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Twilight of the Tribe: The Wedding that Wasn’t

SYMBOL OF GAY POWER

“I always wanted a formal wedding,” Jackie Curtis said, weeks before the wedding, as she chalked the marriage announcement on the sidewalk outside the Albert Hotel: Superstars Jackie Curtis (“Flesh,” “Cock Strong,” “The Moke-eaters”) and Eric Emerson (“Chelsea Girls,” “Lonesome Cowboys”) to Be Married on July 21. Everyone Welcome! “Even when I was a little child, I dreamed about getting married in a beautiful white gown and everything, with rice and a minister and a cake and a handsome husband. Eric is very handsome, you know, he is really very handsome.”

Last week her wedding happened— scheduled, the press release said, “to coincide spiritually and metaphysically with the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Which will be the bigger event? Only history will tell.”

It was a depressing and a discomforting occasion. About 100 of her friends were there on the East 11th Street roof, among­ them Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey, Stefan Brecht, Danny Fields, and the Playhouse of the Ridiculous actors: Penny Arcade, Rita Red, Holly “Miss Speed” Jones, Suzanna Bankstreet, Reginald Rimmington III, Marlene D-Train. Jaime de Carlo Lotts, thin-faced, intelligent, looking like an extra in “God’s Little Acre,” moved around the roof with a wine bottle, making people feel at home while the New Andrews Sisters sang “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “Stormy Weather,” “He Touched Me.”

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The guests mingled on the front section of the roof, drinking Gallo white wine and soda; they tended to bunch in small groups and stare out at one another, everyone growing nervous because the wedding was delayed in starting. It was the first time this season that the underground tribe had been together for a “public” happening — for that is what the event was, what justified it and gave it what beauty and grace it possessed, the warmth and renewal felt by all of us there, by the freaks and heads and actors and queens and the few hustlers­ and the poets and most of us, the majority, losers, the fact of being together again and of really hoping Jackie would pull off her wedding in style, that it would go well for her. Listening to David Peel and his band play, watching Melba La Rose tap-dance, Jackie Curtis and her bridal party sat nervously on the back of the roof, behind the chimneys and the pipes, waiting for the groom. He never appeared.

The wedding began about an hour late. Stewart Eaglespeed was importuned to stand in for the missing groom, Eric Emerson. Both Stewart and Eric work at Max’s Kansas City. The presiding clergyman was Louis Abolafia, who was dressed in Roman Catholic vestments plus a large “Louis Abolafia — New York’s Mayor in ’69” button. Jackie Curtis … looking quite stunning in a white ante-bellum gown, a beige shawl thrown over her right shoulder, her red-brown hair teased wildly, long simulated pearl earrings and white ribbons dangling from her ears, a bridal bouquet of daisies clutched in one hand, a carton of milk in the other, was finally carried from the back of the roof on the arms of her bridesmaid, Bunny Eisenhower, and her ersatz groom, while the maid of honor, the actress Ruby Lynn Reyner, followed in her train.

At the altar. The guests gathered around tightly, cracking jokes, giggling. A few photographers and a movie cameraman took shots, and the bridal couple paused and smiled sweetly for the press. Then sometime Reverend Abolafia began the service. At the question, “If any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him speak now,” the only man in the place to raise a protest was Jackie’s bridesmaid, Bunny Eisenhower.

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“This woman has a baby!” Bunny screeched, raising a baby-like bundle high in her hands.

Jackie: “I do not. I never saw this woman before!”

Bunny, louder, “You know me!

Pause, Jackie, irritated, speaking in her best Audrey Hepburn we-are-not-amused voice, looking with contempt at her loud-mouthed bridesmaid: “All right, for Christ’s sake. I met her in a laundromat.”

The service proceeded. Someone interrupted and asked Jackie why she was marrying Stewart and not Eric. Jackie, aloof: “Oh, my husband had to work. So I have to marry someone else.”

