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Gay former Chicagoans reflect on Candypants, five-decade relationship
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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During the Chicago blizzard of 1967, David Sanderson and Lee Brady met each other at a house party and shortly after that Sanderson began wooing Lee, who wasn't fully out at the time. They'll celebrate their 50th anniversary as a couple next year.

The couple's claim to fame is Candypants edible underwear. They also forged a friendship with the late David Bowie during the 1980s and participated in a variety of social justice and political causes over the years.

Sanderson ( 68 years of age ) was born in Oregon, Illinois, while Brady ( 72 ) was born in LaSalle, Illinois. Prior to moving to Miami Beach in 1991 and then Wilton Manors, Florida, the couple lived in Chicago for more than 25 years. They were married last year in Florida.

When Sanderson came out as a teenager his parents disowned and disinherited him and threw him out of the house. Al Capone's nephew, Jimmy Capone, whom Sanderson had been dating, assisted Sanderson after he was kicked out of his parent's house. Sanderson's parents eventually accepted him and his relationship with Brady.

It took Brady becoming friends with his neighbors, who happened to be gay, for him to embrace his sexuality.

"We lived next door to Pearl Hart and her girlfriend Valerie Taylor on Pine Grove for a time and talked to them as neighbors," said Sanderson. "We also lived on North Crilly Court, which also happens to be the street where Henry Gerber lived when he created the Society for Human Rights. He'd already died before we moved there."

Shortly after becoming a couple; they traveled to San Francisco to participate in the Summer of Love, took part in the late 1960s protests, including the Chicago Riots and assisted the Black Panthers in their work, both financially and on the ground. They also created a children's theater touring company that they named The Puck Players and performed at Chicago Public Elementary Schools across the city, including in low-income areas.

In 1975, the couple invented Candypants and formed the company Cosmorotics, Inc. to sell the product. They've since sold the company.

"We never realized we were in the process of creating something that came from my older brother saying to me 'eat my shorts' as an alternative to swearing," said Sanderson. "Years later the two of us, along with some friends, were talking about various colloquiums including eat my shorts and that's how we came up with edible underwear.

"We met Tokyo Rose when she owned Toguri J Mercantile Co, on Belmont. She introduced us to edible rice paper and that allowed us to make the pants entirely edible as well as functional to wear."

The first person to buy their product was a female student at the University of Indiana and the school's newspaper wrote a story about it. Twenty-four hours after the story was published, it was picked up by the wire services and went around the world.

From that point on, Candypants orders came in from all corners of the world and they were featured in newspapers and on TV news programs.

"We submitted our name to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office to trademark the name and at first they refused to approve it because the two words were mutually exclusive in their minds," said Brady. "We appealed the decision and won the second time around."

Candypants was featured in two U.S. Supreme Court cases over First Amendment rights: Screw magazine and the public access cable TV show Midnight Blue in New York City.

"When we won the first Supreme Court case, Christie Hefner called us to congratulate us," said Brady. "We were already friends and at the time she was battling the morality police over Playboy and was happy that we won our case."

One of the ads they created for Candypants is in the Museum of Sex and Design in Manhattan. The ad will be used by a branding company, Base Designs, for a 20-foot-by-20-foot billboard.

A documentary is also in production about the couple—Candypants: The Film—directed by Francis Gasparini and produced by Gasparini and Austin Wilkin. It will be released in 2017.

"They came down and did five days of interviews with us about five months ago," said Brady. "They're both straight men and happened to hear a radio show we did for an NPR station in Los Angeles, KCRW, on Valentine's Day in 2015 where we talked about Candypants for their 'good food' episode."

Throughout the 1970s, the couple attended all of David Bowie's Chicago area concerts and were, as they call it, "his fanboys."

Carlos Alomar, one of Bowie's band members who knew the photographer for the initial ad campaign for Candypants, asked if he could bring Bowie over to the couple's Lincoln Park West penthouse after one of his concerts. A number of friends were also present including Christina Ranallo and her husband. This was the first time the couple met Bowie and after that they became friends with him.

"We had meals with him, went backstage at his concerts and were invited to his recording sessions here in Chicago," said Sanderson.

"It was fascinating to watch him record in the booth and then come out to the mixing board and produce the song right on the spot," said Brady. "When he would come over we'd sit on the balcony and he'd remark at how magnificent Chicago was, especially its architecture. We'd have long, long conversations. He had a wonderful sense of humor.

"Our friendship with him lasted for about a decade. When we moved to Florida, David had stopped touring and was getting into producing, so our friendship waned. We're still friends with his band members who also toured with other people so that's how we became friends with Aretha Franklin's son Teddy White, John Waite and Julian Lennon."

"We got involved with the whole rock 'n' roll world," said Sanderson. "We're still very close with Carlos and his wife Robin Clark. Robin had a connection with Luther Vandross whom we became close friends with until his death."

When asked why they don't have any pictures of themselves with Bowie, Brady noted that they didn't want to be like fans and ask to take pictures with him.

Both Brady and Sanderson remember Bowie as a kind man who brought a London and Manhattan sensibility to Chicago.

"He gave people the courage to express themselves, was very fluid himself and often kissed us affectionately," said Sanderson. "When we first met him it was like a cosmic wind blew through me. He wasn't aloof or conceited. He appreciated Chicago's music scene with its blues and gospel roots. Unfortunately our friendship with him waned as he stopped touring and visiting Chicago. Robin and Carlos kept us up to speed on what Bowie was doing when they visited us in Florida."

They did learn that Bowie had remembered their friendship through mutual friends who went backstage after one of his concerts in the United Kingdom.

"I'll remember David for his perseverance and the fact that he was open and aware of everything around him," said Sanderson. "He took little bits from everything he saw, heard and read and put them together like a puzzle. David was a nice, kind man."

"David was extremely well read and his mind was constantly moving," said Brady. "His lyrics were always socially relevant."

They're also among the many people included in the Chicago Gay History archives project, created by Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim.

"We feel really blessed to have been a part of this project," said Brady.

"I wish more people knew about it though," said Sanderson.

When asked how they would describe themselves, Sanderson said he has a lot of imagination and creativity while Brady said he's an adventure seeker.

As for the current state of LGBT life, both politically and in entertainment, Brady noted that things have changed for the better due to shows like Will & Grace, while Sanderson said there will be a day when being LGBT is a non-issue—but maybe not in his lifetime.

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