This afternoon, two of my favorite muses Jenna Skyy and Cassie Nova lend their interpretive artistry to "Tall Tales and High Heels," a storytime event at Grauwyler Park Branch Library.
How did I find out?
A group of Catholics sent a press release saying they've organized a "Rosary Protest."
The group is called Tradition, Family and Property. Their website is ReturnToOrder.org.
TFP states, "Because the Drag Queen Story Time for 3 to 6 year-olds is a serious offense against God and scandalizes children."
The release continues with:
"Whatever happened to the time when the protection of children's innocence was a non-negotiable social norm?
Even rough men watched their language and mannerisms when children or ladies were around.
Vulgarity, bad habits and vice were concealed so as to not destroy the innocence of a child."
Well, Dallas. Look for yourselves.
Witness Jenna in super-heroine action at last year's J. Eric Jonsson Library, named after the brilliant founder of Texas Instruments — a company that could see into the future.
Grauwyler Park Branch Library, 2146 Gilford St., Dallas, Texas 75235
Saturday: July 13 at 12:30 p.m.
VICE News deftly explores differences between Oak Cliff and Oak Lawn in the wake of Muhlaysia Booker murder
On Friday, “VICE News Tonight” requested my footage of a wounded Muhlaysia Booker speaking shortly after her attack and just before she was discovered murdered.
The skillfully produced “Civil Rights” segment aired that same day for a 7:30 p.m. broadcast.
VICE’s immigration correspondent David Noriega visits Big D. The story begins with stomach-churning clips of Muhlaysia being savagely beaten.
Then there’s my footage.
You can hear my voice chanting Muhlaysia's name along with others. I'm happy Muhlaysia got to hear that support while she was still alive.
I'm also elated with Noriega's work.
With a touch that reminds me of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," VICE's news-team explores the geographic and socio-economic separations between Dallas' "uppity" Oak Lawn gayborhood and east Oak Cliff — the location where the viral footage first emerged.
Muhlaysia's friend Meiko Hicks describes how Muhlaysia suffered from intense PTSD after the first attack. And how Big D's unspoken "no-snitch" policy mostly hovers over Dallas' Southern side.
However, the footage of Muhlaysia's casket being rapturously marched out of Cathedral of Hope last week is just ... gorgeous.
VICE ends the segment with a sharp cut. Leaving viewers wanting more. It’s unresolved — exactly like Muhlaysia's quest to seek to justice.
At yesterday’s "Peace & Justice Rally for Muhlaysia Booker,” I was reminded of 214 Trans4m's “Resurrection” — featuring Tommie Ross as Erykah Badu + Nefertari.
Happy Easter, y’all.
3,000-year-old Egyptian messages tell us that civilization’s greatest value was conquering the terrors of death.
Once a blockbusting attraction, the Forest Theater now reflects White Flight’s deterioration upon a progressive metroplex.
The theater’s towering neon sign is named after Forest Avenue, the crosstown spine that links South Dallas to East Oak Cliff. Until 1880, Forest Avenue was spelled with two Rs — a nod to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard.
In 1930, cinema impresario M.S. White built the Forest Theatre, a $40,000 air-cooled “talking picture house.” Interstate Circuit (which managed Dallas’ Majestic, Arcadia and Highland Park theaters) took over the Forest in 1932.
That initial Forest venue perished in a fire.
Coinciding with Central Expressway’s expansion, a “new” Forest Theater opened in 1949. Catering to a white clientele, the Forest was the Southwest’s largest suburban palace. Black ticketholders were confined to the balcony.
Throughout the ’40s, blacks faced housing troubles all over Dallas. But mortgage houses didn’t vigorously oppose migration to the city’s southern side.
By 1952, South Dallas was 90-percent black.
Adhering to segregation norms, Forest Avenue High School was designated a black facility in 1956 and renamed James Madison High School. That year, the Forest Theater “reopened” as a “de lux movie house for Negroes.”