The couple finished their vows. Reverend Abolafia pronounced them man and wife under the laws of New York State. The guests began to dance. Jackie and Stewart moved out and into the crowd, men and women rushing to kiss the happy couple, moving carefully, stopping again and again to receive congratulations, over to the side where Andy Warhol stood by himself with a polaroid camera. He took several pictures of the couple and gave them away. Larry Re, wearing an enormous, fluffy tutu, sheer tights, ballet shoes, flitted up to the couple on his toes, twirled, and informed Jackie and everyone else that Stewart Eaglespeed, the man she had just married, had “a past.”

“I don’t care,” Jackie said. “I know Stewart has a past. What’s a past between friends?”

And Stewart, protesting his masculinity among the fluttering queens, said, rather too emphatically, “Stewart also has a cock … ”

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Larry Re twirled off and took over the center of the roof and made great, sweeping leaps and pirouettes. He was soon joined by Ruby Lynn Reyner, and they alternated in turn, each trying to out-dance the other like “Original Amateur Hour” contestants.

Penny Arcade came up to Stewart and asked if he was going to consummate the marriage. Stewart replied, “God, I hope not!”

Darkness came. The party continued under the photographers’ lights, interrupted once by a cop who appeared with a complaint to check out the noise. He left bewildered.

Jackie danced into the night, working at having fun, for it had become a disaster for her. It was to have been a real marriage, and she was to have been a real bride, like in the movies, femme, a virgin no less. Married and carried away into a Honeymoon Sunset in the arms of her Supestar. That she had believed possible, as she believed in such Shirley Temple things as happy endings and marriages-made·in-heaven and people flying like goddamn bluebirds somewhere over the rainbow. But the groom had not showed, and she could not entirely pull it off as a bride, and so she remained illegitimate somewhere between a drag queen and a woman, like Dylan’s Cinderella sweeping with echoing sound up Desolation Row.

Gradually people began to drift off, most of them heading for an informal wedding feast in the back room of Max’s. As dusk came, Jackie, now wearing a royal blue cape over her bridal gown, danced with the men, laughing too much, playing it up as Authentic Woman for all she was worth, for all she was worth trying to make it come true in time.

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I watched John Vaccaro dance. He was dressed in bermuda shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. It was he who, with Warhol and Jack Smith and a handful of others, had begun, in his early productions nearly a decade ago, what would become the underground scene. And I thought, Christ, how jaded we have become, with a kind of defensive insensitivity, jaded to the war raging while we danced, to the poverty in the city north of us, how introverted and self-regarding we had grown as we grew older, Vaccaro and Warhol and Jack Smith, among the few who created the tribe, getting older, fatigued, pressing, however distantly, middle age. Warhol especially worn through, beyond endurance, speaking tiredly in barely audible whispers, timid of crowds, conscious of their violence, his skin unusually white and drawn, the blood vessels on his face vividly scarlet, his chest scarred from the shooting. And what was worse, Warhol bored, making little games with his camera, but overwhelmingly, obviously bored. His boredom — broken only by the appearance of an incredibly handsome blond boy from Erie, Pennsylvania, straight, naive, refreshingly, comically, beautifully middle-brow, Midwestern, an inceptive quail who appeared at the non-wedding by chance and was, being utterly out of place, threatened by it and defended himself with silence broken only by occasional radical comments on the “capitalist” nature of the affair — and the undifferentiated sexuality of the gathering, unisexual, and the labored-at giddyness, the overdone homosexual gaiety, the spiritual and, yes, sexual inappetance of the tribe, this caused me to think that it had come to its conclusion, the tribe, it had become what it had once parodied, the drag queens no longer took off the falsies and the rest, Jackie Curtis was for all intents and purposes, to the tribe a woman; so far over the line, that was the pathos of the wedding, so far gone, baby, that her distress was real. She was the proverbial bride left standing humiliated at the church door, the rejected woman, marrying a man she never loved to spite a man she could not possess. Like a godawful bad novel, and the heroine was trying so goddamn hard not to admit her raging disappointment, her grief — all her life wanting to be married like a real American girl and then, on the day of her wedding, her initiation into femininity with the press and party and marriage feast and a dreamed-for marriage night, CONSUMMATION! and for the bridegroom not to come! Christ! With her lamps all lit, the feast prepared, for him not to come. At the end, alone on the roof, like Eleanor Rigby picking up rice after the wedding on the church floor.

