For many years now I've had on ongoing love for the films of American director John Waters. One of the things I like best about Waters' films (the earlier ones in particular) is the "family" of actors that he used. You would see them again and again, film after film and their performances were absolutely wonderful. Who can forget Divine in Pink Flamingos or David Lochary in Female Trouble ("Say it! Say 'liquid eyeliner'!!!")?
For me, one of the greatest of them all has to be the beautiful Cookie Mueller. From her first appearance in Multiple Maniacs to her last in Polyester Cookie steals every scene she's in. There's something bizarre and yet strangely intriguing about a lot of the dialogue in John Waters' movies and Cookie carries it off as though she was born for it. For many of her roles you don't really think that she's playing a character--she's just playing herself: the wild and fabulous Cookie Mueller.
In Multiple Maniacs Cookie plays Lady Divine's free-wheeling daughter ("Cookie"). She's determined to have as much fun as she can and she does--much like the real Cookie Mueller. The scene where she's lying with her boyfriend (played by Paul Swift--the unforgettable "Eggman" from Pink Flamingos) is a classic. Cookie lies topless on the floor, nuzzled up next to her new beau while smoking a joint. Sadly, her character doesn't meet a very happy ending, but how many people in John Waters movies do?
In Pink Flamingos Cookie once again plays "Cookie"--this time as a spy for the "two jealous perverts": Connie and Raymond Marble. Again, there's something so strange and wonderful about John Waters' dialogue that each line seems like a cultural sound byte. For example, how about when Cookie is offered a sandwich by the Marbles:
"I could go for a sandwich. Mmmm . . . BALONEY!"
It's hard to describe, really. There's something about this strange, strange dialogue delivered in Cookie's unforgettable Baltimore accent that makes the whole scene a classic.
John Waters would often talk about what a professional Divine was, given that she would even eat dog shit for her director. But let's give credit where credit is due. What about Cookie and the incredible "chicken fuck" scene? It's hard to imagine what Cookie had to go through while filming that scene. Hey, we all feel sorry for the chickens, but poor Cookie! It's amazing that she ever spoke to Waters again. But, of course I'm probably way off base here. Cookie was a consummate professional in her craft--she knew what was required of her and she gave an outstanding performance.
In John Waters next film, Female Trouble, Cookie shines as the juvenile delinquent "Consetta." Cookie herself said that she greatly admired the "bad girls" in high school. She discussed one in particular who wore tons of black eyeliner and had little hair curls near her ears flattened down to her face with clear nail polish. In Female Trouble Cookie actually becomes this "awful, cheap girl" and it's clear that she loves every minute of it. Again, with the exception of Divine and Lochary, no one can pull of Waters' dialogue like Cookie Mueller. Who can say why certain lines appeal to you? It's all very subjective, but a favourite of mine has always been:
Consetta (threateningly, through gritted teeth): I got a knife in my pocketbook and I'm gonna cut you up after class.
It's just one line, but there's something absolutely hilarious and wonderful about the intensity with which Cookie delivers it. In Citizen Kane Mr. Bernstein says that a month doesn't go by when he doesn't think of "the girl with the white parasol." Well, for me a week doesn't go by when I don't think of that line by Cookie Mueller.
When it comes to John Waters movies, Cookie was, in a word, the best.
Cookie was an incredible writer to say nothing of a fine actress. She seemed to live by the words "Seize the day". Cookie lived every day as though it was her last. Cookie was a survivor.
Cookie Mueller died of AIDS on 10 November 1989. Her ashes are interred on the beach near Provincetown; in the flowerbed of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village; alongside those of her husband, Vittorio, and her dog, Beauty, in the Scarpati family crypt in Sorrento, Italy; under the statue of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro; in the South Bronx; and in the Holy Waters of the Ganges.
Be happy, Cookie, wherever you are . . . . .
And we got kidnapped by these hillbillies . . . . . . ."
(Susan Lowe, Dreamlander and friend of Cookie)
(Dennis Dermody, senior editor of Paper magazine and friend of Cookie and John Waters)
As much as I admired Cookie Mueller the actress, I've also gained a great appreciation of the incredible talent of Cookie Mueller the writer.
When I think of Cookie, I think of her telling the Pink Flamingos cabbie: "You can shove $2.30, hack!" and then jumping out of the cab and running away. But I also think of Cookie and her outstanding (and all too few) books. Cookie was a great actress, but she was equally talented--perhaps more so--as a writer.
Cookie wrote a number of books for smaller, independent publishers. Among my favourites are Garden of Ashes, Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, and the recent compilation of her works Ask Dr. Mueller: The Writers of Cookie Mueller (with a forward by John Waters). I rarely reread books, but I've read Walking Through Clear Water on a number of occasions because I've found it to be such an absolutely first rate reading experience.
Through her books we get to know the real Cookie. Someone who lived every moment of her life to the fullest. Cookie was a true bohemian in the very best sense of the world. Born in Baltimore, Cookie explored the world in search of pleasure as well as some degree of meaning in her life. These travels took her to the Haight/Ashbury community in San Francisco, the galleries of Soho in New York as well as Germany and the sun-drenched hills of Italy. Cookie lived an extraordinary life and her books have taught me some important lessons. One of these--don't take life too seriously--is captured so beautifully in Walking Through Clear Water in the first line of her chapter "British Columbia--1972":
"I accidentally burned a friend's house to the ground once."
This is vintage Cookie Mueller.