The building remained a cinema until 1965, when managers announced the Forest’s closing due to lack of patronage.
For decades, the Forest alternated between standing vacant and hosting a variety of theater-nightclubs that lured the likes of B.B. King, Al Green, The Byrds, Tina Turner, James Brown and Gladys Knight.
In June 1976, Forest Avenue was rechristened Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. A young Erica Abi Wright could walk to the Forest from her home near Julius Schepps Freeway. On the big screen, she watched Bruce Lee’s slow-burn martial artistry in “Enter the Dragon” and Pam Grier’s brown-sugar ass-kicking in “Coffy.”
Erica later became Erykah Badu.
Badu began renting the empty and dilapidated Forest in 2003. The property wasn’t for sale, and Badu almost went bust bringing the 16,000-square-foot building up to code.
She changed the name to The Black Forest Theater and painted its front doors with a fist-handled Afro pick. The Black Forest housed Badu’s charity, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Inc. Non-profit Development), which provided a soup kitchen, as well as youth-arts programs. The Black Forest’s marquee regularly spelled out Badu-like aphorisms preaching unity and community.
The theater experienced a scintillating revival as Dallas’ hottest after-party. At Badu’s invitation, Dave Chappelle, Snoop Dogg, The Roots and Jill Scott entertained lucky guests until the dawn’s early light. Following his 2004 American Airlines Center sellout gig, Prince headed to the Black Forest for a royal jam- session that patrons enjoyed for a mere $20 admission.
Egypt’s ancient symbol for imperishable life is the ankh. When Prince transformed into “The Artist Formerly Known As...” his name was represented by an ankh-like character that incorporated both the male and female astrological symbols. Badu titled her 2010 album, “New Amerykah Part Two: (Return of the Ankh).”
The walls of Queen Nefertari’s tomb (1290 B.C.) narrate the passage to the afterlife. Throughout her journey to the great unknown, Nefertari is depicted as wide-eyed, cheerful and wearing a bird-like cap, which represents Mut — the hermaphroditic vulture deity, who’s sometimes depicted with breasts; sometimes with an erect penis.
Badu hoped to transform the Forest into cultural landmark, much like New York’s Apollo Theater. Her noble dream proved to be unsustainable for just one person.
However, the Forest Theater — now for sale but in serious disrepair — awaits another revival.
‘QUEEN NEFERTARI + ERYKAH BADU:’ TOMMIE ROSS
LOCATION: THE FOREST THEATER, 1920 MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR BLVD. | ACCESSORIES: BRIAN ALDEN | STYLING: RICHARD D. CURTIN HEADDRESS: KENT PARKER | MARQUEE DESIGN: L.C. CORTEZ | WARDROBE CONSULTANT: CHARLES YUSKO
PRODUCTION DATE: MARCH 22, 2013 | PHOTOGRAPHY: BRYAN AMANN | DIRECTION: DANIEL KUSNER
I once dragged massive muscleman Matt to Bass Hall for a swanky Sunday matinee concert with Pink Martini.
Matt’s ginger mohawk turned heads all over Fort Worth.
After a few slinky foxtrots, Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale broke for intermission. So Matt and I took in a moment of afternoon sunshine.
And there on the sidewalk stood a tuxedoed — and pink mohawked — Lauderdale inhaling a cigarette.
In true Portlandia style, Lauderdale also had a vintage Polaroid slung around his bow-tied neck.
Our conversation quickly drifted to the symphony’s distractingly handsome cellist, who was also enjoying a smoke break just a few feet away.
Lauderdale's swagger is oh-so-subtle.
The bandleader slightly nodded. And the cellist — a North Texan hired for the afternoon gig — strolled over to say, “Howdy.”
I hammed it up for Lauderdale, who captured Yours Truly, shamelessly photobombing while sandwiched between two bearded hunks.
Lauderdale is a class act.
He handed me the Polaroid. All while smiling at Matt...
I photographed Matt, too.
