Mark Burchard

Mark Burchard, a former Motion Picture Costumer, was
inspired by the slaphappymoments in his 29th film,
“The Silence of the Lambs,” to try his hand at writing
comedy.He quickly moved on to include poetry, fiction,
and memoir. Now with over 90 pieces in print, Mark is
proud that his work has appeared in such diverse
publications as THE BATTERED SUITCASE,
THE STRAY BRANCH. Mark’s photographs were shown
at the launch of Little Episodes in London, and can be
seen on the covers as well as within the pages of many
of the magazines mentioned above.

His filmography can be found at


by Mark Burchard

December 15, 1979


     One critic called David Bowie’s performance of, The Man Who 
Sold the World on Saturday Night Live, "Among the most surreal 
television performances broadcast anywhere, ever.” While another 
called it, “An artistic ‘&$#@ you!’ to convention.”
      I was the Men’s Wardrobe Supervisor on SNL and having come 
to the show from the staid world of opera David Bowie’s performance 
was so strange to me that I left 30 Rock after the show rattled and 
unnerved. If that weren’t enough it was as close to a heart attack 
inducing moment as SNL and live TV ever threw my way. That said I 
have a little secret, it almost didn’t happen.
      I decided to make a stop at Bowie’s dressing room for last 
looks. After all we were on the air and according to the breakdown 
in my hand he was up next. David was already dressed in a costume he 
had designed with Mark Ravitz. Imagine if you will a tuxedo on steroids. 
The jacket was a patent leather, exaggerated Joan Crawford shoulder 
padded number with an oversized black and white striped bow tie. His 
trousers were a Conga Drum (Think Ricky Ricardo’s drum when he sang 
Babalu on I Love Lucy) slipcovered in black and grey striped fabric to 
look like morning pants. When it came to the shoes I quickly realized 
that something was amiss—there weren’t any. The drum had a solid bottom and 
of course there was no way that Bowie could walk to the stage on his own.
      “David, where’s your dresser?” I asked having calmly directed my query 
to David’s assistant. In one of the most bizarre arrangements I’ve ever 
experienced, the crew, and that included me, was not allowed to speak 
directly to Bowie. So this is how it worked: I would direct a question 
to his assistant who would repeat it to David exactly as I’d asked it. 
David would then direct his answer to the assistant and she would repeat 
it back to me. All this and the three of us were no more than a few feet 
away from each other! It was ridiculous and frustrating but it became absurd 
when a call came from the control room that added a dose of urgency to the 
conversation, “Mr. Bowie to the stage, please. Mr. Bowie to the stage.”
      “David how do you plan to get into the studio and onto the stage in that 
costume?” I asked. “Is there a plan? What did you do during dress rehearsal?” 
Of course my questions were directed to the assistant but before she was able to 
repeat them to David, he bent his head to the side as his eyes traveled up to 
the ceiling. Then his head bobbed slightly from side to side as if he were 
considering what he should say in response to my questions. And finally he 
looked at me with a blank stare and said nothing.
      “Got it!” I said as I ran out into the hallway and spied two hefty 
stagehands. I approached in a panic. "Bowie, On Stage, Now! HELP!" I ran 
back into the dressing room and they were right on my heels. They saw the 
problem and sprang into action. They picked Bowie up just as another call 
came from the control room, "Mr. Bowie to the studio. Mr. Bowie to the studio. 
Pleeeze." The tension was palatable. Our adrenaline soared.
      Out of the dressing room and into the hallway we went, David, his 
assistant and I, and those blessed stagehands! We crashed through the main 
doors of Studio 8H with a bang. People jumped. Some screamed at the sudden 
explosion of noise in the hushed studio. (Thank God we were on a commercial 
break and the noise didn’t interrupt a skit.)
      The stagehands lifted Bowie on to the stage as his back up singers, 
who I called, “The Choirboys From Hell,” (Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi) 
ran forward and grabbed the unwieldy drum, dragged it backward to the 
starting position just as the green light on the camera came on and we 
      “Oh my gawd that was close!” I whispered to myself. I was 
hyperventilating. One hand was on my chest and the other was holding on 
to the side of the camera crane to keep myself steady.

