Betsey got wetsy in the Hamptons the other day—but I’m getting ahead of myself. See, the preternaturally youthful design legend Betsey Johnson had a birthday bash-cum-fashion gala at her East Hampton home, and the splash was felt all around the tristate area. The house and grounds were filled with Betsey-clad tableaux vivants, as if the place had been haunted by feisty fashionistas.
Up by the Jacuzzi, Betsey herself was the epicenter of attention in a blue chiffon dress and tiara, posing for photogs and wondering, “Chin up? No, I had the face-lift!” And she’s had other famous surgeries; the dynamo remembered that “right on that bed in the next room is where I was feeling around my titties because one had burst. I was lucky!” As is now legend, after the implant deflated, the designer found a lump, resulting in early detection of breast cancer. Betsey’s philosophy these days? “Screw it, do it—it’s later than you think!” She also said she’s going to scatter her ashes in the backyard—but not for a long time. (Not me; I want to be placed upright against a garbage pail. Soon.)
All scatter-brained, I asked Betsey if her daughter, Lulu Johnson, is really taking over the business. “My business is mega people,” she said. “Not one person takes over. She’s part of the great team. She’s the figurehead, the idea girl, la la la.” But not the new Betsey right now. “I think the Women’s Wear Daily piece was quite accurate,” interjected some socialite as a rebuke to my even having asked.
Humbled, la la la, I went down by the pool for the fashion show, which had bewigged young skinnies disappearing into the poolhouse to shed a layer and reemerge in Betsey bikinis. For her customarily bonkers finale, B.J. cartwheeled right into the water, where she was buoyed by spirits, not implants. It was a welcome diversion in the Hamptons, where it’s usually all about getting the most ostentatious house you can find, then covering it with shrubs so no one can see it. Betsey’s the besty!
Frolicsome fun kept me afloat back in the city too—chins up!—where the Comedy Garden’s Fruit Salad show put the ha-ha-ha back into ho-ho-homosexuality. There were lively turns by Marga Gomez (“You can think of me as a butch Ricky Martin”), Jim David (“Dubya outlined his corporate plan last week—then he colored it”), and even Colette Hawley, a straight woman who seemed gay, especially when doing a wicked imitation of Kathleen Turner at ground zero. (“We need flashlights, cigarettes, liquor . . . “)
All lights are now on Caroline Rhea, who’s replacing Rosie O’Donnell as a talk-show host (albeit in a lousy time slot), though she won’t be coming out anytime soon. “I’m a big, boring hetero,” Rhea just told me for Out magazine. But the comic likes to be around the gays; she admitted that she used to “have a catalytic effect on men. I’m the opposite of a doorstop. I’d send them right out of that closet.” To wit, her first boyfriend became a gay activist in Canada. And her mom used to say stuff like, “Darling, your friend Gary’s on the phone. I think the r is silent.” But Rhea’s engaged now and not worried about her fiancé at all—or about her show; she just had a big promo party at the Hudson and told me her premiere episode will feature a guy who’s “huge.” Marlon Brando? No, not that huge. (By the way, Rosie was at the party with a new hairdo that will make her look softer as she raises all kinds of hell.)
Overheard at Wonder Bar: “Anna Nicole Smith is so stupid. When she speaks, it’s completely illegible!” But her show is still way fun, especially since she doesn’t seem to be surrounded by a single straight person. For backup, I called Bobby Trendy—the flamboyant designer who does her house—and he was very Bobby and very trendy, not to mention extremely luxurious, his favorite word on the show. How did he become friends with Anna Nicole? “Someone saw me in Celebrity Homes and thought I’d be good for her,” he said, almost sounding as ethereal as she does. “She’s sweet and nice to me—like a young girl that’s having fun and enjoying the summer. It’s summer!” (He shot that out as if rallying back to fabulousness.)
Trendy’s background? “I’m a small-town boy from Valencia, California, and I worked at Kmart until I was 16. I found that the ’80s was frozen yogurt, the ’90s was coffee, and now it’s home this, home that. I have a flair for exuberant tastes, so I thought I should have a home store.” Between the Kmart and E!, Trendy spent some time in New York, where “I was one of the first people on The Rolonda Watts Show.” Unless I misunderstood, he said he was also on Geraldo with the club kids, which was odd, since I starred on those shows and don’t remember him. Later, he clarified that TV producers “never really put me on with the club kids. They put me with the trannies.” Whatever, even more press is pouring in these days. “I can’t believe a radio station in Chicago was calling me for an interview!” exulted Trendy. Luxurious!
More drudgery than luxury, The Boys From Syracuse might be the shabbiest musical revival since Bells Are Ringing; it’s this close to torture by toga. But then there’s Hairspray, whose buoyant success seems to be eliminating everyone’s frizzy blues. (It’s summer!) Honey, if you had told me a John Waters movie would become a hit Broadway musical, I would have said, “Yeah, right, and Harvey Fierstein will play the lead in drag.” But now that the unimaginable’s happened, I’m beside myself. Waters’s subversive wit reached new levels with that movie, which added sweetness and meaning to his hot formula of spoofy grotesqueness. The show is a somewhat different animal, mind you—it comes at you like a fat, drag Mack truck, a well-oiled machine that’s Broadway all the way, but it’s got cleverness and candy-colored talent on nonstop a-go-go. Pretending to be a tale of enlightened whites forcing other whites to accept integration in the ’60s, it’s really about sophisticated gays forcing straights to accept camp in the ’00s, but baby, it works, snap-snap (especially since there are two Gypsy homages and a Waters vocal cameo)!
The cast and crew even spew camp dialogue offstage. At the Roseland opening-night party, composer Marc Shaiman said, “I’m an old Jew. I like to worry and complain. Harvey thinks on my gravestone it’ll say, ‘I was better last night.’ But these days I’m happy and smiling. Talk to me in an hour!” Fierstein—who’s a slow-burning riot as Edna—told me, “For the finale, I wear 35 extra pounds of fat, the wig is six pounds, the dress is 10 pounds, and the lashes alone can kill you. But when I catch myself in the mirror . . . it’s worth it!” Linda Hart, who plays the evil racist, told me, “In real life, I’m not blond, I’m not a bitch, and my father pastors a black church!” (Thank God life doesn’t imitate twat.) Finally, Waters himself came in and looked bemused by the paparazzi-laden spectacle around him, a far cry from the filthiest people alive. (Or was it?) What next—Pink Flamingos the musical? “I want to do that as an opera,” he said. “Actually, somebody already did. I have it on tape.” I hear the dogshit-eating aria is extraordinary!
Really finally, Susanne Bartsch threw an after-after-party for the show at Escuelita, with spectacular displays of drag queens and downtown chubbettes with high hair and ironing boards further blurring the division between legit and underground. Screw it, do it—it’s gayer than you think!