in the early 1980’s, a puppet with big drag queen energy served as a trojan horse sneaking comedic skits that were both camp and queer as fuck into the homes of america every as recurring act on the nationally syndicated variety show “solid gold.”
believed to be inspired by actress gloria swanson’s portrayal of norma desmond in the 1950 film “sunset boulevard” and washington, d.c’s queer beloved waitress margo macgregor, madame the puppet propelled wayland flowers to national notoriety in the 1970s and 80s.
born and raised in dawson, georgia in 1956, wayland began working with puppets as an adolescent before pursuing an acting career. When breaking into the business as an actor proved unsuccessful, wayland began performing in bars and clubs combining puppetry and comedy. it was during this time he created the now legendary and influential character “madame.”
madame the puppet was gaudy, glamorous, and bitchy. in other words, a queer icon! packed with an act that included edgy jokes and social commentary, wayland began to garner mainstream success when he landed appearances on hit tv shows such as “laugh in,” “the andy williams show,” “the merv griffin show” and as the tactically important center square on highly rated “hollywood squares” in the 1970s.
the duo reached their pentacle in the early 80s just as the aids epidemic was beginning. wayland and madame were in demand on the tour circuit, released a book and the home video special “madame in manhattan.” the duo also became regulars on “solid gold” where they performed comedic skits in-between performances by then popular recording artists.
madame was so popular and beloved that she was given her own sitcom. “madame’s place,” one of the first original first-run sitcoms filmed for syndication, aired for one season from 1982 – 1983. wayland continued to perform throughout the 1980s eventually winning two emmy awards for his work with madame.
diagnosed hiv positive in the early 1980s, wayland performed until he collapsed on stage during a performance on september 2, 1988. he died of aids complications on october 11, 1988 in a los angeles hospice. he was just 48 years old.