My absolute favorite Prince protégé of all time is Vanity.  Sure I have an opinion on a subject that obscure – doesn’t everybody?  I’m a fan of Prince, so it follows that I am a fan of his beauteous protégés.  And of all of them, I rank Vanity the highest.


Before I get into that specifically in depth, let me qualify that a distant second place goes to Apollonia, and in third, of course, is Carmen Electra. 


Carmen’s wonderfulness is slipping away from us by the day, due to her association with all those laugh-free Blank-Movie parodies [I just took a 15-minute glance at Epic Movie and saw the worst of which humanity is capable.]  But I will always love Carmen if only because of this episode of Baywatch my irony-loving buddies watched on tape repeatedly in college, where Carmen enters a dance contest and has a dance-off against this fake Rasta Milli-Vanilli guy – unintentional-comedy brilliance.  She’s also, for the record, so much prettier in real life.


However, Apollonia still has the edge, because Apollonia was in Purple Rain.  There you go – the alpha and the omega of her glory.  Apollonia has been purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.  That’s true bravery.  I also heavily recommend a song called “Number Nine” by the Twilight Singers, on which Apollonia provides backing vocals.  [Look for it here.]  One of my favorite tunes of ever – it’s killer.


But Vanity is still the number one.  To me at least.  She’s got the body of work behind her.  She’s got the strange sweetness and the complete wackadoo.  For me, it was always all about Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, surely the only Motown kung-fu musical ever made.  In that flick, Vanity plays Laura Charles, the VJ whose big hair is threatened by cartoonish gangsters, inspiring her to recruit Harlem’s leading Bruce Lee acolyte, Leroy Green Jr. (a.k.a. Bruce Leroy), to be her bodyguard, you know, to guard her body.  This makes Leroy’s younger brother Richie very jealous, but now I’m getting too much into recounting the elaborate plot and I want you to see this movie if you haven’t already.  Just know that Richie is my favorite character because he dresses like Shalamar and riffs like Jackie Mason.


Anyway, as I mentioned, The Last Dragon is strangely sweet and Vanity is strangely sweet in it.  This is one of those movies that I feel weirdly proprietary about – I know I have to share Ghostbusters and Stripes with the world, but The Last Dragon?  That’s only for me and my brothers Jason and Anthony.  One day soon I will write a lengthier discourse on the value of this cinematic trinket, but at the moment I have to keep moving, because that’s what Vanity did.


She actually made several movies in the 1980s, all worth seeing for reasons of quality or shlockiness, or both.  Never Too Young To Die is an unbelievably ridiculous piece of shit that you absolutely must treat yourself to, if you haven’t already done.  [I wrote on that one at length in an earlier posting.] 

After The Last Dragon, Action Jackson was fairly traumatic for me – Vanity is depicted in a bad way in this movie, playing a strung-out heroin addict who needs Action Jackson’s help, but that initial trauma was offset significantly by the part where she shows her boobs.  Action Jackson is no lost classic, but I was always a fan of Joel Silver productions, and I love Carl Weathers exactly as much as every red-blooded American man should – the man was Apollo Creed (and Dillon), for Weathers’s sake! 


It should also be noted that Vanity’s group, Vanity 6, with their semi-hit “Nasty Girl”, provided the score for two significant scenes in 1980s films – 1) when Betsy Russell shakes her thang in Private School and 2) when Axel Foley takes Taggart and Rosewood to the strip club in Beverly Hills Cop.  Vanity also sang in most of the films mentioned earlier.


Most significantly, and certainly most overlooked, is 52 Pick-Up. 


Golan-Globus produced the movie.  Golan-Globus were Israeli producers who made a remarkable amount of garbage in the early to mid-1980s.  52 Pick-Up is definitely the best Golan-Globus production I have ever seen, and I’ve seen several more than I ought to have.  Before now, the best Golan-Globus production I have seen would be either Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, or Enter The Ninja starring Italian film legend Franco Nero and a lot of ninjas.


This one has a higher pedigree than usual, due to the script by Elmore Leonard (!) and the direction by John Frankenheimer.  Paul Verhoeven’s sometime cinematographer Jost Vacano supplies the smooth camera moves, and everybody in front of the camera (almost) does their typical best.  It’s still no lost classic, but it’s maybe worth another look anyway.


