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Actress tells all in ‘Mommie’ memoir

Carol Ann on the shoot from hell and what she’d say to Faye Dunaway today

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Mommie Dearest, gay news, Washington Blade

Rutanya Alda, left, with Faye Dunaway, Mara Hobel and Jeremy Scott Reinholt in ‘Mommie Dearest.’ (Photo courtesy Alda)

Editor’s note: this is part two of two of our interview with actress Rutanya Alda, author of”The Mommie Dearest Diary: Carol Ann Tells All.” Part one is here. 

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Although you don’t hold back at all in your book concerning working with Faye Dunaway, your “Mommie Dearest” co-star, it didn’t feel to me that you had an axe to grind. You write of several moments too where she was gracious — signing photos, posing for photos on set with your brother, when you give her the sweater you made and so on. On the other hand, the book “Mommie Dearest” always felt to me like Christina had a huge axe to grind. Do you agree?

RUTANYA ALDA: I tried to be fair in my book and I hope when Faye reads it she can respect the fact that I was fair to her. … It’s very hard to be with a person on the set who is totally ungiving to the other actor. I just held my tongue then because, as you know from the book, she never stayed for any of my close-ups. I stayed for hers to the 12th, the 13th hour and she never turned around and stayed for any of mine. It’s really not honoring the other actor and we have to honor that. We’re a team working together for the best of the scene. I always felt Faye worked for herself only and that’s the truth. There were private moments when I felt really bad for her … but those moments really didn’t last that long. It’s too bad because, you know honestly, if she had just been gracious (to the crew), they would have embraced her but instead she alienated so many people. When my brother was there as a guest and talked to her, I just got her at a good moment. If it had been a volatile moment, I wouldn’t have dared ask her. The timing just happened to have been right and she was as mellow as she could get. But we were always on pins and needles and you just knew you didn’t want to ask certain things at certain times.

BLADE: Hollywood lore is so full of stories of bitchy star behavior. In your experience, is there always fire where there’s smoke or does some of this get unfairly exaggerated in the public’s endless appetite for such tales?

ALDA: It’s gotten to be so much about me, me, me that some people think the whole world rotates around them and that’s really the worst position for an actor to put themselves in. As Bette Davis said, you’ll meet the same people on your way down as your way up. Fame is fleeting. It lasts for a while. If you have a few years’ run or a decade run, you’re lucky and I think if you can be compassionate and kind, I think that’s a great lesson to give people. I just went to a luncheon at 21 and the coat check girl, so many fairly well known people just throw their coat down and go upstairs and you know, it only takes a second or two to say, “Thank you,” and smile. She remembered me from the time before … just because I treated her like a human being. A lot of stars have come up very quickly and without the experience of being in the industry very long and I think they don’t appreciate the audience as much as they should. A smile or a hello is all you need to give sometimes. Without the audience, you have nothing. …

And the audience of “Mommie Dearest” is a great audience and I think they are disappointed that Faye has never embraced the film. If I were Faye Dunaway, I would have said, “Look, I was great in the part, I did great things. OK, maybe I had an over-the-top performance, but it worked, didn’t it?” But all these years of not talking about it and suddenly after 30 years she’s writing a book? Why? What’s in it for her? Is she doing it for the money? She’s really deprived herself of a great audience of people who love the movie and it’s a detriment to her. Look at all the joy she missed.

BLADE: So you know she is proceeding with her own book?

ALDA: Yes, she has a contract with a publishing house. A friend I know, whom I won’t name unless he names himself, he was just offered to be her ghostwriter. I think she’s gone through several. I e-mailed him and said, “Are you going to do it?” He said, “No, not even if she gives me a million dollars cash would I put myself through this.” So she’s going to find someone from whatever point of view she’s going to do it and I think it’s supposed to be out sometime next year. When she wrote to me, it said time sensitive, she in other words, she probably has a date by which she has to turn it in. Usually it’s a year and a half, then you’re supposed to deliver the book.

BLADE: On his “Mommie Dearest” commentary, John Waters said he thought the film would have worked as straight drama with just some slightly more judicious editing, for instance the scene where you see Diana’s (Scarwid as Christina) panties. Do you agree?

