BetteBack December 13, 1973: Gross me out, Miss M

The Village Voice
December 13, 1973


La creme de la creme and la pits de la pits showed up for the Divine One’s opening at the Palace. Dyan Cannon in platinum. Vito Russo in Skunk. Ruth Truth in red lame. Channel No. 13 in popper-drenched spacesuit.

They came by Rolls, foot, BMT, and rickshaw. In singles (Edward Sherman) in couples (Earl Wilson with Dong Kingman), and in packs (the After Dark staff). Some had seen her at the Continental, some had come for a new taste treat. They crossed a picket line (the United Scenic Artists Local 829), squited at kleigs, highbrowed onlookers, divined friends in the lobby, cluttered the balcony, and practically angina pectorised in anticipation of HER.

Hula dancers preceded her, setting the tone – she’s supposed to have spent her childhood in Samoa or somewhere. Next came her nervous, funny musical director, blondined and sequined. Then her Harlettes, nodding at stage left, like cleaning women waiting for her majesty’s instructions.

She hippity-hopped, choo-chooed, clutched Ann Miller’s fan from “Easter Parade,” dropped it, dropped her eyes, waved her arms, ziggity-zagged in platforms, embraced the balcony. Smiled. Humble. Sweet. Do they love me, do they hate me, no, yes, don’t give a shit, give a shit, they’ve got to love me and I’m gonna make them love me but I’m gonna give them a hard time and test them.

So she gave them a hard time. She ran about like a Samoan caught stealing girdles on Eastern Parkway and sang and mocked. She gave them lip. She rode everything. Everything that they felt superior to, like anyplace outside New York, anyone undivine. Then she mocked the accepted. Women’s Wear Daily. The $15 ticket.

“Whose idea was it to play this dump?” Tempting the shakers. How far could they take it? She talked about herself in the third person, as if a first person didn’t exist. “Gross me out, Miss M.”

And she shlumped on a stool, legs crossed, “Swing Shift Maisie,” spewing sass and gall like Ann Sothern wouldn’t know from, there in the 40s she loves SO well. Sleazy. ”She’s gonna sing you a sleazy bar song.” Campy. “Oh, my Gawd.”

“Gawd, my Gawd.” The pits. Nasal. French. Nixon. Linda Lovelace. Gar-bage, quips, put-downs, energy, talent, yes, no, love, testing, testing, fuck off, stop, love.

For some, it worked. Others said, she blew it. Those who know her well, say she’s nervous, testy, self-destructive opening nights. Catch her the night after. Different show. The night after, she cursed out the first night audience. Divine.

This actually happened. Following the last Palace opening night curtain call, a certain 40-ish sometime movie star whom we all know and some of us love, walked into Joe Allen’s Restaurant accompanied by four divine escorts. They ordered dinner.

The movie star, throughout her meal, paid little attention to her dates, but focused her experienced eyes on the hunky black waiter who served them. When it came time for dessert, the waiter approached the table and asked the movie star “what would you like?”

The star grabbed his wrist and answered. “I wouldn’t like dessert.”

“How about coffee?” asked the waiter.

“Uh, huh,” blinked the star:

“How would you like it’?”

“I like my coffee the way I like my men.” responded the star.

“I’m sorry,” said the waiter, “we don’t serve gay coffee.”

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