In 1995 the actor Scott Bays, playing wheelchair-bound Gene Wilder in a stage production of The Producers, was gravely ill after complications from AIDS. As part of a campaign to raise funds for charitable organisations caring for AIDS patients, Wilder’s children launched the site Get the World Out of the Tunnel. The organisation provided a phone number for people to call and donate money, and it became an email sensation.
Two years later, Anthony Michael Hall underwent surgery for a broken vertebrae. Doctors told him the brace, which covered his cracked vertebrae, was there to protect him from crushing his spinal cord, but it was just a disguise. He went through a similar operation on Tuesday of this week – only this time it was an oral cage with a dental plate and screws inserted through his mouth. “They aren’t taking away my teeth,” he joked on Good Morning America. “And they aren’t covering them. So I’ll still be able to talk.”
You can’t help thinking that his example was an inspiration to the people making the masks this week. Using his experience, a remarkable PR stunt is being mounted. One mask, designer by late actor Andrew Reston, depicts a replica of Rose Brigandi, the (non-fictional) master of disguises, often portrayed by Christopher Lee, who died on 4 July at the age of 91. The other, designer by writer and performer Lauren Gottlieb, depicts the highly fictional transsexual character Charlotte Moore, portrayed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch star Neil Patrick Harris.
According to their website, the masks have made it to the Berlin, the Cannes and the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. They also say they have been sold online to people as far apart as Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Because the masks cost $2,120 each, the cost for the few of us who can’t afford to wear masks as a matter of course is $24,200. Not bad for a stunt whose aim seems to be to raise money for a cause far more worthy than stunts. But, hey, it’s fashion, and who the hell cares?