Marjorie Cameron Parsons
April 23, 1922
Belle Plaine, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||June 24, 1995
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Known for||Drawing, painting, poetry|
|Movement||Beat Generation, Psychedelia, Occultism, Surrealism|
Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (April 23, 1922 – June 24, 1995), known simply as "Cameron," was an artist, poet, actress, occultist, and wife of rocket pioneer and occultist Jack Parsons. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War, Cameron settled in Pasadena, California and met Parsons, who believed her to be the "Elemental woman"—an earthly incarnation of the Thelemite goddess Babalon—that he and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had invoked in the early stages of a series of sex magick rituals called the Babalon Working. She is now regarded as a countercultural icon and key figure in the development of postwar Los Angeles art.
Early life: 1922–1945
Cameron was born in Belle Plaine, Iowa, on April 23, 1922. Her father, the railway worker Hill Leslie Cameron, was the adopted child of a Scots-Irish family, while her mother, Carrie Cameron (née Ridenour) was of Dutch ancestry. She was their first child, followed by three further siblings: James (b. 1923), Mary (b. 1927), and Robert (b. 1929). They lived on the wealthier north side of town, although life was nevertheless hard due to the Great Depression. Attending Whittier Elementary School and then Belle Plaine High School, where she did well at art, English, and drama but failing algebra, Latin, and civic lessons, she also joined the athletics, glee club, and chorus. She enjoyed going to the cinema, and had sexual relationships with various men; falling pregnant, her mother performed an illegal home abortion. In 1940 the Cameron family relocated to Davenport in order for Hill to work at the Rock Islands Arsenal munitions factory. Cameron completed her final year of high school education at Davenport High School, there having romantic relations with both a man and a woman. Leaving school, she worked as a display artist in a local department store.
Following U.S. entry into the Second World War, in February 1943 she signed up for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, a part of the U.S. Navy. Initially sent to a training camp at Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, she was then posted to Washington D.C., where she served as a cartographer for the Joint Chief of Staff, in the course of his duties meeting U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill in May 1943. She was reassigned to the Naval Photographic Unit in Anacostia, where she worked as wardrobe mistress for propaganda documentaries, in the course of which she met various Hollywood stars. When her brother James returned to the U.S. injured from service overseas, she went AWOL and returned to Iowa to see him, a result of which she was court martialed and confined to barracks for the rest of the war. For reasons unknown to her, she received an honorable discharge from the military in 1945, traveling to Pasadena, California, where her family had relocated, with both her father and brothers securing work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory there.
Jack Parsons: 1946–1952
In Pasadena, Cameron ran into a former colleague, who invited her to visit the large American Craftsman-style house where he was currently lodging, 1003 Orange Grove Avenue, also known as "The Parsonage." The house was so-called because its lease was owned by Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist who had been a founding member of the JPL who was also a devout follower of the new religious movement founded by English occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904, Thelema. Parsons was the head of the Agape Lodge, a branch of the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Unbeknownst to Cameron, Parsons had just finished a series of rituals utilizing Enochian magic with his friend and lodger L. Ron Hubbard, all with the intent of attracting an "Elemental" woman to be his lover. Upon encountering Cameron, with her striking red hair and blue eyes, he considered her to be the individual whom he had invoked. After they met at the Parsonage on 18 January 1946, they were instantly attracted to each other, and spent the next two weeks in Parsons' bedroom together. Although Cameron was unaware of it, Parsons saw this as a form of sex magic that constituted part of the Babalon Working, a rite to invoke the birth of Thelemite goddess Babalon onto Earth in human form.
Cameron briefly traveled to New York City to see a friend, there discovering that she was pregnant, and again decided to terminate the pregnancy. Parsons meanwhile had founded a company with Hubbard and his girlfriend Sara Northrup, Allied Enterprises, into which he invested his life savings. It nevertheless became apparent that Hubbard was a confidence trickster, who tried to flee with Parsons' money, resulting in the break-up of their friendship. Returning to Pasadena, Cameron consoled Parsons, painting a picture of Sara with her legs severed below the knee. Parsons decided to sell 1003, which was then demolished, and the couple instead moved to Manhattan Beach. It was there, on 19 October 1946, that he and Cameron married at San Juan Capistrano courthouse in Orange County, in a service witnessed by his best friend Edward Forman. Having an aversion to all religion, Cameron initially took to interest in Parsons' Thelemite beliefs and occult practices, although he maintained that she had an important destiny, giving her the magical name of "Candida", often shortened to "Candy", which became her nickname.
Cameron decided to travel to Paris, France, with the intention of studying art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, hoping that they would admit her with a letter of recommendation from Pasadena's Art Centre School. She also hoped to use the trip to visit England and meet with Crowley, to explain to him Parsons' Babalon Working. Traveling via New York aboard the SS America, upon arrival she learned that Crowley had died, and that she was unable to join the college. She found post-war Paris "extreme and bleak", although befriended Juliette Greco before spending three weeks in Switzerland and then returning home. When Cameron developed catalepsy, Parsons suggested that she read Sylvan Muldoon's books on astral projection, also encouraging her to read James Frazer's The Golden Bough, Heinrich Zimmer's The King and the Corpse, and Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Although she still did not accept Thelema, she began to be increasingly interested in the occult, and in particular the use of the tarot.
