In her youth, Jewel Thais-Williams dabbled at quite a few different professions and then in the early 1970’s when her clothing store was badly effected by an economic downturn, she decided to look for a recession proof business when she noticed that the Bar across the street was for Sale.
Even she had no bartending or bar business skills (in fact in 1973 California laws banned women from tending bar) and the Bar catered only to white patrons she hocked all her personal possessions and borrowed as much money as she could and bought the Bar anyway.
At first Thais-Willams took over one room, then the entire building, then the building next door, until the Bar ….now a Club …..occupied the corner of Pico & Norton Avenues in L.A. for the next 40 years. In this new very flattering documentary from filmmaker C.Fitz, we learn that although the Club……named Jewel’s Catch 1 …..became an unprecedented success, it’s journey was far from easy in the early days with nightly Police raids and excessive harassment.
What Thais-Williams ended up creating was a welcome safe haven for a very diverse community that at that time had no place that they could hang out. As well as attracting a mainly African/American LGBT crowd, the Club also became a haunt for artists and entertainers from Sammy Davis Jnr to Madonna …. and the latter even held an album release party at the Club.
The film blends some glorious archival footage from the days of the height of the Club’s success when it was known as the ‘unofficial West Coast Studio 54’ and combines that with Thais-Williams recounting that how and she was never flush with funds , would turn her hand to anything when needed like DJ, bartender and even electrician to keep the place going. Fitz mixes all of this with some perfect talking head interviews with the likes of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Thelma Houston and Sandra Bernard etc., who eagerly line up to sing Thais Williams’s praises.
There is the darker side of the story with a suspected arson attack, Thais William’s personal struggle with her one-time addiction to drink and drugs, and also how the AIDS epidemic hit the community hard, inspiring her to organize fundraisers and start her own shelter for women with HIV.
Now after running the Club for over four decades the enigmatic and disarmingly charming Thais-Williams has closed Catch for good to focus on that acupuncturist clinic that she runs next door. The timing of the documentary is therefore actually spot on, and serves as wonderful record of an essential part of LGBT history in this country and one of the legendary figures who made such a major contribution.