Christopher Ciccone «Life with My Sister Madonna»
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Madonna - Celebration: The Video Collection (КУПИТЬ)
Drowned World Tour (КУПИТЬ)
The Confessions Tour (КУПИТЬ)
Мадонна: Во имя игры (КУПИТЬ)
OCTOBER 1986. MADONNA calls me and breaks the devastating news that Martin Burgoyne, one of our oldest friends and her first road manager, is very sick with AIDS. Although not too much is understood about the disease at this time, we already know a few people who have AIDS and both of us understand the tragic implications. Madonna pays Marty’s medical expenses at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Madonna and I go to the hospital together to visit him one day. While she is with Marty, I wait outside his room. When she emerges, her face is stained with tears. He dies within a month. He was just twenty-four years old. Apart from giving Marty as much financial support as possible and easing his last days, Madonna has already established an impressive track record in raising money for AIDS research and braves a media storm by participating as a model at the AIDS benefit fashion show at Barneys New York that will benefit St. Vincent’s AIDS research clinic. Right up until the midnineties, her personal involvement in fighting the disease and raising money to benefit AIDS sufferers remains passionate and unimpeachable.
Like Princess Diana, she has no fear of AIDS, and her commitment to its victims will help raise public consciousness of this harrowing disease. At the end of the year, the release of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” single and video—in which she simulates a kiss with an underage boy—causes yet another high-octane Madonna-style controversy. The video of The Virgin Tour wins a Billboard Music Award for the Top Music Video of 1986, and she wins the AMA award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Video Artist for “Papa Don’t Preach” and makes a surprise appearance at the Shrine Auditorium and collects the award in person. Accepting awards—apart from the elusive Grammy, which she still hasn’t won—is becoming an everyday occurrence for her.
When rehearsals for her next tour—Who’s That Girl?—begin, I agree to be her dresser again. Better to be on the road than here in Manhattan, where AIDS is now decimating the gay men in the city and a creeping sadness is pervading our once carefree existence. Danny is, of course, deeply opposed to my touring again with Madonna. But he hasn’t got a chance of stopping me. Despite that I’ve been with him for four years now, and I love him, I still want what I want. Unlike The Virgin Tour, this will be a world tour, so I’ll get to visit Europe and Japan. And since Sean is pretty much out of the picture, Madonna and I are closer than ever, and I really want to help her weather this tour. Whenever anyone comes out with the usual crap that Madonna’s success is due to luck, I am always outraged. Through the years, I witness the rigors of her pre-tour preparations. The moment a tour is scheduled, she starts training with a vengeance. When the Who’s That Girl? tour begins, she will run six miles in the morning, then do a two-hour show in the evening. Her selfdiscipline is impressive, her stamina superhuman, and it’s far from easy to keep up with her.
By the time the Who’s That Girl? tour kicks off, she’s lost the slightly plump look she had on The Virgin Tour and is now sleek, with a sinewy, muscled back. Her body is lean, but still soft and feminine. She is much more athletic, sure of her body, sure of herself. Who’s That Girl? is far more theatrical than The Virgin Tour and has a Spanish theme. She has recently released “La Isla Bonita,” which hits number four in the U.S. charts and will remain an enduring favorite among her fans. Not every scene is Spanish-oriented, though. When Madonna sings a medley of “Dress You Up,” “Holiday,” and “Material Girl,” she wears rhinestone-studded harlequin glasses, and her dress, decorated with dice, charms, and plastic toys, is extremely difficult for her to wear as it is boned for support. She keeps bitching that she “can’t dance in these fucking bones,” but still does. The dress is also extremely tight, and when I disrobe her, her body is covered in red marks as if she were a medieval martyr scourged in the service of her faith. By now, I’ve got the change of clothes and the whole backstage operation down pat. I am braced to ignore all the tirades Madonna unleashes on me practically every time she storms offstage. I know how to cope on every level, and she trusts me implicitly, secure in the knowledge that she can rely on me completely.
I still have to pick up the dancers’ clothes after the show, collect baggage at the airport, and have the costumes delivered to each room. I hate it, but grin and bear it because I love every moment of working on the show, traveling everywhere, and making sure that backstage everything goes smoothly. Despite how proficient I’ve become at my job, despite how much my sister needs me, she still takes great pains not to show me any favoritism. While we are on the road, she always has a four-room penthouse suite, but as far as she is concerned, although I have been working for her longer than anyone else on the tour, I still don’t rate a suite. Even her personal assistant has a better room than I do. The rest of the people on the tour, though, treat me with great respect, making sure to defer to me—simply because I am Madonna’s brother. I have become accustomed to my role, and I am content. On The Virgin Tour we were playing arenas seating no more than fifteen thousand a show. On Who’s That Girl? we are playing stadiums seating eighty thousand. Our track dates—always great fun—are far behind us. Even The Virgin Tour seems, in retrospect, to be kids’ stuff. Now that Madonna is playing stadiums, she is making millions of dollars a night, much more is at stake, and life on the road is now more serious.
The Who’s That Girl? tour opens on June 14, 1987, at Nishinomiya Stadium, Osaka—the first of Madonna’s five concerts in Japan. More than twenty-five thousand fans flock to the show, each paying around $45 a ticket, many dressed in identical black leather and sunglasses, presumably believing this to be Madonna’s current style. Although troops are called in just in case of trouble, I discover that Japanese fans are civilized and well behaved. During the show, instead of standing up and screaming, they are orderly, sit with their arms folded, and never stand up and yell. When the show is over, they don’t jostle to get out, but exit by row, and if anyone leaves something behind, it is immediately turned over to lost property. Both Madonna and I feel relatively safe in Japan. In Osaka, we hear about a great noodle shop, so Madonna hides her hair under a scarf, puts on men’s trousers and a men’s shirt, and together we sneak out of the hotel. The restaurant is packed, we eat in the middle of crowds of people, but no one recognizes her. One night, all of us—Madonna and me, the dancers, Liz and Freddy—visit a geisha house, in a huge hall, all dark wood and pretty. We sit around a twenty-foot-long dining table and are served a ten-course dinner. Once we have finished eating, six geishas appear, singing, dancing, and playing all different instruments.
Madonna, in particular, watches the geisha performance like a hawk. In the future, the geisha costumes, the makeup, the music, even the movements, will be appropriated for her performances and videos. After our geisha evening, we decide that we want to experience more of the mysteries of Japan, so our guide suggests we go to Kyoto. There, we visit a Shinto temple, surrounded by light blue bamboo trees, and little hills covered with fur coats of moss. Madonna and I feel elated that we have finally encountered the mysterious Japan we’ve glimpsed before in Kurosawa’s movies, but the impression is slightly mitigated when we take the high-tech bullet train back to Osaka. Sean doesn’t join us on any of the Asian tour legs. Instead, Madonna spends much of her time with a straight dancer on the tour, Shabadu. I don’t know whether she is cheating on Sean, and I don’t know the nature of her relationship with Shabadu, but I can’t imagine that after the show she would have any energy left over for sex.
On June 27, 1987, the nineteen-city U.S. leg of the Who’s That Girl? tour opens at Miami’s Orange Bowl, and sixty thousand fans brave a tropical downpour to see Madonna. We are staying at the Turnberry Club, where Madonna, as always, has the penthouse. Sean, clearly on his best behavior, fills the suite with white lilies and white orchids and spends a couple of days with her there. They sunbathe in their private rooftop solarium, but even though they are staying in the honeymoon suite, I can tell that this is the swan song for their marriage, and that Madonna is only making an effort because, on July 7, Sean will begin a sixty-day jail term for assaulting a photographer who snapped a picture of him on the Los Angeles set of his latest movie. I feel momentarily sorry for him, then decide that—judging by his past antics—jail might do him some good. AFTER MIAMI, WE move on to Atlanta, Washington, Toronto, Montreal, Foxboro, then Philadelphia, and on July 13, at Madison Square Garden, Madonna performs an AIDS benefit concert in Marty’s memory, during which more than $400,000 is raised on behalf of amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
We both miss Marty, and I know the concert is emotionally draining for Madonna. Yet the show must go on and we both know it, so immediately afterward we move on to Seattle, then Anaheim, Mountain View, Houston, Irving, St. Paul–Minneapolis, Chicago, East Troy, and Richfield. The physical demands of the tour on Madonna are grueling, yet we rarely fight. Madonna sometimes complains about her voice and her throat and how tired she is. She has been working for weeks, singing, dancing, projecting her megawatt personality to the audience, with never a hint of tiredness or boredom, so if—now and again—she is close to exhaustion, I can hardly blame her. I don’t sympathize with her much because I know that while my sister might trawl for sympathy, she isn’t really comfortable when she gets it, nor does she want to spend any time playing the role of victim. So instead of commiserating with her, I give her a quick hug and crack, “I know, Madonna. But just think of what you’re earning.” She perks up immediately. On August 7, Madonna is scheduled to play Pontiac, but causes an uproar when she goes on the Today show and cracks to Jane Pauley that Bay City is “a smelly little town.” After the show, she calls me in a panic asking me if I can remember the name of the plant near Grandma Elsie’s house. I do, and she incorporates that information into her apology to the forty-two thousand fans who attend her performance in Pontiac, and all is forgiven. After the show, we travel home to our father’s house for a barbecue. This is Madonna’s day off and she’d much prefer to be spending it in her hotel suite. I’m relieved, though, to be out of my room, but then it isn’t nearly as nice as her suite.
My father has invited everyone from the tour to the house, and we all travel there by bus. My father barbecues. Joan makes upside-down pineapple cake. Madonna is civil to her, but distant—as she always is in front of our father. Fortunately, she and Joan are never alone together, so Madonna never has the opportunity to give vent to the ever-present bitterness she feels toward Joan. Someone has tipped off the press about our visit, and some of them are lurking in front of the house. Madonna is wearing sunglasses, blue jeans, a white shirt, and little Moroccan flats, with her hair pulled back with a headband. I am in my usual T-shirt and jeans. She looks tired and definitely doesn’t want the press to get a shot of her today, so we stay in the yard. She’s also clearly bored. Some of our neighbors come over, including my first “girlfriend.” She becomes a little worse for wear and starts crying about how much she still loves me and how she wishes we were married. Madonna and everyone else—with the exception of my father and Joan—laugh themselves silly. The old girlfriend has no idea that I am gay, nor, at this point, do my father and Joan.
My dad tries his best to give us all a happy day. We play volleyball, eat a lot, talk about old times, but I know Madonna and I both feel the same: far removed from our past. We find it impossible to go back and spend the afternoon by our childhood sandbox and my old tree house and pretend this is fun when it isn’t. MEANWHILE, DANNY HAS quit Fiorucci and we are both living off my salary (around $50,000 for this tour), so he has to put up with my working for Madonna again. And on August 6, he comes with me to the Times Square premiere of the movie Who’s That Girl? in which she plays an ex-con named Nikki Finn. Madonna looks beautiful in a vintage Marilyn Monroe dress decorated with gold bugle beads. A crowd of more than ten thousand love-struck fans cheers for her. Before she goes into the theater, she says a few words to the crowd over a microphone that’s been set up for that purpose: “This is a real irony. Ten summers ago I made my first trip to New York and I didn’t know a soul here. I told the taxi driver to drop me off right here in the middle of Times Square. I was completely awestruck. And now here I am looking at all of you people and I’m completely awestruck. Thank you, and I hope you like the movie.”
Her pride is palpable, and however exaggerated the story of her first visit here, the essence is true, and she deserves to be proud of all she has achieved. After all, who else could bring Times Square’s traffic to a halt during rush hour? Her sheer star power is immense. Going into the movie, she is happy. Coming out, she is not. The movie, yet another screwball comedy, is awful, and much too late, she’s realized it. Although the screening is in front of an invited audience of friends and associates, and everyone laughs politely in the obvious places, I find it difficult to join in. Even Madonna must have read the writing on the wall and confronted the truth that this abysmal movie is destined to fail. She has never asked my advice regarding whether to take a particular movie part. It’s beginning to dawn on me that she probably doesn’t involve any of her business associates, such as Freddy, Liz, or Seymour, in her moviemaking choices either. Just as she reached for success in the music business with untrammeled self-confidence and an almost insane optimism, blinkering herself to the possibility of failure, she seems to be straining for movie stardom without having any perspective on her acting talent or the roles she takes.