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***

Later at Max’s Kansas City the party was reunited, Jackie straggling in late, alone, unescorted. She spent the night drinking champagne and table-hopping in the back room among her friends while her former husband-to-be, Eric Emerson, remained in the front room making cracks about her to passing friends.

Eric, thinking he had missed out on a bad thing, thinking he would be leaving for France in two weeks to be in the Paris edition of “Hair,” so what did it matter, Eric explaining. “She said I didn’t have to be faithful. Now what the hell kind of marriage is that?” And, “If she wants to be a woman let her learn to take shit.” And, “Who wants to marry a wife with a five o’clock shadow?”

And Jackie, as morning came, sat amid the empty champagne glasses, Tally Brown and the poet Gerard Malanga keeping her company, as her wedding night withered, saying to me, “If you quote me, tell them, ‘Jackie Curtis laughed!‘ ” Pause. Then changing her mind, as women will, “No, say … say, ‘I was a ravished pixie,’ say that, Dotson, say Miss Jackie Curtis, rejected by Eric Emerson, oh, wasn’t that cruel? and it wasn’t even a legal marriage, he’s cruel. Say, ‘Jackie Curtis looked like a ravished pixie.’ ”

Before I left, I spoke with John Vaccaro again. He was sitting at a booth some distance from the round table where the bride lingered. The blond boy from Erie was with him. The boy said he was an SDS member and he kept trying to place some political judgment on the event, claiming that it was capitalist.

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“Capitalist?” Vaccaro said, “how’s it capitalist? None of us have any money. Kid, this was an affair of the poor.”

The boy went on to ask rhetorically why you people are wasting your time on fag weddings and underground art crap when there was a war going on and a revolution to be made. “Those were two men who got married,” the boy said, “Two men! And Andy Warhol was shot by somebody and he still isn’t political. None of this shit has any political content. It’s counter-revolutionary bourgeois decadence. It’s going nowhere, man, I mean, really, where do you think this stuff is going to end, what’s next? After marrying two men, what else can you do? Why don’t you people wake up and do something for the Movement instead of all this decadence?”

Vaccaro, tired and more than a little bored, “I told Esquire once,” he said, “when they asked what we would do on the stage next, I said I would be interested in seeing someone murdered on stage. Maybe that’s next, huh?”

The kid did not understand.

Vaccaro: “We … I think we made the revolution, the Movement possible, in a sense we did, a long time ago, everybody who in their art attacked the basic values of American culture, all those people made you, even maybe made SDS possible. We gave you room, baby. And maybe, I think, maybe what we gave birth to, maybe what we made way for was a new batch of prudes. Where’s your tolerance, your compassion, huh, outside your speeches, where is it in your life? Jackie gets engaged and she gets jilted and she gets hurt and you have no understanding of her pain. What good is that to anything, that lack of understanding, what good is that to us?”

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***

It was growing light outside when Jackie started for home. “I think,” she said, “I think maybe for the divorce we’ll have a party, what do you think?” Maybe there, in her refusal finally to give way to defeat, in her rebellion, in her inability to give way to the destiny of her birth, maybe in that resistance, however sentimental and apolitical, she was doing what she could to save the goddamn world from the prudes. ❖

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Candy Darling, Where Were You the Night Jean Harlow Died?

We were seen around New York, Candy Darling and me, for a week or two we had a little whirl, a movie star and reporter in Alan Ladd trenchcoats sipping Singapore Slings at Daly’s Dandelion, watching home movies at Taylor Mead’s apartment — Candy all milkskin white curled up in a bed, bored until her face appeared on the sheetscreen, last summer at Fire Island, the arrival of the legend in black dress and pieplate sun­glasses, “stop the camera, Tayl­or, can you run it in slow motion” — at Holly’s opening, Max’s Kansas City, the Pink Teacup, Francesco Scavullo’s Ash Wednesday party, the Cine Malibu with Candy’s cinema voice honeypouring from the screen, “I’m only a woman. What have I to offer? A glittering facade?” A glittering facade.

