I loved this article (below) which Lypsinka sent me on that puppet Madame's flamboyant creator. Though Dame Edna, Rupaul, and films like TO WONG FOO and PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT would nab mainstream exposure in the 90's, in the 80's, the world wasn't quite ready to permit a free-standing drag queen, so Wayland had to squat his faggot-y ass behind a couch and only put his hand in drag via this puppet. But what a puppet! I have rented MADAME TAKES MANHATTAN, the video of "their" night-club act, at least 10 times and highly recommend it. It's a little racier than Madame's sitcom or HOLLYWOOD SQUARES appearances. In fact, it has an almost racist black hooker puppet named Jiffy who is seated on a garbage can talkin' trash outside the theater where Madame is performing. Celebrity cameos include Alice Ghostly, BEWITCHED'S Aunt Alice! And for those of you who enjoyed the Madame/Dionne Warwick Separated At Birth? blog entry, it turns out that they both hosted SOLID GOLD! I hear conflicting rumors that 2 different puppeteers have obtained the rights to re-birth Madame, but she has yet to emerge. WE WANT MADAME!!!
Flowers, Wayland (1939-1988)
The complex relationship between the puppeteer and his puppet, an inanimate
object that he has invested with a life and a personality of its own, can take
many bizarre twists. Such is the case of Wayland Flowers and his puppet
"Madame," who, arguably, was far more famous than her creator.
Indeed, a decade and a half after Flowers's death, there is little
biographical information available about him and he would seem a mostly
celebrity of the 1970s, while a search of the internet reveals that "Madame"
still retains a cult following.
Wayland Flowers was born in Dawson, Georgia, on November 26, 1939. He began
to practice puppetry at an early age, drawn, perhaps, by a puppet's license to
say and do in public a wide variety of things forbidden to its human operator.
In the 1960s, Flowers moved to New York, where he was an assistant puppeteer
for a number of children's television shows. But while he entertained children
during the day, he also developed "Madame," an "adults-only" puppet, a
grotesquely ugly and flamboyantly ribald old crone festooned in outrageous
gowns, tiaras, and rhinestones.
Flowers performed with "Madame" in nightclubs and gay bars, where her frank
and often acerbic observations about sex, men, and life in general, similar to
those expressed by drag queens in their acts, gained the "dirty old lady"
and--by extension--Flowers a following that led to frequent television guest
appearances on variety and talk shows.
By the late 1960s, Flowers and "Madame" had become regulars on the comedy
program Laugh-In, one of the most popular television programs at the time and
known for its cutting-edge topical humor that frequently challenged network
censorship. In this context, Flowers was able to present a campy gay point of
mediated through his puppet.
Naughty old ladies have long been a staple of bawdy comedy, able to indulge
sarcastically in double entendre and sexual innuendo and yet be found amusing
rather than offensive, if for no other reason than the audience perceives older
women, no matter how stereotypical, as being past any serious sexual
This comedic incongruity, then, could be taken to even greater lengths by
means of an old lady who was not only extraordinarily ugly (though pretending to
be a great beauty) but who was also, in reality, wood and wire rather than
flesh and blood.
In this way, Flowers was able to express on prime-time television the
attitudes and desires of many gay men in the early days of gay liberation--views
would otherwise have been regarded as pointedly offensive to mainstream
Throughout the 1970s, Wayland Flowers and "Madame" appeared frequently on
television, as the hosts of Solid Gold, a weekly popular music show, and on the
game show Hollywood Squares, where, after nearly a decade of guest appearances,
they succeeded Paul Lynde, a gay comic as bitchy and queeny as "Madame," as
the all-important "central square."
By the early 1980s, the puppet/human relationship had taken a strange turn in
Flowers's career. "Madame" became the star of her own sitcom, Madame's Place,
in which she played the lead role, interacting with the other actors as if
she were human.
Flowers, ironically, remained completely out of sight, his function as
"Madame"'s voice the only outward evidence of his presence. Indeed, she seemed
take on a life of her own, eclipsing Flowers until he became invisible--both
literally and figuratively--behind her.
As a result of his invisibility, very little attention was drawn to his
personal life, and thus it was a surprise to many when Flowers died in Hollywood
October 11, 1988, a victim of the AIDS epidemic. "Madame" was buried with him.
Patricia Juliana Smith
iPublication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2003
Date Last Updated December 12, 2002
Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/flowers_w.html