ARCHIVE: Ready Again for Her Close-Up

Madame-1-288By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit July 7, 2009)

One of the most thrilling parts — well, maybe the only thrilling part— of bringing you these near-daily updates here in Red Bank oRBit has been the opportunity to meet and talk with entertainers from all walks of show business. From Hollywood veterans like Robert Wagner to the girl from our daughter’s algebra class who just got a record deal, they’re all interesting people who’ve got an intriguing take on life, and the pleasure and the privilege is ours.

But a legend? The chance to chat with a legend — and we use the word most judiciously — comes along only once in a lifetime, if that. It’s the kind of phone call you dress up for; and when we found out from her publicist that Madame would consent to being interviewed for our local arts/entertainment website, well, we flossed for that one.

For those who need freshening up, Madame — and really, was a second name ever even necessary? — is the grande dame of stage and screen who famously found a renewed career momentum in the 1970s and 80s through her association with the late comic ventriloquist Wayland Flowers. The iconic figure who famously listed her favorite pursuits as “men, drinking, entertaining, entertaining men who’ve been drinking” was all over the tube in those days; from talk and variety shows to countless episodes of The Hollywood Squares, and even her very own sitcom, Madame’s Place.

Through it all, this polished performer captivated America’s imagination with her brash, opinionated, tell-it-like-it-is persona — a lover of life (and lover of legions) whose refusal to let go the spotlight made her a funnier, friendlier Norma Desmond for a generation brought up on Solid Gold.

With Wayland’s passing in 1988, Madame went into a self-imposed seclusion that only recently ended with her first tour of live shows in years. With a new man on her arm (handler Rick Skye) and a renewed sense of purpose, the diva returns with her cabaret show Madame With an E!

It’s a breathlessly anticipated production that comes to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park this Thursday, July 9 (with an encore engagement on August 13) — and a show about which the Emmy winning star promises “something new, something borrowed, and something oh-so-very blue. So leave the little ones at home or I guess you could crack the window and leave them in the car.”

Red Bank oRBit spoke to this entertainment industry evergreen during morning cocktail hour; Continue Reading for best results.

Rick Skye MadameMadame pictured with new handler Rick Skye, and Skye in the guise of Liza Minelli for his own solo shows.

RED BANK ORBIT: Madame! What an honor it is to be able to speak with you. We’re all very excited about your upcoming appearances in Asbury Park, and I guess the first question would be why you decided that this was the right time to hit the road again and take it to the people?

MADAME: I stayed away too long! With the economy and the way everything is these days, well, we need to cheer up America!

Have you been here on the Jersey Shore previously? We’ve kind of been fixing it up for your arrival — in fact, the nightclub where you’ll be appearing was an old Howard Johnson’s a few years back.

Oh, I appeared just recently in Atlantic Citoi, and they welcomed me back with broken arms! Ha Ha! But I love coming to Asbury Park — I get such a diverse crowd. I’m bringing 31 flavors back to that old HoJo’s that Bob Egan booked me into!

But I love Bob! And I have such loyal fans in Asbury, you know, everybody who comes up to me says that they saw me with Wayland in 1975, 1976. I didn’t think so many people remembered me!

The gay crowd is certainly the most loyal part of your fanbase.

Oh, I know! I’ve been performing in Bucks County a lot, and all the time the kids were coming up to greet me — it was thrilling. I did a gay pride parade recently. I love the whole gay, LGB — what is it, Gay Lettuce Bacon Tomato? Whatever, I know it stands for something!

I think you’ve still got quite a few fans out there who have fond memories of MADAME’S PLACE.

One thing they don’t tell you when you do a sitcom, is that sit-com doesn’t include sit-down! I did 75 episodes in one season — poor Wayland was never off his back. That made two of us! Ha ha!

And there are still quite a few of us who remember all those episodes of SOLID GOLD.

Let me tell you, there’s no such thing as solid gold — only old, dyed platinum blonde!

But you did drop out of sight for a while there after Wayland passed.

It took me a long time to find a new partner and an even longer time to rehearse. You know when I lost Wayland I lost more than a handler — he was my friend. Sometimes I feel like he’s still up there inside of me.

Rick Skye, from what I know, has his own showbiz aspirations — and it must have meant a lot to him to have the opportunity to work with you, to put his own solo career on the back burner like that…

Rick’s got his thing going on, but, well, none of that upstaging for me when we’re working together. Rick’s gonna be in the dark. To even things out I let him write and direct — we’re not unionized you know!

A while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Hollywood legend Robert Wagner about his memoir — I took a look through the book and I was frankly surprised to find your name missing from his tales of his times with the great ladies of Tinseltown. It seems they’re all in there but you!

Oh, he had more Wood for me than he did for Natalie! Ha ha! Couldn’t mention it in the book.

He was so adorable back then, wasn’t he? What was he, 11 years old when he was inTitanic with Barbara Stanwyck? The ship went down and she went down on him! Ha ha!

One of the things we’ve always loved about you is that you’ve never been shy about your opinions on your fellow stars. You’ve always had a lot of advice to offer other celebrities, and I’m sure you’d love the chance to have a talk with some of the latest crop of young superstars…

They all could use a good talking to. Miss Lohan, well, she’s my second favorite actress. Who’s the first? Everybody else! Ha ha! And Britney, I hear she stopped taking the pill — it kept falling out! Ha ha!

Even when you were in semi-retirement, nobody else would dare do Madame on stage — you’ll see lots of tributes to Liza, Barbra, Judy, but there’s still only one Madame.

You can go out and do Judy Garland, but I’m still here — when I get out in front of a crowd, it’s like I never left. I did a show in Chicago in front of 1500 people, and they were doing all the old lines with me — you know, ‘Are those your summer diamonds?’ Well, summer diamonds, summer not. Ha ha!

I have to say that, for a classic star, you’ve always stayed hyper-current; always on top of new trends and ways to communicate.

Oh, I love the new technology! I have my web page, I do Sit On My Facebook, I’m on Twitter — I get so many tweets it feels like I have vibrating panty hose! Ha ha!

Really, I love to talk directly to the people and do it myself — because the old fashioned journalists, well, you know how they would always twist your words around.

Well, we appreciate that with Madame, you always know where you stand.

If you’re standing with Madame, you’re only getting the half of it! Seriously, we’re gonna do smasheroo business at our shows coming up, and I want all my fans to be there.

You’ve gotta get in a group of people, get out there and have a good time! We’re all too isolated these days — believe me, I know what it’s like to live your life inside a box, and there’s no substitute for having a good time and laughing together. That’s what’s been missing!