Jackie Beat Boldly Steps Into the Limelight Decked Out—as Always—For Altruism
by Dann Dulin
Photos by Austin Young • austinyoung.com
What did I do during COVID lockdowns? Why I entertained myself of course by watching Miss Jackie Beat—who is fabulous. Okay, cliché word but…this girl is fabulous!
Jackie and her drag friends have created “…In Quarantine,” parodies of television sitcoms and major blockbuster films, such as Golden Girlz in Quarantine, 9 to 5 in Quarantine, Mommie Dearest in Quarantine, and Carrie in Quarantine. The YouTube vids are clever, riotous, engaging, and glowingly produced. They are presented by Re-Runs In Pantyhose, Jackie and Sherry Vine’s Production company that mostly presents these spoofs to live audiences, but due to the pandemic have created online content. Hooray for us.
The “…In Quarantine” characters Jackie portrays are deliciously spot on. Take Jackie playing Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford or Jackie morphing into Bea Arthur (who she’s wild about) becoming Dorothy Zbornak. You’re riveted and gobsmacked at every devilish exaggerated nuance, which includes that rubbing-together-of-two-stones husky voice of Bea’s. The escapades are hilarious, sidesplitting, and austerely delightful.
Jackie Beat needs no introduction. The drag icon is a staple in the HIV community, participating in countless fundraisers and events for more than thirty years. The humanitarian is an activist for LBGTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, PETA, and frequently dons a hardy political voice. She can often be seen on the streets in protest garb supporting a cause. Apathy does not fit into Jackie’s corset.
At fifty-seven this broad is ferocious and proud, setting an example for those who are younger, or even older. Ms. Beat is sassy (dare I say bitchy?), bold, vivacious, outspoken, outrageous, and rowdy—a buxom, bawdy bodacious babe. She’s a blend of Divine, Bette Midler, and Mama Rose, with a sprinkle of Jayne Mansfield and Moira Rose.
Over her career Jackie has stepped into many personae. But the one she knows best is Kent Fuher, her talented creator. Kent studied with Second City Comedy Club, and was a member of the improv group, High Voltage. Some of Jackie and Kent’s on-screen performances are Wigstock: The Movie, Sex and the City, Flawless, and Adam and Steve. Jackie’s current project, Stage Mother, was released last summer, co-starring Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu, and Adrian Grenier, directed by the incomparable and innovative Canadian Thom Fitzgerald, who directed the AIDS-themed 2005 film, 3 Needles, costarring Sandra Oh [A&U, October 2004].
Among other vocations Kent is a writer, poet, director, producer, songwriter, band singer and has even been an advice columnist that has offered insightful perspectives during wobbly times for this journalist.
As Jackie, he’s traveled the planet appearing on the cabaret circuit, as well as performed on cruise chips, toured as an opening act for Roseanne Barr [A&U, February/March 1996], and appeared in many off-Broadway productions. In one he portrayed brash and egocentric performer Helen Lawson in Circle in the Square’s production of Valley of the Dolls.
Kent is a proud Writers Guild member and has contributed to such shows as Fashion Police and Hype!, and has written material for Jennifer Coolidge, Margaret Cho [A&U, September 2000], Rosie O’Donnell, Sandra Bernhard [A&U, October/November 1993], and others.
Kent is a national treasure! Several years ago, the City of Los Angeles bestowed him with a certificate of recognition for his achievements.
Among Jackie’s influencers, high on the dancing pole is the dynamic one of a kind, Bea Arthur [A&U, September 1998]. She’s so crazy-nuts about the icon that she refers to Bea as her “spirit animal.” Indeed, Jackie’s not-so-long-ago stage venture was impersonating Bea (playing Dorothy Zbornak) in a version of Bea’s award-winning TV show, The Golden Girls. It was billed as The Golden Girlz Live. Jackie played over seventy sold-out shows!
Other legends who’ve inspired Jackie are Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller [A&U, November 2001], Joan Rivers [A&U, October 1996], Catherine O’Hara, Cher, Dolly Parton [A&U, July 2003] and Paul Lynde.
Here’s an abridged version of Ms. Beat’s spicy reviews:
“Some small children may be frightened.”
“A divine drag queen with a heart of coal, Miss Beat is a treat!”
