MICHAEL MUSTO: 20 More Icons I’ve Known and (Usually) Admired

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Michael Musto shares intimate details about 20 more icons he's known, which include a baffling question from Anna Wintour and a telegram from Yoko Ono. (© Peter Foley/epa/Corbis photo)
Michael Musto shares intimate details about 20 more icons he’s known, which include a baffling question from Anna Wintour and a telegram from Yoko Ono.
(© Peter Foley/epa/Corbis photo)

I recently gave you my impressions of big-time figures I’ve encountered through the years, icons that ranged from Warhol to Madonna and beyond. But flipping through my memory bank, there are so many more. I’ve had the privileged of meeting scads of the great names in entertainment and media, and I’m here to share my thoughts on them in desperate hopes that I might someday join their ranks.

DOLLY PARTON

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

The woman could charm the pants off a barnyard hog! But go into unwanted territory, and she’ll smilingly brush you off and invite you to get in touch with her again, anytime! (Or try to.)

BRAD PITT

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Unpretentious, funny, gay positive … a real doll. I met him as his stardom exploded and have glowed in his achievements ever since.

QUENTIN CRISP

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

The British dandy was a wind-up doll who would recite his famous lines and aphorisms on cue. He was so witty and adorable, you just wanted to pinch him. But then he’d emit some old-school political statement — like how if women could find out in advance that their babies were going to be gay, they should abort them — and you’d cringe. But then he’d get witty again.

PATTI LABELLE

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

A volcanic talent, survivor and giver, who is always grateful and always generous.

DAME JUDI DENCH

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Judes could easily have an attitude. With her body of work, the woman has certainly earned the right. But the multiple award winner has no time for ‘tude. She’s always like butter, a delightful and charming icon without the slightest sense that her stuff don’t stank.

HELEN MIRREN

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Whereas Dench comes off like a polite aunt, Mirren is funny and full of sass. She’s like the wacky lady down the block who can really play along.

CAROL CHANNING

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Like the late Elaine Stritch, Carol is a real character and full of Broadway-style charisma, but with wheels constantly turning and a diva instinct for staying ahead of her competitors. Don’t mess with her dominance!

“J.T. LEROY”

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

The bogus transsexual teen author won acclaim with her fake biography and scam novel (ghostwritten by an older woman). I got swept along in the whole thing, though I had my suspicions. In fact, I ran an item that the person who showed up for the Vanity Fair shoot of LeRoy wasn’t LeRoy at all. (The photographer vehemently denied it.) Soon, I was hosting a bookstore reading of LeRoy’s work, and sensed some other things were wrong. For one thing, the “author” had faxed me reams and reams of introductions for the other speakers at the last minute, with the proviso that I had to read every single word to the crowd! Bizarre! Secondly, when I got there, she was nervous and shaking her leg, and I found it hard to believe that she was this noted author being celebrated all over the place. She wasn’t.

JOAN COLLINS

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Joan’s the bristle queen — say something perfectly innocent, and she wonders what on earth you meant by that! But she radiates real star quality and is one of our last vestiges of old-style Hollywood glamour, so bring her on.

JACKIE COLLINS

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

I was captivated by Joan’s sister Jackie’s trashy pizzazz, but after I gleefully let out the F word during a bookstore talkback with her, she seemed to turn her back on me, appalled. I thought she, of all people, would love it!

CAROL BURNETT

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Complicated and talented, Carol knows the importance of appreciating and stroking her fans. She’s a pro and has been through enough horror to be way deeper than just a rubber-faced comic.

MARY TYLER MOORE

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Life’s vicissitudes have made Mary tougher, which can be startling for fans who expect her to be Mary Richards from her eponymous show. They should relax — she’s a real person, not a sitcom character, and no, she’s not the person from “Ordinary People” either.

ROBIN WILLIAMS

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

A dark, comic mind that kept spinning, spinning, spinning. And if you made him laugh — even for a second — he treasured you.

ANNA WINTOUR

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

When I wrote a gushy column about how everyone fawned over her during Fashion Week, Wintour called me directly and asked me to write for her! Well, I met with her, and the first thing out of her mouth, strangely enough, was, “Are you athletic?” I responded with a flabbergasted look. She seriously suggested that I roller,skate through England and pen a chronicle of it. That’s when I knew I was never going to be one of Vogue’s big writers — and that her genius was something other people would have to witness.

DIANA ROSS

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

When I met her at the height of all the bad press, Diana was direct, lovely and sweet. I’m just sayin’ she’s got that in her and can certainly turn it on when she feels like it. Unfortunately, I feel she also has sometimes displayed a self-sabotaging side, careerwise. But she’s still my queen — a glittery superstar with show biz in her veins.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

I wrote the brilliant composer an e-mail request, and he answered me personally! With a rejection! I found his hands-on approach a sparkling reminder of his work ethic.

STEVE RUBELL

(liveauctioneers.com photo)
(liveauctioneers.com photo)

The Studio 54 co-owner was manically in search of constant fun, success and money, but deep down, he just wanted to be loved.

HARVEY FIERSTEIN

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

Harvey wants to be loved, too — to the point where he doesn’t like to be contradicted or argued with. And he’s usually right, so why bother?

BETTE DAVIS

(Wikipedia photo)
(Wikipedia photo)

I sat with the two-time Oscar winner at an event, where she gave all her attention to a C-list actress who was pummeling her with questions. I felt that Bette was focusing so much on this woman because it was a way to drive off everyone else with their fawning adoration and dumb questions.

YOKO ONO

(Craig McDean for Interview photo)
(Craig McDean for Interview photo)

Ages ago, I wrote a bad review of one of Yoko’s albums, but specified that the inclusion of son Sean Lennon’s voice at one point was really sweet. Yoko telegrammed — yes, telegrammed — me back: “Thank you for the good review of Sean.”

Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.

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