A Tribute to Dusty Springfield

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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.”