The thing about puppets is that they get to say and do things that ordinary people aren’t allowed to do. Maybe that’s why Georgia-native Wayland Flowers took up puppetry and created “Madame,” which Hofstra University’s Patricia Jukliana Smith aptly described as “a grotesquely ugly and flamboyantly ribald old crone festooned in outrageous evening gowns, tiaras, and rhinestones.” Madam was said to be based on movie star Gloria Swanson’s Sunset Boulevard character Norma Desmond and also is rumored to be based on a Washington, DC waitress and restaurant hostess Margo MacGregor
In other words Madam was an outrageously campy drag queen in wood and wire, a hideous hag who thought herself glamorous and who spoke in double entendres and bitchy take-downs. Sounds familiar. No wonder she was a hit with gay audiences.
Madame was created by Flowers in the mid-1960s in night clubs and gay bars throughout the 1960s before landing frequent appearances on Laugh-In.
Flowers’ first big break was an appearance on the The Andy Williams Show.
The act then appeared as a recurring comedy skit on Solid Gold before eventually replacing Paul Lynde as Center Square on Hollywood Squares. In 1982, Madame was star of her own sitcom, Madame’s Place, a half-hour syndicated program that ran five days a week for one season. Madame’s talk show within the series drew Debbie Reynolds, Foster Brooks and William Shatner as guests.
Flowers died on October 11, 1988, five weeks after collapsing during a performance at Harrah’s resort in Lake Tahoe. The family attributed his death to cancer, and asked that no other details about his AIDS-related death be released to the public.
Be sure to watch the last video, Wayland and Madam UNCENSORED from 1977.
It’s a hoot!