Categories
Uncategorized

A History of Hype: The Cockettes Conquer New York

Cockettes in New York: A History of Hype
November 25, 1971

New York is dead, everyone complained. The last thing to hit town was Jesus Christ Superstar, and it was so unbelievably crass. The major art openings were over, and the holiday parties hadn’t yet begun. Dull dull dull. But didn’t Rex and Truman rave about some divine hippie drag queens from San Francisco who actually wear glitter on their “private parts” as well as their eyelids? Right. “The Rockettes like rocks, and the Cockettes like—” How utterly outrageous! And weren’t they opening down in the slummy crummy East Village along with Sylvester, a black rock queen who sings falsetto? How off off can you get? And isn’t this the Year of the Gay? — it’s all right for men to dig other men in public. Everyone understands now. And hasn’t the underground press been covering the Cockettes favorably for over a year, even though the regular San Francisco press accepts their ads but doesn’t review them? Isn’t it time for something different? Let’s discover the Cockettes!

Not since Andy and Edie had New York made a group of society’s freaks its very own darlings in one short week — seven days to scale the highest media peaks, only to fall opening night with a great dull thud. How come? One reason is that the media-heavy audience came opening night expecting to see some sort of new art form and got comatized instead; but more importantly, the Cockettes were victims of the Big Hype — that peculiar New York phenomenon whereby people and things are declared hot, cool, in, out, under, and over. The poor little gold differs of ’71 from San Francisco made a big mistake — they believed it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715227″ /]

Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality to the Cockettes. Their life style is carefully contrived to blur if not actually diminish the distinction between the two. So when the Big Apple gave them the Hype they were ready for it. “Darling, we’re the toasts of the town, they love us to death!” said Big Daryl, a Cockette leader. Never mind the hassles with the producers, the el cheapo production, the lack of a sound system to rehearse with, the cockroaches and the broken plumbing in the hotel, or even the parties the nights before that made rehearsing almost impossible, because the Tinsel Tarted Broadway babies were having their pert little behinds kissed bought up and downtown and Ziegfield wasn’t around to ask if they could sing or dance. Nobody did. “I’m Goldie Glitters, and I go to all these ritzy penthouses every night, and these photographers keep wanting to take my picture.”

Performance for the Cockettes is mostly an excuse to live a freaky life style. Why be a hairdresser or work in a third-hand store if you can be a Cockette and spend all day getting dressed up like your favorite movie star? The drag’s the thing — the Tinsel Tarts spend a lot more time on themselves than they do on the shows. In San Francisco the Cockettes are pure hippie-nostalgia street theatre with rinky tink piano, clever lyrics, and tons of glitter thrown in for good measure — gay hippies plus women who love to show off for their friends. There are far too many freaks in San Francisco for them to be considered avant garde, political, or revolutionary. It’s a $2.50 midnight show at a funky old Chinese movie house where you can watch Betty Boop festivals and dig the spectacle. Stoned at 2 in the morning, you don’t care if it moves. The indulgent audience is half the show, and knows it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”674582″ /]

But the Big Apple declared the Cockettes media myths, the “fashion and faggot aristocracy” came out en masse to view their drag for inspiration, the ticket price shot up to $6.50, and Time, Life, Women’s Wear Daily, etc., all showed up to review them. The opening night’s theme song should have been “Please baby,” pant pant, “give us some new freaks to love.”

It’s easy to love the Cockettes. Their zany behavior turns on even the most hostile people, and every personal appearance is a major production. Integral to the making of the myth were the word-of-mouth reports spread around town by key writers, editors, or celebrities who saw the Cockettes behave outrageously at the Whitney, in Max’s, and at all the posh parties where they were honored guests. Everyone expected they’d be better on stage, but that’s a misconception. The Cockettes are much better in real life. I traveled with them for 10 days, and it was pure insanity all the way.

***

At the San Francisco airport pandemonium reigned from the moment the Cockettes stepped off their chartered bus, along with three tons of luggage that was heavy on the cardboard and tinsel. “Remember, girls,” Pristine Condition yelled, “The password for New York is Sugar Daddy.”

“Did you see that?” Mr. whispered to Mrs. Iowa at the baggage check as Link floated by in a one-piece latex bathing suit with a beauty queen banner of girl scout badges pinned to the front. And when Wally — in six-foot plumes and a pair of plastic Halloween pumpkins filled with gold tinsel suspended over his breasts — began beating his tambourine and asking for “tricks or treats,” four people canceled their flight.

Bystanders were treated to a wacked-out visual feast. In addition to 35 Cockettes, Sylvester’s musicians came with their old ladies, groupies appeared bearing gifts (Grasshopper, a favorite Cockette groupie, even flew to New York), several dozen awestruck airline employees gathered to gape, and one uptight tv cameraman was furious. “This is worse than a double X movie.” Nobody’s mother came to wave goodbye.

[related_posts post_id_1=”720142″ /]

The “Cockette party” of 45 had to sit in the back of the huge 747, along with a few straight passengers who got mixed in. They either opted for stereo headphones and tuned out for the duration of the flight or slumped way down in their seats behind books on California redwoods.

The stewardesses couldn’t handle the commotion. One dropped her oxygen mask when the Cockettes applauded her act, and her partner, a blank-looking blond in a pinafore, just stood watching quizzically as one of the Cockettes called out, “Hey, we made a movie about a girl whose drag looks just like yours — Tricia’s Wedding.”

The Tinsel Tarts spent the rest of the flight “ritzing” around the economy lounge of the 747 where they allowed curious passengers and shy closet queens to buy them beers. One little old lady in an orlon sweater set and mink hat squinted at Wally. “Are you girls in high school or college?” “Neither. We’re Miss America contestants.” A belligerent drunk confronted Lendon, resplendent as Carmen Miranda: “Are you a man or a woman?” “We’re both, honey, and that’s just for starters!” By the end of the long flight everyone was getting very cozy. The Cockettes were singing show tunes for fellow passengers, who joined them, happily posing for one another’s Instamatics and Nikons just as if the Cockettes were some stray Indians they had found in the Grand Canyon. Smile click. Smile click. “My wife won’t believe this. Heh heh. Thanks a lot.”

The flight marked the culmination of more than three months of broken promises and tight money while trying to plan the New York tour. The New York people had originally come to them. The Cockettes were not actively seeking an eastern tour. Two New York producers had strung the Cockettes along from July to October, promising a Halloween opening at the Fillmore East. The Cockettes — most of whom are on welfare — stopped doing new San Francisco shows, and when the rent fell due at their three communes, they couldn’t pay it. One of Bill Graham’s yes men, after taking a month to make the decision on the Fillmore, decreed “The Cockettes will diminish the Fillmore East’s reputation as a rock palace,” which ought to be news to the neighborhood junkies.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

Finally a San Francisco rock lawyer got them the Anderson Theatre, a block down from the Fillmore. Harry Zerler, a young, former talent scout at Columbia Records who had never produced a theatrical show before, but whose father, Paul Zerler, had been around the business for years, flew out to California and saw the same wild and funny Cockette show that Truman Capote loved and that sent Rex Reed to wondering enthusiastically, “Will the Cockettes replace rock concerts in the ’70s?” The Cockettes were thrilled. Long snubbed by the local aboveground press, they had at last been discovered by the big-time New York media. Zerler promised to bring the Cockettes to New York, and the myth began.

Even though the Daily News wouldn’t print Reed’s raving review, the Washington Post and many other papers throughout the country did. I wrote a favorable piece on the Cockettes for The Voice, and Rolling Stone published an article a short time later. Those three articles became the basis for all the hype in the Cockettes’ ads: “This is the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen” —Truman Capote. “Insanity becomes reality, fantasy becomes truth, etc.” —Village Voice. Both quotes were taken out of context, but that sort of hyperbole is justified by the producers in terms of the amount of money it takes to transport 45 people across the country and put them up for three weeks, especially people who sign the hotel register “Miss Creemah Ritz,” “Eatapuss Rex,” and Scrumbly. Paul Zerler figures it cost him $40,000. The Cockettes didn’t think setting the ticket price at $6.50 was fair, but they didn’t fight it — after dividing the money 40 ways they were only making $75 a week each plus lodging. The Cockettes have also yet to see a penny of the profits from their film, Tricia’s Wedding, but they are usually too engrossed in fantasy to seriously worry about finances.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719802″ /]

Until the moment they landed, the Cockettes had no idea where they were going to stay. Rumor had it they were going to be put up in a one-bath, three-bedroom house in Connecticut with 25 cots set up in the basement. They got the Hotel Albert instead, in the Village, where on a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit. Miss Bobbie, 17, the youngest of the Cockettes and so beautiful he was offered a modeling audition at Harper’s Bazaar, cried upon seeing the Albert. She expected maybe the Plaza. The rest of the troupe amused themselves with cockroach counting contests in their suites. There was no room service. Pretty tacky for swishy West Coast queenies, but not so different from the Haight either.

It was very difficult to reach any of the Cockettes by phone at the Albert since several had changed their names when registering. Big Daryl vacillated between Harold Thunderpussy and Miss Creemah Ritz and confided his fears of being typecast forever as the whorehouse madam, especially after two janitors mistook him for Mae West on Halloween night.

If the hotel wasn’t “fabulous enough,” the Cockettes’ arrival at Kennedy had more than made up for it in advance. Danny Fields, the skilled rock PR man, had everything arranged. About 100 freaks were on hand, including two third-stringers from the Factory, and Superstar Viva’s husband, Michel, shooting videotape. Few of these people had actually seen the Cockettes perform, but that didn’t seem to matter. The rest of the New York airport crowd watched silently bemused with a so-what-else-is-new expression that contrasted sharply with the jovial hilarity at the San Francisco airport. I sensed New York would be a lot more difficult for the Tinsel Tarts and wondered if the Cockettes felt it too, but they were surrounded by local admirers, including suave Errol Wetson in total black velvet, the “fabulous millionaire hamburger king” as Dennis Lopez, Sylvester’s manager, referred to him. Suave Errol had wined and dined Dennis one night along with Warren Beatty and Roman Polanski. Dennis, used to paying for his own meals with fellow record company flacks, was properly impressed. (Actually Wetson is part owner of Le Drugstore and heir to a chain of 153 hamburger joints.) Suave Errol was dying to introduce the Cockettes to New York — there’s more to life than burgers — and thereby launch himself as the arbiter of a new social phenomenon in the process. “I heard about the Cockettes from my friend Truman, and New York’s been so quiet, so dead, something’s gotta happen. No, I haven’t seen the Cockettes perform. I don’t have to. I can feel their vibrations.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718882″ /]

Later that night Wetson hosted the Cockettes’ first New York party at this empty East 62nd Street townhouse. Diana Vreeland, grande dame of Vogue, designer Oscar de la Renta, and executives of the hamburger corporation came along to catch the action. The Cockettes gave it to them — in wild costumes they uninhibitedly danced, sang, romped, and stomped. Wetson’s comptroller, perhaps sensing his young boss’s enthusiasm could have some future financial implications, commented, “They’re great at a party, but can they act?” Diana Vreeland was much more positive. She was truly impressed with the originality of the Cockettes’ drag and felt they had put on the best fashion show she had seen in a long time. “What’s so marvelous is that they look happy, truly happy, and that’s so rare these days, don’t you think?”

