Laura Molina: Not Just The World's Angriest Woman
Before this interview I knew Laura Molina only via electrons, courtesy of her interest in the late Mojave Phone Booth. Molina is probably best known for her Naked Dave project, but she has been many things: artist, musician, political activist, even a quiz show contestant. She was in Arizona to take part in the exhibition "Chicano Art for Our Millennium" at the Mesa Southwest Museum. "I've picked my clothing carefully," says the self-described Angriest Woman in the World.
"I'm going for the `ethnic' look because they're pushing me as the Frida Kahlo of the twenty-first century." Though Molina does paint a lot of self-portraits, she says, "I've never done a `Frida'a lot of artists paint themselves as Frida. I just happen to resemble Frida Kahlo." Molina's sense of humor seems to go over the heads of many of her critics. Her website (NakedDave.com) recommends "The Quick Time 6 player, the Flash 7 internet plug-in and ... an I.Q. over 99 and a sense of humor," noting that "Naked Dave.com contains commentary by the artist which may include irony, satire and sarcasm."
The night before the exhibition's opening, Molina agreed to a meet-up at Rosa's Taco Shop for drinks, dinner, and Naked Dave questions. Irony, satire, and sarcasm were enjoyed by all, along with what I'm pretty sure were beers and margaritas.
"Naked Dave is a series of paintings of an ex-boyfriend, each one more personal than the last, all without the model's consent."
Two germane facts to add at this point:
(1) Molina's paintings of her ex-boyfriend all happen to depict him in the nude, and
(2) Molina's ex-boyfriend is a semi-public figure: comic artist Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer.
Provocative? Molina shrugs. "Men have been objectifying women in art for hundreds and hundreds of years. All of a sudden a woman comes by with a paint brush and all hell breaks loose."
Given the intensity of Molina's artistic reaction to Stevens, it may surprise you to learn that Molina's relationship with him took place twenty-six years ago. "I was 18 when I met him, I was 20 when I broke up with him. We went from being good friends to doing something stupid," she says. Some puzzled (and probably humorless) observers have asked why she doesn't "just get over it and move on," an objection she has had to answer often. "A lot of people don't read [the explanation on the website] and don't get it. A couple of male readers actually thought that Naked Dave was a relationship that was an unrequited one. If only. If only it was unrequited love. Then it would be quite simple. But unfortunately, it was something quite more traumatic."
The nature of what took place between Molina and Stevens is only hinted at on Molina's website, but traumatic it was, indeed:
"I was hopelessly infatuated with him and he kept fueling it by continuing to have sex with me. He was reciprocating physically but not emotionally, but I don't think that makes it `unrequited love.' And I didn't know at the time, but he was engaged to another girl in another city. After 5 months of this I was pregnant with his child. He panicked. He waved $200 at me and said, `You're going to go on your own to get an abortion and then you're going to disappear and I'm not going to see or hear from you again.' He was kind of being a bully about it and I hate it when people tell me what to do, so I was inclined to go ahead and have my baby even though my extended family and I were going to have to raise it, because he so desperately wanted me not to have it and he was NOT being nice about it. Now this is the kind of thing that would've earned us a shotgun wedding 75 years ago. You know ... my father and few large male relatives would've gone to talk to the young man (he was 22) who `dishonored' me. But I am the woman who was `jilted at her own shotgun wedding.' I was 11 weeks along when I miscarried and I could've bled to death. The next day, when I got out of the hospital and told him what happened, he cut off all contact with me and I went through a lot of emotional tragedy after that. Now isn't Dave just one lucky bastard? But he must've had some small emotional twinge because this is why he contacted me in 1991. Without mentioning what happened, he said wanted to clear things up between us. but then he bailed out of our reconciliation and left me standing on the sidewalk like a chump."
In 1994, a few years after their misfired reunion, Molina began her Naked Dave works, of which there are five, with one more still to come.
One has to wonder about the legal ramifications. As merely the creator of a comic book character, is Stevens enough of a public figure to...? Molina knows the answer to that without hearing the rest of it.
"No. No, he's not," she admits, but says she is nonetheless "pretty sure I'm on safe legal ground here." She cites the case of Polydoros v. Twentieth Century Fox Film (67 Cal. App.4th 318, 1997), in which Michael Polydoros contended that David Mickey Evans, the writer/director of the movie The Sandlot had violated his privacy by including a character based on him. Evans and Polydoros had been baseball teammates as children. The courts went against Polydoros, ruling that the film was protected speech. (More here and here.)
Adds Molina, "Writersand all artistscreate from what they know. It's a free speech issue.... You start messing with free speech, it could get ugly!"
Has anyone recognized Stevens on the street, just as Naked Dave? "Yes, they have. I heard that he was practically hiding under the table at a comics convention last year. Other artists tease him about it, so he's starting to get annoyed. And then when David Callaghan and Alex Schaffert (makers of Naked Dave, a short documentary film about Molina's project) tried to stick a camera in his face and interview him about Naked Dave, he just about lost it, according to Alex," Molina says.
