Royce Reed died recently. You may not know who she was. There is only a handful of obsessed admirers who regularly visit the Facebook page dedicated to Royce and her former sidekick, Marilyn Hoggatt. Her YouTube views totalled 706,799, at last count -- not much in this age of video sharing, when you consider that not all of those viewers will be permanent fans. Some will view her videos and listen to her cantankerous laments, and that will be it. Others, like me, will be captivated and attempt to memorize her famous alcohol-laden rant to Marilyn about the beautiful days gone by, when she attended concerts featuring the music of "Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Grieg. I know all about ... internationally composed symphonies. God! This shit! Garbage! Garbage that I don't want! Why would I have to be a victim of all this garbage, that crap that you like?" She goes on to tell Marilyn, "You know nothing about classical music, opera. Nothing! Nothing! You can't sing an opera. You know nothing." After becoming completely exasperated with the state of mind she has put herself in, she heaves a sigh and says, "God on a wheel!"
There are some people who express themselves so well using voice inflection and body language that they could be speaking a foreign language and you would still know what they are saying. That's Royce. All her money is gone, and the prospects of finding a wealthy husband with whom to travel become dimmer than the solitary lamp in her hotel room as the nights wear on. Once a retail buyer and a Rodeo Drive window shopper, she has been forced to spend her golden years at an undisclosed Los Angeles skid-row hotel with her friend Marilyn.
Little Edie Beale (Grey Gardens), fictional Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard), and Royce and Marilyn have all unofficially been inducted into my Kooky Old Ladies Hall of Fame. They are the Rolls Royces of kook, because they have that special something that appeals to all of us, LGBTQ people in particular. If you listen to the sounds of their souls, you will hear our common story. There is:
- A detachment from societal expectations. Staying true to their inner self, they don't really give a damn what anyone else thinks of them.
- An overwhelming sense of style and creativity. Royce loved her hats, even after American women became more like "sheep" in their fashion choices. Little Edie was able to turn men's long-sleeve shirts into sensational scarves that covered her thinning hair.
- A sweeping undercurrent of courage. Although they showed themselves to be vulnerable, they were never ashamed of themselves.
- An acerbic wit and keen sense of timing. How many times have we wanted to say something clever but were never able to get the words out? Now we have a few handy zingers to keep in our repertoire for future use, should the need arise:
- "My costumes? That's a protest against having worked as a model for the Establishment, believe it or not. A lot of models feel that way" (Little Edie).
- "They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who've we got now? Some nobodies!" (Norma).
- "I'm trying to relax and wait to commit suicide" (Royce).
- "I am big. It's the pictures that got small" (Norma).
- "I sang everything perfectly. Note by note. You know nothing" (Royce).
I think we all want to blaze our own trail, but LGBTQ people in particular have always had to do that. What many people take for granted, like choosing a church for one's faith, or starting a family with one's family's blessings, LGBTQ people have to fight for. So when some old dame comes along and is so completely herself and lives just the way she wants to live, we take notice. Marriage equality, yes. Gay adoption, yes. But before those and the other equally important civil rights issues become a reality, we need to be able to celebrate being ourselves without apologizing. There is a kooky old lady in all of us if we look deep enough. Come out, come out, wherever you are, and don't forget to put on your big hats.
Nominations are now open for the Kooky Old Ladies Hall of Fame:
Little Edie Beale:
Royce Reed and Marilyn Hoggatt:
To read more about Royce and Marilyn, click here.