He then went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Though he took some acting classes, he still felt that college wasnt for him. He returned to Atlanta and held a few odd jobs before enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1960).
While stationed in Connecticut, Wayland sojourned for the first time to New York City and saw the Broadway productions of Gypsy and West Side Story. He became convinced that musical theater was where he wanted to be, although he wasn't convinced that he would ever make it back to New York. After the Coast Guard, he returned to Atlanta and worked as an assistant manager at the Fox Theater and then as an assistant buyer at a department store. Finally in 1963 he reached the limit of his frustration. He packed his bags went to New York to see if he had any talent.
New York City & Madame
Wayland hitchhiked to New York, dreaming of making it in musical theatre. He arrived penniless and soon discovered that the competition for even the smallest roles was intense. In order to support himself he turned to his first love - puppetry. Nicolas Coppola, director of Nicolo Marionettes, remembers Wayland making the rounds to the New York puppet companies. With his excellent crafting and manipulating abilities and his obvious love of puppetry, Wayland soon landed a job with Dorothy Zaconick's Suzari Marionettes.
In 1964 Wayland answered an ad for puppeteers to perform with Bil and Cora Baird in a marionette show at the World's Fair Chrysler Pavilion.
Wayland then began working for Aniforms, a company that specialized in industrial shows using a very clever television technique often seen on Captain Kangeroo. During his time with Aniforms he would occasionally play with the witch puppet.
He began carrying this puppet to bars find pubs. He would set her on the bar or cigarette machine and tell jokes and chat with the clientele for tips. The clubs didn't book him, per se, but allowed him to perform whenever he wished because he was lively and entertaining. The puppet was still, however, a primitive version of her later glamorous incarnation. Wayland discovered he was very adept at the improvisation these settings required, and more of the character developed through this on the spot practice.
Eventually he began to make a real name for himself working in small New York night spots, but it wasn't until the summer of 1974 that he had the opportunity to fine-tune his performance style and brand of humor. Ho was booked to do a 15-minute pre-show act in the lounge of a Provincetown, Massachusetts hotel. Within a week, the crowds for Wayland's show were so large the lounge couldnt accommodate them.
Rise to Stardom
Two very important events occurred in the mid-seventies which were catalysis for Wayland's and Madame's rise to stardom. In 1974, Marlo Thomas commissioned Wayland to design a baby puppet for her television special Free To Be You And Me. Wayland received an Emmy from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences for his puppet design. Around this time he traveled Los Angeles to perform a show-stopping cameo appearance in Redd Foxx's film Norman, Is That You? The film gave him his first national exposure, More importantly, while in Los Angeles he made his cabaret debut at The Backlot, a popular nightclub. This exposure opened up The West coast market for him, and he was soon a popular fixture on the club circuit.
Regular appearances on The Andy Williams Show attracted the attention of Laugh-Ins producer, who booked Wayland in a revival of the television show. In her first special, Old is Somebody Else: Aging, Everybodys Doing It, Madame made a humorous exploration of how women age. Wayland received his second Emmy Award for this special. However, their best known early television appearance was on Hollywood Squares, where he and Madame replaced Paul Lynde in the center box.
Wayland was a 'blue comic' and Madame's opening line Wayland is no ventriloquist and I'm no fing dummy" - set the tone for the raucous humor to follow. He always insisted that no one under 18 be allowed to attend his stage performances. He admitted in an interview, Madame uses some dirty words. And there are complaints from time to time, but for the most part audiences aren't offended because Madame doesn't use the words for their actual meaning.
Wayland developed other characters for his stage show because there were stories and situations he wanted to present that werent really suited to Madame. Crazy Mary came on stage in a straight jacket, with a siren on her head and a perpetually dazed expression. She was very familiar with the ins-and-outs of the mental wards. She was a speed freak. Jiffy was a sassy, Southern Black woman who emigrated North to a lower class section of an unnamed urban area. She was a sometime nightclub singer and would often allude to her experiences as a 'lady of the night'. Baby Smedley (named after Wayland's grandfather) presented his unique high chair view of the world. He was the least developed character and was only used in two or three performances. Of all the characters, however, Wayland was especially attached to Madame, and she was the focal point of the show.
By 1979 Wayland was busy with a hectic touring schedule. He was honored for his work that year by The American Guild of Variety Artists with the "Specialty Act of the Year" award. He and Madame made another television special for Showtime entitled Madame in Manhattan. They also began a four-year stint on the television series Solod Gold, first with Andy Gibb and Marilyn McCoo, and later with Dione Warwick.
While working on Solid Gold, Wayland was signed
by Paramount for his own syndicated series Madame's Place. This
unusual comedy sitcom had Madame living with an eccentric suburban
family. As with all his television work, Wayland cleaned up Madame's
language for the show.
Their popularity was soaring. In Las Vegas, Reno,
and Atlantic City he was playing to capacity crowds In Hotel lounges,
but he still hadn't headlined in any of the big showrooms. The
hotel owners felt that a small puppet like Madame would be lost
on stage. Finally the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas took a chance.
With Wayland they created Madame Goes to Harlem, which stared
Madame. The show proved to be a huge success and ran for two years.
A year later, the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and Atlantic City revived
their famous dance ensemble as a showcase for Madame. His work
in these shows won him the 1981 Atlantic City Magazines
Entertainer of the Year Award Las Vegas 1981 Jimmy
Award for best specialty act.
His touring schedule was not just limited to nightclubs
and showrooms. During the early 1980's he performed at Radio City
in New York, the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, the Guthrie
Theater in Minneapolis, the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia,
and the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C, Perhaps his most important
engagement was at Symphony Hall in Atlanta. His mother attended
the show and saw him perform with Madame for the first time.
In 1982 he was honored for his creation of Madame
with the Sebastian International Fabulous Imagery Award, which
was presented to them both by Bette Davis. To round out Madames
persona, Wayland co-wrote the book Madame, My Misbegotten Memoirs,
a totally fictitious retelling of her rise Showtime gave Madame
her own television special titled Madame in Manhattan, which was
released on video, copies of which have since become a collectors
item on Ebay. Madame also performed for years in Las Vegas, most
notably starring in Madame Goes to Harlem in the main room at
The Sands Hotel.
Flowers since has passed away and a devastated Madame
has been in a self imposed exile for the past several years. I
stayed in my box for what seemed like an eternity to my many fans,
only coming out for the occasional dry martini and foot massage
a girl cant allow herself go to pot!
Madame is back, ready to
face the glare of the spotlight again. Ive been through
tough times but Im a survivor. I always tell people all
it takes is your own valet, a wardrobe staff and masseuse. Theres
nothing like healing with the help of a national TV audience.