1980's Feed

An Appreciation of Bette Midler

Bette midler 1970s

 

Although I wouldn't call myself a devout fan, there's a soft spot in my heart for Bette Midler, a powerhouse of talent whose music, movies and TV appearances I've long enjoyed.  (Truth be told, I was also never a rabid fan of Judy, Marilyn, Liza, Barbra or Cher).  I wasn't yet living in New York during her Continental Baths years, never saw her perform live in concert, nor did I see The Rose or Beaches, but over a career that's spanned five decades I've had my share of exposure to her prolific creative output.  I'm happy she's had such a successful and enduring career (some might even refer to it as "divine").  Now, with her triumphant starring role in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, this seems a perfect time to salute her through my memories.

 

Bette midler hello dolly
In "Hello, Dolly!"

 

FAVORITE SONGS

My playlist is comprised of songs that were released between 1972-1977 and 1988-1992.  But nothing after 2000.

  • Friends (1972, The Divine Miss M) - Listening to it now, I find the line, "I had some friends but they're gone, someone came and took them away," chilling, since 10 years after the album was released this verse would hit home for many of us as the ravages of AIDS began decimating the gay community.  

 

Bette midler - divine miss m
Her first album

 

  • Do You Want to Dance? (1972, The Divine Miss M) - This was Bette's first song to enter the Billboard Hot 40.  I bought it as a single.  In the late 1980s Bette sued the Ford Motor Co. when it used a singer with a voice very similar to hers in a TV commercial.  A district court ruled against her but an appeals court overturned that decision.
  • Twisted (1973, Bette Midler) - A brassy cover of a song first released in 1952, the following year it was one of the tracks on Joni Mitchell's album Court and Spark.
  • I Shall be Released and Higher and Higher (1973, Bette Midler) - Both start out quietly, then build to a roar.
  • Strangers in the Night (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Remake of Frank Sinatra's classic, but with more pizazz.
  • Old Cape Cod (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - A cover of a song from the late '50s which Patti Page made famous.  When I'd walk at night in Provincetown on a moonlit night I'd have Bette's version playing in my head.

 

Provincetown - captain jacks wharf
Captain Jack's Wharf in Provincetown, a place I stayed a number of times when I vacationed in P-town.

 

  • Tragedy (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Not to be confused with the Bee Gees disco hit by the same name, this is beautiful, plaintive song.
  • Yellow Beach Umbrella (Broken Blossom, 1977) - This one always makes me think of the Club Baths, where I first heard this tune.  And it was perfect in that setting with lyrics that suggested anonymous encounters, such as "and nobody there will ever know me well", "gonna be a mystery to everyone", and "nobody there will ever find out who I am".  The song was previously recorded by Perry Como, Andy Williams and Three Dog Night, which I found very peculiar because the song has such a female vibe to it.

 

Bette_Midler_-_Broken_Blossom

 

  • The Wind Beneath My Wings (1988) - Schmaltzy as hell but I always loved it, and I liked its beautiful music video as well.  It was Bette's only chart topper.  Three years before she made it an overplayed smash I bought a 12-inch dance version by a group called Menage

 

Bette midler - the wind beneath my wings
Performing the song at the 2014 Academy Awards

 

  • Miss Otis Regrets (1990, Some People's Lives) - Written by Cole Porter in 1934, Bette revisits the genre that was her trademark early in her career.
  • From A Distance (1991) - Brings back memories of the first Gulf War.  It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Stuff Like That There and Billy-A-Dick (1991) - From the movie For the Boys, both songs were written during WWII, bringing Bette back to her roots when she was identified with tunes like the Andrew Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Glenn Miller's In the Mood.

 

Bette midler - for the boys
"For the Boys"
  • Ukulele Lady (1998, Bathhouse Betty) - A perfect, quirky with a retro feel to it that is vintage Bette.
  • In These Shoes? (2000, Bette) - This is a cover of a song by the late Kirsty MacColl from her 1996 album.

 

MOVIES I'VE SEEN

She's appeared in more than two dozen movies but I've only seen a handful: Big Business (1988, with Lily Tomlin); Ruthless People (1986, with Danny DeVito); Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986, with Richard Dreyfus); Outrageous Fortune (1987, with Shelly Long) and For the Boys (1991, with James Caan).

 

Bette midler - down and out in beverly hills
"Down & Out in Beverly Hills"

 

TV SHOWS, MAGAZINES, ETC.

