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Madonna Interview : Vanity Fair (April 1990)

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1990

So far, pop icon Madonna has been a movie star in search of a movie. That’s about to change with her role as Breathless Mahoney in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Getting into a new groove, the combustible star burns up Helmut Newton’s lens and opens her heart to Kevin Sessmus.

You reach the house by driving up into the Hollywood Hills as far as you can go. It is, of course, At the Top. Like Madonna herself, it is surprisingly small, startlingly white, all modern angles and hard edges. Everywhere, there is an exquisite incongruity. Outside, a black Mercedes 560SL is parked next to a coral-colored ’57 Thunderbird; inside, twentieth-century art performs a visual pas de deux with eighteenth-century Italian furniture. Catholic candles, tackily embossed with saints, dot the house’s sophisticated rooms. On a kitchen counter, audiotapes of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth lie stacked beside rap tapes by Public Enemy.
Atop her work desk is a portrait of her mother, who died of cancer when Madonna was six. “My memories of her drift in and out,” she admits.
“When I turned thirty. which was the age my mother was when she died, I just flipped because I kept thinking I’m now outliving my mother. I thought something horrible was going to happen to me. Like this is it, my time is up. It was a tough year last year. I was going through so many things… and my divorce… Next to her mother’s picture are two vintage photos of her very Italian-looking father, with whom she has always had a difficult relationship.
“Since I was seventeen and moved to New York, I haven’t needed his help,” she says. turning on her tough act.
“We’re the closest when I’m in a very vulnerable state. The great thing is that when I am, he’s there for me. The rest of the time I roam around the world like a miniature tank.”
Next to the portraits of her parents is a recent picture of the tanklike Madonna posing naked, sunlit, beneath a black gauze shirt. The largest photo on the desk, however, is from her childhood: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone trying on her mother’s wedding dress, her innocence already smothered in its first swarm of lace.
As we walk from room to room. I am reminded of what Pauline Kael wrote about the way Madonna moved “regally, an indolent, trampy goddess,” through her first feature film, Desperately Seeking Susan. There is no trace of the indolence left, and only a bit of the trampiness. The regalness, however, has matured into a bearing so secure that she seems to be trailing an invisible train in her wake.
Outside her bathroom, hung on the wall above a Nadelman sculpture, is the photograph given to her on her thirty-first birthday by her Uber-beau, Warren Beatty. It is a picture by Ilse Bing of a group of women in diaphanous gowns caught performing a la Matisse’s The Dance. She points to the woman whose head is thrown farther back than the others’, her hands not exactly clasped in the thrall of collaboration. The woman obviously wants the attention all to herself, and Bing has captured that blissful desire perfectly. Madonna tilts her head at the same angle and breezes past the photograph. “Warren
says she reminds him of me. I don’t know why.”
The bathroom is the size of most bedrooms, Mirrors abound. A walk-in closet runs along one wall. A daybed awaits. A huge open shower competes with a high-tech set of black weights for dominion over the room. Around a wall behind the shower is a single toilet. Above it hangs the David Salle drawing given to her and ex-husband Sean Penn as an anniversary present by Salle and his girlfriend, choreographer Karole Armitage, who for a short time helped stage the dances for Madonna’s world
tour, which begins this month in Japan. The drawing is of a naked female lying flat on her back, her legs spread wide in the foreground above the personal inscription that includes the word “love.”
Jean-Paul Gaultier, who has designed the costumes for the tour, told me about his and Madonna’s concept of mixing “femininity with a little masculinity… a very sexy mix, a very Madonna mix,” and, indeed, the bathroom is as sleek and androgynous – erotically so – as the woman showing it to me. She is wearing black fishnet stockings beneath black cutoff jeans, a studded black denim shirt, black pumps, and a black leather cap. She wears no makeup except for the bit beneath her she-devil mole, below which reside the reddest lips allowed in town. She is the perfect femme fatale for the fin de siecle – bold, bullshitless, belligerently beautiful.
