A Tribute to Dusty Springfield


On
the heels of the Oscar-winning success of last
year’s Ray, Universal Pictures has announced
plans to take on another biopic in the same musical vein,
this one centering on female, white soul artist, Dusty Springfield.

In
relaying the news, The Hollywood Reporter
hinted the film would “focus primarily on Springfield’s
life in the ‘60s, culminating with the making of Dusty
in Memphis
,” the period during which "Dust,"
as her friends called her, became a wildly popular ‘60s
icon nearly overnight with her blond beehive, kohl-smoldered
eyelids and strong, soulful voice — a voice many couldn’t
believe came from an five-foot-three Irish catholic girl
from the suburbs of London.

It
wasn’t until 1970, though, a bit after Dusty in
Memphis
(1969) hit record stores (and failed on the
charts, but has since become a classic), that Springfield
openly admitted she liked women as well as men, telling
London’s Evening Standard, “I know
I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl
as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t
see why I shouldn’t.”

Considering
how many light years ahead of her time making such a statement
was then, no one can begrudge Springfield the fact that
throughout much of her musical career, she either described
herself as bisexual or declined to answer interrogations
(which came often) about her sexuality. “My relationships
have been pretty mixed,” she told The New York
Times Magazine
’s Rob Hoerburger in 1995, “And
I’m fine with that. Who’s to say what you are…
It’s other people who want you to be something or
other — this or that. I’m none of the above. I’ve
never used my relationships or illnesses to be fashionable,
and I don’t intend to start now.”

Will
the film address the British singer’s acknowledged
love affairs with women?

The
project’s director seems to imply that it will. Jessica
Sharzer
, who previously directed a short produced by the
Hollywood lesbian networking association POWER UP, Fly Cherry, and a made-for-Showtime film, Speak, which played
at Sundance in 2004 to great reviews, will be directing
the film. Based on Sharzer’s previous association
with POWER UP and Springfield’s well-documented predilection
for women, it seems very likely that Springfield’s
queer side will come out in the film, despite the fact it
will concentrate on the period before the recording artist
was publicly out.

When
contacted about it, Sharzer, who is heading off to London
to research Dusty’s life in her birth country for
the script, told us that while she’s still in the research
phase, “with respect to Dusty’s lesbianism — we
are not shying away from it at all.” She couldn’t
say much more, given that the film is still in early stages
of production, but this alone is enough to stir up anticipation
for what will be one of few big budget biography films of
legendary women that either address or explicitly imply
their queer sexualities (joining the likes of 1933’s
Queen Christina and 2002’s Frida).


After
Springfield’s death from breast cancer in
1999, a recent biography, Dancing With Demons: The
Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield, by her
friends Penny Valentine and her longtime manager Vicki Wickham (also manager of such acts as Morrissey, Marc Almond, and
Patty Labelle), was crystal-clear on the subject of the
music star’s lesbian sexuality.

Wickham,
who is serving as a consultant on the Dusty Springfield
film, met Springfield in 1962. The two women, both queer,
became fast friends and stayed friends through out Springfield’s
life, as Wickham reminisced to the Sunday Express
in 2000: “We both knew we were gay right from the
start and I think that helped enormously. We were totally
platonic, though, which I think is why it lasted. We really
were just mates and because of that she could tell me about
her affairs and I could tell her about mine.”

Born
Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in 1939’s
London, Dusty was educated in a Roman Catholic convent where
she reportedly informed the nuns early on that she wanted
to be a jazz singer when she grew up. Dubbed a childhood
tomboy by her mum and dad in a 1965 New Musical Express
interview entitled, fittingly “Mary was a Tom-Boy,”
Dusty was considered something of an pariah as a youngster,
who spent a lot of her time wearing out the grooves on her
dad’s pop, jazz, and blues records, loving especially
the tunes of Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee.

The
West Wing
’s Kristin Chenoweth, who is slated
to play the British singer in the upcoming biopic, referenced
Springfield’s awkward childhood and resulting fragile
ego as a way she found into the character: “She was
very, very insecure, she grew up a chubby kid with acne
in England, and was kind of an outcast who always went home
and listened to her records. I understand that. Everybody
tells me, ‘You seem so confident, like you have the
world by a string.’ But I don’t care who you
are — if you’re a creative person, you are insecure.
That’s what we draw from.”

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