Still, that wasn’t without risk during this era. The UPI reported a $10 million lawsuit against Penthouse magazine in 1983 by a plaintiff who had been photographed scantily clad at the event, and didn’t know her photos would end up in Penthouse. A judge dismissed that lawsuit.
Adult film legend Nina Hartley recounts her experience of attending during the 80s. “I had gone one time in the late 1980's,” Hartley told SFist. “It was not a fun experience as the suburban boys were very handsy, to say the least. Groping every four steps. My then-partner was a nervous wreck trying to protect me.”
“I felt a hand grabbing my vulva from behind,” she remembers. “I grabbed the hand, bent the wrist and looked the guy in the face. He responded, as I had his hand in mine, ‘It wasn't me!’”
“I vowed never to return,” Hartley said.
An airbrush artist paints a performer's body during the Exotic Erotic Ball on September 1, 2002 in Los Angeles, California.
Larger Events at the Concourse Exhibition Center (1990s)
Nina Hartley would return to host stage shows when the event grew even larger and changed location to the Concourse Exhibition Center. “I got the gig as hostess some time in the 90s, which paid money and kept me backstage where the groping didn't happen,” Hartley said.
“Many people had massive amounts of fun at the Ball,” Hartley remembers. “People like putting on costumes and feeling free. When civilians who have not done a lot of personal work on their desires, fears, prejudices, etc., get together incognito and then get high and drunk, shit happens.”
She complains there was “lots of display, but massive amounts of drunken groping, though adds “I’m sure you'll find lots of stories of attendees having the time of their lives.”
The 90s would see acts like Grace Jones and Motorhead headlining at the ball. The event gained such notoriety that then-mayor Willie Brown honored the event by proclaiming an “Exotic Erotic Ball Day” in 1999. (Gavin Newsom would issue a similar proclamation in 2007, only to rescind it.)
By this point, even the 6,800-person capacity of the Concourse was too small for the ball’s swelling, costumed crowds. The event needed a new venue, and organizers wanted to make a splash. But that would mean higher costs and a relaxing of the “everyone in costumes” ethic, which changed the culture of the event.
“The first time that I walked into the ball, there were about 800 people on the floor just going at it, full-on,” Paul Nathan remembers. “You didn’t see that out at the Cow Palace,”
Trapeze artists ''Antigravity'' perform during the Exotic Erotic Ball at Webster Hall November 28, 2001 in New York City. A tradition in San Francisco and newly launched in New York, the Ball draws those interested in erotica and role play (Image: Getty Images)
The Cow Palace Years (2001-2007)
When the Exotic Erotic Ball moved to Daly City’s Cow Palace, they doubled their capacity — and filled the place. “It happened very quickly,” Nathan said. “It was like one year we were 7,000, then next year we were 14,000, It was extremely rapid growth.”
The previous year’s Ball had pulled in $750,000, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, and 2001 expected rake even more. But the event’s new Cow Palace incarnation faced an immediate double-shock, with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and a last-minute bomb scare on the day of the event.
“The country was still reeling from loss on 9/11 just about a month before,” Ev told SFist. “It was a hard call to keep the Ball on or not. We decided that the freedom to love and play was what we were about and that we should go forward.”
“There had been bomb threats,” Ev remembered. “The threat was serious enough that the building had to be locked down and a sweep had to be done. This was about an hour or so before doors [opened], before 20,000 patrons arrived. Everything was fine and it turned out to be false, but it was a heavy feeling.”
During those Cow Palace years, the ball booked ever-larger headliners like Snoop Dogg, Peaches, and Everclear. In 2004, they added a sort of adult industry trade show aspect called the Exotic Erotic Expo that stretched the event to two days and filled the cavernous Cow Palace with acres of vending booths.
But the ball also expanded to New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles during these years as well. These Exotic Erotic Balls in other cities were not well attended, lost fantastic amounts of money, and created the financial fiascoes from which the ball would never eventually recover.
