On an album of greatest hits, usually the artist has someone else come in and write the liner notes. I contacted Mary Wilson to ask if she would write the liner notes for this project, she eventually responded and sent me a short note:
“Thank you for all of the acknowledgments. I never knew that we, Florence Diane and I had that much effect on people. We were just doing what we enjoyed doing and hoped that people liked it. I really do appreciate your admiration of us. Dreamboy is truly a Dream Come True. You have written a memoir that not only every gay man should read but every person should read.”
Maybe it seems odd that I would have liner notes written for a book, but as you will soon discover, this isn’t a conventional book. It is a book written like an album.
The next question that may come to mind is, “Who is Dale Guy Madison?” Why would you want to read a book about him? Is he famous? Have we seen him on Entertainment Tonight? Have we seen photographs of him stepping onto the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere? Has TMZ or The National Enquirer ever caught him leaving a rehab clinic? Is he even sleeping with somebody famous?
Not anymore. But keep reading.
DREAMBOY: My Life as a QVC Host and Other Greatest Hits is my memoir. It is a reflection upon my life told against a canvas of music by the phenomenal group The Supremes, and from the Supremes-inspired Broadway musical, Dreamgirls. Each chapter is a song title, each song a dream from some chapter of my life, and each dream one of my greatest hits.
I truly believed I was not destined to do just one thing in life, and so I went after many of my dreams. I started off working as one of the first male telephone operators in Baltimore city. Next, I dabbled in the world of nude and commercial modeling, was a stripper, a singing trolley driver, a costume designer, and a children’s storyteller. I appeared in some Hollywood movies, mostly as a background extra. Then I became a national shopping channel host, which led me to becoming a doll maker and a businessman. A few years after that, I jumped into the high heel shoes of a drag queen and produced a one-man show about transvestites.
On many levels, I achieved success throughout my eclectic career, albeit without the fame. Through it all, the music of the Supremes has been my guiding force. I have followed the Supremes’ struggles, their crossover successes, and their personnel changes as if I was a close family member. I know the Supremes and the story behind the musical Dreamgirls like I know the story of my own life.
In 2000, Motown released a five disc ultimate Supremes anthology. Each disc covered various eras of the Supremes’ musical contributions, and included all the lineups of the seven women who at some point performed as part of the Supremes. My memoirs, divided into five discs, lyrically explain the various areas of my life: the familial, the personal, and the professional. At the end of most of the chapters in each “disc”, I share a personal message of insight derived from the experience of that chapter.
In this first disc, named for one of the Supremes’ 1967 hits, I describe how a little black boy from Tidewater, Virginia, fell in love with three girls he saw on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 60’s. (And I school some of the “young bloods” reading this book on the evolution of the amazing Supremes!) I also share how I personally related to the story of the Supremes’ lives after seeing the 80’s Broadway show, Dreamgirls.
The title of the second disc, “Family,” is borrowed from a song from the musical Dreamgirls. In this, I share my early years growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, while paying tribute in song to each of my family members.
The Supremes followed up their smash number one hit “Love Child” with a similar urban beat called “I’m Livin’ in Shame.” That song plays over and over in my head when I think of my mother, Lovelean. Her chapter is really my written apology to her, because for years I felt ashamed of her lack of education and sophistication. “Miss Love,” as her friends called her, was a country farm girl who only finished the seventh grade. But she proved that a divorced mother with a limited education could raise three honor students and even teach them a thing or two about life along the way.
As for my father, Bill, we were distant. So distant, in fact, that I save him for a chapter in a later disc entitled “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” Although he and I were not close, he was an important part of my life and shaped how I got to where I am today. I could not have chosen a better Supremes song to chronicle our hot and cold relationship than “Bill, When Are You Coming Back,” the tune on the flip side (or “B-side”) of the “Up the Ladder to the Roof” single. He was in the Navy and spent more time away from his family than with us as children. He divorced my mother around the time Diana Ross left the Supremes, and when we finally established a relationship during the 70’s, I discovered an emotionally distant man who had thirteen illegitimate children and showed very little love to any of them. He died during the course of my writing this book.
Not only did I have my immediate family to help me through the early years of my life, I also had a group of close friends that shared in and contributed to some of my most formative experiences. I mention them in the last chapters of this disc, which describe the end of my teenage years, my coming out years. It may sound cliché to use the most obvious gay anthem from the Ross catalogue, but if it works, why not? What gay man does not have an “I’m Coming Out” story? My story led me to a “Love Hangover.” The road to coming out in the 70’s wasn’t always filled with discos and bright lights. My road held a dark corner that had me “steppin’ to the bad side,” (to quote a phrase from Dreamgirls.)