She sees herself as a latter-day Judy Holliday and hasn’t yet realized that Judy was a genuinely funny actress—who won an Academy Award for her performance in Born Yesterday—and that she is not. She hasn’t learned her lesson from Shanghai Surprise, and it seems unlikely that after Who’s That Girl? flops, she will be prepared to step back and make a dispassionate evaluation of her acting talent, or lack of it. The U.S. leg of the tour ends a couple of days later, on August 9, at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, close to the New York State line. On The Virgin Tour we started the tradition that on the last night of the tour, we play a practical joke on one of the tour members. I decide that I am going to play one on Madonna. When I dress her in her Spanish skirt and bolero, I stuff the end of a roll of toilet paper into her shorts. She marches onstage trailing it. The moment she hears the crew and the band laughing, she realizes and pulls it out just before the audience sees it. She doesn’t talk to me for two days, and I guess I can’t blame her.
A lot of my friends come to the last night of the American tour, but I don’t want them to discover that I am merely her dresser and not her personal assistant, which is what I routinely tell them. During the scene in which she throws her glove into the pit and I have to scramble around, find it, and hand it to her, I hide my face so my friends won’t recognize me. Not the proudest moment of my life, but being my sister’s dresser is somewhat degrading and is not an appropriate job for an adult male, and I just don’t want to advertise that I’m doing it. Not that I ever regret being Madonna’s dresser, because, after all, I am part of a huge artistic enterprise and have the opportunity to travel the world and, above all, help my sister. The European leg of the tour opens on August 15, in Leeds, England, before we move on to Wembley Stadium in London, where Madonna performs three sold-out concerts. In Frankfurt, she also plays to sold-out crowds, and in Rotterdam, as well.
In Paris, on August 28, Madonna presents Jacques Chirac with a check for $85,000 to benefit AIDS charities in France. In Paris on August 31, at the Parc de Sceaux, Madonna plays to one of the biggest crowds of her career so far, 130,000 fans. We have a police escort to and from the show. When I look out in the audience, I can’t quite believe that all these people are here to see my sister. Sean already seems like a distant memory. In Italy, when we take our daily jog, three cars drive in front of us, five cars trail behind us, and at least fifty fans and press all jog beside us. It would have been great to be able to jog through these ancient streets of Rome without the circus following us. Worse than the crowd is that we are spluttering from exhaust fumes streaming out of the cars in front of us. Madonna and I kid each other about how Sean would have handled the situation, agree he would probably have liked to kill everyone in sight, and we laugh about it. Instead of drawing a gun, I go up to them, ask them to pull up, and they do. Madonna and I jog on, unfazed. Both of us have long accepted that the press and fans are part of the package, and the truth is that we are both attention junkies and revel in it.
On September 4, in Turin, in front of a cheering audience of over sixty-five thousand, Madonna wows the crowd with her mastery of the Italian language. First she asks them, “Siete già caldi?” (Are you hot?), then announces, “Allora, andiamo!” (Then let’s go), and finally makes the crowd roar in approval by declaring, “Io sono fiera di essere italiana!” (I’m proud to be Italian). Afterward, there is a riot and the police hustle us out of the auditorium. Both of us are a little scared, but we get back to our hotel without further problems. The tour ends on September 6 at the Stadio Communale in Florence. A month later, Forbes will name Madonna the top-earning female entertainer of 1987. Looking back on the Who’s That Girl? tour, I conclude that she’s earned every penny.
I ALSO THINK that her performance as secretary to a mogul in David Mamet’s new eighty-eight minute play, Speed-the-Plow, which opens on May 3, 1988, at Manhattan’s Royale Theatre, is good. I tell her so after seeing the play on opening night. She is pleased, seems happy, but says she can’t get used to playing to an audience that listens in silence and doesn’t scream at intervals. As the run of the play continues, Katharine Hepburn, Sylvester Stallone, and Sigourney Weaver all come to see her. Nonetheless, she tells me she is often bored doing the same thing night after night. In her own show, she can alter steps or lyrics whenever she feels like it, but not in a play. In the end, she concludes that she prefers music extravaganzas. I concur. After Sean is released from jail in mid-September 1987, having served thirtythree days of his sentence, he and Madonna attempt to resuscitate their marriage, but fail. She files for divorce, but later withdraws the petition and decides to try to save the marriage after all.
She lends me $200,000—on which she does not charge me interest, but which I agree to repay within two years, and do—so that I can buy a studio on Fourth between Eleventh and Twelfth, an open space with fifteen-foot ceilings that offers a fine view of Chinatown and the Brooklyn Bridge, where I begin to paint regularly. I consider painting my vocation and, if I had to enter my profession on my passport, would unhesitatingly list it as “artist,” and definitely not “dresser.” Speaking of art, on May 8, 1987, Madonna takes me to a dinner at the Met in honor of their Egyptian exhibition. Lauren Hutton, one of the first supermodels and the star of American Gigolo, sits next to me looking incredibly handsome. We start talking and click. We exchange numbers. She invites me to her loft above an old theater on Jones Street and the Bowery. She’s got a big refectory table with all her magazine covers spread out on it. During our many conversations about life, love, and modeling, she tells me she’s really into art and that she longs to paint, so I advise her to buy a canvas and go ahead and paint. I explain that no one needs to see the result, and if she doesn’t like it, she can paint over it.
The following week she invites me to the apartment again, where she’s now got an eight-foot-long, ten-foot-high blank canvas, and every conceivable paint supply. I am about to ask her what she’s playing at, why she wants to paint so big, and how she got the canvas into the loft in the first place, when she hands me a blue line drawing of a cross section of a pregnant woman, with a fetus inside her. “I wanted you to see this drawing,” she says. The drawing is stunning, beautifully executed, almost perfect. Lauren tells me she wants to paint the same picture on the canvas and asks if I will help her by starting the painting for her. I am hesitant, but agree. She goes out shopping for a couple of hours. During that time, I copy the drawing onto the canvas and am so involved in painting that I don’t even hear her coming back to the loft again, nor do I realize I have nearly completed the painting.
She strides over to the canvas, takes one look at my painting, and flips out. “How dare you finish my painting! How could you do this to me? What have you done? What have you done? I wanted to do all the painting, but you’ve gone and done it again. You must be lashing out at Madonna.” What the hell is she talking about? “You’re crazy,” I tell her. “Paint over it. I don’t care. And don’t call me again until you’ve come to your senses. Madonna has nothing to do with this.” Besides, I’ve only done what Lauren asked—I’ve painted a copy of the drawing onto the canvas. Then I walk out in amazement.
Five days later, she calls me at my studio and apologizes for blowing up like that, but says that she still thinks I’m lashing out at Madonna. I ask her what she did with the painting. She says, “I took it up to the roof and burned it.” I say, “You’re nuts,” and hang up the phone. A few weeks later, Danny and I are strolling around the Village, and on a rack I see a postcard featuring the identical drawing Lauren showed me. I pull it out of the rack and flip it over. On the back, a credit: Picasso, from his blue period. I should have known. I resolve to study Picasso’s work more closely. And although Lauren contacts me later and suggests lunch, I never see her again.
DOWN THE LINE, my study of Picasso will pay off. Two years later, Madonna tells me she wants to start collecting art and will I help her? I find out that a Léger is about to go on the market, get a transparency of it, and show it to my friend Darlene Lutz, an art history major who used to work with Maripol. I tell her I know nothing about the artist or the painting, but think it is great and ask her to research it. She does, and I take the transparency and the information to Madonna, tell her the painting is amazing, perfect for the apartment, and that I think she should have it. She listens, and with her approval I bid $1 million on her behalf and win the painting for her. Soon after, she expresses interest in Tamara de Lempicka because she’s read a book about her and is fascinated by her. I tell her that Lempicka fits exactly into the apartment’s deco style, and Madonna starts collecting her work. From then on, my role in Madonna’s life expands further; along with Darlene Lutz, her official art adviser, I am now her unofficial one. I regularly browse through all the catalogs, visit all the galleries, and, with Darlene, generally bid at auctions on her behalf.
After the Lempicka, Madonna buys Frida Kahlo’s My Birth, and my favorite of all her collection, Dalí’s Veiled Heart. Picasso’s Buste de femme à la frange, depicting Dora Maar, comes on the market. I tell Madonna, and she authorizes Darlene and me to attend the auction and bid on it. The painting is beautiful. Darlene and I sit in Sotheby’s auction room, knowing that Madonna doesn’t want us to bid more than $5 million. I am desperate to win the bidding for her. It opens at $2 million. I bid three. I am outbid by a million. Then I bid again, and there is silence. The auctioneer announces, “Sold to the gentleman with paddle number 329.” Everyone in the room applauds. The painting is mine. Or rather, Madonna’s. The moment is so exhilarating, so surreal. I sign the contract with Sotheby’s, walk out as if I am floating on a cloud.
I call Madonna. “You’ve got it, babe, you’ve got it. It’s fucking beautiful.” She cries, “Yippee.” Then a second later, gives a big sigh. I know exactly what she’s thinking. “It’s worth it, Madonna. You’ve got a really great Picasso.” Madonna decides that the Picasso should be hung over her rosewood desk. I supervise the crew of guys hired to hang it. A few days later, she comes back into town and sees the painting for the first time. “I think it’s beautiful, and I love it,” she says. “And I don’t feel bad about spending the money, because you were right, it is worth every cent.” Over the years, with Darlene, I will spend around $20 million of Madonna’s money on art for her—which collectively, by 2008, has no doubt increased in value by over $100 million. MADONNA NEVER VISITS me in my art studio until one evening when, a few months after I first move in, she arrives there with JFK Jr. Clearly her ploy of making him jealous during his visit to her dressing room has worked. I’m not surprised. She hasn’t told me that they are romantically involved. But by bringing him to the studio, she clearly wants to let me know that she and John are an item. I also get the feeling she wants to impress me, and she does. I am more than impressed. I am knocked out. I can hardly believe that I have a Kennedy in my studio. John is handsome and polite, but it’s clear that their relationship is casual, light and fun.
Later, Madonna calls me and says, “I feel like I am repeating Marilyn and the president.” I can’t believe she’s serious. I tell her, “Go ahead and enjoy yourself. You aren’t Marilyn, and he’s not the president.” After she hangs up, I ponder whether she is using John’s luster to enhance her own mythology. Then I remember that although John, bowing to his mother’s wishes, is assistant DA here in Manhattan, he is also an aspiring actor and is set to make his professional acting debut a few months later in Winners at Manhattan’s Irish Arts Center. He may well feel that dating Madonna is more appropriate to his theatrical aspirations. In the end, they date briefly, hang out for a while, work out at the gym and go jogging in Central Park together, then part. However, they remain friends, and when John founds a new magazine, George, Madonna even agrees to pose for the cover.
This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. William Shakespeare, Hamlet BY NOW, DANNY and I have settled into an annual holiday routine. His family know he is gay and accept me completely. The highlight of our relationship comes every Christmas when, on Christmas Eve, we drive in my old used green Range Rover—along with two of his brothers who live in Manhattan—to his parents’ place in Queens, where we will spend the night. His parents always decorate the house in true American Christmas style—too much of everything. But I love being there and would never dream of commenting on it. I am far too content, as I feel that I am now part of the family.
Each year, I bring Grandma Elsie’s meat pie, which I’ve made and everyone loves. Then on Christmas morning, I fly to Michigan and spend Christmas with my family. Even though Danny’s family are New Yorkers and my family are Midwesterners, there is very little difference between them, other than that Danny’s family are comfortable with his sexuality, and my family— with the exception of Marty, Melanie, and Madonna—are totally in the dark about mine. On the afternoon of Christmas Day 1987, my father decides to confront the issue at last. He asks me to come out to the garage and help him change the oil on his old Ford F-150. Not an odd request, as I am a Detroit boy, born and bred.
We are alone. As I slide under the truck to empty the oil, my father goes quiet, then asks, “Are you a homosexual?” I drop the wrench and knock my head on the front bumper as I sit up. “What?” An extremely pregnant pause. “You don’t have a girlfriend. You don’t ever talk about girls…and I’d like to know if you’re, well, gay?” I consider my options. I am twenty-seven years old and am in a committed and loving relationship with a man. Why be afraid to admit the truth? The image of Marty floats before my eyes, taunting me. I grit my teeth and erase it. “Yes,” I say, “yes, I am.” I hold my breath, waiting for my father, a church deacon and a conservative Catholic, to explode in rage and disappointment. Instead, to my vast relief, he starts laughing. “I should have guessed a long time ago, but it only crossed my mind lately.” I am immensely surprised by his benign reaction, surprised, and I feel a bit strange. But glad I won’t have to keep my sexuality a secret anymore. We go back to working on the car together. I assume we will now live happily ever after. My father, me, and his knowledge of my homosexuality.
