American Swing is a very stimulating, as it were, documentary about the rise and fall of Plato’s Retreat, the legendary New York sex club where couples would pick at a bad buffet in between “swinging” in the Mattress Room and brazenly doing stuff generally reserved for the gays.
How did this happen? “People are horny,” director Matthew Kaufman told me in a sexy interview last week. “In the ’70s, people experimented with things. There was a want for it.” “Sexual activity increases in an economic crisis,” chirped his co-director, Jon Hart. That’s good news for us! And it’s not exactly surprising, seeing as sex is free—except for Eliot Spitzer.
Driving the club—and eventually a cab—was the owner, Larry Levenson, who, just like Studio 54’s Steve Rubell, was personable, camera-hungry, doomed, and hid money from the IRS. “Rubell might be the guy running the deli franchise,” said Kaufman, “and Larry was the guy behind the counter. He’s the guy at Zabar’s giving you a taste.” Yeah, of a tongue sandwich!
His patrons were equally colorful, so the film is filled with engaging eccentrics who aren’t necessarily beautiful, because you didn’t have to look good to go to Plato’s. “We’re hoping John Waters sees the film and picks us up!” said Hart. (Meaning, as collaborators.)
That will be the last reference here to any project involving heterosexual sex for at least two paragraphs. Let’s move on to Rentboy.com’s Hookie Awards for male escorts, which are sort of the Oscars for real whores, not just sluts and sellouts. At the Splash event last Friday, the Holocaust may not have won, but it did help to have a circumcised penis.
And what a bunch of comely ‘hos turned out to drop their PayPal accounts and pick up some honors for one glorious night! As the winners grabbed their Hookies and tried to articulate their gratitude, you thought, “God, they have no personality whatsoever! And it doesn’t matter!” The crowd cheered as Tom the German Hunk won for Best Rentboy.com Ad, Cory Koons took Best Ass (“I want to thank bacon fat,” he gushed), and Barrett Long copped Biggest Dick, thanks to a noodle as big as a Minute Maid container and supposedly twice as delicious. As for Biggest Prick, I’d imagine Bernie Madoff edged out Chris Brown.
The next night, I hustled my way into the Imperial Court’s spectacular Night of a Thousand Gowns, where Jackie Hoffman was onstage saying she’d replaced Lea DeLaria in the show because “Lea took out her tits and tripped.” But everyone else at the drag pageant kept their boobies on, from Robyn Cradles to Farrah Moans, though at the silent auction in the side room, some people did manage to remove the credit cards from their cleavage.
One Life to Live‘s Robin Strasser had donated a portrait of herself plus a signed People cover of Susan Lucci, which she told me she’d bought at another charity auction, where no one was bidding on it. Well, here, the Strasser piece was up to $1,500, while the Lucci one once again had gotten zero bids! “You mean I have to buy that bitch again?” Strasser said, laughing.
People are paying top dollar to see West Side Story again, even though the two leads don’t exactly have grande chemistry and the only bad lyric (“Smoke on your pipe and put that in”) was strangely kept in English. But you would deserve a prop gun in your culo for quibbles like those: However you feel about the literal additions of Spanish and genital-grabbing, and about the eternal weirdness of chorus boys trying to be gang members, you’d be loco not to admit that the soaring music, dancing, and message still make you like to be in America.
At the gala’s opening-night bash at Pier 60, Mad Men‘s Bryan Batt told me he loved “every little dancer on that stage! I loved Maria [Josefina Scaglione].” “Could she turn you straight?” I wondered, coyly. “That would be going a little far,” Batt said with a grin.
Safely gay Avenue Q co-writer Jeff Whitty told me he’s working on the musical version of Tales of the City, “and we’re keeping everything in—like Mother Mucca, the whorehouse madam who turns out to be Mrs. Madrigal’s mother.” Sounds like another great role for Patti LuPone.
There’s a strong cast in God of Carnage, but it’s a slick and rather obvious piece, in which two couples discussing a fight between their children devolve into their own barbaric acts of screaming and violence. The paying customers (like the critics) have been lapping up the sledgehammer approach, wildly applauding the scene in which one character spews vomit into a bowl. (No, it wasn’t me, but it easily could have been.)
On a higher plane, there was a meet-and-greet for Mary Stuart—a sort of female Frost/Nixon, with Janet McTeer as Mary Queen of Scots and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth I, courtesy of the director of Mamma Mia!. Over cucumber sandwiches that must have been shipped in from Blithe Spirit, Broadway favorite John Benjamin Hickey—who plays the Earl of Leicester—told me McTeer and Walter have been admirably open-minded about rehearsing with a whole new cast. “They’re great queens,” he said, “and I’ve done plays with queens before. Fill in the joke.” (I don’t know—maybe something about Hickey having been in that Judy Garland TV movie.)
His worst job ever? “There was that Renaissance fair,” Hickey obliged. “And remember the Cadillac Bar on 21st Street? I was a waiter there in the ’80s when tequila was new, as well as every possible drug. I subsisted on shooters—tequila and 7-Up. The place got so famous so fast, we were overwhelmed.” Did he get lots of tips, at least? “It wasn’t just tips,” he said. “We’d take $50 from customers and forget to put it in the computer sometimes. I put my hand in the Mexican till!” Fill in the joke.
Visions of tequila and 7-Up shooters brought me to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame annex for a private viewing of Elvis Presley memorabilia being auctioned by Gotta Have It, with no Susan Lucci photos for miles. The most interesting piece was a poem Elvis wrote on his own stationery, a charmingly sadistic gem he used as his outgoing answering-machine message. It’s about a robin chirping on Elvis’s windowsill, who “sang his sweet song so sweetly and paused for a moment’s lull/I gently raised the window and crushed his fucking skull.” Beep.
Yet one more time-tunnel trip beckoned when I got invited to a Big Apple Conventions–hosted “Lewis family celebration” with Jerry’s real Jerry’s kids. I got to meet Suzan Lewis, 57, who had a breakdown when she was told at 24 that Jerry Lewis was her dad (wouldn’t you?) and ended up legally disabled, homeless, and living in her car in Florida until recently. (Hey, lady!) Plus there was Jerry’s son, singer Gary Lewis, who complied with Inside Edition’s idea to DNA-test him and Suzan, resulting in an 88.7 percent match—though one look at Suzan’s Lewis-like face and you don’t even need to take swabs.
“I don’t know why he won’t acknowledge this,” Gary told me about his goofball dad. “There’s nothing to lose.” Maybe he doesn’t want to remind the world that he cheated on Gary’s mom? “But he was a tremendous womanizer,” said Gary. “My mom told me all the time.” He probably frequented the Mattress Room!