My Philadelphia Story: Henri David

Jewelry designer, host of the Henri David Halloween Ball; Philadelphia; 60

My parents were very plain, down-to-earth, lovely people. They couldn’t imagine where I came from.

I knew I was gay pretty much when I was 12 and having lots of sex. Boys and girls. But the boys were lots more fun.

John Waters is a good friend. He lives in Baltimore, and he’s said to me on numerous occasions, “You have more freaks than I do. You do good here.” Some of my friends in the entertainment industry call this city “Freakadelphia.”

My father died when I was 14. And my mother when I was 18. At the funeral, my aunt — the Bitch of the West — said, “You weren’t even hers.” And that’s when I learned I was adopted. It was a little like a B movie.

Some Philadelphians who shall remain nameless — ahem — claim to have been at Stonewall but were not. But I was there. I didn’t start it, but I was there.

My parents wanted me to be a cantor in the synagogue. That’s as much theater as they could deal with.

The mustache, the beard — these are simply methods of not shaving. And then the mustache became a trademark. Besides, I look too young when I shave it.

I don’t work out. Don’t go to spas. No stylists. I use water — not even soap.

Partner? Blech. That’s for a law firm. The word is “lover,” not “partner.” And what’s that other thing I hate, when they’re getting wedding bands — what do they call that ceremony? A commitment band! It’s a wedding band, folks. Commit this! What are you committing?

Stevie Nicks is a great client and friend. I create jewelry for her constantly. And I’ve designed jewelry for Elton John. He makes me laugh.

I started the Halloween parties in ’68, just because I needed a place to wear my costumes.

I learned to cha-cha on Bandstand, and then I went back to synagogue and taught everybody there to cha-cha. I was cool.

I still like the ladies. I think they’re lovely. But I don’t want to sleep with them. I haven’t slept with a woman for a million years. When I was 16. There was no reason to after that.

Michael Nutter’s pretty bright, but I’ve always stayed out of politics. I’m hoping some people come along that are a little more interesting, but what I know about Nutter, he’s not a fool.

No, no hints on my outfit for this year. The people who help me make my costumes don’t even know. Each one only knows a piece.

I’ve been making jewelry for 40 years. There’s something about jewelry, making it sparkle. Making people sparkle.

Champagne is my drink of choice, though I don’t drink much. I’m Jewish, and Jews don’t drink much. Freixenet, Moët. Doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s not Great Western.

When I was 16, I got to meet Yul Brynner — a childhood dream. He was outside the Shubert in his long black limousine with a big chinchilla throw — oh, it was dynamite. I went inside, and he was eating steak tartare. And he gave me some.

Once a week, I go to the butcher and get him to grind me up some gorgeous steak. And I eat it. Raw.

There’s an awful lot of political correctness in the gay community. Now it’s “queer,” not “gay.” I hate that. It’s very interesting to me to see these very conservative gay men who look exactly like their friends. Abercrombie and who? Whatever. Look in the mirror, honey, please.

I’m frightened by the young gay kids who think AIDS can’t affect them. Or they think there are pills that will take care of it. But I’ve lived through it. I’ve lost 95 percent of my dearest, oldest friends. At least 100 people.

When I’m sitting on the floor in Kobe, Japan, picking out a pearl that looks like a turtle or a shrimp, or whatever it looks like to me, I’m the happiest kid in the world.

My legacy? Fun. Perle Mesta gave great parties. Truman Capote gave great parties. I give great parties.

Wow. Me lucky guy.

Interview by Victor Fiorillo

  • Catherine Bajrami

    Hi, I think it was terrible that your supposed Aunt told you that you were adopted. If your parent’s had wanted you to know they would have told you themselves.. They must have loved you very much and to them you were their son no matter what. It was not up to her to tell you. So to your very nosy aunt I would say Mind you own business! To you I would say it is good you know, I think I would want to know, but you should not have found out the way you did. Sincerely Catherine.