the it girl issue

Debi Mazar Was the Hardest Working “It” Girl

Illustration: Allan Tannenbaum /© Allan Tannenbaum/Polaris

I was kind of famous before I was famous just because I was a girl about town, moving and shaking. New York had an actual scene, and I was on the scene in a working capacity: serving food, opening a door, letting somebody in, taking them to a certain floor on my elevator. And people knew who I was because I was in a position of power when I worked in clubs. You know what I mean? I left home at 15, and at 16, I was working as a VIP doorperson at the Mudd Club. The Mudd Club closed, and I went to Danceteria. I always had multiple jobs, and I was very good at hair and makeup, so I also started assisting doing that. And because I was always on time and happy and good at what I did, I started getting my own jobs. I even did Warhol’s hair. He called me up — I was recommended to him — and we pretended that his wig was his hair, so I cut his wig.

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I was roommates at one point with Jean-Michel Basquiat, and he painted my refrigerator, which I dragged around the city. And Keith Haring and I were really close. And Kenny Scharf, who was a boyfriend at the time. And then I got a graffiti-artist boyfriend who lived in the South Bronx. We were together for eight years. He painted on the refrigerator and then Keith painted on it. Kenny painted on it; all these graffiti artists painted on it. No one was famous or making money at the time. If I had the refrigerator still, I’d be a millionaire, but I had a wicked roommate who painted over it with black paint, vindictive. It was trashed. There’s not any one moment from that time I wouldn’t want to relive, but if I could, I’d go back to that moment before AIDS hit, when we were all dancing in the club, happy, free. Everything changed after. It’s not natural to be 22 years old and have all of your friends get a virus and die in front of you.

This is a story that’s been told a million times, but in the early ’80s, I met Madonna in an elevator at a club where she happened to be bringing one of her tapes. We became friendly, and she started coming in more often. I would park the elevator, and we would dance on the dance floor together. I said, “Well, when you’re ready to do some promotional pictures or you want to do a video or something, I got you. I’ll do your makeup.” At the time, Madonna was someone that no one knew. She was just a cute girl from the Midwest bouncing around New York, though she had this raw sexual energy; there was something special about her. I mean, in effect, I was the native New Yorker who helped her to create a look in the beginning of her career.

When I became an actress is when everything changed. I’d say it was after GoodFellas and the Spike Lee and Michael Mann movies. I blew up fast. Still, I always felt like people saw me as someone in everybody else’s shadow because all my friends got more famous than I did. I was famous, but they were more famous. I’ve always worked and still work, but I’ve never had the kind of lucrative career that I always wanted. But I felt proud because I wasn’t famous for nothing.

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Debi Mazar Was the Hardest Working “It” Girl