A life is made of many parts, but even the wildest stretch of the imagination could not fully account for the improbable grab-bag of roles inhabited by Dolores De Luce. Abused woman. Single mom. Underground performance artist. Housewife and all-round kitchen whiz. Best friend, sometimes lover and mother confessor to an entire generation of beautiful gay men. Witness and scribe of their untimely deaths.

De Luce (nee De Luxe, in a previous life) has been all these things and more in the course of her by now middle-aged life. Above everything else, she was born to be a story-teller. It all started in the late-1940s, right after the War, in New Jersey. “My name, Dolores, is taken from the Latin root word dolor, which means pain and sorrow,” she says in the book’s opening line. Apparently she was no stranger to both, growing up with a delusional mom and distracted dad, and siblings with no interest in supporting her declarations of one day becoming “a star.”

It’s a colorful journey from the meat packing factory, where she worked as a teenager, to sharing a beach house in Venice, California, with the one-and-only-Divine. With a lot of bumps and grinds (sometimes, quite literally), more dysfunctional boyfriends than one has reason to recall, and, of course, unlimited supplies of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll along the way. Until one day, as if by ordained providence, she is casually introduced to the man who will become her future spiritual teacher and guide.

I would not use the word salvation here (and neither would the author) because the screwing she was getting (at least as told in these raucous pages) seemed worth the screwing she was getting. There was a tremendous amount of fun, gaiety and actual glamour to even out the road bumps and hard times. The cast of characters reads like a Who’s Who list of ‘70s counterculture: the Cockettes, Divine, Sylvester, the Doors,  Hibiscus, etc. It doesn’t get more slap happy than this. But sometimes the slaps are for real. Pathos is neatly counterpointed with the play-acting: De Luce describes one rape scene in a junk yard during the dead of night that I will never forget.

Young Dolores was not long for her hum-drum existence on the East Coast. In the winter of 1965, “I inhaled dreams deeply into my lungs, and exhaled a decision to leave home for good.”  Being the first in her family to travel much beyond the Hudson River, her cross-country flight to Southern California led to a chaperoned destination in the San Fernando Valley.

Her life in the Southland had its ups and downs, but by 1972 De Luce was living in San Francisco with a bi-racial toddler in tow. She was quickly embraced by the alternative performing arts scene there, and like a lotus in clear water she brightly bloomed into one of the city’s most recognizable actors of the outré –with an added dash of Brechtian politics and style. She was one of the Queens of the Scene; a heady brew of outrageous theater, nascent gay lib, and gender-bending disco days and nights. Only the Jonestown mass suicides and Milk-Moscone City Hall murders in November 1978 brought the party to a close. A full stop was the first appearances of AIDS in the years immediately following. Then a long season of tears; growing up for real; and getting along with raising a precious daughter by herself.

De Luce is truly a citizen of two cities: coming-of-age in a mythic era of San Francisco, aging gracefully back in Los Angeles today, where she lives not far from the Venice beach house where she first began to realize her California dream. She acts for stage and screen when she can, knits fabulous one-of-a-kind sweaters for movie stars, but above all assists in guiding the career of her daughter, Viva Vinson, an internationally renowned chanteuse.

As comfortable performing with jazz virtuosos in night clubs, or belting out Broadway classics on cruise ships, Viva is a stunning woman in every way. And she has her mother to thank: for helping to make her dreams big; to providing an education in life and art that few could ever imagine; and to know when to step way.

No doubt about it, as this book achingly testifies, it takes a Diva-sized mind, heart and soul to get what you want—and then want some more. Even after (you thought) you said, “Enough already!” An apt reflection as any of the life here described. Somehow I found it very difficult to say goodbye to the final page of De Luce’s book.

 

 

My Life, A Four Letter Word: Confessions of a Counter Culture Diva
by Dolores De Luce
Double Delinquent Press
Paperback, 9780615826264, 238 pp.
June 2013



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  • Ron Fritsch

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