WHEN IT opens, the Fillmore Philadelphia will have more in common with its iconic San Francisco forebear than its name. The two music halls also will share Bonnie MacLean.
MacLean, 75, has been commissioned by the Fillmore to create a poster commemorating the venue's Oct. 1 grand opening - a sold-out concert by Hall & Oates - copies of which will be presented to ticketholders. It's a gig for which she is more than qualified.
In the late 1960s, MacLean, a Frankford native who now lives in the Doylestown area, was the lead poster designer for San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium (a/k/a the Fillmore West), which was the cornerstone of the national concert-promotion empire run by her ex-husband, Bill Graham, who died in a 1991 helicopter crash. The local commission - a first for the seven-venue national chain - marks MacLean's return to the rock 'n' roll realm after more than four decades.
"For a long time, I just kind of hid it under the covers," she said as she sat in her spacious studio. "I didn't see how it fit into my life here. My [second] husband was a painter. I didn't want to get into it too much with him; it wasn't his world.
"I just didn't make a big deal out of it. Nobody knew I was involved in this until recently."
"Involved" is a major understatement. As Graham's significant other/employee, she was at the epicenter of the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" cultural revolution that was fomenting in San Francisco at the time. Not that she went there to be part of it. Actually, her 1963 arrival predates the hippie era. Having graduated as a French major from Penn State in 1961 (she is not a formally trained artist), MacLean had yet to plot out a life path when she decided to move to San Francisco. "I had heard about it being a lovely place. And it was just lovely," she said.
Enter Bill Graham
Needing to eat and pay rent, MacLean, who grew up in Trenton, went for a job interview at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing. "The manager of the office happened to be Bill Graham, and he hired me for the job," she said.
It was a less politically correct era, and boss-underling relationships were hardly uncommon. "We got to be friends, then we got to be more than friends, then eventually, we moved in together," recalled MacLean who was married to Graham from 1967-71.
Graham, an aspiring actor, soon enough had his fill of the corporate world, and he subsequently became the manager of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. On Nov. 6, 1965, he staged a benefit for the group that was so successful he produced a second one on Dec. 10. This one took place at the Fillmore Auditorium and featured an up-and-coming Bay Area band known as the Warlocks who that night debuted a new name: the Grateful Dead. The show was both an artistic and financial success and Graham thereafter was a full-time concert promoter.
MacLean was Graham's secretary at this point; the posters of the time were created by an artist named Wes Wilson. But in the spring of 1967, Wilson and Graham parted ways over money and MacLean, who had been tending the in-house "coming attractions" boards at the Fillmore, stepped in for Wilson.
Her first poster hyped a May 12 through 14 stand by the Jefferson Airplane; she ultimately designed 32 broadsides heralding appearances by such iconic acts as Cream, Big Brother & the Holding Company (fronted by Janis Joplin), Pink Floyd and the Doors.
MacLean, who since the 1970s has worked primarily in still life and nudes, admitted her graphic style back then owed much to Wilson's psychedelic approach, which she described as being acquired "by osmosis." Today, however, her work is celebrated on its own terms.
According to DesignersAndBooks.com, "Her posters followed in the spirit of [Wilson], but had their own unique additions; for example, the use of culturally diverse images like Native American totems. The most captivating aspect of her art is undoubtedly the depiction of faces cast with trance-like, meditative expressions. Even today, they evoke a certain detached spirituality synonymous with the 1960s outlook."
Despite being at Ground Zero of the '60s counterculture, MacLean stayed clear of the pervasive drug use that symbolized the time and place. "I didn't care much for the drug part," she insisted. "I didn't have much to do with that. Timothy Leary's idea that you just 'turn on, tune in and drop out' just nauseated me. That's not a healthy point of view.
"It was [the ethos] for everybody but me - and Bill."
Nor did she get particularly close to the musicians who performed at the Fillmore. "I didn't hang around in that milieu," she said. "That wasn't my job. That was [Graham's] job. He mingled with the musicians. I wasn't a part of that."
Besides, she added, "Bill was the most exceptional character of anyone I met. There was no musician who qualified on his level for me."
Although she buried her past for decades, MacLean is delighted to once again be a part of the live-music realm, if only on a one-time basis. And she predicted the Fillmore will soon enough become an important local landmark.
The entertainment complex, she noted, will "spread the joy of what used to be the most wonderful music venue around. Philadelphia, being a musical city, will enjoy it and appreciate it."