Conquest of the Universe

Conquest of the Universe

During the original run of Conquest of the Universe, Ondine played the King of Mars (“I’ve come to Venus to see the ka-ween!”) and Mary Woronov was Conqueror of the Universe (“Seize him! Sterilize him!”), while Holly Woodlawn covered her nearly naked body in baby oil and rolled in glitter on the floor. “It wasn’t sexy, even if there was nudity,” Woronov recalled. “It didn’t have much to do with sex. My minions would spend half the time onstage trying to shit in a pail.” Woronov already had a masculine image because she had played strong characters in Warhol films such as Vinyl, so she brought that persona to John Vaccaro’s stage. “I would be in a dress, but I was obviously a woman posing as a man, doing manly things,” she said. “So in other words, it was playing with gender—which is much different from a queen dressing up as a woman.” Costar Ruby Lynn Reyner added, “It was all very sexually ambiguous in those days. Gender roles were being exploded.” Reyner started out in the chorus in Conquest of the Universe, then got her big break after one of the lead actresses had an accident and could no longer perform. “Beverly Grant broke her ankle, like in 42nd Street, the Busby Berkeley film. Ondine and Louis Waldon came over to my apartment, and I was getting ready to play my usual chorus part when they told me.” They worked all day to help Reyner learn her new lines, telling her not to worry if she forgot them, because she could always improvise. Conquest of the Universe became a downtown hit that attracted the likes of Marcel Duchamp, who declared, “This is a Dada play.”

From Chapter 16 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Bouwerie Lane Theater
330 Bowery, New York, NY 10012