“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 fuck 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 fucking 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 fuck 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.”