Raymond Burr. Robert Reed. Roddy McDowall. Agnes Moorehead. Paul Lynde. Dick Sargent. Tyrone Power. Cesar Romero. Danny Kaye. Both of the grandparents on The Waltons. What do all these stars have in common?
Well, the names of Agnes Moorehead, Paul Lynde, and Dick Sargent--all stars of Bewitched--should have been a dead giveaway. (Though even I was surprised at Will Geer and Ellen Corby of The Waltons.) All of these stars were Family. That is, figuratively speaking, my Family. They were gay or lesbian.
This really shouldn't be news to anyone. But this week I had an amusing E-mail exchange about this with my friend Danny B., who lives in the Saratoga/Adirondacks region. Daniel is a straight-but-not-narrow type, a "friend of the Family," if you will. As a little enterprise, Daniel likes to sell vintage movie star photos on eBay. This week, he E-mailed me about his research on his subjects, and how many of them turn out to be gay. I don't think he's really that surprised to find that the entertainment industry is filled with gay and lesbian talent; after socializing with us since he was in college, he's well aware that we're everywhere--and that we're more ubiquitous in some quarters than in others, especially in any creative profession. I just think he's been struck lately with how truly omnipresent we are--and how many of us have not, or do not, declare ourselves.
To the gay and lesbian community, the memo on this is so old that it's turned yellow and brittle and has to be kept hermetically sealed like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The story of gay talent being used, exploited, and profited from, but gays themselves being obliged to remain culturally and socially invisible--passing for heterosexual as some fair-skinned African-Americans were once given to passing for white, and many Jews used to pass for Gentile--is the most ancient text of our history. It was never truer than in Hollywood, the town and the industry that creates and sells American mythology and expects its players to embody the myths. And the most vigilantly guarded of myths has been the one about manly leading men wanting and being with only women in their off-screen lives, and actresses having only men for lovers and husbands. Acting is a profession that attracts homosexuals the way illicit sex seems to attract politicians, but the true identities of many of our screen idols remain cloaked like a Romulan Warbird. If they weren't, it's feared people would flee from the cinemas and turn off their TVs in droves, and vast fortunes would be in jeopardy. It's an empty, needless, futile, and wholly untrue fear, but there it is and it never goes away.
I shouldn't even have to be talking about this. It's the world's greatest non-secret, especially in these days of George Takei and John Barrowman and Ellen DeGeneres and T.R. Knight and Elton John and Dave Koz and Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang and Rupert Everett and Lance Bass and Reichen Lehmkuhl and Chad Allen and Rosie O'Donnell and...see, the list goes on. Even Vicki, the woman in Jay Leno's band, is a lesbian! It's the elephant in the room of the entertainment industry, the thing everyone knows and no one talks about. This very weekend, my science fiction posse, The Alternate Universe (see my links), is planning to gather at Albany's Lesbian and Gay Community Center and invite the Center's patrons to a game of "Name That Homosexual." This little invention of ours is based on the "Bid-a-Note" round of the game show Name That Tune, in which opposing teams bid to see in how few clues they can guess the identity of a famous gay or lesbian person, and not just from show business. ("I can name that homosexual in five clues...I can name that homosexual in two clues...NAME THAT HOMOSEXUAL!" We really ought to pitch this to Game Show Network, but all things in time, I guess.) Over the years, we've had plenty of material to work with, and the list has only grown longer. The secret remains open, very open--but in many quarters, the secrecy persists.
Much progress has been made with the cultural and social visibility of our people, and much progress remains to be desired. As I was telling Daniel, it reminds me of a song parody I wrote for the Alternate Universe Newsletter back in the early 90s. The lyrics remind us of the strides we've taken since then, and the strides we've yet to take. Want to know exactly what kind of twisted intelligence you're dealing with when you come to this Blog? Warble this one, if you so desire, to the tune of Lerner and Loew's Camelot:
The Bible Belt says Armageddon's nearing
And homosexuality's no good.
And we'll give in to everything they're fearing
The fundamentalists are all complaining
That loving one's own sex one never should.
So we'll keep closet doors locked and restraining
Hollywood! Hollywood! No queers in films or on TV.
Hollywood! Hollywood! As hetero as can be.
Appearances must stay close to the mainstream.
In private it's a fairy neighborhood.
So this is our refrain: My friend, we must maintain
That dykes and fags are nonexistent
Here in Hollywood!
Same-sex attraction can't be seen by children.
We think the public's mind is made of wood.
We'll play it straight and keep on making millions
Our stars, they never sleep with their own gender.
Be lesbian or gay, they never could.
And that's the way we make our legal tender
Hollywood! Hollywood! We're heterosexual through and through.
Hollywood! Hollywood! That's Tinsel Town to you.
So homosexuals with eyes on show biz,
Invisible you'll stay or it's no good.
For we perpetuate the image that we're straight,
So homophobes will line our pockets
Here in Hollywood!
Yep, we just love our show tunes, don't we...?