Meanwhile the Cockettes were digging the plush surroundings, their usual milieu being a couple of joints or a bottle of Cold Duck in the Haight. “Wow, we’ve never been treated like this before, with champagne and all,” said Lendon. After Suave Errol’s bash the group made a pilgrimage to Max’s Kansas City and turned the place upside down. In two days they completely revitalized the sagging dragging atmosphere at Max’s, and according to the regulars, “brought the place alive again.” After the third straight night there the Cockettes were allowed to charge hamburgers and Harvey Wallbangers, which was fortunate since they hadn’t been paid and were actually going hungry — but they were getting lots of attention, hype hype. The first night at Max’s, Pristine Condition fell out of her chair when she saw Trash star Joe d’Allesandro. She swiped his bread roll, brought it back to the Albert, shellacked it, and sewed it on a hat. That night rock critic Lillian Roxan told Prissie, “I always wondered what it was like to take New York by storm, now I know.” That was the sort of comment that got passed around town by word of mouth to turn on the general populace.

During the week before opening night I must have gone to 27 parties with the Cockettes, on the East Side, on the West Side, in the Village, in penthouses, lofts, museums, and basements, gotten a total of 15 hours sleep, met two thirds of the freaks of New York, and began to suspect that all of Manhattan was gay. New York was bored and the Cockettes were so joyous they were almost wholesome. The Tinsel Tarts became the hottest numbers in town. They got a standing ovation at the Brasserie on Halloween night, then a ride home to the Albert in Marlene Dietrich’s silver limousines, which stretched the fantasy beyond all imagination. “The chauffeur, who evidently just cruises around picking up freaks, told us she’s out of the country and doesn’t own a television set. Honey, it was outrageous, and lucky, because we didn’t have the money to pay for a cab.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717604″ /]

The fantasy hardly ever stopped. Robert Rauschenberg flipped for Pristine Condition, John Rothermel, and Goldie Glitters at a Whitney opening and gave them $1000 when he found out they were hungry and broke. “The only people who support artists are other artists.” “Honey, that was Bingo with a B,” Prissie said. Taxi drivers usually turned off their meters and often gave the Cockettes drinks and joints. After Goldie Glitters offered to put one particularly polite cab driver on the guest list for opening night, he declined, saying he had a “very square wife.” “That’s okay,” said Lendon, dressed in a girl scout uniform with saddle shoes, “so do I.” Candy Darling acted like a perfect lady and invited them to her press conference. Holly Woodlawn taught them how to scarf dinner from fancy hors d’oeuvre trays. The Fontainebleau wanted the Cockettes for December!

Throughout this madness the Cockettes starred, wherever they went — at the erotic film festival party, the Screw anniversary party, Le Drugstore, where Suave Errol gave them another party and fed them, and in front of the clicking camera phalluses of scores of photographers who invited them to pose. David Rockefeller, shy about attending opening night, sent his chauffeur down to the Anderson to buy 11 tickets for the second night’s performance. Rex Reed, given 30 free tickets by Paul Zerler, was organizing a busload of celebrities to attend opening night and Suave Errol was throwing the after-the-opening party at guess where?

Days began at 2 p.m. and ended at dawn. The Cockettes were living just like the girls in the ’30s musicals they parodied. Stage door Johnnies that would have freaked Busby Berkeley were saying goodnight early in the morning. One evening at Max’s, after underground star Taylor Mead’s boyfriend stood on a table, sang to Taylor, and simultaneously stripped for the benefit of the Cockettes, I asked John Rothermel, “Madge the Magnificent” in “Tinsel Tarts,” and Big Daryl, in Eleanor Roosevelt drag for the evening, what they thought of New York. “I know we’re degenerate,” said John, flipping her boa, “but we weren’t prepared for the nihilism of New York.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717029″ /]

Early on in the week the New York establishment press began to get very interested. The Post ran a story saying the Cockettes were to drag shows as Niagara is to wet. Life’s entertainment department was dying to cover them, “but we’ll never get it past our managing editor.” They sent a photographer opening night anyway. Esquire decided to go ahead with a story, after having been told about the Cockettes over a year before. A Harper’s Bazaar editor was ecstatic. “That sounds just like the sort of thing we want to get involved with.” Time and Newsweek were coming to the opening, as was the Sunday TimesWomen’s Wear was really in a tither. They wanted to run something but felt uncomfortable using the word Cockette in print, especially since they had recently run an interview with rock star Sly Stone and quoted him as saying he was “happy as a motherfucker,” and a big Chicago garment mogul had canceled his subscription. The Washington Post, already hipped to the Cockettes from Rex Reed’s review, sent the same reporter to cover opening night who had just returned from writing about some other queens at the Shah of Iran’s 2500th anniversary bash. Even the local tv news, usually much too conservative to cover drag shows was sending a crew to film at the Anderson. I was approached to revive a Cockettes film project I had begun and then dropped. We decided to go ahead, and got the Maysles Brothers to shoot opening night.

The producers were spending an inordinate amount of time hyping instead of insisting the Cockettes rehearse, but Harry Zerler still wasn’t satisfied that the Cockettes had done enough to promote the show(!). “I haven’t seen any handbills passed out on the streets of New York,” he yelled at Sebastian, the Cockettes’ mild-mannered manager, “and why are they so filthy? All the front rows are littered with bottles of Ripple. Next time I’m going to produce a bunch of compulsive anal retentive people.”

Danny Fields said the Cockettes were the easiest act he had ever promoted. “I haven’t seen such enthusiasm from the press since the Rolling Stones’ tour of the U.S. in 1969.” Opening night was over-sold and everybody was clamoring for tickets. “No,” barked one of the theatre staff. “I don’t care if John and Yoko come to opening night. There’s no excuse for mediocrity.”

Every once in a while reality would rear its ugly head. Dusty Dawn felt terrible. It was bad enough that New York laws prevented her from dancing on the stage with her son, 16-month-old Ocean Michael Moon, “the world’s youngest drag queen,” on her back, but Ocean had developed a terrible rash. Eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant Sweet Pam’s baby dropped. And Wally, still wearing the plastic Halloween pumpkins, had had an emergency appendectomy five days before leaving San Francisco and was afraid he had glitter in his incision.

[related_posts post_id_1=”716114″ /]

The producers didn’t have time for such mundane details. They were trying to cope with an inadequate budget — the Cockettes had kicked out 24 footlights and the soundmen were scrounging around for $25 mikes — but the Big Hype continued, so I took Wally and Dusty to the emergency room of Columbus Hospital for a check-up. Nonplussed would hardly be the word to describe the good sisters upon Wally’s arrival, but they remembered charity begins at home — they let him keep his 47 bracelets on. He had to leave his gold tinsel outside with me, however. The doctor told Dusty she obviously didn’t bathe her baby. She was indignant. “I bathe Ocean twice a day — it’s just in New York when he rolls around on the sidewalk he gets a lot dirtier.”

By the end of the week the Cockettes had barely rehearsed. The sound system hadn’t been installed and the Tinsel Tarts insisted they needed a different set. Harry Zerler balked, so the Cockettes stayed up all night Friday anyway, building a new, special-for-New-York cardboard set. On Saturday they could barely keep their eyes open. At dress rehearsal Saturday night the hastily put together sound system broke down completely. Such was the power of the Sunday Times, however, that three Times photographers interrupted dress rehearsal for over an hour to get “exclusive” pictures.

Meanwhile, Sylvester’s three back-up singers had left for Washington to sing the Black National Anthem at the White House. From the Cockettes to Nixon? I would have believed anything at this point — but the girls didn’t return and nobody knew where to find them. “They were last seen with the President.”

Dress rehearsal was really the first full rehearsal. The Cockettes didn’t know how to use mikes or project their voices and on the big Anderson stage they came across like a parody of a parody, only it wasn’t funny — it hurt. Obviously opening night would be a painful experience, but the Cockettes didn’t understand.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715286″ /]

They consistently refused to deal with reality. Sebastian, worried about technical difficulties, pronounced the show “great.” Suave Errol didn’t think so. What a dilemma — hundreds of people invited to his big party and his social standing was on the line. Where was Truman now that he needed him? Out in California.

The Cockettes declined rehearsals Sunday and toddled off to one more press party, at John de Coney’s, a hip barber shop on Madison Avenue where scores of reporters and photographers were invited to watch the Cockettes get their hair done. Before leaving I asked Goldie if she didn’t think it would be better to spend the time rehearsing, but the PR girl from the barber shop had arrived, not about to be thwarted. “But they’re waiting for you and Jacqueline Susann will be there.” Miss Susann never showed, but the Cockettes sipped wine under the dryers, posed endlessly for the 20 photographers present, and answered reporters’ questions that were definitely a case of life imitating Grade B flicks.

The Crawdaddy man: “Is it true the Cockettes had an orgy via closed circuit tv?” Answer: “No.” “Well then, what do you expect to get out of tonight’s performance?” “Enlightenment.”

Then Goldie divinely ensconced under the dryer, started telling her dreams to the film interviewer. “I dreamed I was an olive in a martini glass, but no one would swallow me — oh hello dahling, come be in my movie.”

Opening night was everybody’s movie, from Footlights Parade to Phantom of the Opera. According to Rex it was the “craziest, wildest in New York’s history.” The Big Hype had really worked. The Anderson was jammed. Hundreds of fashionables pushed and shoved their way through the one open door. Beautiful People and big-time celebrities had to plough through just like the hoi polloi. Literati, glitterati, and culturati rubbed shoulders with dreaded freaks and every important drag queen in town. Some groupies had sprayed their bodies completely silver, others carried teddy bears, one even brought a whip.

[related_posts post_id_1=”61038″ /]

The WWD photographer was beside himself. How could he shoot Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Rex Reed, Peggy Cass, Diana Vreeland, Nan Kemper, Clive Barnes, Sylvia Miles, Kay Thompson, Bobby Short, Elaine, Bill Blass, Estevez, Tony Perkins, Dan Greenburg, Nora Ephron, Mrs. Sam Spiegel, Jerry Jorgensen, Ultra Violet, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, John Chamberlain, Cyrinda Fox, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, the entire cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, the President of Gay Lib, a dozen Vogue editors, two real princesses, and the night clerk at the Hotel Albert?