Guest starred on Cher's CBS special (Feb. 12, 1975) along with Elton John.  This was one of the pop culture highlights of my senior year in high school.

 

Bette midler - 1975 cher special

 

In People Magazine's June 30, 1975 cover story, there was a photo of Bette planting flowers in front of her brownstone on Barrow St. (the block off Seventh Ave. South).  I live near this street and think of this photo every time I walk on that block.

 

Bette midler - people magazine

 

A great Vanity Fair cover as well as an amusing photo spread inside the issue (Dec. 1991).

 

Bette midler - vanity fair

Midler_vf

Bette midler - vanity fair mowing lawn

 

Serenaded Johnny Carson (May 21, 1992).  Perhaps the highlight of Johnny Carson's last week hosting the Tonight Show was Bette hopping on his desk and singing You Made Me Watch You.  This affection was sincere since Carson launched her career when she appeared on his show for the first time in the summer of 1970 (however, her first national exposure was earlier that year on the much less popular David Frost Show). 

 

Bette midler - johnny carson

 

Starred in the TV version of the musical Gypsy (Dec. 12, 1993).  It took 10 years of cajoling before the show's late creator, Arthur Laurents, agreed to allow the  project to go forward.  The telecast was the fourth most popular show of the week and it won Bette a Golden Globe (but no Emmy).  Sadly, the movie's director, Emile Ardolino, died from AIDS complications the week before the movie was telecast.

 

Bette midler - mama rose in gypsy

 

Appeared in an episode of Seinfeld (May 18, 1995).  Playing herself, she's injured after Jerry slides into her at a charity softball game (his girlfriend is Bette's understudy in a musical called Rochelle, Rochelle).  While recuperating in the hospital Kramer decides to take care of her and presents here with a tiny likeness of herself made out of macaroni ("macaroni Midler").

 

Bette midler - seinfeld

 

Her love of nature and the people of New York City was the impetus behind the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit that Bette founded in July 1995.  It has championed neglected community parks throughout the City, restoring them through clean-ups and the planting of trees and greenery.

 

Bette midler - new york restoration project

 

Starred in a CBS sitcom in 2000-01 titled Bette.  (In the pilot episode her daughter was played by 13-year-old Lindsay Lohan.)  Unfortunately, this show was not a hit, and it's since been used as a prime example of how a big name doesn't necessarily mean a show will be a success with viewers.

 

Bette midler - cbs sitcom

 

During the 2011 holiday season Bette was featured in a commercial for the Honda Acura as an over-the-top Christmas caroler.

 

Bette midler - honda ad

 

Finally, the Caricatures ...

Bette_midler_risko
Artist: Robert Risko

 

Bette midler - al hirschfeld caricature
Artist: Al Hirschfeld

 

Bette midler - david coles caricature
Artist: David Coles

 

And if the 22 images in this post leave you wanting more, try the 2000+ images on this Pinterest page devoted to the Divine Miss M.

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Documentary Explores High Hopes, Crushing Disappointment of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Merrily-playbill Best worst thing

 

In the spring of 1981 I read an article in TIME Magazine that enthusiastically reported on a collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince for the show Merrily We Roll Along.  Since I was still gaining my bearings as a young, single, gay man in New York I lost track of the show's progress, but the positive tone of the article stayed with me.  Years later I discovered that it was a huge flop, closing after just sixteen performances.  The show's trajectory is the subject of the documentary The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, which I recently saw at the IFC in Greenwich Village (just one of three theaters nationwide where it played).  It was directed by one of the three actors with a lead role in the show.  It's a touching film, capturing the giddy excitement of the young cast (who were between the ages of 16 and 24), followed by their crushing disappointment

 

Merrily we roll along_hal prince stephen sondheim
When "Merrily We Roll Along" was in development, Hal Prince was 52 and Stephen Sondheim was 50.

 

I was surprised to learn that Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame was in the show's original cast (and he'd win a Tony Award in 1990 for Jerome Robbins' Broadway, just as his TV fame was beginning).  The show was also where singer/cabaret icon Liz Callaway made her debut (at the age of 20).  And perhaps most interestingly, the documentary included interviews with the original lead, who was replaced during previews.  He was very gracious and now owns a talent agency.  (And according to the IMDB database he's had no other acting credits since, except for the 1981 movie Senior Trip.)

 

Original cast of merrily we roll along
The original three leads (from left): James Weissenbach, Ann Morrison and Lonny Price (who directed the documentary).