Madonna pushes the cap back on her head and points at the hairy froth of pencil strokes in the Salle drawing. “When I sit on the toilet,” she murmurs, trying to shock herself as well as me, “I like gazing at that.”
The bedroom just next door is softer, safer. On one wall hangs a painting by Tamara de Lempicka. “I have a ton of her paintings in New York. I have a Lempicka museum.” The most important image, however, is the snapshot framed on the table by her bed. It is theonly one there, and in it, like a virgin, a dark-haired girl lies on a lawn in a lovely white dress.
“Is that your mother’?” I ask. “She seems so innocent.”
Madonna’s voice also becomes softer, safer. “Yes. She was sixteen. I could never look like that in a picture.”
We circle back to the main room. An ornately gold-framed Langlois, originally painted for Versailles, is as large as the entire ceiling. And that is exactly where Madonna has hung it, Hermes’ exposed loins dangling over our heads. Above the fireplace is a l932 Leger painting, Composition. Across from it is a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, the legendary Mexican artist and revolutionary whose life Madonna plans to make into a Reds-like film. “Warren,” she smiles, “is encouraging me highly.”
Another wall holds a nude painted by Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera. Boxer Joe Louis, photographed by Irving Penn, pours in a corner across from Man Ray’s nude of Kiki de Montparnasse. All around us are other photographs taken by masters, new and old: Weston, Weegee, Tina Modotti, Matt Mahurin, Lartigue, Drtikol, Blumenfeld, Herb Ritts.
In the entrance foyer is another Kahlo, titled My Birth. The small painting depicts Kahlo’s mother in bed with the sheets folded back over her head. All that can be seen of the mother are her opened legs. the head of the adult Kahlo painfully emerging from her mother’s gaping vagina. There is blood in the painting. There is anger there. Sorrow.
“If somebody doesn’t like this painting,” Madonna says, “then I know they can’t be my friend.”

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1990

When an executive in the music business was told that another story about Madonna was in the works, he grinned knowingly, then moaned, “There certainly is a lot of ink about her.” There certainly is a whole lot of ink about her. As songstress, temptress, and titan, Madonna has not only taken the stereotypes that have kept women trapped in their cultural roles and used them to her own advantage, but has also turned them upside down and shrewdly capitalized them. “Boy—Toy is for my music,” she states, referring to her first enterprise. “Siren is my film company, And Slutco is for my videos.”
Slutco: it is the perfect moniker for someone who is always letting us in on the vulgar joke. It shows that her savvy sense of business is more than matched by her savvy sense of humor. “There is a wink behind everything I do,” she says. Madonna is more than a celebrity: she is that perfect hybrid that personifies the decadently greedy, selfishly sexual decade that spawned her — a corporation in the form of flesh.
Although she’s made $90 million in the last four years and is the president of each of her companies, she doesn’t like to talk about business, and it irks her even to be thought of in those terms.
“The public shouldn’t think about this,” she flares. “Part of the reason I’m successful is because I’m a good businesswoman, but I don’t think it is necessary for people to know that. All that means is that I’m in charge of everything that comes out.” Does anybody ever say no to the boss? “God! People say no to me all the time, but I guess the balance is tipped in the yes direction. If they do say no, you can be sure there will be a tantrum to follow.”
There is no tantrum, however, if others meet the high standards she sets for herself. “I sleep a certain number of hours every night,” she says. “Then I like to get up and get on with it. I set aside the three hours I have to make phone calls and do business. Then I set aside the hours I have to exercise. Then I set aside the hours for creativity.”
Hours set aside for creativity? “Yes, I can summon my creativity,” she says flatly.
