Read an Excerpt
From Madonna: An Intimate Biography
"Oh My God! Look at Me!"
Was Madonna really as upset about the nude photographs as she had indicated to Tommy Quinn? Perhaps an example of her mercurial nature was that she could later make light of the predicament in which she had found herself.
"I remember when we were both broke and living in New York, Madonna showed me some of the nude shots," recalls Erica Bell. "We were just sort of being lazy, and a little drunk, and she brought out this envelope and spread the pictures on the floor. 'Look at me, Rica,' [Madonna's nickname for Erica Bell] she said. 'I'm as flat-chested as you are!' And we just laughed and laughed, for some reason, thinking the pictures were hysterical. She said, 'One day I will be world famous, and Playboy will publish these photos, and it'll be the greatest scandal of all time.' I asked her, 'My God, won't you be embarrassed?' And she laughed and said, 'What do you think?' "
When the photographs were published many years later, Erica received a telephone call from Madonna.
"Oh my God," Madonna said, nearly hysterical with laughter. "It's happened, just as I predicted."
"I know," Erica said, giggling. "I can't believe it, after all of these years."
"But I'm so flat-chested," Madonna said. "Just like you," she added, joking.
Years later, Erica said, "I don't think she was that upset about the pictures. If she was, I didn't know it. I just know we laughed a lot about them. We thought it was pretty damn funny, the whole thing."
More of Madonna's past was excavated when filmmaker Stephen Jon Lewicki decided to exploit his association with her by releasing a home-video version of A Certain Sacrifice, the low-budget movie they had made in 1979. Perhaps hoping that Madonna would pay him to keep the film from commercial distribution, Lewicki was dismayed when her people offered him a measly $10,000, which he flatly rejected. Although Madonna took him to court in an effort to keep the film out of circulation, Lewicki ultimately won the right to release it, making him a millionaire in just a short time not bad for the producer of a movie made six years earlier on a $20,000 budget.
"I think Madonna tried to stop the movie more as a publicity stunt than anything else," says Lewicki today. "It was also an interesting use of her power, really, to get the kind of exposure she wants when she wants it. The New York Post had huge headlines on the front page, 'Madonna Seeks Nude Movie Ban.' I mean, the hysteria she whipped up over this film was amazing. But in the end, when it came right down to it, she really didn't put a wholehearted effort into suing me. I think even the judge realized that all that was happening was a certain amount of posturing, and just for publicity. So he threw the case out, and I released the movie."
At this point in her career, Madonna really didn't need to seek out publicity it came to her in tidal waves. She had a love/hate relationship with the press for the most part, she loved seeing herself in the media, but at the same time she pretended to hate the attention. Once at a birthday party in her honor she stood up to model a green silk pants ensemble. "I like it," she told her guests, "because it's green, the color of envy. I envy all of you," she continued melodramatically, "because you all have your privacy...and I don't." Madonna, however, did nothing to stop the media's attention on the contrary, she almost always courted it.
In May 1985, Madonna made the cover of Time, with the accompanying headline: "Madonna Why She's Hot." Though she seemed to some observers to be blasé about much of her newly acquired fame, this particular tribute from such a well-respected publication was not one that she took lightly. According to one of her manager Freddy DeMann's assistants at the time, "Madonna waited by the front door for the messenger to arrive from Freddy's office with a first copy of the magazine. I remember the day so well. She was wearing black mesh stockings, a short skirt and brief top, with four crucifixes around her neck. Because she was working, she also had on her herringbone glasses. When the magazine arrived, she ripped the envelope apart trying to get to it. Then, when she saw it, she let out a shriek."
"Oh my God, look at me!" Madonna said, dancing around the room in her Gucci flip-flops, magazine in hand. "I am on the cover of Time magazine! Can you believe it? Just look! Can you imagine it?" Earlier in her career, she had said, "I won't be happy until I'm as famous as God." Maybe now she was beginning to feel that she was on her way to that goal.
Truly awed by Madonna's appearance on the cover of one of the most respected magazines in the world, the incredulous assistant said, "No, I just can't believe it."
Suddenly, Madonna stopped dancing. Whipping around to face the employee, she said, "What do you mean, you can't believe it? Why shouldn't I be on the cover of Time?"
"I didn't mean..." the secretary began to stumble over her words. "What I meant was...I'm sorry."
"Oh, stop your groveling," Madonna said, exasperated. "You're so weak. Just get Sean on the phone. I want him to see this."