“First terrorists, then anthrax and now Jackie Beat!”—and finally “A great talent, pure genius!”—RuPaul.
Jackie’s alter ego, Kent, was born in West Covina, California (a Los Angeles suburb), but his family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona when he was two. His parents divorced when he was in his early teens and Kent moved to Orangevale, California (near Sacramento), with his dad. Since his father was dating the “younger checkout clerk” from their grocery store, who he eventually married, Kent was left pretty much on his own. He occupied his time with smoking pot, watching Second City TV (SCTV), and frequenting the movie theater to see the wild, rip-roaring cult musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In the late eighties, Kent debuted Jackie Beat at Café Largo in L.A. during the hotbed of the AIDS epidemic. Unfortunately, Kent lost an abundant amount of friends and peers to the disease, and has coped with grief by taking a progressive stand participating in photo campaigns for anti-stigma and safer sex, and making public service announcements.
Kent is “blissfully single” but raises two canines, Miss Toni and Darlin. They live in a comfy self-designed home in Altadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. The guest room is elaborately embellished with Carrie (the 1976 Sissy Spacek film) memorabilia. It bursts with collector items; there probably isn’t five inches of vacant wall space. We’re talking posters, stills from the film, signed cast headshots, a Carrie doll, caricature drawings, and even a bedspread portraying Carrie’s mother clutching Carrie’s face, pressing it into her bosom! About the décor, Jackie comments, “Well, I don’t want guests to stay too long….Get out!”
Dann Dulin: Raised in West Covina, California, you were born on a summer day in 1963….
Jackie Beat: For the longest time I was afraid to reveal how old I am. After all, this is Hollywood. But out of respect to everyone I know who left us far too young I can no longer still view being alive as something to be ashamed of. It’s a gift. Also, the kids need to know that fifty-seven can be fierce!
You bet your sweet bippie, girl! How has the AIDS epidemic affected you?
As I say in my act, “I came out of the closet and became sexually active the day AIDS held its first press conference.”
I know. I remember going to the apartment of a guy on whom I had a major crush. We had just come home from a dance club and we were making out on his couch. The TV was on in the background and suddenly I could hear a public service announcement about AIDS. Needless to say, that ruined the mood and I went home.
Oh no. Besides making uproarious Internet shows, how have you been doing during COVID in charming Altadena?
It comes and goes. I’m usually feeling up and grateful and doing my best to stay busy. I have my two precious dogs and a beautiful house, but sometimes I just plummet. And then I can’t see even five minutes into the future and I think, “What’s the point of any of this. Nothing matters. Fuck everything.” It’s not logical at all. But thank goodness I know to just hang on and try not to feed that negative energy because it always goes away.
Oh yes. Who can’t relate to those feelings, c’mon?! How do you hang on?
I count my blessings. My dogs always help; they’re such little clowns. But like I said, most times it’s nothing logical so approaching that way seldom helps. I just ride it out knowing it always gets better….Always.
It’s quite thorny to be logical, albeit rational, when you’re depressed. Take us back to the early eighties, when AIDS, or GRID, became public knowledge. You were, I guess, just graduating from high school, how did that play out sexually for you? I mean, you’re eighteen, hormones raging, but if you have sex it could kill you.
I was not out or sexually active at age eighteen. I actually lost my virginity when I was twenty-three. After that, the fear of HIV really sunk its teeth into my psyche. Geez….at least for a while I could have the freedom of being promiscuous—and loving it—I might add. But you on the other hand, probably didn’t get to experience that. It really was such a fabulous time ….Don’t mean to rub it in.
Well, thank you dear, but I did experience…it all! Tell about getting HIV tested for the first time.
A boyfriend of mine tested positive back when it was still pretty much a death sentence. I was convinced I had it and that I was going to die. Every minor ache or pain was proof that I was indeed sick. I finally went to get tested—at some Gay & Lesbian free clinic, I don’t remember the details. The guy performing the test asked me several questions about my sexual practices to which I answered almost every one with “no.” He explained that I really wasn’t at risk…but I was still terrified. It took like ten days to two weeks to get the results back then. I almost didn’t go back. I was petrified. When he said I was negative, I was elated—and all my aches and pains miraculously disappeared.
