Taking Madonna to the “Amadeus” Party and Other Tales of Madge’s Early Days

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Patrick McMullan photo: Reid Rosefelt, Madonna, Jellybean Benitez, Tim Ransom

Me, Madonna, Jellybean Benitez, and Tim Ransom at Limelight in September 1984.
This photo by Patrick McMullan appeared in his 2003 book So 80s


My friend Tim Ransom wrote a few comments to my last blog on Madonna. His words were so impassioned that Kenneth M. Walsh wrote another post about Tim’s comments on his blog, followed by another one by Matthew Rettenmund on his blog

Anyway sharing correspondence with Tim made me think of the photo above with Tim, the Divine Ms. Madge and me taken by another well-known photographer I introduced to Madonna, Patrick McMullan.

Orion Pictures, the studio behind Desperately Seeking Susan, was setting up a theme party at Limelight for their film, “Amadeus.” The concept was that he was that Mozart was pop star of his day, so they wanted to get as many well known young singers and musicians as they could. I asked Madonna if I could take her to the party, expecting her customary insolence, but she said that would be fine. That wasn’t the answer I was expecting, so I added, “why don’t you bring [her boyfriend] Jelly too?”

Tim, who was the stand-in for Aidan Quinn, was on the set every day, and was close enough with Madonna to give her regular foot rubs. She adored him and eventually he was cast in the role of the Bellhop and played a brief scene with her. (Photos can be seen here.) Tim asked if he could come too, so I asked Orion to put him on the guest list.

Madonna lived a few blocks away from me in those days. My place was on Centre Market Place in Little Italy, across the street from the old Police Headquarters, which was deserted then. (Now it is a very upscale condo). She had a Soho  loft on Broome Street, on the northwest side of West Broadway, a few flights up. Her buzzer didn’t open the door, so she had to throw the keys down from the window. Oddly, I had actually looked at this very loft when it was up for rent. It was more than I could afford, but not that much more. Her debut album, Madonna, had been out a  year, and while it had done very well, I’m pretty sure she hadn’t banked much money yet.   She told me she’d already completed the tracks for her follow-up,  Like a Virgin, but Warners/Sire had pushed back the release because sales of Madonna continued so steadily.  She did her infamous “Like a Virgin” dance rolling around the stage at the MTV Awards during an off day from Desperately Seeking Susan shooting.  She told me that Cyndi Lauper wouldn’t even look at her that night, which bothered her (!!!) because she said she wanted to be friends with other women singers.

As Madonna didn’t work every day, I’d go over to her place every now and then so she could do her photo approvals. Madonna’s  loft was a long rectangle, around a thousand square feet, with a large mirror on the far end and a Roland keyboard (probably the JX-3P heard on so many of her songs of that period) near the door.  I don’t remember there being much else; it looked more like a dance studio or a gallery than a home. 

True story: the very last time I went to pick up color slides and contact sheets from Madonna, she didn’t feel like letting me upstairs, so she threw them out the window, and they went flying into traffic, The contact sheets didn’t matter (we could make more), but the original slide were priceless and irreplaceable. If you consider how well known the film became, you can imagine what a big deal it would have been if these images had been lost forever. I practically got killed saving those pictures. When I told this story to Desperately Seeking Susan set photographer Andy Schwartz, he nearly died too.

Despite all her MTV fame, a waitress at the Hard Rock Café on 57th  tried to kick us out during an interview she was doing with David Keeps for Star Hits. “We’ve got to clean your table!” Madonna was dressed up in her costume with all the accessories, looking the same as when she was performing. (I was always impressed with her professionalism.) Needless to say, when I told the waitress, she was pretty embarrassed, but please--this was the Hard Rock Café, not Sardi’s! It was lame enough that we were doing the interview in their dumb tourist joint, without this nonsense. Who was the moron who set it up there? (Ummm… that would be me.)

Another  indication of Madonna’s heat level at the time:  when I went to Tower Records to buy her album, there weren’t any in  ”M” bins in the rock and pop section.  Eventually a guy directed me to the mezzanine where the “dance” music was.

Also, Orion insisted that Desperately Seeking Susan open in March 1985 even though it was shot in the fall of 1984—a hastily accelerated post-production schedule. Why? Because they feared that Madonna might be a flash in the pan and they wanted to pop the film out before the interest in the material girl dematerialized.   This despite Madonna having two best-selling records, mountains of press, parades of teen girls dressed like her, and  five videos in power rotation on MTV.  (The “Into the Groove” video featuring Desperately Seeking Susan clips became  the sixth.)  Better rev up to hyper-speed with the opening date!  Full-blown obscurity could hit Madonna any second!

I remember having difficulty getting a cab on the night of the Amadeus party.  Soho wasn’t the madhouse it is today; it was often deserted at night. I was getting pretty stressed out. I finally got a cab and had to beg the driver to wait at the curb while I waited for  Madonna and Jelly to come down.

In the cab up Madonna told me about her future plans. She wanted to do a contemporary adaptation of The Blue Angel. I could see real possibilities in the idea, but I admit I also thought, “Madonna saw The Blue Angel? “

If you’re not a New Yorker, Limelight was a club that was built in the former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, at 6th Avenue and 20th Street (it’s now a mall). The club had just opened a year before, and I had actually set up one of the first parties there, for “The Fourth Man,” a movie I mentioned in my last post.


Patrick McMullan (photo by Steven Ekerovich)

The first person I saw when we came in was Roger Daltrey. Honestly I don’t remember anybody else famous being there, but that was cool, although he was a lot shorter than I imagined. Tim Ransom came over and we started to hang out. I figured I had to do my job so I went looking for journalists. Eventually I saw Patrick McMullan and he shot the photo above, as well as a few singles of Madonna. When his coffee table book So 80s came out in 2003 McMullan told Interview:

I was at this Dallas Boesendahl party for Amadeus at Limelight (September 12 1984), and a publicist named Reid Rosefelt said to me, “You should come meet this girl Madonna.” I said, “Sure,  I'm very happy to meet her,” but I didn't know who she was.  So I met her and took a few pictures of her. She couldn't have been sweeter. It was just a very simple, unguarded moment.

Perhaps because I introduced Patrick to Madonna, he included a photo of me, along with Tim and Jellybean in his book. Right behind Madonna you can see a violinist dressed up in (17)80s finery for the party.  A very sharp-eyed person can see that I’m wearing a button for Stranger Than Paradise, featured in this post. 

When we decided to leave, things got a little complicated. For some reason we didn’t go out the front door, and started wandering around the church’s meandering hallways looking for another exit. But we couldn’t find one-- it was like that famous scene in Spinal Tap—we kept circling around. Finally, totally exasperated, I said the one thing I ever said that made Madonna laugh:

“Who do I have to blow to get out of here?”

She liked that.