Actor, Author, LGBT Activist, & former host of the QVC Fashion Channel. These are just a few titles to describe my next guest. You've seen him on your tv and in some of your favorite films. Perhaps as his drag persona Freeda Slave. Without further adieu let's welcome Dale Guy Madison!
R|A: This interview isn't long enough for the many questions I have for Dale. After reading his book Dreamboy: My Life As A QVC Host & Other Greatest Hits I am sure he is the most interesting person on the planet. Let's jump right on in… you started acting as a child in school, wanting to pursue an acting education at NYU. How did you become a host for QVC? How old were you, was this something on your dream board, and was it easy to switch from hosting a show to booking an acting gig?
It was 1990, I was 32. A good friend had seen an ad in the Baltimore City Paper that called for hosts for QVC’s new channel, a channel dedicated entirely to fashion. He felt the job would be perfect for me because of my experience in costume design. Acting, like sports and politics, is a cutthroat, competitive field, so I was grateful for the tip. The nationwide search was coming to Baltimore, so I sent in a standard headshot and emphasized my background in fashion.
A few days passed before I got a call from the head of talent for QVC, John Eastman. He scheduled me for an audition and told me to prepare a six-minute selling presentation of a fashion item. “Sweet!” I thought. “This will be a piece of cake.” At that time I was designing and making all of my clothes. The influence of the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing had the black fashion world in the midst of Afro-centric wear; it was all about kente prints and drummer pants, and I had a closet full of drummer pants.
By that time, auditions had become a way of life for me. Most auditions occurred in an agent’s office or in a business meeting room. However, John Eastman told me that I would be meeting him in his hotel room. This I did find strange, but I decided to go anyway. I arrived and noticed that food and dishes from the previous night were outside the room. When I knocked on the door, a huge 6’3” white man answered and introduced himself as Eastman.
I stepped over the dirty dishes and gazed up at the deep-voiced Eastman. He sounded like a voice-over, projected through speakers. I thought I must have been the first audition of the day, as he was casually dressed and the room was a little in disarray. He asked if I had any questions, then explained how hosting on a shopping channel works: the host gives an audience the basic information about a product, including price, measurements, and available quantities, then fills the remaining six to nine minutes with talk of the product’s features and benefits. Within a month I was asked to take a train to West Chester Pennsylvania, where I did another audition in a studio and shortly afterwards I was offered the job.
R|A: So many actors have their extra-work (background) stories, but you’ve actually been in some of my favorite films, such as Too Wong Foo, the original Stone Wall, & Clara's Heart.
What did you learn from being an extra, or background talent?
D|G|M: I loved and hated background work. I loved the free food and the paycheck for basically doing nothing but walking back and forth on cue. I hated feeling like cattle being herded to & from areas and not being given the opportunity to at least audition for some of the roles I was seeing around me. I learned that being a background actor can be very profitable if you put time in it and have no other desires than to be around people in the industry. For me I wanted more so it was frustrating to be on a set and not be the principal actor.
R|A: What’s a memorable experience from your time on set in some of these films?
While still at QVC, I one day sat flipping through the entertainment trade publication Back Stage and noticed an ad that read, “Needed: drag queen extras for the upcoming movie To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” The movie was starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo. It was the American answer to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an independent “road picture” about the adventures of three drag queens traveling across the Australian desert in a bus. To Wong Foo would follow three drag queens driving cross-country from New York to Los Angeles, in a Cadillac convertible.
D|G|M: The process of being checked in and herded together was one of the reasons I usually dreaded doing extra work, especially large “cattle” calls. That’s exactly what they were called. In general, it was usually no big deal. I went in and did the work, grabbed my check, and got the hell out as quickly as possible while expending the least amount of effort. However, I told myself, “This is the one time you get to dress up in drag in public. Feel like a glamorous Supreme -- enjoy it.” The money was good, and I was going to get a chance to see Wesley Snipes up close and in drag. For some reason, I found the idea of a whole bunch of queens in a room with Wesley “Demolition Man-Nino Brown-New Jack City” Snipes an interesting paradox. He had always played such macho, masculine roles. I read that many black male stars had gone out for the role, but that Wesley really wanted it so he could show a different side of himself as an actor.
R|A: While hosting the QVC channel you interviewed some amazing people- who were some of your favorite guest?
D|G|M: I had never seen Susan Lucci before she made her guest appearance on my show, because All My Children aired opposite The Young and the Restless, my favorite soap opera of all time. Susan was promoting a hair product when I learned she would be my guest. I wanted to learn as much about her as possible, so I researched all the soap magazines and called my soap-watching friends for help. I was ready when “Erica Kane” hit the QVC Fashion Channel stage. She laughed and flirted when she arrived, making me feel at ease.
I enjoyed the comments from viewers who responded favorably to seeing me on-air with Susan. It had always been my secret dream to appear on a soap opera, and I wanted so much to ask her to pull a few strings. We did not get many celebrity guests on our shows, because many of them figured the limited exposure we had did not merit the time it would take for them to walk across the hall from the main channel to our set. Susan fortunately did not take this kind of attitude. She would spend the entire weekend on the network’s soundstages and make appearances on the shifts of every host who was working. When she came to my show, Susan had just lost another Daytime Emmy. I said to her, “By tomorrow, people will forget who won the Emmy. But because you have lost so many times, you will always be remembered.”