ALDA: (laughs) No. Don’t get me wrong, I love John Waters, I think he’s wonderful, but no, I don’t agree with that. I just ran into an editor who was working on another movie at Paramount at the time and he’d read the script, he’s gay, and he really wanted to edit the film. He loved it and saw it as a camp movie right away and said to Frank, “I want to edit it.” Frank said, “No, you’re the wrong person, we want this to be a big drama,” and I thought, “My gosh, I never knew this.” He said, “You didn’t know it was camp when you read the script?” I said, “No.” He knew right away. But you know, they edited like an hour and a half out of that movie anyway. Some of the takes were really, really long and so much was cut, especially my scenes. I don’t know if it would have changed it but I think it would have made more sense if some of it had been put back, like when my character, Carol Ann, meets Joan and is hired by Joan. I think that would have been a good addition to the story. … But I’m kind of glad the way it turned out because it’s going to continue to have this huge following for years. If it had just been a straight drama, I don’t think we’d be talking today. I think it would have just been one of these movies that was a good movie and then people would have forgotten about it. It’s given people a lot of joy through the years.

BLADE: Do you think “Mommie Dearest” ruined Faye’s career? I know that’s probably an oversimplification, but people say that and it does seem like her filmography is quite spotty after that.

ALDA: I don’t think so. She did quite a few films after it, maybe 10 or 15.

BLADE: Yes, but there was never another “Network” or “Chinatown”-caliber film after it.

ALDA: No, because what did she choose right after “Mommie Dearest”? “Supergirl”? I mean, her choice of material — she still had the power to choose her own material at that point and she was choosing stuff that wasn’t in the same league as “Network,” or, you know, “Chinatown.” I mean these are really great films, really amazing films, and she chooses “Supergirl” and other films you can’t even remember? Even the movie she likes to talk about with Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp (“Don Juan DeMarco”), well that’s not a very good movie. I mean God bless all the actors, but some movies just don’t work. Her choice of parts was really not good. Also I think when one is constantly late on a set and constantly causes production to be slowed down, sooner or later producers just don’t want to lose that money. We went a couple of million dollars over budget because of constant lateness and finally Frank Yablans pulled the plug and we just weren’t going to shoot anymore, that was it. I think today producers won’t put up with that. Show up on time. OK, once in a while, you’re five-10 minutes late, you can’t help it, but not five and six hours late. There’s too much money involved today.

BLADE: “Mommie Dearest” lives on as a camp classic and nobody takes it — at least the film — seriously. Has Joan had the last laugh?

ALDA: Oh, absolutely. Joan Crawford’s career got resurrected. All of a sudden it’s her films that are seen and viewed and she’s kind of the big star here instead of Faye. People are seeing her films. At the Film Forum downtown, there’s a retrospective of her movies next weekend and it’s just amazing. People are rediscovering her that have never seen her movies. I think Joan Crawford has become the big star instead of Faye.

BLADE: Was Joan a good actress?

ALDA: I think she was a wonderful actress for that era. She was over the top and mannered, but that was the movies of that era. I think she was marvelous in those kinds of movies. People don’t act that way today, but they’re fascinating to watch. You look at “Mildred Pierce” and “Baby Jane” and even some of the horror movies she did and she was really pretty impressive. I just saw “Baby Jane” again not long ago and I thought she and Bette were really over the top, but it works. What two actresses today could do that style in that kind of way and make it so memorable and unique? There’s nobody like them.

BLADE: Joan mistook you for Mia Farrow when you were her stand-in on “Rosemary’s Baby” where she was to have had a cameo. Did she say anything after she realized you weren’t Mia?

ALDA: No, she was just very charming. She didn’t come over and say anything afterward but I didn’t go over to her either. She was just standing there, very gracious, and there was something about her that just radiated star. She had been a star for 50 years and she knew who she was.

BLADE: But she didn’t brush you off or anything?

ALDA: No, not at all.

BLADE: You write at length about what a great actor your husband Richard Bright was and it seems like he kind of got swallowed up by the machine, so to speak, with his drug issues. With true persistence and talent, does the cream always rise in Hollywood or have you seen truly talented people fall through the cracks?

