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“From Material Girl to Maternity Girl” : Biography (May 1997)

Madonna - Biography / May 1997

Will motherhood change Madonna?

Is it possible there’s anything left to know about Madonna? from the time she arrived in Manhattan with $35 in her pocket, a fresh-checked daughter of the Midwest, to her most recent reincarnation as Material Girl, we’ve seen the tramp and vamp, brassy and bossy, the naughty and nurturing. She’s exposed us – literally – to almost every inch of her body, giving new meaning to the phrase “naked ambition.” She singlehandedly made cone-shaped bras a fashion statement and accessorized with everything from dog collars to rosaries to nubile young men. She has very publicaly – and enthusiastically – done things with a water bottle that are surely banned in Boston, and asked David Letterman (on air) to smell her panties.

Then, in a totally different mood and appearance, she’s confided her most private, poignant history (“Losing my mother at a very young age was a devastating experience”) to another interviewer. And let’s not forget — as if we could — last year’s heavily chronicled pregnancy, culminating in the most publicized star delivery since Lucille Ball produced Little Ricky. We even know what she supposedly said as she was wheeled off to the delivery room (“Good-bye everyone. I’m going to get my nose job now”).

Then, after the birth on October 14 of little Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, Madonna became a serene, devoted mother, telling interviewers about her breast-feeding experiences and rhapsodizing about how, when her child looks at her with recognition, “It’s the most incredible thing in the world.” At the same time, her biggest motion picture to date, Evita, sailed into theaters nationwide, drawing a more traditional audience than might have lined up to see her in the past.

Serious mom. mainstream movie star — is there anything else left to discover about this woman described by Norman Mailer as “our greatest living female artist,” by her brother Martin as “very calculated,” and by herself as “my own work of art”?

How alma this? She often dreams about her teeth falling out (paging Dr. Freud). Or: While she may seem as in tune with Vatican teachings as, say, Henry VIII, she still goes to church and lights candles. She also plans to baptize her daughter. Lourdes (named after a village of religious miracles), as a Catholic. Or: This woman who has made sin and sex her personal calling card, who has been a conspicuous public collector of “boy toys,” who radiates cheekiness, has confessed to being just an “incurable romantic” at heart. Huh?

Madonna - Biography / May 1997

And there are at least a few things left to find out.

Beginning with her childhood. It seems, for instance, that Ms. Anything Goes was once Little Miss Homemaker, baking cakes in her tiny child’s oven and then selling her wares in front of the house. Although on second thought, maybe that just shows she was a shrewd businesswoman even then, back in Pontiac, Michigan.

Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958, the third child, after older brothers Anthony and Martin, of a conservative Catholic family. Her father, Silvio (known as Tony), was an automotive engineer who stressed church attendance, hard work at school, and no television. Her mother, a beauty from Bay City named Madonna Fortin, bestowed her own unusual name on her first daughter. (Later, talking about her name and her career, Madonna said, “How could I have been anything else but what I am, having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.”)

Madonna’s mother went on to produce three more children — Paula, Christopher. and Melanie — before dying of breast cancer at the age of 30. Madonna, then nicknamed Nonnie, was six, and it was the formative event in her life.

“I really did feel completely abandoned at that point in my life,” she told Prime Time Live. “And I’m sure that has influenced every decision that I’ve made and sort of left me with a feeling, a hunger, a longing, a feeling of emptiness. You sort of grow up being afraid to love things because they’re going to leave you.”

Not that she turned into some kind of moody recluse. Moira Messana, who as a child lived two doors down from Madonna and played with her daily remembers, “We’d put on plays in the backyard. We’d make things up, and we’d fight over who would get to be the star.”

Messana, now a mother of four and an artist in Pinehurst, North Carolina, named her own daughter Madonna after her childhood friend. She remembers Madonna then as “a sweet, beautiful little girl… she had long, real dark brown hair with a curl to it. And a beauty mark on her face. I remember her saying she was going to have it removed.”

Madonna - Biography / May 1997

Messana, who baked and sold those kids’ cakes with Madonna, also recalled early signs that her friend was a gifted performer. “I remember going to a dance with her and she cleared the floor with her dancing… everyone was off to the side and watching… She was flipping around and doing splits. She was probably 12 or 13 at the time.”

In 1966, Madonna’s father married the family’s live-in housekeeper, Joan Gustafson, and the couple had two more children. Madonna reportedly had a hard time adjusting to her new stepmother, but still managed all A’s at her Catholic school. In high school, she was a cheerleader and involved in theater (her graduation yearbook photo shows a smiling teenager with bouffant dark hair, heavy dark eyebrows, and a single activity listing: Thespian Society). But after years of classical ballet training, her real interest was dance, and she entered the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship.