At 8:30 Sunday night, when the doors to the Anderson were supposed to be open, Sylvester was still on stage rehearsing. His backup singers had suddenly reappeared at 7:30 and now he was arguing with one Sweet Inspiration and one Supreme who he had hired to take their place. The Cockettes, dead tired and not yet dressed, were quietly munching turkey sandwiches in the front row while half the “ritzy penthouse” people of New York were shrieking and fighting to get in the door. Truman sent an encouraging telegram — “keep it gay light and campy” — and the delighted Cockettes dedicated the show to him.

The audience came to get wrecked and thrilled by a fantastic new set of freaks. But as soon as the curtain went up it was all downhill. The audience was dying to be surprised, outraged, anything. They loved Sylvester, even after 45 minutes, but the Cockettes were hopeless. The sound system was terrible, the show was too slow to crawl, and the Tinsel Tarts were even too tired to be themselves. They forgot lines and bumped into each other, all this for the media heavies and literati. “My god, how could they disappoint us like this?” After 40 minutes, when Taylor Mead shouted “Bring back Jackie Curtis,” people began to get up and leave. (Jackie should love the Cockettes. After being panned everywhere when Vain Victory opened, he’s suddenly hot stuff in all the comparative reviews.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”719815″ /]

One man in the audience, who had slept through the entire show, awakened and promptly vomited all over Princess Delores Rispoli, one of Rex’s guests. The usher was indignant. “What are you, some kind of vomit freak?” It was a fitting climax.

The critics were unanimous. “Having no talent is not enough,” declared Gore Vidal. “Dreadful,” pronounced Women’s Wear. The Sunday Times headlined, “For This They Had to Come From Frisco?” Lillian Roxon wrote the only favorable review, for the Daily News. She said the Cockettes were 15 years ahead of their time.

The party later a Le Drugstore was the expected mob scene. Inside Wally was trying to explain to an unsmiling woman reporter from Time, “But you don’t understand, we’re not professionals, we’ve never been professionals.” And outside, late-arriving Cockettes were barred from entering because too many people were already inside. “But it’s our party, let us in,” pleaded Reggie.

By the next morning Suave Errol had dropped the Cockettes forever. Ironically the strong dose of failure reality opening night was like a shot of adrenaline for the Cockettes. By the second night they had improved considerably, and the audience loved them, but none of the hypesters were around to see it. The Cockettes blew it. They had embarrassed the media moguls and weren’t about to get a second chance.

Harper’s Bazaar no longer wanted to get involved. Dick Cavett made them sit up in the balcony, and David Frost’s producer, alienated by Sylvester’s “being nothing but a queen,” canceled them one hour before showtime. The Big Hype was already looking for something new to swallow whole — and then spit out.

Categories
BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Truman Capote Sups on the Flesh of the Famous

Has any writer since Boswell possessed a shrewder sense of careermanship than Truman Capote? Gore Vidal expertly packages his arch, marcelled aphor­isms for television consumption, Norman Mailer at his most com­bative has an Elizabethan bravado (though Mailer of late seems sul­lenly muted), but at fashioning a persona and hustling one’s work, Capote is peerless. For almost 30 years, his image has been shaped vividly in the public conscious­ness: from the spookily precocious man-child on the jacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms to the lordly host of that celebrity-celestial party of 1966; from the video Capote, giggling grisly stories on the Tonight show to the movie Capote, swollen and tremulous in Murder by Death. Indeed, his signature mannerisms — the way he habitually wipes his eye, his flickering saurian tongue, the mewing, skinned-cat voice — have been appropriated by comedians to upholster shabby faggot jokes.

But commercial success can armor one against such whizzing arrows. In Cold Blood (of which the cover of my paperback copy shouts “Over 3,500,000 sold!”) was promoted with the tactical genius of Robert E. Lee — one critic hailed the book three years before it was published — and Capote has publicized Answered Prayers for a full decade, reportedly receiving offers of $1,500,000 for paperback rights, a toweringly handsome sum for a work not yet completed. Considering the scandal that Answered Prayers has kindled, perhaps now is an appropriate lull in which to consider it in its sections as a work of art, gossip, and autobiography. This, then, is a provisional report and as such objections can be raised against it. All objections overruled.

***

Answered Prayers, which Truman Capote has been prepar­ing since 1957, and which he once promised to complete by 1969, has thus far been published in Esquire in three installments: “Mojave” (June 1975), “La Cote Basque, 1965” (November 1975), and “Un­spoiled Monsters” (May 1976). Despite Esquire’s pompous black-limousine presentation of “Mojave” (the editors com­menced the story on the front cover), I thought it a modest but genuine accomplishment. Even with sententious dialogue — “We all, sometimes, leave each other out there under the skies. And we never understand why” — and a banal central metaphor (e.g., the Mojave Desert as the nadir of pitilessness), the story managed to suggest wisps of dread drifting through the sumptuous Beekman Place lair of the protagonists. As the husband tells the story of an old blind man abandoned by his cheat­ing wife in the desert, I heard echoes — 0f Gide, of Paul Bowles — ­and at the conclusion of this chron­icle of estrangement among the rich, one thought of John O’Hara at his terse best.

Since for my taste Capote has always written most memorably at a small scale — as in the exqui­site travel sketches of “Local Color,” the novellas “The Grass Harp” and “Breakfast at Tif­fany’s” — the lapidary delicacy of “Mojave” was pleasing. Pleasing also was the near absence of the John-Boyish nostalgia-clogged sentimentality which constitutes crowd-pleasers like “A Christmas Memory” and “A Thanksgiving Memory,” and muddies even the best passages of “Breakfast at Tif­fany’s.”

Yet one scene was troubling. Describing how the protagonist Sarah makes love to her roly-poly psychiatrist (if “Mojave” were a movie, the doctor would be played by Jack Weston), Capote writes: “To judge from appearances, orgasms were agonizing events in the life of Ezra Bentsen; he gri­maced, he ground his dentures, he whimpered like a frightened mutt… it meant soon his lathered carcass would roll off her…” Of course, compared to Updike and Roth and Mailer, Capote’s contribution to the literature of sex has been nugatory, and in journal­ism and fiction he has always been more comfortable with tomboyish heroines like Holly Golightly. Still, the gritty vividity here — grinding dentures, doggy whimpers — was a repulsive surprise. It struck one not as a Swiftian fury against the flesh, but as a wormy scorn of men and women together.

Mild it was compared to what was to come.

[related_posts post_id_1=”675261″ /]

***

Stanley Kauffmann noted the cinematic elements of In Cold Blood — close-ups of the Clutter family, panning shots of the Kansas landscape — and in “La Cote Basque, 1965,” the camera moves with Ophulsian fluidity from table to table, contrasting the opulence of glistening crystal glasses and extravagant dishes with the bitchy, pissy venality of the conversation. Certainly, Capote has an assassin’s gift for garroting his subjects with their own quotes: In “The Muses Are Heard,” he made easy sport of harmless philistines like Leonard Lyons and Mrs. Ira Gershwin, and in “The Duke in His Domain,” the victim was Marlon Brando. The Brando article, though smoothly, handsomely readable, is disingenuously done, not only be­cause Capote’s I-am-a-camera technique masks his own role in the action, but because under ex­amination it is his values which are twisted. As Pauline Kael noted, “Capote, in his supersophistication, kept using the most common­place, middlebrow evidence and arguments against [Brando]… [It] is he in this interview, not Brando, who equates money and success with real importance.” Years later, in a self-interview published in The Dogs Bark, Capote again ridicules Brando, but a few sentences later is this ex­change:

Q: What is the most hopeful word in any language?

A: Love.

Q: And the most dangerous?

A: Love.

This ping-ponging whimsey is dopier than any of Brando’s gas.

In “La Cote Basque, 1965,” Capote’s sense of superiority seems equally precarious. Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper and Mrs. Walter Matthau are the chattering ninnies here (the much-married GVC being so dim she doesn’t even recognize her first husband when introduced), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and sister Lee make their obligatory entrance, the moist un­derbelly of the Beautiful-People realm is gleefully charted (there is bestiality, bloodied sheets, and murder), and what comes through is that the pulpiest mind in the room is Capote’s. It is Capote who turns La Cote Basque into an abat­toir of hatefulness; through his ventriloquial observers, Lady Ina Coolbirth and P.B. Jones, Capote scans the room with a mean white heat, leaving the air thick with the smell of roses and smegma and flesh on the fry.

There is, for example, the Jew­ish business mogul Polaroided for posterity “pumping a dark fat mouth-watering dick”; there is the governor’s wife of whom it is said, “Kissing her… was like playing post office with a dead and rotting whale: she really did need a dentist.” The faint whiff of death that rises from a cavity is present in these pages, but Capote cheats — ­just when the death smells give some intimation of the voluptuous cannibalism of the Beautiful-Peo­ple, of the rot beneath the surface of their overpampered lives, he goes cute and soft, dropping names and snotty apercus as if he were writing not a fiction but a high-so­ciety Baedeker for squares.

[related_posts post_id_1=”419403″ /]

I remember seeing Capote on a talk show once, regaling the audi­ence with an anecdote about a woman who never washed her hair, merely sprayed and sprayed it, then was discovered dead, stung to death… an autopsy revealed that in her bouffant nested a family of tarantulas. Though Capote writes with a nasty brilliance — his style has not withered with the years — finally that’s the effect of “La Cote Basque, 1965”: that the stories of Life-at-the-Top scummi­ness are not there to provide a glimpse into the fissures of a de­caying society (even though the last sentence strikes a twilight-of­-the-West note), or to locate the cancers which leave the BPs in a glossy Avedon-portrait desicca­tion, but exist quite simply to provide live-wire jolts of gossipy delight. In the folds of Truman Capote’s mind is where the taran­tulas are nesting.

After the firestorm controversy caused by “La Cote Basque, 1965,” a controversy splashed with gaso­line by the suicide of a woman who was portrayed in the story as a successful husband-killer, Es­quire, which has suffered dips in readership and advertising in re­cent years, went for broke with the next installment, putting Capote on the cover as a knife-caressing killer. Helpful of them. For it serves to remind us that so much of Capote’s popularity rests upon his salience as a public figure. His career began in 1948 with the publication of Other Voices, Other Rooms, a novel which linked his reputation to writers like Harper Lee (a close friend: he put her in OV, OR, she put him in To Kill a Mockingbird), Carson McCullers (another friend, until they had a falling-out), and Tennessee Williams. Compared to say, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Other Voices hasn’t held up very well — it’s a mossy, brackish Gothic soup — but Capote had the smarts to spruce up an image, saying, “it’s so important to build a career… Be seen in the right publications. Mademoiselle, Vogue.

