How I Caught Madonna In The Act
Still only 32, she’s as famous as Elvis and rich enough to buy Berkshire. What’s Madonna’s secret? What’s she got? And could I have some too?
Well, if I ever get to meet her I’ll be sure to ask, but three hours into a visit to the set of her latest film and Madonna looks like a no—show. Meanwhile I’m stuck bang in the middle of Middle America – in Evansville, Indiana, to be exact – where all the women are called Shanda or Jolene, an evening out is a trip to the seed store, and you feel vaguely effeminate if you’re not wearing a Desert Storm T-shirt. I’m having panic attacks already. Live here long enough, you’d probably buy a
Johnny Cash album and marry a close relative.
If I could just get my interview with Madonna done I’d hitch a ride to the airport on the nearest crop-duster and be on the first plane out of here. The problem is I’m not even supposed to be interested in Madonna, ‘It’s not a Madonna movie,’ the people at the film studio kept saying when they asked me to spend a day on the set of A League Of Their Own. They rattled on about how the film also starred that nice Tom Hanks from Big, and Geena Davis, the gangly half of Thelma & Louise, and how it was based on an incredible true story about women playing professional baseball in the 40s when all the men were away fighting the war. Ho hum. I thought the point of a baseball scene in a movie was to give you a chance to grab something from the fridge, and here they are making a whole film about women’s baseball. Let me talk to Madonna…
‘It’s not a Madonna movie.’ The sentence is like a mantra here on the set too. It’s the first thing the film’s producer, a worried-looking man called Robert, says to me this morning when I arrive at the baseball field which is today’s location, and he manages to sound almost embarrassed that her name is even on the cast list at all.
She’s an ‘added attraction’, he explains, and she isn’t even getting a lot of money for her work. ‘She hasn’t proved to be a great magnet for audiences,’ Robert sighs, ‘so she’s getting a significant amount of money, but not stratospheric — not in a moviestar realm. Try to talk to Geena and Tom, why don’t you?’
Yes, why don’t I? Except that being on the set of a film starring Madonna and not talking to her — even if it’s definitely ‘not a Madonna movie’ and they got her cheap — would be like going to Pisa and missing the Leaning Tower. People will want to know why, and not just people. My mother. The editor. True, Madonna’s movie career, from Desperately Seeking Susan to Dick Tracy, has been up and down. Come to think of it, it’s been more down than up (remember Shanghai Surprise?). But who cares about plot-lines and box office? It’s Madonna’s personality that’s the main event and it`s always going to overshadow her film just as surely as her pointy little black bra overshadows her feet. Let me talk to Madonna…
The extras on the film know how I feel. ‘Honey,’ says one middle—aged local woman with an intimidating bouffant, ‘Madonna coming here is a once-in-a-lifetime thang.’ As for Susannah Schwekendik, a German student studying in New York who’d driven to Indiana to take part in the film, ‘It’s the first time I am doing such a thing,’ she tells me. ‘I am seeing Madonna in the distance, which is very nice, but l’m not knowing who Tom Hanks is, though he’s waving his hand at me sometimes?
Personally, I’m knowing who Tom Hanks is, I tell her, it’s just that I’m wanting to talk to Madonna. ‘But it’s not a Madonna film,’ says Stuart, the film’s publicist, when he comes over to announce lunch.
While we are eating, Stuart waxes lyrical about women’s baseball and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League which was the brain-child of Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum king. In 1943 Wrigley expected the draft board to shut down the men’s leagues and he recruited dozens of women to keep the game alive. He also sent all his female players to charm school, instructed them to wear miniskirts when they were playing baseball, and employed chaperones to guard them when they weren’t.
“We were closely watched in terms of our male friends,’ says blonde—haired Karen Kunkel, a technical adviser on A League Of Their Own, who played in the women’s league during its last season, and joined us for lunch. ‘Mind you,’ she adds with a sniff, ‘we had ways of sneaking that.’
Madonna would have been right at home by the sound of it, although according to the local paper, which I pick up back on set, she’s lately been devoting herself to good works. The front page carries a long story about a blind man who’d been invited to Madonna’s trailer. ‘Whatever false rumours there are about her, well, they’re wrong,’ he’s quoted as saying. ‘I think she’s a very nice, gentle person to be around.’ So there.