      I never found out for sure but it’s my guess that it was someone 
from stage-management who dropped the ball on this one. That said did I 
ever get credit or a thank you for jumping into the fray and saving the 
day? Of course not! Would I have taken the fall if David hadn’t made it 
to the stage on time? Absolutely! Nuff said...


     When I heard that our director Julian Schnabel had cast David Bowie as Andy Warhol 
my enthusiasm for the project waned. With a cast as large and as star-studded as Basquiat’s 
was shaping up to be, dealing with Bowie through his assistant could potentially take 
too much time and slow the department down to a crawl on talent-heavy days. I was about 
to mention my fears to our production manager-producer Randy Ostrow when I stopped myself. 
I mean, what was I thinking? My usual thought process had obviously taken a powder. Our 
encounter on SNL took place a full sixteen years earlier and I’d never heard or read 
anything that mentioned this kind of nonsense connected to Bowie. So I pulled back and 
I’m glad I did. From the moment Bowie showed up for work he proved to be a gentle 
gentleman who was remarkably available and kind to the cast and crew.


     My favorite scene during principle photography and my favorite in the 
finished film—which is seldom the case because a scene can be completely 
reconfigured during the editing process—recreates the moment when Jean 
Michele Basquiat (Jeffery Wright) meets Andy Warhol, (David Bowie) and, 
Bruno Bischofberger, an art dealer, (Dennis Hopper) for the first time 
and sells them some ignorant art.
     Thanks to my partner on this venture, Barrett Hong and his 
exacting and loving hand, Bowie and Hopper were camera ready when they 
were called to the set for rehearsal. (FYI Bowie was wearing one of Warhol’s 
real wigs and clothing borrowed from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburg. Some 
said they were the items he died in.)
     When the official rehearsal was over Bowie and Hopper sat there and 
rehearsed together while the crew climbed all over them to light the scene. 
I knew from having worked with Hopper before that he would nail his 
performance from the first line. So it was Bowie who was the big question 
for me. Could he pull-off a respectful Warhol?
     As the camera crew prepared for the first take I found myself a 
spot from where I could watch the scene. From the start I was mesmerized. 
I watched as these two pros went beyond acting and become the characters. 
I had studied acting at the Goodman Theatre and at the Lee Strasberg Institute 
and I’ve watched a lot of actors do their shtick over the years but I’d never 
seen anything like this. It was a perfect example of an actor stepping aside 
and embracing a character. Bowie captured many of Warhol’s mannerisms 
and quirks with little dialogue and no discernible effort.

     If you are an actor or simply someone who appreciates great acting 
do yourself a favor and watch this film. The performances by the all-star cast 
will take your breath away. And yet its David Bowie’s performance that stands 
out in my mind. I’m sure if the film had a wider release Bowie would have 
received an Oscar nomination.

     I’ve always found it difficult to deal with the passing of someone who 
was known not only for their talent but for their kindness as well. Thinking 
of David Bowie through the fog of time, I can’t remember a specific incident 
where he said or did something that would lead me to use the adjective Kind to 
describe him. Then it must have been something deep within his eyes or something 
that radiated from his soul that sustained the impression of kindness in my mind 
for all of these years. As it turned out I wasn’t alone in my feeling and 
observations about Bowie’s kindness. Many of the tributes to David Bowie alluded 
to the fact that the authors of those tributes were at once struck by both his 
innate kindness and his musical genius. Another tribute put it more succinctly when 
the author said that, and I paraphrase, Bowie’s kindness and musicality were 
one inseparable entity. Neither one could exist without the other. 

Artwork by Daniel de Culla