A return visit to the East Village drag boîte Lucky Cheng’s unearthed an alterna-theme restaurant for those vividly functional families who want to celebrate birthdays with trannies in their laps. It’s the Giuliani dream gone awry in the cutest way possible. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a metal-mouthed preteen tourist from Dubuque applauding wildly as Daddy joins a drag-queen line dance. Of course not all the attendees are quite so high-heel-ready—at first. One recent night, MC Baby Jane Doe yanked an unwilling stud from the audience and remade him in drag, while Doe’s cohort Barbara’s Bush sang, “Boy, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” The guy squirmed and recoiled the whole time—and then was forced to perform a lip-synch rendition of “I Will Survive”! He barely moved his mortified mouth while doing so, but by the end of the evening, he seemed pretty much ready to live as a woman.
By the time Wigstock—a/k/a the Million Drag March—came around, the guy was probably onstage; lordy knows practically every other well-trained trannie in America was up there, synching and dancing. As sure as I’m the king of queens, the daylong performance was diverse and loving—that is, except for dance diva Ultra Naté reading me (for last year’s write-up) and also for a succession of jokes certain drag queens told that were so hateful I simply have to repeat them all right now: “Did you hear about Princess Di? She did.” “Why is Rosie O’Donnell such a cunt? Because you are what you eat.” “What’s white and dribbles down the bathroom wall? George Michael‘s latest release.” And as for Paula Jones, “I don’t see how a girl with a six-inch nose can give a blowjob to a guy with a three-inch dick.” Neither do I, but let’s stop with these hideous remarks right now because I am deeply offended, and besides I can’t remember any more!
I hope the biggest joke of all wasn’t the mid-Wigstock search for a drag queen to feature on the Virgin Cola cans—a wonderfully progressive move that put the bevy (of beauties) back in beverage. The problem was that the audience was asked to pick a winner from three finalists chosen by me and some other eccentric judges, and they loudly favored a fabulous old drag queen in a satin Chinese blouse and a showgirl wig—but then a much younger sprite with a birdcage on her head was announced the winner! A Virgin rep later told me that the audience response was actually only one part of the deciding vote, and by that point I was willing to accept it, let go of the pain, and head for the free cola. So was Wigstock host Lady Bunny, who was thrilled to be involved in the whole shebang because “Virgin’s not a word that’s been associated with my name for a while—though coke certainly has.”
I may appear to be a virgin when it comes to serious theater, but in reality I’m quite seasoned. In fact, when the press release for Stupid Kids likened the play to Dawson’s Creek, there I was in the front row, all ready to applaud the acne. The show—with various conflicted youths up shit’s creek—mocks teen angst in stylized ways that are directed into a veritable ballet of raging insecurity. I cringed a lot, thinking it was all way too much, until the evening developed poignance and started celebrating soulful outcasts over human Barbie dolls. By the end, I gave in to all the suburban anxiety and was prepared to beg friends to go up this creek.
And swimming uptown proved even more exhilarating when I got to meet with film icon Janet Leigh at the Essex House, which is as far from suburbia—not to mention the Bates Motel and the fleabag dive in Touch of Evil—as you can get on my ratty bicycle. “I haven’t done very well by motels,” Leigh told me, laughing. “Between the two pictures, I almost could have put them out of business.”
The classy Leigh is every bit as glam as you’d hope, and she’s everywhere all of a sudden, talking about the Psycho remake, her recent stint with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween: H20, and Touch of Evil, the mesmerizing Orson Welles flick (being revived at Film Forum in a version with Welles’s own asked-for changes) that has Leigh as the gang-raped wife of Mexican narc Charlton Heston. When the genius melodrama came out in ’58, it was unceremoniously dumped by know-nothing movie execs. “The studio did everything they could to ignore it,” Leigh told me. “They didn’t even want to say they made it!” Over the years, though, it’s developed a classic patina, but more recently, it ran into a whole new brick wall when Welles’s daughter managed to block the showing of the new version at Cannes. As Leigh put it, “She wanted a little money,” but fortunately, whatever the girl wants, she can’t harm us here in America.
I asked Leigh what it was like to work in Welles’s motel as opposed to Hitchcock’s, and she said Orson brought out passion in people, while “Mr. Hitchcock had every shot planned and storyboarded. He had a miniature model of all the sets and knew exactly how his camera was going to tell the story. In his thinking, the camera’s the star and we’re the characters that play in front of it.”
I doubt that the new Psycho will be quite as methodical and brilliant, but Leigh won’t attack the remake, and feels the press exercised a touch of evil when they exaggerated her remarks about it. Says she, “They asked me, ‘Are you going to go to the opening of the new picture?’ I said, ‘Well, no.’ They immediately wrote, ‘Janet Leigh won’t go to see the new Psycho because she’s so upset!’ But my reasoning was that this is their night. To go to the opening would only dilute their project. I have nothing to do with it.” It’s not that she’s mad about it—she wouldn’t hurt a fly.
She’s never seen the work of Anne Heche, who’s playing her doomed blond character Marion, “but I’ve heard she’s very talented. I don’t know the boy, either [Vince Vaughn], but I gather he’s very talented too. And I’ve seen [director] Gus Van Sant‘s work, so I know he’s talented.”
And we know that Jamie Lee Curtis is talented too, but, um, er, is it true that she was multitalented at birth? I mean, um, er, did she need someone to sing “Boy, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” as she went through some early transformation? I mean, um, er, how did those silly rumors start, the ones saying Jamie Lee was born a, you know, hermaphrodite? (I’d rehearsed this question all week, by the way, even planning the calculatedly carefree giggle that accompanied it—though my delivery was thrown off a bit when the Voice photographer plugged up her ears and said, “I’m not going to listen! I’m not going to listen!”) Ever the lady, Leigh laughed with me. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it was the name. At that time, we didn’t know ahead of time if it would be a girl or a boy, so when I was pregnant with Kelly, my best friend Jackie Gershwin said, ‘Why don’t you call the baby Kelly, so if it’s a girl, it works, and if it’s a boy, it works?’ And she thought the same thing with Jamie. The babies were named before they were born because Jackie said, ‘This way, we won’t have to worry about it!’ ” Janet Leigh—all woman, all diva, all star—thank you for indulging this big-town stupid kid. May you never have to come across a motel, a shower, a director’s daughter, a remake, or that question ever again
Michael Musto can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 1998