When the milkskin darling was a little darling, he had other names, a male first name and a surname that was Irish. He was very close to his mother and he loved going to the movies.

At the age of nine, his life took on a direction. He saw “The Prod­igal.” Lana Turner, the high priestess, blonde and pure, clad in scarlet, stockinged in gold, gilded, glittering, beautiful beyond belief. Men kissed Lana’s hand and died for her, and Lana, in true Metro tradition, leapt to her death from a 1000-foot pedestal into a ring of fire. Then handmaidens gasped and the pagan drums boomed. This is how life should be. The young boy from Forest Hills had to have it for himself. He became Candy Darling.

Alone in the house, Candy would conjure up a Lana scene. She’d run a lukewarm bath and drop blue food coloring into the water. She’d move the potted palm from the family living room to a spot next to the hamper, perfume the room and drag her mother’s ocelot coat out of the closet, a royal bath carpet for ruby toenails to tread on. She’d play Yma Sumac music and recite Lana lines. “When they see me, they will stop this madness.” Then she’d drape herself in a towel, held together by mama’s rhine­stone broach, and slink through the house, a regal empress, her French poodle a movie tiger by her side.

Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, she wrote in her diary. The name is magic.

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Sixteen, and already ensconced in a cloak of sexual ambiguity, she left home to live with her uncle in Greenwich Village, spending little time at the apart­ment, freewheeling it on Chris­topher Street where sex is nei­ther one thing or another but a collage. Candy’s collage was an unorthodox mixture accepted by lesbians, scorned by the middle­-ground “unsure of status” male homosexual, lusted after by straight men and macho gay, envied and feared by the plain­-jane male transvestites with illusions of personal grandeur. Candy didn’t give a damn about her rivals. She stood aloof, a glacier in a sea of open-mouthed whales, stunning, a genuine un-genuine woman.

One sunny summer day, her uncle, in a jealous rage, told her never to darken his doorstep again. Candy then began what was to be a series of affairs with men who abused her, humiliated her, raped her, made love to her, but seldom loved her. Love became internalized. With the help of Photoplay and Silver Screen and the mirror on the wall, Candy began a romance with her­self, a love affair with an image that was a reality — and also a commodity. Candy Darling, the supreme package, blonde, glit­tering, gilded, beautiful beyond belief, high priestess, eternal virgin on the brink of rape, queen of films, queen of the universe, the last laugh at them all.

The commodity was picked up by Andy Warhol about five years ago. Candy was playing an actress in Tom Eyen’s “Give My Regards to Off-Off Broadway.” Andy saw the show and put Candy in “Flesh.” The impression was POW. She became a Warhol darling, floating around Andy’s New York, the galleries, the right parties, the wrong parties, ruby lips and platinum hair at society bashes. Candy, shy and demure, with Marisa Berenson and the Brenda Fraziers and Cobina Wright, Jrs., of the ’70s, at movie premieres exchanging lipstick and boyfriend information in powder rooms with best friend Sylvia Miles, then hitting Chris­topher Street and the dives with sycophants, often dragging her­self home to mama Teresa “Darling’s” modest home in Mas­sapequa Park for an hour or two of sleep — and the dreams.

The dreams. Candy remembers them and writes them down in her notebook. One night, around New York, we talked dreams, Candy and me. Here’s one she dreamt after attending a George Plimpton party with Gerard Malanga, whom she was in love with at the time.

