"Here I am, dahlings! I'll be right there!"
That's Joanne, calling out to us as she strides across the hangar, her scarf aflutter and her gorgeous bosom pointing towards the airplane like twin headlights on a classic Buick.
She sees the photographer. "Hello Renn!" she says. "I see you still aren't eating, you tiny thing. What's your monthly grocery bill -- $1.49?"
Joanne is my kind of naughty woman. She tells off-color jokes with ladylike poise. She imitates people in a not-entirely-flattering way. She bursts into song. She's flirtatious, adventurous, hilarious. When I tell her I want to feature her on the blog, she turns into Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. "So I'm funny, like ha-ha, like I amuse you?"
Yes, Joanne, you amuse me, and today, you are going to amuse a lot of other people too.
I decided to shoot Joanne on an airplane because she loves to travel. Some women take a while to warm up to the camera. Not Joanne! She hams it up with a champagne bottle. She prances up and down the stairway, blowing kisses to the imaginary throng of fans. "I see you and you and you and you!" she coos. Poor Renn can't hold the camera steady because she's shaking with laughter.
We talk about the golden age of air travel. "People get nostalgic," Joanne says. "But I remember the second-hand smoke. And how the middle aisles were designated no smoking. What a joke," she laughs. "Like a no-peeing section of a swimming pool."
As a young woman, Joanne was too tall to be a stewardess but that didn't stop her from jetting all over the world. Wherever she went, Joanne brought one standout accessory. I'm talking about her voice -- a clear and strong soprano that stretches across octaves like an Olympic gymnast. Joanne can hit the kind of high note that you and I can reach once in a lifetime when someone throws a cockroach at us.
So Joanne takes her voice, her jokes, and her sexy good looks on the road and the world is richer for it. On a trip to Rome with girlfriends, she joined a group of strolling street musicians and sang Indian Love Call.
In Dublin, she discovered that the pubs, as wonderful as they were, lacked singers. She fixed that with Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra.
On a train to Salzburg, she shared a car with a group of classical musicians on their way to the Mozart festival. "Do you happen to know Hava Nagila?" she asked. They did, and every passenger joined in on the refrain.
In New Zealand at a wedding, she sang Amazing Grace accompanied by a bagpipe, which would have been nice if the bagpipe was on a hill a mile and a half away. "But next to me?" she said. "Not easy. Which of those notes am I supposed to sing?"
Joanne began singing classical music in church when she was old enough to read. But it was Judy Garland who made a powerful impression. "The Wizard of Oz was fantastic," she says. "I loved the black and white scary part at the beginning. And to have it burst into color and still have threatening things happening? Just magical."
She studied Jane Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman. She was enchanted by David Niven and Shirley Maclaine in Around the World in Eighty Days. She loved all the Disney cartoons too, like Snow White and Cinderella. "Bambi was very traumatic," she says. "Still is. I don’t want to talk about it actually. 'Run to the thicket Bambi! Run!'”
Joanne married before finishing college. Later, as a divorced mother with two teens, she went back to school and got a degree in theater. "I like sharing music or funny stories. I always thought it would be fun to be in a review rather than in a play."
In fact, Joanne wrote a one-woman show, "Ladies of the Silver Screen", and performed it in Illinois and Wisconsin for years. She still has her plaid hatbox stuffed with the necessary head gear to represent all her favorite divas: the novitiate hat for Maria in The Sound of Music, Dolly Parton's wig, Barbra Streisand's vinyl cap, Ethel Merman's mustard-colored fedora, various feather boas, etc.
Joanne tells me, "We all have some kind of thing about ourselves that we want to project outward. Some talent, some skill, some telling thing that we hope we can convey."
I agree with Joanne but what she's talking about is a kind of audition. The older we get, the more difficult it is to throw open the drapes that we hide behind, especially when the world wants to cast you in the quiet grandmother role.
To this, Joanne says, "Think of Auntie Mame. Gotta keep things moving and you never know what will come around the corner."
Joanne hopped another plane recently. She took her pipes, her gams, her favorite wiglets, and her personal entourage of admirers to the Big Apple where she performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last month.
"It was a very good feeling," Joanne says. "After all the rehearsals, to be in the parade. Everyone was loving us and we were loving back. Very much what Thanksgiving is about."
This latest performance came about because Joanne uploaded a video of herself singing and sent it to Macy's. "Don't be afraid to audition," says Joanne. "You might get it, man!"
Joanne is so fun to be around. She makes instant friends. She entertains wherever she goes. She maintains the Diva persona all the way through the photo shoot, waving farewell from the door of the plane. "I'm off to have my plastic surgery now! And remember dahlings, just a smidge of Vaseline over the lens to give me a nice little shimmer!"
Photos by Renn Kuhnen.
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