“Gay Icon” Waitresses at the Queen Victoria

The waitresses at the Queen Victoria are in drag as popular gay icons. Joan Crawford serves Emily, they walk past Marilyn Monroe on their way to the table, and Mae West takes Lorelai’s order.

Joan Crawford, born Lucille LeSueur (1904-1977), and previously mentioned. Beginning her career as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway, Crawford signed her first film contract in 1925. She usually played hard-working young women who found romance and success, making her films popular fodder in the Depression era, so that she became one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. Her career foundered, but she made a comeback in 1945 in Mildred Pierce, for which she won a Best Actress Academy Award. She continued acting through the 1940s and ’50s, gaining huge box-office success with the 1962 horror film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Crawford has been described as the “ultimate gay icon” for her sex appeal, bitchiness, and complex personal life.

Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortensen (1926-1962), and previously mentioned. Famous for playing comedic “blonde bombshells”, she was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1950s. After beginning as a pin-up model, she had small parts in films before signing with Fox in 1951. By 1953 she was one of the most marketable Hollywood stars, with leading roles in Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire in this year alone. One of her biggest successes of her career was The Seven Year Itch, a 1955 comedy where she wears the iconic white dress that the waitress models. Critically acclaimed in Bus Stop (1956), she gained both critical and commercial success with Some Like It Hot, a 1959 comedy involving cross-dressing. That was a big boost to her as a gay icon, as well as her sex appeal, vulnerability, and tragic demise.

Mary “Mae” West (1893-1980) [pictured] was an an actress and sex symbol whose career in entertainment spanned seven decades. Starting out in vaudeville and the theatres of New York, she moved to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress, and writer, with appearances in film, television, and radio. She is considered one of the greatest female stars of classic American cinema. She was often controversial, having problems with efforts to censor her – she usually found a way for this to bring her greater publicity, such as a brief stint in gaol for writing a play named Sex, which made her a media darling as a “bad girl”. The characters she played in films tended to be sexually secure and liberated women, and by 1935 she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood. West reportedly got her image, style, and famous walk by copying female impersonators, and she could be seen as a “female drag queen”. Brassy, busty, and ballsy, ultra-womanly yet somehow androgynous, with risque wisecracks and impeccable comic timing, Mae West was a lifelong supporter of gay rights, and a natural fit as a gay icon.

Get Happy

When the company enters the bar for Lorelai’s bachelorette party, a drag queen dressed as Judy Garland is lip-synching on stage to this song.

Get Happy is a song written by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Ted Koehler; the lyrics mimic gospel and evangelical songs. It was first performed by Ruth Etting in the 1930 Broadway show Nine-Fifteen Revue, and although the musical was a disastrous flop, Get Happy was successful and recorded several times, including by both Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker.

Judy Garland sang the song in the 1950 musical film Summer Stock, her last movie for MGM. In a let’s-put-on-a-show plotline, Garland performs the number wearing a tuxedo jacket, fedora, and stockings and high heels in the movie’s most iconic scene, often copied by other singers and dancers.

Judy Garland had been a gay icon since The Wizard of Oz became popular TV viewing, so having this song playing as they enter is a stereotypical way to signal it’s a gay club.

Bette Midler and Chicken Kiev

LUKE: And then after all that planning, the [wedding] reception will still be a disaster because no matter what you do or how carefully you plan, halfway through one of those nauseating Bette Midler ballads, someone’s getting drunk, someone’s sleeping with someone else’s wife, and someone’s Chicken Kiev is landing on the cake.

Bette Midler (born 1945) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and film producer. She began her career on the stage, and was in Broadway shows such as Fiddler on the Roof in the late 1960s. In 1970 she began singing in a gay bath house, and built up a core following as a solo artist; she has released 14 albums and many of her songs have become hits, including ballads such as The Rose, and Wind Beneath My Wings (possibly the sort of songs Luke is thinking of). She made her film debut in 1979 in The Rose, and has starred in a number of films, such as Ruthless People (1986), Beaches (1988), and The First Wives Club (1996). In her career spanning more than half a century she has won three Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards, and two Tony Awards, as well as selling over 30 million records worldwide.