Matt was transitioning from computer design to med school. From hardcore evangelical to furry “bear-lebrity.” From single stud to relationship.
Many Oak Cliff homeowners transform their properties into microchurches.
In my neighborhood, a front lawn once glowed with a red-neon crucifix .
I pulled the car over, and Matt jumped into action.
SPIKE AND THE DYKES:
Influential black auteur goes off deep end with gayest film yet — so bring on the heat
By Daniel Kusner | 08.20.04
What’s going on inside Spike Lee’s head?
There’s never been an obvious answer to that question.
For such a prolific director — releasing 18 feature-length films since 1986 — one thing remains consistent: Spike Lee does things his way. And without trying to satisfy a broad audience.
His new film, “She Hate Me,” is certainly his gayest work.
And while Lee bravely forges into new and provocative territory, the director won’t be accused of pandering to lesbians.
The movie’s intricate plot revolves around biotech executive Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), who is fired for being a corporate whistleblower.
Strapped for cash, his ex-girlfriend — now in a same-sex relationship — offers him “easy money” to impregnate her and her partner.
Soon other lesbians with a desire for motherhood — and $10,000 to spare — line up for Jack’s services. And not with turkey basters.
As his former employers try to frame him, and Jack weighs the consequences of fathering 19 children, Jack’s life becomes complex….
Lee says the film is a “parallel morality tale” — where every character is faced with choices that can compromise their ethics.
Once do-gooder Johnny finds himself in a jam, his morals are conveniently revamped.
“And it’s not that he’s impregnating lesbians. It’s that he’s become a sperm donor,” Lee explains while inside a Dallas cafe at The Crescent complex.
“He’s selling something God gave him. And it doesn’t matter that [Jack] signed a donor-waiver agreement. He brought 19 kids into the world.”
Lee knew he didn’t earn the license to include 19 lesbians in “She Hate Me.”
Past films, like “School Daze” and “Summer of Sam,” contained homophobic slurs, which Lee has had to defend.
“Using the words like ‘punks’ and ‘fags’ has gotten me in trouble. Somehow people felt that those characters’ remarks were my thoughts. And my sensibilities, which is ludicrous,” Lee says.
“It is known that black people are very homophobic. So why shouldn’t I reflect that in my films?”
Lee counts “The Sopranos” as one of his favorite video dramas.
“And every time they refer to black people, it’s ‘them shines,’ ‘them niggers,’ ‘them spades,”’ Lee explains.
“Are those [writer-creator] David Chase’s thoughts?
But for Italian-Americans, like Tony Soprano, that’s the way they think and talk about black people.”
Lee has made a few respectable choices when it comes to queer content.
He was the first director to hire RuPaul for a major film role.
She has a cameo in “Crooklyn” as the coochie-shaking transgender inside a steamy bodega.
Lee knew the lesbian content in “She Hate Me” might set off some alarms.
And like other films where his insight was lacking, Lee hired a consultant — Tristan Taormino, The Village Voice’s lesbian sex-expert and author of “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women.”
When Taormino first read Lee’s “She Hate Me” script, she knew the job would be a challenge.
“I thought, ‘Wow … This is going to piss off a lot of people.’ So … Do I throw it across the room and say, ‘Fuck you, Spike!’ Or do I stay and try to bridge this gap between our totally different worlds?” Taormino asked during a recent trip to Dallas.
The anal-therapist decided to play.
Taormino red-flagged problems with the script. And Lee incorporated some of her suggestions.
One portion of the script provoked Lee and Taormino into disagreement — that was about the film’s overwhelming population of lesbians who opt for the traditional insemination method.
“Early on, I asked, ‘Aren’t some of them going to be using a turkey baster? Or I suggested, ‘Could some of them show up with a turkey baster ... and then change their mind?’ Spike was like, ‘No, no. This is the vision.’ And it was almost, like ... I had to go with that,” Taormino explains.