When the assistant telephoned Sean to ask him to come by Madonna's home to see the magazine, Sean indicated that he was busy. He asked that she send the magazine to his home, by messenger. Madonna, pacing the room and staring at the magazine cover, overheard the conversation between the assistant and her boyfriend. She went to the employee and grabbed the phone from her. "You get over here, now, Sean," she said into the phone. She had an angry, imperious edge to her voice. "How many girlfriends have you had on the cover of Time? One! Me! Now, get over here."
Penn showed up thirty minutes later.
The fact that Sean Penn was also such a combative person only added fuel to the bonfire of publicity that seemed to erupt on a weekly basis for Madonna. On June 30, 1985, he was charged with assault and battery after he beat up a couple of journalists outside a hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was filming a movie.
That morning, he and Madonna had received a bouquet of balloons delivered to their room, sent by someone in the media and with a card that read, "Madonna and Sean. Congratulations, Mom and Pop. How about an exclusive?" Penn, who was annoyed by the constant scrutiny, as well as rumors that Madonna was expecting, bolted out of the room, heading towards some waiting journalists.
Lori Mulrenin, who witnessed the ensuing attack, recalls, "He was screaming at them like he was going to break open their heads. Then, when one of the journalists took his picture, he blew up. He picked up a rock and threw it carefully and precisely at the photographer. Then he ripped the cameras off the photographer's back and slammed them against the photographer, who fell down. He then picked up the rock again as the other newsman tried to step in. Sean hit that one in the eye with his fist, and also hit him on the head with the rock. Madonna, who had been in the background when the fight started, pulled her hat over her eyes and then ran back into the hotel."
Sean Penn would enter a no-contest plea to charges that he assaulted the two journalists. He received a ninety-day suspended sentence and was fined fifty dollars on each of two misdemeanor charges.
While some of Madonna's publicity ploys seem fairly unsophisticated in retrospect, they always worked. For instance, when the time came for the planning of her wedding to Sean Penn, she insisted that she wanted it to be a private affair with no publicity. She acted as if she did not want the kind of international attention she knew was bound to be generated by such an event. Besides simply going to Las Vegas where she and Penn could have quietly and quickly married, there were any number of ways Madonna could have ensured an intimate wedding, if such a thing was what she really desired. However, savvy as she is, she no doubt realized that the air of secrecy she pretended to foster only made the press more determined to cover the event...and the public more determined to read about it. Of course, to make matters even more tantalizing, Madonna banned the press from the wedding.
The only thing Madonna could not control was Sean, and his ambivalent feelings about the impending nuptials. Two nights before the ceremony, he threw his bachelor party in a private room above Hollywood's Roxy nightclub. Among others present at the party were his brother, Chris, actors Harry Dean Stanton, David Keith, Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall. Stripper "Kitten" Natividad, who entertained at the party, recalls, "Those guys were pretty drunk. They had a good time. But Sean didn't fall on his face, or anything. When he talked, he made sense. Sort of."
Sean told his friend Isaac Benson, also at the party, "Man, I don't know that I can go through with this thing."
"Do you love her?" Benson asked.
"Hell yeah, I love her," he said, sipping a Bacardi and Coke. "But we're gonna tear each other apart. We're nuclear, together, man. Nuclear."
"So maybe you shouldn't marry her," Benson suggested.
"Oh yeah? And then what?" Penn asked, raising an eyebrow. "She'll kill me for embarrassing her in front of the whole world, that's what. No," he decided after tilting back a beer. "I love her. So, I'm marrying her. God help me. Look, if the whole thing falls apart," he offered, trying to be optimistic, "at least I'll have acting, right?"
Then, the two friends toasted the upcoming nuptials. "Hopefully, no one will find out where the wedding is gonna happen," Sean said. "That's what Madonna wants. A nice, quiet ceremony."
The Remaking of Apocalypse Now
It would seem that Sean Penn actually believed that Madonna wanted "a nice, quiet ceremony," the location of which was to be kept a closely guarded secret, even though such a concept was at odds with everything everyone else believed they knew about the publicity-hungry superstar. No address, location or telephone number was printed on the invitations, written by her brother Michael and printed on shocking pink paper. ("Please come to Sean and Madonna's Birthday Party. The celebration will commence at six o'clock. Please be prompt or you will miss their wedding ceremony." Those on the select list realized that the bride would turn twenty-seven on her wedding day; the bridegroom twenty-five the day after.) Guests were to be informed of the location by telephone at their homes or hotels less than twenty-four hours before the ceremony. Only key employees at the caterer, chair rental firm and florist were to know of the location of the ceremony. Delivery drivers were to be given the address only when their trucks were loaded and ready to go. Also, supervisors were to follow the trucks just to be certain that no driver stopped on his way to the ceremony to make a telephone call that (for a few bucks) would tip off any press people to what was happening, and where.