It paid off. Even in In Cold Blood, which banishes the “I” and maintains a fake Flaubertian distance, our re­sponse is so hugely influenced by the knowledge that it is not William Bradford Huie or John Hersey doing dogged journalistic duties, but the plumed prince of Vogue. Capote gave so many in­terviews on the investigative intri­cacies of assembling In Cold Blood that it became not only a story of murder in the American heartland, but a trumpet-and-­drumroll personal achievement as well, and, indeed, an interview published in Life afterwards was called “How the ‘Smart Rascal’ Brought It Off.” Reading the book now, what Capote brought off isn’t so clear, for though it’s a work of extraordinary, even courageous diligence, it only skirts the edge of greatness. In Cold Blood is an absorbing narrative and is aston­ishingly attentive to the nuances of Kansas life, but it’s overcrammed with peripheral details, perfumed with pretty-pretty prose as alli­terative as what I’ve just written, and crippled by a moral schema which is cracked at the spine. The central tragedy of the book is not the slaughter of the Clutters but the blighted, battered life of Perry Smith; and it’s clear that the book’s title is meant to express a moral symmetry — that the execu­tion of Smith by the State is as In Cold Blood as the carnage at the Clutter farm. It’s a symmetry which I reject, but this is not the place to argue about capital punishment. What’s disturbing is not that Capote brought Perry Smith to vivid life (that’s his duty as an artist), or that he identified with Smith (who hasn’t identified with Raskolnikov?), but that the iden­tification was so passionate. Harper Lee said in an interview that “every time Truman looked at Perry he saw his own childhood,” and when Smith was executed, Capote sobbed uncontrollably for three days. In his will, Perry Smith left Capote all of his earthly pos­sessions.

Now of course the cruelties of Answered Prayers are not remotely comparable to the kill­ings of In Cold Blood, but Capote forces these associations by posing as a Galleria Jack the Ripper. After all, the most famous quote, the most famous moment, in In Cold Blood is when Smith in his confession says: “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” Like Hemingway, who played Papa the white-bearded Fisher-King for so long that our perception of his work is forever blurred, Capote’s black-cape role-playing compels us to see all his work in the shimmer of a poised stiletto.

“Unspoiled Monsters,” the story adorned by this cover photo, is a picaresque onward-and-upward-­with-the-arts adventure in which the autobiographical hero, P.B. Jones, moves through cultural status-sphere equipped with wit, cunning, a cock which he wields like a dildo (which is to say: with cold professional flair), a pair of nostrils sensitive to every aromat­ic hue of puke and perfume. De­spite the Smollettish skids — “I remember slipping in a mess of champagne vomit and dislocating my neck” — and the spiky digs at celebrities (Ned Rorem is “a queer Quaker,” Sartre is “Wall-eyed,” Arthur Koestler is a brute, Tennessee Williams appears as a dreamy derelict, adrift in an excremental sea), yes, despite all the flying shrapnel of Capote’s con­tempt, the narrative is sentimental at the core. P.B. Jones is, like Capote, a stray, a young man from the provinces, a changeling; Jones says of himself, “I am a whore and always have been.” Never is an artist more self-enhancingly self-deprecating than when fashioning himself as a whore, particularly since in the scheme of “Unspoiled Monsters,” all artists are whores, even Samuel Beckett, who has for his mistress a “rich and worldly Jewess.” In a meretricious world where everyone is on the make, Jones’s candor is intended to make him a whore of caliber.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715433″ /]

In this installment, we have a fuller introduction to the book’s cyclonic force, Kate McCloud, who appears to be a romping tomboy à la Holly Golightly, but the most important development is that the novelistic strategy of Answered Prayers is unveiled. The heroine of “Mojave” is revealed as based upon McCloud’s best friend; the masseur from that story turns up rooming at the Y in a room next to Jones’s; there is a further, if thinner, strand: the killers of In Cold Blood had not only driven through Mojave but also, in a different leg of the journey, picked up two hitchhikers, one of them an enfeebled old man. And incidents from Capote’s memoirs in The Dogs Bark — a tribute to Jane Bowles, a meeting with Colette — are interwoven with the fictional exploits of Jones, who himself is writing a book called Answered Prayers. So: in Answered Prayers, Truman Capote is writing a novel about a writer who is writing a novel called Answered Prayers.

This Chinese-box technique is, of course, not Capote’s invention. In recent novels, it has been employed by Philip Roth in My Life as a Man, Gore Vidal in Two Sisters, Norman Mailer (Charles Eitel of The Deer Park became Frankie Idell of “The Man Who Studied Yoga”) and by Nabokov in his masterpiece, Pale Fire. At issue here is not only the relationship of an artist to his work, and of the work to the artist’s reputation, but of the very elusive and allotropic nature of reality itself, which, according to Lionel Trilling is the essential quest of the novel.

Perhaps Capote can rise to greatness in such a quixotic quest — “quixotic” is here used in its ontological sense — but thus far he’s charted his course in a patronizing, connect-the-dots manner. After some musings about Proust, Jones asks, “That’s the question: is truth an illusion, or is illusion truth, or are they essentially the same?” Chirp, chirp. Yet Capote-Jones plays with a paradox, which is more illuminating: “The female impersonator is in fact a man (truth), until he recreates himself as a woman (illusion) — and of the two, the illusion is the truer.”

It’s illuminating not for its intellectual worth — which is pretty vaporous, actually — but because for me it explains what Answered Prayers is about; it’s not merely mischief and revenge, but an extended exercise in the travesties of Camp. In its celebration of the androgynous (of which, more later), its numerous breathy references to Vogue appurtenances (Verdura cuff links, Baccarat crystal paperweights), its ’70s dandyism (Sontag: “The connois­seur of Camp sniffs the stink and prides himself on his strong nerves”), Capote is creating a work of Camp at its most contrived and self-aware, a fiction so ferocious in its desire to be bitch-witty that it is pantingly overwrought.

And worse. The loathsome side of Camp’s homosexual sensibility is its ironic adoration of Woman, contemptuousness of women. In Answered Prayers so far, the only women treated chivalrously are lesbians. As for the others, well, one is described masturbating while “recalling… a pasta-bellied, whale-whanged wop picked up in Palermo and hog-fucked a hot Sicilian infinity ago?”; another is a “white-trash slut” photographed “being screwed front and back by a couple of Jockeys in Saratoga,” and of Kate McCloud it is said if she “had as many pricks sticking out of her as she’s had stuck in her, she’d look like a porcupine.” Nearly all the women are seen as spoiled, hungry gashes, and even if misogyny at its most maniacal has comic possibilities — as in the great French film Going Places — Capote’s language is so flamboyantly filthy, so baroque in its effects, that laughter is not allowed air to breathe. Something similar happened when Mailer attempted to create a scatological symphony in Why Are We in Vietnam?: as the obscenities came relentlessly crashing down on the page, it was like trying to listen Wagner with a hangover.

Musically, Capote is closer to Mendelssohn, but still. Though it is very dangerous to equate the values of a writer with his creations — too may have confused Portnoy with Roth, “Henry Miller” with Henry Miller — one can’t help but wonder why Capote is working off all this rancor. Is he telling the patronesses of the Vogue world what he really thinks of them, or does he think all human affections end in dung, or what? The strained campiness in the very marrow of the prose reduces the deaths and abandonments of Answered Prayers to ghoulish jokes — one character dies on the toilet, another is carved up by a Puerto Rican hustler, his eyeballs left dangling — and if the grotesquerie often rises (lowers?) to an amusing Terry Southern level, well, it’s not enough. The drilling message of Answered Prayers as it unfolds is that the very, very rich are different from the rest of us because they care more for the “chilled fire” of Roederer’s Cristal and the “golden rivers of egg yolk” in souffle Furstenberg than they do about the wrecked lives around them; that was the message of The Magic Christian, too, and the Camp bluster there had a more boisterous spirit. Kate McCloud is the key, for if Capote can create a heroine of dimension, an Emma (Austen’s, not Flaubert’s) who careens through society full of fire and narcissism and amphetamine, then Answered Prayers will be truly formidable, compelling phe­nomenon. But as it stands: gossip dines with Camp and sups on the flesh of the famous.

***

We could end the piece there but a word in the above sentence sticks in the writer’s throat (and craw). Guess which one. “I don’t know why Esquire asked me to write an article about gossip,” writes John Leonard in the August issue, a kittenishly naive remark for the author of This Pen for Hire. Leonard, now the Times’s cultural critic, is the perfect choice to ride to Capote’s rescue since during a four-year span he wrote over 500,000 words of review copy on sundry subjects, making him jour­nalism’s Renaissance clerk-typist. He does have a gift: he writes phrases as luminous as Cezanne apples except that, because his ideas are so shaky, they invariably go rolling off the table.

So when, to put the Capote brou­haha into perspective, Leonard proclaimed that “Novels are gos­sip,” I heard a bruising thud. And then a plunk as critical soul-mate Wilfred Sheed wrote in the Times Book Review that “From Homer to Bellow, gossip is simply what authors do, in books and out…” When one thinks of Joyce spending 17 years in the nocturnal eddies of Finnegan’s Wake, the agonies Virginia Woolf suffered in weaving the voices of The Waves, or Henry Miller joyously driving obscenity like a stake through the Puritan heart, the vulgar ridicu­lousness of the Artist as Gossip becomes transparent. Even if you elasticize the meaning of gossip as that it means all discourse on the affairs of others — a logical extrapolation of Leonard’s remark­ — then not only are novels gossip, but conversation, journalism, prayer, movies, history, philosophy (“Also Sprach Zarathustra,” anyway). Yes, “gossip is simply what writers do” coarsens the question of manners-and-morals in the novel, and violates reality, not to mention the spirit of the OED.

No writer better embodies the limitations of the gossip mentality than Henry James who, John Leonard laments, took novel-writ­ing “too seriously.” Within the pause between an offhanded remark and an uneasy gesture, James could construct (nuance upon nuance, implication upon im­plication) a shadowy cathedral of mood. Leonard, however, has his own sense of buttresses and spires. “Trust the hierarchies of gossip; like clichés, gossip connotes a vulgate wisdom, hard-won and more likely than not to consort with truth.” Surely he’s got it all wrong — more likely than not, gos­sip consorts not with truth but with truth’s leprous sister, La Factoid; and, like a cliché, is not hard-won but used lazily as a substitute for thought.

