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Memories of Out! Empire's heyday flow

Mon 6 Jan 2014 In: New Zealand Daily News

The death of Tony Katavich has former employees reflecting on the idiosyncratic world of the ‘Out! Empire’ in its 70s and 80s heydays. Katavich, his life partner John Kiddie, and business party Brett Sheppard, ran Out! magazine, saunas, clubs and an import business. With the recent loss of Katavich, all three men have now passed on. Duval reveals hunky clubbers Among their clubs were the legendary venues Alfies, where Nicole Duval worked as a showgirl in the Bloomers Review for about nine years. “The driest sense of humour you ever met,” Duval says of Katavich. “By far.” In the mid-1980s Brent Thomson worked part-time at Westside Sauna, which had relocated from Albert St to Anzac Avenue in Central Auckland. “The whole Out! Empire was together in the same building with Tony presiding from the top floor like a Victorian workhouse master, and to extend the metaphor, that inner sanctum was a sort of gay Dickensian montage: Tony the meticulous bookkeeper, Brett Sheppard the hopeless and passionate spendthrift, and John Kiddie keeping the peace in an unassuming way,” Thomson recalls. The Out! Empire's former HQ “Working in the sauna was an eye-opener in many ways. I had never been into the functioning area until my first night working there. I had previously made deliveries to the counter but the mysteries of the dodgy wet areas and even dodgier ‘honeymoon suites’ terrified and fascinated me. “The sauna, with its questionable joinery that didn’t seem suited to mild damp, let alone the daily deluge of horny men playing fast and loose with the amenities and each other. Things warped and rotted and we had to move fetid puddles towards uphill drainage holes with rubber mops. “None of this fazed Tony. Brett got a bit flustered because he was the image of Out!” Thomson says some of the only feedback from Katavich came when the daily cash sheet didn’t balance. “You learned to ensure it did by whatever fiction worked!” “Nevertheless Tony was a good boss,” Thomson remembers. “He respected loyalty and he accepted the nature of hospitality where closing time equated often to staff R+R time. He was hugely supportive of the gay student group and he only played at complaining when Brett donated the good merchandise to fundraisers.” Thomson says it was a colourful and unforgettable part of his life, growing up as a gay man. “I truly hope those three crazy leading lights of 1970s and 80s gay New Zealand have an Out! office set up importing beefcake merchandise past St Peter’s nose.”    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Monday, 6th January 2014 - 2:37pm

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