ALDA: Unfortunately I don’t think the cream always rises. When I started out 50 years ago, I knew a lot of really, really talented people, much more talented than the people that eventually became stars, I thought, so no. But it’s very difficult because a lot of really talented people are also so sensitive and their sensitivity winds up destroying them. In Richard’s case, he was a wonderful actor, really terrific, as Al Pacino acknowledges. He used to watch Richard work. (Richard was) pained by not working and that’s what really drove him to drugs — the pain from not working and expressing himself. I think so much of it is just luck. I’ve known a lot of people who do it for 10-15 years and they just emotionally can’t take it anymore, the rejection. It’s just such a crapshoot and you don’t know what direction your life takes you. … Look at someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman. … As painful as that was, I think that opened a little more compassion in people because he was one who did achieve a lot of success. … It’s a very, very difficult business. People shove their kids in front of me and ask for advice for this teenage girl who wants to be an actress. I always say don’t do it if you have any other choice of a career. It’s gotta be in your blood so deep that you can’t do anything else. … Enjoy your life. Life is short. Being an actor is like having a virus you can’t get rid of.

BLADE: Do you wish you had left Richard sooner?

ALDA: Well I loved my husband a lot. … He was a good person, a very generous person. I just had no idea what his addiction meant and that it was so hard to break that chain. I didn’t understand that you can’t do it for them. …. This was the ‘80s and there was a lot then we didn’t fully understand. I think later when the Betty Fords and other programs, there was more understanding, but this was the early ‘80s.

BLADE: Do you think Christina wrote her book just to get back at Joan for being left out of the will?

ALDA: No, because I think the book was already more or less written before Joan died. Now, did Joan leave her out of the will because she knew she was writing a book? I don’t know, maybe. But the book was done before the will. Had it been the other way around, I might have said yeah. It was a scandalous thing to do at the time because she was the first to do it, the first to write and sort of reveal her life with a major star. Later one of the Crosby kids wrote about Bing Crosby and Bette Davis’s daughter wrote about Bette Davis, but she was the first.

BLADE: Had you read the book when it came out or did you read it when you got the part?

ALDA: I read it when I was getting ready for the film, I’d heard about but didn’t read it until I was cast.

BLADE: Why did Christina never visit the set? I would have thought she’d have been at least curious.

ALDA: She told me the script was totally different and she just wanted to let it go. She and her husband, David Koontz, had written a script that was rejected so after Frank and Frank took over, she just felt she’d sold the rights, it was going to be what it was going to be and it was out of her hands so she had not interest in visiting the set.

BLADE: Why did you choose the self-publishing route for your book?

ALDA: I’d had it with an agent for almost two years and I just felt he wasn’t getting it out to the right people. I could have tried to find another agent but I thought, OK, that could be another two years. I learned things happen rather slowly in the publishing world, at least from my experience, and I felt this was the right time to put it out. Actually Christina Crawford was one person who encouraged me to self publish because she had done it after “Mommie Dearest.” … I thought, well, at least that way we’ll get it out into the world and I won’t be waiting and waiting and waiting. I’m glad I did it because at least I beat Faye.

BLADE: You write of how painful the makeup was on the film. How long did it take your face to fully heal after the film?

ALDA: About a month. Things are better with appliances now, but at the time with all that glue on your skin, it was really sore and red and tender.

BLADE: You said you knew of the film’s camp element immediately upon seeing it, but did you realize the gay element in that then too or did that come later?

ALDA: I didn’t really know that then, no. I think my first inkling to that was when I did the Town Hall show Mother’s Day with Joan about 10 years ago with Lypsinka, who is absolutely brilliant. Then, of course, about three years ago there was a show with Hedda Lettuce. She said, “Do you have any stories from ‘Mommie Dearest,’” and I said, “Yeah, I kept a journal.” She said, “Could you come read something from it,” so I went and read a few things. Then Marc Huestis called me two years ago and asked me to come to the Castro to read from it. I said, “Do you think anybody would be interested?” He said yes, so then at the Castor there were like 1,500 beautiful gay men and honestly just this wave of love that hit me and, wow, I still feel it in my heart, this love and support that came from the audience. I’m very emotional about it still. I read from my diary and they just went wild, they were so wonderful. So they were the first real audience and I thought, oh my God, I’ve got to publish this book. It hit me that people were really interested.

BLADE: Did you read Faye’s autobiography “Looking for Gatsby”?

ALDA: No. I went to Barnes & Noble to look at it. I thumbed through it but there didn’t seem to be much on “Mommie Dearest” so I didn’t buy it.

BLADE: What would you say if you were in an elevator with her?

ALDA: Hi. But she might not answer me because there were a lot of times on the set when she’d just walk right by. I’d be prepared for that.

Rutanya Alda today. (Photo courtesy Alda)

Rutanya Alda today. (Photo courtesy Alda)

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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