This third disc encompasses my favorite part of my memoirs, my dish on all the enrapturing, heartbreaking, and delicious relationships I’ve had throughout my life. I dedicate it to Mary Wilson, “the sexy one,” because she was such a flirt. In her own book, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, she admits with candor and playful naughtiness to a number of the intimate relationships she has had in her life. I had so much fun matching just the right Supreme song to each man I dated and to the one woman I married, who was and is just as much a Supremes fan as myself. “I Meant You No Harm,” a love song from Dreamgirls, describes the feeling I get when I look back on the regret of past loves. I paired this title with a Supremes tune penned by Smokey Robinson, “Breathtaking Guy.” Together, these two songs perfectly describe the stream of relationships that shaped my life during my adult years. I went from an abusive gay relationship into an affair with a Maryland State politician, then into a marriage with a heterosexual woman and back into a long-term relationship with a man. When I look over all the relationships of my adult years, I can’t help but hear, “Are you just a breathtaking / first sight soul-shaking / one night love-making / next day- heartbreaking guy?”
The title of the fourth disc is from the Supremes’ 1970 hit single that debuted Jean Terrell as the new lead singer after Diana Ross left the group. As I climbed the ladder to success and fame, I made a few stops along the way. I think I tried it all. The first chapter of this disc, “Dirty Looks,” is named for a seldom-heard cut from the 1987 Diana Ross album, “Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.” Throughout the 80’s, I posed naked in classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. In remembering this experience, I think of all the times people looked at me with “dirty thoughts” in mind. Like the Tracy Chambers character that Diana Ross portrayed in the movie Mahogany, I too wanted to become a fashion designer and model. But instead of flying off to Rome and having Billy Dee Williams to come back to, I undressed and posed nude by day, danced as a stripper at night, produced fashion shows and taught myself how to design clothes. Then I moved into acting full time and began my two theater companies, Umoja Sa! Sa! and Actors Against Drugs (AAD).
In the early days of Motown, all the acts went out on a Motown Motor City Tour. I look back on my two traveling theater companies and compare them to the magic of that famous tour. While educating and entertaining audiences with powerful messages about substance abuse, AIDS awareness, and cultural diversity, my companies experienced behind the scenes drama rivaling that of our live presentations. Drug addictions, alcohol addictions, and power struggles destroyed friendships, exposed secrets, and caused financial disaster. When I left my troupes to become host on one of the most popular networks of the early 90’s, QVC, I felt like Diana Ross did at the Supremes’ farewell performance in 1970 at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. It was as if I was stepping out on my own.
Most fans know that after Diana Ross left the Supremes, she achieved her greatest fame. There was the nomination for an Academy award, a stream of number one hits, numerous concerts, movies, television specials, and the infamous concert in Central Park. At QVC, I had my first number one hit with the show Destination: Africa, being the creator and producer of the program. That shopping show, dedicated to products originating from Africa, was an unheard of concept in the world of television shopping. And I was the one to introduce it.
Diana Ross followed her number one hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with another Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson tune, “Remember Me.” This appropriately named chapter talks of my struggle to maintain fame after leaving the television-shopping world. After leaving West Chester, Pennsylvania, I moved back to Baltimore and opened the first afro-centric gay store in the city. When that wasn’t enough, I moved to Los Angles and tried to produce a movie starring Joey Buttafucco.
This disc is where I finally write my liner notes. It’s that moment of the awards show where I thank God, my mother, and all the people who made me feel like a star, even when I was not. In one of their poorest charting albums, Diana Ross and the Supremes covered songs from the musical Funny Girl. While writing my liner notes, I couldn’t help but relate to the tune from the show that goes, “I’m the greatest star, I am by far…but no one knows it!”
I close my liner notes with an open letter to Mary Wilson. It is a tribute to all the background singers and background actors without whom no song or film could be made, but who often go unrecognized and unappreciated and have a tough time stepping out into the lead.
The music of Diana Ross and the Supremes has been the songbook to the chapters of my life. And my story is one of unending re-invention. Like an anthology of greatest hits, there is a little something for everyone in the pages that follow. If you love the Supremes, if you love Dreamgirls, you will enjoy reading this book. If you have never heard of either, perhaps this will spark an interest in you to listen to their music and see why I am such a fan. I hope that I can convince you to be one too.