One has to wonder how many would recognize The Rocketeer himself on the streets, after the movie version bombed so spectacularly in 1991. The Rocketeer was expected to be The Next Big Thingbut only by the Disney corporation, as it turned out. "We were watching cable TV about six months ago & the Preview channel was having an obituary for The Rocketeer and I was just rolling on the ground laughing: "There will be no sequels!" You can gauge how big Disney thought it was going to be based on how much Rocketeer merchandise ended up in the dollar stores. The whole idea cracks up Molina. "Dave sold the rights to The Rocketeer at way below the going rate because Disney told him `You'll make the money back on the toys.' We went to Disneyland and Rocketeer toys were EVERYWHERE. And then came the capper. Ever been to Disneyland? Remember the fireworks at the end of the night? Remember Tinkerbell? In the 60s, they changed it to Mary Poppins. In the 90s they changed it one more time. They made it the Rocketeer! Yes! I was on a park bench and doubled over, laughing. And when I told Dave (who I was still speaking to at the time), `I just went to Disneyland and they sent the Rocketeer across the line like Tinkerbell,' he goes, "NOOOOOOOOOOO!"
When the real Dave's hair falls out, will she continue to paint him in the idealized way she does now? Molina gives an almost bruja-like response: "Oh, yeah, of course. Nobody wants to see the real Dave. Real Dave doesn't exist anymore. I turned him into an object. I have ... he's Naked Dave. A woman can take a paintbrush and do that. It upsets people that I can possess him with a paintbrushand I want to arrogantly add that not just anyone can do that."
And in case you were wondering, she doesn't care whether you think she's crazy. "I've already been called crazy by so many people that after March, 2002 I can honestly say that the label crazy, in a sense, just rolls off my back. Victor Sorell, one of the professors here [at the art exhibition] said, `People say that because they don't understand what you're doing and they fear you.'"
It wasn't only by means of The Rocketeer that Disney helped transform Laura Molina into The Angriest Woman in the World. "I sued my former employer, The Walt Disney Company. I sued Walt Disney Imagineering for "Job Stress" and racial discrimination. (See her painting "One Little Indian vs the Corporate Trolls''.) There were actually 3 separate lawsuits. Yep, I'm a big troublemaker 'cause I stood up for my civil rights on the job." Because "they neglected to sign me to the standard confidentiality agreement," Molina can reveal that "I got $36,000 out of that. Most people get worn out, or they kill themselves, like Larry Bryant or other employees. Disney drags it out for years. I lived through this for four years. I got the money. The $36,000 was not worth it. But it was a learning experience. I learned a lot about how the legal system works, who really has the power, that the legal system is not a search for truth." Duh! She laughs. "This was all new to me at 32! I survived and in the process I became this raging, firebrand activist." Molina is a former spokesperson for the National Organization for Women and has been involved with the ACLU.
Winning Ben Stein's Money
Having scored one against Disney, Molina went on to pillage former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein on his show, Win Ben Stein's Money. "It's hysterical. I shouldn't have won. I only got four questions right. I did the phone interview; they asked me ten questions, I got nine of them right. The producers asked, `You have any smart woman friends that might want to be on the show? We're a little short on women.'" She laughs. "I don't want to say there are stereotypes about people that are smart, but when I showed up at the studio to take the written test and play the game, sixty men had showed up, and a dozen women. And only two of those women were, we'll say, normal weight. And the men were either 300 pounds or looked like they'd recently been released from psychiatric hospitals. I passed the written interviewpiece of cake. It's real easy, because it's general knowledge. It's not like Jeopardy! Jeopardy!'s like, bullshit. Who won the Academy Award? I don't know. I don't go to movies. Ask me anything about sports, TV shows, or movies, I don't know. It's pop culture, and I don't know. But this was general knowledge. I knew they were going to pick me at the interview, because behind the producer was a PA going, `Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!'"
Surely everyone has wondered what it's like to meet Ben Stein. Haven't they? Maybe not. But here's the answer: "I have this magazine article where he says how upset it makes himhe has to go to a shrink when he loses. He's so competitive. People who are competitive HAVE to win, and he puts himself in this situation where he might lose, and he does sometimes, and he still can't accept it!" Molina had caught a cold and wasn't sure she'd even be able to make it to the show. Two other contestantsas well as Ben Steinundoubtedly wish she hadn't.
"This arrogant male contestant missed the last question so he lost the last round, which left me. I thought, `Oh, great, I get to keep the $500 I won. I get to go home with something. That's cool.' I didn't think I'd beat Ben. I tell you, if they'd asked the questions in a different order, I would've gotten more of them. I would've gotten six right. But I answered four. The one that held me up was, "`Who played Zorba the Greek?" I go, "Anthonyyyyyyyyy....' and wasted ten seconds."
