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Charles Bosch, the legend of clouds, tells it all in his new memoir


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Charles Bush, the famous actor, Tony-nominated playwright, and recently wealthy memoirist, thought his bed might make a good theatre. In his duplex apartment in Greenwich Village last month, he noticed how the arched doorway to his stark-white bedroom resembled a stage.

The room is designed in the style of the 1940s Dorothy Draper, an interior designer known for her neo-Baroque sensibility. This is where you can imagine Gene Tierney taking on the role of the dapper advertising executive (and presumed murder victim) in the 1944 black magick Laura, Bosch noted.

The show Bush would like to stage here, though, would be a production of Lucille Fletcher’s radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number,” in which a bedridden, nervous rich woman overhears her murder being planned over a cross-country telephone. The role was memorably played by Barbara Stanwyck in the 1948 film.

“I really have to do this before I’m too old,” said Bush, who was then a few weeks shy of 69. His hair was combed back and his hair was gray and a shirt and pants with a mandarin collar (drawing for the stage), “I really have to do this before I get too old.” He looked like a reserved bohemian college professor.

He thought an audience of 12 could be squeezed into a lobby. Bush himself, presumably dressed sumptuously, was waiting “in bed, like Jessica Chastain”, who sat onstage in a silent prologue in the recent Broadway revival of “A Doll’s House”.

Bush, too, was going to appear in character from the start, “eating chocolate and being nervous.” He was blowing air with his impatient, fidgety fingers. Suddenly a helpless, hopeless, doomed woman appeared in front of me. I felt dizzy, between shaking and laughing.

I arrived 10 minutes before visiting Bush, which I… “The Leading Lady: Memoirs of an Extraordinary Boy” It comes out on Tuesday. But much of the essence of this man-at-woman has already been cemented: the encyclopedic frame of reference, the evocation of gleamingly sophisticated Manhattan, the recall of a decades-spanning parade of actresses and, above all, Judy-and-the-crazy. – Exciting Mickey style presentation.

These elements are most evident in The Leading Lady, a book reminiscent of Act One – Mos Hart’s classic novel about emotional education in the theatre – but with plenty of wigs and costume changes, as well as fun. Wrap works as a rent boy for nine months. Of course, there is a different list of famous names as supporting players, including Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and Kim Novak.

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Although the book took 14 years in the making (“I’ve written many plays in between, my dear”), autobiography seems to come naturally to a man who says, “As I live an experience, I turn it into a narrative.” Compiled as a mosaic of recollections and self-analysis, “The Leading Lady” chronicles the rise of a motherless boy who discovers he was only really good on stage when he wore women’s clothing.

He said, “When I play a man, I’m fine, but there’s someone else who can do it better. But in terms of being a male actress, I have a very healthy ego.

Bosch’s busy resume includes screenplays (his film with Carl Anders, “The Sixth Reel” (which appears in On and Off the Clouds, set to premiere in New York this month), national cabaret tours and the adaptation of the hit Broadway comedy The Allergist’s Wife’s Tale.

But as the memoir’s title suggests, Bush is above all a leading lady. His self-starring plays—inspired by the female-centric melodrama of old Hollywood—usually find him bloated and elaborately vulgar, picking on the gimmicks and inflections of the likes of Stanwyck, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford. These traits come together in one image with swirling hints, usually of a strong, exquisitely dressed woman at risk.

John Epperson, Bush’s longtime friend and, like the great Lepsinka, his counterpart in the cross-dressing gods of downtown, sees their work as part of a live performance tradition dating back to drag predecessors such as Charles Ludlam, founder of Silly Play Company, which blurs the lines between both genders and sexes. It was a sensibility taking new forms in East Village bars four decades ago like the Pyramid Club and Limbo Hall, the birthplace of Bush’s signature work, “The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” “As someone once said to me, ‘Watch the absurdities in the culture,'” Epperson said. “I think I was already doing it! And he does that too in his own way.

Bush’s off-Broadway plays have been staged with tight budgets and maximum creativity, and have usually been everything their fragrant titles promise – “Vampire Lesbians” (which ran off-Broadway for five years in the mid-1980s), and “The Lady in Question.” and “The Lady in Question” and “The Lady in Question”. “Die, Mother, Die!”, “Divine Sister” and, most recently, “The Confession of a Lily Dear”, which was shown in New York shortly before the epidemic.

