In the fall of 1983 I got a call from Greg St. James who was formerly on W4. He was directing some Public Service Announcements for the Archdiocese (Catholic Television Network), and he and the media coordinator (Ernie Scarano) were calling to see if I might be interested in doing a few make-up jobs for them. Greg knew that I wasn't a certified make-up artist, and had really only done make-up on drag queens, but he thought I could pull it off. And he said that Ernie had listened to me doing Leather Weather, and he knew what I about, so I could be myself. It sounded like an interesting proposition, so I took the job.
I did make-up for the Archdiocese for the next 7 years. They only needed a make-up artist sporadically, but certain people always called me when they needed one. The women sure looked a hell of a lot different when I got done with them (like tramps), but this was showbiz and they had to have their make-up. Occasionally a priest would object to wearing make-up, but they mostly shut-up and took it like men.
I did a lot of jobs for The Mercy Health Care Organization, run by an order of nuns. They were broadcasting teleconferences that were going out to many locations around the world. It was mostly nuns, a few priests, and a couple doctors and administrators. They were my favorites, besides the Archbishop Szoka. I asked my friend Ernie to tell the story and this is what he gave me:
I met Irene through Greg St. James in 1983. In those days I was Media Coordinator for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. My job was to produce radio/TV programs. Greg was one of a core group of people who were committed to producing quality religious programming that would really speak to the average person and make a difference in their life. During routine pre-production meetings the same question would be raised, "Who can we get to do make-up?" Greg suggested Irene. This recommendation came with all the appropriate warnings that perhaps "church people" might not be able to handle the "experience" that is Irene. We discussed it and decided that what we needed was a dedicated, competent, absolutely reliable person who could work well with talent. "Irene is all of that" Greg said, and we called her.
One particular production would be a trial by fire for all of us. Heading up the schedule was Archbishop Edmund Szoka to tape his Christmas video message. Szoka came in at the appointed time and we walked together to the make-up room. As usual, Irene was there 30 minutes before crew calls to set up her area. As we got closer I noticed that the Archbishop was walking slower than I was. I could see he was becoming very unsettled. Off in the distance the door to the make-up room was open. There stood a woman with coal black hair spiked straight up, white skin and dark red lipstick. She was wearing all leather, ankle boots with studs, and hanging on a hook in the corner was a full length black mink coat. She was standing in a classic Dominitrix position - legs apart. In barely a whisper the Archbishop asked, "Who is that?" I told him it was our new make-up person. He looked at me for a full 15 seconds of real time without saying a word. I could tell he was horrified. Finally, he said, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" I said that I did and he said, "Well, I hope you haven't taken a leap away from your good senses." With that , we went into make-up. Irene smiled, offered her hand and said, "I'm Irene and I'll be doing your make-up today, Archbishop. But don't worry, you won't end up looking like me." Szoka was completely disarmed and began to laugh. Irene took his hand, put her other hand on his forearm and sat him down. It was a day of firsts for the Archbishop - his first time in theatrical make-up and his first time meeting the "Leather Weather Lady." From that day on, Irene was there for every taping. Szoka would ask during the ride up in the elevator about details of each production. Invariably he would ask if Irene was there. He would go into make-up and they would laugh and joke with each other. He got on famously with Irene.
Just before the scheduled taping of a Lenten message, some departmental confusion caused the cancellation of the production. When it was re-scheduled, a different producer was in charge. He brought his own staff, including make-up person. The woman he chose was barely competent and notorious for being late, double booking herself and just plain forgetting. I was instructed by our Director of Communications to go to the studio and observe. Since our office would be responsible for duplication and distribution of the tapes, we needed some control over the finished product. "But don't interfere," I was warned. I met the Archbishop at the front door as I usually did, and we rode up to the studio. Before he could get to the usual questions, I reminded him that I would not be producing this Lenten tape, that the Television Department was handling it. He seemed to accept that in stride. We walked to make-up and found the room empty. We waited a few minutes and Szoka began to chat with some of the crew. Finally, he said, "I think Irene must be late this time." A faceless voice from behind a camera said in a rather blunt voice, "Irene's not doing make-up today. They got someone else." The Archbishop's voice was just as terse. "Well , this isn't right!" He turned and looked at me. "I'm sorry, Archbishop" I said, "I'm not the producer on this one." "Where's Father Humphries?" Szoka asked. "Somebody go get Father Humphries." Post haste the priest arrived. Szoka said, "Father Humphries, why isn't Irene here?" Humphries replied, "Well, Archbishop, we've got Sally to do make-up. Where is Sally anyway?" "She's probably not coming" came the response from the faceless voice. Again Szoka said, "Well, this isn't right. I want Irene here to do make-up." Finally, when it became apparent that Sally wasn't going to show, the graphic artist did the Archbishop's make-up. Next production, Irene was back.
Archbishop Szoka was named Cardinal and subsequently, President of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See in Rome (he's the right hand man to the pope and runs the Vatican Bank). To his credit, he saw beyond the exterior to see what was inside Irene. I'm left, however, with the vision of Irene and Cardinal Szoka in front of the diocesan offices on Michigan Avenue, speaking to each other as pedestrians passed by. By then Szoka was so accustomed to Irene's appearance that he didn't see "it" anymore. To the people passing by, it was a different story. "Why is Cardinal Szoka chatting with that bondage woman?" their faces seemed to ask. Two priests, observing the scene, offered a reasonable explanation: "He must be doing street ministry."
In 1987, when Pope John Paul II was coming to town, I was asked if I could be available to do his make-up for his appearance if he needed it. They weren't sure if he would need make-up, but they asked me to be on call just in case he did. What the hell. I figured it would look good on a resume so I made myself available, but he ended up not needing me for make-up (I think he just needed a little lipstick and perfume behind the ears, which he could do himself).
As time went on, most of the people I knew at the Archdiocese quit their jobs. Consequently, make-up jobs there were fewer and farther between. The last job I did for them was in 1990 for a group of nuns. Some of the nuns had never seen themselves in make-up and a few of them were amazingly pretty. One in particular received many compliments and she kept looking in the mirror somewhat wistfully, as if she was thinking that maybe she didn't have to be a nun. I also had a strange feeling that a couple of these girls were definite lesbians. And these nuns and priests sure don't take the vow of sobriety. When the nuns came back from lunch that day, they'd each had a cocktail or two. They were joking and laughing and I overheard one of them refer to the Archbishop as the "Arch-furor," and two other nuns were admiring themselves in the mirror and talking about finding a rich Bishop to marry. What a bunch of fun girls.
I also did make-up for radio personalities for publicity shots and TV appearances, and worked on some commercials and a motor cross for ESPN. But the job at the Archdiocese was always my favorite.