I return to New York. A month passes. Then a letter arrives from my father, in which he says, “Christopher, after our discussion, I’ve thought about this for quite a while. And I don’t think you are well. So I think you should see a psychiatrist to help you with this problem. And I’d be happy to pay for it.” I am appalled. I had been fully prepared for my father to react this way when I first told him that I’m gay, but not now, not a month later. The first time around, he played the tolerant liberal, but now his true feelings have come out and I am deeply disappointed. For while I understand his position on homosexuality, what really hurts me is that he is suggesting that I am mentally ill and, thereby, Danny as well. And by doing so, he is relegating my love for Danny to being merely a symptom of our dual sicknesses. I write back, “Dear Dad, fuck you. I am not mentally ill and I will not ‘seek help’ to cure something that doesn’t exist. I am the most stable of all your children. The only one who has been in a relationship for more than two years. You’ve never seen me naked in Playboy and I haven’t fathered any children out of wedlock. If you’d like to vent your morality, I suggest you look to your other children.
“Until you come to terms with my life and choices, don’t bother calling or writing. Good-bye. Our relationship is over.” A part of me understands my father’s position, but I don’t accept it. It hurts me, particularly because Danny is being dismissed as an illness. So I choose him over my father. My father and I don’t speak for a year. I am surprised and touched when Joan calls a few times and tells me she knows what is going on with me and Dad, that she supports me, but I need to understand his point. The Catholic view, etc. I listen but am not convinced. A year later, out of the blue and to my great surprise, my father calls me and says, “I don’t want this to come between us. I want you in our lives. I can accept you for what you are and I love you.” I am incredibly moved by this and pleased that my father has come to accept me. And I tell him I love him, too, and apologize for the letter I wrote to him. He then invites me and Danny home for the following weekend. Danny and I fly to Michigan. It’s late spring and the weather is ideal. Leaves and flowers have bloomed and I’m happy to see the six massive cottonwood trees that line the front yard. My parents are there to greet us, and much to my dismay, I find that we will be alone with them the entire weekend. All weekend, my father is overaccommodating, telling jokes, acting exactly as he would have with one of my sister’s boyfriends. He’s trying really hard. I say, “Dad, you’re embarrassing me.”
He certainly is, but at the same time I’m deeply touched that he loves me so much that he is willing to put aside all his hitherto die-hard beliefs and prejudices. In fact, he has gone the extra few miles to demonstrate his acceptance of me and my sexual choices, because had I brought a girl with me for the weekend, he would never have allowed us to sleep in the same room together. Later, he even went so far as to ignore Madonna’s exalted status, both in the world and in our family, and banned her and Carlos Leon from sharing the same bedroom because they were unmarried. Yet with me, he has pulled out all the psychological stops and has even instructed Joan to make up the bedroom next to his and hers for Danny and me. I know that the walls are practically made of cardboard and that my parents will hear every single sound through them. I suggest to Danny that we have sex, but are unable to because we can’t stop laughing. We bounce up and down on the bed instead, doing our best to make my parents uncomfortable. Despite our mischievous moment of immaturity, the weekend goes great. Afterward, my father and I begin speaking regularly and the subject of my being gay doesn’t come up again.
Sometime later, Danny and I get an invitation from Melanie to her upcoming wedding in Michigan. I know all my family will be there. We accept. A week later, I get a call from my father asking if I am bringing Danny with me. I tell him that of course I am. He tells me he wishes I wouldn’t because many of our distant relatives don’t know about my sexuality. I say, “You know what, Dad, I’m coming and Danny is coming. Melanie invited us both and that’s that.” I realize that it is taking my father longer to accept my sexuality than I thought. At the wedding, I introduce Danny as my friend and my father avoids us. We don’t kiss in front of anyone or hold hands. I’ve got the message. It’s going to take a little more time.
IT’S 1988, AND Sean is making a heavy, serious movie, Casualties of War, and is completely out of step with Madonna, her life, her art, and, in particular, her friends. He’s also far from amused by her latest playmate, the self-avowed lesbian, hip comedienne Sandra Bernhard. Whenever I see Sandra and Madonna together, Sandra seems enthralled by Madonna, almost worshipful. Whereas in my estimation Madonna is just playing around with her. She and Sandra hang out at clubs all over the city, sometimes with Jennifer Grey, who has just split from Matthew Broderick, and the three of them celebrate Sandra’s birthday at The World together. Madonna and Sandra pose happily for press pictures together. Clearly aware that the cameras are on hand to immortalize the tableau, Sandra rests her head on Madonna’s shoulder, while Madonna runs her fingers through Sandra’s hair. On July 1, 1988, Madonna makes a surprise, unscheduled appearance on Late Night with David Letterman on which Sandra is guesting. The reason, of course, is publicity; Ciao Italia: Live from Italy has been released on home video and, just weeks after her Letterman appearance, catapults to number one. Her way of promoting herself, though, is quintessential Madonna. By prior arrangement with the producers, in the middle of Dave’s interview with Sandra, Madonna suddenly materializes on the set, challenging Dave, “Let’s talk about me and Sandra.” Letterman asks how she and Sandra spend their time and whether he could hang out with them. “If you get a sex change,” Madonna cracks. I can tell she thinks she is being funny. It gets worse.
Sandra tells Letterman that she and Madonna hang out at the Cubby Hole, a notorious lesbian bar in the Village. “I think it’s time to fess up, get real,” says Madonna. “She doesn’t give a damn about me…. She loves Sean. She’s using me to get to Sean.” That ridiculous statement aside, she is clearly working to give the impression that she and Sandra are having a gay affair. I believe that isn’t true. I feel Madonna is just working the PR factor. She and Sandra carry on their double act when, in June 1989, they perform Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” at a benefit for saving the rain forests. I attend and don’t find them nearly as funny as I know they think they are. Nineteen eighty-eight ends with Madonna signing a two-year film contract with Columbia Pictures and being cited in the 1988 Guinness Book of World Records for selling 11 million copies of True Blue, which hit number one in twenty-eight countries. By now, Madonna is spending most of her time in her Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. At first, I was really disappointed that she bought that apartment because, to me, the building—a 1915 brick building, built in the arts and crafts style—is ugly. She and Sean have tried and failed to get into the San Remo and the Dakota, so this place seemed a good second best. Besides, she wanted to live by the park. The apartment is on the sixth floor, facing the park, but as the years go by, the trees grow taller, obscuring the view completely. Not that Madonna cares too much. She far prefers New York to L.A., and until she moves to London, Central Park West is her favorite home.
Now that she is on the verge of divorcing Sean—which, true to family tradition, she and I never discuss—Madonna asks me to design and decorate her New York apartment so she can live in it permanently. As far as she is now concerned, I’ve clearly proven myself and won her trust—she gives me a credit card with my name on it, charged to her account, and doesn’t even set a budget. So I go furniture shopping for the apartment, buy a couple of simple sofas, some chairs, not in any particular style, a dining room table, and some stools. Without realizing it at the time—thanks to my sister, as ever, the instrument of my fate—I am becoming an interior designer. Eventually, she will buy the apartment next door, join it to the first, then later add a third and a fourth, all of which I design. The first time around, I decorate the apartment’s entrance in a muted gray; a 1930s Fresson print by French photographer Laure Albin-Guillot, entitled Nude, hangs on the wall above a gilded, late-nineteenth-century Russian chair.
Léger’s Les Deux Bicyclettes, the first major artwork I encouraged Madonna to purchase, hangs above the wood-burning fireplace. My sister loves fireplaces and also has one in her bedroom, opposite her theatrical burl-maple bed with copper trim, which is lit by a burnished-copper, oval ceiling light fixture that I designed for her. I also design the barrel-vaulted hallway, in which hang many female nudes, including Nude 1929 by George Platt Lynes, and a series of nude distortions by André Kertész. I also design Madonna’s rosewood desk, and her stainless steel kitchen, complete with microwave, in which she likes to make popcorn. Rice Krispies Treats represent the rest of her culinary repertoire. Generally, when she entertains, either I cook or she hires a caterer or in more recent years, a French macrobiotic chef. On those evenings, the rooms are lit by her favorite gardenia-scented Diptyque candles. While I am designing the kitchen, Madonna asks me to create a breakfast nook rather like a booth in a 1950s diner, which she feels is perfect for small, intimate gatherings.
IN JANUARY 1989, I get a call from Liz asking me to fly to L.A. Apparently, the previous night, Madonna and Sean had a big fight, and Madonna needs me. I call Madonna at once and ask how she is. She says she is okay, but her voice is small and I know she isn’t. Without going into great detail, she tells me that Sean has been violent and abusive to her again. “If you want me to kill him for you, I’d be happy to,” I say. She gives a weak laugh and tells me she is staying at her manager Freddy’s Beverly Hills home and feels relatively safe. “But you aren’t going back to your own home?” I ask. She tells me she isn’t because she wants to avoid Sean and that she needs to find a new house for herself right away. She asks if I’ll help her. I tell her I am happy to. The next day I fly out and check into the Bel Age Hotel. She picks me up in her black 1988 convertible Mercedes 560SL, a car she loves. But because she is rigorous about protecting her skin, during the ten years she owns the car she never takes the top down. When we meet, she looks pale and wan, and I can tell that she hasn’t slept for days. She seems depressed, but when I ask her if she wants to talk, she squares her shoulders and tells me that she doesn’t. “No, let’s concentrate on houses,” she says.
Over just a few days, I look at more than twenty-five houses for her. The last is on Oriole Way. Although it is perched on the edge of the Hollywood Hills, it has the air of a Manhattan penthouse, and I sense that Madonna will be happy there. The house is ready to move into, and just needs furnishing. I tell her about it, show her the house, and she signs the papers immediately, and I set about furnishing her new home. She has total confidence in my taste and tells me to buy whatever I want, money is no object. So I go to the Design Center, aware that they never sell anything straight off the floor. But, as I suspect, when I tell them the furniture is for Madonna, they immediately go against their policy and sell me whatever I want to buy for her. Then I shop Melrose Place for antiques—primarily Italian, including eighteenth-century chairs and a pair of candelabra—and all over town for sheets, towels, dishes, soap, potato peelers, everything. Two weeks later, Madonna moves into the house and is delighted by what I’ve wrought for her in such a short time.
On January 25, 1989, Madonna signs a deal to make a $5 million, twominute commercial for Pepsi, which also includes Pepsi sponsoring her upcoming tour. She is slated to appear in the commercial, and “Like a Prayer,” her upcoming single, will play in the commercial as well. It’s a perfect financial deal and a great way of launching “Like a Prayer.” Michael Jackson had previously made a similar deal with Pepsi, so I assume Freddy has suggested and brokered the deal for her. On February 22, 1989, during the Grammy telecast, Pepsi takes the unprecedented step of running a television commercial for the commercial. And on March 2, an estimated 250 million people worldwide tune in to see Madonna in the commercial itself. I imagine that Pepsi feels it got its money’s worth out of her. Soon afterward, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video bursts upon the world, featuring Madonna dancing in a field of burning crosses, simulating stigmata and seemingly crying tears of blood, and kissing a black saint. To me, what happens next is predictable.
On April 5, 1989, Pepsi announces that it is dropping its ad featuring Madonna and “Like a Prayer” because of boycott threats sparked by the religious imagery in the video. I visit her at Oriole Way and she shows me the video. “Can you believe it—they canceled my video!” she says. “Well,” I say as gently as possible, “you have burning crosses in it, you are pretending to have stigmata, and you are kissing a black saint. Didn’t you think that might be a problem?” “But I don’t understand why.” She really has no idea that what she has done is eminently shocking because she simply didn’t do it to shock. She isn’t upset about the ad being canceled—because, after all, Pepsi has already paid her $5 million for it—but is genuinely surprised.
Soon after, I come to the house again to see Madonna and almost pass out in shock. Her lips are enormous. “Did somebody sock you?” I ask. “No, I just hurt my lips.” Concerned, I ask how. “I don’t know,” she says. “Perhaps I’ve got an allergy.” Of course, she’s lying, but I don’t suspect. I haven’t yet heard of collagen. If I had, I would have fully understood her reasons for wanting to acquire sultry, sensuous lips: she is about to meet one of the most notoriously libidinous men alive, Warren Beatty. Madonna is determined to win the part of Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy, the upcoming movie based on the comic strip that Warren Beatty’s producing and directing. Breathless—a femme fatale who schemes to lure Dick from his loyal girlfriend, Tess Trueheart—is the perfect role for Madonna and she knows it.
Initially, Sean Young was cast in the part, but she backed out, claiming that Warren had made sexual advances to her. Undeterred, he set his sights on casting either Kim Basinger or Kathleen Turner in the role. Then Madonna threw her hat in the ring. Warren, however, was far from a pushover. Through the grapevine, he let it be known that he was now considering Michelle Pfeiffer for the part. Madonna countered by offering to play it for union scale, just $27,360—plus a percentage of the box office take. Warren still held out. Then he and Madonna had dinner together at the Ivy, and the deal was done—just as I believe Warren had always intended. According to Desperately Seeking Susan’s director Susan Seidelman, as far back as 1984 Warren had asked to view the dailies of the movie and was palpably intrigued by Madonna. Madonna, too, had always had a yen for Warren. I flash back to her bedroom in Michigan and remember that when Madonna and I were teenagers, while I only had maps hanging over my bunk bed, Madonna had a poster of Warren Beatty. And when his seminal movie Reds, the story of revolutionary John Reed, who wrote Ten Days That Shook the World, is released in 1981, she insists that we go to the movies and see it together.