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“I was going to the opening of a night club,” said Candy from a divan in an empty room, a flash­back look seeping from widow’s peak to jaw, as though a camera were panning in for a close-up. “It was the biggest club in the whole world. It had an Olympic-sized swimming pool, surrounded by trees and tables covered in white. I was with Andy Warhol and Gerard. Andy hated the gown I wore, a gray-blue see-through with rhinestone sequins and feathers at the bottom. I wore my trenchcoat over it. Andy thought I looked cheap. Yet he introduced me to everybody at the night club. I was to be paid $500 for being there. After a while, several wealthy men talked to me. I told them, ‘I’m so happy you asked me here,’ but was anxious to get away from them. I looked over my shoulder and saw Andy walk out, like he always does, leaving me frantic and alone. Finally, I got rid of the two men I was talking to and saw someone with a black leather coat who I thought was Gerard. I walked over to him quickly and it wasn’t Gerard at all. ‘Did you see Gerard?’ I asked. The man in the coat turned his back on me. All of the other men were standing in little groups, closed in among themselves. I went running from one group to another” (Candy got up from the divan and acted out the dream vi­gnette: she ran to different corners of the room, breathlessly, hysterically). ” ‘Is Gerard here? Is Gerard here?’ The men all turned their backs, they wouldn’t look at me. Finally someone said, ‘Oh, Gerard left 10 minutes ago.’ And I was left there completely alone. But I still had the $500 in my trenchcoat pocket and I felt it and held it and took it out and when I looked at the money it was velvet on one side and it wasn’t real money. That’s when I woke up. I was terrified.”

A couple of nights before St. Pa­trick’s Day, Candy and I were caught in the rain. We ducked into a spot for a drink. Never straight bourbon or scotch, always some­thing fancy with a swizzle stick. The music from the machine was playing sentimental, an oldie, “a telephone that rings but who’s to answer.” In the corner of the cafe, caught in the mood, Candy played true confessions, a touch of Kim in “Lylah Clare,” a dab of Ava in “Pandora.” I remember how she looked at me, those hazel eyes shifting from my hazel eyes to linger on my lower lip, and I remember exactly how she looked and what she said. She looked like every blonde product who has ever made it from the earring counter at Woolworth’s to be molded into a director’s Dada, total myth outside, myth fighting to win control over reality inside. And she said to me, “I’ve been here before. My spirit was once that of a movie star’s. I believe it was once Jean Harlow’s. I was captivated by her death as far back as I can remember. I read all of her obituaries on special microfilm. She died during the shooting of ‘Saratoga’ and they photographed much of the film with a double showing back shots. Long before the Harlow revival, I had my hair dyed platinum and my eyebows plucked and pen­ciled. When I was young, I drew a lot, mostly animals and women. The women all had white hair. Jean Harlow or Kim, before I knew them, or looked like them.”

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Death, the glamor of early death, often runs through Candy’s mind. Kim Novak dying young in “The Eddy Duchin Story,” Kim Stanley dying young in “The Goddess,” Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe dying young on Page One. Make it big when you’re blonde and beautiful, pound out that imprint for eter­nity, leave the worshiping masses a glorious platinum memory.

The second night of our town-tripping, Candy had given instructions to a friend, what to do on the death of Candy Darling. Nothing morbid, just movie star security. I couldn’t worm it from her. Cremation? Forest Lawn? A red rose on a white casket? Call AP, UP, mama, and Rona Barrett? “All I can tell you is that I’d will my money to a Candy Darling Me­morial Theatre Fund to help struggling actors. Let’s talk about the future.”

The future, Candy would like to do a Broadway show. A revival of “Little Me” would be nice. She’d adore the Eve Harrington role in “Applause” with Sylvia Miles as Margo Channing. There’s a possibility of playing a Marlene Die­trich “Destry” slut in Paul Mor­rissey’s soon-to-start Italian west­ern. A couple of films shot in Germany are on their way — Candy’s big in Germany. “Women in Revolt,” after a short run at the Cine Malibu, is soon to play the boondocks, and “Some of My Best Friends … ” shows up intermittently on 42nd Street. Videotape, too, is on Candy’s mind. She does a bad take-off of a drug-crazed junkie — Needle Park would laugh rather than panic — but Candy wants the world to know she’s an actress as well as a star and will shortly dance the heroin blues for a hand-held camera. She’s also talking of needling Tennessee Williams into pulling out a masterpiece or two from his trunk: Candy as Blanche in “Streetcar” or Alma in “Summer and Smoke” or Ariadne in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

She’s happiest when she’s work­ing. “I’m like Jeanne Eagels. I don’t care if it’s a big Hollywood part or a small role, as long as I have something to say about it. So often I have to do exactly what directors say and so often I know more than the directors. ‘Some of My Best Friends … ‘ is one movie where the director should have listened to me. He treated me like a child, as if I were a very touchy delicate thing. It was hard for me. I consider myself an ar­tist. Of course I want admiration and I want them to like me, but I can take criticism.”

