You are going to be so grateful for this column, you will throw yourself on the floor and thank me for having saved you countless hours of searching through YouTube to find the most lively, offbeat, campy, riveting clips from a bevy of gay-idol divas, from Bette Davis to Britney. And I am here to say: Get off the floor. It's not dignified. Just start watching the videos and thank me later. Cheers.
1) Joan Crawford/Cyd Charisse "Two Faced Woman"
This is a triple decker sandwich of true sickness. Joan Crawford performs "Two-Faced Woman" in black face (from her 1953 movie Torch Song). Cyd Charisse attempts a vaguely similar, but lighter, feat (in a number cut from The Band Wagon, with the same dubbed vocal, courtesy of India Adams). And the whitest woman alive, Debbie Reynolds, narrates the whole mess for That's EntertainmentIII. Enjoy, if you can stomach it.
2) Raquel Welch, "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In"
In 1970, curvy movie star Raquel Welch starred in a lavish, inventive TV special, where her wispy vocals were surpassed by the stunning visuals--as in this number, daringly performed at Teotihuacan, the pyramids located outside Mexico City, and studded with all sorts of dancers dressed in Dali-esque astrological attire. All "signs" pointed to go.
3) Jennifer Holliday, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (music video)
The Dreamgirls Tony winner opens her mouth wide and belts out her trademark number, often looking right at the camera in a disarming way that leads right up to that big belch. I could never understand how Curtis could still leave after this performance.
4) Dorothy Loudon, "Broadway Baby"
On the 1984 Tony awards telecast, the Broadway star best known for Annie had a gay old time crooning this Sondheim number, adding her trilly vibrato and some delicious ad libs. I love her shouting "Key change!" and making you believe there actually is one.
5) Ann-Margret, "Smash the Mirror" (from Tommy)
The Swedish-American sexpot delivered 1,000% in her Oscar-nominated role as deaf, dumb, and blind Tommy's tempestuous mom in the Ken Russell film of the Who's rock opera. Her writhing around and wildly flicking her hair at a mirror while holding a bottle makes her the original Britney, in a way.
6) Ann-Margret, chocolate sauce (from Tommy)
In the same movie, our twitchy diva works wonders with beans, chocolate, and champagne bubbles, while writhing, always writhing. The woman should have done a recipe book.
7) Joan Collins singing "Chalk and Cheese" in Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?
Get ready for an astrological production number to rival Raquel's. It's from Anthony Newley's Felliniesque 1969 movie about his alleged propensity for young gals, even while married to his costar, the mature Ms. Collins (playing a role delicately named Polyester Poontang). Singing to both a naked Newley and a human puppet, Collins manages to maintain her dignity, even with lyrics like, "I'm a fool maybe/But I don't mind chalk with my cheese."
8) Diana Ross, African dance number
This isn't really campy at all. It's just plain gorgeous. In a segment of the 1968 TV special TCB, Diana reveals herself to be a first rate dancer (and, of course, fashion plate) as she indulges in some fascinating moves and costume changes, complete with bushy hair. "Reflections" indeed.
9) Cher, West Side Story
Ever sit around fantasizing, "Gosh, I'd love to see a mini production of the classic musical West Side Story with Cher playing all the parts, including the male ones"? Well, it's been done. (It's from 1978's Cher...Special.) And it's priceless.
10) Barbra Streisand and dancers, "(It's Gonna Be A) Great Day" from Funny Lady
I love the 1975 sequel to Funny Girl, but things seemed to stray farther from Fanny Brice and more into just plain Barbra territory, especially with this elaborate number featuring Alvin Ailey style dancers and deco sets. Get down, Babs.
11) "I'll Plant My Own Tree," Susan Hayward
The 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls is a trash epic about three show biz gals and their descent into pills and madness. But perhaps the most riveting female in the whole film is Helen Lawson, the self proclaimed barracuda who's tough and bitchy but who's supposed to be a dazzling entertainer who could take your breath away. Here's Susan Hayward as Helen, dodging a big mobile as she performs this absurd showstopper, dubbed by Margaret Whiting. In a part based on Ethel Merman. Which was played--until she got canned--by Judy Garland. Who was the basis for Patty Duke's character, Neely. OK, enough. Except that you should note the way Hayward's mouth stays open long after the last note is finished. All the better to catch flies with!
12) Bette Davis, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
Every camp queen worth his gay card knows about Bette singing "I've Written A Letter To Daddy?" as the broken-down gargoyle named Jane Hudson. But did you also know that she had a "hit" single of a whole other song written in relation to that 1962 movie, and she did it on Andy Williams' TV show? Got chills yet?
13) Debbie Reynolds, "If I Had a Hammer"
This is a Scopitone, which was sort of the original answer to the music video, before the question was even asked. In it, white woman Debbie--yes, her again--gets about as down and dirty as she's willing to get while singing about sociopolitical upheaval. The YouTube description says it all: "You can't sing a protest song without a fabulous gown, a glamorous wig, and matching heels"
14) Natalie Wood, "You're Gonna Hear From Me"
In the 1965 period film about a tomboy who becomes a troubled film star, Natalie Wood sparkles--literally. This number puts her in head-to-toe silver glitter as she traipses around the planets in an intergalactic production that predates glam rock. Natalie not only Wood, but she did.
15) Britney Spears, "Gimme More," 2007
What the hell, let's include one diva video from the modern age. It's Brit comatosely drooging her way through her monotonous song at the VMAs, miles away from her much fizzier Ann-Margret period.Look alive, honey. It's not like you have to sing or anything.