Madonna lasted three semesters at Ann Arbor, where, her roommate Whitley Setrakian remembered, “She had a way of owning the room when she came in, and I’d never really met anyone quite like her.” So poor she lived on butterscotch candies and taught her roommate how to shoplift, Madonna still managed to get good grades — but decided what she really wanted was a career in New York.

It was her first plane ride, her first cab ride (once she arrived), and she didn’t know a soul in the city. Small matter. If there was one thing Madonna could do, it was network. Through Norris Burroughs, a boyfriend she met at a party, Madonna was introduced to Dan and Ed Gilroy, who had a band.

The Gilroys gave her a place to stay, taught her to play guitar, and she began singing With them.

But it wasn’t instant success. To support herself, she worked at a donut shop, modeled for nude photographs (which resurfaced years later in Playboy and Penthouse), and generally lived by her wits. After falling out with the Gilroys, she formed her own band and hit the local college club circuit. Kids loved her, but one record executive complained she sounded like Minnie Mousse on helium.

She persevered, eventually signing a contract with Sire Records, distributed by Warner Brothers. Her first albums, called simply Madonna, was released in July 1983 and brought her national recognition. The album spawned music videos and the first national look at Madonna herself, ripped T-shirt, crucifix earrings, and all.

Madonna - Biography / May 1997

Hello, adoring fans. Good-bye, poverty. Within two years, she was the queen of pop music, rich, and growing richer. By 1992, Ladies’ Home Journal proclaimed Madonna and Oprah Winfrey the country’s richest female entertainers, and said the singer had earned more than $20 million a yeah since 1986. To tat add a $60 million deal she cut with Time Warner (her Maverick Records, a joint venture, is one of the hottest labels going) and clearly this woman isn’t going to be standing in line at the bank.

With money came perks like expensive real estate. Madonna owns a home in Miami, a new one in Los Angeles (having put her pink Hollywood Hills estate up tor sale), and a cavernous New York apartment now on the market for roughly $7 million.

At the same time as her singing career was flourishing, Madonna’s movie career bounced up and down like the blip on an EKG. From 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan to last winter’s Evita, there was an odd mix of stinkers (Shanghai Surprise) and successes (A League of Their (hwn). She herself has suggested, “I don’t think I’m a bad actress. I think I’ve been in a lot of bad movies.”

As for men, her track record sounds like a train timetable (arrives at… leaves at, arrives at… leaves at). The woman who once cracked that she considered losing her virginity at 15 “a good career move,” has had a tough time finding a permanent partner. Her marriage in 1985 to actor Sean Penn (“opposites attract,” she later explained) dissolved into competition for the spotlight, public fighting (they were known as the Poison Penns), and divorce within four years. A fling with Warren Beatty went nowhere. At one point there were intimations that she was involved with comenienne Sandra Bernhard (later, Madonna told an interviewer, “I’m not a lesbian but I thought it was undignified to say so…my attitude is what if I am? Do you have a problem with it? It’s irrelevant”).

Of personal trainer and aspiring actor Carlos Leon — Lourdes’ 30-year-old father— Madonna has said there’s no need to get married because “I’m perfectly happy with the way things are.”

Madonna - Biography / May 1997

in fact, forget about guys for the time being — Madonna has declared little Lourdes “the love of my life now.” Everything revolves around the baby, from her New Year’s resolution (“I’m never going to do anything selfish ever again. That’s what I decided the day my daughter was born”) to amateur self-analysis (Lourdes will “heal a lot of the pain I felt growing up without a mother”).

But this is, after all, the Mother of Reinvention, who can rifle through images the way the rest of is rifle through a closet. She’s been blond, platinum, dark-haired; clothed by Frederick’s of Hollywood and John Galliano; appeared as pigtailed milkmaid, straightlaced schoolgirl, sassy spitfire, Marilyn clone. and retro Latin legend.

So is doting mom just another makeover? “My having a child is not for public consumption,” she announced to USA Today. “It’s not a career move. It’s not a performance to be judged and rated. Nor is my role as a mother.”

And she’s had a few things to say, too, about suggestions that she’s very deliberately manufactured her images and her life (brother Martin calls her a “marketing genius”).

“Look at Robert DeNiro,” she once sniffed, “or any great actors who completely reinvent themselves for their roles in their movies. When he does it, it’s looked at as art. When I do it, it’s looked at as evil and manipulative.”

Madonna claims she has no regrets — only that “I made mistakes and I learned from them.” She has a baby daughter she adores, a stratospheric bank account, a movie career that’s seemingly on the up-swing, and a face familiar in the most isolated yurt in Mongolia. That must be satisfying for a woman who once said she wanted to rule the world.

And after all these years, she also finally seems to be living a key line from her song “Secret”: “Happiness lies in your own hands.”

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