Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s in the U.S. probably remembers “Waylon and Madame” the comedy duo featuring Waylon Flowers, and his puppet “Madame.” Madame was an outrageous octogenarian who always had a well-timed zinger and a saucy double entendre for every occasion. The two were a fixture on every talk show of the era (or at least when Charo wasn’t available) Waylon and Madame were even ‘regulars on “Solid Gold” a musical countdown show I never missed back in the mid-’80s. I loved Madame, she was a stitch. It was like Bea Arthur but in wood form.
Waylon Flowers grew up in Georgia in the 1940s a shy child he took to puppetry as a way to be less of an introvert. He had tried several characters before creating Madame. He based the character’s looks on “Norma Desmond” in the movie “Sunset Boulevard.” And as far as Madame’s personality it was an amalgamation of a lot of sharp-tongued southern matrons he met growing up in the heart of Dixie.
By the early ’80s “Waylon and Madame” were at the peak of their success. Flowers had a steady job working the casinos of Nevada and Atlantic City. While working on the show, “Solid Gold” Waylon Flowers had found out he had AIDS. There was a real stigma at the time towards people who had HIV, and he knew it would kill his career, so he kept it to himself. While performing his show at Lake Tahoe, Flowers collapsed onstage, and his secret was blown. He returned to Georgia to make his goodbyes to his family and returned to LA to spend his final days among friends. He died less than a month later. There was a story that he was buried with Madame at his side. While it is romantic, it isn’t true. Unfortunately, in the late ’80s, the ignorance and hysteria about people who had AIDS were so active, many morticians refused to embalm people who died of the disease. Flowers was cremated, and Madame wasn’t with him.
For a long time, no one knew what became of “Madame.” The puppet was such an extension of Waylon Flowers many of his friends and fans felt like if they could see her, then somehow a small part of Waylon would be alive too. Well, I am proud to say, Madame is around and doing well. The Puppet was part of Flowers estate, and his caretaker was the recipient. She graciously donated Madame to the “Center for Puppetry Arts Museum” in Atlanta, Georgia. She shares her home with Kermit, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, and hundreds of other famous puppets at the museum. In fact, the Center for Puppetry Arts is the most excellent museum dedicated to this art form in the entire nation. I will definitely be doing a post on the museum in the next week or two. (I was going to do it when I did the state post on Georgia, but I forgot.) This museum is amazing! If it was a puppet or a stop motion puppet-like entity, the museum has got it. The kid in me just went ape when I saw it. So I will definitely share it with you but for now, without any further delay here she is Madame…
I did read how Rick Skye, a protege of Waylon Flowers secured the blessing of the estate to use Madame in his act. He is a potent mimic of Flowers, so it really sounds like her. He has taken her on the road to Atlantic City and Tahoe. I’m sure she got tired of being cooped up in a stuffy museum. When she’s not on the road, she is back in Atlanta where Madame and her creator Waylon Flowers are remembered fondly. Also a bit of trivia, Waylon Smithers from “The Simpson’s” got his name as an homage to Flowers. So you could say that in several ways, Waylon Flowers gift to the world is still in full bloom.