They finally meet for the first time in 1985 when Sean introduced her to him at a party. Madonna tells me she has the Breathless Mahoney part, and that she’s dating Warren, as well. Not a surprise to me, as he is notorious for becoming involved with his leading ladies, including Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, and Natalie Wood. As for Madonna, she will be intrigued by the ghosts of girlfriends past and will find following in the footsteps of Brigitte Bardot, Vivien Leigh, Joan Collins, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Susan Strasberg, Britt Ekland, and a legion of other legendary—and not so legendary— beauties who have loved and been loved by Warren not only challenging, but also massively erotic. Madonna is a big star now, bigger than Warren, sure of her status, but curious about what hanging out with him will be like. Above all, my sister being my sister, she’s acutely aware that being Warren Beatty’s girlfriend is wonderful for her mythology, her status in Hollywood, not to mention its positive effect on the final cut he, as director, will make on Dick Tracy. As for Warren, he is fifty-two now, and a romance with the biggest female star in the universe—more than twenty years his junior—is clearly a canny career move for him.
Meanwhile, true to form, Madonna doesn’t allow her liaison with the playboy Warren Beatty to distract her from the main event: her career. Filming begins on Dick Tracy on February 28, 1989, around the same time she makes the “Express Yourself” video—which is filmed on a $5 million budget, the highest in music video history—and still summons up the energy to take part in an AIDS Dance-a-Thon benefit at the Shrine Auditorium. At the height of her romance with Warren, Madonna tells me that he wants to meet me. I’m both flattered and immensely curious. I accept Warren’s invitation to join him and some friends for dinner at his house on Mulholland Drive, overlooking the San Fernando Valley. I arrive at the lower driveway. There is no security. I ring the bell at the gate and Warren’s assistant opens it and shows me into a large area between the dining room and a glass veranda, with a roof opening up to the sky.
A long table set for twenty people is covered with a simple tablecloth, no table decoration, and set with rather ordinary china. Cozy is not a word I’d apply to the house. There are no plants, no art, no photographs on display, everything is austere. A Sinatra song—redolent of hot women and cool sexual conquests—plays in the background, but other than that, there is no sense whatsoever that this is the home of a legendary lothario whose conquests number many of the world’s most desirable women, including my sister. Warren’s soulless house doesn’t betray an iota about the nature of his charm, his capacity to seduce practically everyone who crosses his path. Then I shake hands with him and within ten seconds experience perfectly the full megawattage of his all-embracing allure. His hand is big. He slides it into mine slowly. Then applies slight pressure. He keeps hold of my hand a split second longer than is usual. The moment has a distinctly sexual feel to it.
He stares straight into my eyes, says hello, and I say hello back. “So, Christopher,” he says in his deep, slow, measured voice, without hardly skipping a beat. “Can I ask you something?” I nod, already enraptured by him. “What is it really like being gay?” he asks, as intently as if he has been yearning for half a lifetime to meet me and pose that question to me. “And do you feel you had a choice, or do you think you were born gay?” he adds, as he guides me over to a couch and we sit down there together. Within moments, I am pouring out all kinds of intimate details about my sexuality to him. “So has it been difficult for you—being gay?” he asks, gazing intently into my eyes. By now, Debi Mazur, Jennifer Grey, and a few of the tour dancers are also in the room, standing near the couch, but Warren makes me feel as if he and I were the only people there.
I am totally won over, sucked into the maelstrom of his irresistible persona, instantly under the sway of his lethal charm, and I’ve only known him for about ten minutes. Warren’s potent spell over me does momentarily weaken when—on our second meeting—he again asks me similar questions about my sexuality. And on our third. And on our fourth. I am left with the strong impression either that Warren is obsessed by homosexuality, or else that asking so many questions about it is simply his tactic for putting me at ease, and he is just being charming to me because—in the eventuality that I become his brotherin- law—he wants me on his side. Back to our first meeting chez Warren. Dinner conversation is light; Warren drinks little. His chef serves us run-of-the-mill California cuisine. Madonna, in a short black skirt and black top, sits next to Warren, but isn’t the least bit kittenish and definitely doesn’t cling to him.
“Wa-a-ren Batey,” she whines halfway through dinner, “I’m getting bored.” Of course she is. Warren has been expounding on his friend Senator Gary Hart’s chance of making it to the White House, and my sister always gets bored unless the conversation centers on her, her next tour, or her next album. Warren, however, isn’t the least bit insulted. Instead, he smiles indulgently. I can tell he’s amused by Madonna, but that their relationship is more father and daughter than highly passionate fling. Throughout dinner, they rarely touch. In all the subsequent times the three of us are together, I never see Warren and Madonna kiss or cuddle or even hold hands. Chocolate mousse is served. My sister wolfs it down, stands up, announces, “I’m done,” and then walks out of the dining room. I am transported back to Monopoly. I am nine, she is eleven. I succeed in buying Park Place, but because I am not yet aware of the natural scheme of things in my little world, I refuse to relinquish it to her. Now I’m going to win, and I’m glad.
“I’m done,” my sister declares, throws her pawn—always the top hat, whereas I always get the iron—onto the board, and flounces out of the room. The game instantly ends. Years later, and nothing has changed. Warren, however, remains unperturbed. He makes no attempt to control Madonna. And she knows better than to try to control him. She understands only too well that countless women before her have tried and failed. She has no intention of making the same mistake. Whatever else her machinations entail, they clearly succeed on a big scale, because one morning, when we are in the kitchen having coffee, she tells me Warren has asked her to marry him. I put down my mug, completely surprised. “So do you think I should, Christopher?” “Well, do you love him?” “I think so. What do you think?”
I hesitate. She exuded more passion for Sean and will in the future have more for her boyfriend John Enos and Carlos Leon, the father of her daughter. So I tell her that I like Warren and think that he will make a great father, but I don’t say much else because—despite his devastating charm, his political clout, and his vast power in Hollywood—I sense that my sister isn’t truly in love with him. She likes him, admires him, and they have fun together, but love doesn’t come into the equation. In the end, she stalls the question of marriage, and the fun goes on. THE THREE OF us go to see k. d. lang perform at the Wiltern in L.A. Warren drives us to and from the show in his gold 560SEL Mercedes, which I covet. I vow to one day own the identical model in black, and eventually I do. After the concert, in the car driving home, Warren ponders, “Why is it that women with extremely strong voices are always nuts?” An interesting question and, perhaps, a backhanded compliment to my sister. I’m extremely curious about Warren’s relationship with his own sister, actress Shirley MacLaine, three years his senior, but he never mentions her. When I tentatively ask him if he ever hangs out with her, there is a long pause. “We live in separate worlds,” he finally says. THAT SUMMER DANNY and I lease our usual house on Fire Island—a three-bedroom, 1950s cottage on the bay. Fire Island is twenty-six miles long, a quarter of a mile wide, and runs along the southern coast of Long Island and is dotted with small, separate communities. The farther east you travel from New York City, the more “rugged” and gay the communities become—culminating in Cherry Grove and the Pines, which are completely gay.
Cars are banned here, so the residents use small wagons to transport luggage and groceries around its narrow boardwalks. Fire Island is beautiful and the only place in the world where I feel completely at ease being a gay man. I invite Warren and Madonna to come out there for lunch, and—to my surprise—they agree. I tell them that they can either drive to Sayville and take the ferry from there to the Pines, or take a seaplane from East Twentythird Street in Manhattan. They opt to take the seaplane. I go to meet them at the dock. They disembark from the plane looking green with nausea. Both of them say, “We are never ever doing this again. Why didn’t you tell us?” Apparently, space in the plane was really tight, and it flew so low that it bounced all the way from Manhattan to the Pines.
Once they’ve recovered from the trip, we have lunch and then go swimming. By now it’s midafternoon. The island is swarming with people. The word that Warren and Madonna are in town sweeps through the island like wildfire. They are probably the biggest stars ever to visit in more than fifty years. After that, my status on Fire Island really soars. At the end of the day, I take Warren and Madonna to the ferry, which takes them to Sayville, where a car will take them to Manhattan in comfort. Danny and I walk back to the house, smiling, knowing that everyone knows we just had Madonna and Warren Beatty to lunch.
MADONNA CARES ENOUGH about Warren to want to buy him a birthday gift. She shows me a 1930s Lempicka-style painting of a man sitting in a cockpit, entitled The Aviator, and asks me if I think he will like it. Aware of Warren’s fascination with Howard Hughes, I tell her I think he will and she buys it for him. He hangs it just outside the foyer of his house, and it is now the only piece of art to hang in his home. DURING THE MAKING of Dick Tracy, I visit Madonna on set. She is shooting the first scene, set in Breathless Mahoney’s dressing room, when Breathless first meets Dick and asks if he is going to arrest her. In a sheer, black, floor-length robe, which affords the illusion that—aside from small black panties—she has nothing on underneath, Madonna is at her most beautiful. Her makeup, too, is flawless: translucent skin, bright red lips, and her hair in platinum curls. As we chat on set, her hairdresser is teasing her hair. I ask Madonna how the movie is going for her. “Difficult. Nerve-racking, really. I feel like the baby on set.” I tell her I sympathize. “I’m playing a bad girl.”
I attempt to raise an eyebrow. “So what’s it like working with Warren?” “Amazing. He’s being so helpful and patient. Not like working with Sean.” On many nights, after dinner, Warren, Madonna, and I go clubbing together. Throughout her career, Madonna has always made a point of checking out all the clubs—in particular the black clubs, where the new dance trends usually begin, so she can monitor what everyone is doing. Hence her discovery of voguing. By maintaining contact with the club world, keeping a toe in the water, and staying on top of the current trends, Madonna has consistently remained at the top of her game. Of course, her club forays end when she discovers Kabbalah, but around the time of her relationship with Warren, she is still going to clubs, catching dance trends at the top of the wave, then incorporating them into her albums or videos. The three of us often go to Catch One, a black club with a drag-queen room. The club is in the kind of L.A. district where you leave your car outside, but have to pay a guy to watch it—otherwise it won’t be there when you come out.
We also often go to Club Louis on Pico, a tiny place run by Steve Antin, an actor, with a bar rather like someone’s living room, decorated with seventies posters of black guys with Afros. Very cool. Madonna and I really love it there, and so do countless other celebrities. We spend the night on the dance floor, doing steps from our old track-date routines, making up new ones along the way. My sister dances with me, and if any of our dancers come with us, we all dance together. On the dance floor Madonna isn’t self-centered. She doesn’t want to dance alone, but in step with me and anyone else we are with; we all end up dancing the same steps together. Meanwhile, Warren sits on the sidelines, sometimes smiling, other times frowning, always watching, always indulgent, and un-threatened by being around so many gay people. I say, “Come on, Warren, come and dance with us.” He grins that half grin and says, “No, thanks, you guys do it better than I do. Dance away.”
He is the only straight guy in the room, and I think he likes it that way. He doesn’t have a problem with all the gays dancing together. He is far too sure of his own masculinity for that. Nor does he react to my gayness by deriding me or by suggesting that my sexuality emasculates me. He always treats me with the utmost respect, makes sure never to overlook me, and never comes between Madonna and me. All in all, I really like and admire Warren. Meanwhile, my sister is cheating on him. I KNOW LITTLE about the other man, just that he is Latino. She has told me that she doesn’t trust Warren; she is convinced that he is being unfaithful to her, but she has nothing tangible on which to base her suspicions. From what I know of him, I think she is wrong and that he isn’t fooling around.
Warren is perceptive enough to sense that Madonna has other fish to fry, and that, as far as she is concerned, he definitely is not the only game in town. At this stage, we are rehearsing for the next tour, Blond Ambition. Madonna has promoted me to artistic director, although she still wants me to dress her, and I am more involved than ever in planning the tour. In the four-month runup, I stay with her at Oriole Way, where I have my own room. We run together every day and afterward work fourteen hours a day and hang out together when we’re not working. Warren rarely comes to rehearsals. Many times at the end of the day, when we are in the kitchen, talking about the show, Madonna tells me Warren is coming over later. By the time he makes it, I am usually in bed. The next morning, Madonna and I go running. When we get back, he has already left. One night, I wake up thirsty at around three in the morning and go to get a glass of water. The house is dark and the limestone floors are cool beneath my feet. The house is shaped like a U, with the master bedroom at the end of one side of the U and my bedroom at the end of the other. In between, there is the office, the library, the living room, and the kitchen. To get to the kitchen, you have to go past the office. As I walk down the long hall to the kitchen, out of the corner of my eye, in the shadows, I see Warren in the office. It looks to me as if he is rifling through my sister’s wastebasket. I quickly walk on into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water, making sure to create a lot of noise.