 

Cast change merrily we roll along
And with Weissenbach's replacement, Jim Walton

 

In 2000 I finally got around to buying the cast CD (which was recorded the day after the show's closing).  I was surprised to discover three songs I was already familiar with: Good Thing Going; Not a Day Goes By (first heard on Carly Simon's album, Torch); and Our Time (which I heard sung by the NYC Gay Men's Chorus).  Then in the winter of 2012 I saw a City Center Encores! production of the musical, and although I struggled during the first half hour or so, I became more engaged as the show went on.  (One of the main characters was played by Lin-Manuel Miranda.)  After seeing it I could understand why the show might have been off-putting to audiences as its themes of youthful ambition thwarted, lofty ideals compromised and friendships ended may have hit too close to home for many.  However, since its initial rejection by audiences, the show has been embraced by a an ever expanding group of appreciative theatergoers.

 

Lin manuel miranda in merrily we roll along
2012 City Center Encores cast, with Lin-Manuel Miranda (second from right).

    

Watching the documentary I thought back to my life in 1981, when I was the same age as some of the older cast members.  1981 was my third year working in New York, and the year I moved into Manhattan - first into a loft in TriBeCa (which was yet to be a chic neighborhood), and three months later to the West Village.  During Memorial Day weekend I visited Fire Island for the first time; another first came a few weeks later when I went to the hot new dance club, the Saint.  Later that summer I left my first job and went to work at the powerhouse ad agency, Young & Rubicam.  (At the time I didn't know that a few of the men I worked with were gay).  Then in November, a few weeks before Merrily had its opening, I met (at Uncle Charlie's bar in Greenwich Village) the man who I would have my the deepest relationship with. Finally, 1981 was also the year that the scourge that would become known as AIDS began to get news coverage. 

 

Double click here for a nice write up about the show's heritage.

 

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Remembering 'Two Guys' And Its Unintentional Gay-Affirming Ad Slogan

Two guys store

 

Gay men have regularly been the target of fire-and-brimstone types who admonish that, according to the Bible, two men who "lay" with each other is an abomination.  Happily, this never caused me any sleepless nights.  However, their admonition about forbidden love came to mind when I moved to New Jersey in 1979 to begin my first job across the Hudson in New York.  During my initial weeks I became aware of a chain of discount stores called 'Two Guys'.  What got my attention was the store's tag line, "Two Guys ... "Naturally".  I was taken aback, what was up with that?  This vexed and amused me all at the same time because it was diametrically opposed to what society was constantly telling homosexuals. 

 

Two_guys_naturally_yard_sign

 

I found it curious that no one else seemed to give it a second thought.  I suppose it was because 1) they grew up with the store and 2) if they were heterosexual they never had the "laying with another man" line thrown at them.  (This was different from the Ben Gay brand,  which everyone snickered at.)  And it wasn't as if the store was founded from a wellspring of enlightenment and tolerance since the first store opened in the gay Dark Ages of the 1940s.  Then I read about the store's history and I discovered that the word "naturally" was part of a longer tag line that was shortened from, "We save money for you at Two Guys ... naturally."  So this was just a matter of my gay wiring putting a comical, ironic spin to it (as we homosexuals are wont to do).  Alas, the chain went out of business in the early 1990s.  It was ironic that as gay men rose in acceptance the store with the peculiar, suggestive name foundered.

 

Two guys naturally tote     

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Paying Tribute to Paul Parker, Disco Divo

Paulparker Paulparker.olderTwo gay men with the last name of Parker made their mark in two areas of entertainment in the 1980s - Al Parker, a gay porn icon, and Paul Parker, sexy singer of high-NRG dance tracks that resonated with gay disco bunnies (me included).  Both were born in 1952.  Sadly, Al died young in 1992 (age 40), a casualty of AIDS.  Paul, happily, is still with us and at the age of 63 he's still ruggedly handsome.  Best known for his collaborations with openly gay producer Patrick Cowley (an even earlier casualty of AIDS than Al Parker, passing away in 1982), Parker's voice lended swagger to Cowley's futuristic techno sound. 