Of course, it didn't take long for word to get out that the Penn/Madonna wedding would take place outdoors on the very visible Point Dume, Malibu, hilltop property of real estate developer Don Unger on August 16, 1985, at six p.m.
Four days earlier, the couple took out a marriage licence. Sean Penn listed his middle name as "Justin," born August 17, 1960. His residence at the time was at 6728 Zumirez Road in Malibu. Highest school grade completed was twelfth. His father was listed as Leo Penn, mother Eileen Annuci. Occupation: actor.
Madonna filled in the same address as Sean's they were living together at the time. Her occupation: entertainer.
In the days before the ceremony, there was a great deal of acrimonious discussion regarding Sean's refusal to sign a prenuptial agreement. Madonna's handlers were adamant that she should not marry without first having a "prenup" in place with her fiancé, and they pestered her until she finally and, one might speculate, with some hesitation asked Sean to sign one. He was adamant that he would do no such thing. "I equated it to a death warrant in a marriage," he explained, years later. Perhaps he knew that the request wasn't coming from Madonna; it was coming from attorneys and managers (whom he later referred to as "a bunch of pathetic idiots who were accusing me of trying to cash in, move in on Madonna's money. It was completely ridiculous, and it really pissed me off.") Sean must have quickly become concerned about what would be in store for him as Madonna's husband. "She had become a one-person megacompany," he said, "and all of those people were on the telephone with her every day, to make sure I wasn't looking for cash, as if I didn't have my own career. Buncha' chumps."
"Look, Sean, just sign the goddamn papers," Madonna told him in front of one of her attorneys.
"Fuck you, Madonna," he said, his tone acrid. "I ain't signing nothing."
"Then, I ain't marrying you," she told him.
"Fine," he said. "Fuck you, anyway."
"No," she countered. "Fuck you, Sean."
"No," he responded. "Fuck you, Madonna."
And on it went...
In the end, after all of the screaming and shouting, Sean did not sign a prenuptial agreement. The wedding plans were finalized, though to some observers it seemed that these two people barely liked each other, let alone loved one another. There wasn't much warmth between them. Sean was distant, Madonna aloof. They seemed to annoy each other. Still, the marriage was on. Perhaps in their quiet moments alone, out of the public eye, they shared something no one else was aware of, something that they may have interpreted as genuine love and trust: a foundation for a life together.
There was simply no way to ensure that the news of this marriage ceremony wouldn't somehow be leaked, despite the "precautions." Some of her friends joked that Madonna probably sneaked into a guest room and called the National Enquirer herself. In a matter of an hour, it seemed that practically every tabloid reporter in the Los Angeles area more than a hundred of them in any case congregated in front of Unger's $6.5-million estate, scheming to find ways to get a closer look, bribing caterers so that they could sneak onto the property. Media outlets began making deals with the locals to rent neighboring houses so that cameras with telephoto lenses could be implemented for exclusive photographs.
The wedding ceremony complete with a celebrity-driven guest list of more than two hundred (including Andy Warhol, Tom Cruise, David Letterman and Cher) turned out to be a highly publicized fiasco. Not only was the property surrounded by press, but photographers were hanging from the trees. Earlier, Sean had tried to convince Madonna to allow the press a few quick photographs in private just to let some of the steam out of the event, but Madonna would not allow such a "photo op."
At first, the helicopters stayed five hundred feet above the wedding. However, as soon as Madonna walked out of the house, they came dangerously close to the ground, whipping the hair of the female guests with the power from their rotating blades. A cursing Sean Penn ran around the perimeter of the seaside mansion with a gun, shooting at the eight helicopters circling above. Madonna looked stunned. The naked hatred etched on her groom's bitter face must have been a startling sight. "I would have been very excited to see one of those helicopters burn and the bodies inside melt," he later declared. "They were non-people to me. I have never shot a firearm at anything I considered to be a life form."