She can also give criticism. She told Holly Woodlawn “you’ll never be a star because you can’t boil an egg” which led Holly to crack “it’s just like Candy, so im­practical, when I become a star I’ll have my cook boil my eggs.”

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Candy admits her impracti­cality, her ambivalence toward men, toward stardom, toward life. She admits “I’m filled with guilt and instability. I tremble when I go places and hear people calling Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, yet I love it.” She describes herself as soft and vulnerable and strong as an ox, a barometer — “I am what I am now, in a few minutes I’ll change and be something else.” She says in one breath that she wants to be an actress, and in the next she’ll tell you she’s a star. She’ll tell Jackie Curtis, “Your thoughts are so strong, I’ve got to be alone with my own thoughts,” then question her own thoughts out loud — “Should I be cooperative, tell them everything they want to know, how much I eat, what I weigh, what color underwear I wear, how many times a day I go to the bathroom, or should I be mysterious so that they’ll always come back for more.” She’ll say that men are kings and that women were meant to be slaves, then confide that she’s all for women’s liberation. She’ll coyly demur that “most men are really afraid of me, they think I’m a delicacy or something, too rich for their blood,” then, under Taylor Mead’s nose, vamp away his boy friend of the evening and whisper to me, “I’d hate to have this be the highpoint of my life.”

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Jukebox Jackie

The short-lived Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis has been dead nearly 30 years, but downtown stalwarts such as Justin Vivian Bond and Bridget Everett will attempt to resurrect her in this pastiche musical, conceived and directed by Scott Wittman. They’ll attempt to revive her with “scenes, poetry, music and dance.”

Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 & 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: May 24. Continues through June 10, 2012

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VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Underground U.S.A.

Dir. Eric Mitchell (1980).
Complete with cameos by Jackie Curtis and Taylor Mead, Eric Mitchell’s first 16mm feature transposes Sunset Boulevard to the Warhol Factory. Patti Astor embodies a washed-up Edie Sedgwick-type superstar with convincing self-absorption; Mitchell plays a hustler who installs himself in her life; the robotic courtship dance he uses to get next to her at the Mudd Club is hilarious avant-punk choreography.

Sat., April 9, 7 p.m.; Sun., April 10, 8:45 p.m., 2011

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VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Underground USA

Dir. Eric Mitchell (1980).
Complete with cameos by Jackie Curtis and Taylor Mead, Eric Mitchell’s first 16mm feature transposed Sunset Boulevard to the Warhol Factory as a vehicle for washed up superstar Edie Sedgwick (played with convincing self-absorption by Patti Astor). Mitchell appears as the hustler who installs himself in her life; the robotic courtship dance he uses to get next to her at the Mudd Club is one of the funniest choreographed bits of the ‘80s.

Sun., Oct. 4, 5 p.m., 2009

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NY Mirror

The original everything, model JANICE DICKINSON, popped out of a mile-long limo outside her book party at Light, making her second—and definitely best—entrance that night. (An hour earlier, she’d come too soon and made a quick exit when she saw that tons of others had come too soon too.) Draped in a white feather boa almost as thin as she is, Dickinson struck a blinding succession of dramatic poses for the paparazzi outside, then asked them, “Did you get it? My surgery’s starting to slip!” Before her forehead unfurled, I cornered the little dynamo and asked, naturally, why she talked with RYAN SEACREST on the air about his girlfriend, of all things. “He brought it up,” Dickinson answered. “He said she calls him Ry, and I said it should be Ry Toast.” Or Wonder Bread with marshmallow sauce. But wait, the twinkmeister’s actually straight? “That would be a shock to me,” squawked Dickinson, “because he’s billed himself as the original metrosexual!”

