| THOMAS QUEEN
THE LEGENDARY RED PARTIES only survive in photographs and in the memories of those who attended. Not surprising, since the last one was held over 14 years ago. Corbett Reynolds, the visionary who created these nights of dancing and revelry, considered these parties as more of an art installation, and those who attended them were part of the art. Though he was born in Tacoma, Washington, he made Columbus his home for most of his adult life, and is certainly on the short list of pioneers who put this former cowtown on the map.
Corbett attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, where he had a contentious relationship with the faculty. From there he devoted the rest of his life to creative pursuits, first in the design of fabrics and wallcoverings, later to creating wonderful pieces of art from canvas and paint, wood, metal, glass, and concrete. He was re-purposing long before it became fashionable.
When a dilapidated old Art Deco movie house in the rough-and-tumble Franklinton neighborhood became available Corbett purchased it and spent the next two years converting it into a nightclub he named Rudely Elegant, the likes of which Columbus had never seen before. In recent conversations with Corbett’s close friend and creative ally, Randy Steele, the opening night scene came alive, with tales of 30 or more limousines lined up in front of the club, doormen in tuxedos, a light show, and disco music which kept the throngs dancing through the night. From 1977 until 1985, Rudely Elegant was a destination party palace for gay men (and their allies) from all over the country. On special occasions, Corbett would bring in performers from the nightclub underground: Sylvester, Grace Jones, and the legendary drag superstar Divine, to name a few.
Each Red Party had its own theme. In 1998 it was “Red House Saloon” with a red-painted stagecoach and life-size fiberglass buffalo high above the dance floor on pedestals. Sitting on said buffalo were scantily-clad hot men that Corbett brought in from around the country. The hostess of the party that year was Holly Woodlawn (who was one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars and the star of his film Trash). In 2001, the final year of the party, Corbett chose to call it “Red Fetish,” and the hostess was none other than television evangelist, Tammy Faye Baker Messner.
In the final peak years of the Red Party nearly 3500 revelers would attend. They came in from faraway places, including Germany and Canada, and nearly all of them wore costumes appropriate to the year’s theme. Corbett always brought in the star DJs of the Gay Circuit, including Julian Marsh, David Knapp, and Warren Gluck. Red Party was a weekend full of fun, with parties at many of the gay bars and clubs around the city leading up to and after the main event. The merchants of the Short North would dress up their windows with Red-themed décor in keeping with the celebratory atmosphere of the weekend.
Just months before the 25th Red Party, Corbett passed away in his sleep due to a heart attack. Chatting with Randy Steele about Corbett’s plans for the 25th the talk turned to his great idea for that year: A ceiling full of mirror balls. We will never know just how amazing that party might have been, but his spirit will live on in the memories of those who got to experience his particular brand of genius first-hand.