Chicken Kiev is a Russian dish of chicken fillet stuffed with butter, coated in egg and breadcrumbs, and either fried or baked. It may date to the early 19th century, and is claimed to have been the invention of French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who spent several months at the court of Tsar Alexander I. However, it only became commonly known in the mid-twentieth century. It is popular in the US, and often included on wedding menus.

La Traviata at the La Scala Opera House

RICHARD: I wanted to see La Traviata at the La Scala opera house.

La Traviata (“the fallen woman”) is an opera by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. It is based on the 1852 play La Dame aux Camélias (“the lady with the camellias”) by French author Alexandre Dumas, fils, adapted from his own 1848 novel of the same name. The first performance of the opera was a failure, but today it is extremely popular and an operatic standard.

The Teatro alla Scala, nearly always abbreviated to La Scala, is an opera house in Milan, Italy which opened in 1778. Many of the world’s great opera singers have appeared at La Scala, and it is regarded as one of the world’s leading opera houses.

Fame

MICHEL: I figure if I stay alive long enough, these scientists, they will be able to cure anything including death, therefore ensuring my indefinite existence.
SOOKIE: So you’re gonna live forever, like on Fame?

Fame is a 1980 teen musical drama film directed by Alan Parker, and inspired in part by the musical A Chorus Line. It follows the lives of students attending the High School of Performing Arts in New York (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School), from their auditions through four years of high school.

The movie’s theme song, Fame, has a chorus which begins, “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly high”. It’s sung by Irene Cara, who had the lead role of Coco Hernandez in the film. The song reached #4 in the charts, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, while the entire movie score won another Academy Award.

The movie was successful and well-received critically. It has become a franchise with several television series (one in the early 1980s that Lorelai and Sookie would remember very well), a stage musical, and a remake.

Blue Man Group

LORELAI: You are not sleeping through this.
RORY: Through what?
(Lorelai walks over to the bed and leans over her.)
LORELAI: The freaking Blue Man Group is outside our house!

The Blue Man Group is a performance art company founded in Manhattan in 1987 by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. What began as a series of “street disturbances” by a group of men wearing blue masks became a series of shows combining music and art held in small clubs, and eventually a full performance at the Astor Theatre in New York in 1991, which is still on-going.

The Blue Man Group have gone on a number of concert tours, and released several albums. At the time this episode went to air, The Blue Man Group were booked to play live in Las Vegas, which continued until 2005. The Blue Man Group eventually went international, and in 2017 were bought by Cirque Du Soleil.

Interestingly, Nathan Wetherington, who played Dean Forester in the original Pilot episode, was the drummer with the Blue Man Group for two years.

The Elephant Man

SOOKIE: She’s [Rory] like the most unmaterialistic kid in the world.
LORELAI: No, it’s not about what she would buy. I don’t care if she buys a house, or a boat, or The Elephant Man’s bones.

Joseph Merrick, often incorrectly called John Merrick (1862-1890) was an English man with severe facial and physical deformities who was exhibited at freak shows as “The Elephant Man”. He then went to live at London Hospital and became well known in society, even being visited by royalty. It is not known from which medical condition Merrick suffered, and DNA tests have been inconclusive.

His life story was depicted in a 1979 Tony Award-winning stage play, The Elephant Man, by Bernard Pomerance, and David Lynch did a film version in 1980, starring John Hurt in the title role.

In 1987, Michael Jackson, who had apparently related to Joseph Merrick after seeing the film The Elephant Man, reportedly offered the London Hospital one million dollars for Merrick’s bones, but the hospital refused to sell them. It seems to have been a story fabricated by Jackson himself to add to his “Wacko Jacko” persona. For some time, rumours persisted that Jackson actually owned the bones.