 

What I liked about Parker's and Cowley's music was that it was written and produced for a gay audience, played largely at gay clubs and never entered the mainstream.  And since so many dance classics were sung by women it was refreshing to have the image of the hot, masculine Parker in our minds/fantasies as we danced to his music.  His big hit, Right on Target, went to the top of the Billboard Dance Chart in July 1982 (vying with Laura Branigan's Gloria and Sylvester's Do You Wanna Funk? as the song of the summer).  He also provided the vocals for Cowley's Technological World and Lift Off, had another solo hit, Desire, in 1984 and in 1986 he and Pamala Stanley (two weeks older than Parker) had a popular duet, Stranger in a Strange Land.

 

Rightontarget.paulparker

 

Parker.stanley.strangerinstrangeland  

 

Since his heyday Parker has continued to sing professionally, with occasional under-the-radar solo albums and back-up vocals.  However, it doesn't appear that his performing/recording have been that extensive to keep him busy for the past 20 years, but his biographical material doesn't shed any light on other endeavors.  (I could easily picture the San Francisco native running a bed and breakfast in northern California's Russian River area).  In fact, until I began researching this post it had been years since I last heard anything about him, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was still alive - and had maintained his good looks as a sexy "silver daddy".

 

Paulparkergreatesthits

 


Celebrating the Producers: The High Priests of the Classic Disco Era

Bionicboogie Ginosoccio

 

 

After writing a post about Giorgio Moroder last year, in celebration of his first CD/LP in 25 years, I was inspired to write one about other acclaimed producers of Classic Disco.  Like fashion designers, each with their own unique style, every producer has his distinct "sound".  I've chosen a dozen dance maestros (including Moroder).  They range in age from 60 to 78; nine are still alive (interestingly, the three who've died were all born in the same year).  Half of them were born in the US.  Their hits include classics such as Risky Changes, One More Minute; Supernature; Dancer; and Relight My Fire.  And although their lush orchestrations or frenetic electronic beats made these songs mainstays at gay clubs, only one is (was) openly gay.

 

Boris Midney

Boris.midney.disco
At 83, Midney is the elder statesman of disco producers. With a background in jazz, he was looking to blend it with symphonic music, and disco gave him the opportunity. The creative force behind the groups Beautiful Bend and USA-European Connection, he is probably best known for the "Disco Evita" concept album.

 

Giorgio Moroder

Giorgio.moroder.1970s
Born in 1940, the king of techno began his career in Munich during the 1960s. His name is synonymous with Donna Summer when she shot to superstardom in the late 1970s with smashes such as "I Feel Love", "McCarthur Park Suite" and her double album, "Bad Girls".

 

Rinder & Lewis

Rinderandlewis
Lauren Rinder and W. Michael Lewis are both from LA. They had a background in Jazz and were embarrassed by their production of disco music - but they were very good at it.  R&L are best known for producing the groups St. Tropez, Le Pamplemousse and El Coco.

 

 Alec Costandinos

Alec.costandinos
Cairo born (1944), Costandinos is best known for his production of albums for the group Love & Kisses and his concept album "Romeo & Juliet".

 

Simon Soussan

Simon.soussan.discomusic
Soussan, of French-Moroccan ancestry, got his start in the UK in the early '70s with dance music known as Northern Soul. He produced disco hits by Patti Brooks ("After Dark"), Jessica Williams ("Queen of Fools"), Shalamar ("Uptown Fesitval") and Arpeggio ("Love and Desire").

 

Patrick Cowley

Patrick.cowley.dance.producer
Cowley is the one openly-gay producer on my list. His High-NRG style was epitomized by tracks such as "Time Warp" and "Menergy". He also produced popular collaborations with Sylvester and Paul Parker. His was an all too brief career as he died of AIDS at the beginning of the crisis, in November 1982, one month after turning 32.

 

Gregg Diamond

Gregg.diamond
Diamond is another producer who came from a jazz background. The group Bionic Boogie put him on the disco map, with their dance smashes, "Risky Changes", "Dance Little Dreamer" and "Chains". He also met with some success producing an album for the group Star Cruiser.  Diamond died in 1989 at the age of 49.

 

Dan Hartman

Dan.hartman
You can't get more middle-America as Hartman, who was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Perhaps it was his birthplace that gave his  music a distinct American sound. His "Vertigo/Relight My Fire" was probably the most popular disco hit of 1980. And the year before he first came to attention with the peppy "Instant Replay". He died in 1994 at the age of 44 from AIDS but led a closeted life.

 

Cerrone

Cerrone
Born in Paris, his first name is Marc but he went by his last name. He had a symphonic style and early in his career worked with Alec Costandinos. In 1978 he was named Billboard Music's 'Disco Artist of the Year'. His most popular song was "Supernature".