And yes, during the show's meet & greet segment they did mention Naked Dave. "They didn't mention the website. You can't advertise anything. On your clothing, whatever. No free advertising. But Jimmy Kimmel said, `I understand you did a series of paintings of an ex-boyfriend, naked.' He called me `Laura the penis painter.'"
Ben Stein, of course, has posed with Wagner. "I know, I saw that. Now I get to be on the page with Ben." Sadly, no Me & Ben photos for Laura. After the show, "They escort your ass off the lot. Everybody shakes your hand, they say thanks, you can't talk to anybody. And they don't send you any money until they air the show.
In the eighties Molina, who'd been playing guitar since she was twelve, fronted an L.A. band she named Tiger Lily, after an old movie in which Lucille Ball played a burlesque dancer of that name. The name had an additional advantage, from her perspective: "It was the name of a flower and in the 80's no male band would have named themselves after a flower."
Tiger Lily played steadily around L.A. for a couple of years in the eighties, getting signed by Rhino Records for an all-girl-band compilation to be entitled The Girls Can't Help It before tensions broke up the band. Tiger Lily played its final show in July, 1984. That didn't stop the other former members of Tiger Lily from going ahead and recording "Die Laughing" (the song intended for the Rhino compilation) and submitting it to the label under the name Tiger Lilyall without letting Molina know about it. "Our nutcase bassist broke up the band," she says. "She went to the other three girls ... and said, `Let's go behind her back and do it without her.' Oh, yeah, that's a good idea. Let's ditch our lead singer and founder of the band, tell the record company that she was unavailable for the recording and just go ahead without her." Molina heard about it from Greg Gill, who'd written "Die Laughing" and was surprised to hear of the band's demise, since they'd asked his permission to include his song on the Rhino album. "My mother hired an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles and I called Gary Stewart at Rhino Records." When he found out that the vocals and guitar on the tape were not those of Laura Molina, "he crosses Tiger Lily off the recording contract, writes in Laura Molina and says to me, `This ought to solve your problems.'"
Molina's former bandmates went on to form the band RadioActive with Cherie Currie (former lead singer of The Runaways), but it went nowhere. Molina went on to record with Bob Casale (a.k.a., Bob2 from DEVO). "You'll notice the incredible jump in quality, when I ditched the girls and got real musicians and a real producer!" she says.
Visiting the Mojave Phone Booth
After talking a little more about the backstabbing and weaselry common to Los Angeles in general, Molina summed it up this way: "L.A.'s an evil place." She now lives in the high Mojave desert. "I'm so relieved to be away from L.A., I can't tell you."
She ended up going out to the Mojave Phone Booth after reading about it in the newspaper. "I said, `This isn't that far from where we are. We gotta go see this thing.' We went to Buffalo Bill's [a casino in Primm, Nevada, across I-15 from Whiskey Pete's] to play ... roulette, whatever ... because we couldn't find the off road trail the first day. We couldn't find it for a while because we weren't sure what road we were on. We drove first to Kelso Depot. We went back to Buffalo Bill's then came back the next day and found the booth. I had to see it. The only bummer thing was that some guy called up and said, `Hi, I'm calling from the internet. What are you doing there, you filthy hippie?' I couldn't believe I had to drive 175 miles to hang up on some asshole."
Laura emailed me on 11may2000 telling me of her plans to visit the booth, and emailed me with a trip report when she returned from seeing it. She was one of the final people to see it in situ; sadly, the Mojave Phone Booth was uprooted by the phone company (at the instigation of the National Park Service) a few days later (17may2000).
Running for office
Mojave desert life has not mellowed Molina's gadfly instincts. "I'm a write-in candidate against my Mormon congressperson [Republican incumbent Buck McKeon]. I got sick of him running unopposed. Goddamn Democratic Party had the nerve to call me up and ask for some money," she says. She told them, "`First of all, I haven't been a Democrat in eight years, and second, you're letting Buck run unopposedagain!' My official campaign slogan is FUCK BUCK." How does she rate her chances? "Who knows? Because I'm the type of person who's willing to bare my breasts for political protest, so my chances of beating Buck are good," she says, facetiously. "I haven't a chance of winning," she acknowledges a moment later. "I'm doing this to make trouble. I haven't an ice cube's chance in hell."
Having run for office myself, I was interested in Molina's campaign strategy. She doesn't hesitate. "I will remove the upper part of my clothing whenever possible," she promises. "Anytime, anywhere. TITTIES! TITTIES FOR CONGRESS! I'm much prettier than Buck," she points out. "I have dimples." My anti-Mormon friend who was at dinner with us suggests, "Your campaign slogan should include an acrostic of LDS." She may have something there. The L could stand for Laura; what would the DS stand for? Laura pipes up instantly. "Not Dave Stevens, I'll tell you that!"
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