When I walk past the office again, Warren is gone. The next morning I decide to keep the whole Warren-in-the-office incident to myself. But deep down, I think that Warren, operator that he has always been, has had the sense to recognize his equal in Madonna. An accomplished philanderer, he has met his match and knows it. All that is left for him is to un-earth the evidence. And that, I believe, is apparently the explanation for his going through Madonna’s garbage: searching for proof of her infidelity out of an understandable desire to know the truth. Whether he finds it is debatable. What is incontrovertible is that as soon as Madonna starts being filmed for Truth or Dare, his relationship with her starts to spiral downward. Warren exhibits great disdain for the project, and—with the exception of one short scene—refuses to take part in it. His refusal earns him my further admiration.
EACH MORNING BEFORE rehearsal, Madonna and I go for our usual sixmile run. On the way back to Oriole Way, we run up an extremely steep hill. One morning, I get to the top of the hill and feel light-headed. I don’t say anything to Madonna, drive with her to rehearsals, but all morning keep forgetting things and, in general, feel extremely weird. I find it difficult to catch my breath. By lunchtime, my thoughts are in turmoil. So I go to see David Mallet, the tour director, and tell him I don’t feel well and that I think I need to go to the hospital—adding that he mustn’t tell Madonna, as I don’t want her to freak out. I go to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, on South Buena Vista right by Warner Studios, and take an ECG. The results show that I am in the midst of an arrhythmia attack. My heartbeat is off-kilter and blood is failing to reach my brain properly. I lie on the table, worrying about how rehearsal is going without me.
A freckle-faced nurse pops her head into the curtained area I’m in and with a look of surprise and curiosity says, “Madonna is on the phone for you. Is it the Madonna?” I tell her it is and ask her to bring me the phone, which she does. Madonna asks me what’s going on. I tell her that I have a problem with my heart and that further tests are pending. She tells me not to worry about coming back to rehearsals, and that she’ll call back to see how I am. Then she carries on rehearsing. Fifteen minutes later, the same nurse comes up to me and—with utter disbelief—announces, “Warren Beatty’s on the phone! You’re pretty popular!” I smile wanly and get on the phone with Warren. “Christopher, tell me exactly what’s going on.” I tell him, and without skipping a beat, Warren says, “I am going to call my cardiologist. He’ll call you back in five minutes.” He does.
I see the cardiologist the next morning, and he diagnoses me with mitralvalve prolapse. Whatever is or is not going on between Warren and my sister, Warren is there for me, he comes through. I think he is cooler than ever. (Six years later, the same thing happens to me again, but my heart problem is reclassified as a stress-related electrical issue—at that time in my life, hardly surprising.)
The last time I see my sister and Warren together is at the Washington premiere of Dick Tracy. Afterward, they and the dancers and I all come back to the hotel together. I go downstairs to have a drink, and Warren and Madonna go upstairs together. After that, their relationship just fizzles out. They have been an item for just fifteen months. No fireworks, no recriminations herald the end of their romance. Just a slow, gentle fade-out. I last see Warren about four years ago when we have lunch together at a little Japanese restaurant high above Beverly Hills, close to his home on Mulholland. He advises me about a script I’ve written, I advise him regarding renovations on his home, and then he asks me about Madonna. For a while, we chat about her. But during the entire lunch, Warren, cool as ever, never once mentions current my brother-in-law Guy Ritchie. All during my lunch with Warren, I wish that Madonna had married him instead. Warren’s successor in my sister’s life is not a big-time Hollywood tycoon, but a twenty-seven-year-old actor, Tony Ward—who appeared in the Pepsi video and has also made gay as well as straight porn. Not that Madonna has ever been remotely interested in porn. The image she so painstakingly projects in her book Sex is just that—an image concocted for commercial purposes. She never has any porn around any of her houses. Like Warren, though, Tony is incredibly sexy, and I fully understand Madonna’s attraction to him, though in this case I don’t share it. As the eighties end, Madonna is showered with accolades. MTV’s viewers vote her Artist of the Decade, People lists her as one of “20 Who Defined the Decade,” she overtakes the Beatles on the list of all-time consecutive top-five U.S. singles (she has sixteen of them in a row), and she is named the world’s top-earning female entertainer. Madonna’s legend will unquestionably endure far into the next decade.
What counted was mythology of self, blotched out beyond blotching. Wallace Stevens THE DAY BEFORE the opening of the Blond Ambition world tour, Marine Stadium, Makuhari, Tokyo, Japan, April 12, 1990, Madonna marches onstage bitching about the sound system, stomping around and yelling “You motherfuckers,” all classic Madonna, all captured on camera by Alek Keshishian for his documentary Truth or Dare. I hesitate, though, to apply the word documentary to my sister’s performance in Truth or Dare because it really is a performance, comprising the best acting of her whole career. And anyone who thinks that Truth or Dare reveals the real Madonna is on the wrong track—just as she always intended them to be. The title, Truth or Dare, is a grave misnomer, because anyone seeking the truth about the real person behind my sister’s artfully constructed facade won’t find it in this “documentary,” except in the Marine Stadium scene and in a second authentic Madonna moment, which comes when she is having breakfast with Sandra Bernhard. Dressed in a silk kimono, she is relaxed and natural. Sandra asks her about her childhood after our mother died, and Madonna tells her how—for five years after our mother’s death—she used to have nightmares that someone was strangling her, broke out in sweats, and fled to our father’s bed for comfort. Sandra asks how she slept in her father’s bed, and Madonna cracks, “Fine. I went right to sleep after he fucked me.” Then she laughs at her own “joke” and adds, “No, I’m just kidding.” The scene perfectly illustrates Madonna in one of her more aberrational moments when—in her head—she is so above everything and everyone that she thinks she can say whatever she wants. I never mention it to her again. I am far too angry with her.
As to the rest of Truth or Dare—which in Britain is retitled as Bedtime with Madonna—this travesty of reality starts with Madonna bemoaning that the end of the tour is nigh. “I’m just getting rid of the depression of what I feel when the tour’s over with…. I know I’m going to feel something later.” Consequently, she says, she is becoming emotional. In reality—and this is an exact quote from Madonna, as she told me when the tour ended—her primary emotion was “Thank God it’s over.” In general the end of a tour is never remotely emotional for Madonna, just for the tour dancers, who have been harboring the fantasy that they have been growing closer to her daily—and will always remain so. However, during these last days of the tour, they are slowly starting to realize that once the tour is over, they will never see her again face-to-face. In this first scene of Truth or Dare, Madonna appears to be extremely thoughtful and weighing her words. In reality, she is far more likely to blurt things out, without giving them any thought at all. Yet here she is obviously calculating what to say next and is clearly reciting her words, as if she has memorized them from a script.
The phone call to my father, inviting him to the show—which begins, “Listen, I realize I haven’t talked to you in a while. You know I hope everything’s okay and everything, but I have no idea what night you guys are coming to the show, what night…. Well, who wants to come and when?”—is also a setup, filmed with my father’s permission. In real life, Madonna’s assistant Melissa would have made that call, not Madonna. When she pulls the petals off a daisy and wistfully poses the question about Warren—“He loves me, he loves me not”—that moment is contrived for the camera. At this stage in their relationship, Madonna doesn’t care much about Warren at all anymore. Nor would she ever berate him the way she does on camera or call him “pussy man.” In real life, she would be far more polite, far more respectful. As for Warren, he makes it clear from the start that he hates the concept of Truth or Dare. He definitely is not himself in the few scenes in which he consented to take part. After Madonna secretly tapes one of their more intimate phone calls and later tells him she plans to include it in the documentary, he sends in his lawyers and the call is cut.
During the scene in Toronto, when we play the SkyDome on May 27 and 28 and her manager, Freddy DeMann, and I learn that the police might arrest Madonna for obscenity, I am seen giving her the news. The scene is staged from start to finish. The director urged me to tell Madonna on camera, and despite my better instincts, I agreed. In reality, I would never have mentioned the police threat to her until after the show, and would have dealt with the situation myself. The backstage scenes in the Palace, Michigan, when Madonna plays there from May 30 to June 2, are also contrived. In my experience, Madonna would not have allowed Marty backstage, or her childhood friend Moira McPharlin. Nor would she have socialized with the dancers’ families. She’s too focused on the tour to be even remotely interested in anyone’s family when she’s on the road. During the second show in Detroit, she announces, “There’s no place like home. There’s nobody like this man. There’s nobody like my father. I worship the ground that he walks on.” Our father comes onstage, she bows down to him, and she gets the audience to join her in singing “Happy Birthday” to him, and in that she is sincere.
The poem Madonna recites in praise of her assistant Melissa Crowe, which plays extremely well in the movie, may be heartfelt, but not long afterward, Melissa quit working for her because she’d had enough. After Melissa stopped working for Madonna, I wanted to stay in touch with her as we were good friends, but Madonna decreed that I couldn’t. As far as she is concerned, once employees are out of the loop, they are banished for all time. And anyone who has the temerity to talk to them is branded a betrayer.
HERE IS THE full truth about Blond Ambition from my perspective. Madonna calls and says, “I’m going on tour, and of course I want you to dress me, but I think you ought to design the stage and art-direct the show as well.” Stunned silence from me. “You designed my New York apartment and the Oriole Way house, so you should be able to design my show as well.” I am really pleased, but mildly disappointed that I still have to be her dresser. But at least I can now tell my friends that I am art-directing Madonna’s show. And the pay is now $100,000—much more than I’ve been paid for the other two tours. My responsibilities now include overseeing and supervising the costumes, the tour book, the look of the stage, and, of course, dressing Madonna. By now, her team are all aware that I have a great deal of influence over her, so if they want to tell Madonna something they’re afraid to say to her face, they ask me to be their intermediary. I end up carrying a great many messages between her and everyone else.
Before the tour begins, we meet with Gaultier and look at design concepts, including the iconic bustier. He sends us a number of designs for it, and Madonna and I make the final selections. Next, the bustier, and everything else we pick, has to be made in triplicate. Everything has to be double-sewn with elastic threads and supports in various places, including for her chest. Her shoulder straps are strengthened, and all snaps are replaced with hooks or zippers, so none of the clothes come apart onstage. I suggest that we set this version of the song “Like a Virgin” in a harem. However, the costume for the scene proves to be a problem, as the thread is really heavy gold metal, and the costume is hard for her to wear. All six versions we have made eventually corrode beyond recognition. Madonna sings “Like a Virgin” on a red velvet bed with two dancers on either side, and the song ends with her simulating masturbation. My feelings about the scene alter from night to night. Either I laugh uncontrollably or have to turn away in disgust. I may have seen the scene at least fifty times, but it remains difficult for me to watch. I may be my sister’s art director, but she is still my sister.
I AM WITH her while she conducts the dancer auditions. Although I have learned to keep my mouth shut, at intervals Madonna does question me about the stage and in particular dancers. Oliver Crumes is her pick, her straight man for the tour. In Truth or Dare, she treats him like a child. They spend a great deal of time together each night after the show, but I don’t know whether their relationship went any further. A FEW DAYS before opening night, director Alek Keshishian comes to Tokyo to start filming Truth or Dare, but initially he has a rough time, because Madonna will only let him shoot certain things and is wary of strangers. So he ends up pumping me for advice on how to handle her. A short summary of what I told him: “You can’t just bounce into the room and do your thing. You have to enter the room carefully and first check Madonna’s mood. Check her face. Say hello and see in what tone of voice she answers. “If she says ‘Hi, how are you?’ that’s a better sign than if she just says ‘Hi.’ If she doesn’t look at you or doesn’t even say hi, you know it isn’t a good day. You must never get in her face. You must make her feel as if all your ideas, in actuality, came from her.”
He takes my advice; she relaxes with him and gives him almost total access. Now he is shooting everything. Far more than I think he should be. On the road, Madonna makes a stab at treating the dancers as if they are her family and even calls it “mothering”—but it isn’t really conventional mothering. She keeps them close enough and devoted enough to remain loyal to her, and useful, but isn’t genuinely loving and nurturing. At times, she reminds me of Joan, keeping her brood in order. When we play Detroit and Alek shoots backstage, I hover around her, but I don’t pick anything up or wipe the sweat off her body. Alek asks me to do all of that, but I refuse point-blank to either dress or undress her on camera. Now that I am art director, more than ever I don’t want my friends or family to think of me in the role of her dresser. For Madonna, one of the most embarrassing and incriminating moments during Truth or Dare is Moira McPharlin’s backstage visit in Detroit. Moira is invited specifically so that Alek can film her face-to-face meeting with Madonna. If he hadn’t wanted to film it, the meeting would never have taken place, as Madonna always avoids that kind of one-on-one interaction, particularly when she is in the midst of a show.
