About Corbett Reynolds
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Corbett received his formal art education at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Known for the contentious relationships he had with the faculty at the school, Corbett began to make a name for himself in the Columbus arts community. He soon founded a vintage clothing store located near The Ohio State University campus.
Corbett made a good living for 15 years designing wall-coverings and textiles, and it was from the proceeds of this line of work that he was able to purchase his Victorian mansion at 1153 Neil Avenue in Victorian Village. He spent the remaining years of his life transforming the home into his ultimate art installation, and the drumming sessions he hosted in his backyard periodically brought people together from all walks of life-artists, students, and even the priest from his Catholic church.
In 1975, Corbett purchased the Avondale Theater on West Broad Street in the Franklinton area of west Columbus. He and his friends spent the next two years transforming this faded Art Deco gem into the nightclub, Rudely Elegant, which opened its doors in 1977. Inspired by the discos in New York and Chicago, the club’s interior installation was constantly changed to conform to the chosen theme of the night’s event. Whether it was Tropicana, Color, Black, or Red, the club became a local and ultimately a national destination, as attendees soon became caught up in the month’s theme and designed elaborate costumes for the event. Most importantly, Rudely Elegant welcomed folks from all walks of life. Corbett was especially thrilled when the avant-garde “artsy” types from the straight world came to join in the fun.
Equally as fantastic were the many noteworthy guest performers Corbett brought to Rudely Elegant. Among them were Grace Jones, the legendary Sylvester, the edgy German performer Klaus Nomi, and Corbett’s good friend, the first international drag superstar, Divine. Long before raves, Corbett staged parties that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. These parties were fueled by the music of nationally recognized DJ’s from New York and Chicago, as well as the well-respected lighting guru, Richard Sabala of The Saint. When Rudely Elegant closed its doors in 1985, Corbett transformed his parties to become once-a-year events. Corbett chose the historic Valleydale Ballroom near Westerville as his venue. He decided to focus the parties on his signature color. In his own words, the color that, “has always said everything about me…It is a color of passion, both in love and creativity”: Red.
Red Parties were one part art installation, one part performance art, and one part magic dancing spectacle, the likes of which no one had seen in Columbus before (or since). Each party centered on a chosen theme, among them Jungle Red (tropical), Red House Saloon (Western), and Big Red Top (circus). The art installations were over the top and brought3000 revelers from around the country, and across the planet. In the last few years, Corbett chose to again bring celebrities from the underground to host his parties, and among them were Mink Stole, star of many John Waters films; Andy Warhol’s superstar, Holly Woodlawn, star of his film, “Trash”; and the final Red Party hostess, Tammy Faye Baker Messner.
If you look up “Circuit Party” on Wikipedia, you will see that Corbett Reynolds is acknowledged as the father of the gay circuit party. His parties were not merely celebrations, but a tribal experience, a mourning of lost friends, a life-changing inspiration to many “artsy” young gay boys who went on to big cities and made names for themselves in the creative world. It is only fitting that we pay tribute to Corbett at this inaugural fundraising “RED” event for AIDS Resource Center of Ohio, for Corbett’s nightclub was the very first gay bar in Columbus to host a fund-raising event for an AIDS organization. His Black party in 1983 was staged to finance the Columbus AIDS Fund, which became the Columbus AIDS Task Force. As well, Corbett was a constant and generous supporter of CATF’s Art for Life Auction, and his donated work usually brought the top price of the evening.
Columbus’s reputation for being open and accepting of all lifestyles is largely due to the pioneers, like Corbett, who worked to break down barriers and provide opportunities for gay people to live openly and without fear. The big red moon is looking down and smiling at us always, thanks to him.