Linda Gerard ~ interview and photos by Larry Crane and Jenna Zine:
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to accompany my husband (who scored the awesome job of remastering Linda's album) to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs to interview the amazing Linda Gerard. Linda is a woman of uncompromising talent and humor. She's lived double the lifetimes of her seventy plus years, with a career spanning from Broadway (as a standby for Barbra Streisand!) to owning the most popular lesbian bar on the East Coast. In the seventies, she was brave enough to walk away from fame to follow her own path. Ironically her path has wrapped right back around to embracing the entertainment industry as the hostess with the mostest, while experiencing a career resurgence with her re-released album. [This is a little longer than my normal posts, but it is oh so worth the time!]
This [Sissy Bingo] is a busy night, right?
It's like this every Monday. I don't know where they come from! It's all of a sudden. At 6:30 there's nobody here, and by 7:00, you can't get in.
That's a good thing, because Monday nights are hard for restaurants.
I worked here last night. We did 22 dinners I think, and I was here from 5 to 9. It was terrible. We'll do 80 tonight, and drinks. I get so out of breath. When I start off, I run around. But then I forget I have to sing, and you can't sing when you're out of breath.
So how does Madonna do it? Oh wait, it's all lip-synced. Never mind! [laughter]
I was in a show here in town called The Follies many years ago and everybody, except me, was all pre-recorded. I told the guy that I didn't want to pre-record. I wanted to sing live. He said, "Well, no... you're going to be dancing." And I said, "I don't care. I don't want to mouth it because it's so phony."
People can tell. They just look at you and know right away. You're obviously very entertaining.
I'm charismatic, that's the word. You know what they said to me last week? "You are so sick!" I thought, "Oh my god, they must know that I just got over bronchitis." Apparently sick means you're really good. I didn't know that. [laughter]
It always changes.
Or when they say, "You're the bomb." In my day if you bombed, you were dreadful.
Linda in action at Sissy Bingo.
Your main album was A Woman Starting Out All Over Again.
Those songs were written by a friend of mine, named Richard DeMone. We had worked together in New York. I'd bought a bar [The Pied Piper] in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and I invited him to come and play there. I sang a bunch of his songs at the bar, and we decided to go into a recording studio in Boston and record his work.
I remember hearing that you had a female engineer on the session. That was pretty rare then.
Karen Kane. They were all in the musical school at Boston U, or one of those places, so it was like their first time too.
Well, it sounds damn good!
Richard not only played piano, but also a couple of other instruments as well. He did all the orchestration. He's very talented. He lives in Florida now and has retired.
Those are all songs that he'd written?
He wrote them for me. Not because of this; but when he knew me, I was straight. When we worked in New York, I was a straight woman. He knew my kids and my husband and all that. Then when I went to Provincetown and bought my bar, my life changed. I met a woman and fell in love with her. That song relates to that change, and it works perfectly. Even the one that goes, "Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when I wake up I jump." It's called "I Still Love You." That was when we broke up. So each one of them had a reason. He wrote each song for a reason.
That's really sweet. Did you do other albums after that?
I did an album for Gladys Shelley. I have a couple of projects like that. There was "Clown Town," "Guess Who I Saw Today," "How Did He Look," "New York City, I Love You"...
Bingo & beer with my beloved husband, Larry Crane.
Jenna Zine: I heard you got to go on Broadway for Barbra Streisand. That's amazing!
Yeah. The first time I went on was Labor Day weekend of 1965. She called me at my apartment in New York. She said she was going to Philadelphia to see Elliott Gould, her husband then, open in a show called Drat! The Cat!. She said, "I'm going to miss the Saturday matinee and the Saturday night show. You're on. You can use my dressing room." Nobody was ever allowed in her dressing room, but I was allowed to use it. She loved me! I wasn't a threat. I wasn't about to take her job from her, that's for sure.
JZ: You had been her understudy for the show?