It seems as if she treats that creativity as if it were just another of her employees. When pressed, she admits to being directly responsible for hundreds of jobs. Comfortable with her cultural power, she is equally at home with the day-to-day sort. “It’s a great feeling to be powerful. I’ve been striving for it all my life. I think that’s just the quest of every human being: power. There’s a constant struggle for power in a relationship too — no matter what. Even if you achieve it for a while, somebody else gets it for a while. That’s just the way it goes. I don’t know any other way. I’m not interested in anyone I can’t compete with. There’s got to be that fight.”
Madonna hires handsome young men to dance behind her and play music behind her and even garden behind ber, but all her important employees are women. Dawn Steel, the only woman to head a major motion-picture company when she was president of Columbia Pictures and still Hollywood’s most respected (and feared) female executive, is not surprised by Madonna’s genderstaffing. “She is a real girl’s girl,” Steel insists. “Usually women are their own worst enemies. She’s not threatened by other women. She’s completely open and honest.”
Throughout Madonna’s career, many have criticized her for her co-option of and reliance on man-made female images. But Madonna has a theory for those who misunderstand. “It has nothing to do with whether I am a man or a woman. I think I am a sexual threat, and I think, if anything, there is a prejudice against that. I think that it is easier for people to embrace people who don’t frighten them and poke at their insides and make them think about their own sexuality. I don’t do things because I may be afraid of what people might think. The thing about me is what you see is what you get. I’m not hiding anything. That may explain my longevity.”
Whatever the reasons for her staying power, intense political debates have been sparked by her vixen-as-victim poses, serious essays written about her role as a creature of our culture. Feminists who admire women with wills of politically correct iron have failed to recognize a woman with true power – one with a will of politically correct irony. “It’s flattering to me that people take the time to analyze me and that I’ve so infiltrated their psyches that they have to inteliectualize my very being. I’d rather be on their minds than off,” she says. “I guess I just have a sense of mischievousness. I never want to hit something on the head. I never want to present A as A. You can take what I do at surface value or you can go underneath the surface. I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, which is releasing this summer’s Dick Tracy, starring Beatty in the title role and Madonna as one of his love interests, Breathless Mahoney, is amazed by Madonna’s ability to synergize her assets. “She has a very secure sense of her life and her business. As far as I can tell she’s always had a vision of exactly who she is – whether as an actress or a performer or a lyricist or a music producer or a businesswoman. And she’s also had a
strong enough sense of it to balance it all.
She’s always evolving; she never stands still. Every two years she comes up with a new look, a new way of presenting herself, a new attitude, a new act, a new design. And every time it’s successful. There is this constant… genesis. When something like that happens once, O.K., maybe it’s luck. Twice is a coincidence. Three times it’s just remarkabie talent. A kind of genius. And Madonna’s on her fifth or sixth time.”
Her own theory: “It comes from a rebelliousness and a desire to f*ck with people.”
“I’m a really disciplined person,” Madonna says in her most disciplined voice. She could also be talking about Beatty. He invites me up to his Beverly Hills editing room, where he is busy working on Dick Tracy – although it is Super Bowl Sunday, the weather is Southern California perfect, and the movie isn’t scheduled to be released until June. Even if Madonna’s relationship with Beatty is akin to her own interpretation of the now kaput Kim Basinger — Prince affair (“They make an interesting couple. If it’s not real, they’re sure working it good”), the fact that Beatty, the most private of stars, has agreed to make any sort of public statements about Madonna attests to his affection for her.
“Listen — how can you say I’m a private person if I’m in show business?”
Beatty asks, surrounded by giant posters from past Dick Tracy movies on the walls of his Spartan office. “Just because I conduct myself in a particular way, you couldn’t straight-facedly call me a private person. I’ve had a lot of years of it whatever this is — and I just feel in the years I did give interviews, which was a hell of a long time ago… when I said something it would be taken out of context or magnified in such a way so that if I ever said anything about another person I had immediately invaded their privacy and made some sort of comment about them that would affect my relationship with them and so I just don’t do it.”
