Laura Levine
I Was a Teenage Monty Python Fan (And they have the pictures to prove it).
posted: March 31, 2008
That's me with the camera (natch) between Brenda and Ina. Michael Palin and Graham Chapman in background. I had no idea someone photographed us!...
When I was sixteen, I was a huge fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus. You know the type: reciting entire skits from memory, telling dead parrot jokes, etc. They'd just started airing the show in the US and my girlfriends and I were hooked.

Well, when it was announced in that the group would be coming to New York to take part in the WNET (PBS) fundraising night, my good samaritan side kicked in, and the next thing you know, we (me, Ina and Brenda) volunteered to help answer phones for pledge night and hopefully meet the Pythons.

And so we did! They were fantastic, charming, lovely, witty. I was just starting to shoot photos, and took a ton (which I later sent to them) and Terry Gilliam made some wonderful drawings for me. We then took to loitering outside their hotel in Manhattan (the Hotel Navarro) whenever they came to town (i.e. for the premiere of Holy Grail, etc), and they obliged us with more photos, chit-chat, ginger ales in the hotel bar, and the like. They were utter gentlemen to these three dorky teenage girls. Over the next year or so they warmly responded to our letters (hand-written on their fantastic Python letterhead), sent us signed books (Bert Fegg's Nasty Book for Boys and Girls, etc) and basically made our miserable teenage lives worth living. (Michael Palin and Terry Jones were the two we got to know the best).

When they came back in 1976 for their live show at City Center - something I'd been looking forward to for months - I was sick with the flu and couldn't make it. I was devastated. Well, my friends (who at this point had gotten a job baby-sitting for them when they came to town) mentioned this to them, and Michael Palin actually called me at home from backstage to wish me well!

Anyway, this all leads up to my discovery of their autobiography - a wonderful, huge book (The Pythons). I flipped through it and lo and behold, I found a bunch of my photos! (Which I'd sent to them thirty years earlier.). But even more surprising, there was a photo of me, Ina, and Brenda, taken at the moment we first met them at the WNET studios. I had no idea this photo existed. What a kick! And yesterday I ran into a friend who told me that a different photo of us is in the new Michael Palin memoir. (Which I haven't seen yet).

Looking back, we were so lucky. They were such an inspiration, and simply wonderful to us.
Brenda, me, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman. (Note National Lampoon "Mona Gorilla" T-shirt)....
Rob Dunlavey March 31, 2008
This made me smile! Remember The Great American Dream Machine? That was my entre to Terry Gilliam and the Circus. Early seventies, public TV in the Chicago area. It's weird watching that stuff now.
Linzie March 31, 2008
what a great story laura! btw - i went to the REM exhibition last weekend at the ICA that you contributed to!
Joseph Fiedler March 31, 2008
That's so cool. First having the experience and then seeing it immortalized in THEIR book! Too hot! Did you give them a licensing contract with the photos?
Laura Levine March 31, 2008
Thanks Rob, Linzie. I DO remember that show, Rob - now there's a blast from the past! Linzie - what R.E.M. exhibition? What did I contribute? This is the first I've heard of it!
Laura Levine March 31, 2008
Fiedler, good question. I only found out about them when flipping through the book, and my photos are merely credited From the Collection of Terry Jones. (In fact, NOT ONE of the (literally) one thousand photos in the book has a photographer credit, just "collection of" credits. Shame, shame, St. Martin's Press! I wasn't a professional photographer back then, but certainly most of the images were taken by professionals).
Paul Rogers March 31, 2008
Wow! Laura, this is proof you were even cool in high school.
Jim Paillot March 31, 2008
That is so cool. I have always liked those guys. No I like them even more. I'll have to pick up that book. Do you keep up with Michale Palin's travel shows on PBS, BBC and the Travel Channel? Really interesting and he is as clever as ever.
Nancy Stahl March 31, 2008
What a kick that must have been to peruse the book and see your memories there..! They must have fond memories of the experience, too. How great..!
David Flaherty March 31, 2008
I got to see Graham Chapman speak at the Walker in Minneapolis before he passed away from aids related illness. (not sure the proper term) He was part of some sort of extreme fun club where they would ski down mountains on beds and things.
Hanoch Piven March 31, 2008
wow! that is cool! you met Brian!
John Dykes March 31, 2008
Historic! A great story, Laura.... Wait till St. Martin's finds out you posted YOUR photos on Drawger!
Scott Bakal March 31, 2008
Hey Laura: That is one of the coolest stories I've heard in a long time! Thank you for sharing such a great experience!
Christoph Hitz March 31, 2008
Laura, Holy Hand Grenade you still got the same wild child hairdo! Great story!
Cathie Bleck March 31, 2008
Proof that you knew how to make things happen even at 16! It says a lot about you that they even called to wish you well when you had the flu-they must have really appreciated you and your friends warm spirits. Do you know how to contact them? Wouldn't it be great to reconnect with them?
Laura Levine April 1, 2008
Thanks, everyone, for the nice comments. It's funny that I later ended up working with and photographing showbiz types for many years to come, but none of those encounters were half as exciting as this first one was. I've been around my share of celebrities to know that they're not always as open and warm to their fans these guys were. Funnily enough, I've crossed paths with several of them over the years. They all "claimed" to remember me, but I'm sure they didn't! Terry Gilliam at that wonderful/insane symposium that Mark Heflin put together a few years back (him and Ralph Steadman chatting at the bar, although the bar was in reality a classroom at FIT); Michael Palin a few years later at a party thrown by David Bowie. My knees almost buckled when I saw him (Palin, not Bowie). Etc. He also pretended to remember me, but I suspect he was just humoring me. As lovely and charming as ever, he was!
Marc April 1, 2008
Great story, Laura. Like most people, I was a big Python fan in my youth. It must have been fun to meet them.
Richard Allen April 1, 2008
V cool story, Laura
David Goldin April 1, 2008
That is too cool. I'm a crazy Monty Python fan and was at the City Center show. No photos to prove it. And now for something completely different...
laura t. October 16, 2009
aaah!! SO COOL! now we'll have to quote monty python obnoxiously all the time :)
andrea carla michaels October 16, 2009
Lovely and so non-sordid!!!!!!!! So glad there aren't extradition papers out on them! Here's something you might get a kick out of...due to her second marriage, my mom's name is now Carol Cleveland!
Brenda Green October 17, 2009
Thanks for the memories! The photo outside the Navarro is one of my favorites. They really were incredibly nice and sweet to us, and fairly generous with their time. I am still searching for my missing coconut from the opening of The Holy Grail! We did have an excellent teenage experience - Thanks for volunteering us Laura!