Ron Link directed the Jackie Curtis-penned play Glamour, Glory, and Gold in 1967 and went on to direct several Off-Off-Broadway shows, including various productions of Tom Eyen’s Women Behind Bars, which featured Divine, Lisa Jane Persky, and Mary Woronov.
Glamour, Glory, and Gold served as the stage debut of both Candy Darling and a young actor named Robert De Niro, who played all the male roles in the show. Even before Darling transformed herself from a brunette into a peroxide blonde goddess with blue eye shadow, false eyelashes, and an icy wit, she could play a convincing woman. New York Times theater critic Dan Sullivan commented without irony in a review: “A skinny actress billed as Candy Darling also made an impression; hers was the first female impersonation of a female impersonator that I have ever seen.” Candy loved that review, which mistakenly warped Darling’s gender like a Möbius strip. The wider public didn’t know the truth until Ron Link did a big reveal when he directed Darling in Give My Regards to Off-Off Broadway. Reflecting on Darling’s sexuality, Tony Zanetta recalled, “Maybe Candy actually was transgender, but in the beginning we didn’t think of Candy as a woman, or someone who was trying to be a woman. Candy was a boy who was being a star. He recreated himself in the guise of Lana Turner or Kim Novak. Candy’s life was performance art about stardom, more than anything. We were attracted to the movies, but we were especially attracted to the stars.” Darling even convinced aging film director Busby Berkeley that she was a woman during an open audition for a Broadway show he was involved in. Darling wore a black 1930s dress with leaping gazelles, while Curtis looked decidedly less femme in a ratty raincoat, torn stockings, and glitter-damaged face. Darling and Curtis were cooing and talking to the director, who took one look and said to Darling, “If it’s based on looks alone, you’ll get it.” He had no idea Darling was in drag.
From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Melba LaRose first met Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling during a production of Glamour, Glory, and Gold, a ridiculous send‑up of Hollywood melodramas. She played the lead role as Nola Noon, an amalgam of old movie stars like Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford. The play—Curtis’s first—began with Noon working in a burlesque house, followed her rise as a big Hollywood star, and ended with LaRose’s character mock-tragically walking into the ocean as the Warsaw Concerto played. Glamour, Glory, and Gold was directed by Ron Link, who went on to direct many Off-Off-Broadway shows, including Tom Eyen’s Women Behind Bars. During the opening scene of this explosive production, LaRose walked onstage wearing nine feather boas and started throwing glitter. “It was everywhere,” she said. “The set was covered with sparkles and glitter.” Oddly enough, the show’s title came directly from Lady Bird Johnson (President Lyndon Johnson’s wife) when she crossed paths with an extravagantly dressed Jackie Curtis, who was lurking in the lobby of the Lincoln Center. As Johnson came down a set of stairs, she saw Curtis and exclaimed in her regal southern accent, “Oh my. Glamour, glory, and gold.” Jackie thought, Ding! Yes. That’s gonna be the title of my play.
Tom Eyen’s script for Women Behind Bars was wild and over-the-top, and under Ron Link’s direction the show burst with the energy of punk rock. “It had to move like the Ramones,” cast member Lisa Jane Persky said. “It just wasn’t anything without that pace.” After the original run, Women Behind Bars opened at the Truck and Warehouse Theater, with Divine as the Matron and Lisa playing the Innocent Raped by the System. “I would get brought in to see the Matron,” she said, “and I would be all trembling and everything. It was arch. Divine would pull a chain and this giant bed with satin quilt came down, which would go boom! It fell on the floor, and then things proceeded from there.” Mainstream and underground culture often overlapped downtown, as when 1970s pop superstar Elton John frequently came to the show. “He’d buy a whole row of seats and fill it with friends,” Persky recalled, “and you could hear him laughing loudly in the audience.” John asked Divine to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden and invited the whole Women Behind Bars cast to the arena. Kiki Dee—who duetted with him on the 1976 hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”—came out for a couple songs, then Divine did a number in front of the biggest audience of his career. Divine was certainly not a household name outside of the worlds of trash cinema and Off-Off-Broadway but, as Persky recalled, “It turned out that the Elton crowd loved Divine. They went crazy!”
From Chapter 29 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
After Lisa Jane Persky made her stage debut at La MaMa, she performed her next role in Women Behind Bars at the Truck and Warehouse Theater, located across the street. The show was written by Tom Eyen, who had humble beginnings at Caffe Cino but later created the hit Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Women Behind Bars was a trashy satire of women’s prison movies with a cast that included Divine, who had also worked with the Cockettes in San Francisco. Divine was cast in the second production of Women Behind Bars, directed by Ron Link, who directed Jackie Curtis’s first play Glamour, Glory, and Gold, along with several other underground theater productions. One day in 1974, Lisa Jane Persky ran into Sweet William Edgar, a warmhearted actor who had a very nasal voice and brilliant comedic timing. “They’re casting for this new show, Women Behind Bars,” he told her. “You should audition!” She didn’t get a part at first, but she was hired as the understudy for all the roles and became Link’s assistant, which meant she did everything—from running lights and ironing costumes to bringing a rooster back to her apartment on weekdays. (The rooster played a chicken named Rosalita, a gender-bending casting decision that was typical of Off-Off-Broadway.) The original production was performed at Astor Place Theatre. Starring Pat Ast, Helen Hanft, Mary Woronov, and Sharon Barr, it was funny and entertaining, but it was also a starker version. Even the set was stripped down, with just a couple of benches and fake prison bars. “Ron could make something out of very little,” Barr recalled, who played a Marilyn Monroe type named Cheri Netherland. “Sharon Barr was fabulous,” recalled Woronov. “She was gigantic and gorgeous, and she walked around like she was on Mars. It was very funny.”