"Sincerely, your favorite fan", 1980s, actors, movies, music

David Bowie and The Elephant Man


In Chicago,1980, I saw David Bowie on stage as John Merrick in The Elephant Man. Without using prosthetic or make up, he contorted his torso and twisted his arm to imitate the Victorian freak show attraction. In Merrick, the head covered with fungal abnormalities held the bountiful dreams of the inner man. During the performance, I was in the third row pinching myself, because a short distance away from was the pop-icon. I held my breath; I was part of an audience that was silent, listening to words instead of the music. My admiration for Bowie as an actor superseded my appreciation for him as a musician. After multiple albums including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Heroes, and Let’s Dance, I enjoyed seeing Bowie in a different light. As an actor, I was impressed.

Discovered in a freak show, John Merrick was rescued by a doctor who transferred the side-show attraction from the dark alleys of the Whitechapel District in London to the chandelier-parlors of the elite. John Merrick was a physical abomination. In the telling of the story, he shared an emotional connection with Mrs. Kendal, a famous actress and their link was obvious. Their personae was the only dimension anyone cared to see. I can see why David Bowie wanted to play this role. I have wondered about icons in general. They are larger than life and defined by their exteriors. What about the vulnerable, human inside? That love-hate relationship with the paparazzi? Did their dreams of fame become a curse?


Do you like David Lynch’s 1980 film?

In the notorious Whitechapel district in London, John (Joseph) Merrick appeared briefly in the Jack the Ripper story which starred Johnny Depp in From Hell (2001). 

How did Merrick inherit the name The Elephant Man? In Victorian days, “maternal impression” was a belief that the mother’s emotional/psychological perceptions transferred to the child. Supposedly, an elephant startled Merrick’s mother at a circus while she carried him. By the age of five, his skin and bone abnormalities presented themselves. The weight of his malformed head caused Merrick’s death. It’s a sad story.

David Bowie’s performance has stayed with me over the decades later. While Mark Hamill and Bradley Cooper have played The Elephant Man on stage, and I don’t know how well they did, I find it hard to imagine them outdoing Bowie’s performance. He understood the duplicity of appearance and reality. The facade of the freak show marvel vs. the private, gentle man who dreamed and possessed ideas like the rest of us.

actors, movies

When Musicians Become Actors

David Bowie is one of my favorite entertainers. From Ziggy Stardust to 80s pop to his transformation to the stage in The Elephant Man to his films—The Labyrinth or Prestige, the chameleon is champs in my book.

Barbara Streisand is my favorite belt-it-like-you-mean-it singers. Judy Garland is close, but I’ve always loved Babs in films. Even Yentel. They maybe corny, but her talent is undeniable. Dustin Hoffman and she added a hilarious dimension in Meet the Fockers II (2004). Of course, she not only sings and acts, she directs and produces. She’s a one woman show and a personal role model for me.

Justin Timberlake had my respect when he starred in The Social Network. He managed to evolve from his boy-toy days in N’Sync to become a multi-faceted actor, musician and when he’s in a film, I sit up and pay attention. Loved his minor role in Inside Llewyn Davis.

I like Queen Latifa. I think she has a lot of talent and can easily slide from singer to actress gracefully. She won my respect in the film Chicago. I wish she’d pick better films to showcase her talent!

Frank Sinatra is such a musical icon still symbolizing everything cool in NYC or Chicago. You can’t escape him if you dine in an Italian restaurant or think of classic Las Vegas. He was a surprisingly good actor when he wasn’t making girls drop to their knees. I loved him in The Manchurian Candidate. He won Best Supporting Actor in 1953 for From Here to Eternity. In the 1950s, the term “Rat Pack” began supposedly by Lauren Bacall who lovingly chastised her husband Humphrey Bogart and his friends after the boys had a night of boozing. By the 60s, the press took the term and applied it to David Niven, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The Rat Pack for which Frank Sinatra was the leader was an incredibly influential bunch making several films and records together.  Who could beat Frank and Marlon Brando together? Guys and Dolls (1955)

Better yet, I loved Ocean 11, 12, 13. You probably know the redux is from the 1960 version starring the Rat Pack.

These are my favorites—there are big names I didn’t choose. Who is your favorite musician turned actor? Will Smith? Ice Cube? Dolly Parton?