Before she meets Moira, whom she hasn’t seen since tenth grade, Madonna reminisces on camera about their childhood, claiming that Moira taught her how to use tampons and how to make out. Moira vehemently denies both claims. Madonna launches into a whole riff about experimenting sexually with Moira, and Moira denies it. Madonna grants Moira a brief one-on-one audience. Clearly uncomfortable with the cameras, Moira asks Madonna to sit down, but Madonna says, “I can’t now, I’m really sorry.” Moira tells her that four years ago she wrote her a letter asking her if she would be her unborn son’s godmother. Madonna hastily says that she remembers, but that she got the letter a long time after the fact. Moira tells her that she has unexpectedly gotten pregnant again and asks Madonna point-blank to be her unborn child’s godmother. Madonna visibly squirms.
Moira tells her she wants to name the child after Madonna and asks Madonna to bless the child in advance, and Madonna is momentarily speechless. Normally, handling awkward situations is my role, and Madonna would just issue the order, “Deal with it,” and I would. Until now, she has never had to dirty her hands, but with Moira she has no choice. Madonna escapes from Moira as quickly as possible, promises to call her, but is clearly put out. After all, Moira has overstepped the mark—she has put Madonna on the spot, which Madonna hates, and the camera has recorded it. Her focus on the film has made her impervious to Moira’s feelings, and I find that depressing. WHILE WE ARE in Pontiac, Melissa calls me and tells me that Madonna is going to visit our mother’s grave the next morning and asks if I want to go. I say I do. She tells me to be in the lobby at eleven. She gives me no clue that our visit to our mother’s grave will be recorded on film. If she had, I never would have gone.
Instead, at eleven, I get into the limo. My sister, in black leggings and top, and extra-dark glasses, is already in it waiting for me. She’s extremely quiet. I assume she is merely tired after last night’s performance. In fact, she is either planning her next scene for Truth or Dare or anticipating it and feeling slightly guilty. Or perhaps both. We drive for one and a half hours to Calvary Cemetery in Bay City. The limo pulls off a lonely paved highway and onto a bumpy dirt road that seems to lead to nowhere. I have a vague memory of traveling down this same road when I was a small child, but neither Madonna nor I have been back to the cemetery in years. We drive through the graveyard gates, one of which is swinging off its hinges in the light breeze, and arrive at the small cemetery, which, to me, seems overgrown and unkempt. Headstones are arranged in no particular order, and it takes Madonna and me half an hour to finally find our mother’s grave. Just as we do, Alek and the crew pull up in the film van. My heart starts pounding. I am furious. “What the hell are they doing here?” I ask.
“Oh, didn’t you know?” Madonna says, wide-eyed. “They’re shooting this.” “Have you lost your mind, Madonna?” I know she isn’t going to answer, so I walk away from her. “Please, Chris, please don’t.” I just keep on walking. Madonna starts to come after me, then stops. Even she knows better. I am sick to my stomach. The cameras power up. I fight my urge to rip the camera out of the cameraman’s hands and smash it over Madonna’s head. Then her performance—which in the completed movie unfolds with the sound track of the song “Promise to Try,” which she cowrote, playing over it, as well as a montage of Madonna on the tour—begins. I lean against a nearby tree, white with rage, and observe my sister’s oncamera shenanigans.
For a while, she wanders around the cemetery, recreating our search for the grave. She places a bunch of flowers on our mother’s gravestone, kneels, and kisses it. In a voice-over that she recorded afterward, but made sure not to let me know about, she recites, “I hadn’t been to the cemetery since I was a young girl. I used to go after she died. My mother’s death was a whole big mystery to me when I was a child; no one really explained it. “What I remember most about my mother is that she was very kind and very gentle and very feminine. I mean, I don’t know, I guess she just looked like an angel to me, but I suppose everybody thinks their mother is an angel when they are five. I also know she was really religious. “So I never really understood why she was taken away from us; it seemed so unfair. I never thought that she had done something wrong, so oftentimes I thought it was what I had done wrong.” Then, in probably the worst moment of all for me, she muses, “I wonder what she looks like now? Just a bunch of dust.” More theatrics ensue as she lies down next to our mother’s grave. “I am going to get in right here, they are going to bury me sideways,” she declares.
The camera is switched off, then Madonna turns to me and says, “Okay, now it’s your turn, Christopher.” Her voice says it all: light, bright, with a subtext of “no big deal.” She and Alek expect me to now also visit our mother’s grave strictly for the benefit of the camera. That isn’t ever going to happen. I make Alek put the camera back in the trunk. I turn my back on him and Madonna. I ask him and Madonna to leave me alone at the grave. After a good deal of cajoling, they finally move away and leave me alone to pay my respects to my mother in relative peace and privacy. I spend some time sitting by her grave, wishing she were here. Then, full of sadness, I trudge back to the limo. Madonna and I ride back to the hotel together in silence. That night, I find it impossible to sleep. That my sister used my mother’s grave as a movie location, her death as the impetus for her performance, wounds me deeply.
I am horrified at the lengths my sister is prepared to go to promote herself and her career. I fear she no longer has any boundaries, any limits. Everyone and everything is grist for her publicity mill, fodder for her career—even our late mother. And if she does still feel genuine grief for the loss of our mother, she has long since buried it under the weight of her mammoth ego, obliterating it with her legend, her superstardom. Perhaps today’s spectacle is her way of coping with her grief. Perhaps. All I know is that to Madonna nothing is sacred anymore. Not even our dead mother, whom she has relegated to the role of mere extra in her movie. Yet to me, nothing is more sacred. I never mention the graveyard scene to Madonna again. There is no point because I’m sure that she will never understand why her behavior has upset me so much. Instead, I sublimate my anger. Fortunately, the demands of the tour are such that I have little time to brood on my feelings or talk to my sister about anything meaningful. From Pontiac, the tour moves on to Worcester, then to Landover, to Washington, to Nassau Coliseum, to Philadelphia, and ends up at the Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, where Madonna performs two sold-out concerts, followed by a third in memory of Keith Haring, who died earlier in the year, that raises $300,000 for amfAR. On June 30, 1990, the European leg of the Blond Ambition tour opens in Gothenburg, Sweden. On July 3, 4, and 5, Madonna performs three sold-out concerts at the Palais Omnisports de Paris. While we are there, we stay at the Ritz on the Place Vendôme.
Gaultier has agreed to exhibit my paintings at his gallery on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. He has selected twenty of my religious paintings, and I am elated. Tonight is the opening. Due to nerves, I take a long time to get ready. By the time I go downstairs, Madonna is already in the lobby, yelling for me. Outside, the hotel is besieged by paparazzi and screaming fans. Madonna and I are escorted out the back door, into an alley behind the Ritz. Our car is waiting for us. We leave in a convoy of three cars, each with a security guard in it. The first car leaves ahead of us. We follow him. A third security car follows us. As we turn out of the back alley, the paparazzi spot us, and the chase begins. Our driver drives so fast that he almost runs into the security car in front, until he gets the picture and races ahead even faster. We are now in the Alma tunnel, the same tunnel in which Princess Diana would die. And our driver is driving faster and faster. The press honk their horns. Our driver steps on the gas. We hurtle through the tunnel. “Slow the fuck down!” Madonna screams. She shrinks down in her seat. I put my arm around her. We are both petrified. I am convinced that we are going to crash. Madonna keeps yelling at the driver to slow down. He ignores her.
Finally, we are out of the tunnel and, with a screech of brakes, stop outside Gaultier’s gallery. When we climb out of the car, still shaken by the chase, Madonna is mobbed. She smiles and waves and walks ahead, leaving me in her wake, feeling mildly annoyed. Once inside the gallery, she glitters at the cameras and only gives my art a cursory glance. I fight back the urge to say, “Madonna, tonight is about me.” Tonight was, indeed, meant to be my night. With the passing of time, and a degree of maturity, I accept that—no matter how talented an artist I might be—if I were not Madonna’s brother, Gaultier would probably not have given me this show. And even if he had, if Madonna didn’t attend, none of the press would have bothered to cover it. That night twelve of my paintings sell.
FROM PARIS, WE move on to Rome, where Madonna’s second show is canceled due to a union strike, and less than stellar ticket sales—perhaps due to Catholic groups having condemned Blond Ambition as blasphemous. Undeterred, we move on to Turin and from there fly to Germany, where we play Munich and Dortmund, and then, on July 20, 21, and 22, Madonna performs to three sold-out audiences at Wembley Stadium, where, as always, the fans are among the most enthusiastic in the world. After London, we play Rotterdam and then fly to Spain, where we play Madrid, Vigo, and Barcelona. On August 5, the Blond Ambition tour ends at the Stade de l’Ouest, in Nice. When HBO broadcasts the show live, it is seen in more than 4.3 million households, becomes the most-watched entertainment special in the network’s eighteen-year history, and wins the Grammy for Best Music Video, Long Form.
Back in America, I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy is certified 2 million, Madonna performs “Vogue” at the seventh annual MTV Video Music Awards, where the video wins three awards, and on September 7, Madonna is honored with “The Commitment to Life” award and performs “Vogue” at the benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles. Until now, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt my sister’s sincerity regarding AIDS charities and her all-embracing allegiance to the gay world in general. On October 27, 1990, Christopher Flynn, our first ballet teacher and Madonna’s mentor, dies of AIDS. Madonna does not attend his memorial, but I understand and accept that she does not want to upstage the other mourners. I am sure she mourns for Christopher, though. Both of us do. MADONNA ENDS THE year by releasing “Justify My Love,” which, on December 3, 1990, premieres on Nightline. Rolling Stone crowns her “Image of the Eighties.” The Immaculate Collection is released and stays at number one in the UK for nine weeks. In the United States it is certified two times platinum, and Forbes names Madonna the top-earning female entertainer of 1990, citing her income as $39 million. The magazine also votes her “America’s Smartest Business Woman.” I realize that Forbes was right when, on May 7, 1991, just as Truth or Dare is about to be released, the Advocate publishes an interview with Madonna in which she outs me.
In an apparent ploy to garner support for the movie by ingratiating herself with her gay fans, she says, “My brother Christopher’s gay, and he and I have always been the closest members of our family. “It’s funny. When he was really young, he was so beautiful and had girls all over him, more than any of my other brothers. I knew something was different but it was not clear to me. I just thought, I know there are a lot of girls around, but I don’t get that he has a girlfriend. He was like a girlmagnet. They all seemed incredibly fond of him and close to him in a way I hadn’t seen men with women. “I’ll tell you when I knew. After I met Christopher [Flynn], I brought my brother to my ballet class because he wanted to start studying dance. I just saw something between them. I can’t even tell you exactly what, but then I thought, Oh, I get it. Oh, okay. He likes men too. It was an incredible revelation, but I didn’t say anything to my brother yet. I’m not even sure he knew. He’s two years younger than me. He was still a baby. I could just feel something.”
I was incensed. From my point of view, my sister has evidently decided that outing me to the readers of the Advocate is the perfect promotional tool for the movie. Let’s face it, Truth or Dare deals—directly or indirectly—with sadomasochism, lesbianism, rape, a hint of incest, a dead mother, so why not a gay brother as well? After all, Madonna used my mother’s grave as a movie location, so why not use my sexuality as a publicity opportunity? I realize another reason. The gay community had been her original fan base in the early eighties. Now, though, some gay fans were starting to feel that she had become far too mainstream, too hetero. Her answer? Her way of winning them back? “My brother Christopher is gay.”
At the time, though, I don’t ruminate over her motives for outing me. I just know how outraged I am. Without asking me, without giving me a say in the decision, she has taken it upon herself to out me. I know that she hasn’t for a moment considered whether my homosexuality is public knowledge, the reality that our grandmother doesn’t know about it, and neither does our extended family nor anyone outside our circle of friends. Besides, it has always been my choice whether, when, or where to come out, not Madonna’s. But why should I be surprised? She didn’t stop at exploiting our grief at our mother’s death, so why should she stop at exploiting me? “How could you possibly have done that to me, Madonna!” A moment’s silence, during which she chews her gum. “Don’t see why you’re upset, Chrissy.” She knows I hate being called Chrissy. She knows my name is Christopher. If the subject weren’t so serious, I’d call her Mud, just to piss her off. “I mean, everyone knows you’re gay. I don’t see why you give a fuck,” she goes on. Half an hour of trying to explain, trying to make her understand that it should be my decision to go public or not, not hers, but to no avail. “What’s the big deal? You are gay, aren’t you?” I try not to make as big a deal of it as I’d like. She quite plainly doesn’t understand what she’s done. How can you fight with someone who doesn’t understand?