In themselves, John Leonard’s Liberace-at-the-keyboard musings are of little consequence, except as an indicator that people of intelli­gence are drawn to the notion that seriousness (even starched Jame­sian seriousness) is a virus in the culture. I think what is killing in the media is a goddam Camp frivolity that rips into people’s privacies, exploits their vulnerabi­lities with malicious gusto, and leaves them ribboned with ridi­cule. Numerous examples leap forth — Timothy Crouse’s crude snivellings about Moynihan in Rolling Stone, the cruel, leering jokes about Patty Hearst on NBC’s Saturday Night — and, in fact, in the same issue of Esquire in which “La Cote Basque, 1965” appeared there was a piece on Richard Goodwin–Doris Kearns Scandal which had the description: “Dick Goodwin is an ugly man. He has pockmarked skin, a slightly bul­bous nose, and scraggly dark hair which threatens to overrun his body.” Granted, malicious jour­nalistic caricatures of an individu­al’s physical features and manner­isms go back a long way — one wag left a hilarious description of Boswell sweatily drooling over the conversation of Dr. Johnson — but , in a celebrity-crazed time, when it is assumed that everyone who isn’t a celebrity is a future (or failed) celebrity, the attacks are wild, witless (usually), scattered and mean: thrashingly nihilistic.

Within the groans and gurgles of Answered Prayers, one can hear the tremors of this nihilism, and like Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, Capote seems to be grooving with the circus debauchery. Just as Kubrick’s operatic salaciousness gave lie to the plati­tudes about the movie being about the triumph-of-the-human-spirit, Capote’s pornographic obsessive­ness gives lie to all the cant from Esquire about Answered Prayers being a “Proustian” work — the question is whether or not Capote will reveal the nature of that obsession, or if he’ll simply continue in this picaresque-porno manner, allowing his hero to screw and slash his way through society like some gay-blade Perry Smith.

Incalculable are the pressures on Capote now, considering the damage that he’s done, consider­ing the oceanic expectations held for future installments; he’s either in cold sweats or cackling with a satanic glee at the disarray he’s caused. With the ascendance of the gossip aesthetic, his dirty-boy debauchery may lift him to a lofty position in the culture: high he can perch, hissing, smirking, grinning like a gargoyle above the gothic ruins.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Theater

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: What the Cat Dragged In

Well, first you’ll want to know about the star: sleek of hair and body, effortlessly graceful, vulnerable and jaded by turns, but perhaps rather tubbier than anticipated. I speak, of course, of the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, played on the night I attended by a portly marmalade tom named Vito Vincent. Though he appears in only a few scenes, Vito earned the most audible audience reaction (a chorus of ahs greeted his every entrance) and perhaps the loudest clapping. The bows of Holly, played here by Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke? Those merited only modest applause.

Far more faithful to Truman Capote’s novella than the celebrated film version (and happily lacking in yellowface), this drama, adapted by Richard Greenberg, borrows the flashback structure and the self-conscious narration of a young writer nicknamed Fred. Set in 1940s Manhattan and concerning the adventures of fraught goodtime girl Holly Golightly, the novella is a nifty bit of prose, as acid as it is wistful, but that tone doesn’t translate here. The many awkward moments in Sean Mathias’s staging (such as when a piece of scenery shunts the guitar-strumming Clarke on and offstage to indulge Fred’s reminiscences) only play up the considerable gap between prose and drama.

Really, it’s surprising Greenberg didn’t fare better. His early play The American Plan, though set a decade and a half later and a hundred miles off, concerns a similar set of thwarted ambitions and sexual confusion. But he never works up much of an appetite for Breakfast. He re-creates its scenes in stolid, workmanlike, and largely uninspired fashion, with a greater frankness toward sexual matters his only obvious intervention. The light, dreamy touch that occasionally uplifts even his heavier dramas is absent here.

Corey Michael Smith provides a perfectly adequate turn as Fred, despite a wavering accent, though the candor that enlivened his recent work in Cock and The Whale seems muted here. George Wendt, who earns a round of applause just for stepping onstage as a melancholy barkeep, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.

And the lovely Clarke appears even more at sea. She hasn’t bothered to trade her British accent for an American one, and her efforts at revealing Holly’s weaknesses are wasted as she never convincingly portrays the air of sophistication that supposedly overlays them. As you never believe in her, not even as a phony, you can never care about her, however scrumptious she looks in Colleen Atwood’s costumes. The supporting cast mostly looks as though they’d prefer be offstage checking their phones for news of upcoming auditions. Even Vito.

Cats, we’re told, always land on their feet. But this production falls decidedly flat.

Categories
Bars NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Drag Queens and Gay Sex Back on Broadway Where They Belong!

When a Broadway musical called Hands on a Hardbody was announced, everyone assumed this would be the gayest season since 1993, until they realized that it’s actually about a big old shiny truck.

But don’t worry, there are enough other vehicles coming at you that dare not speak their names. While we wait for Nathan Lane as a gay burlesque performer in The Nance (opening April 15), there’s the one-two velvet punch of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the Truman Capote character only feeling captivated by a female prostitute in between his decidedly male-on-male actions, and Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 movie about a well-heeled drag queen saving a shoe factory, as scripted by Harvey Fierstein and scored by Cyndi Lauper.

The latter work has been refashioned into a bromance between the drag queen (Lola/Simon) and the guy who inherits the factory—polar opposites, though they’re united in a burning desire to prove their respective dads were wrong about their being utter failures. At a promo event for the show last week at the Al Hirschfeld, I mentioned the gay drag queen character to Fierstein and he replied, “He’s a heterosexual transvestite!” Really? Is that in the movie? “He’s asexual in the movie,” said the multi-Tony-winning writer/actor. “He never talks about anything. My feeling is that Lola is so damaged that she doesn’t have sexuality. She has sensuality and genius, but no self-worth.” Hmm. Sounds like Ed Koch.

But heterosexual? “I’ve always said that the worst enemy of art is prejudice,” Harvey instructed. “When I grew up—at Club 82—the whole audience was straight and some of the performers, too.” Well, are Kinky‘s drag-queen ensemble characters gay, at least? “They don’t do banter, they just look pretty,” he replied. “But there’s a bit they do—’Antoinette, you’ve been a bad, bad girl’—that’s pretty damned gay!”

The wildly talented Billy Porter had just led the cast in previewing two numbers of strutting choreography for us, so I cornered him to ask how his “straight” drag character parallels Belize, the gay nurse he played in the Angels in America revival three years ago. “But Lola is gay,” Porter replied. “What?” I said, my jaw dropping to my kinky boots. “Harvey just told me Lola is straight. Shouldn’t you guys talk?” “We’re in a fight about this,” he admitted. “Do you think after 25 years of being out, and now wearing a dress and playing the character the way I do, that I’m gonna be straight in it? Nobody’s gonna believe my version of the character is straight! That’s not how I play it!”

And I love it! But is there anything in the script that suggests any particular sexuality? “There is a bit of sexual innuendo at the top of Act II,” revealed Porter. “It used to go in the direction of ‘He’s straight.’ Now it’s ‘He ain’t straight,’ ” he related, cracking up. Lola’s been a bad, bad girl.

Alas, this internal gay-on-gay battle might not get all that explosive. See,Porter agrees that Lola feels too low to really be sexual, and in fact he suspects she might never have had any sex at all. Her frequent vamping around, he said, is a form of overcompensating because in reality she’s probably a virgin. He also feels the real love story is between the drag queen and his new male friend. “It’s not about who I’m fucking.”

The result, he said, is a family show that you can bring anyone over 10 to because “there’s nothing offensive in it.” “Too bad,” I moaned, hoping for some hands on a hard body. “Well, this shit needs to run!” he said, laughing. “I need a house! No more seven-and-a-half-hour plays at $469 a week. Angels was the best experience of my life, but still!”

By the way, in case there hasn’t been enough gay content in the above report, let me add that Fierstein introduced Lauper to the press that day as “my daughter, Christina Crawford.”

The Truman Show

Also last week, I set out to find out who’s zooming who in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as adapted by Richard Greenberg from the Truman Capote novella about yearning souls who enslave themselves to glamour—and to each other—while seeking validation. (They could subtitle it Kinky Tiaras.) “We never refer to the film,” declared director Sean Mathias at that show’s promo event at the Carlyle. “I’ve never even asked Emilia Clarke, who’s playing Holly, if she’s seen it, because we’re doing Truman’s book.” In fact, this is so not the movie that the man playing Mr. Yunioshi is actually Asian. (“He does not resemble Mickey Rooney,” noted Mathias with a grin.)

What’s more, the gay content is back in. Cory Michael Smith (who played the young lover in Cock) is the Capote character and told me, “He has a sexual journey throughout the play, with a lot of complexity. He has relations with men. And he attempts to . . . he does have physical relations with Holly. He says, ‘I’m not just one thing. I contain multitudes.’ ” So he’s sort of bi-curious? “Yes,” said Smith. “He loves Holly and is trying to understand what that love is. Does he love her? Does he want to possess the qualities she has?” “And the outfits she has?” I interjected. Anyway, Smith has truly thought out the character’s textures, and co-star George Wendt told me he’s great in the role. And don’t forget they’re doing the book, not the 1966 Mary Tyler Moore musical version that closed out of town. This shit needs to run!

 

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES show-old-images THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Andy Warhol’s New York, 25 Years On

The Pope of Pop’s last week with this mortal coil began, more or less, on Valentine’s Day. It was a Saturday in 1987 during an otherwise routine collagen treatment when Andy Warhol complained about his gallbladder, an irascible organ he’d begrudgingly dealt with for years—at least since ’73 or ’74—and had since placated with doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and dietary adjustments. But a week or so prior to this appointment, the abdominal pain had returned with such a vengeance that he had been forced to cancel post-dinner plans to see the Bette Midler movie Outrageous Fortune. (“It wasn’t much,” he later sniffed.) But now the discomfort had returned violently enough that the man who prided himself on not letting on when something was wrong was forced to admit that something was.

Warhol would spend the following day, Sunday, in bed. He missed church—which was atypical behavior for the practicing Catholic—but stayed awake long enough to catch himself on television, which was not. On Monday, the 58-year-old dutifully saw his chiropractor but felt unsteady enough to cancel a week of personal-training appointments. On Tuesday, the public figure joined Miles Davis in a fashion show at the Tunnel and wore alligator, lace, and fur designs he would later joke made him look like Liberace. Friends could tell he felt poorly, and he went home immediately after the event.

By Friday, Andy Warhol was in what was then New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. By Saturday, surgeons had removed his gangrenous gallbladder, and that night, he was alert enough to watch television and make phone calls. But something happened in the dark, and by 6:31 the next morning, he was dead.

Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987. In other words, 25 years ago, the famous man who had famously written his own script finally had it taken away. New York City is, of course, a different place than it was then. But nothing has changed so drastically that the creator of the Can That Sold the World has stopped being one of New York City’s most deeply abiding myths. “I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, everything could just keep going on the way it was, only you just wouldn’t be there,” Warhol once wrote. And he didn’t, and it did, but he is. Which leaves you to wonder, a quarter of a century expired, what does Andy Warhol’s New York City look like today?