Parsons and Cameron felt that their relationship was breaking up, and contemplated divorce. She decided to spend some time away, traveling to the artistic commune at San Miguel de Allende, there befriending the artist Renate Druks. Parsons meanwhile moved into a house known as the "Concrete Castle" on Redondo Beach, having a brief relationship with an Irishwoman named Gladis Gohan before Cameron returned. Parsons and Cameron moved to the coach house at 1071 South Orange Grove, while he began work at the Bermite Powder Company, where be began constructing explosives for the film industry. They began holding parties once more that were attended largely by bohemians and members of the beat generation, with Cameron attending the jazz clubs of Central Avenue with her friend, the sculptor Julie Macdonald. Earning some of her own money, Cameron produced some illustrations for fashion magazines, also selling some of her paintings, with a number being purchased by her friend, the artist Jirayr Zorthian. Parsons and Cameron had decided to travel to Mexico for a few months. On the day before they planned to leave, June 17, 1952, he received a rush order of explosives for a film set, and he begun work on it at his house. In the midst of this project, an explosion destroyed the building during which Parsons was fatally wounded, and upon being rushed to the Huntingdon Memorial Hospital by emergency services was declared dead. Cameron did not want to see the body, instead retreating to San Miguel in Mexico, asking her friend George Frey to oversee the cremation.
Mental instability (after 1952)
In Mexico, Cameron began performing blood rituals in which she cut her own wrist, in the hope of communicating with Parsons' spirit. As part of these rituals, she claimed to have received a new magical identity, Hilarion. When she learned that an unidentified flying object had been seen over Washington D.C.'s Capitol Building she considered it a response to Parsons' death. After two months, she returned to California, where she committed a failed suicide attempt. Increasingly interested in occultism, she read through her husband's papers, coming to understand the purpose of his Babalon Working and furthermore believing that the spirit of Babalon had been incarnated into herself. She came to believe that Parsons had been murdered by the police or anti-zionists, and continued her attempts at astral projection to commune with him. Her mental stability was deteriorating, and she became convinced that a nuclear test on Eniwetok Atoll would result in the destruction of the Californian coast. Though unproven, there is evidence that she was institutionalized in a psychiatric ward at this period, before having a brief affair with African-American jazz player Leroy Booth, a relationship that would have been illegal at the time.
Art and acting
Cameron is regarded as a key figure within postwar Los Angeles art and counterculture. Her mystical life and art, which often depicts images of an otherworldly nature drawn from the Elemental Kingdom and the astral plane, are the subject of "Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman," an upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Her work has also appeared in group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Getty Museum, the Centre Pompidou, Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin, and other museums around the world.
Cameron was particularly close with Beat-generation artists Wallace Berman and George Herms, both of whom she met in the early 1950s. Her artwork appeared in the first issue of Berman's celebrated journal Semina (1955–64). Berman's photograph of Cameron appeared on the cover of the same 1955 issue.
She played a prominent role in Kenneth Anger's film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, again as the Scarlet Woman. She also appeared in two films of Curtis Harrington, his ten-minute 1956 portrait, The Wormwood Star, which focused on Cameron and her artwork, and Night Tide (1961), where Cameron starred as a mysterious woman credited as 'Water Witch'. A brief excerpt from The Wormwood Star can be seen by searching YouTube under "House of Harrington Part 1" (the excerpt runs from 6:19 to 7:04); the full version has been released since as part of the The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection via Drag City/Flicker Alley.
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- ""MOCA Presents "Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman"". Retrieved 2 August 2014.
- "Marjorie Cameron". Pacific Standard Time at the Getty. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
- "Semina cover with photograph of Cameron". Pacific Standard Time at the Getty. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
-  Book of Lies p.209
- "A Tribute to Curtis Harrington". Harvard Film Archive. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
- "The Wormwood Star: Extraordinarily freaky cinematic portrait of occult artist Marjorie Cameron". Dangerous Minds. 2013-08-12. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
- Carter, John (2004). Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons (new edition). Port Townsend: Feral House. ISBN 978-0922915972.
- Kaczynski, Richard (2010). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (second edition). Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-0-312-25243-4.
- Kansa, Spencer (2011). Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron. Oxford: Mandrake. ISBN 978-1-906958-08-4.
- Parsons, John Whiteside (2008). Three Essays on Freedom. York Beach, Maine: Teitan Press.
- Pendle, George (2005). Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0753820650.
- Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bollingbrook, Illinois: Teitan Press. ISBN 0-933429-07-X.
- The Wormwood Star (1955), a short film portrait of Cameron by Curtis Harrington.
- Cameron-Parsons Foundation
- Marjorie Cameron at the Internet Movie Database