It sounded clumsy and awkward, but she understood what I meant and knew that it was coming from my heart. The night she finally did win the Emmy, I cried as hard as I did when Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball. Susan’s win was even more personal because she was someone I knew, even if it was only as a celebrity guest.
R|A: I read this excerpt in your book & it struck a nerve in me… “Suddenly, the gay life didn’t seem all that gay. I was scared, and kept wondering why this homosexual life had offered no true happiness up to that point. The men were abusive or too afraid to be out in the open. Now my best friend was dead.” Can you elaborate on his that passage?
I had experienced disappointment after disappointment from 1977-1984 between abusive lovers, closet cases and finally my best friend’s death, I literally gave up the gay life and started dating a woman because I honestly wasn’t enjoying the world as a gay man any more. I wanted to find unconditional love and less complications and I felt the “straight” life could offer me that. I convinced myself that I hadn’t given it too much of a chance since I had jumped into the gay lifestyle at 18.
R|A: At some point you married a woman, how I ask how... & then why did you decide marrying a woman would be ideal? 蜉
I met my former wife while nude modeling for the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1984. If unconditional love was enough to make a relationship work, we would still be married. I used to tell people that if she were a man, we’d still be together. A heterosexual Aquarius female and a gay Aries male may not seem a likely match, but every beat of my heart outweighed all logic. It was a refreshing change of pace to meet a person who loved and accepted me totally.
She had been sketching me for four years before she finally spoke to me.
Some people may question why I call myself “gay” instead of “bi-sexual,” being that I entered into a relationship with a woman after living years of a strictly gay lifestyle. It’s simple -- on a purely sexual level, I am attracted to men, regardless of their character. I’ve had wonderful sexual encounters with men I’ve despised. With a woman, it is her personality and spirit that motivates me to want to sleep with her, as an expression of my emotional connection to her. Once the emotional connection lacks, so does the lust. This has never been the case with any man I’ve found physically attractive!
I thought of her as a black hippie, running barefoot and smoking cigarettes -- a total artist who was about total expression. Being with her made it easy to stop seeing guys. Her big smile invited everyone to experience her joy. She was friendly, funny, and real. With her, I thought I could live free of rules, restrictions, and stereotypes.
R|A: Please tell us about your job working for the Hyatt Regency back in Baltimore & your first encounter with Oprah?
In the early ‘80s, Oprah had been a reporter on the local WJZ channel in Baltimore. I was a front desk agent at the Hyatt hotel downtown, and Oprah was often at the hotel on business. I would arrange to have her car spotted out front so that she would not have to park in the garage. She was always kind to me, and we would often run into each other at the Downtown Athletic Club. One time, Oprah called me at the hotel to say that she wanted to reserve a room to get away for the weekend. With the hotel almost sold out, I pulled some strings and saved her a nice harbor view suite. Later that day, singer and Broadway actress Melba Moore showed up with her child and asked for a room, without a reservation. She was very popular in the Baltimore/D.C. area at that time, since her song “Lean on Me” was a big hit on the radio.
However, I told my friends, “I turned Melba away so my girl Oprah could have a room!”
R|A: You Dated politician Larry Young who later became a radio host, and then radio host on the Baltimore based tv show The Wire, what was your relationship with Larry like?
He was a local Maryland politician and we were introduced by mutual friends. Larry Young was a big man -- tall, heavy-set and light-skinned, with a deep, resonating voice.
Before Larry, I had never experienced a lover who treated me with the kind of romance he did.
Larry Young was magnetic and charismatic -- who could help but dream about him? It’s the little things that leave lasting impressions. He would have a driver pick me up, just to go grocery shopping. He eventually paid for an instructor to teach me how to drive. I was in my twenties, way past the age when my friends had gotten their drivers licenses. Larry was the first man in my life to step up and offer me a sense of my own freedom and self-worth. And I loved him for it.
R|A: You're a very creative person, being on tv everyday- and acting on the side how did you find time to design dolls? You created something, branded it, & was able to sell your dolls on your QVC show.
I designed dolls because I loved creating art for me as a way to relax. My partner at the time had entrapernerial dreams. He pushed to make the dolls a business. It was his drive to be a success and make me a success that made those dolls happen. He even hired me help to sew and he created all the jewelry for the dolls.
R|A: How was Freeda Slave born? What was the process behind her creation? I mean she's had several one person shows? How is it you can entertain with two totally different characters?
During the filming of To Wong Foo, I had learned about Stonewall, another gay flick shooting in New York City that needed drag queen extras. I sent in my best drag photos and was chosen to be in the film. The feeling on that set was very different from To Wong Foo. The low-budget production did not separate union extras from non-union extras. The main actors were not isolated in trailers, and the atmosphere was friendly and homey. The director, Nigel Finch, made all the extras feel special. Almost daily, he made it a point to thank everyone for working on his project.