Thomas Kiedrowski, a thirtysomething Boerum Hill resident, has devoted more than two years to trying to answer that question. Warhol’s legend shaped his vision of New York City, and he wanted to see where these extraordinary events had transpired. Drugs and self-preservation and Wikipedia are unreliable narrators, plus Kiedrowski admits that he’s “kind of a Doubting Thomas,” so he dug through phone books, excavated newspaper clippings, and interviewed as many of Warhol’s remaining friends and associates who would talk. Based on his research, he started giving occasional walking tours, all of which culminated in last summer’s publication of Andy Warhol’s New York City: Four Walks Uptown to Downtown, a pocket guidebook of 80 addresses.

[related_posts post_id_1=”674292″ /]

When we meet in a Starbucks on the corner of Lexington and 87th Street, Kiedrowski is as excited to discuss Warhol as most new parents are about their babies. (Maybe even more.) The first place Kiedrowski likes to take people, as a kind of contextual prologue, is 1060 Park Avenue, a distinguished-looking Upper East Side apartment building with a green-awning entrance and an adjacent doctor’s office, where Truman Capote lived with his drunken mess of a mother in the early ’50s. A sickly, awkward, working-class Slovakian outcast armed with $200, visual-arts talent, and a terrifyingly possessed quest for fame, Warhol relocated to New York from Pittsburgh at age 20. Soon after, he became interminably fixated with Capote, a New York transplant whose first published novel, 1948’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, had recently propelled the young Louisiana-born author to literary stardom. Warhol not only shared characteristics with Other Voices‘ sensitive, effete 13-year-old protagonist, but he also became infatuated with the author’s seductive dust-jacket photo, a controversially “suggestive” (and suggestively gay) portrait. This infatuation became so utterly overwhelming that Warhol adopted a stalker-like persistence, writing fan letters, calling Capote’s home, and waiting on the sidewalk outside this concrete building, slavishly, for hours. Kiedrowski says in a reverent awe, “You can just see him standing here!” (I didn’t.)

Our next stop is within walking distance, St. Thomas More Church, located at 65 East 89th Street, a Roman-Catholic ministry that dates back to 1870 and still holds regular services. On the sidewalk outside the gates, Kiedrowski emphasizes the thing anybody who has ever heard of Andy Warhol knows: Every single action—from where the man worshiped to where he ate—was carefully premeditated and designed to place him in the company of the world’s most spectacular humans. For example, St. Thomas More was conveniently also Jackie O’s parish—John F. Kennedy Jr.’s memorial service was held there in 1999. “I’m Catholic and go to church at St. Thomas More,” reads a Warhol interview Kiedrowski has just pulled out from a black binder. “They have those rock masses. I take [my dog] Archie with me every Sunday, but we’re usually late.”

We traipse over to the far more crucial 1342 Lexington Avenue townhouse near 89th Street, which Warhol bought around 1960 after his commercial-art career had become sufficiently lucrative and lived in until 1974. Julia lived in the basement, near the kitchen; upstairs is where Warhol would create many of his early masterpieces: the Campbell’s Soup Cans, the first run of Marilyn Monroes, his Liz Taylor tribute. Today, 1342 Lexington is one of seven buildings that form the Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District: Architect Henry J. Hardenbergh, who is also responsible for the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota, designed the brick-faced brownstone. The most recent owners weren’t keen on having fans stop by: Eventually, they put the property on the market at an asking price The New York Times reported as $5.99 million. This past December, it went for $3.55 million. There are no curtains nor window fixtures—it doesn’t look like anybody has moved in. (In contrast, Warhol’s Firehouse Studio on East 87th, which he rented for $150 from the city and where he painted the Death and Disaster series, recently sold for $33 million.)

As a volunteer tour guide, Kiedrowski is more focused on the New York City of Andy Warhol that still exists, rather than what has vanished. For example, he doesn’t drag his followers to 216 East 75th Street to see the razed site of the second-floor rental Warhol briefly occupied alone, until his mother, Julia, unexpectedly arrived from Pittsburgh one day, effectively plopped down with all her possessions, and decided to stay with her youngest son—for what would ultimately be almost 20 years. We don’t trek down to 26 East 55th Street, where Hugo Gallery stood until 1955, the site of Warhol’s crush-funneling first solo exhibition, Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote, a collection that opened on June 16, 1952, and didn’t sell one piece. Or 125 West 41st Street, where the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque once was, the Jonas Mekas screening-room precursor to the Anthology Film Archives that showed Warhol’s experimental projects like, say, the Paul America–starring My Hustler, advertised in 1966 as “Surf, sand, and sex on Fire Island.”

“I just don’t want people to have the impression that he’s not really around,” Kiedrowski says in a tone much like he is speaking of God. “He’s everywhere.”

An incomplete list of other Warholian settings: The West Village’s original Kettle of Fish—a MacDougal joint where Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Edie Sedgwick collided for a night—is now the Saigon Shack, a glass-fronted restaurant that promises both an espresso bar and a Vietnamese kitchen. An epochal den of iniquity, Max’s Kansas City is now a Bread & Butter, an all-purpose deli/buffet with the unintentionally nostalgic motto “Habits To Be Made.” Café Bizarre, the 106 West Third Street West Village joint where Warhol famously first saw the Velvet Underground, is an NYU law school building, D’Agostino Hall. The St. Marks 19-23 complex that held the Dom and Open Stage—the setting for the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Warhol’s multimedia VU stage show—and later Electric Circus is now chopped up into a Chipotle, a Supercuts, and a Grand Szechuan above a neighborhood market. (The Velvet Underground, by the way, is suing the Andy Warhol Foundation over licensing its banana to iPod and iPad cases.)

Where the first Silver Factory once stood—231 East 47th Street, between Second and Third avenues—there’s now nothing more than an ugly parking ramp. In the summer of 1974, Warhol moved his base of operations from the Decker Building, where he was shot by Valerie Solanas, to 860 Broadway, called “860.” (“‘Factory’ had become ‘too corny,’ he said,” writes former secretary Pat Hackett in the introduction to The Andy Warhol Diaries. “And the place became simply ‘the office.'”) Inhabiting that space now, above a Petco, is brand-licensing agency the Joester Loria Group. Brownies, a health-food restaurant Factory workers frequented and where Warhol often sent assistants to pick up carrot juice or tea for him, is now Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café.

The Pyramid Club still exists.

You would think that Warhol’s most famous Manhattan haunts would be preserved—at least to some degree—especially because they’re fossils of a fastidiously documented life. Specifically, the Factories. But none of them are. Or the White Factory, the Union Square West sixth floor where, shooting him three times and debilitating him so severely, his body required five and a half hours of emergency surgery, Solanas, a frustrated actress, gunned down Warhol in 1968. A building that looms so large in American-contemporary-cultural-history memory would, it seems reasonable to think, still bear scars of this radical episode. At least, you know, a plaque somewhere in the Decker Building: “ANDY WARHOL WAS SHOT HERE.”

You would be wrong. That is provincial thinking, the sort of small-minded “Home of the World’s Biggest Ball of String” nostalgia people like Andy Warhol were trying to escape by moving to New York City. This isn’t Gettysburg or, for that matter, Midnight in Paris.

[related_posts post_id_1=”674380″ /]

Here’s what happens instead when you go into the Decker Building: The lobby is locked. But if you stand there long enough and pretend to look in the brightly lit windows of the first-floor Puma store, eventually delivery guys or North Face–clad mouth-breathers will hold the door for you. The sixth floor is where it happened more than 40 years ago, and the space has since been divided into two spots. The halls are narrow, there is cat-puke-colored carpeting, and there are big, thick industrial doors. Inside, it’s an old building, landmarked. In the back, you might hear voices and laughing, and if you knock, and knock, and knock . . . no one comes.

But then again, what else did you expect? Warhol wanted it this way. “My ideal city would be completely new. No antiques,” Warhol proclaimed in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). “Old buildings are unnatural spaces. Buildings should be built to last for a short time. And if they’re older than 10 years, I say get rid of them. I’d build new buildings every 14 years.”

Here is an incomplete list of the places you can still find overt references to Andy Warhol in the New York City streetscape: At 57 East 66th Street between Madison and Park avenues, a five-story Federal-style brownstone that was Warhol’s home from 1974 to 1987, there is a commemorative plaque by the front door. Outside the Gaslight Café on MacDougal Street, Andy Warhol’s face appears in ghostly newsprint; someone has added a monster face. And until May, find the cartoony chrome Rob Pruitt statue of Warhol in Union Square, which has elected a temporary peer of Gandhi.

And there is 57 Great Jones Street, near the corner Bowery, formerly the Andy Warhol Building, where Jean-Michel Basquiat fatally overdosed, upstairs, in August 1988. With death shrines comes the temptation to assign profound meaning to coincidence. But there are incontrovertible facts. One of those is that Basquiat, a dope-shooting vampire, and Madonna, a studied health fiend, had a legendary fling in the fall of 1982, and here, today, directly across the street from Basquiat’s loft, there is a poster advertising Madonna’s upcoming takeover of Yankee Stadium, almost exactly 30 years later. Another is that there’s an impassioned hand-scrawl to the right of the 57 Great Jones entrance where Basquiat died that reads, rather sweetly, “SAMO LIVES ON.” And a third, drawn near a fluorescent row of spray-painted stencils that say “LAST CELEBRITY,” someone has conveniently added, “WARHOL 4EVA.”

That is what Warhol’s New York City looks like 25 years later.

Categories
Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs+She Keeps Bees+Leisurely

From Truman Capote’s pen to every display at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly’s legacy lives on. A solo artist since the early ’90s, the British singer Holly Golightly Smith has joined forces with her long-term bandmate Lawyer Dave to form a new duo that takes Lee Hazlewood’s collaborations with Nancy Sinatra and adds the zest of two punks on whippets. On tonight’s well-curated bill, they’ll be joined by two similarly inclined bands from Brooklyn: the punch-in-the-gut soul of boy-girl duo She Keeps Bees, and Leisurely’s Kinks-indebted psychedelia.