A fetish enthusiast promotes the Exotic Erotic Ball at Webster Hall November 28, 2001 in New York City. A tradition in San Francisco and newly launched in New York, the Ball draws those interested in erotica and role play. (Getty Images)
The Fall of the Ball (2008-2011)
Those of us who remember the Exotic Erotic Ball blame its demise on the calamitous 2011 event canceled the day before. We’re wrong. “This didn’t happen overnight,” Nathan said. “This happened over three or four years of recovering from New York and recovering from Las Vegas.”
But the last three San Francisco Bay Area Exotic Erotic Balls all had their own unique catastrophes that snowballed the event’s collapse. The ball moved to Treasure Island for 2008, and did draw 7,000 people. But the promised limousine service between AT&T Park and Treasure Island, promoted on the event site as “giant limos with high-def TVs” and “absolutely no waiting,” was canceled without advance warning.
SF Weekly reported that “partygoers were stuck in hour-long lines waiting for spots on grimy sightseeing buses, the limos' replacements. Throughout the night, the transportation situation only got worse. One unlucky reader tells how she crammed onto the upper deck of a bus on the way over, only to be forced to catch a cab home or wait 80 minutes for a shuttle. Another got turned away from AT&T park, was told to drive to Treasure Island, and then had his car broken into.”
The event’s executive producer Howard Mauskopf told the Weekly it was “without doubt the biggest fuck-up in the 29-year history of the ball.” But they were just getting started.
The Ball’s ticket sales cratered in 2009 when the event moved back to the Cow Palace, but organizers bizarrely claimed the Ticketmaster system had been hacked. They alleged they lost $240,000 on this, and the bridge had obviously been burned with the Cow Palace. So organizers went across the bridge for the 2010 event, booking Richmond’s Crane Pavilion, some 20 miles northeast of town.
What guests didn’t know was that Mauskopf had bounced two $5,000 checks to the 2009 headliners, 1980s band Missing Persons. This was becoming a pattern with Mauskopf, one that Paul Nathan experienced personally.
“He’d bounce the check but he’d end up paying me back over the course of the next 6 months or 8 months,” Nathan told SFist. “But he was paying that money off from last year with this year’s ticket revenue as it came in. So by the time you got to this year, all that money was gone.”
“I don’t think he ever had any nefarious intent,” he added. “His intent was to do the best show he could with what he had available to him.”
The Crane Pavilion was booked. Yachts were rented for VIP service. Performers had been scheduled, and service providers were promised advance payments. When those advances weren’t coming through in October 2010, everyone backed out. “The producer did what he could, but by that point vendors in the Bay Area would not extend credit and the event just imploded.” Nathan said.
Behind-the-scenes debacles could no longer be contained from public view. The 2010 event was canceled less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to begin. Ticket holders were refunded, but hotel bookings for the Richmond party were not. Spurned guests fumed on social media, but the organizers’ problems were much bigger.
Promoter Howard Mauskopf would face felony theft charges over the 2009 bad checks to Missing Persons. The Examiner reports that Mauskopf was sentenced to 30 days in jail for bouncing those checks and using phony credit cards to finance the band’s hotel stay. He additionally pled no contest to charges of writing $4,500 in bad checks for medical services.
That was the nail in the coffin for the Exotic Erotic Ball. But despite the shady business practices of lead promoters, many of the other staff have few regrets about what the event accomplished.
“I’m very proud of the work that we did with the Exotic Erotic Ball,” Nathan said. “I’m very comfortable with the work we did regarding normalization of sexuality and divergent sexual appetites. We worked very hard on that.”
The Exotic Erotic Ball still leaves a significant legacy. For one thing, multiple events in other cities still steal its name to this day. But the ball also predated the Folsom Street Fair, and is a huge contributing factor to why San Francisco is considered a major Halloween party destination. We have probably grown out of the Exotic Erotic Ball’s identity, with today’s progressive sexual mores and ethics. But we might not have all of those progressive sexual mores and ethics if previous generations hadn’t had events like the Exotic Erotic Ball.