Photograph by Joel Benjamin
Cross-dressing cult figure, domestic doyenne, TV personality and cookbook author Brini Maxwell was born and raised in Wellesley and moved to Ohio before graduating from high school in Kansas City. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology and working in the industry in New York, she launched her eponymous program on local access cable and quickly became such a hit that the show was picked up by the Style network.
Advocating a unique blend of mid-century aesthetics with a modern flair, she is the author of Brini Maxwell’s Guide to Gracious Living: Tips, Tricks, Recipes and Ideas to Make Your Life Bloom, in addition to host of The Brini Maxwell Show.
In early June, she rode the Yale Appliance and Hardware float in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade. She lives in New York.Jonathan Soroff: First of all, are your legs insured by Lloyds of London?
Brini Maxwell: [Laughs] Yes, they are. If I lose them they have to replace them.
JS: How do you keep your girlish figure?
BM: A lot of cinching. I have a wonderful corset-maker.
JS: Ever feel like bitch-slapping Martha Stewart?
BM: Not at all. To each her own, darling. I think Martha has contributed so much. I think she has priority issues. That’s her thing to work out, but I have nothing bad to say about her.
JS: You’re the perfect lady. Do you ever curse?
BM: No, goddamn it!
JS: I used to tell my mother she was like Donna Reed on Prozac. How would you describe yourself?
BM: There’s a quote from Guy Trebay that I’ve always used, which is that I’m consider myself “the prototypical prefeminist 1960’s homemaker”
JS: One thing all chic gals should have in their closets?
BM: A sachet.
JS: Ten friends suddenly show up on your doorstep. How do you entertain them?
BM: Well, I always have some cheese in the fridge. But if you want them to leave, just break out the smoked oysters.
JS: Celebrity you’d most like to entertain at home?
BM: Good question. Most of them are dead.
JS: Well, we’ll dig them up for you.
BM: It would be marvelous to have Bette Davis to tea. Or Audrey Hepburn at dinner. And frankly I’d like to have Joan Crawford, too, but not on the same day as I have Bette. Not a good idea.
JS: Who would you rather serve tuna casserole to: Ozzie Nelson or Dick van Dyke?
BM: Well, I’ll tell you: I met Dick van Dyke. It was rather shocking. I had just done a book signing on Sunset Boulevard, and then I met some friends at a café. Who comes ambling up with his wife but Dick van Dyke, and I thought, “This is too surreal.” I jumped up from my seat, and I’ve never been much of a gusher, but I couldn’t help myself.
I said “Mr. Van Dyke, I so enjoy your work,” and he pulled out a card and said “Can you tell me where this gallery is?” I was shocked how… not tall he is. So that’s my answer. I’d love to break tuna casserole with Dick van Dyke.
JS: Favorite thrift store find of all time?
BM: I’d have to say the one that started my television show: a set of 1950s Pyrex mixing bowls. I got them at the Salvation Army. They’re blue and white and they’re just darling. I found them for $15, and I was very pleased with myself.
But while I was putting them away, I realized they were for food preparation and no one would ever see them. I was despondent for days. I wouldn’t talk to anyone and just moped around the house, until I realized that if I did a television show with a cooking segment, everyone could see my mixing bowls. And that’s how it started.
JS: I’m not sure if I’m disturbed or charmed by that story. Where do you stand on TV dinners?
BM: They make great doorstops.
JS: Which do you prefer for a casual family meal: Meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, or Shake ‘n’ Bake?
BM: I have a wonderful macaroni and cheese recipe, so I would stand firmly on macaroni and cheese… but only in theory. Not in high heels.
JS: Are pigs in a blanket an appropriate hors d’ouevre for any occasion?
BM: Well, I don’t know that you’d serve them at a coronation, but certainly for most anything else.
JS: Is avocado the best color for kitchen appliances?
BM: There are three colors for kitchen appliances: Avocado, Harvest Gold and Burnt Orange.
JS: Floral prints: Do they hide a multitude of sins?
BM: Floral prints expose a multitude of sins. Floral prints are one of the sins they seek to hide.
JS: So what do you suggest in their stead?
BM: Solids, stripes and subtlety.
JS: Who would you guess is a better cook: Martha Stewart or Julia Child, or you?
BM: I think we’d all have to defer to Julia Child. And although I love to cook, I don’t consider myself a great chef. I’m more of a visual person. I know how to create wonderful food for entertaining and everyday life, but it’s not my first skill.
JS: What is?
BM: I’d say design.
JS: OK, what’s the best way to brighten up a hospital room?BM: Leave. I think a hospital room is much happier when it’s empty.
JS: Single biggest sign of a gracious homemaker?
BM: Relaxation. This is very important. When you’re entertaining, the most important thing is that you be comfortable, because if you are, you guests will be as well.
JS: Favorite household tip?
BM: Probably using lighter fluid to remove the skidmarks from your wedgies. It just works wonders.
JS: Favorite spice?
BM: Probably Baby Spice. Oh, you mean like for cooking? Let’s see. I’m standing in front of my spice rack as we speak, and I’d have to say chives, although they’re more of an herb.
So if you’re going to hold my feet to the fire about requiring an actual spice, I’d have to say cinnamon. But chives have a special place in my heart.
JS: How do you get red wine out of a carpet?
BM: White wine. And a bit of seltzer. But you have to get it right away, and remember to blot. And if that doesn’t work, try a product called Kaboom.
JS: How do you keep lipstick off your teeth?
BM: Well, there’s that rather vulgar trick of putting your finger in your mouth, closing your lips around it and drawing your finger out, but that’s something best done in private.
JS: So who the hell is Heloise and where the hell does she get her helpful household hints?
BM: Heloise is the second generation of Heloises and she gets her tips from her mother, the other Heloise.
JS: Is there some secret society of domestic divas?
BM: Well, I may have to go into the witness protection program for admitting this, but yes, there is a secret society, and we all belong to it. Martha belongs to it, too.
JS: What about Nigella Lawson?
BM: Oh, no, she’s only a food person, so we blackballed her.
JS: Favorite unconventional use of a cucumber?
BM: Garnish, darling! Garnish!
JS: Does Mayonnaise belong on everything?
BM: Mayonnaise should be used sparingly, but it’s a great binder.
JS: Last question: When will we see the Brini Maxwell line of home furnishings at Kmart?
BM: Well, initially you won’t see it at Kmart. You’ll see it very soon. In fact, I’m launching a new pillow line, but they’re going to be frightfully expensive because I can only afford to produce domestically to begin with.
But perhaps they’ll give everyone some ideas about what they can do themselves, and hopefully, someday I’ll be able to produce off-shore and create a line of more budget-priced home accessories.
JS: Brini, you’re a goddess.
BM: Well, thank you, dear.