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Object of the month: Handkerchief with lipstick stain of drag icon Mario Montez

A used handkerchief… an object that shouldn’t be preserved in an archive, you think? You might reconsider. The blood-red lipstick stain belongs to none other than Mario Montez (1935-2013), drag icon of New York’s Underground scene during the 1960s and 70s.

In 1963, Montez appeared in “Flaming Creatures”, an experimental film by charismatic film-maker Jack Smith (1932-1989). This was his first of many experiences in the film industry. Smith not only opened a field of work for Montez, but also made him acquainted with the cinematic avantgarde. Montez, who named himself after Hollywood diva María Montez, acted in 13 of Andy Warhol’s movies between 1964 and 1966.

After “Flaming Creatures”, Mario Montez, who was never formally educated as an actor, was involved in a few of Andy Warhol’s projects, among them “Mario Banana 1 & 2” (1964), “Batman Dracula” (1964), “Camp” (1965), or “The Chelsea Girls” (1966). He also founded his own theater company, “Theatre of the Ridiculous”.

In 1977, he moved to Florida and quit showbusiness for the time being. Because he worked clerical jobs, he always separated his private life from his stage persona. He always stayed away from drugs, rarely frequented the avantgarde subculture, he told to taz in 2012: “I was actually quite a bore.” This is probably the reason why it was not hard for him to say goodbye. Only in 2006, he returned in a documentary about Jack Smith. His last appearance on film was in the shortfilm “A Lazy Summer Afternoon with Mario Montez” (John Heys and Michael Bidner, 2011), where he cruised around a pond in Berlin, equipped with a fan and a parasol, reading tabloids.

Montez visited Berlin already in 2009 for a festival on Jack Smith’s work. After he exerted himself during a performance of Ronald Tavel’s “The Life of Juanita Castro”, someone called: “Does anyone have a handkerchief?” Film scholar and curator Karola Gramann, who always carries a cloth handkerchief, did not hesitate long. “It was one of my best!”, she tells the SMU on the phone. She would have never even considered to wash the handkerchief.

Gramann met Montez regularly, when he was in Germany, invited him to her own festival on Jack Smith in Frankfurt/Main. After this last visit to Germany, she brought him to the airport – and regrets until today that she threw away the bill for the burger Montez ate before his departure. Karola Gramann recently handed over all materials from the film festival to the SMU, including this special object. Mario Montez is not only immortalized on rolls of film – but also on a small piece of fabric in the archive of the Schwules Museum.