We fact-checked the Madonna film script
Not for the first time, Madonna is on the war path.
The focus of her rage is Universal Pictures, who snapped up a script about the singer’s early years in New York earlier this week.
Madonna sought out a copy of the screenplay, called Blonde Ambition, and immediately declared it to be “all lies”.
“Nobody knows what I know and what I have seen.” the 58-year-old fumed on Instagram.
“Only I can tell my story. Anyone else who tries is a charlatan and a fool. Looking for instant gratification without doing the work. This is a disease in our society.”
Penned by first-time writer Elyse Hollander, Blonde Ambition topped last year’s Black List, Hollywood’s annual chart of the best unproduced screenplays.
The list has previously featured future Oscar-winners such as Spotlight, The Revenant, Argo and American Hustle – so it’s no surprise that Universal nabbed the rights.
Two major producers have already been attached to the project, Michael De Luca (The Social Network) and Brett Ratner (X-Men), who himself directed Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger video in 1999.
However, it’s clear that the project doesn’t have the star’s approval.
In theory, that’s not a barrier to the film getting made, but the script relies heavily on Madonna’s music, including Like A Virgin, Everybody and Lucky Star.
If the singer vetoes their use, the project would essentially be dead in the water.
But how inaccurate is Hollander’s script?
We read a publicly available draft to see how closely it stuck to Madonna’s story.
While the arc is broadly true, Hollander compresses and condenses events, even creating composite characters to keep up the momentum.
Here’s what’s true, and what isn’t.
True: Madonna was in a band called The Emmys
The first act of the script focuses on Madonna’s pre-fame band The Emmys, which she formed with her boyfriend Dan Gilroy and childhood friend Stephen Bray, who went on to co-write Into The Groove, Express Yourself and True Blue.
The film insists the group were a cheap knock-off of new wave pop band Blondie, but their sound was more indebted to Britain’s ska and 2 Tone scenes.
Madonna can even be heard adopting a British accent in some of their early demos.
False: The Emmys were erased from history
One of the script’s biggest fabrications was that Madonna and The Emmys had a deal with Sire Records and cut an entire album before Madonna took the songs, erased Dan’s vocals and launched herself as a solo artist.
In reality, the band never got beyond making demo tapes; and many of the songs attributed to them in the film – including Borderline and Lucky Star – were written much later.
Madonna even paid tribute to Dan Gilroy when she was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
“He lived in an abandoned synagogue in Queens,” she recalled, “and he taught me how to play guitar.
“I practised those four chords that Dan taught me over and over and over again.”
Partially true: Madonna worked in a Russian tea room
At the start of Blonde Ambition, Madonna is seen waiting tables at New York’s prestigious Russian Tea Room.
While the star did work at the venue for two months, she was stationed in the cloakroom, and eventually let go for failing to adhere to the dress code.
“She was a hard worker, conscientious,” said restaurant manager Gregory Camillucci in 1991.
“I got the impression that the one meal we fed her was the only food she was getting.”
True: She dated her producer, Jellybean Benitez
Blonde Ambition’s biggest sub-plot is Madonna’s romance with dance producer John “Jellybean” Benitez, who produced her breakthrough single, Holiday, and remixed others, including Material Girl, Like A Virgin and Dress You Up.
They first met at the influential New York club Fun House, where, according to one observer, Madonna “walked right up to the DJ booth, grabbed him and kissed him”.
After that, they dated for two years, during which time Madonna’s career exploded – leading to inevitable tensions and the eventual breakdown of their relationship.
However, it’s unlikely that their courtship included the sort of “romantic” dialogue Hollander provides in her script.
“You’re the first Latin DJ to break out of genre in a heavily white industry and I’m a driven woman in [an] all boys club,” says Madonna during one encounter. “We’re both outsiders but I’m willing to work the system from within. Are you?”
True: (Most of) the things she said
Throughout the script, entire lines of dialogue are lifted verbatim from Madonna’s interviews, including the pivotal quote: “It never occurred to me to get into this business and not be a huge success. I wanted the world to notice me, always have.”
In fact, Hollander’s reliance on archive clips caught Madonna out during her Instagram rant.
As an example of the script’s inaccuracies, the singer singled out a line of dialogue on the first page, in which Madonna tells US TV personality Dick Clark: “I was born in Detroit. I’m a famed high school dropout.”
