EXCERPTS from the book
JOHN WATERS: From what I remember, I met Cookie when she won the door prize at the world premiere of Mondo Trasho, which we had in a church basement. The door prizes were ridiculous things, like rotting meat. And this one was a dinner for two at the Little Tavern, which was the sleaziest hamburger shop. You see it in Female Trouble for a second; Divine works at the Little Tavern. They had hamburgers for 30cents. They are long gone in Baltimore. Cookie won the door prize having just come back to Baltimore after being released from the mental institution in San Francisco.
MINK STOLE: Cookie had really long hair, multiple rings, multiple jewelries; she kind of affected that beatnik mama bluesy atmosphere. Cookie had the look and the attitude and she had stories about having met Charles Manson, which may or may not have been true. None of us were there, none of us saw it. But she said that she did and very possibly she did. I mean, she looked like Janis Joplin and she had a monkey. She kept it at home. It was a small monkey, not an ape. I have a recollection of it being in a cage, like a parrot cage, but that’s probably not completely true.
THE B.B. STEELE REVIEW
BEN SYFU: Sharon, Cookie, and myself were pretty much the vocal and musical part of the group. Susan was… I guess the personality of the group, you might say. And Edith was basically the star, they all were there to see her. The B.B. Steele Review is what I called it.
SUSAN LOWE: Edith would wear pigtails and it brought screams from the audience. I’d be singing Nina Simone, so I’d have my chanteuse outfit on. Sharon did Tina Turner. We loved changing our outfits. We rocked the show. We always packed the house. They loved us, because they thought we were all drag queens.
JOHN WATERS: They were hardly slick musical revues, but they certainly were pictures of feminine aggression and Edith Massey’s clueless, wonderful beauty.
PEYTON SMITH: They were so bad and so wrong. They were just fabulous!
SHARON NIESP: In Provincetown I was doing the Spiritus thing. Spiritus Pizza: it’s a big hangout where all the showgirls go after the show. Cookie would ride by with Max on this old bicycle. She had an old tin pail as a basket and she’d ride with Max on the back in a baby seat. He had long hair then with old Popsicle sticks and gum and leaves and twigs hanging out of his hair because he used to like to roll around and play in the dirt. He hated to have his hair washed; it was like bloody murder. I thought those two needed help. Cookie always had heels on; she always had Spring-o-lators held together with safety pins. And her hair was always wavy. I said, “Oh my God, I love these people.”
DENNIS DERMODY: When Sharon fell in love with Cookie we were like, “Oh, no!” God, we were a little worried about where this was going to go.
NEW YORK CITY late 1970s - 1980s
GARY INDIANA: I fell in love with her the night I met her and I never stopped loving her. She was at a play, La Justice by Kenneth Bernard, and I just looked to Sharon and said, “She’s the one.” She is the one. I had to know her, and from then on I wrote plays only for Cookie to star in. I only did theater for Cookie to be the center of, for years. She was like a woman in flames—she was something like I’d never seen before in my life. Not just a beauty, but the freedom that she had about herself, that extraordinary freedom. I loved it so much, I craved it so much, and I wanted us to be collaborators to the end. And we were.
RICHARD HELL: For me, she was kind of the ideal of the attitude and the way of life I was looking to when I came to New York. When I was 17, I was looking for this fantasy of artists who rejected conventional ways of life, and she really was unconventional in the way she lived and uninhibited by anybody’s attitudes towards her. At the same time, she was really sweet and actually insecure, and was very sophisticated while also being not judgmental or snobbish. She was just a sweetheart, just into pleasure and adventure with this really fun, trashy side. We had great times, and to me she’s always represented that ideal New York artist way of life.
SARA DRIVER: I remember the first instance I saw her. It was at this Christopher Makos art opening; it must have been ’77. Cookie had on these thigh-high stiletto boots and a miniskirt. She was always wearing dresses and miniskirts. We all wore black and tried to look androgynous so that people wouldn’t pick on us, but she wasn’t afraid of her femininity, of her ability to manage in the world. She was fearless in that way.
ERIC MITCHELL: I suppose she was kind of the embodiment of the ’60s, but without all the hippie things that go with it. It was more of a human thing. You actually felt like she was your mother or something, like she actually really cared.
ART AND ABOUT for Details
CARLO MCCORMICK: Cookie’s opinions were definitely respected. She had a good eye. She had a good sense not just for what people were trying to do, but Cookie understood the Zeitgeist, so to speak. She understood her relevance. Downtown New York wasn’t the rest of the world. But the fact was, we didn’t really care about the rest of the world. We only cared about what we thought, and Cookie was a great voice for that. She was writing to the already-initiated about stuff that would probably go over other people’s heads because it was a part of this art discourse that was way different than the rest of the world at that time. Art had nihilism and decadence and all sorts of things attached to it, so within her community—and I know that sounds limiting, but for us it was self-limiting because if you were famous in our world, you were famous even if no one else had heard of you—she was very well respected. Because she spoke to all of us, for all of us.
BILLY SULLIVAN: She was an art critic, a health critic, she made her own clothes, she did everything, she was a walking renaissance.
CHRIS KRAUS: Somehow she could translate that presence as an actress and performer into her writing. It was such an effortless segue between her life and her presence as a writer. A manifesto for a life.
ASK DR. MUELLER for East Village Eye
LEONARD ABRAMS: Cookie wrote from 1982 to 1984. Her columns were great, very clever, and at the same time, provocative. They were practical. Whether it was a sunburn or indigestion, she took it seriously. She wasn’t just handing out advice like a telephone psychic. She gave thought to it.
JOHN WATERS: She totally made it up and told people to do things that made people go crazy, stuff that was really bad for you!
DENNIS DERMODY: “Ask Dr. Mueller,” that was preposterous! Asking her to do health stuff was like asking the Devil questions about Jesus! It was so ridiculous. She had so many crazy home remedies; she was really funny with that stuff.
AMOS POE: Cookie was wonderfully out there, but not in a grandiose way. She could be flamboyant: her clothes, the hair. God, her hair was crazy. There was not a hint of “fashion” about her—it was complete style.
KATE SIMON: Chic as a motherfucker.
JANICE BIRNEY: Alternative, but chic, and the hair, the hair! She used to do her own blonde streaks, and it had this ratty look, like rat’s tails, but on purpose. It certainly looked on purpose.
SCOTT COVERT: I knew Cookie from the ’70s—from Pink Flamingos—and honey, she wasn’t trendy or even part of a trend in fashion. I was always a fashion-conscious person, and I can’t tell you how many times I sat in a cab next to her on the way to an opening or a club and she would be sewing a dress or working on the dress she was wearing. I’m an old drag queen from New York City, and honey, Cookie was the real deal.
JOHN WATERS: She made deconstructed outfits way before Comme des Garçons. She had a line of clothing and a label that said COOKIE and everything. She would take orders and never finish them because the clothes were so hard to make. She didn’t have anyone working for her. She did them all herself—she’d be sitting there like Betsy Ross, sewing all day!