Several years ago I attended an opening for THE ART OF LIZ RENAY curated by SCOTT EWALT at the 76 Grand Street Gallery. The late artist's contributions spanned two centuries in exotic dancing, literature, and film most notably as Divine's co-star in John Waters' 1977 paean to bad taste DESPERATE LIVING, but the starlet was much more than that role of a dogfood-eating murderess. Her 2007 Washington Post obit listed her many careers as 'gangster's moll, ex-con, author, painter, stripper, Hollywood Boulevard streaker, actress and charm school instructor'.
A sexual pioneer too.
"Well I don’t think anything is wrong with sex. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be enjoyed! Some people want to get married and stay married forever and not cheat on their spouse or whatever. While other people just like to be sexual adventurers (she laughs) and I’m one of those."
Ms. Renay owed her status as an ex-con to a perjury conviction in LA for refusing to snitch out Mickey Cohen. This loyalty earned the actress a stint in prison.
"It sure knocked the hell out of my career when I went to Terminal Island. I would have been a big star had I not gone to prison." The actress did the time without complaint and was released after 27-months for good behavior.
With her 44DD-26-36 measurements she must have driven the guards and inmates crazy. She exited from prison a cult figure, whose persona was tawdryized by writing the classic exploitation novel, "My First 2,000 Men."
A good title, although Ms. Renay issued a calm disclaimer. "It wasn't really anywhere near 2,000 men. I led a wild life. But 2,000? C'mon, that's too many, even for me!"
Her show was packed with downtown illiterati gawking at the deceased diva's art and collection of newspaper clippings. Several transvestites showed up in Liz Renay drag. Big breasts were a must. Her paintings were simplistic, but touching, especially a portrait of an angelic little girl. I thought it might have been the actress herself, but suspect that the young girl was actually Ms. Renay's daughter, who had stripped with her mother for many years until her suicide.
Photos were taken of the attendees. Each aspiring to acheive the greatness of Ms. Renay, if only for a few minutes. I stared at her S&M gear; a shabby whip, leather cuffs, and black undies. If I was into that kind of thing, then she would have been my mistress, instead I wandered from the gallery into the cold night, dreaming of 44DDD cups and having been one of 2000.
I doubt I could have survived an hour with her, let alone a night.
Then again I'm a square.