Cherry Vanilla is one of the most iconic bad girls of the 1960’s. She started out as a creative on Mad Ave, worked as a DJ in NYC and Europe, acted in Warhol’s play, Pork, did PR for David Bowie and had her own band, all while having crazy sexcapades and doing lots of drugs along the way. You can read all about it in her 2010 autobiography, Lick Me. In the meantime, here are some questions I had for Cherry Vanilla after reading Lick Me.
Izzi Krombholz- What was being a creative in the Mad Ave. days like? Were people sexist towards you, especially since you weren’t a secretary?
Cherry Vanilla- Mad Men, the TV show got it so right. It was just like that… except that I didn’t take much notice at the time. I fell into a few good situations, especially the second ad agency I worked for- Kaster, Hilton, Chesley, Clifford and Atherton. The TV department employees there were very bohemian and except for one or two, they were gay. I took to them all right away and they seemed to embrace me from the start- maybe because I was so naive and so entertaining. You probably read in my book about my behavior at our weekend parties. It was kind of shocking and rebellious for a young woman to act like that back then. But I think they admired me for it.
Cherry Vanilla- Oy! I love fashion, but I don’t think I would love the fashion business. I think one needs to have a really big ego to rise to the top in that field… and I wouldn’t want to enter it without the proper schooling to understand everything, from pattern making, to sewing, to draping and the rest. I guess I could be a stylist and just put people into certain clothing. I like doing that. It’s like playing with dolls. I often pick up a little bargain for a friend or two when I see something I just know would work on their bodies. And I am usually right about it. But if anybody out there wants to back me in a clothing line, I have a lot of cool ideas, I might be open to it.
IK- You’ve worked with and been around some amazing artists. Who is your favorite artist you’ve worked with?
Cherry Vanilla- Rufus Wainwright for sure. I have never officially work for him, but I have helped him, as a friend, in his career and personal life. He is such a gentleman, so generous- not only with material things, but with his love and understanding. And he has stayed the same sweet guy with fame as he was when I first met him some twenty, twenty-five years ago, before fame came. Tim Burton is also among my all-time great friends, and I did officially work for him at one time. Dito Motiel, Cameron Crowe, Andy Warhol, Chet Baker, Sting…. And Bowie, of course… They’re all pretty amazing guys. There are a lot of great women too, but most of them are not as famous as the guys.
IK- You didn’t get started as a musician until later in your music industry career, what was the catalyst that pushed you into action for having your own project?
Cherry Vanilla- When Tony Defries (Bowie’s manager), closed down my little film production company within Mainman, I had to think fast as to how to survive and move on. I wrote and published a book of poetry called Pop-Tart Compositions, then started doing a cabaret act based on it. Then one by one I added musicians and started writing lyrics instead of poems and setting some of my poems to their music. Rock & Roll was always my first love, so the songs got to be more rock than cabaret over time. So, it was a pretty organic progression. But it all started out with the idea of doing the book and figuring out ways to promote it. And that all came about because I was no longer working for Bowie.
IK- Will you tell me a little bit about your phone sex service? Was there a specialty for the company?
Cherry Vanilla- Well, the first one I worked for was called Pandora’s Box. I took the job undercover because I had heard about the business and wanted to write about it for the men’s magazines I was doing articles for at the time. Once I saw what a nifty, efficient little business it was, I got a friend to back me in opening my own. We did ads in the magazines with lots of different names- Kim’s Fantasy Phone Service, Secret Phone Affair, and I forget all of the others- but what the callers didn’t know is that even with the different phone numbers listed, they were all calling into the same switchboard, with the same girls playing different characters for each service. For some of the services we advertised specialties like Blonds Only or S&M. But at the main ones, like Secret Phone Affair and Kim’s, we did anything- played virgins, old ladies, fat ladies, black, white and asian ladies, dominatrices, pre-op transsexuals, you name it. It was really fun in some ways, but I believe it’s probably one of the reasons I lost my sex drive so completely after doing it for a year or two.
IK- Will you tell me about Europa Entertainment?
Cherry Vanilla- Europa Entertainment was established as an American office for Vangelis’s (As in Chariots of Fire) Management. His main office was located in Athens, Greece, but he was signed to Sony Classical in the US, so I opened Europa in L.A. It was mostly just me in a home office there but I also made many trips to Greece during the eighteen years that I ran it. I had nothing to do with taking care of his money but a lot to do with everything written in English… contracts, letters, bios, interviews, PR, those sort of things. I also did some personal shopping for him and his girlfriend and I introduced him to some younger artists, like Rufus.
IK- As a great representative of the sexual revolution, do you have advice for individuals who consider themselves sexually forward today?
Cherry Vanilla- There’s no rebellion in being sexually forward today. But God bless anyone who has the time, energy, desire and ability to engage in good, healthy sex. Do it as long as you feel it… and when and if you lose the desire one day, don’t feel bad about it at all. For me, the first great freedom came from doing it, and the second great freedom came from letting it go. Just that, and to use condoms, I guess.