Funny how that works, huh?! What’s your best advice to sexually active kids today, especially when they don’t use condoms?
I honestly have no idea. I have posted on social media in the past about safer sex and been essentially told I’m a fearful old queen living in the past and that I should just shut up. I simply responded with, “I’m sorry, but if many of your friends were brutally murdered you may feel compelled to occasionally remind people to lock their doors.”
First-rate retort. Out of the numerous AIDS events and fundraisers you’ve done, is there one in particular that stands out?
I’ve honestly done too many to count. But I attended one at the Pacific Design Center [West Hollywood, California] once where I sat at a table with Ryan White’s mother, Jeanne. I remember being so impressed at how strong she was.
Speaking of heroes…who’s your hero in the AIDS pandemic?
The everyday people who protested and fought! Look at the nurses and healthcare workers who treated patients with love and dignity, and the lesbians who stepped in and took care of their gay brothers.
They’re so underrated, yes, Kent. Glad you brought that up. Looking over the long history of AIDS is there anything you’re thankful for?
I’m thrilled with the incredible progress we’ve made. But…it’s not over!
Okay…I want to know how in the world you manage to become Jackie Beat…so often?! I’m in such awe and respect.
It is exhausting! You spend hours getting ready and the makeup takes such concentration and then it’s time to do the part that everyone sees. That’s when I have a big cup of black coffee and—“sparkle Jackie sparkle!” Coffee is the responsible person’s cocaine.
Love that! …What are the major differences between Jackie and Kent?
We’re not that different really. But the biggest difference is that, surprisingly, I can be a bit of a prude at times. Jackie can be very crass and in your face and I try to be more gracious and gentle.
You worked with Joan Rivers. Do tell.
Working with her was like a master class in comedy and being prepared, while making it look effortless. She was in her eighties and at the top of her game. Joan was equal parts old school-show-pony and modern I’ll-do-anything personality.
Really miss having her laughter around. Jackie, you say you’re “blissfully single,” but do reveal some of your loves.
My very first love was Adrian. Then there was Michael. But I’m not interested in being a housewife or a husband. I fall in love easily. I believe we can all have many soul mates and best friends in our lives though.
Give one word to describe yourself, Kent.
This is a no-win situation! But…. as Carrie White [from the film, Carrie]says right before she votes for herself for prom queen, “To the devil with false modesty!” So my answer is…. Intelligent.
You have a festive packed life and keep it all together, so I agree. How about some parting words in this strange age of hardship?
Have the courage to be camp!!
The Beat Goes On
Name the first male you ever kissed.
I was in my early twenties. I don’t remember his name. But later, I do remember my first boyfriend, who knew the first guy I kissed, said, “When you kissed him, you were looking right at ME while you were kissing him.” Then he added, “I should have known you were trouble…but I think I like that!”
Who was your first teen celebrity crush?
Robert Conrad in The Wild Wild West. My God, he was so hot. He was always in pants that were two sizes too small, and often without his shirt on.
What’s your Netflix binge?
I am obsessed with The Crown. Not only do I have no interest in British royalty, I actually have an aversion to it. But this has to be one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. Each episode is like a great movie—the writing, the acting, the cinematography. It’s…so…satisfying.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
I love Amsterdam ….and Vienna, Los Angeles and New York, Madrid and Milan, Palm Springs and Puerto Vallarta. But in all honesty, I think, my favorite city is where I live, Altadena. There’s no place I’d rather be.
Who are you dying to meet?
My biggest regret is that I never met Bea Arthur. A bunch of my friends and I went to see her one-woman show and afterward they told us, “She always exits through that stage door right there.” We waited forever…and the door never opened.
Who’s your favorite female diva?
I guess Bea Arthur is my number-one lady.
Name your favorite TV show growing up.
The Carol Burnett Show.
A classic film you could watch over and over.
Psycho. It’s really amazing.
Name one of your favorite films.
The original Carrie from 1976 is my favorite movie. But if I could only watch one movie every day for the rest of my life it would have to be Sunset Boulevard. It’s perfect.
For more about photographer Austin Young, log on to: austinyoung.com.
Head over to missjackiebeat.com for more information.
Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U. He interviewed Karl Schmid for the November 2020 cover story.