Daily | Mario Montez, 1935 – 2013

Andy Warhol and Mario Montez

Andy Warhol and Mario Montez in 1966

“Asked to name his favorite superstar, Jack Smith singled out the appealing madcap known as Mario Montez, explaining that ‘he [sic] immediately enlists the sympathy of the audience,'” recalls J. Hoberman at the top of his remembrance at Artinfo. “Mario—who was born Rene Rivera in Puerto Rico in 1935 and died of a stroke last week at his Florida home—was an unclassifiable gender blur and underground luminary of the first order. A post office clerk ‘discovered’ and given his stage name by Smith, he first graced the screen as a Spanish dancer in Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), billed as Dolores Flores and making a regal, giggling entrance that’s all the more impressive for its false start.”

“In 1977, he disappeared to Orlando in Florida, far from his life of show business, to work in an office for thirty years,” notes the Art Media Agency. “In 2006, he resurfaced in a documentary about Jack Smith. In 2010 he was included as one of the ‘most gifted performers of the underground period’ by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.”

Then, in 2011, there was a mini-revival in New York, with appearances at MoMA and the Museum of the Moving Image, the occasion for Melissa Anderson‘s profile in the Voice. She noted that Montez was “Andy Warhol’s first drag-queen superstar, and a regular in Charles Ludlam’s unhinged plays” and that “Montez’s brilliantly guileless performance style, heightened by his deep love of Old Hollywood glamor, also made him perfect to ‘play’ disgraced Tinseltown goddesses Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr in the Warhol films More Milk, Yvette (1966) and Hedy (1966). But the dutiful, drug-abstaining Montez, a 1954 graduate of the New York School of Printing who held clerical day jobs (including at a wholesale distributor of women’s accessories in the Garment District) during his entire 15-year career as a performer, was something of an outsider among the speed freaks and heiresses at the Factory…. Unlike later Warhol eminences such as Candy Darling, who lived 24 hours a day as Kim Novak, Montez has only ever donned drag for performances and public events. When we meet, he’s a dapper vision in blue: blue flannel shirt, blue-buttoned sweater vest, blue jeans. His head wear gives pause. ‘Is that a Knicks cap?’ I ask him. ‘Yes,’ he says, laughing. ‘But I crossed out the logo. I just love royal blue.'”

Mario Montez

Mario Montez, photographed in 2011 by Rafał Placek

At RECAPS, Lara Mimosa Montes writes that “in Rodríguez Soltero’s Lupe, there emits, through Mario Montez, the bright light of a distant star. How does the loss of Lupe [Vélez, a star of Hollywood and Broadway in the 30s] become transformed in the queer Latin/a imaginary? Or, what becomes of the legend of Lupe Vélez? According to Elizabeth Grosz in her book Volatile Bodies, ‘Becomings are always specific movements… always a multiplicity, the movement or transformation from one “thing” to another that in no way resembles it. Captain Ahab becomes-whale, Willard becomes-rat, Hans becomes-horse.’ In the case of Rodríguez Soltero’s film, Mario Montez becomes-Lupe.”

In 2011, Afterall ran Hélio Oiticica‘s 1971 piece, “Mario Montez, Tropicamp.”

Update, 10/5: Douglas Martin in the New York Times: “In his book Popism: The Warhol Sixties, written with Pat Hackett and published in 1980, Warhol said: ‘Mario had that classic comedy combination of seeming dumb but being able to say the right things with perfect timing; just when you thought you were laughing at him, he’d turn it all around.’ …  Mr. Montez was uncomfortable with his family knowing that he performed in drag, which he called ‘going into costume.’ He otherwise dressed conventionally. He was also a churchgoing Roman Catholic. Warhol wrote, ‘The only spiritual comfort he allowed himself was the logic that even though God surely didn’t like him for going into drag, that still, if he really hated him, he would have struck him dead.'”

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