“Warren understands the bullshit” is the way Madonna puts it. “He’s been an icon for years. He’s had a lot more practice at it than I have. Obviously somebody who hasn’t experienced it would be more threatened by my fame than he is. You can’t understand being hugely famous until it happens and then it’s too late to decide if you want it or not. Warren’s been a sex symbol for so long he’s just not surprised by anything.”
Madonna’s own attitude toward the press is more fatalistic than Beatty’s. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem bitter about the rash of sordid headlines that accompanied her breakup with Sean Penn. “In a way, I asked for it. When I started out with Sean I broadcast our relationship. But if you do that — if you advertise anything, whether it’s a movie or anything – then it’s up for public scrutiny.”
Though she has toughened her hide against the public headlines, she is still coming to grips with the private details that caused them. When finally speaking about her time with Sean, the famous f*ck-you smolder in her eyes is replaced by a you-f*ck sadness. “The first date I went on with my husband” – she blushes, realizing her mistake — “my ex—husband, he brought me to Warren’s house. It was an auspicious evening. I met my friends Sandra Bernhard and Warren Beatty on the same evening on my first date with Sean. He was introducing me to all his friends. Basically, he was friends with Warren, not me.”
Next to her mother’s death, her divorce from Penn must have been the most tragic event in her successful life. “I went through a period when I felt like a total failure — as any good Catholic girl would. But I’m over it now. I don’t feel like a failure anymore. I just feel sad. Every once in a while at night I’ll wake up and go, ‘My God! I was married once. I was married and he was the love of my life.’ It is like a death to deal with. It’s very, very difficult.”
Are she and Sean able to see each other? Tears well up in her eyes at the question. “No. No. It’s too painful, It’s horrible.” She quickly gives the tears the back of her hand and tries to regain her composure by laughing away the moment.
“I hope someday we can be friends again. Time heals everything. It’s kind of schlocky to believe that, but I think it’s true. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore. It goes into another compartment.” Again her eyes fill with tears. “But there was that year when every time you turn the radio on or see a color or experience a smell it reminds you… and you just crumble.”
The juxtaposition of Madonna’s uncensored honesty with Beatty’s self-censored sort is an interesting amalgam. Careful not to say anything that can be misinterpreted, he nervously — and sweetly — tries to limit his comments about Madonna to the professional sphere. “I think Madonna has energy, beauty, humor, talent, intelligence. And I think the most surprising thing about her after I had worked with her was to see the level of diligence that she has. She really works hard.”
Does her Breathless seduce his Dick? Beatty laughs. “It’s an attempted seduction. I think that he’s very tempted. It’s ‘The Last Temptation of Dick Tracy.'”
For her part, Madonna loved working with Beatty. She also learned from him. “I think you want the approval of anybody you’re having a relationship with, and even if I wasn’t with Warren I would want his approval because he’s a brilliant guy. I think 75 percent of the country wants Warren Beatty’s approval.”
“Probably 35 percent have had it.”
“Have had his approval or had him?” she grins.
“Him.”
“Oh, probably seventy-five percent have had him.” she laughs.
Does that matter to her?
“I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t. Sometimes I think, He’s been with the world’s most beautiful, most glamorous, talented women, I go, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God’ That’s one part of me. I mean, how can I ever be as fabulous as Brigitte Bardot when she was twenty—five. Or Natalie Wood. Or any of those people. Then there is the other side of me that says I’m better than all of them.”
Beatty seems to have more respect for her than she has for herself. “I don’t know that there are many people who can do as many things as Madonna can do as well. People who are in a positive frame of mind, who bring as much energy and willingness to work as Madonna does.
She has, in this respect, a real healthy humility about the theater. I think this is a prime requisite to be able to function in theater — or, actually, in art.” What does he think of her artistic forays into androgynous sexuality? “Well, I think she’s courageous in the areas that she explores artistically. I think that’s what she wants to explore. If you mean what do I think are the resonances of that or the personal motivations for that, I don’t know that I would address myself to that.” Back to business: “Off the top of my head, her generous spirit would be the thing I think that informs her work the most. As she goes on she will gain the artistic respect that she already deserves.”
