LEONA VS. DIANA--WHO'S THE REAL "QUEEN OF MEAN"?
We certainly are hard up for royalty in this country, eagerly crowning tycoons and entertainers "King" of this and "Queen" of that until their self-importance swells like a bad boil.
Leona Helmsley married one of America's wealthiest men and ruled over his real estate empire with an iron fist and uncontrollable temper. Her insensitivity to subordinates earned her world renown as the "Queen of Mean," and her unrelenting greed eventually brought her kingdom crashing down amid charges of tax evasion.
While Diana Ross hasn't served time, the public of the former "Queen of Motown" has long since banished her from the charts. Ross' last Top 40 showing was a decade ago--a mawkish duet called "All of You" that pitted her against Julio Iglesias. Since then, she's been doing Christmas carols with Placido Domingo and releasing hip-hop albums that flip-flop. Not coincidentally, Ross' exile from popular favor began shortly after the release of Dreamgirl, ex-Supreme Mary Wilson's scathing portrait of Ross, which came out in 1986.
Dirty Diana may have been one mean Supreme--but how does she stack up against Loathsome Leona? Come see about mean! Decide for yourself which witch the "Mirror, Mirror" on the wall would finger as the witchiest of them all.
1. THE BOSS!
Harry Helmsley, Leona's meek billionaire husband, would often sit quietly by as his gutter-sniping wife chewed out longtime business associates. When he rose to an aide's defense on one rare occasion, Leona growled at him, "You fucking old moron jerk! If you lift your head from that newspaper again, you're in real trouble!"
In 1972, when Good Housekeeping interviewed the Queen of Motown and her first husband, Bob Silberstein, Diana intercepted a query of "Exactly what is it you do, Mr. Silberstein?" with a snide, "You're just what you are. A total nothing." Talk about getting a royal flush!
2. REACH OUT AND RETOUCH SOMEBODY'S HEAD!
Scitex is a girl's best friend when you're a 66-year-old dragon lady. The high-tech computer retouching hardware was in constant use on Helmsley Palace print ads, carving excess tonnage off Leona's hips and waistline, removing age lines and liver spots and thinning out her big, fat mouth.
Miss Ross refused to authorize a Revlon line of cosmetics bearing her name because it targeted women with dark complexions. Diana's people insist she is "not black in her mind." Maybe that's why she put more pink in her cheeks and brushed down her skin tone for the cover of her first post-Motown album, Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, in 1981. According to photographer Douglas Kirkland, "She airbrushed herself into Doris Day oblivion." Qu ser, ser!
3. TOUCHY IN THE MORNING
Leona used to insist on her coffee cup being half-filled because "a full cup will get cold before I can drink it." One time when a Palace waiter went to pour her a semicup, the pot turned out to be empty. "I like my coffee a little darker," she scowled. "Mister, you have one foot out of the door here."
Diana fired a chef whose job was to make fresh pastries every morning for her and her daughters. The reason for dismissal? Diana caught her eating one of the leftover pastries after she was explicitly instructed to throw all remaining treats in the garbage. The nerve!
4. I HEAR A CACOPHONY
A luncheon with several Helmsley decorators came screeching to an uncomfortable halt when Leona spotted water droplets on the lettuce next to the prepared tuna sandwiches. Outraged, she had the servants line up so she could shake the wet foliage in their faces and howl, "Don't you see what you've done? I should fire all of you!"
During a performance before 9,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium, Miss Ross stopped the show and screamed at the sound crew, "What's wrong with you people? I have just about had it with you!" She then proceeded to kick the offending monitor off the stage. Another time, she stunned a Caesars Palace audience by trying to get an indifferent Ross spectator ejected for being "too boring."
5. COME SEE ABOUT ME ME ME!
When one of her promotions people jokingly handed Leona a deck of playing cards with her face cut and pasted on the queen of hearts, Leona insisted on having thousands of complimentary decks printed up with a different photo of her on almost every card. Harry, who created their $5 billion empire from scratch, got his mug on a paltry four king cards.
Diana brushed up on the art of ventriloquism when, unbeknownst to the other two Supremes, Motown founder and president Berry Gordy Jr. decreed that she was to answer all questions at future press conferences. He and Diana chose Cindy Birdsong's first appearance as a Supreme before the media to launch the policy, thereby empowering Diana to field questions like, "Cindy, how are you adjusting to your newfound fame?"
6. LOVE CHILD
Although Jay Panzirer, Leona's son from her first marriage, worked closely with her in the Helmsley hotel chains as a furniture supplier, most employees didn't know they were related. Evidently, acknowledging a son who went prematurely bald in his early 20s clashed with Leona's desire to pass as a 49-year-old woman.
In Diana's tell-nothing memoir Scent of a Sparrow, the diva neglects to mention that her first child, Rhonda, was not fathered by her first husband but by Berry Gordy Jr.--a juicy tidbit she leaked while plugging the book on Oprah several weeks after its publication. Must've just forgot.
7. DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO?
After receiving a complaint from a guest about her hotel's engineering department, Leona fired the first engineering employee who answered the phone. When the aghast employee informed her he wasn't even on duty, the Queen responded, "I'm sure you're a very nice person, but I never go back on my decisions. You're fired anyway!"
Diana, relaxing in a steam room where she had just done a photo shoot, bellowed to two women sitting near her, "Hey, you. Get me a glass of water." To which the women--who were patrons of the spa, not employees--replied, "Get it yourself, you black bitch!"
8. YOU CAN'T HURRY LOYALTY
In a span of six months, a Helmsley house manager recalls training 15 butlers, all of whom quit because of Leona's incessant screaming.
In a five-year period, Diana Ross reportedly hired and fired 42 personal secretaries.
9. I'M GONNA MAKE YOU KILL ME!
Someone had had enough of Leona in 1973, when she was stabbed in the chest by an "unknown assailant." After police compared Leona and Harry's conflicting stories about a black female intruder who broke into their home wearing a gas mask and attacked Mrs. Helmsley, they arrived at the same conclusion many friends and relatives did: Harried Harry did it. In the lounge. With a knife.
Diana incurred the wrath of Martha Reeves when the Supremes opened a show for the Vandellas sporting the same outfits their headlining rivals were scheduled to wear. Diana fled after the show, leaving fellow Supremes Flo and Mary to fend off Reeves with hairbrushes.
10. AIN'T NO EXPENSE HIGH ENOUGH
Not wanting to pay for renovations on their Connecticut estate, the Helmsleys tried to palm off the expenditures as expenses on their four business properties. Among the fraudulent charges were a million dollars for a pool enclosure, $500,000 worth of jade figurines, and a $130,000 stereo (charged as a security expense to the Helmsley Building).
Miss Ross' dream of a children's playground named after her in Central Park turned into a nightmare for the City of New York. Security and cleanup services after her benefit concerts cost the Big Apple a whopping $650,000. And after Miss Ross' expenses--ranging from limousine service ($12,000) to a fingernail she broke off during the show ($265)--there wasn't enough money for a Slinky, let alone a playground.
Editor's note: The Diana Ross concert scheduled for Wednesday, September 20, at Phoenix Symphony Hall was recently canceled. A spokeswoman for Symphony Hall said, "She had a conflict." Ross tour publicist Jude Lions said negotiations broke down late in the game. We suspect that someone on the Phoenix end of things offended the performer by calling her "Diana" rather than "Ms. Ross," the appellation she insists upon.
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