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A Queen of Kitsch Who Made the Whole World Sing

A Queen of Kitsch Who Made the Whole World Sing

Combining it all are the parties she hosts at home, a 1937 Streamline Moderne house by the California architect William Kesling, which she painted its current baby pink but otherwise has conserved. (Ms. Willis’s long-term partner, Prudence Fenton, an animator, artist and producer, lives elsewhere.) It was originally a party house for a nearby film studio (Warner Bros. and MGM are the best guesses) in the days when a trip home to Beverly Hills took six and a half hours on a dirt road. “I’m a serious party thrower,” she said. “I’ll tell you, that’s my No. 1 skill. I always had a music career, an art career, set designer, film and video, technology. The parties really became the only place I could combine everything.”

In certain circles, Ms. Willis’s parties are famous, and she spends weeks preparing games, activities, themes and costumes. The guest list is diffuse and inclusive, famous, infamous and unknown. “Angelyne, Toni Basil …” Ms. Adlon said, ticking off past guests. Joni Mitchell once won the prize for best dress made out of a Hefty bag, Ms. Willis recalled (she accessorized it with French fries and ketchup). Cher, she said, once won a game of “Tampax Toss,” bouncing a tampon attached to a Super Ball through a vintage toilet seat attached to a yucca plant.

Asked about those parties, Jenifer Lewis, the actress and singer, chortled. “Oh, honey!” she said. She is a frequent guest, a regular performer (“She’ll go on for hours,” Ms. Willis said) and has been for years. “Marc Shaiman took me to her house for a party, and I never left,” she said. “Everybody’s here! The Pointer Sisters are there! Nona Hendryx! Lily Tomlin! What’s her name! My baby girl — the children are there! The Gypsies! Oh, I hear we can’t use the word Gypsies anymore. Every other word in my goddamn book is ‘Gypsy,’ that’s what we were back then.”

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