Roy Scheider is not playing the best guy in the world in this one, but he’s Roy Scheider – always sympathetic and working-class smart.  He plays a successful business owner who gets involved with a twenty-something Kelly Preston (who wouldn’t?), although that means he’s cheating on his wife, played by Ann-Margret (giving the rare good reason to question that Kelly Preston decision.)  As one could expect from the Leonard imprimatur, this affair rapidly becomes a blackmail attempt on Scheider, levied by a gang of unusual criminals.  The bug-eyed John Glover is their leader, but it’s Clarence Williams III, best known to my generation as Samson Simpson from Half Baked, who makes the most intimidating impression as Bobby Shy, the methodical enforcer.


That’s a lot of set-up.  Still with me?  Next up:  Boobs!  Now you’re with me.  Vanity plays Preston’s confidante, also Williams’ girl, also some kind of stripper.  She’s got the smaller supporting part of all these other better-known names, but she’s effective and believable, even touchingly sad, in the few scenes she has.  It almost suggests a legitimate acting career would have been possible, but as history would have it, that was not to happen.


It turns out that Vanity had more than her share of demons.  One of them was Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue.  His recent book The Heroin Diaries in part details their dangerous relationship – intriguingly, with present-day “director’s” commentary from the participants, including Vanity herself, who has for the last several years been known as Evangelist Denise Matthews.  In her Heroin Diaries passages, Vanity sounds happy and enthusiastic and, um, exactly like an evangelist.  She’s apparently working on her own book, and probably wouldn’t much appreciate an article like this one, dedicated to her Vanity persona, because she vastly prefers her current incarnation.  I hope that it’s true though — that evangelism or no, she is that happy. 



I hope it’s not a front for a judgemental world.  We should all wish happiness and peace of mind for the entertainers we’ve enjoyed over the years.  For me, it’s all about this moment, from her “best” film, screening tonight at the New Beverly in Los Angeles  It’s all about The Glow.




Saturday November 29


3 Action Packed Films Starring the 80’s Icon Vanity!

Never Too Young To Die (1986) 8pm
dir. Gil Bettman, starring John Stamos, Vanity, Gene Simmons, George Lazenby

John Stamos is Lance Stargrove, star gymnast & son of top secret agent George Lazenby. Gene Simmons is transsexual singer / evil-doer Ragnar out to poison the Los Angeles water supply. Throw in Vanity as Stamos’ love interest (you’ll never eat an apple the same way again), Peter Kwong (one of Big Trouble In Little China’s elementals) as Stargrove’s fun-loving computer nerd pal and a plot to retrieve a mysterious computer disc and you don’t even have half the “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS MOVIE EXISTS” that is NTYTD. Just check out the trailer!

Action Jackson (1988) 10pm
dir. Craig R. Baxley, starring Carl Weathers, Vanity, Craig T. Nelson, Sharon Stone, Bill Duke, Robert Davi

Craig R. Baxley (stunt coordinator for tv’s The A-Team) directed one of the last truly-80s action films that showed that Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies) could & should have been one of the great action stars of the decade. As Detroit cop Jericho Jackson, Weathers battles evil auto magnate Craig T. Nelson (take THAT bailout plan!) with the help of Vanity & a seemingly never-ending stock of one-liners. Watch the trailer!

The Last Dragon (1985) Midnight
dir. Michael Schultz, starring Taimak, Vanity, Julius Carry

Motown records founder Berry Gordy produced only one Martial Arts / R&B epic and this is IT! Trainer to the stars Taimak (playing Leroy Green aka Bruce Leroy!) searches for his inner master, meets-cute with Vanity and battles the Shogun of Harlem (Julius Carry in a career defining role, RIP) to pulse pounding sounds by Debarge, Rockwell, Stevie Wonder & more! This may be your last chance to see this in the theater before the remake hits in 2010! Watch the trailer!

Visit Vanity’s wikipedia entry here or see her new life as a Christian evangelist at

Three feature films presented in 35mm, vintage trailers & more!
All seats $10. Watch one film or stay for all three!

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