Well, it's called a standby. The difference is that an understudy is in the show with another chorus role, but a standby only goes on for the star. I'd sit backstage all night long, in case Barbra didn't show up or got sick during the show. I had to wait until the end of the second act before I could even go home. Lainie Kazan was an understudy; she was fired because when she went on she alerted all of the media. Barbra was pissed. Barbra had her fired, and then there was this whole thing of hiring someone else. They hired me and, in small print, in my contract it said that I must not alert the media until at least two weeks after I'd performed the understudy role. There were [reviewers] Clive Barnes and Earl Wilson, big names, in those days. They would write, "Two weeks ago, Linda Gerard performed for Barbra and did a fine job." No big deal. That way she didn't care if I went on for her, because she knew that nobody would know for a couple of weeks.
JZ: That's funny! It's right out of All About Eve.
I got along with Barbra. We were both in our twenties. I was three years older, so I was like 27 and she was 24. We were babies. My kids were about three-years old. But what was interesting when I owned my bar in L.A. [The Rose Tattoo] in the '80s, I hired her half-sister, whose name is Roslyn Kind, and Barbra came to one of the shows. I went up to her and said, "You may not remember me, but..." And she said, "Of course I know who you are! You're Linda Gerard. How are the twins?"
She was [and is] a superstar. She'd won an Academy Award and [several] Grammys.
Yeah, think of where all that went for her.
I started to become very famous in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. I hated it. I hated it not so much for all the pressure that's put on you, but for the fact that you can't go anywhere. You can't do anything. There are constantly people going, "There she is!" In New York in those days, for some reason, everybody knew everybody. I was doing a lot of TV. I just said, "I don't want to do this." Then I would get letters. People would write to me and say, "We know that you went on for Barbra, We're fans of Barbra and we're going to come get you." I'm like, "What the fuck is that all about?"
Yeah; wackos. I went, "I've got to get out of here. This is not for me." I was frightened. Then I started working at the bars in New York. I would have to have somebody walk me to a cab, because I was afraid to go out by myself. I just said, "No."
The always entertaining Linda at her sparkly best.
JZ: I might have misheard, but the album that we have now, did a man write those songs, or did you write those songs?
Oh, I didn't write any of those songs. I don't know how to write a song.
[The majority of the re-released album is from Linda's solo album, and Richard wrote a lot of songs.]
JZ: You confided in him about your life and he re-translated the experience?
Well, we had worked together in New York many years ago. He wrote songs. He would say, "Okay, I've just written you another song." Then when I brought him into Provincetown, which was a very gay town (and he was a gay man), he said, "Oh, I've got to write a song about that. I'm going to write a song about your kids."
JZ: That's amazing, because it's your voice and your life. It gives it that personal touch. I didn't know that it was written by a man, with your voice, but it's so you!
On some of the ones, like "Bright and Shining Day," he's one of the voices that sings harmony with me.
Oh, cool. I think that's the sign of a great writer; someone who can look at a scenario, take inspiration, focus on an experience, and come out with great material.
From what I understand now, he's retired. He's my age, in his seventies. He works with church choirs now. That's his whole thing.
An embrace with an icon.I am so serious about owning a pair of those Dior glasses!
JZ: You're my style icon.
JZ: Oh, yes. I love the gold, and the sparkles. I want those glasses; I want the scarf...
Let me show you what else I brought for those people [her fans that come to Sissy Bingo], because they know I wear all different kinds of glasses. I have about 30 pairs of these. I didn't know which ones to wear because this is a very unusual outfit. These are Cazals. [She modeled several pairs for us, on the spot.] I thought they wouldn't have been bad either. These are Dior.
Oh my god, Jenna wants these.
Those were the three I could have worn tonight.
JZ: They're all stunning.
I have lots more at home.
JZ: I'm coming over! [laughter]
Special thanks to Ryan Bukstein, Nichole Gregg, Lisa Lavora and the fine staff of Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.
Update: We lost the lovely Linda in March of 2014 to cancer, but she will always be remembered as the vivacious character and generous spirit that brought joy to so many. I'm so honored to have spent time with her.