More confused than ever, I asked the loquacious lady which celebs are unquestionably “friends of Kylie,” as it were. “Isn’t everyone?” she replied. “I am!” (Dickinson was only partially joking; she once had some lezzie one-nighters, one with a Rolling Stone’s girlfriend.) Her most disappointing lover ever? “SYLVESTER,” she said, meaning the action star, not the drag disco singer. “The wham-bam thing had to stop!” For the photogs, Dickinson then held up a copy of a gay magazine that featured her and boomed, “I really should be hawking my book, but I love the gays!” And with that—wham-bam—she went in again, the first model ever to show up in the same sentence with the word book.


Maid in Manhattan

Well, I love the plays! Most critics threw the book at Caroline, or Change, deciding it’s too cerebral and diffuse a piece of wry toast, but I found it a profound achievement, with the season’s loftiest score and arrangements (though it doesn’t escape me that the show centers on TONYA PINKINS‘s angst when she’s patronizingly offered pocket change, and in reality, the actress tried to get a full-scale Broadway salary and had to settle for $2,000 a week). At the opening-night party, the superb Pinkins told me, “This is a pinnacle in my life”—if one that makes her vocal cords jump through hoops of fire. “It’s everything from pianissimo to mezzo forte to screaming,” she said. How does she recoup? “I steam a lot.” Well, ANIKA NONI ROSE, who gorgeously plays Pinkins’s daughter, almost got steamy when I askedif she’s perhaps a little older than her character. The girl-woman wouldn’t answer, then finally blurted, “I’m 16 onstage!”

But VEANNE COX, who shines as Pinkins’s well-meaning employer, discussed age issues like a pro. “This has been my opening-night dress for 10 years,” she told me, showing off her shimmery gray number. “I’m retiring it. I’m 41 and my boobs are starting to sag. You can only wear this dress if they’re perky!” Quick—give itto Janice Dickinson before her surgery slips.

By the way, a woman with pert tits recently chased me down at a theater event and tearily told me in a mezzo forte voice how my work had transformed her life. I couldn’t imagine how raunchy bar gossip had moved her so deeply, but I still batted my eyes and gave her a phony-humble “You’re so kind.” “Caroline, or Change was especially wonderful,” she went on, almost having a breakdown of joy. Wait a friggin’ minute—the slag thought I was TONY KUSHNER? Security!

But back to the theater: Frozen is a thoughtful play that works up sympathy for a pedophile-killer who screams at a victim’s grieving relative, “Don’t bother me again, cunt! Pardon my French.” (At least he’s polite. I should have said that to the pert-tit woman.) At Frozen‘s obligatory party, I asked acclaimed co-star BRIAN F. O’BYRNE how his mother reacted to his onstage use of the C-word. “That’s not a problem,” O’Byrne responded before grabbing Mama and traipsing ever so briskly in the other direction. Not in my family either; it’s all that dick talk they don’t care for.


Rhesus Pieces

Of course if you crave pudendum prattle in a really absurdist setting, you should see Prymate, which is just another show about a female sign language interpreter who jerks off an ape who’s just peed on her (pardon my French). The play, a giant chimpan-zzzz, has HEATHER TOM as the interpreter with the busiest hands in the biz (in between all that signing, she has to service the horny gorilla); hearing-impaired PHYLLIS FRELICH mugging like Harpo Marx on tina; JAMES NAUGHTON as the brilliant scientist who says stuff like, “You know someone with the AIDS virus? That must be rough”; and ANDRE DE SHIELDS as the talented monkey who can grab for perky titties and sign the word foreplay. The whole mess is wrapped in some pseudo-highbrow talk about playing God—the show is as cynical about human behavior as Frozen is forgiving of it—but believe me, it’s total ape shit.