As their relationship goes on, will it too gain respect?
“That depends on what mood I’m in,” Madonna teases. “Sometimes I’m cynical and pragmatic and think it will last as long as it lasts. Then I have moments when I’m really romantic and I think, We’re just perfect together. He’s just past so much bullshit. He has an outlook on life, an overview, that I don’t have, and I think that makes for something that will last.”
Is he a father figure for her? “Sure. Definitely. He’s very protective. He’s not easily shocked, either — which is great — by the things that have happened to me. He’s just been through so much that in a way it’s comforting.”
Any last words from Beatty?
“She’s no accident.”

“Madonna is a movie star without a movie,” says Barry Diller, the chairman and C.E.O. of Fox and another Hollywood mogul smitten by her talent and charm, “She’s such a movie star, in fact, that I’d say she’s got a good ten years to find the right movie to prove it.
You want to know why she’s such a movie star? Because she’s incapable of doing anything that’s not interesting. If she’s in a photograph, it’s interesting. If she sings a song, it’s interesting. Her videos — all interesting.”
“I think I’ve always behaved as if I were a star,” Madonna says. “Since I was a child I have behaved as if somebody owed me something. And I don’t think it was a trait many people appreciated. Rightly so. I think I was incredibly precocious and a pain in the ass and loud. I guess it’s easier to get away with all those things when you’ve achieved something.”
If Dick Tracy is the film that expands her stardom to the constellation of films, it may trap her into being a musical-movie star — which she would probably find too confining. (She was initially talked about for two different roles in Coppola’s Godfather III, longs to work with Scorsese, and predicts that she will play a character named Lola in a David Lynch film.) Yet there is a musical void to be filled. Streisand, our last great musical star, has forsaken the form in recent years. Madonna would have been brilliant, for example, in the title role of Evita. In fact, she was offered the part before Meryl Streep ever had the chance to back out of it.
“I didn’t audition. I was asked to do it,” she says. “I met with [director] Oliver Stone. Obviously I had reservations about it because the music needs updating. It would be a very difficult movie to make. I basically was totally kept in the dark as to what direction it was going to take — was it going to be an operetta, a musical with dialogue, a straight drama?
Because there were so many questions unanswered for me and there were too many cooks in the kitchen between Oliver Stone and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Robert Stigwood — who are all fabulous misogynists, I might add — I decided against it.
They were all butting heads. Then I came in, I said to Olivet once that I was interested in working with Andrew and writing some new songs, and he was appalled that I would even suggest such a thing. I think in the end Oliver just thought I was going to be a huge pain in the butt. Ultimately he wanted me to sign a contract saying, Yes, I will do this, before I ever saw a script or really knew what was going to happen. And I said I just can’t do that. I’ve made too many mistakes in the movie business”
“She’s smart, too,” says Diller.

But can she act?
“I don’t think she’s a great actress,” says casting director Billy Hopkins, who worked on Desperately Seeking Susan and her Broadway try, David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, “But she has something that has enabled her to stay in the forefront of people’s minds for six, seven years. I was at a dinner party the other night and Cyndi Lauper’s name came up.
Now, Cyndi Lauper is probably a very nice girl, but she seems like a has-been to me. Not Madonna. She just has something that nobody else has, and is smart enough to recognize it and utilize it. She’s got street smarts.”
“It is not her habit to lie,” says Gregory Mosher, who directed her in Speed-the-Plow. “Her habit is to be truthful. And that is the essence of being an actor — to tell the truth in imaginary circumstances. She tells the truth in her life. In her dancing. In her lyrics. And she never apologizes. I love her straightforwardness. lt’s like breaking the tension in church.”