As a consultant, Taormino’s primary duties were to guide the actors in presenting a diverse array of lesbians.
So she held a weeklong “lesbian boot camp,” where the actors learned about queer culture and identity. Where they discussed "butch vs. femme,” “the ins and outs of strap-ons,” same-sex marriage and their characters’ coming-out stories.
“Spike had this idea of a ‘rainbow.’ That most of the lesbians not be white. And that not all of them were black… The script even called for a Polynesian lesbian,” Taormino says.
Word on the street about test-screenings is that “She Hate Me” horrified more than a few lesbians.
And Lee’s film packs a surprising and radical ending about an alternative family.
Many have blamed Taormino for the outcome.
“I think there are mixed messages in the film. But I don’t think there’s ever been a Spike Lee movie with a pat resolution,” she says. “And I am not the co-writer of this film.”
Taormino says her contribution may be subtle.
She says she helped add “the stripes and colors" about the portrayal of lesbians.
“Spike Lee is not making a documentary about lesbians-of-color …. Or coming out and parenting.
It’s a fantasy. It’s Spike's vision,” Taormino continues.
“People have told me, ‘I don’t understand where your voice is in this movie. My voice is in the conversations with the actors. My voice is the conversations with Spike. They take the information.
And then they go and work. It’s not like I turned to Spike and told him, ‘It should be like this. And then Spike does what I tell him…”
Tristan Taormino, author of ‘The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women,“ served as Spike Lee’s technical consultant for the film, “She Hate Me.”
08.20.04 PAGE 32 | dallas voice
I once went all the way to Las Vegas to hang out with Jack Ruby’s old buddy, Breck Wall.
Such a hoot! Breck spun tales about Sammy, Joan, Liberace and “titty dancers.”
I was just reading DMN dining critic Michalene Busico’s gorgeous review about The Adolphus’ FRENCH ROOM.
And I wondered …
How far was the Adolphus’ CENTURY ROOM — where Breck Wall’s lusty “Bottoms Up!” revue played before heading to Vegas?
That’s when I came across this tidbit, below, from Adam Gorightly’s “Caught in the Crossfire: Kerry Thornley, Oswald and the Garrison Investigation.”
TIDBIT: As for Breck Wall (he was a transvestite who appeared in a cross-dressing revue called Bottoms Up that played at the Adolphus Hotel), which was located across the street from the Carousel Club.
Quoted in Reitzes’ article was Daniel Kusner, who said that following Jack Ruby’s arrest, “Wall had to lay down in a backseat of the squad car as it slowly snaked its way to the police station, where policemen escorted Wall to Ruby's cell.”
Three years later, Wall was the last person to speak with Ruby prior to his death.
— “Caught in the Crossfire,” by Adam Gorightly.
By Daniel Kusner | Life+Style Editor
As she races to the airport, Liza Minnelli has only five minutes for a phone interview.
That's not enough time for someone who's involved in so many lurid, headline-grabbing scandals.
What about the bitter divorce from estranged husband David Gest?
Since they're battling it out in court — last month, a New York judge chided them for their "whiny" behavior — Liza can't comment on it.
Nor can Liza discuss the recent sexual harassment allegations (and $50 million lawsuit) made by former bodyguard M'hammed Soumayah.
And what about in December 2004?
When Liza was raced to the hospital after falling out of bed?
First and foremost, Liza is a showbiz legend.
When it comes to probing interviews, she usually pivots her answers to reflect a 59-year-old entertainer who hasn't lost her sparkle.
With that in mind, I drafted questions that might draw out how she manages to keep working. Because it's a miracle she's alive.
Four years ago, Liza was struck down by a brain disease and could neither walk nor talk.
On top of that, she has had two new hips, surgery on her knees and back, double pneumonia and polyps on her vocal chords — not to mention battles with booze, pills and flab.
Now she's on television, getting rave reviews for her role in "Arrested Development."
She just finished a movie, ''The OH in Ohio," which stars Parker Posey and Paul Rudd.
