My friend Tim Ransom wrote a few comments to my last blog on Madonna. His words were so impassioned that Kenneth M. Walsh wrote a post on his own blog about Tim’s comments, followed by another one by Matthew Rettenmund on his blog.
Sharing correspondence with Tim made me think of a photo of Tim, the Divine Ms. Madge and me taken by another well-known photographer I introduced to Madonna, Patrick McMullan.
Orion Pictures, the studio behind Desperately Seeking Susan, was setting up a theme party at Limelight for their film Amadeus. The concept of the film is that Mozart was pop star of his day, so they wanted to get as many well known young singers and musicians as they could. I asked Madonna if I could take her to the party, expecting her customary insolence, but she said that would be fine. That wasn’t the answer I was expecting, so I added, “Why don’t you bring [your boyfriend] Jelly, too?”
Tim, who started out as the stand-in for Aidan Quinn in Desperately Seeking Susan, was on the set every day, and was close enough with Madonna to give her regular foot rubs. She adored him, and eventually he was cast as the bellhop and played a brief scene with her. Tim asked if he could come too, so I asked Orion to put him on the guest list.
Madonna lived a few blocks away from me in those days. I was on Centre Market Place in Little Italy, across the street from the old police headquarters, which was a deserted area then (now it’s a very upscale condo). She had a Soho loft on Broome Street, on the northwest side of West Broadway, a few flights up. Her buzzer didn’t open the door, so she had to throw the keys down from the window. Oddly, I had actually looked at the same loft when it was up for rent. It was more than I could afford, but not that much more. Her debut album, Madonna, had been out for a year, and while it had done very well, I’m pretty sure she hadn’t banked much money yet. She told me she’d already completed the tracks for her follow-up, Like a Virgin, but Sire Records had pushed back the release because sales for Madonna were still so steady. She did her infamous “Like a Virgin” dance, rolling around the stage at the MTV Awards, during an off day from shooting Desperately Seeking Susan. She told me that Cyndi Lauper wouldn’t even look at her that night, which bothered her (!!!) because she wanted to be friends with other women singers.
As Madonna didn’t work every day, I’d go over to her place every now and then so she could do her photo approvals. Madonna’s loft was a long rectangle, around a thousand square feet, with a large mirror on the far end and a Roland keyboard (probably the JX-3P heard on so many of her songs of that period) near the door. I don’t remember there being much else; it looked more like a dance studio or a gallery than a home. True story: The very last time I went to pick up color slides and contact sheets from Madonna, she didn’t feel like letting me upstairs, so she threw them out the window, and they went flying into traffic, The contact sheets didn’t matter (we could make more), but the original slides were priceless and irreplaceable. If you consider how well-known the film became, you can imagine what a big deal it would have been if these images had been lost forever. I practically got killed saving those pictures. When I told this story to Desperately Seeking Susan set photographer Andy Schwartz, he nearly died too.
Despite all her MTV fame, a waitress at the Hard Rock Café on 57th St. tried to kick us out during an interview she was doing with David Keeps for pop music magazine Star Hits. “We’ve got to clean your table!” Madonna was dressed up in her costume with all the accessories, looking the same as when she was performing (I was always impressed with her professionalism). Needless to say, when I told the waitress, she was pretty embarrassed, but please–this was the Hard Rock Café, not Sardi’s! It was lame enough that we were doing the interview in their dumb tourist joint, without this nonsense. Who was the moron who set it up here? (Ummm… that would be me.)
Orion insisted that Desperately Seeking Susan open in March 1985 even though it was shot in the fall of 1984, making for a hastily accelerated post-production schedule. Why? Because they feared that Madonna might be a flash in the pan and they wanted to pop the film out before the interest in the Material Girl dematerialized. This despite Madonna having two best-selling records, mountains of press, parades of teen girls dressed like her, and five videos in power rotation on MTV. The “Into the Groove” video featuring Desperately Seeking Susan clips later became the sixth. Better rev up to hyper-speed with the opening date! Full-blown obscurity could hit Madonna any second!
I remember having difficulty getting a cab on the night of the Amadeus party. Soho wasn’t the madhouse it is today, and was often deserted at night. I was getting pretty stressed out. I finally got a cab and had to beg the driver to wait at the curb while I waited for Madonna and Jelly to come down.
In the cab up Madonna told me about her future plans. She wanted to do a contemporary adaptation of The Blue Angel. I could see real possibilities in the idea, but I admit I also thought, “Madonna saw The Blue Angel? “
Limelight was a club that was built in the former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, at 6th Avenue and 20th Street (it’s now a mall). The club had just opened a year before, and I had actually set up one of the first parties to be held there, for The Fourth Man, a movie I mentioned in my last post.
The first person I saw when we came in was Roger Daltrey. Honestly, I don’t remember anybody else famous being there, but that was cool, although he was a lot shorter than I imagined. Tim Ransom came over and we started to hang out. I figured I had to do my job so I went looking for journalists. Eventually I saw Patrick McMullan and he shot the photo above, as well as a few singles of Madonna. When his coffee table book so80s: A Photographic Diary of a Decade came out in 2003 McMullan told Interview:
I was at this Dallas Boesendahl party for Amadeus at Limelight, and a publicist named Reid Rosefelt said to me, “You should come meet this girl Madonna.” I said, “Sure, I’m very happy to meet her,” but I didn’t know who she was. So I met her and took a few pictures of her. She couldn’t have been sweeter. It was just a very simple, unguarded moment.
Perhaps because I introduced Patrick to Madonna, he included a photo of me, along with Tim and Jellybean, in his book. Right behind Madonna you can see a violinist dressed up in (17)80’s finery for the party. A very sharp-eyed person can see that I’m wearing a button for Stranger Than Paradise, featured in this post.
When we decided to leave, things got a little complicated. For some reason we didn’t go out the front door, and started wandering around the church’s meandering hallways looking for another exit. But we couldn’t find one–it was like that famous scene in Spinal Tap—and we kept circling around. Finally, totally exasperated, I said the one thing I ever said that made Madonna laugh:
“Who do I have to blow to get out of here?”
She liked that.
Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/.