She’s certainly straightforward about her experience on Broadway. “It was a real mind—f*ck of a script. Brilliant, but confusing. My part ended up being a plot manipulation. But at first I saw her as an angel of mercy who was coming down to save everybody. Little did I know that David Mamet and Greg Mosher and everybody else involved saw me as a vixen, a dark, evil spirit. That didn’t dawn on me till halfway through rehearsals, when David kept changing my lines to make me more and more a bitch, a ruthless, conniving little witch. So in the middle of this process I was devastated that my idea of the character wasn’t what she was at all. That was a really upsetting experience. It was like getting trampled on every night.
Mamet is a stubborn man – he is not interested in collaborating… I think he’s interested in fascism. “
“A Mussolini with a sense of meter?”
“Precisely.”
She smiles.
“But he’s a charming man.”

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1990

Not everyone is enamored of Madonna’s own charm
“I know she understands talented people, but she has trouble accepting most people as simply people,” says someone who was once a part of her support system. “She sucks what she needs out of somebody, then moves on to the next set of victims. She surrounds herself with people who can support her, then stomps on them. A lot of people turn out to be her casualties. She’s a tough egg. Now she’s surrounded herself with Sandra Bernhard and Warren Beatty and that bunch. She – must be sharpening those teeth down to a – nice set of fangs.”
Her friend Karole Armitage was the latest casualty to feel the bite of those fangs. Though those around Armitage were upset that the choreographer was rather undiplomatically dismissed from Madonna’s upcoming tour, Armitage herself is quite the diplomat about it all. “Our parting was amicable. It’s disappointing, but Madonna’s vision is so strong there was no room for me.”
“I’m a brat, for sure,” Madonna gladly admits. “But I don’t travel in a pack.”
“Yeah, since Sean was already associated with the Brat Pack moniker out here in L.A. for his boy bunch, we had to come up with another one for her and Sandra and all those girls they hang with,” says the insider. “We’ve come up with one: The Snatch Batch.”
Much of Madonna’s “bad” behavior is simply what some would consider vulgar, and can be traced to her exploits with Bernhard. Whether staging belching contests at restaurants or coyly going into Beatty’s bedroom at his Fourth of July party and donning his underwear before going for a dip in his pool in front of all the other guests, the two of them love to push the boundaries of polite etiquette.
“I think that’s why she likes Sandra so much,” says one of the girls who hung out in the Batch for a while. “She can be totally obnoxious with her and not worry about being a star. I think she sort of looks up to Sandra. To put it bluntly, though, sometimes when they’re together they can be a nightmare.”
Some claim that Sean Penn became jealous of the closeness that Madonna and Sandra share and that Sandra was jealous of Sean’s own relationship with Madonna. The tension supposedly hastened the divorce, “I’d say that my friendship with Sandra was just beginning as my relationship with Sean was dying,” says Madonna. “So, of course, anybody that would be close with me would be a threat to Sean, who felt that he was losing me. It wasn’t just Sandra – it could have been anybody, really. I don’t think Sandra was ever jealous of Sean — it was just a question of her seeing that I was really in pain, and saying, ‘What the f*ck are you doing to yourself?’ “
Bernhard is open about her own lesbian affairs, so the question that everybody asks is: Were she and Madonna ever lovers?
“I can tell you for a fact they are just friends,” says the ex-Batcher.
“Sure, Sandra’s very open. But this is another example of my throwing the stereotypes at you,” says Madonna. “I was in New York doing Speed-the-Plow and she was doing her own show downtown. We were both stuck there for the summer. Sean was in Thailand doing Casualties af War. I had a lot of evenings free and so we just started hanging out, slagging everybody off together. She was just what I needed. We became really good friends. Then she asked me to go on the David Letterman show. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Because I have that in-your—face attitude – and so does she – I had no idea going on the show together was going to be perceived as what it was perceived as. Then when we realized it, it seemed like everybody in America was in an uproar.”
