A manuscript of The Immortals is on a shelf right above her desk, directly under a beautiful Picasso portrait of a woman in a blue hat. Madonna now has her own art curator to advise her on what to acquire. Rosenberg says, “What does Madonna want to do when she grows up? She wants to be Peggy Guggenheim.” But there is so much else to do first.
“I don’t believe Madonna’s taken a full week off in nine years,” says DeMunn, and that was surely part of the investment return Time Warner figured on when granting the Maverick deal. “She’s willing to defer a relationship, throw having children aside—perhaps forever — in the elusive search to be a celebrity,” says a high-ranking Time Warner executive who knows Madonna. “She’s willing to defer everything for this. For more covers of magazines. More just feeds on itself. It’s like an addiction. Sometimes, in business, you like people to give up everything, to be wholly involved in their projects.”
Neither DeMann nor Rosenberg pretends that Madonna is happy. Even De Laurentiis, who is dying “to discover her” the same way he did “Schwarzenegger and Jessica Lange, justa to name two of the latest,” says, “She’s a very lonely woman. She needs love and affection froma the people.” “I encourage her to sit back, reflect, enjoy the success, but it’s really tough for her,” says Rosenberg, adding, “She’s not good at that.” “I don’t know to what extent she enjoys life,” says DeMann. What he is certain of, however, is their mutual unsatisfied yearning. “I think we seem to fulfill a need in each other. Her need to do and be – I have the same need. We have a need for approval and accomplishment, and we’ve accomplished a lot. But we’re both hungry. We have to prove ourselves over and over to ourselves and to others. Why? We’re crazy. We both recognize that pattern.” His black velvet slippers sink into the carpet. “Nothing will ever be enough,” Freddy DeMann declares. “Never.”
I ask DeMann if he is expecting shock waves over Sex. “A lot of people will object to the book,” he says. “Warner Books is shitting in their pants about it.”
Later, I ask William Sarnoff, chairman of Warner Books, if he thinks he’ll get away with this.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Clearly, this book has a lot of material that many people will find extremely shocking. Now, in light of the hullabaloo you’ve just gone through with Ice-T and his lyrics, do you anticipate you’ll have the same reaction from some people, and do you think you can get away with it?”
“That’s a very good question, and I will be happy to respond to it.” When I press him, he says, “Not now.”
Five hours later, Sarnoff phones this response: “We’re not trying to get away with anything. This is a book Madonna is doing about her erotic fantasies. As publishers, we will publish it in a Mylar bag to avoid browsing, and there will be a warning on it. It will be a unique book, and I think it may redefine the illustrated book. As far as Madonna is concerned. she should pursue all avenues of creativity as she defines it. And we will do as much as we can to bring it to the proper audience.”
“So what are you going to do when you get older, Madonna? Time Warner waits for no woman. Are you going to be going on 50 and still get up onstage and shake your booty, like Cher? What happens when your body goes?”
“Then I’ll use my mind.”
On location for A League of Their Own in Indiana, Madonna chafed at the length of the shoot and used her time off the set to write. By the time she left the film, she had firmed up the original concept for Sex. Then she sat down with Meisel.
“We had meeting after meeting,” says Madonna. “What kind of places do you want to go to? You want seedy hotels? Nice hotels? Outside on the street? Inside of a car? We had to run the gamut of, like, what’s erotic?” Meisel quickly found out. “She considers homosexuals erotic. She liked two men together, two women together. It turns her on,” says Meisel, who believes “we’ve covered it. We’ve gone as far as we can in public.” But even he seems wary. “I don’t think anyone else needs to do another photo essay on erotica – this is it. Basta!”
Throughout the process, Madonna was the hawk-eyed producer, hiring French-born Fabien Baron, currently the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, to design the book, and later bringing on as her editor writer Glenn O’Brien, whom she knew from his days as an editor at Interview. Madonna herself went over all 20,000 frames that were shot. It took her four weeks. “Ninety percent of the time her eye was right on the button,” says Baron, who adds, “America is too Puritan. Sometimes you have to slap people in the face to have them change.”
“We just wanted it to start off with a bang,” says O’Brien. “We thought it would be nice to start off shocking and wind up with a sense of humor.” While Madonna was on the set of Body of Evidence, O’Brien would send her assignments to write, which were to clarify her feelings. “Everyone’s different,” Madonna says of the book’s content. “The most important thing is to be tolerant of that, to accept it, not to be scared of it or threatened by it. There’s enough shocking in it that people can see things that would make people feel uneasy, [but they] could try to see it another way.”
“So you’re out to shock people?”
“No. I’m out to open their minds and get them to see sexuality in another way. Their own and others’.”