13 June, 1977
It was a gloriously sunny Sunday and at California’s Anaheim Stadium, and the massive speaker towers had been raised in place in readiness for the opening concert of Alice Cooper’s King Of The Silver Screen tour, a 13 date stomp around North America to publicise the shock rocker’s recent, Bob Ezrin-produced, Whiskey And Lace album.
At one p.m the gates were opened and the first of the 50,000 crowd began filling the arena to view a show that also featured Sha Na Na, Nazareth, The Tubes and The Kinks. Cooper boasted a vibrant band, with ex-Lou Reed stalwarts Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter handling the guitar chores. Amid the crowd, someone had a radio that was airing Alice’s hit single, You And Me, super-sweet and harmony-filled. Everything and everyone seemed to be in place - except for Julius Squeezer.
Julius The Boa Constrictor Killed By A Rat
Julius was, or rather had been, Alice’s boa-constrictor, a wrap-around star of many shows. But, just a few days earlier, on June 5, Julius had been bitten by his breakfast. Given a live rat to devour, the banqueting boa had got it all wrong, and that rat managed to bite Julius, killing the slithering stage-prop stone dead.
Alice Cooper was dismayed at the turn of events, “It was bit like being bit on by your Wheaties,” he mused. Not that Julius was the first snake to be cast as his co-star. A boa constrictor named Kachina had become the fans’ favourite rock reptile as early as 1972, when she became the cover girl for Alice’s Killer album. Then there was Chichita, who somehow escaped down a toilet and made her bid for freedom via the New York sewer system. She was replaced by Yvonne, a 12-foot-long boa who went astray in a Knoxville, Tennessee hotel. “I put her in the bathtub overnight as she loved to swim, but in the morning she had gone down the toilet,” Alice recalled. “She eventually emerged two weeks later in a different bathroom, having survived on sewer rats in the plumbing.” The occupant of the room in which Yvonne surfaced was Charley Pride, the country music star whose career had been sparked in 1966 by the hit Snakes Crawl At Midnight. Apt.
“She survived on sewer rats in the plumbing.”
But with time running time running out before the 1977 Anaheim concert, Julius Squeezer had to be replaced. Accordingly, a public audition for a new performing snake was scheduled for June 13. It took place at the ABC Entertainment Centre in California’s Century City, where a panel of judges that included Flo and Eddie’s Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, given a choice from an array of forty legless, elongated reptiles, plumped for the star quality exuded by a Boa named Angel.
And so it was that Angel played her part in a show documented by the televised film Alice Cooper And Friends and then moved on to eventually cross the 49th Parallel, where, on June 23, The Montreal Gazette ran the headline Alice Cooper’s Snake Can’t Enter Canada. “Alice Cooper must appear in Vancouver without his co-star, Angel, because she is a snake without a country,” the story explained. “Cooper only last week acquired the services of Angel, a 9-foot boa constrictor, but was forbidden to take it across the border for a concert in Vancouver, said Shep Gordon, Cooper’s manager. Canadian officials demanded papers ‘stating the country of origin and antecedents of Angel, and in the short time available we were unable to trace the reptile’s roots,’ Gordon said. Cooper will carry on with ‘local talent – whatever the snake dealers of Canada can provide’ – while Angel’s legal owner, 7-year-old Ghandi Newman of Los Angeles, petitions his congressman to have the snake declared an American by virtue of being part of the Newman family.”
Whatever the problems that ensued with Alice and his various rockin’ reptiles, his choice of unlikely stage companions eventually paid off. On December 15, 2010, it was announced Cooper and his former band would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony took place March 14, 2011 where Cooper was inducted by fellow horror-rocker Rob Zombie. Alice showed up for the event wearing a fake blood-splattered shirt and had a live albino Burmese python wrapped around his neck. Looking at the audience, he perceived more than a few anxious looking faces as he mounted the podium to explain: “We’ve always been a hard rock band. We just decorated it a bit differently.”