And she's back singing and dancing.
On Wednesday, Minnelli returns to Dallas to perform at the Meyerson Symphony Center to benefit the Vogel Alcove Childcare Center for the Homeless.
Liza calls from her limo with her 9-month-old schnauzer, Emmy, in her lap.
A faint image of Dorothy and Toto springs to mind.
ME: I just saw a picture of you taken with Dame Edna.
Liza: How weird that you've seen that already.
I just saw her show last night.
That's when they took the picture.
You look pretty good.
Thank you so much.
The last time you performed in Dallas was at the 2003 Two by Two for AIDS and Art benefit.
And you helped raise $1.5 million.
Yes, I was.
And thank you for remembering that.
I was thrilled that that happened.
Is your upcoming Dallas gig all part of an enormous comeback?
No, not really.
You sit down for 20 minutes.
And they tell you you're having a comeback.
I hear you're still a big junkie — that your drugs are adrenaline and audience feedback.
I have always loved being onstage and being with an audience.
It's so wonderful to feel so healthy and good about my life.
I'm just so happy.
Are you at your best as a live performer?
I feel like I'm at my best when I have the right direction and the best people to work with.
I'm a director's daughter.
So I appreciate and listen to other people's talent.
Onstage, it's always been with Kander and Ebb.
There have been great directors in film — Scorsese and Alan Pakula.
I've been so lucky in television because I've worked with the best.
You're performing in concert, shooting a TV show and you just wrapped on a film.
Is the 'Bionic Liza' slowing down at all?
It sounds like I'm doing a lot.
But I don't do all those things at once.
They're spaced out properly.
And I have a wonderful, terrific life.
I wake up and go to dance class for an hour-and-a-half every morning with my dance teacher, Luigi.
And then I'm ready to do anything.
Is the dancing painful?
It's only painful when I don't do it.
Luigi's motto is to never stop working — when you stop moving, things tighten and freeze up.
So I always keep stretching and moving.
I came back from brain encephalitis and complete paralysis by learning slowly to move again and to never stop moving.
Over the years, you've had such an unwavering loyalty from your fans — especially your diehard gay fans.
They've watched you go to court and get rushed to the hospital.
They've seen your name appear in so many juicy headlines.
Any chance your Dallas gig might be interrupted by some new scandal?
My gay fans are just fantastic.
As for being rushed to the hospital...
Just don't get up in the middle of the night and trip over your dog.
Because it hurts.
But the headlines and everything else...
Oh, just tell them to come see me.
When performing, do you feel like you have a lot to prove?
All I have to do is look into the audience and realize that I'm singing to human beings.
When I'm onstage, I'm not all alone.
"A star in the spotlight ...." and all that baloney?
I'm communicating with people.
Like a conversation.
I've never been bored onstage or thought "Ugh! This is a drag!"
I love it too much.
Some people may think of you as Judy Garland's daughter.
Some people see you as an unforgettable, tragic diva.
Do you think you're misunderstood? Do you know who you are?
Ha, I'll say.
If they think of me as Judy Garland's daughter, they might be right.
If they think of me as Vincent Minnelli's daughter, they're really right, too.
I don't know what a diva is.
I guess it's a big compliment.
I just think of myself as somebody who works hard.
Do you consider yourself a star?
I think of myself as an entertainer.
ls your sister Lorna in your corner nowadays?
Oh, of course.
Sometimes she keeps her distance.
I think she does that because she may need to.
I don't know why.
She's my younger sister and she's got issues.
And they're not my issues — they're hers.
All I know is that I adore her. And I'm always there for her.
And she's always there for me.
Someone else who has been there for you and who was at your most recent wedding: Michael Jackson.
How do feel about what he's going through?
I don't feel legally qualified to answer any questions about that.
All I can tell you is that he's a wonderful friend — a great entertainer.
And I love him.
The hardships in your life.
Do they stem from being needy?
