NY Mirror

Fred Phelps Sr., the ultra-sensitive minister who picketed Matthew Shepard's funeral, just rode his broomstick into Gotham and was met with bitter jeers from angry queers. With splinters in his ass, Phelps showed up at Anthology Film Archives, the home of the New York Underground Film Festival, to squawk about the fest's omission of a documentary about him called Fred the Movie. You'd think the happy harpy would protest the inclusion of a movie that scrutinizes him, but this one, amazingly enough, is fairly sympathetic. Alas, the festival organizers didn't think it was any good, and that somehow rang the shit out of Freddie's gaydar chimes.

"It's nothing but a gaggle of tired old fudgepackers and muffdivers trying to shock each other with their jaded filth," Phelps elegantly said about the fest, no doubt while savoring a big old fudge muffin. The guy's so ludicrous you have to laugh and let him carry on; as he goes to more and more demented extremes, he's making even the bitterest homophobes start rooting for the gays. Still, screaming back seemed irresistible, so Phelps's 16-person posse was met with three times as many anti-protesters, and honey, they were much better dressed.

From across the street, the freaks—his freaks, not our freaks—held up expectedly bonkers signs ("Thank God for Sept. 11," "Got AIDS Yet?") and an upside-down fag, I mean flag. "Your movie's terrible," yelled Ed Halter, the fest's director. "We got a lot of submissions this year. We're sorry! It needs a complete re-edit." It seemed like more explanation than they deserved, but Halter hit the mark later when he boomed, "Thanks for the publicity. We're sold out!" As the Phelps contingent finally crept away, one of our team declared, "You're not in Kansas anymore!" Well, hopefully they're not in New York anymore.

Broomstick cowboy: the reverend Fred Phelps (in hat) pickets the New York Underground Film Festival.
photo: Jay Kinney
Broomstick cowboy: the reverend Fred Phelps (in hat) pickets the New York Underground Film Festival.

But what the fuck, they should definitely come back here for some perennial perv-watches. I mean, they didn't even get around to protesting the theater season's bestiality romp d'estime, Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (though at least it's about a guy and a female goat). I found the ruminant rumination hilarious, though when the play wrapped, I thought of a few endings that would have made it even more nuttily funny. (Don't read this if you bravely plan to see it.) It would have been great if the wife (Mercedes Ruehl) dropped her revenge plan when she realized she found the creature alluring too. Even better, the murdered goat could turn out not to be Sylvia at all, which the hubby (Bill Pullman) would discover after giving it a test run in the sack. The result would be the ultimate bittersweet ending—good for hubby (Sylvia's still alive), but rotten for wifey (hubby not only does it with goats, he does it with dead ones). Or maybe Patti LuPone should just come out and solicit donations for the ASPCA.

In any case—the son's named Billy, by the way—I tracked down Mercedes Ruehl at the premiere of her Court TV movie, Guilt by Association, where she told me that stories about an actual goat being used in previews were the result of b-a-a-a-d reporting. "It was never a live goat," said Ruehl. "It was an effigy of a totally synthetic dead goat, suitable to the PETA people. After a while, it looked like a bison." And that would be a whole other bestiality romp.

And now, a turkey? No, despite the reviews, Sweet Smell of Success is mediocre-to-watchable, hampered mainly by so-so songs, bland ingenues, and a Greek chorus hammering home the grisly themes. But the leads—John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James—are compelling in their amorality; the show outs Adlai Stevenson; and it's refreshing to return to a time when gossip columnists had the power and publicists were crawling for a piece of it, not vice versa. In fact, the musical's such an homage to the impact of dirt that I practically orgasmed on lyrics like "Got to get in the column." The main problem? The non-watered-down, non-spelled-out old movie version sings by itself, especially since Darva Conger's mother's in it. (I hope the play's publicist isn't mad I said that!)

Also set in 1952, Mr. Goldwyn tries to make a bold-faced name—studio head Samuel Goldwyn—leap off the page, but instead he just limps. It's another of those one-person-plus-secretary shows in which a legend, on the verge of some late-life crisis, tells us his story, with lots of cute anecdotes and insider name-dropping. ("Mr. Goldwyn, Lucille Ball's on the phone.") Include me out.

Meanwhile, the future Hollywood Babylon chapter known as Liza Minnelli's wedding—got to get into the columns—should have been stopped and everyone there arrested for enabling it. This was dysfunctional overkill at its tawdriest, and I'm furious that I wasn't invited. I stood outside and threw things, then choo-chooed up to the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack to see another tabloid star, Kathie Lee Gifford, appear in Rupert Holmes's mystery comedy Thumbs (which aims to be a Vermont cabin thriller spoof-meets-Fargo). Halter-clad Kathie Lee plays a shrewish TV star who puts sawed-off fingers into a jar of Vienna sausages before being handcuffed to the sofa. Hubby Frank sat behind me, chortling throughout, pausing during intermission to tell a friend that his grandchildren are way older than some of his children!

