Fuck fear! I’ve heard that significant phrase quite a lot over the past year, and it unquestionably applies to Dale Guy Madison. The actor airs his dirty laundry on stage, unveiling many secrets.
This brave soul shines in his one-man show, My Life in 3 Easy Payments. As with his other earlier one-man show, FREEda SLAVE: Mask of a Diva, Dale dons his drag persona, FREEda SLAVE, which he originally created for his role in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Dale originally landed in the public eye in the early nineties when he was one of the first African-American hosts of QVC. He was on the air for four years.
The Baltimore native, like John Waters (yes, Dale played a bit part in Waters’ timeless film Hairspray), has been in the trenches of the AIDS epidemic for many years, using his art to bring about awareness, along with other LQBT issues: substance abuse, mental health, and homophobia. Playing a major role in the Baltimore African-American HIV community, Dale was project coordinator of the Men of Color AIDS Prevention Project (M.O.C.A.P.P.)—one of its original members—and also an original member of Men Of Color Against AIDS (M.O.C.A.A.). You go, Dale!
After moving to Los Angeles, Dale continued his activism within the LGBTQ and AIDS
communities. In 2012, he created a Black AIDS Quilt (several years earlier, he fashioned one while living in Baltimore), and participated in AIDS Walks. His HIV-awareness theater performances can be viewed on YouTube (links listed at the end). Dale currently works for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
Mr. Madison has also written his memoir Dreamboy: My Life As a QVC Host & Other Greatest Hits, then followed up with a comical adult fairytale, Sissy Sammy in the Land of WeHo 90069—a fun read parodying The Wizard of Oz! Last year, his docucomedy short, “Life After QVC” preemed at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase, which was produced by his production company, DamnGoodMan Productions.
When Dale performs or pens, his bluntness and candor is only surpassed by his authenticity. Dale reveals his broken relationships (including a heterosexual marriage, an abusive gay relationship, and an affair with a Maryland State politician), the challenges of being an openly gay black actor, drug addictions, and his mental breakdown for which he was institutionalized for a year. A man for all seasons, Dale has been a nude model, fashion designer, a stripper, and…a singing trolley driver!
At sixty-one, Mr. Madison has oodles to share, and he does it with self-effacing humor, exhibiting his life as a learning tool for others. After a Sunday matinee performance, I head backstage of the Davidson/Valentini Theatre, located at the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, to chat it up with the charismatic Baby Boomer.
Ruby Comer: What a captivating show, Dale! [He humbly thanks me.] First off, I’m dying to know, is your name a stage name…or birth name?
Dale Guy Madison: I am a product of the “Golden Age” of television, Ruby. I was conceived on a balmy night in July of 1957, between episodes of The Roy Rogers Show and Wagon Train. Nine months later, Dale Guy Madison was born. Named for Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ wife, and Guy Madison, one of the guest stars of Wagon Train, my purpose in life seemed pre-destined. I was to become a performer.
Hallelujah! I was conceived during an I Love Lucy episode. I wonder why I wasn’t named Lucy, Ricky, Fred, or Ethel….or Mrs. Trumbull! [We have a belly laugh.] Here’s a quick Q: What film always makes you cry?
I cry on so many films, it’s silly. But a film I cry every time is An Affair to Remember.
Omigosh. Yes…Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr! Me too, Mister. [Dale’s eyes moisten and he nods furiously.] That was fun. One more quick Q: what do you think happens after we die?
[He takes a swig of bottled water.] We come back again.
Okay. I vacillate between that and nothing. [I hunch my shoulders and shrug.] Anyhoo, name your all-time favorite film and favorite TV sitcom growing up.
[The man doesn’t even flinch and answers instantly.] Valley of the Dolls and The Addams Family.
Ah, yes. I love those gals in Valley of the Dolls: Anne, Jennifer and, of course, Neely. Wow. [I deeply inhale, returning to the moment.] Okay, switching gears. Tell me how you’ve been affected by the epidemic, Dale.
I started losing friends early on when the epidemic hit. [He cocks his head, while his dark peepers glance off.] I remember in 1985, I was living in Baltimore, when I had to speak at a funeral of a coworker. The family didn’t want any mention of AIDS. I had to refer to it as “cancer.”
Oh Dale. I remember those gloomy days….
Many of my classmates from my high school drama department in Baltimore succumbed to the disease.
How awful. I’m sorry. You and I, Dale, are of, shall I say, “a certain age,” who remember those decadent days—pre-AIDS —of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. Sum up in one sentence your experience.
The bathhouse [he boldly enunciates, in a rhythmic lilt] was a social outing. Nothing was shameful about it.
…and once AIDS struck, how did you adjust your sex style?
I became more fetish-oriented and focused more on fantasy instead of penetration.
That’s a refreshing way to handle the tragic situation. Say, when did…. [Interrupting, Dale delicately places his hand on my knee.]
Let me tell you , Ruby. When I speak to youth about HIV risk options, I jokingly say, “I prefer sucking a toe before sucking a dick (without a condom), there’s less risk and more nerve sensation.”
Holy jumpin’ catfish, as my granny would say, when she liked something! [I pause.] When did you first test for HIV?
In 1991. I tested right after my divorce from my wife before I started going back into the gay dating pool. I was afraid. I assumed I was already positive. I went out and charged up all new clothes to my credit card. I assumed I would be dead soon and would not have to pay the bills. I tested negative and it took years to pay off those cards.
Oh, geez, that’s amusingly distressing, and a story I’ve heard way too many times. Are you currently in a relationship?
I am in a healthy and happy relationship. [He boasts proudly.] Rafael and I live together, and met little over a year ago.
[There’s a rap on his backstage room door. It’s a duo of young fans asking for an autograph. He cheerfully obliges. They depart.] What a cute couple. Back to Rafael, how did you two broach the subject of STI’s?
I told him I was on PrEP, and what it meant. We continued to use condoms.
Kudos, you two. What do you feel is the most urgent issue we need to address today?
That just because PrEP can prevent the virus in the body does not eliminate other forms of STIs.
Yes, yes, yes. I’ve been repeating this as often as I can, Dale. One pill is not going to do it all. Never. Before you were legal age, you were put into a mental institution. What a story! (Read his book, kids.) So how do you deal with depression these days?
Fortunately, I’ve now found a wonderful therapist. I have learned to talk about my anxiety and depression. I know it all sounds so trite to say, but meditation, yoga, and music have helped me tremendously.
Whatever works, Dale! Looking back on your time on QVC, sum it up in one sentence.
A glorified K-Mart salesperson on television.
Ah, huh. Back to the present, what has this dreadful disease taught you?
[Clearing his throat, Dale delivers in his trademark molasses-smooth voice] I…am…not…afraid…of AIDS anymore. But—I will never forget what it did to my generation. [All of a sudden, Dale’s handsome puss begins to glow.] At sixty-one, I’ve come a long way, baby!
You sure have Toots! My golly what a life. Can’t wait to see what you’re going to do for the next episode. Last question, my dear, state one word to describe you.
[Mr. Madison urgently retorts, with a rowdy attitude] DAMNGOODMAN!
Get art aware with Dale by visiting: www.DanmGoodMan.com. HIV-awareness theatre pieces on YouTube: AIDS Challenge: https://youtu.be/A7YTGNgEeqo; Border Baby: https://youtu.be/j5kz7TBjeZ8; The Man, The Woman & The Lady(Dale plays an HIV role): https://youtu.be/ULOJ4MQmJ-U.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]