But on that show Bernhard facetiously confessed to having slept with both Sean and Madonna. And Madonna told the nation that the two of them hung out in a Greenwich Village lesbian bar known as the Cubby Hole. Why wouldn’t America be in an uproar? “I’ve never been to the Cubby Hole. That’s the joke of it. My brother lives around the comer and I’ve walked by it with him and I’d sort of go, ‘Oh, yeah, look, there’s a lesbian club.’ Sandra and I were just f*cking with people. But then when I realized the reaction we had gotten, I of course couldn’t leave that alone. So Sandra and I decided to tease everybody. Then, of course, it got out of hand and I didn’t want to do it anymore, because it was more important for me to have a friendship. But we had our fun with that and it sort of worked itself to death.”
There were also rumors about her relationship with Jennifer Grey when the two of them were filming Bloodhounds of Broadway. “That came out of me and Sandra Bernhard. Then it became a question of whatever female I had a close relationship with who is an outspoken girl – which Jennifer is — then I must be sleeping with her.”
A waitress who worked at the downtown New York restaurant Odeon remembers a night when Madonna and Jennifer and five other women came in for a late-night supper. “Madonna ordered a house salad and everybody else ordered a house salad,” the waitress remembers, attesting to Madonna’s Leader of the Batch status.
“She said she didn’t want dressing on it – or cheese. The others – except for Jennifer Grey, who was bold enough to order cheese — said they didn’t want them, either. When the salads came, Madonna ate hers with her fingers; all the others ate theirs with their fingers, too. Weird. And she kept looking at me. Maybe she just liked my outfit, but she was so obvious about it. Like it was a dare, Or something.”
The lesbian question is simply another irony that has played itself out in her career, for it was the gay male population of the discos who were her first fans and who now, because of her tireless efforts on behalf of AIDS awareness, are the recipients of some of her best “good” behavior.
Writer Brad Gooch, a friend of Bloodhounds director Howard Brookner, who died of AIDS last year, remembers her generosity during Brookner’s illness. “She was incredibly supportive when Howard was at St. Vincent’s Hospital. She not only visited him, but all the other patients on the AIDS ward. It was like Judy Garland visiting another sort of Oz.”
Director and screenwriter Joel Schumacher once wrote a script about a woman who discovers that her brother is gay after he comes down with the disease.
“About thirty of the most famous actresses in Hollywood – who love to be connected to the correct liberal causes – turned me down flat,” Schumacher recalls. “And many of those actresses were first championed by gay audiences. I was shocked by their attitude. But Madonna read the script and called me herself to fight for the role. She was not frightened to be associated with the subject matter at all. Unfortunately she wasn’t old enough for the sister, and I couldn’t make it work for her, but I’ll always be touched by her passion about it all.”
“She’s the most benevolent girl I know,” says Linda Stein, the ex—wife of Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, Madonna’s first and current label. “I know a lot of these society girls, but when it comes down to it they’re just not there with the give. Not Madonna. She’s there with the give — you know, with her time and her money.”
David Geffen is one of Madonna’s good friends and the person who first told her to call Beatty about being in Dick Tracy. The chairman of the David Geffen Company and an important behind-the-scenes fund-raiser for AIDS charities, he marvels at her devotion to the cause. “When I was putting together a benefit at Madison Square Garden she volunteered her whole show. She not only provided us with her lights and her set and her musicians and everything that goes into a production the size of hers, but she also donated all the merchandising profits from the programs and the posters and the souvenirs. The woman is not only a consummate professional, she’s also got a big heart.”
“I want to do anything I can to promote AIDS education, awareness, prevention – whatever,” she says. “I think because I am a celebrity, a public person, I have a responsibility to be a spokesperson. Next to Hitler, AIDS is the worst thing to happen in the twentieth century. The sad thing is that it makes people even more bigoted. It gives people a reason to vent their true feelings about homosexuality.”
It also gives her a reason to vent her true feelings about the Catholic Church’s policies concerning the issue. She was raised a Catholic and has taken on the church in her art throughout her career. “I think it sucks the big one. I think it’s disgusting. I think it’s hypocritical. And it’s unloving. It’s not what God and Christianity are all about.”
