It’s Oscar night! But Mike Henderson celebrates Hollywood every day
Tonight, CTV airs the Academy Awards, an event that celebrates Hollywood glamour and the memorable movies of the past year. But for Mark Henderson, the fantasy of film and TV surrounds him every day.
In his stunning apartment in the heart of the Gay Village, Henderson’s favourite piece of Hollywood nostalgia is ensconced in a display case. It’s a 1964 Jim Beam whiskey bottle painted purple with an elaborate design to resemble the vessel that housed the titular character of “I Dream of Jeannie.” It shines from the sunlight pouring through the room.
Bought at a silent auction in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, the bottle originally belonged to Barbara Eden, who played the cheeky genie in the classic 1960s sitcom. Over the years, the actress has received many such bottles crafted by fans. “I love this bottle because I see it as a metaphor,” Henderson says. “Inside the bottle we’re trapped and lonely, but outside the bottle, anything can happen. Magic can happen.”
Magic. It’s a word that comes up a lot when talking to Henderson, who collects and makes things that remind him of his beloved films and shows or evoke an atmosphere of grace and elegance. Henderson even owns an authentic Oscar statuette, although one that went unawarded and lacks a name plaque.
Magical also sums up the picturesque look and layout of his apartment. Pink wallpaper patterned with big windows and antique chairs covers one living-room wall, affecting the appearance of a classic European ballroom. Plastic butterflies crown the entrance to the living room, where two glass slippers are on display. One is a replica of the Cinderella shoe Lillian Disney, the wife of Walt Disney, reportedly kept on her desk. The other, decorated with Swarovski crystals, resembles the one worn by Lily James in the 2005 film “Cinderella.”
His vintage floral armchairs and gold-etched lampstands add to the 18th-century ambiance, complemented by a Royal Antoinette tea set he purchased from the Singing Lady, a consignment shop on the Queensway. Wearing a billowing white ballgown he made himself, a gray vest and beige Burberry tie — which is partially covered by his long, curled white beard — the shaven-headed model and actor (who has also been an extra at the Canadian Opera Company) blends in perfectly with the ornate environment he’s cultivated over the years.
He’s happy to discuss his brushes with Hollywood stars, such as his on-set chat with Carrie Fisher while they were shooting the 2012 TV movie “It’s Christmas, Carol!” “I felt I knew her by the end of our three days together,” he says.
He can also talk about his admiration for Judy Garland, Steven Spielberg’s early years as a filmmaker and about how he is inspired by the success of Jayne Mansfield and Joan Rivers. But don’t ask him about contemporary movies. “I can’t do it,” he says with a heavy sigh. “There’s too much violence in them, and I’ve had enough violence in my life.”
Henderson then recalls the most horrific trauma he ever experienced: On Halloween night in 2001, he survived a brutal assault by serial killer Bruce McArthur, long before men being attacked in the Gay Village made headlines. Henderson suffered a fractured skull and finger and needed to undergo six weeks of physical rehabilitation.
“Safety and peace of mind are my only goals in life right now,” Henderson says, “and I want to be surrounded by beautiful things.”
It’s a theme that began when he was bullied as a young boy in his Oshawa area school, where he turned to sewing his own clothes and costumes to escape into fantasy. “One of the first things I made was adding fur to my winter gloves, to look like Roddy McDowall in ‘Planet of the Apes,’” he remembers. “My mom said that other kids will make fun of me, but I told her, ‘Who cares, they’re the bourgeoisie!’ I was seven.”
He carried on that avocation into adult life, amassing a trove of handmade gowns and rhinestone-covered shoes, often using materials from Fabricland and Dollarama. His happy place, he says, is creating attire that exudes an old-Hollywood feel: grace, beauty, style.
He joyfully shares his costumes and much more with his 66,000 subscribers on TikTok. “I have afternoon tea regularly on TikTok, and other people join me,” he says. “It gets so busy on the livestream, I have trouble keeping up with all the comments scrolling by.”
But his social media activity is not all about him. “These videos aren’t for the kids who are cheerleaders or jocks,” he says. “I’m doing this for the kids who feel lonely, feel different. And I want to show that lonely sad kid that it’s OK to be different, that someone like them is out there.”
Henderson wants to be remembered not just for his videos, but also for his style and flair and love of costume design. “If I die,” he says, “please write, no matter what, that my cause of death was glitter.”