More kooky casting news: Sylvia Miles is guesting on Sex and the City, Roberta Wallach will turn Italian for The Sopranos, and Laura Branigan performed at the Homocorps gay rock night at CBGB. Why? "Because I slept with her agent," promoter Dean Johnson told me at the Betty Page Realness contest next door. I so admire people who keep it in the species.

Rosie O'Donnell did great keeping it in the gender on Prime Time Live, except—you knew there'd be an except—she demonized the "gay activists" who prodded her out (you know, me); said she hopes her kids will be straight because the world's homophobic, but then admitted she's never been the brunt of any anti-gay bias; kept emphasizing how unimportant her gayness is; and claimed that her Tom Cruise shtick wasn't meant sexually, but pretty much confirmed that it was by adding, "He makes my palms sweat. He makes my heart beat." But who cares? She was articulate and out and has even become, yep, a gay activist.

Kids of all genders loved the Ice Age premiere bash, which came replete with frozen foods and a DJ playing "Ice Ice Baby." John Leguizamo, who does the voice of the sloth, told me his lisp was different from the one he used as Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge. "That was a dental, this one's a lateral," he thaid, thimply. Standing laterally, I asked Ice Age's co-director, Chris Wedge, if some of the movie's creatures—no, there's no goat—might be gay, specifically the foofy rhinoceroses. "They appreciate a good late-harvest salad," he conceded. A very sick protest is under way.

But before we picket Alicia Keys too, let's take off our head-wraps and do some serious examining. An Atlanta club source tells me that Keys didn't go into her after-party there because, as a frontman allegedly divulged, there were too many gay people "and she doesn't want to be associated with that image." Keys responds that she's against any bigotry and she didn't leave her car only for security reasons. Thank God—otherwise her career would start "fallin'," prompting a rapid move to Kansas.

Extra Item: Here's more about Liza Minnelli and David Gest's wedding at Marble Collegiate Church, as glamorously seen from across the street. The A-list (the bridal party and other superstars) were ushered in through the side entrance, while the B-list (forgotten movie and TV stars) went in the main way, so you know where I was positioned. In this prime spot, I was mostly bombarded with the sight of people you didn't know were still alive (My Little Margie's Gale Storm, Mildred Pierce's Ann Blyth—basically all the same folks who were at Mama's weddings). Little Mickey Rooney showed up around the same time as diminutive Paul Williams, so we got to see for all time that Rooney's way shorter. Sixties legend Petula Clark got no applause of recognition from the crowd, while David Hasselhoff was greeted with a rousing ovation. And Dominick Dunne turned up, cementing one's suspicion that this was a crime scene. I kept scrutizing the arrivals from the (David) Gest list to see if he's indeed a friend of Dorothy, but whatever the case, there were tons of gays running around—and this on Fifth Avenue, the same day as the St. Patrick's Day Parade! That redeemed the whole mummified circus, which one sardonic onlooker compared to the card party in Sunset Boulevard, though he stayed for hours. Not me—I left when Joan Collins arrived with her young beau and said she hopes Liza and David will be as happy as they are.

Furthermore: As she reminded us on Wednesday night's Larry King Live, Liza is an old-school pro who always gives the impression that everything's completely peachy while not offering any concrete information about anything. To lovable Liza, wedding no-shows like her half-sister Lorna Luft and singer Whitney Houston are simply close friends who were understandably busy. And Liza was all goo-goo-eyed about the wedding itself, expressing amazement that it seemed to spontaneously bloom into a gigantic expression of joy (though it was planned as a star-laden spectacle and flogged to death for months). Asked if the affair was too hyped, Liza looked dumbfounded and said, "For who?" Cutest of all, she said it was sort of an offering to New York in the wake of 9-11 and the after-party on Wall Street was hubby David Gest's nice gesture to a hard-hit area!

Larry alternated between gushing over how happy Liza looked and going in for the kill with questions about whether she's just repeating Mamma's bad patterns (which Liza just evaded, naturally). Finally, Gest came out—I mean emerged—and told a mean story about how he met Liza when he thought she was overweight and off-key, and he had to audition her to be on that Michael Jackson freakshow tribute he produced! Asked about the gay rumors, Gest simply said that he and Liza have their own world and "I know who I am and she knows who she is." But does she know who he is?

Another extra item: Rosie O'Donnell has made waves fighting for gay adoption with her recent coming-out brouhaha. But here comes a setback: Rosie provided the narration for one of this year's Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Subjects—Lianne Klapper McNally's Artists and Orphans: A True Drama. It's about a theater group that travels to the Republic of Georgia and tries to help the country's orphaned and abandoned children. Alas, Klapper, star Sharon Gans, and all the other artists reportedly belong to the Fourth Way School, which self-described cult expert Rick Ross recently told MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls is deeply racist and homophobic; it "has excluded black members and will accept gays only if they are interested in changing their sexual preference." I spoke to a former member of the school, who backed up these claims. As of press time, Klapper hadn't returned a request for comment and Gans couldn't be reached.

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