Superstar in a Housedress

Cincinnati filmmaker debuts movie about friend, avant-garde performer
By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The event: World premiere of Superstar in a Housedress, a documentary written, directed, edited, produced and shot on digital video by Hyde Park resident Craig B. Highberger, Wednesday night of this week at the Film Forum in New York. Through May 18.

The superstar: Jackie Curtis, born John Holder, Jr., took to the stage at 17 at the iconic La MaMa theater in New York in Miss Nefertiti Regrets, co-starring with Bette Midler. An unconventional cross-dresser, he became part of the circle around artist Andy Warhol. He appeared in films by Paul Morrissey (Women in Revolt), wrote poetry and created stage plays, including Glamor, Glory and Gold, featuring a young Robert De Niro. Curtis died of an accidental drug overdose in 1985, at age 38.

The collaborators: Curtis’ cousin and stage manager, associate producer Joey Preston; Highberger’s partner and executive producer Andy LaBarbera (a professor at the University of Cincinnati medical school); final post production at Lightborne in Over-the-Rhine; “audio sweetening” at Sonic Arts, downtown; narrator Lily Tomlin, still photographer Jack Mitchell; interviewees Harvey Fierstein, Joe Dallesandro, Sylvia Miles, among many others.

The buzz: “The movie recalls an era when Jackie, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn defined outre. … It was Jackie – poet/playwright/actor/director – who continually pushed the envelope, making the world safe for transvestites who changed their minds as often as their wigs.” – Film Forum publicity

“Bitchy, catty, moving and hilarious. … Rollicking gabfest.” – New York Magazine

“Fabulously fond and entertaining tribute to the quick-witted Lower East Side kid.” – Village Voice

“A loving tribute to a true downtown legend.” – Time Out New York

The glitz: (As of press time) “Lou Reed is bringing Holly Woodlawn to the premiere. … Paul Morrissey is bringing Lypsinka. I’ve never met Lypsinka, so that will be fun. Edward Albee is supposed to come. He is the person I am most looking forward to meeting. … I can’t think, I can’t think. I’m on such a high,” Highberger said. Since The New York Times mentioned Highberger in a May 2 story about Curtis and the film, “The phone has not stopped ringing. People I lost track of 30 years ago have called me. … I always hoped for the best, but this is beyond my wildest expectations … .”

The genesis: While a student at New York University film school 30 years ago, Highberger befriended Curtis and began filming performances. Several years ago, Highberger began assembling film clips and collecting interviews, when not producing Web-based video productions for Cincinnati film company Digital Think.

The future: The film will play in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, London, Toronto, Chicago and (eventually) Cincinnati. Superstar will be shown at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, January through March 2005, alongside Icons and Idols, an exhibit of Mitchell’s photographs of Warhol superstars.

Highberger is completing a book of excerpts from interviews for the film, plus quotes, poems and script excerpts from Curtis. In addition, he is compiling a collection of Curtis’ plays.

The Web site:

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