When my children were much younger than they are now, way back in 1989, they knew Al Pacino as a friend of the family, but not as a movie star or celebrity. They were too young (six and nine years old) to have seen any of his movies (other than Author! Author! and even that wouldn’t have held their interest) or attend any functions where photographers screamed his name and snapped his picture. But they did know (what child didn’t?) who Madonna was. Madonna was a blonde fantasy who sang songs whose lyrics they could imitate, even if they didn’t quite know what “Like a Virgin” or what being a “Material Girl” meant. Madonna was like Halloween, someone who looked all glitzy and unreal; someone whom they could dress like to go trick-or-treating.
So imagine when Pacino came to visit and told them that he was about to make a movie called Dick Tracy with Madonna. They just stared at him in disbelief—how could he know her? And what was he doing, making a movie? He was a guy who came on occasions to play chess with their dad, or to sit in the living room and talk to their dad. Madonna never came to the house. Their dad never claimed to know her.
“Why don’t you bring the girls to the set one day?” Pacino suggested. “I’ll introduce them to Madonna.”
“Would you like that?” I asked my daughters. As if I needed a response.
For the next few weeks, all I heard at dinner was “When are we going to meet Madonna, Dad? Does Al really know Madonna? Is Madonna nice?”
Eventually Al found a day when they were shooting in a warehouse in Glendale when he thought we could visit. “Don’t tell the girls what I look like,” he said. “Let’s see if they recognize me.”
How could I tell them when I didn’t know myself? Al’s disguise as Big Boy was a Big Secret. He had worked for months trying out different looks, but he never wanted to show me. He likes surprises.
On the allotted day I drove the girls to Glendale. Al said he’d be waiting outside the warehouse at a certain time, and as we walked holding hands to where he was standing, I felt both their palms get wet. They saw this strange looking crook’d-back guy with a big nose and slicked back hair rocking back and forth on his feet. He was ugly, scary and noisy, calling out to them in a raspy, annoying voice once he spotted them, “Hey goils! You goils coming here? C’mon over here goils.”
My girls definitely didn’t want to go anywhere near the guy. He was just too weird. Kind of like a cartoon villain.
“Don’t be afraid,” I whispered.
“I don’t like him,” my younger daughter, Hana, said.
“You just don’t recognize him,” I said.
“Is that…Al?” my older daughter Maya asked.
By this time we were close enough for him to put out his hands and grab the girls from me. They were still a bit frightened, but the fact that I didn’t protest or try to punch the guy in the nose gave them some assurance that he was harmless. That he was, in fact, Al.
“C’mon goils,” he said, still in character. “I’ll bring yah ta Madonna!”
Ah, the magic name. Suddenly they were both smiling. Al was playing with them and under all that makeup and fake voice and crazy clothing it was really him. And he was going to bring them to….the Material Girl herself.
I followed behind, camera in my hand, figuring this just might be a photo op not to miss. And sure enough, there was Madonna, sitting in a director’s chair, wearing a black fur coat, her hair shiny blonde, in character as Breathless Mahoney. She opened her arms to them and before I knew it, Hana was in her lap and Maya was standing next to her, feeling her fur. She was very friendly, talking to them, asking them questions, even giving advice—though she managed to confuse them with what she said.
Somehow Maya started telling her about some boys in school and how they had stuck their tongues out at her and that she didn’t like it. I had never heard this story before, so I was interested enough to listen. And then Madonna said to her, “If someone sticks his tongue out at you, say, ‘No thanks, I use toilet paper.’”