Aping a Hollywood goddess, Jackie Curtis was a Warhol superstar of wit (“K-Y jelly is Fire Island toothpaste”) and glamour (he was 16 onstage!) who died as a result of his first, unwanted hetero sex act, I swear. Totally fetch, he’s the subject of CRAIG HIGHBERGER‘s Superstar in a Housedress (featuring moi), whose Film Forum premiere started with Jackie’s minister brother blessing “those with the courage to be who they are—not boy, not girl.” Not there was JAYNE COUNTY, who admittedly got fucked up the night before she was supposed to shoot her scenes. But in from the coast were divas ALEXIS DEL LAGO (“Look at my figure!”) and HOLLY WOODLAWN (“Holly’s out of the coma! She’s back from the dead!” I knew she was fine if she was talking about herself in the third person). As for Ry Toast? Getting jellied elsewhere, but presumably not with Fire Island toothpaste.

Finally, though Jackie Curtis was a doll, JACKEE HARRY screams out for voodoo pins. At a play last week, the sitcom diva covered her face with a Playbill as I walked by, thereby avoiding one of her biggest fans. (But not that big; I wasn’t even planning to talk to her.) May-ree, please. Bring back the lady who thought I was Tony Kushner.


LITTER BOX

Blind fury

What disgraced magazine “journalist”—with whom I’ve had a hate/hate relationship for years—adores being paid by clubs for promoting events? (I guess there’s nothing like getting a little stipend to make you a better “journalist.” The problem is, part of his Plaid payment one night hinged on the appearance of the model guest of honor that he’d promised, but she didn’t show. No, not Janice Dickinson—she shows twice. Anyway, the “journo” is reportedly still mad about not getting that extra thousand, and—in a whole other situation, I’m sure—the club’s redheaded owner was not asked to be in a certain spread he did. Maybe she’s lucky. Oh, did I mention that Crobar pays him?)

What publicist for an out TV star believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity—for himself anyway? He’s completely naked, with his aroused ding-dong hanging out, on bigmuscle.com.

What musical starlet was caught at a club last week being coached to pretend she’s an investor in a show? A weird man was grooming her to do that so she could show up at a meeting and impress male investors. What was in it for her? “A hundred bucks and a free meal,” she blurted. Tonya Pinkins’s salary is starting to look better and better.


musto@villagevoice.com

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Film

The multi-talented gender-blur diva Jackie Curtis was too down-to-earth to qualify as a sacred monster, but Dusan Makavejev—who directed the performer in W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism—would later remark that he was “in a kind of permanent awe before Jackie, as religious people might feel in the face of Jesus.” That’s one way to characterize Curtis’s sassy, wisecracking persona.

Years in the making, Craig Highberger’s Superstar in a Housedress is a fabulously fond and entertaining tribute to the quick-witted Lower East Side kid, the son of a taxi dancer and a marine, who grew up above his grandmother’s Second Avenue saloon and reinvented himself as a superstar well before he met Andy Warhol. Although inevitably bracketed with fellow Warhol drag queens and Women in Revolt co-stars Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, Curtis promoted a funkier style—thrift-store dresses with padded shoulders, but not falsies—that was more the idea of drag than drag itself. As Voice fashion columnist Blair Sobol wrote nearly 30 years ago, “Jackie came before Bette Midler with the ’40s feeling of a Rita redhead, the Joan Crawford flaming mouth, and the Ann Sheridan padded shoulders. Jackie taught me how to put glitter on my eyelids and how to wear torn pantyhose with style.” Curtis was also over six feet tall and built like a linebacker.

As befits a showbiz biopic (complete with tragic heroin overdose), the mode is more anecdotal than analytical—although fellow artistes Penny Arcade and John Vaccaro do provide pithy explications of the Curtis aesthetic. Superstar in a Housedress features much excellent footage of Curtis in performance both at Café LaMaMa and on The David Susskind Show. The large supporting cast includes some stellar talking heads, including Harvey Fierstein, Joe Franklin, Michael Musto, and Lily Tomlin. Unfortunately, Robert De Niro—who made his Off-Off-Broadway debut playing a dozen different roles in Curtis’s 1968 extravaganza Glamour, Glory, and Gold—seems not to have been available for reminiscing.