"I realized then," Madonna would remember years later, "that my life would never be the same."
Madonna looked stunning in a strapless, white (!) $10,000 wedding gown (created by her "Like a Virgin" tour designer, Marlene Stewart), on the arm of her father, Tony, who gave her away. For some unknown, odd reason, under her veil which she had to hold down to keep it from flying away Madonna wore a black-rimmed hat. Under the hat, her hair was spun into a French twist. Sean wore a double-breasted $695 Gianni Versace suit. His tie was clumsily knotted. He had missed a few patches while shaving.
With their long dresses flying up, female guests began screaming as Madonna furiously shook her fists at the helicopters. "Welcome to the remaking of Apocalypse Now," said Sean Penn to the windswept guests. Then, the angry-looking bride and groom began shouting out their vows to Malibu judge John Merrik over the roar. In the middle of "I do take you," Madonna jabbed her middle finger upward. Sean's mouth was grimly set throughout the service.
The ceremony lasted five minutes, during which time the couple exchanged plain gold rings. Penn then lifted his wife's veil, and to the accompanying theme from Chariots of Fire, he kissed her as the guests stood and applauded. Afterward, on a balcony a few feet above the guests, Sean toasted "the most beautiful woman in the world." Then, he was to remove his wife's $700 custom-made garter. Delicately, Madonna raised her gown so that Sean could find it. But, just as indelicately, Sean completely disappeared under the billowing skirts, where he acted as if he was scrambling about and having a difficult time finding the garter. Finally, he emerged with it. Madonna, her eyes twinkling, threw it out to the crowd, where it was caught by her sister Paula, who was also her maid of honor. (She handed it over to the young daughter of Madonna's manager.)
The wedding dinner lobster in a white cream sauce, swordfish and a mixed vegetable side dish was then held under a large tent on the front lawn of the home (of course!), catered by Los Angeles chef (and owner of the famous Spago restaurant) Wolfgang Puck. Three fully stocked bars, each eight feet long, kept the guests distracted from the continual noise of the circling helicopters. No live band played at the wedding reception much to the amazement of some of the guests such as Cher who, in shocking purple spiked wig, said, "What? She couldn't afford live entertainment? We have to listen to records? I could listen to records at home! And without helicopters!"
At the reception, Madonna danced with the guests to records by Prince and Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, Sean seemed glum and depressed, much as he had seemed at his bachelor party.
Later, acting as if she was in a sour mood, Madonna called the wedding a "circus," as if that were a bad thing a thing she hadn't counted on. "Damn them," she told one associate when speaking of the press's intrusion. "Damn them all to hell for ruining my special day."
"Really?" the associate asked her. "You didn't expect all of this to happen?"
"I didn't say that," Madonna answered, sheepishly. "But damn them, anyway," she concluded, with a smile. (Later, demonstrating either her sense of humor about the ceremony, or the fact that she really wasn't that upset about the way it turned out, she spoofed it hilariously on a Saturday Night Live sketch.)
In fact, Madonna had staged the ultimate press event. "What better to get on the cover of Time. And People, and Life. And every other magazine," Madonna's brother Martin Ciccone said. "It was all calculated. She's a marketing genius, no question about that."
"I thought it was a lovely affair," observed her father, Tony, fifteen years later. Perhaps only a father would be able to overlook the fracas in order to see the beauty of his daughter, in white, marrying the man of her dreams. He recalled that, just before she married Sean, Madonna asked him, "Are you proud of me, Daddy?"
"I have always been proud of you," he told her.
"Daddy, that's not true," she said. "Just be honest with me, for once."
"But why won't you just believe that I am proud of you," he asked her.
Tony would later recall that Madonna had tears in her eyes as she answered, "Because you never wanted any of this for me. You didn't even want me to be a dancer, let alone what I became. You just wanted me to stay home, go to college, get married and have children."
It was difficult for Tony to comprehend the reasons for his daughter's statements. While it was true that he had wanted her to go to college, he had simply never shown as much indifference to her career as she had repeatedly maintained he had. It was clear that something else was wrong, that Madonna had feelings of anger toward him about another matter. However, because father and daughter had never truly communicated their emotions in an honest, direct manner, the real source of Madonna's resentment toward Tony would have to remain unaddressed.
"Well, you're getting married now, aren't you?" Tony Ciccone concluded. "That's gotta count for something, doesn't it?"
Copyright © 2001 by J. Randy Taraborrelli