Some could interpret her own stance as hypocritical. With her Like A Prayer album she included a sheet of facts to educate her public about AIDS, but this from a woman who’s made her fortune by promoting herself as a sexually voracious vixen? “I’m saying I have a pussy and I’m dealing with my sexuality and you can deal with yours if you want to. I’m encouraging that. But I’m not saying go out and f*ck randomly. You can have sex, but you have to practice safe sex. There’s no way around it. I think it’s horrible that everyone thinks, Oh, my God! AIDS! Now we all have to sleep alone and never have anything to do with anybody. Use your imagination. Be creative.”

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1990

The house tour is over and Madonna wants me to listen to her latest creative effort, the songs she has written for the Dick Tracy sound track. Though Stephen Sondheim has written three songs for her character, Breathless Mahoney, her own contribution is, according to her, “the real shit.” She plans to include the songs in her upcoming stage show, which she describes as a combination of a Busby Berkeley musical, Cabaret, A Clockwork Orange, and Frederick’s of Hollywood.
She turns her stereo system up full blast and her voice blares through the house, a brassy number titled “Hanky Panky.” It is specifically about the kind that involves getting her butt spanked and her hands tied behind her back. She perches on the chair behind me and, grinning, watches my shocked reaction. “I think that’s the single I’m going to release from the movie,” she says when the number is over.
But why would a woman who admits to wanting total control in her life once again sing about being a stereotypical victim? Isn’t she over that? “I admit I have this feeling that I’m a bad girl and I need to be punished,” she shrugs, in total acceptance of herself. “The part of me that goes around saying ‘F*ck you! F*ck you! I’m throwing this in your face!’ is the part that’s covering up the part that’s saying ‘I’m hurt. And I’ve been abandoned and I will never need anyone again. So, here – have a stereotype.'” She searches for the next song she wants to play. “I have not resolved my Electra complex. The end of the ‘Oh Father’ video, where I’m dancing on my mother’s grave, is an attempt to embrace and accept my mother’s death. I had to deal with the loss of my mother and then I had to deal with the guilt of her being gone and then I had to deal with the loss of my father when he married my stepmother. So I was just one angry, abandoned little girl. I’m still angry. Geffen sent me to a shrink. A woman, of course. It’s very helpful. I don’t know if going to a shrink cures your loneliness, but it sure helps you understand it. It helps you not to hypewentilate. It’s absolutely helped me. And God! It’s really helped my work.”
She finds what she was looking for. A duet, not written by her, but sung with Beatty, fills the room. Called “I’m Following You,” it has been cut from the film because Beatty didn’t feel that the character of Tracy should break into song.
But Madonna is going to put it on her sound track. As their voices float from the speakers, she sits back down and listens. Her whole demeanor changes as the song plays. Her posture becomes even more perfect, her hands folded daintily in her lap, like a little girl on her best self-satisfied behavior because she’s just told you somebody else’s secret.
Her hairdresser arrives as the duet ends, and the little girl becomes a teenager. The woman who has been sitting across from me all afternoon has been a brunette and it is now time to peroxide her hair back to the blonde Madonna we first came to know. She goes to her pantry and grabs a big bag of barbecue potato chips and retrieves a couple of trashy magazines from her bathroom. She then sits on a stool in her kitchen and the hairdresser goes to work.
“l`m afraid if we do this one more time it’s going to fall out,” he warns her.
“Shut up and do it,” she tells him, taking a big bite of potato chip. “Oh, look!” she squcals, reading the magazine in her lap. “Here are some of those ‘IN’ and ‘OUT’ lists. See: blondes are ‘IN’ and redheads are ‘OUT,'” she says, pointing at the page.
I look at the photos she’s pointing to and see two of Madonna herself — one from a blonde period, one from a reddish one.
“I’m about to be ‘IN’ again,” she laughs.

© Vanity Fair

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