Are you nuts?
Of course they do!
What on earth do you need?
I don't know.
If I did? I would have found it already.
Actually, I think I got exactly what I always needed and didn't know it.
And that's my health, my happiness and my career.
Are you still reaching for the brass ring?
When I walk onstage. I still feel like I've never sung anything good enough.
So when I get up in the morning, I'm so excited about might what happen.
I don't feel my age at all.
I'm too curious.
Do you think your Dallas performance could be the last time you ever play here?
Are you nuts?
I can't believe you just asked me that.
Let me ask you, is this the last interview you' II ever do?
Gosh, I hope not.
Well, I'm with you.
You're almost 60.
Are you planning a career with many decades to come?
I'm planning for every day of my life for as long as I got.
As many as God will give me.
Liza performs at Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. April 20. $35-$150.
INTOLERANCE DESTROYER: Aggro bachelor HENRY ROLLINS discusses his rumored sexuality, his animosity toward homophobia and what it's like to be a gay hero
BY DANIEL KUSNER | Jan. 15, 1999.
Punk stud Henry Rollins understands the allure of post-modern sex symbols — like Tom Cruise, Troy Aikman and Richard Gere.
Rollins rose to stardom as Black Flag's often-shirtless, raw-voiced frontman.
He's also distractingly buff.
So it's reasonable to believe that Black Flag's male fans have confronted being attracted to Rollins' physical magnetism.
In the past year-and-a-half, gossip mills began spilling rumors that Rollins was expected to come out of the closet on MTV's "Alternative Nation."
That grapevine also claimed Rollins would reveal his alternative sexuality during a CNN press conference.
However, Rollins has unleashed two signature rants — both queer-themed and previously recorded.
First, there was the release of "Think Tank," a live spoken-word album.
Then he issued "You Saw Me Up There," the video edition of the "Think Tank" tour, which Rollins taped in Los Angeles.
"When I got that whole 'gay rumor' thing, it didn't bug me that much.
It was more humorous than anything.
But I think it was something that needed to be said.
Because it made me more aware of how evil homophobia is," Rollins says from his California office during a recent phone interview.
Although Rollins has been sweating it out as a thrash singer for more than 15 years, in 1995, he won a Grammy for Best Spoken-Word Album.
And the indie-punk king's multimedia creds keep ramping up.
On top of running a publishing imprint 2-13-61 Publications (the company's named after his birthdate), Rollins is turning into a celebutante, who now models for Macintosh, Nike, The Gap and General Motors
His acting career is also in bloom — with cameos in films like, "Lost Highway," "Heat" and "Johnny Mnemonic."
In whatever medium, Rollins' outspokenness is part of his appeal.
Although Black Flag's music doesn't often make playlists at gay discos, Rollins is aware of his die-hard queer following.
"I get a lot of letters from gay fans.
And I do a lot of interviews with gay publications.
They always tell me that I'm a hero to them, which I consider an honor.
I would never be exclusive or dismissive to anyone who appreciates my work," Rollins says.
Rollins is almost apologetic when he's obliged to clarify to fans that he's straight.
"I always take it as a compliment when gay guys hit on me, which happens fairly often.
I always feel bad for them because they'll ask, 'Are you sure?'
And I'm like, 'Yeah ... I'm definitely sure.'
They're usually so bummed.
Then I tell them that I'm really sorry," Rollins says.
Though Rollins says he's not gay, he's vividly familiar with Tom of Finland's erotic illustrations.
Come to think of it ... Rollins fits the TOF mold perfectly.
Abundant tattoos caress his bulging, beefcake frame, which compliments his butch, military haircut that practically screams, I'm A Proud-But-Bossy Bottom.
"Oh, what? Like I'm a big, macho cop with a cum-catcher mustache getting it in the ass from a sailor?" Rollins laughs. "Actually, we have his work in our office.
Someone sent us a Tom of Finland picture.
And we ended up framing it and hanging it up on our wall.