We worked off and on the film for several days, and there were about six of us in the core group. I met a beautiful Asian drag queen who had trained Patrick Swayze for To Wong Foo. There were also some other drag queens from the To Wong Foo set, but this time we had to be transformed into drag queens of the 60’s era. I took the wig I had worn on the previous project and teased it up, then added a pink ribbon headband. Then I slipped on a matching pink chiffon robe with pink feathers on the sleeves. Like Diana Ross on the Ed Sullivan Show, I looked very “Motown glamorous,” with big hair and flowing fabric. I wore high-heeled, black patent leather shoes and strutted like a diva.
The scene I was in takes place at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, on the night that Judy Garland died. Police raid the bar filled with drag queens, and the queens resist arrest. When the queens start to riot, the police drag them out of the bar in handcuffs. Then somebody punches a cop and all hell breaks loose. Handed a set of keys, I un-cuff the other queens while everyone starts chanting, “Free the Slaves! Free the Slaves!” While shooting the scene, Nigel turned to me and said, “That’s a great name. If you ever do professional drag, you should call yourself ‘FREEda Slave.’” Everyone on set agreed that FREEda Slave was a great stage name. In one of the film’s later scenes, the camera zooms in on me touching up my makeup before I head back out to the rebellion. The character FREEda Slave had arrived into the world on a rainy night in New York, complete with a pink gown and flawless makeup. Later a friend of mine wrote me my first one- person show based on the experiences I learned that summer. We won a grant and took the show to Los Angeles and the rest is “herstory”
R|A: After several years in the industry you went back to school & became very involved in the LGBTQ community- what prompted this career field as opposed to something else?
Mary Wilson went back to college years after the Supremes broke up. With all the gay drama that happened during my last year of high school in 1976, I never realized how much I enjoyed formal education.
Although the idea of furthering my education became enticing, I kept thinking, “What would I look like, a forty-seven-year-old man sitting in a classroom of college freshmen? Wait a minute -- wasn’t that the premise of the sitcom The Parkers?” The UPN series was about a mother and daughter who attend college together. It starred Countess Vaughn as the bubbly daughter, Kim Parker, and Mo’Nique as the sassy mother, Nikki Parker. Mo’Nique hails from Baltimore and I used to go to her comedy club, Mo’Nique’s, during the mid ‘90’s. I remember listening to her on a Baltimore radio morning talk show and hearing her say that one day she was going to go to Los Angeles and get a television show. She did and, in the amazing circle of life, I eventually got to work on her show as an extra. She has always looked out for her hometown. My “background” moments on her show have gotten me more recognition than most of the “regular” acting work I have done since moving to Los Angeles.
Feeling motivated to take the next step, I figured that if Nikki Parker could go back to school, so could I. I enrolled in February of 2006. I took my first English course, the writing process so thrilled me that I started writing my memoirs and switched my major to Liberal Arts to keep the door open to various career possibilities. Then it hit me -- I had always loved teaching and still loved working with kids. So, I would pursue education and work to inspire a new generation of LGBT youth to go for their dreams.
Continuing my education has by far been one of the best choices I have ever made. School has given me a new sense of purpose, and I have a new discipline that I did not have when I was younger. My teachers gave me so much respect; it helps when you are the same age as they are. They understand that you are serious about the work. Each of my writing assignments forced me to think more about my own life and the life experiences that I have to offer.
R|A: What advice can you give aspiring artist?
A new road stretches before you every day and anything is up for grabs – you need only reach for it. One thing of which I am certain, all of your achievements have and will come from being true to yourself. Dare to dream!
R|A: So I must say your book is completely amazing and I think everyone should read it. It's more than words. How does it feel to write about your life and relive those moments?
It was very healing and cathartic to write, but mostly to read chapters to audiences at book signings. I found myself quite emotional during those moments. It became even more healing to perform chapters in my latest one-man show “My Life in 3 Easy Payments”
R|A: You Wrote about your best friend Gregory Nicholson being brutally murdered. He was suffocated in a pillowcase in his bathtub. The police never investigated the murder. How has this traumatic experience changed you & do you feel there has been progress in the investigations of LGBTQ murders especially involving POC?
Every time I read about a gay murder it takes me back to that moment with Gregory Nicholson. We have social media now so for some of us the stories are shared more now than back then. As a community LGBT people demand greater justice and it does happen in some cases, not all, but a few. I guess that is better than nothing.
R|A: You were involved in a Hollywood Scandal involving Lisa Raye McCoy & Chaka Khan? Please explain the situation?
I was not involved in a Hollywood scandal with Lisa or Chaka. I am told we were duped by the same person. That is our only shared connection. Anthony Shorter famous for exploding in the face of Sherrie Whitfield on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and she responded “Who Gon Check Me Boo?” He was an ex lover of mine who manipulated me and a cast of people to film a movie that he wrote forged checks all over Los Angeles to produced a film that was never to be called “Gangsta Mafia” https://youtu.be/vH2tJNY--0I
It starred Joey Buttafucco.
R|A: Lastly- What’s next for Dale Guy Madison?
I am re mounting my one-man show (My Life in 3 Easy Payments) to hopefully be showcased at The National Black Theater Festival