“I am what I am. I am my own special creation.” I thought about those Jerry Herman lyrics in August 2002, while sitting in the Neil Simon Theater watching Harvey Fierstein take ownership of an audience while wearing a wig and a red gown that would have made Dolly Levi jealous. I wasn’t seeing a drag queen and it really wasn’t an actor in a dress either. I was thoroughly enjoying a “character” in the musical Hairspray. One who made me believe. Divine had the same appeal to me and I admired both him and Harvey for transcending the boundaries of entertainment and opening people’s minds a little. If it took a dress and teased hair, along with a lot of laughter, then so be it.
I know another person here in Chicago who makes me think of those lyrics. Her name is Miss Foozie, a delicious piece of confectionary with a rubber face capable of splitting your sides and a heart of gold that makes you want to live forever. Like those two other entertainers, I would never, ever refer to Fooz as a “drag queen” or even a man in a dress. She truly is her “own special creation”.
It’s a bit difficult to describe her physical appearance, it is just so unique. The closest analogy to me would be… throw Barbara Bush, Big Bird and Mary Poppins into a blender, along with a lot of candy canes, glitter and a rainbow, mix for two minutes and boom…out would come Miss Foozie. Sometimes carrying a little parasol, she sports a pearl necklace along with a wig that, to some, looks like a cornucopia of white chicken feathers, to others a vanilla ice cream sundae without the cherry. Although according to her bio, Miss Lucy Foozie is eleven, the friend who portrays her is actually my age, and I first met her as a man. (Foozie, I mean. In a dress I’d probably look like Eleanor Roosevelt.)
About seven or eight years ago, my friend Val introduced Fooz to my partner and I. Apparently it was her birthday and on the spot, we were invited to the celebration dinner. Just like that, no questions asked, the more the merrier! I didn’t know this man from Adam (or Eve, for that matter) but I was touched we were invited since Fooz was so warm and positive. The minute we met I felt I’d made a friend for life. Zany yet endearing, Foozie went out of her way with kindness. So, about eight of us went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant on North Halsted and when it was time to go home Fooz grabbed our hands, gave us hugs and glowingly said, “Thank you so much for sharing my special day! It’s wonderful to have friends like you!” While some people may just say such things, with Fooz you really believed she meant it.
The next time I saw Fooz, she was in character, entertaining the crowds at one of the many bars in Boystown. And she was exactly the same warm individual I had first met. The minute I walked through the door she raced over for a hug. “Hi, Pineapple!” she exclaimed, embracing me. Much like Tallulah Bankhead with her “dahhhling”, Miss Foozie called everybody “Pineapple” which I later found out was a tribute to her mother, a waitress who’d invented this term of endearment.
Miss Foozie’s framed photo was on the wall of almost every store in Boystown, her myspace profile featured on many of the gay themed pages I came across. Non-profits, bars, individuals, corporations, magazines, everyone had Miss Foozie on their “friends” list. Her goal was to perform full time and perhaps one day have her own talk show. In the meantime, by God, she was going national! Traveling to New York and Los Angeles, her circle of admirers was continually growing. Trade marking her name, she knew what she was doing. The marketing campaign was so intense I would not be surprised to find little Foozie stuffed dolls someday and her likeness stamped on products like Mickey Mouse.
I asked her once, how did it all begin? How was Miss Foozie born? “Well, on April 6th, 1997 I had my birthday party at a bar. I love people, it doesn’t matter their color, nationality, sexual orientation, whatever. We all live here on the same planet. “I also don’t like this good looking/bad looking thing. Who cares? Just because you don’t have looks doesn’t mean you aren’t pretty inside. Anyway, I taped a thousand flyers all over Boystown announcing my party. They had happy faces on them and said, ‘Bring your friends. If you like ‘em…I like ‘em.’ “I got to the celebration early and pretty soon some friends pulled me into a back area and said “Perform something!” and there was this wig and dress lying there. “I told them ‘Well, I don’t do that sort of thing. I don’t dress like a woman…’ “While they were trying to talk me into it another friend ran in and yelled ‘Do something and I mean fast! There are over four hundred people out there! You’d better hurry up Foozie!’ “I was dumbfounded, four hundred people!? So, I thought why not and replied, ‘That’s Miss Foozie to you!’ and that’s how it all started.”
Obviously the character and the look took some fine tuning, but eventually her idols, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller along with Fooz’s own happy personality were all rolled into this one wonderful character. Eleven years later she had people screaming for her at events, chanting her name. Her image was on every magazine in town at some point or another and I thought, “My God, this isn’t some little local yokel entertainer here. This person is all over the place!”
She said, “I really do this because it makes me feel there’s a reason I’m alive. That it was my time to make a difference, even if it’s just to bring a smile or two. There’s so much hate in the world. Perhaps those people are simply lost, but I really don’t think people realize how precious life is. “I’m very into the human heart. When I’m playing hostess and the patrons come in my motto is, ‘Welcome to my house. This is your home also.’ Life is short. People should have a lot of fun but they should do it right.”
One thing that truly sets Miss Foozie apart from other entertainers is she never swears. Unlike some, she won’t grab the mike and refer to it as an adult toy, she isn’t crass or hurtful while joking, in short, she comes off as a lady. On hearing a dirty joke she’ll giggle along with you, but much like your Aunt Mabel, she would never dare tell one herself. Although many of her appearances are in bars, I would still classify her as “family entertainment”. And I admire that. Foozie doesn’t take the easy road with the obvious as so many other entertainers do. Not every joke needs to be about behinds, crotches and swearing…like I’m a fine one talk…with my tendency to spruce up a phrase like a sailor on shore leave. “Oh no…I have no time for that. I don’t swear during my off-time, so why would I swear as Foozie? It’s me underneath that wig, why would I want to be mean to other people? Cutting others down is not the right way to entertain. That isn’t why I’m up there. No, throw love at people and they’ll throw you love right back… ”
“I set little goals for myself. Meeting the Mayor was one of them.” She accomplished that one at a GLBT reception last June. When I asked how it went she said, “Well, I was standing in the back and of course, it was very, very crowded. The mayor looked across the room and waved at me! “I later heard when his aide was going through the list of dignitaries to meet, Mayor Daley said, ‘Don’t forget Miss Foozie.’! For weeks I had cops stopping me, asking for photos. They’d even ask if I was going to be okay getting home after a show…what a thrill!”
What makes her the happiest? “Touching people inside. I mean, I’m just doing a goofy little number, but people approach me and say ‘My partner who passed away loved you.’ or ‘You mean a lot to me.’ To feel loved and to reciprocate love, that makes me feel validated. There’s a person underneath this dress. He’s exactly the same as the character, but still…I like setting an example of good feelings.” I asked her if she was ever sad. All great comedians usually have some element of sadness in their private lives, but I wasn’t sure if she would want to talk about it or not. Her honest reply was, “Well, I sometimes wish I had someone to come home to, a partner I can love…but you know, maybe one day. For now I’ll just love everybody…”
I have no doubt someday Foozie will have a partner, good things come to good people, just like good people come to good people. (What would I call him though, Mr. Foozie?)
Do yourself a favor. Someday, when you see Foozie in person and trust me, you will, walk right up and put your arms around her. You won’t regret it because she won’t question what you’re doing. In her own heart Miss Foozie has already put her arms around the world.