Thu., June 10, 8 p.m., 2010

Categories
Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

IN THE HEIGHTS

In honor of Truman Capote, the socialite extraordinaire—who also wrote a few seminal works of literature—author and filmmaker Peter Hedges (who recently published The Heights) has curated “An Evening at Mr. Capote’s,” a party in the swank 19th-century Brooklyn Heights mansion on Willow Street where he lived and worked. The evening features readings from Capote’s fiction and music from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s score. Then, on Wednesday night, check out 50th Anniversary Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird, the book famously written by Capote’s gal pal Harper Lee, at Symphony Space. Special guests such as Stephen Colbert (a Scout Finch fan? Who knew!?) and novelist Jayne Anne Phillips will read and discuss the classic novel. ‘An Evening at Mr. Capote’s’ tonight at 8, location with RSVP, 718-243-1414, thebha.org, $125 (sold out); To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary Wednesday at 8, Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, 212-864-5400, symphonyspace.org, $24

Mon., April 26, 8 p.m.; Wed., April 28, 8 p.m., 2010

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Technology THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Quality Distraction From Awkward Holiday Parties

It’s almost literary. The feeling I get when I play the new LEGEND OF ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS is akin to the sense of wonder I had when reading Truman Capote’s A Grass Harp or Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story. That’s not to say that Zelda is well written. It isn’t—in fact, very few video games have a great script. That’s a crime, and for it I have a rant better saved for another column.

Yet when I play Zelda, I experience a sense of marvel. It’s a little like the summer week that I was invited to Nantucket. I felt out of place, but when I walked the beach during a morning sunrise on the ocean, I lifted my hands into fists high in the air as if I was full of life. With Zelda, my imagination gets going in the same way it did when I read the second paragraph in The Grass Harp. I feel misty and choked up over Capote’s description of a hill, just a hill: ” . . when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.”

Beyond this fairy tale with nuance and depth, Zelda is about pastoral vistas, of landscapes that usher in awe in the same way a beautiful person stops everything for a moment when she enters a party. I think Capote would have liked Zelda. You can mull while you fish in a lake or creek with a simple rod, bobber and line when you don’t want to play the game’s quests. You can swim, too, in clear waters and swimming holes. Climb to the tops of trees and you can see the small town below. A cat waits for fish at the shore. Bees buzz in a hive. A rampaging goat runs through town. Forget playing. Sometimes you just want to look and watch this old world go by.

When you do play, you’ll have a hawk to help your brave, young character, a Peter Pan looking gent called Link. You’ll make a whistling sound with a blade of grass, and majestically over mountains and through valleys, the raptor will make his way to perch on your arm. He’ll help you knock down that beehive or retrieve the cradle a monkey stole from a young woman.

And then there is that equine thing. You can only call Epona a steed because that’s the way you’d talk about a horse in medieval times. I remember reading Diane Ackerman’s book, A Natural History Of Love, another book that inspires wonder, and in it she said that horses are for women just as racing cars are for men. Riding this steed using the Wii’s wireless controller makes you feel as though you’re really in the saddle of a strong beast. You feel the strength and power of your steed beneath you. As you ride, you feel the earth beneath, and you feel one with the rhythm of the hooves. If that’s a womanly feeling, so be it.

Soon, Twilight Princess takes a dark turn and Link turns into a strange, stealthy wolf. The tale becomes eerie, and as in all Zelda games, you must save the eponymous princess by solving puzzles and using that ingenious controller as you would your hand. But because of the subtleties, because of the beauty of the land called Hyrule, and because of the Capote-like characterizations full of mysterious happenings, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess becomes a game that I ponder when I’m away from it, even when I’m at dinner at a new place, or, thankfully, even when there are embarrassing lulls in conversation at the Christmas party I didn’t want to attend.

  • Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

  • Need For Speed: Carbon

    Publisher: Electronic Arts

    Developer: EA Black Box

    Ridge Racer 7

    Publisher: Namco Bandai

    Developer: Namco Bandai

    Full Auto 2: Battlelines

    Publisher: Sega

    Developer: Pseudo

    Vroom! I love the smell of high octane in the morning. One of the few things that PlayStation 3 video games do better than movies are racing games. Forget Talledega Nights, which admittedly doesn’t have jaw-dropping racing scenes, even in Blu-ray. Forget even Steve McQueen’s 1971 Le Mans, which, despite its weak plot, features some of the best racing cinematics imaginable. The finest, next generation racing games put you in the driver’s seat for a terrific, if sometimes harrowing, time. So hold onto your helmet. Sure, you can watch a race via Fox TV’s NASCAR driver’s cam. But you won’t feel the track like you do when you race in RIDGE RACER 7 or NEED FOR SPEED: CARBON. And no movie will let you dream the massive nightmares of destruction that you experience in FULL AUTO 2: BATTLELINES.

    Here’s what I mean. In EA’s thrilling Need For Speed: Carbon, you not only get to customize your own car. You’ll race against aggressive hellions that are like those in The Fast and the Furious movie. Add to that cops who are always on your tail, a sometimes-annoying guide who helps you through the winding city streets that are so realistic, you’ll once or twice rub your eyes in disbelief. You’ll even have a wingman ahead of you to clear the way and help you win some very tough races. The story here is alluring, too, and maddening when a bounty hunter totals your pimped up car. I even like seeing the beautiful Emmanuelle Vaugier, a take-no-prisoners lady guide who last year appeared in Two and a Half Men and in one of the Saw horror movies. While the boss levels against thugs from a rival racing crews are sometimes way too challenging, it’s a deep game that’s a worthy addition to the Need For Speed series.

    Ridge Racer 7 for the PS3 is an update of Ridge Racer 6, released last year for the Xbox 360. It doesn’t hide its simple, arcade roots: choose a car and drive carefully with alacrity to win the race. One of the things that’s of paramount import is learning to drift, a way of driving and steering to preserve high speed that was first popularized by Japan’s Kunimitsu Takahashi three decades ago. Although I find tweaking a car a little banal, the driver who cares about detail can spend hours customizing a vehicle, getting it to race just right. And the graphics on an HDTV? Like you’re standing in the middle of the track watching it all go by at 200 mph.

    Want to blast things to high heaven and race with pulse-pounding puissance? Full Auto 2: Battlelines may be the game for you. While it’s sometimes difficult to race and shoot at the same time in these cars that are outfitted better than a Russian Black Eagle tank, the fireworks that ensue onscreen can be electrifying. You even have an “Unwreck” mode. Here, you can turn back time just like Cher always wished she could do and try to win in way that won’t leave you splat on the street. Heck, if you want to be like the King Kong of racers, you can even maneuver to drop a commuter train or a water tower on your foe for ultimate destruction.

    Categories
    CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

    Repeat Offender

    There is no way of sidestepping the issue, so why not jump right into it: Infamous, this year’s retelling of how Truman Capote wound up in Kansas writing his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, never comes close to approaching the quiet, devastating brilliance of Capote, last year’s retelling of how Truman Capote wound up in Kansas writing his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood. Which is not to say Infamous, written and directed by actor Doug McGrath, is a far inferior version of Capote, which was written by actor Dan Futterman; it’s just a lesser version, light in weight and absent the ache that permeated the movie for which Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Academy Award. It can’t withstand the comparisons. It’s good, especially during its first half, just not good enough.

    Had Infamous been the first version of the story to hit theaters, one might have regarded it as a very minor triumph—in no small part because of Toby Jones’s performance, which makes up in warmth what it lacks in weight. Jones, who is 39 but has always looked all of 19, seems somehow closer to the Capote who survives on old talk-show appearances and in biographies—the gentle, elegant, protective, impish troublemaker, storyteller, and partygoer/thrower who only seemed larger than life.

    Hoffman always looked too big to play Capote—more like some swollen version of the writer, an interpretation cobbled together from overblown myth and half-based memory. Jones has the lightness of a sprite; you can believe this guy might have worn pink lingerie while entertaining law enforcement officers in his hotel room, as a Kansas Bureau of Investigation officer claims in George Plimpton’s 1997 oral history (which McGrath uses as his source). Hoffman would have looked like an elephant in a tutu.

    For a good while, Infamous is actually nothing like its predecessor; you won’t recall Capote‘s first half being in such high spirits and so willing to laugh at itself or its protagonist, who floats through McGrath’s movie like a champagne bubble. The first half plays like a gossip column in which the boldface names have been brought to life by other boldface names, with Isabella Rossellini as Condé Nast editor and photographer Marella Agnelli, Sigourney Weaver as media-mogul missus Babe Paley, Juliet Stevenson as Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, and Hope Davis as Slim Keith, a former Mrs. Howard Hughes and one of Capote’s myriad “swans” (as Plimpton called the women with whom Capote shared and spilled secrets). Sooner or later, McGrath puts all of them in front of the camera as talking heads decorating a talk-show set, with a twinkling Manhattan in the background; he’s aping Plimpton here, who offered in lieu of narrative a collection of unverified and likely hyperbolized anecdotes.

    Joining their ranks is Nelle Harper Lee, played by Sandra Bullock with far more weariness than Catherine Keener brought to Capote. She’s allowed long monologues, to the point where the movie for a while becomes more about her own failure to follow To Kill a Mockingbird than Capote’s inability to write anything of any consequence after In Cold Blood. Would that Bullock, at last proving she’s more estimable an actress than her choices would suggest, were allowed to devote an entire film to Lee’s story. After all, we know Capote’s by now.

    To begin with, Infamous is all fun and games—especially in the copious scenes in Kansas during which the natives of Holcomb refer to Truman as a “lady” and “ma’am,” which alternately puzzles and tickles him. But the second half just follows in Capote‘s footsteps, from the prison cell to the gallows to a career left in tatters. Sure, Infamous dares to say that Capote probably fucked killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig in jet-black hair and clunky American accent) while he was in prison, but the change in tone is so jarring—from breezy sitcom to noir theatrics—you’re less jolted by Smith and Capote’s scenes together than you are by the solemnity that crashed down and sucked the life out of the movie. Turns out, there was only so much blood left in the rehashing of
    In Cold Blood. The sucker’s a stiff now; time to move along.

    Categories
    Bars NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

    NY Mirror

    A passel of recent Broadway press events hinted at the next batch of theatrical comfort food aiming for our pricey delectation. As it turns out, Playbill collectors will soon enough own programs for an old-fashioned revival, another movie-to-stage adaptation, and yet one more jukebox compilation—all slickly packaged nostalgia showcases that may have to make up in performance moxie what they lack in conceptual cojones.

    Most cozily of all, The Pajama Game is the ’50s pj-factory-set tuner getting the inevitable repeat visit. At a promotional meet and greet, I learned that the production will be as unrevisionist as professionally fitted jammies, and though the factory’s boss character has been subtly transformed into a right-wing paranoiac, “he’s redeemed,” as co-star MICHAEL MCKEAN assured me. “This is a musical. You need to see him in his pajamas at the end!”

    Leading man HARRY CONNICK JR. told me he gets to wear them too, but when I asked if the result will be anything like that head-spinning MICHAEL JACKSON courtroom look, he cringed and said, “I hope not!” More importantly, as it dresses up for its February opening, this Game has yet to detect any snags in its flannel. “We still haven’t found the company asshole,” said McKean, laughing. “There’s always one!”