It's kind of a joke, though.
People send us all kinds of stuff."
Rollins can easily joke about being a passive slut.
But being pegged as gay isn't always funny.
Rollins knows all too well.
He was confronted with sexuality suspicions during a nightmarish tragedy.
One December evening in 1991, Rollins and his roommate, Joe Cole were returning to their Venice Beach home after a grocery trip.
On their porch, two gunmen stepped out of the darkness.
Rollins and Cole were marched inside the house.
Cole was shot point-blank in the head and died.
The assailants fired at Rollins, but missed and fled.
During the homicide investigation, police asked Rollins if he and Cole were lovers — or if Rollins was bisexual.
"As soon as they found out that we weren't gay, they were much more friendly.
But that's the LAPD for you.
That's not anything that surprised me," Rollins says.
"But it goes without saying that was not a very fun night."
Although Rollins might appear fiercely enraged, he insists his work isn't filled with anger.
He aims for strong performances.
While speaking, Rollins shares plenty of hysterical anecdotes about his adventurous life. But it's his disgust for narrow-minded bigotry that endures.
In Rollins' rant — titled "The Gay Thing" — he compares homophobia to racism and explains how he intends to to destroy all discrimination.
"I'm just so sick of homophobia.
How people get their asses kicked for something that's as natural as eating.
Just because you're a guy who likes guys, you can lose your job.
Or have people tell you that the Bible says that you're a bad person," Rollins says.
"When someone started those rumors [about me], they did it as a putdown.
You never hear, 'Oh, he's straight." And have it be a putdown.
But I realized how homophobia is just a symptom of ignorance and weakness.
It's really something we can all do without."
Henry Rollins speaks on Jan. 19 at The Galaxy Club, 2820 Main St. in Deep Ellum. Tickets $15. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. 214-373-8000.
Literary giant, stunt-casted closet-case GEORGE PLIMPTON gets huffy while unthreading his stitched-together CAPOTE bio
By Daniel Kusner
A new work about gay author and gadfly Truman Capote hit the shelves recently, an “oral biography” edited by literary lion George Plimpton.
Like Plimpton’s first foray in this genre — a joint effort with Jean Stein on Edie Sedgwick, the ’60s superstar from Andy Warhol’s camp — the new Capote bio is cobbled together from interviews involving celebrities and other folks who knew the diminutive, squeaky-voiced Capote in some capacity or other.
The format of Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career is chatty, even gossipy.
The idea is to make the reader feel like a guest at a swanky cocktail party, overhearing various bitchy-to-tender-to-hilarious anecdotes assembled in chronological order from Capote’s anchorless childhood (his parents abandoned him and he was shunted about to various relatives) to his death as a lonely man whose friends had mostly deserted him.
Plimpton, something of a gadfly himself, is the 70-year-old editor of The Paris Review — which features works by and about the biggest names in 20th century culture, from Hemingway to Angelou — and one of the acknowledged literary giants working in the second half of this century.
A celebrity sports enthusiast, Plimpton is also well-known for his bit parts in certain movies.
There’s a cameo in Nixon, and he recounts memories of Muhammad Ali in the award-winning documentary When We Were Kings.
Most recently, he portrays a closet-case psychologist whose gayness is quickly perceived by the misunderstood but smartass genius played by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting — one of the film’s quickest but most hilarious scenes.
But when it comes to discussing his latest book, Plimpton turns defensive, even combative. Perhaps he’s stung by the wave of criticism which met Truman Capote’s publication two months ago.
Several reviewers said Plimpton’s excursion into Capote’s life bears a distinct been-there-done-that flavor. For instance, The New York Times Book Review says the interviews “have the flat, regurgitated quality of people who have been talking about their subject for way too long. Capote knew better than anyone that for gossip to be good, it has to be fresh.”
The Austin Chronicle said the book “doesn’t add all that much to the dialogue that hasn’t been covered already.”