John Waters called Cookie "a lunatic Uncle Remus--spinning little stories from Hell that will make any reader laugh out loud." He's right.
|How To Get Rid of Pimples
Top Stories, 1984
An oddity and a gem, How To Get Rid of Pimples is pure Cookie Mueller. Cookie populates this book with an array of outsiders and misfits, all of whom suffer from bad skin. Each of the twelve "case studies" explores the lives of eunichs, heroin addicts, mystics and maniacs (kindly, benevolent maniacs, of course). In How To Get Rid of Pimples spindly boys can fly, toes mysteriously vanish and people evolve into aquatic creatures. Yet each character in these surreal tales share a common quest: the cure for bad skin. Cookie spins each story masterfully. And, as an added bonus, she concludes this strange and wonderful book with a detailed cure for pimples. Photographs by David Armstrong, Peter Hujar and the legendary Nan Goldin.
[Note: I picked up How To Get Rid of Pimples in the rare book annex of Strand Books in New York. It was a little pricey, but I couldn't resist. Especially since there was an inscription by Cookie herself. Along with a lipstick print which makes this book one of my most treasured possessions.]
|Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls
Hanuman Books, 1988
Like Garden of Ashes (below), this is another small treasure from Hanuman Books. In Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls Cookie Mueller spins several interwoven tales of love, obsession and heartbreak.
This small book can be read in about twenty minutes, but despite its brevity Cookie's unique characters leave a lasting memory. The beautiful Allegra, for example, who is an unconventional conservator at the National Museum of Naples. Allegra writes of her craft:
Penises are my business, yes, but in my job these aren't human penises, but are old impotent penises, castrated marble shafts whose northsides get very cold in winter weather.Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls isn't easy to find these days, but it's well worth the search.
|Putti's Pudding (with Vittorio Scarpati)
Kyoto Shoin International, 1989
Cookie Mueller met Vittorio Scarpati in Positano, Italy in the summer of 1983. Three years later they married in New York City. Cookie and Vittorio shared a great love which would end tragically early. Cookie and Vittorio were both hospitalized in 1989 for AIDS. Toward the end they shared a hospital room and Vittorio, a sailor and poet, chronicled his illness through a series of heart-wrenching drawings. Cookie's introduction to Putti's Pudding praises Vittorio's indomitable spirit and his lust for life--qualities shared by Cookie herself.
Vittorio's artwork is stark, disturbing and wonderful. Confined to his bed and imprisoned by two pneumo-thorax suction pumps to keep his collapsed lungs inflated, Vittorio depicts himself as an impaled Christ figure. And yet among the raw drawings of chest cavities pierced by knives and swords are other sad and lovely images. Angels dance and hover. Dolphins offer their blessings and solace. The accompanying text explains Vittorio's stoic and hope-filled philosophy:
Maybe in the next reincarnation the wiser among us shall become dolphins. Their hearts are joyful and open and their lives are unfettered. There are no shackles. There is no cruelty or destruction. There is no technology. Only flips and dives. They smile all the time. What is the aim of life? To be content, to be happy.Vittorio Scarpati died in New York City at 3:30 am. on 14 September 1989. Cookie would follow him less than two months later.
|Garden of Ashes
Hanuman Books, 1990
|A small gem. This miniature book, published around the time of Cookie's death in 1989, chronicles Cookie's adventures in Baltimore and elsewhere. She writes about her memories of John Waters, Divine and the indescribable Edith Massey. My favourite chapter is entitled "Breaking Into Show Bizz" in which Cookie discusses her life in Baltimore and her first movie role Multiple Maniacs. During this time Cookie lived in a dark, cockroach infested basement apartment, but she made the best of it by covering all the walls with dark fabrics and lighting lots of candles to create an otherworldly effect. Cookie wrote:
"There were always a few people living there with me, they floated in and out, but a pretty lesbian named Babette who never wore a shirt indoors, and a homeless philosopher hippie named Nash were permanent fixtures on the sofa. We lived primarily on LSD, poppy seed buns and cheap champagne. Nash sold LSD from the place, so this paid the rent.Cookie always made the best of life.
|Walking Through Clear Water
in a Pool Painted Black
|Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black follows the tradition of Garden of Ashes, but goes much further. This biographical book is far more ambitious than its predecessor and reaches heights--and depths--of far greater emotional impact. Cookie Mueller was a free spirit and Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black follows Cookie from her early life in Baltimore, to the halcyon days of Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco and onto her adventures in British Columbia, New York, Sicily and Germany. While Cookie's stories are, as always, lively and light-hearted, this book has always been a heart-breaker for me. Mainly because of the final chapter entitled "Last Letter--1989" written just before her death. In it Cookie writes about the scourge of AIDS which had robbed her of so many friends and would soon claim her own life. She includes a letter from a good friend with AIDS and this concludes the chapter and the book:
All we really need is bread, water, love, and work that we enjoy and are good at, and an undying faith in and love of ourselves, our freedom and our dignity . . . . .
|Ask Dr. Mueller
ed. Amy Scholder
High Risk Books, 1997
John Waters begins his introduction to Ask Dr. Mueller:
Cookie Mueller was a writer, a mother, an outlaw, an actress, a fashion designer, a go-go dancer, a witch-doctor, an art-hag, and above all, a goddess. Boy, do I miss that girl.If anything, John Waters is probably understating the extraordinary range of Cookie's talents and her limitless love of life. Ask Dr. Mueller is an excellent and entertaining collection of Cookie's writings. It includes the full text of both Garden of Ashes and Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. It's especially nice to have Garden of Ashes included since that small, beautiful book has been out of print for years and is actually quite rare.
In addition to the two books above Ask Dr. Mueller also includes essays from various fringe magazines such as BOMB as well as material from Cookie's column "Ask Dr. Mueller" originally published in the East Village Eye. Also of interest are more than a dozen articles from Cookie's engaging column "Art and About" from Details magazine.
Ask Dr. Mueller is the best source for material by Cookie Mueller. Cookie's chronicles of the rich tapestry of her life never fail to bring both laughter and tears. Highly recommended.