The mother of us all, Rona Barrett, helped put a face—and frosted hair—on gossip as a pioneering entertainment journalist in the ’60s and ’70s. A yenta to beat all yentas, she came across like your glamorous Aunt Sadie who just happened to have all sorts of big-name stars in the palm of her manicured hand. After stints on Good Morning America, the Today Show, and Entertainment Tonight, Rona jumped the dish treadmill and moved with her husband to Santa Barbara County, where their ranch is filled with horses, buffalo, and cows in lieu of models and movie stars. Was she burnt out? “You can say that,” she told me by phone last week. “I needed to take a rest and smell the roses—although this time I smelled the lavender!”
See, lavender has unexpectedly provided a comeback for the onetime gossip queen, giving me—the current scuttlebutt goddess—more conviction in my plan to market parsley in my twilight years. Barrett’s been cranking out the light purple plant for Lavender by Rona, a line of skin care and food products that benefits SIN (Seniors in Need)—pretty much the same thing I’ll be benefiting. Can the food products also be used as skin care and vice versa? “No,” she said, “unless you’re one of those people who like to put mayonnaise on your hair to give it a shine. It’s a lot better on a great sandwich or potato salad.”
Not mentioning the BLT in my bonnet, I asked Barrett how the response to mayonnaise—I mean gossip—has changed since her hotsy-totsy heyday. She said dish was so second-class back then that when she reported the first divorce in the royal family, it was virtually ignored, “but when Cronkite said it six months later, it was big-time.” Today, gossip’s more worshiped and adored, but so are all those yucky publicists—though on the bright side, flacks have helped Rona hawk her stuff at food shows from San Francisco to the Javits Center. “When people tasted the products,” said our lady of the lavender, “it was yum, yum, yum, and then it was order, order, order!” Just wait till they smell my parsley.
The rest of my week in mayhem smelled of armpits, champagne, and me giving lots of orders, orders, orders. The fake fur was flying over at Crouching Bitches, the sort-of-monthly Tuesday-night event hosted by a woman known as Call Me Audrey at Fun, the mod little club in a picturesque spot under the Manhattan Bridge. The uniquely nutty bash encourages fashionistas to wrestle each other before a screaming throng, their tangles underlining the potential viciousness involved in being gorgeous and the fact that something as simple as the right pants set could truly be something to kill over.
I helped judge the proceedings as well-heeled pairs took to the mat to fight for their right to accessorize. First off was Tom Fraud—a leather-vested designer knockoff who claimed to represent Gucci Youth—versus Jonah, a shaved-headed guy in a zippered jumpsuit who said he’d go naked, but only with a female partner. It was a tie. “I don’t see any erections thus far except for my own,” announced the mildly dispirited MC, Mr. Mickey. Boners were more prevalent when a kook named the Reverend Jen, chicly sporting an American-flag bodysuit, lost to a scary if well-put-together lady named the Masked Scorpion, though I think it was rigged, since Jen came prepared with her own stretcher to be carried out on.
Next up, author Jennifer Blowdryer wore a fetching pink boa but was creamed by Girl Monday, a fashionable gal with a white lace-up bodice, nipple rings, and a deceptively smiley-faced aggression. And a seemingly wasted guy in his briefs was toppled by his casually dressed female friend, who yanked down those Calvins to provide a glimpse of a very special hidden dragon. Yum, yum, yum! And what have we learned? That no matter what you’re wearing, the only good look is on top!
Speaking of frightful looks, the National Enquirer had inquiring egg on its face last week when it ran a picture of Kembra Phaler, the dementedly masked and made-up star of the band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black—she could easily wrestle—with a caption saying she’s Karen Black, the actress. I love them both, but Karen Black, the actress, hasn’t looked like that since Trilogy of Terror. . . . You want real terror? The most disingenuous television in years is the proliferation of shows proclaiming, “Is the media devoting too much attention to Chandra Levy? Tune in to our six-hour study and find out.”
Here’s a much quicker piece of insight from a music biz insider: Gay members of boy bands always have girlfriends. This way, they can easily explain why they never sleep with all those female groupies. (“Because Janie would get really upset!”) . . . I took my girlfriend to Christie’s to check out the Hollywood memorabilia but realized I can’t fit into Bette Davis’s gowns—I’m too big—nor can the golden calf from The Ten Commandments (no, not Charlton Heston) fit into my apartment, which is too small. There’s always Eddie Munster’s purple fright suit.
Wear Rona Barrett’s lavender products to Man Ray, the trendy new restaurant that’s very Tao crossed with Auntie Mame’s den, with lighting so bright that movie stars would have to be crazy to go there. (I guess that’s why the place is attracting crazy movie stars.) The food? Tomato sorbet, mint pea puree, and other stuff that would look great in your hair!
Sport a giant tease for Music From a Sparkling Planet and enjoy it, though the play has elements that are weary (the three central losers endlessly discuss old sitcoms), stereotypical (the gay character adores opera and decor), and heavy-handed. But J. Smith-Cameron is super as the “Delaware Valley Greta Garbo,” and there’s some poetry to be found in the play’s longing for the past’s vision of the future. Yes, a mixed review.
But my three thumbs are way up for the fact that drag queen humor has apparently infiltrated the hetero mainstream. You want proof? When I closed my eyes during Amanda Green‘s show at Second Stage Theatre last week, I could have sworn I was in one of my beloved drag clubs watching a naughty, bawdy trannie entertainer. But Amanda, the daughter of Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman, happens to be a biological female—a slinky urban blond with high heels and lofty (if raunchy) wit. With the help of guest stars, Green presented her song about gynecology (I swear the words meat curtain were worked into the lyrics), her version of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (“Who’s That Guy Sleeping in My Bed?”), and the plaintive lament of a gay sperm donor (“I always stayed away from minors/I thought we both agreed that I don’t care for vaginers”). But there were heartfelt ballads too, making for an evening so diversely fun, in a cabaret-y way, that I left humming the evening’s title tune, “Put a Little Love in Your Mouth!” And some mayo on your hair.
But the most surreal image of the week was at the premiere of Greenfingers, a Trudie Styler-coproduced Full Monty-type flick involving prisoners who garden. Before the movie, a Rikers Island inmate with a green thumb got up to beamingly announce, “A group of ex-offenders created this bouquet for Trudie Styler!” I grabbed it, to turn into skin care products.