Plimpton began working on the book about seven years ago, he said during a telephone interview from his office in New York.
“It’s more like stitching that it is writing. It’s an interesting way of presenting a biography, I think,” Plimpton chirped in his otherworldly Northeast Establishment-via-Cambridge voice.
Despite Capote’s effeminacy, his frank acknowledgment of his homosexuality in his later years and his classic remark about the subject (“A faggot is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room”), Plimpton’s book fails to index the subject at all — a fact Plimpton, remarkably, doesn’t seem to recall, since he referred me to the index to locate the book’s few references to the subject.
With his open hand, Capote once nailed a drunken belligerent who was making fag jokes and disparaging Capote’s voice.
On yet another occasion, Capote grilled a biographer of British writer E.M. Forster for not including references to the author’s homosexuality.
Still, Capote “wasn’t overtly militant about homosexuality,” Plimpton maintained. “He hated the word ‘gay.’ He thought the term was inappropriate, so he reversed it — he called them ‘yags.’ But . . . you’ll see there are some rather interesting things he had to say about it, particularly his defense of those who are [homosexual].”
The fact that Plimpton’s name is on the cover gives the book an instant cachet it fails, perhaps, to deserve.
Plimpton’s original contribution amounts to a brief letter to the reader.
The remainder of the book is given over to the interviews themselves, and the author credits seven others for substantial work on the final product. (Plimpton himself refers readers to Capote, the definitive biography by Gerald Clarke, for a complete picture of the fabled author.)
This is probably why Plimpton seems unfamiliar with some of the book’s details.
For instance, he is unaware of whether Capote ever met Dorothy Parker — yet the book contains Norman Mailer’s recollection of appearing on the David Susskind television show with both Capote and Parker.
And former Esquire editor-in-chief Lee Eisenberg describes a bitchy piece about Parker, which Capote submitted for the magazine’s 50th anniversary edition.
If his oral biography is a bit like “stitching,” it’s apparent other tailors played a substantial role in the final product.
With famous names being dropped left and right, it’s also difficult for the reader to keep track of who is and who isn’t of any real importance to understanding Capote.
Most of the anecdotes yield more heat than light. Giving the bulk of the book up to gossip rather than illuminating the harrowing twists and turns of Capote’s life — a path which ultimately led to alcoholism, drug abuse and death.
During our interview, Plimpton also reveals himself as a puzzling, prickly character. He admits he has no use for the internet.
“I’m not very good at it,” he said. “I don’t understand it. I’ve tried research on it, but I’m so poor at working the machine that I’d much rather do the research by going to the library.
“I don’t know how to use the internet,” he proudly declares, as if this fact grants him additional stature.
Asked about his appearance in Good Will Hunting, Plimpton is equally glib.
He says when he accepted the role, he didn’t even know who director Gus Van Sant was.
And he hadn’t read the first-time script by the twentysomething stars (Damon and Ben Affleck), a work whose precision and insight has left Hollywood breathless.
Instead, he says, it was the famous comedian Robin Williams who attracted his interest.
“I thought that anything with Robin Williams in it would be sort of interesting,” Plimpton said. “But I had not seen Gus Van Sant’s first film or second film — whatever it is, the one about Missouri. My Own Private Missouri?”
Is he fucking kidding?
I would like to have known more about Plimpton’s book, but that turned out to be impossible.
Plimpton became increasingly combative during our brief exchange, abruptly terminating the interview by hanging up his telephone when I disagreed with his assertion that renowned jazz pianist-bandleader Bobby Short was no celebrity.
But there’s no question about Capote’s celebrity (if he were still alive, you could just ask him, since discussing himself was one of the author’s favorite occupations), and no question that the celebrities he rubbed shoulders with have plenty of recollections about this colorful, if tragic, literary figure.
Truman Capote is an alluring book — easy to pick up and put down whenever you like.
At $35, it seems a bit expensive for readers looking for more than recycled information and gossipy recollections.