    They’re also looking for one over at The Wedding Singer, an attempt by New Line Cinema to strike ’80s gold with another MARGO LION–produced stage version of one of their hits. (The last one—something called Hairspray—worked out pretty well.) “Yes, it’s based on the movie,” said the not-cowardly Lion at the Wedding Singer sneak peek, “but it’s been reimagined.” Judging from the highlights they trotted out, the show amiably mixes mildly insouciant shtick with far more romantic sentiment than you could get away with if you musicalized Billy Madison or The Waterboy. There’s even a touching love song urging the leading man to “come out of the dumpster.” KEVIN CAHOON (last seen catching children—à la Jacko—in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) is playing the ALEXIS ARQUETTE role of the new wavey gay guy and laughingly told me, “My ballad is done at a bar mitzvah, if that tells you anything.” Offstage, will he get a sex change like Arquette? “Most definitely not!” he said, grinning. “But I support those that do. Rock it out!” Which is a tourist-friendly way of saying “Chop it off!”

    Finally, I crawled out of the dumpster and heard about Ring of Fire, the imminent Johnny Cash revue that wowed ’em in Buffalo. I can’t wait to see the matinee ladies bopping their blue hair along to “Daddy Sang Bass.”


    BEAR NECESSITIES

    While Broadway was busy touting its retro romps, the New York Film Critics Circle convened to honor—among other things—that other Cash cow, Walk the Line, giving Best Actress to REESE WITHERSPOON, who wound herself up and chirped, “I’m just so happy to meet all y’all!”

    Before the ceremony, I was so happy to meet Capote director
    Bennett Miller
    so I could be the company asshole and ask, “Who’s sexier, Truman Capote or the Bareback Mountain guys?” After mock strangling me and saying, “Bareback?” he replied, “Well, Truman certainly knew how to seduce better than those guys did. He was interested in straight guys. When he put his mind on somebody, it’s seldom he didn’t get that person. Sometimes some young beefcake would approach him and basically offer himself, and Truman shunned him. He wasn’t into simple pretty faces. He was into substance.”

    Rather than ingest some, I hit PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN up with the same kooky query. “I haven’t seen Bareback Mountain,” he answered, sincerely. “It’s actually Brokeback,” I admitted. “I keep slipping. Well, on purpose.” “Do you really keep saying that to get the people to say it?” he wanted to know. “Um, yes,” I confessed. “But anyway, was Truman sexier than the Memoirs of a Geisha crew?” “I have no idea,” Hoffman said, looking horrified.

    Before I could torture WONG KAR-WAI with barebacking puns, the 2046 director told me, “To get the award is secondary. You feel good just being with so many other good foreign films that are out.” “So in other words, you won’t be accepting the award?” I smirked. “Yes, I will!” he blurted.

    But by now I’d caused the biggest disruption since I got the Maria Full of Grace chick to admit the heroin pellets were made of marshmallow. A publicist was beside herself, scampering over to tsk-tsk, “Bad boy! Are you making people say Bareback Mountain?” Yes, and they’re doing it! Call out the militia! Break out the condoms! Moving on, I only asked NOAH BAUMBACH if anyone’s mistaken The Squid and the Whale for one of those cute wildlife documentaries. “I was warned not to use that title,” he admitted, but he couldn’t help it. At least it’s not The March of the Squid and the Whale.

    [

    Noah’s mom, film critic GEORGIA BROWN—who was not channeling
    DEBBIE REYNOLDS
    —assured me that nothing in the movie really happened except for the divorce. “But Nico, my youngest son, has to answer to people who ask if he really spread his sperm around the school,” she said. “Nobody believes him when he says no.” I believe him, but I’d still like to make him say Bareback Mountain.

    Finally, I asked A History of Violence‘s superb MARIA BELLO—the Best Supporting Actress— about her character’s own bareback mountin’. Why does she get all hot for hubby when he’s at his most crazed? “It shows her own shadow side,” she said. “I think women—and this may not be politically correct—have an innate desire to surrender to something powerful, and at that moment she’s able to do that.” I can certainly relate, honey.

    By the way, I’m glad Grizzly Man—which is a wildlife documentary—nabbed an honor; I loved the way it pitted Timothy Treadwell’s loony grandiosity against that of director WERNER HERZOG, who sweepingly intoned narration like “It seems to me that this landscape in turmoil is a metaphor of his soul.” But while Treadwell tried to act like a bear, I could swear he also tried to act like a hetero. Whatever he was, he redefined Bearback Mountain.


    THE HEART IS DECEITFUL

    As for bare-assed lyin’, did you know that TV legend Raymond Burr was gay and fabricated a straight life for himself including two wives and a son, who never existed (though he was once briefly married)? He was into substance! This will all be in Post TV writer MICHAEL STARR‘s book, due next year from Applause Books. And wait, there’s more tawdry deceit: Everyone’s caught up with the JT LeRoy scam. But it was way back in June of 2001 that I reported that Vanity Fair may have been tricked by the composite creature. As I wrote, “LeRoy generally does interviews by phone and rarely allows himself to be photographed. That’s why it was so startling when photographer MARY ELLEN MARK managed to capture him for the current Vanity Fair—or seemed to. The problem is, LeRoy is telling folks that the person Mark shot is actually not him at all; it’s a female friend of his who purposely showed up for the session in a wig and mask. (When contacted for comment, Mark said, ‘It was JT. His saying it wasn’t is just his humor.’)” Obviously none of them were JT. Which would make a great musical!


    LITTER BOX
    WHORE MOANS

    I hear the El Mirage owner isn’t happy with my recent column about the unappealing sex club. But it’s not his fault—it’s the people in it! . . . At Happy Valley, I met a cute guy who said he was in the movie Slutty Summer, “but the Times review singled me out as really good!” And no, it wasn’t written by JT LEROY . . . At the same club, photographer MARK REAY murmured to me, “KATE MOSS will debut her new runway walk this season. The 12-step.” . . . Nightlife comeback queen
    SUSANNE BARTSCH is being followed around by New York and
    WWD
    (and me—for years) . . . Help! I’m in love with someone from myspace.com who likes women and feels Jesus is his savior.

    At Avalon’s Kurfew party, someone with a “666” label on his chest told me his safe word is harder . . . BRAD and ANGELINA are getting a bed made of stingrays. Dead ones, I presume . . . Over at the Cubby Hole recently, as a Gawker item mentioned, LISA GASTINEAU was getting personal with a lady friend. Well, my sources confirm it was one of her reality show’s editors,
    JULIE “BOB”
    . . . But back to me: “Is there any channel you haven’t appeared on?” people always wonder, impressed with my whorishness, I mean versatility. Well, yes, I had never been asked to show my pesky puss on BET—until last week, that is, when they rang to enlist my on- camera charms for a show. True story!

    But everyone please stop and go away. Come on, stop. Harder.


    WEB EXCLUSIVE

    PHYLLIS GATES—the wife of closeted movie icon Rock Hudson—recently died, and now BOB HOFFLER, who wrote The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson about agent HENRY WILLSON, has some juice to spill.  As Hoffler tells me, “After their divorce, Gates, who was a lesbian, blackmailed Rock. In the book, I detail the story where Henry hired a hit from Las Vegas on two guys who were blackmailing Rock. Well, Gates put them up to it, and the hit also paid her a visit. Later, she tried again, but was quelled by photos take of her with other women. Rock had somehow acquired these photos.”

    [

    The author adds: “Phyllis had told various people that marrying Rock ‘would be fun.’ She then became addicted to being the wife of a star, and didn’t want the divorce. MARK MILLER, [movie star] GEORGE NADER‘s lover, told me that she had a double standard: Phyllis could play around with women but Rock had to remain faithful to her. In a way, she was just being pragmatic: she feared that Rock’s exposure would ruin his fame, which was in turn her gravy train.

    “By the way, Phyllis did not meet Rock at Henry Willson’s office, as she claimed. She met Rock at Mark Miller and George Nader’s home in Studio City. She had been out on a movie date with Rock Hudson’s then-lover, JACK NAVAAR. So Phyllis knew the score. She met Rock in the company of gay men.” And now it’s gay men who are telling the truth about the whole situation.

    Oh, one more thing: Says Hoffler, “In the last two years, Gates was actually mentioned as the correspondent in a divorce case in which a husband accused his wife of having an affair with Gates. I don’t know how that case resolved.”


    The invite said “Paper and Mac celebrate ZAC POSEN at Village restaurant,” so I went and dove into the pear crumble and special guest BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD, who was unspoiled and fun. Was she only there because she starred in The Village? “Yes,” she played along, “I only go to restaurants named Village.” (16-month-old spoiler alert: It’s set in the present!) Of course she would also go to any restaurant named Manderlay; that’s the title of the new LARS VON TRIER weirdie with Bryce as Dogville‘s Nicole Kidman character, this time stumbling upon slavery in the ’30s. “It’s an interesting film,” she told me, wide-eyed. “Interesting is the operative word.”


    ANOTHER WEB EXCLUSIVE:
    Golden Globes rundown:

    8:08 PM: GEORGE CLOONEY‘s remark, “I thought PAUL GIAMATTI was gonna win” is rough, especially when followed by a closeup of Giamatti squirming. And he’d just gotten over his Sideways snubs.

    8:12 PM: RACHEL WEISZ looks like someone. Who is it? Oh, I know. Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

    8:20 SANDRA OH wins because she was dumped by ALEXANDER PAYNE (her own Sideways snub). She gives a crazy, hyperventilating, stuttery, giggly, overly grateful speech. No wonder he dumped her!

    8:26 DREW BARRYMORE‘s pendulous green boobs will forever haunt my memory. Globes indeed.

    8:31 The female President wins. HILLARY CLINTON must be secretly orgasming somewhere.

    8:59 The clip of and all the talk about The Constant Gardener studiously avoid mentioning the fact that it’s about, you know, AIDS. Don’t want to scare potential DVD customers.

    9:04 MARY-LOUISE PARKER wins because she was dumped by BILLY CRUDUP. All four Desperate Housewives look thrilled–at least one of their costars didn’t get it.

    9:50 It’s MEL BROOKS against ALANIS MORISSETTE for Best Song. Someone else wins.

    10:20 JOAQUIN PHOENIX looks really fresh and rested and healthy, especially around the eyes and teeth. Kidding.

    10:30 JANE SEYMOUR is sobbing hysterically, for I forget what reason, as the camera closes in on her. Dr. Quinn, PHONY woman! Meanwhile, RYAN PHILLIPPE is being cute and playful and trying every which way not to be the next CHAD LOWE. I give them two months.

    10:40 DENNIS QUAID, talking about the gay cowboy epic, says the immortal sentence, “It rhymes with chick flick.” The crowd is dumbfounded. The crass, vulgar, drunk, mercenary Golden Globes crowd is offended by a remark? Nah, they just didn’t get it.



    musto@villagevoice.com