A week after the Advocate appears, I get a call on my unlisted phone number from the Enquirer, telling me that they are about to publish a story that I have AIDS. I’m monogamous. And so is Danny. Although I have been tested before and know I am not positive, I get tested again and send the Enquirer the results. I am negative. They drop the story. IN JULY 1991, Madonna films A League of Their Own. Madonna being Madonna, she can’t help inciting controversy by airing her feelings on Evansville, Indiana, where the movie was shot, and complaining that the house she rented didn’t have cable. No fewer than three hundred residents of Evansville join in protest against her. It’s hardly the most virulent protest she’s encountered in her long and protest-filled career, so she emerges unscathed. Rosie O’Donnell is in the movie with her. Rosie and Madonna become friends. I think they primarily bonded because both of their mothers died young, though I know Rosie never incorporated her dead mother into her act. IN NOVEMBER 1991, I have my second art show—this time at the Wessel and O’Connor Fine Art Gallery, on Broome Street, SoHo. During this period, my work centers around academic single-line drawings of limbless torsos. Although it doesn’t occur to me at the time, my choice of subject—helpless and passive—is extremely telling.
I invite Madonna to the show. She comes and it’s a replay of the Gaultier opening. She walks in and the entire room stops, then everyone clusters around her. I hope against hope that she will now move toward me and view the paintings with me, but she doesn’t. Instead, she just stands in the middle of the room, reveling in the attention of the crowd. I keep smiling, because she has at least taken the trouble to support me by coming to the exhibition. And I suppose that half of Madonna is better than none. I know all of that and accept it, but, even when I sell eight of my paintings, three of them to David Geffen, it isn’t easy. While I’ve always had confidence in my own artistic abilities, living in my sister’s shadow often makes me question whether my art really is any good, or whether my success is merely predicated on her fame. AT THE END of the year, on December 10, Madonna is honored with the Award of Courage by amfAR.
In Madonna’s private life, Sandra Bernhardt is still on the scene, but Madonna and I both find her a little too negative, down in the mouth, not a happy person. Nonetheless, Madonna still invites her to her 1991 New Year’s Eve party. Sandra brings her then girlfriend, Ingrid Casares, with her. A butch version of Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid is boyish, fawnlike, with big, slanting doe eyes. She’s tall, thin, and extremely cool. For the past year, ever since Ingrid met Sandra after one of her shows, Ingrid and Sandra have been an item. But the moment Ingrid meets Madonna, as far as Ingrid is concerned, Sandra is history. And Madonna will embark on the deepest, most enduring liaison of her entire life.
Ingrid and I become close friends, and even today, however much harm she may have done to my relationship with my sister, I still love her as best I can. She has helped in my career as a music video director, is fun to be with, and, above all, is a true original. Born in 1964, in Little Havana, Miami, Ingrid is the daughter of wealthy parents—her father owns RC Aluminum, which makes windows for high-rises—who fled Cuba during the revolution. A convent schoolgirl, and a brilliant basketball player, Ingrid grew up a typical Coral Gables rich girl. She went to the University of Miami, first began using cocaine at fifteen or sixteen, and by 1994 has struggled to treat the problem several times. Along the way, she took a degree in English and PR, then moved to L.A., where she became a model booker for Wilhelmina and met Sandra.
Since then, she has worked as image consultant for Emilio Estefan’s Crescent Moon Records—whose artists include Jon Secada and Albita—and was coowner of the Miami clubs Liquid and Bar Room. In the late nineties, she tried without success to open a club in Manhattan. She has always been a hard worker, but she has nonetheless aroused the ire of feminists such as Camille Paglia, who has written of her, “She’s turned herself into Madonna’s flunky and yes-girl. I think Madonna’s dependence on Ingrid Casares is a selfstunting illness. Madonna should go to the Betty Ford clinic to break her addiction and detox from Ingrid.” At the time of Madonna’s first meeting with Ingrid, the woman in Madonna’s life was Sandra, but—whether or not their relationship was physical— Madonna couldn’t control Sandra. A woman with her own career, a definite personality and opinions, Sandra has never been Madonna’s puppy dog. Ingrid, however, is quite another story. Madonna has never taken well to criticism. At the time of her first meeting with Ingrid, she is well primed to find a permanent yes-woman. Now that she is a star, she has no patience with anyone who disagrees with her. Ingrid never will.
A snapshot: Madonna and Ingrid are breakfasting in Madonna’s Miami home. Madonna is reading Vogue. She comes across a picture of an actress and says to Ingrid, “Look at her—she’s so fucking ugly.” Ingrid takes a brief look at the picture. “I don’t think she’s that ugly.” “Yes, she is.” “You are so right, Madonna,” Ingrid says, “she is so ugly.”
Ingrid is the perfect echo for Madonna. Never an instigator of conversation, she has a knack for taking on her environment and the opinions of the most important person around her—Madonna. She is the perfect chameleon, never challenging, never confrontational, and incredibly skilled at asking or answering questions, saying exactly what Madonna needs to hear. Ingrid knows exactly how to make herself indispensable to Madonna. Ingrid’s a great networker and collector of gossip and, from the first, is happy to pass information on to Madonna. She is always available, and as she is independently wealthy, she always pays her own way. She is at the house early in the morning, ready to work out with Madonna; Ingrid is a big fish in the small Miami pond, ready and willing to shop with Madonna or for her. She can find clothing Madonna wants, and if Madonna is in the mood for a man, Ingrid will find one for her. In actuality, until Madonna marries Guy—who Ingrid tells me doesn’t like her—Ingrid is the man in Madonna’s life. Or perhaps boy would be more accurate. Ingrid looks like a boy, but because she is a girl, she is happy to do girl stuff with Madonna: get her nails done with her, have a massage or a facial with her. And she’s discreet, which is of paramount importance to Madonna.
Above all, Ingrid is no competition for Madonna. She doesn’t compete with Madonna for men, nor does she compete with her for women. For more than fifteen years, Ingrid will endure in Madonna’s life, as Ingrid doesn’t need Madonna for money, keeps her mouth shut, and adores her without question or limitations. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if my sister and Ingrid were having intimate relations. But Madonna never confirms or denies it. I have no real problem with Madonna’s relationship with Ingrid. In a way, it’s a match made in heaven. Ostensibly, Ingrid and Madonna have nothing in common, except one thing: they are both in love with Madonna. At least, Ingrid definitely falls in love with her at their first meeting and, to this day, remains enthralled.
When Madonna and Ingrid are out in public, Ingrid always hovers over Madonna protectively. Madonna rarely reciprocates. Now and again, she does flirt with Ingrid only slightly, just enough to keep her on the hook. If they are out in a club, Madonna will give Ingrid a big kiss on the lips or cheek, and for the next five months Ingrid will live on that moment. But when they watch movies together, for example, they don’t sit on each other’s lap, although Ingrid sometimes sits at Madonna’s feet, as if she were Madonna’s slave. To some extent, she is. And Madonna knows exactly how to keep her in line. Many times, when they are going to a party together, at the last minute Madonna will inform Ingrid that she can’t ride with Madonna in her car because there is no room. Ingrid will be devastated. One night, the three of us are at a big dinner together. Ingrid goes to take her place next to Madonna. Madonna shakes her head. “No, Gridy, you can’t sit next to me tonight.” Ingrid makes a face, then quickly masks it with a small smile. She takes her place at the other end of the table. But as the evening progresses, she slowly makes her way back to the seat near Madonna. When the moment is right, she sits down next to her, just as she intended in the first place. Then she is happy. In general, I find it painful to observe Madonna demeaning Ingrid, and Ingrid unresistingly acquiescing.
In January 1992, Madonna and photographer Steven Meisel start shooting her Sex book in Coconut Grove, Florida. From that time on, Ingrid and Madonna hang out together in the $4.9 million, six-bedroom, four-bathroom Coconut Grove mansion, which Madonna rents during the shoot and then buys. I dislike the book—which is published on October 16, 1992—intensely. Before production on it begins, I tell Madonna she should have Helmut Newton shoot the pictures and only publish five hundred leatherbound, numbered copies. “Make it special, unique, a collector’s item,” I say. “This is how I wanna do it,” she says. And that’s how she does it.
In the United States the book sells a record five hundred thousand copies in just one week, and in Europe sells more than one hundred thousand copies in just two days, so on a commercial level she was obviously right. The Coconut Grove house was built in the thirties and was originally part of the Vizcaya estate. Madonna asks me to decorate it for her, so I fly down to Miami, where the first person I meet is Ingrid, who has come over to check out the house on Madonna’s behalf, along with Eugene Rodriguez, the broker for the property.
The former owners of the house replaced the original thirties Spanish interior with Italian light oak wood and had everything built in, even the beds. Horrifying. I set about restoring the house. It ends up having six bedrooms, new bathrooms—Madonna’s is black-and-white marble—a large living room with a carved ceiling, a long dining room with coral keystone arches, a gym, an office, and a media room. All in all, a great place to hang out. Sylvester Stallone lives on the same street, and Madonna and I laugh at the vanity of his CASA ROCKO insignia emblazoned on his mansion gate. Although the house is intended to be Madonna’s vacation home, she often uses it year-round, primarily because she is at her most relaxed at the Coconut Grove house. The press has no access. We hang out by the pool, I cook a great deal—pastas and salads—and Madonna, Ingrid, and I, along with various other people, all watch old movies together—A Clockwork Orange, 2001, Laura, Bringing Up Baby. Often, a New Age priestess, Elsa Patton—a tall, heavily made-up blonde who drives a late-model Rolls-Royce—comes to the house with her daughter, Marisol, and sprinkles blessed water around all the doors. Now and again, she takes Madonna and Ingrid out on Madonna’s small speedboat, Lola Lola, and gives them a ritual baptism in the ocean.
Once Elsa conducts one of her iconoclastic rituals on me—a treatment that Madonna has regularly, which Madonna explains to me is designed to cleanse the soul. I lie on the bed, wearing all white, and Elsa rubs hot oil with rosemary and other herbs and spices into my body. Then she goes into a trance and starts talking to me in a strange language. This takes precisely thirty-five minutes. When she’s done, she says I have to keep the oils on for the next twenty-four hours. I think I smell like a roasted chicken and shower the oil off immediately. But Madonna believes implicitly in Elsa and her treatments. When it comes to religion and rituals, Madonna’s policy—to be on the safe side—is to cover all bases. In Coconut Grove, she has containers of spiritually cleansed water by the doorways, a nineteenth-century Italian dark-mahogany-with-ivoryinlay prayer bench that I gave her for Christmas, rosaries hang throughout the house, and a small shrine to our mother.
Elsa and Marisol are frequent visitors, and Madonna’s soul is repeatedly cleansed. On reflection, I suppose it isn’t a big leap from there to Kabbalah. Although Ingrid is very much a part of Madonna’s life now—rather like Cleopatra’s handmaiden, or a windup doll that can speak, but whose battery has wound down, or, if she does speak, is an ever-willing echo—Madonna still has relationships with a series of men. She has a brief relationship with Vanilla Ice, but breaks it off because she considers him less than her intellectual equal, and I agree. Then she starts seeing the actor John Enos, who appeared in Melrose Place, a genuine man’s man. Like my brother Marty, John Enos is the kind of man both Sean and Guy long to be. He changes the oil in his car, drives a fifties pickup truck, which he restored on his own, and has a basement in his house set up as a shooting range. He is tall, happy, quite good-looking, and is one of the owners of the Roxbury nightclub in L.A.
Despite being so masculine, John is, like Warren, totally comfortable with gay men, and we often hang out together. In yet another attempt to bond with the man in my sister’s life, I go with John to Tattoo’s By Lou in South Beach, where I have the tattoo of an anchor and the word “mother” tattooed on my shoulder. While we don’t mingle our blood together like Sean and I once did, John and I are definitely buddies and I like and admire him. A year later, Madonna, John, and I go to a party up in the Hollywood Hills, along with Guy Oseary, who works for Madonna’s company, Maverick Records, and is straight. Marky Mark—Mark Wahlberg—is also at the party. I dance with a guy on the dance floor, and Marky mutters something under his breath. Guy Oseary comes to my defense and starts tussling with Marky. Things look as if they are about to get ugly. John makes a move toward Marky. Marky takes one look at him and sprints out of the house. Enos follows in hot pursuit, yelling, “Come back here, you pussy, I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.” But Marky just keeps on running.
