"HEELS OR the combat boots? I know the heels are sexier and campy, but I feel better in the boots, and they are more Boy Scout-ish. I'm gonna go with the boots. Although I wonder what they are going to think when a Munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz" comes out onstage?"
That was Madonna last Saturday night, mulling the final touch to her outfit for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation awards ceremony. She was there to present Anderson Cooper with the Vito Russo Award. (I won that about 13 years ago. Bragging!) Madonna was got-up in Boy Scout regalia. Her Munchkin comment stems from the fact that despite her Amazonian image as an icon and concert performer, she is teeny and far more delicate than one might imagine.
"No, no, no!" She shrieked. "This was supposed to be a surprise. The bride can't see the groom before the ceremony!" But it was too late. Madonna and Cooper embraced fondly. Although he is a major fan (he saw the "MDNA" tour three times last year in various cities around the world) and she admires him, and is apparently mesmerized by his super-blue eyes, they are not old friends. But now that he has received an award and a pinch on the behind from Madonna and he gave her a great big onstage smooch on the lips, they might become closer.
During the backstage chat -- they did a joint interview later for various media outlets -- Anderson, who is even better looking in person -- I know, hard to believe -- said to Madonna, "You remember my boyfriend Benjamin Maisani." (Ben is a knockout, they make a stunning couple.) Madonna lowered her voice to its huskiest femme fatale tones, took his hand caressingly and said, "How could I ever forget?" Then she cracked up, laughing.
A few minutes later she was marching through the Marriott kitchen on her way to the stage. I'm sure the staff had been told to make way for Madonna. What they thought when they saw the glamorous goddess -- who was in fine, friendly, giggly form -- in Boy Scout drag, can only be imagined.
WHETHER OR not the GLAAD audience was surprised at how petite Madonna is, they loved her outfit and gave her a tumultuous ovation that went on and on. "You can sit down now," Madonna instructed the crowd, who continued to stand, rapt, even after they'd stopped applauding.
Madonna's remarks were typically strong, funny and right to the point. She made jokes about how she could "pitch a tent" and "I know how to scout for boys!" and denounced the Boy Scouts for its stand against allowing gays, but the main thrust of her speech was serious. As a mother of four, two of whom are teenagers, Madonna said the continuing discrimination and bullying of children because of their sexual orientation was "unfathomable to me. ... I don't want my children to live in that kind of world." She then went on to extol the virtues of Mr. Cooper -- not so much for his coming out -- but for all he fought for and stood for in his business even before that. And his blue eyes, of course.
Anderson accepted his award with a great deal of emotion and humility. Stating that he didn't feel he deserved it and that he was no hero, he named others who he felt were far worthier and who (he felt) had fought a harder fight than he ever did.
Anderson Cooper always points to his privileged life, his accepting mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. And, apparently, an easy realization of his sexuality. "I consider it a blessing to be gay," he told the audience, "and I've never thought of it differently. I think it taught me to have more compassion -- to care about things and love people, and be loved by people, I might not have, otherwise."
THE MADONNA/ANDERSON business was short and sweet.
Alas, the rest of the show went on longer than anybody expected. The food was good, and the people who attended to me -- Rich Ferraro and Wilson Cruz -- were divine. But for some reason, by the time Madonna arrived, the show was running an hour behind schedule. The Big M's longtime press rep, Liz Rosenberg, said, simply and with blood-freezing purpose, "This won't do," and changes were made to allow Madonna to make her presentation and beat it. (Remember those four kids at home.)
I didn't see much point in the presence of Snooki and JWoww of "Jersey Shore" or Honey Boo Boo's mother, either, no matter their pro-gay statements. I think GLAAD should aim higher. But, what the heck, along with doing good deeds in a naughty world, GLAAD has always been rather show bizzy and publicity oriented. Well, that's where the money comes from. (I think because of Madonna's appearance they tripled last year's fundraising take.) Jake Shears of the Scissors Sisters performed "A Real Hero" and was sexy as all get-out. There was also quite an emphasis on the transgender community, including children struggling with gender issues. GLAAD President Herndon Graddick promised much greater attention to this issue. (Unfortunately, he promised it at great length!)
I had to roll my eyes at "Smash" winning best TV drama, though it must have been nice for the cast, because the show has pretty much been canceled. (And, honoring "Smash" resulted in snaring the divine Bernadette Peters, who continues to defy time with her impossibly curvy shape and cupie doll face.)
However, I couldn't have agreed more with "How to Survive a Plague" winning best documentary. It is a wrenching reminder of what the gay community endured, from the disease itself to the indifference of the government.
The most significant remarks of the evening were delivered by activist Peter Staley, who lived through and did indeed survive the plague. His speech wasn't meant to evoke laughs. He's angry. Because of the "AIDS cocktail," medications that prolong and improve the lives of those afflicted, the subject of the disease itself has all but fallen off the radar, especially among LGBT teens and those in their 20s (or even their 30s -- remember AIDS surfaced in 1981.) Gay men are indulging in risk-taking sex again, and thousands are infected and still die every year. (The meds do work, for many, but they are extremely expensive.)
Anderson Cooper deserved his award, whether he thinks so or not. But Peter Staley was the real hero at the GLAAD Awards. I hope he got through to at least a few in the festive crowd.
BUT LET'S end on a lighter note. As Anderson Cooper and Madonna were saying their goodbyes, he asked her, "What are you doing after this?" She said, "Get out of this outfit. Check on the kids, check my emails, answer my emails, worry and have a dirty martini."
"What's a dirty martini?"
"Anderson, what do you mean, don't you drink?"
"Uh, well, a little wine at dinner, but..."
"Well, honey, it's a martini. And it's dirty. And nobody makes me one like my boyfriend." (She means dancer Brahim Zaibat.)
I'm so happy Madonna has reached a point where she can relax with a drink after a long day with children and work and her ceaseless thinking, thinking, thinking. Once upon a time she didn't, and I recall chiding her for this. She said, "Liz, I'd like to, but I can't. I'm always so tense."
She's still tense. But nothing that one good dirty martini can't fix.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)