“I was born in Bay City, not Detroit. And I did not drop out of high school. In fact, I went to University of Michigan,” Madonna said.
But the interview Hollander quotes is available on YouTube – which might explain why Madonna later deleted her comments.
However, some of her quotes have been placed in a new context.
On page 58 of the script, Madonna tells Jellybean: “I always knew I was going to be a nun or a star. Spending six months in a convent cured me of the first one.”
This superb (and untrue) piece of hyperbole actually comes from a handwritten letter Madonna sent to film director Stephen Lewicki, requesting an audition for his movie A Certain Sacrifice.
Partially true: She signed her record deal in hospital
One of the most well-worn Madonna stories is that Seymour Stein signed her to Sire Records in hospital, hours after having heart surgery.
In the script, this is all at Madonna’s behest. So desperate is she to sign the deal that she frog-marches to his ward and practically puts the pen in his hand.
But Stein insists hewas the one who summoned Madonna to him.
“I was caught with dirty pyjamas with a slit up the back of my gown,” he told Rolling Stone.
“”I needed a shave and a shower. But I got it together to meet with her.
“When she walked in the room, I could tell she wouldn’t have cared if I was like Sarah Bernhardt lying in a coffin.
“All she cared about was that one of my arms moved, that I could sign a contract.
“What I saw there was even more important than the one song I heard.
“I saw a young woman who was so determined to be a star.”
Uncertain: The abortion
In Blonde Ambition’s final scene, backstage at the 1984 MTV Awards, Madonna coldly informs Jellybean that she has aborted their child.
“I won’t have to choose between my career and a family now,” she says, not even deigning to make eye contact. “And that’s how I want it.”
Madonna has never suggested she was pregnant in 1984, and Hollander’s claim would appear to be based on Christopher Andersen’s salacious 1992 biography Madonna: Unauthorized (you can read an excerpt here).
However, Madonnahas spoken about having an abortion during the early years of her career on several occasions.
“You always have regrets when you make those kind of decisions,” she told Times Magazine in 1996, “but you have to look at your lifestyle and ask, ‘Am I at a place in my life where I can devote a lot of time to being the really good parent I want to be?’
“I think you have to be mentally prepared for it. If you’re not, you’re only doing the world a disservice by bringing up a child you don’t want.”
(A group of New York Film Students have filmed Blonde Ambition’s final scene, should you be interested in watching an am-dram version of the movie).
True: The feud with Cher
“I think Madonna’s vulgar and tacky,” says Cher on the 83rd page of Blonde Ambition. “She’s a flash in the pan at best.”
Amazing though it may seem, the quote is real.
Madonna even responded to the comment in a 1984 interview with her future biographer J Randy Taborelli, saying: “Who knows tacky better than Cher?”
False: Madonna auditioned songwriters in a swimming pool
Half-way through Blonde Ambition, Madonna is desperately seeking a final song to complete her debut album. So she and Jellybean hold an open audition in an indoor swimming pool at the YMCA.
After a montage of dismal musicians playing dismal songs, funk duo Pure Energy walk through the double doors.
Singer Lisa Stevens and bassist Curtis Hudson (bizarrely renamed Richard Curtis in Hollander’s script) nervously set up their instruments before playing what will become Madonna’s signature song, Holiday.
Great story – but it never happened.
The band originally submitted a cassette demo of the song to Mary Wilson, of The Supremes.
When she rejected it, Holiday was passed on to Jellybean, who presented it to Madonna.
“The song still generates money,” Curtis told blogcritics in 2006 .
“Can you live off of one hit? Yes, you can if you get the right hit. It can last you a lifetime. We’ve been living proof of that. If we did nothing else, the royalties from Holiday could support us.”
True: She fell over at the 1984 MTV Awards
Madonna’s most public mishap came at the 2015 Brit Awards, when she was yanked off stage by a cape.
But it had happened once before – at the first MTV Awards in 1984, when she lost a stiletto while walking down a 17ft (5m) tall wedding cake in her wedding dress (it could happen to anyone).
Although the incident plays a pivotal part in Blonde Ambition – has she lost the baby? – it was never as serious as the script makes out.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just pretend I meant to do this,'” Madonna later said. “So I dove on the floor and I rolled around. And, as I reached for the shoe, the dress went up. And [my] underpants were showing.”
The stumble-flash made television history and propelled Madonna to even greater heights. And that’s where the film drops the curtain.