At first, they just yelled. They are swayed by a mixture of sincere affection and amusing distance, as they echo the experience of watching the films that inspired them. It’s the approach that has allowed Bush to maintain a unique niche in the increasingly crowded world of drag, which has become a staple of prime-time entertainment (see “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and its offspring) and a political lightning rod. With its euphoric focus on the self-expressed, Drag appears as a pleasantly homely mirror of a culture obsessed more than ever with the illusions – and realities – of self-display.

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Meanwhile, men who dress as women routinely provoke outrage among American conservatives. “It’s all a trap and an illusion,” Bush said of the right’s attacks on cross-dressing. “It’s like ‘Footloose’ or something,” he added, referring to a 1984 film about a small town that bans teenagers from dancing. “It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.”

For years, Bush has bristled at being called a drag queen. In early interviews, he insisted that playing a female role was a purely artistic choice. Which is the position that embarrasses him now. “If you build your entire creative life around female images, it has to come from a deep place,” he said.

From the moment he first donned a drag suit in a play about Siamese twins he wrote as a student at Northwestern University, he knew the female character gave him the confidence and expression he lacked in performing as a man. Today, he is happy to be called the “Godmother of Clouds”. Two superstars from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” reached out on a tour of California, and confirmed Bush’s claim to the title.

BenDeLaCreme said Bush’s performance was “such a distillation of our collective queer consciousness.” Jinx Monson, who met Bush for lunch, found him to have “all the grandeur and brilliance of an opera singer, the self-awareness of a stage clown, and the grace of a First Lady touring the White House.” Actor Doug Blott, who worked with Bush on The Sixth Reel, views him as a surrogate mother, as well as “the most amazing person ever”.

Bush’s mother died of a heart attack in the street of their home in Hartsdale, New York, when Bush was seven, and her absence haunted the “leading lady”. His father, who owned a record store, was friendly but inattentive, and Bush’s aunt, Lillian Bloom, a smart, art-loving widow living in Manhattan, entered the void.

In essence, he said, his treatment was “my mother and my father”. Bush sees her as the true hero of his book. She passed away in 1999.

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Bush was also very close to his sister, Margaret, who was three years his senior. “We were like sympathizers,” he said. “We were really good imitators. She was the most feminine and fragile little thing, but Jimmy Cagney had a nuance as Greer Garson. She died of heart disease on July 13th, and when I visited Bush a few weeks later, he was still grieving for a loss.”

He choked on comedian Joan Rivers, the most dominant mother figure he’d been drawn to throughout his adult life. “After she passed, I would go around a group of older ladies, thinking I’d find another one,” he said. “But you can’t replace people.”

He looked a little faded that day, especially amid the vibrant pictures of him all over the china-red living room in which we sat. These included Busch à la Dietrich, on a sofa cushion; Bush as the moody black-and-white Sarah Bernhardt; Bush as the vibrant human exclamation of every dramatist, Al Hirschfeld; and an array of assorted busts created by Bosch from his face mask.

It seemed like a normal environment for someone who normally switches between different selves. As we spoke, his voice often reminded us not of his beloved movie gods, but of the stunning beauty of the boy next door, morning idol Van Johnson or young Jimmy Stewart.

The women, though, would surface in bursts of mature annotations—the restless voice of Bette Davis, the grandeur of Norma Shearer or the “deep, slightly insane look” that appears, as he said, in every performance of Vivien Leigh, his favorite singer. . an actress.

He is finally considering incorporating the aristocratic undertones of Katharine Hepburn, on Long Day’s Journey into Night, in his next production, Ibsen’s Ghost: Irresponsible Autobiographical Fiction. The film is about the widow of playwright Henrik Ibsen, who is “sexually awakened by a sailor,” and is due in New York early next year.

“It may be my farewell performance,” he said earnestly. I reminded him he said the same thing about “Lily Dare” a few years ago.

“Yes, that will be my farewell performance,” he agreed, a little exasperated. “But I don’t know.” Then he uttered the required sentence in the dry phrases of Eve Arden: “I don’t have enough hobbies.”

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