However much a man John is, he still isn’t man enough for Madonna, who starts cavorting around with her twenty-two-year-old bodyguard, Jim Albright. It only takes me an hour with Albright to conclude that the attraction might be purely physical. Ingrid, Madonna, Jim, and I take Lola Lola across the bay to Key Biscayne. The water in between is shallow. We’ve ridden the boat out that way many times, and I know you have to take a certain route. I tell Jim, but he doesn’t listen. On the way back, I again tell him what route to take, but he insists on steering the boat in the direction he wants. Seven hundred yards from the dock at the end of our garden, the water is only around two feet deep. I try to direct Jim, but he ignores me.
Two minutes later we are stuck on a sandbar. Madonna yells, “Goddamm it, Jim, why the fuck didn’t you listen to my brother?” I call on the cell phone for a boat to tow us out. We sit in the boat, waiting. After twenty minutes, Madonna stands up. “I’m not waiting here anymore.” She starts to climb out of the boat and into the water. “Don’t, Madonna,” I say, and tell her about the nurse sharks that normally lurk around the bay. “Six or seven feet long, and not particularly docile, so it’s not a good idea to go wading.” She sits down in the boat again. The sun is beating down on us. In a replay of our Moroccan trip, she starts bitching about the heat. Finally, a boat pulls up to tow us home. “You’re driving, Christopher,” she says. And that’s the last I see of Jim Albright.
MADONNA AND I spend Thanksgiving and Easter in the Coconut Grove house, and during the year, she often throws parties there. Her parties are relatively sedate and usually end with everyone sitting in the living room playing some stupid game she has suggested. On one occasion, David Geffen, Rosie O’Donnell, Ingrid, Madonna, John Enos, and I are all in the living room. Madonna suggests we play a game—a hybrid version of truth or dare—in which we pass a lit match around and whoever is holding the match when it goes out has to answer a question. The questions? “If you have to kiss anyone in the room, who would you like it to be?” “Who is the most beautiful person in the room?” “If you have to have sex with anyone in the room, who would you like to have it with?” The others answer: “Madonna.” “Madonna.” “Madonna.” My answer: John Enos.
All the focus in the room is on Madonna, every question is about her, every answer—and they all go along with it. She is the be-all and end-all, the alpha and the omega, of all our existences, and we endlessly trumpet our allegiance to her. In Coconut Grove, Madonna now owns three Chihuahuas—Chiquita, Rosita, and Evita—all selected for her by Ingrid. But Madonna is not a dog or cat lover. She won’t walk the dogs and views them as little more than live-in accessories. She allows them to run all over the house and, even though they shit everywhere, pays scant attention to them. I FIND OUT in April 1992 that Madonna is still seeing Jim Albright. John Enos also knows and is not happy about it. But he is so besotted with her that he doesn’t end their relationship. She says of him, “He’s way too available and way too mainstream, although he’s extremely handy around the house.”
One incident in particular rankles John. Madonna takes Good Friday off. Enos assumes that he will spend the day with her. Instead, she tells him she wants to hang out in South Beach with Ingrid and have lunch with her there, just the two of them. As it happens, Sean was also in South Beach with Robin at the time. Poor John. Not only does he have to cope with Madonna and Albright and her intense relationship with Ingrid, but also her continuing fascination with her ex-husband, Sean Penn. Then there is Guy Oseary, now her manager, with whom she has had a long-running flirtation. Madonna’s breakup with John is inevitable. Afterward, he dates a glittering array of sexy women: Taylor Dayne, Heidi Fleiss, and Traci Lords—all a testament to his masculinity.
ON THE CAREER front, both Madonna and I are more than surprised when Oliver Crumes, Kevin Stea, and Gabriel Trupin, dancers from Blond Ambition, file a lawsuit against Madonna for invasion of privacy, fraud and deceit, intentional misrepresentation, and more, basically accusing her of exposing their private lives in Truth or Dare. I have little sympathy for them; all the dancers were aware, from the first, that they were being filmed for Truth or Dare, and no matter how much I might dislike the graveyard scene in the film, all the dancers knew exactly what they were participating in. Nonetheless, Madonna eventually chose to settle with them. THROUGH THE YEAR, Madonna and I remain extremely close. We both relish seeing legends perform, then meeting them afterward, and often go to their performances together. On February 24, 1992, we see Pavarotti at Lincoln Center. At intermission, we go backstage to visit him. In his dressing room, he is spread out on the couch, his big body all covered in warm, wet towels to soothe his voice, his head popping out of another towel. A translator is on hand for his conversation with Madonna. “The show is great,” she says. “It’s an honor,” Pavarotti says. “Grazie.” “You’re Italian! Isn’t that great!” “Shouldn’t the whole world be?” she says.
ON AUGUST 26, 1992, Madonna, Ingrid, and I go to see Peggy Lee sing at Club 53 at the New York Hilton. Peggy is wonderful, but can barely move onstage. She’s seventy-two and infirm, but is still an incredible performer. She is wearing a wig, attached to her head by a large diamond brooch, which seems to be pinned into the top of her skull. It’s an odd sight, but quickly forgotten when she belts out “Fever,” which Madonna will cover on her Erotica album. After the show is over, Madonna presents her with a bouquet of red roses. Then Peggy is wheeled out in her wheelchair. IN DECEMBER 1992, Madonna’s Dangerous Game is released. I tell her this is the best movie that she has ever made and that I think she can act. This time, I mean it. Soon after, Body of Evidence comes out, and I am once again tremendously embarrassed for her. Despite the debacle of Body of Evidence, which critics universally pan, Madonna now has tremendous compensations—financial and otherwise—in her career, particularly after she signs a $60 million, seven-year contract with Time Warner, with whom she forms a new multimedia entertainment company. Her reviews for A League of Their Own are positive—and I agree with them.
True to form, she also fans the flames of controversy by modeling topless at the Gaultier amfAR benefit at the Shrine Auditorium, but the cause is good and the show raises $750,000 for AIDS research. I am glad that my sister still does so much for the fans who made her and against the sickness from which so many of our friends have died. EIGHT “Wouldn’t it be awful if this was—was the high point?” F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise IN EARLY 1993, Madonna calls and tells me she’s going on tour again and wants me to work on it. She is also looking for a new house and asks me to come out to L.A. and help her. I fly out, stay at Oriole Way, spend a couple of weeks looking at houses with Madonna. We look in Bel Air, in Pacific Palisades, in Beverly Hills. We never let the brokers pick us up from Oriole Way, though. Madonna can’t stand real estate brokers and I know they don’t like her very much either, for when it comes to real estate, she is an extremely particular and difficult customer.
Consequently, Madonna always drives us to the prospective houses. She likes to drive and enjoys being behind the wheel. She drives a little fast and is not a smooth driver, a little jerky. She doesn’t particularly care about cars, except for a classic white convertible Mercedes with a red leather interior that she owns—an older model that she first has in L.A., then ships down to Coconut Grove. So we drive to meet the brokers. Each time, we walk up the drive, but don’t go inside the house, because it takes Madonna one glance at an exterior to know she isn’t interested in a particular house—which bugs a lot of brokers, as she is depriving them of the chance to pitch it to her. But then we see Castillo del Lago, the former home of gangster Bugsy Siegel—coincidentally the subject of Warren’s movie Bugsy—which overlooks the Hollywood Reservoir and doesn’t feel as if it is in L.A. at all, but more like a palazzo in northern Italy. Madonna loves it and so do I. The twenty-thousand-square-foot castle has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, stands on four acres of land, and—with its 160-foot lookout tower—feels secure.
Madonna buys Castillo del Lago for around $5 million, and I start renovating it, working 24-7. Madonna doesn’t give me a budget, and I end up spending $3 million on renovations, the interiors, fixtures, and fittings. Then she has second thoughts. She sends me a letter in which she writes, “I don’t know how long I can live in this culturally bankrupt town,” and tells me I am spending too much money on Castillo. I probably am, but I’m having a great time doing it. Besides, every expenditure is necessary and accounted for. We meet and discuss the budget. I explain what I need to carry on the renovation. To my surprise, for the first time ever while I am working on one of her houses, Madonna questions my judgment, and I find it disconcerting. Ultimately, she leaves me completely to my own devices, and Castillo del Lago ends up being the most enjoyable interior job I have ever done for her. Part of the renovation of Castillo del Lago includes transforming the house’s two turrets, and its massive retaining wall. I hit on the idea of copying a little church in Portofino that Madonna and I visited at the end of Blond Ambition and both loved, which is painted in alternating white and terra-cotta stripes. I tell her my idea. She says, “Are you sure it won’t look like a circus tent?” I promise her that it won’t, particularly after it has aged. She tells me to go ahead.
On the largest wall in the living room, we hang a Langlois nude of Selene and Endymion, which was first commissioned for the Palace of Versailles, which I had originally mounted on the ceiling of the Oriole house. With Madonna’s imprimatur, I fly to London and spend a fortune on fabrics and furniture. On Lillie Road, I find sixteen William and Mary chairs—an expensive purchase, but well worth it—and buy them. Madonna loves them. They travel with her on all her moves and she still has them to this day. Madonna and I are together all the time now, and—in shades of the past— whenever I wake up in the dead of the night, she is sitting on the floor in her library, reading books such as Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist. Despite the intervening years, her patterns are still the same. Only the surroundings and the lifestyle are grander. With the house under way, she asks me to meet with Freddy about my role on the tour. I tell her I want to direct as well as design. I ask to be relieved of my old dresser duties, and she says she will think about it. I have long forgiven her for outing me. She is trusting me to do her house, and the chances are that she is now about to trust me to direct her tour. She is relying on me, I am part of her world, and I am perfectly content. When I arrive at Freddy’s and he gives me the good news that Madonna has decided that I can direct The Girlie Show, he also gives me the bad. She has certain conditions.
On tour, she will give me my own car and driver and will fly me first-class. However, she will not pay for me to stay in hotel suites. I am annoyed because even her assistant stays in a suite. My sister stands to make millions from this tour. I ask Freddy why he is haggling with me over a few thousand.
“I have to, it’s my job and she insists,” he says. The remark is cryptic, but I think I know what he means. Although Madonna fully accepts that I merit the job of director and has willingly agreed to give it to me, strangely enough she partly resents her generosity to me. Refusing to allow me to stay in hotel suites is an expression of that resentment. When we arrive in London and I am shown to my room—a single one, at that—I complain to the tour manager. He gets me a suite instead. My sister finds out and sends me a rather nasty letter of complaint. I go to see her in her suite, and for the first and last time, I resort to a tear or two. I tell her that I am so sorry if she feels I took advantage of her and ask her to forgive me. For the rest of the tour, she books me into suites. I win the battle, but the point is still taken. She is thinking in terms of costs, not human beings, and definitely not of me and all the years we have worked together. Or perhaps I am now getting too close to her, and she is beginning to pull away. Starting in July, we begin rehearsing the show at Sony Studios on West Washington in Culver City. I am still designing Madonna’s house, but I am also supervising the crew, designing the stage set, handling all the dancers, maintaining peace onstage, and—above all—directing Madonna. To my surprise, though, at rehearsals she listens to me, and follows my advice on dance moves, costumes, lighting, and staging. We are together 24- 7 and there are no more conflicts. Our creativity is perfectly in tune and I am having the best time of my life, although I have never worked harder. At first, I do have some problems with the crew—about a hundred roadies who assume I am only around because I’m Madonna’s brother. She doesn’t disabuse them of that notion. It takes me two weeks to win their respect, but in the end I do.
In the evenings, Madonna and I talk about the show and, for inspiration, watch Bollywood musicals, Thai dancing, Burt Lancaster’s Trapeze, Marlene Dietrich, and Louise Brookes. We decide on a burlesque circus theme for the show and that we will use five different choreographers. Gene Kelly is one of them. He is to choreograph the “Rain” number, but from the first it is clear that he is uncomfortable with our dancers, whom we have picked for personality, and not because they are classically trained ballet dancers. He doesn’t understand the show’s concept of grand spectacle and burlesque with heavy sexual overtones. I take Madonna aside and tell her she needs to come and watch Gene’s number, as I don’t think he is working out and we need to fire him. She sits in on the number and strongly disagrees with me: “No, I think Gene will be fine.”
I shrug and bide my time. A week later, she marches up to me and says, “Christopher, I’ve just watched Gene’s number again. I don’t think he’s working out. I think we need to fire him.” “Really? Are you sure, Madonna?” She nods, shamefaced at having single-handedly conceived of such a terrible fate for this venerable American icon. “Will you break it to him?” she asks, somewhat tentatively. “No way, Madonna. Your idea—you tell him!” I say firmly. “I’ll get Freddy to do it.” Exit Gene Kelly, with no hard feelings, I hope. Madonna, on the other hand, is not sentimental and never has been.