 

Nile Rodgers

Nile.rodgers.chic
If his output was limited to his group Chic, Nile Rodgers would still have a spot on this list, but he also produced hit albums for Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna and countless other top acts.

 

Gino Soccio

Gino.soccio.discoproducer
At 65, Soccio is the baby of the bunch. Best known for the smash "Dancer", he more or less left the industry after the backlash to disco music in the early '80s, a development he contends was purposely caused by record companies at the behest of rock musicians, who felt threatened by the genre and its appeal to hedonistic blacks and gays.

 

 DiscoProducers

 


Welcome Back, Giorgio Moroder!

Giorgio.moroder Giorgio.moroder.oldWhen I reminisce about the Classic Disco era it's sometimes a bittersweet experience because it brings to mind those stars who are no longer with us, such as Sylvester, Loleatta Holloway, Dan Hartman, Glenn Hughes (the Village People's leather man), Patrick Cowley, and Donna Summer.  (My parents likely experienced a similar sentiment when they thought back to the Big Band era.)  Happily, a legendary producer of the era, Giorgio Moroder, is still with us, and he recently released his first CD in more than 25 years, Deja Vu.  Now 75 years old, Moroder is a contemporary of Italy's other world-famous Giorgio, 81-year-old Giorgio Armani

 

I particularly like four tracks on this new CD (so much so that I bought them on iTunes):  Two of them, Right Here, Right Now (featuring Kylie Minogue) and Tempted are pop-oriented while Diamonds and Wildstar are dance-oriented.  Other artists who he collaborated with GM were Britney Spears, Sia  and Kelis.

 

Giorigo.moroder.dejavu

 

In my mind GM's name is forever linked with that of Donna Summer because he produced her string of double albums in the late 1970s.  However, he's also worked with a roster of other artists as well.  What follows are my favorites tracks that he's either had a hand in producing, writing or both.  Some were the biggest hits of their time while others are obscure gems (which somewhat adds to their appeal).

 

TROUBLEMAKER - Roberta Kelly (1976)

Moroder wrote this.  Great energy.

 

Roberta.kelly.troublemaker

 

TRY ME, I KNOW WE CAN MAKE IT - Donna Summer (1976)

18 minutes of languid disco without the moaning featured in Love to Love You Baby.

 

Donna.and.giorgio

I FEEL LOVE - Donna Summer (1977)

A song throbbing with the heat and ecstasy of sex.

 

Donnasummer.ifeellove

 

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY - Giorgio Moroder (1977)

The quintessential disco track.  With synthesized pulsing and swooping orchestral flourishes, this may be my favorite Moroder number.  And the song was further enhanced when hearing it play at The Saint.

 

Giorgio.moroder.fromheretoeternity

 

I'M LEFT, YOU'RE RIGHT, SHE'S GONE - Giorgio Moroder (1977)

From the same album as From Here to Eternity, it has the catchiest title of any on this list, and also the most downbeat storyline.  Never has despair been so danceable.

 

Moroder.synthesizers

 

I LOVE YOU - Donna Summer (1978)

A beautiful, exhilarating song about two people experiencing love at first sight.

 

Donna.summer.i.love.you

 

THE CHASE - Giorgio Moroder (1978)

An electronic instrumental from the Moroder-produced soundtrack for the movie Midnight Express, it won the Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack.  Although it was ubiquitous on TV shows and sports programming of the time it rose no higher than #33 on Billboard's Hot 100. 

 

HARMONY - Suzy Lane (1979)

Brings back memories of prowling the corridors of the Club Baths where music from disco station WKTU was piped in.

 

Suzi.lane.harmony

 

 

LUCKY - Donna Summer (1979)

Recounts an experience many of us had on more than one occasion, i.e., the realization that the trick you thought might be the "one" was just a one-night stand.  This track is from Summer's Bad Girls double LP.

 

Newsweek.discotakesover

 

CALL ME - Deborah Harry (1980)

Moroder's biggest hit, this track (from the movie American Gigolo) made New Wave palatable to the masses.  It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and was ranked as the top song of 1980.

 

FLASHDANCE (WHAT A FEELING) - Irene Cara (1983)

From the smash movie Flashdance, this was another huge hit, the third most popular song of 1983.  Moroder co-wrote it and won an Oscar for Best Song.

 

RUSH RUSH - Debbie Harry (1983)

This light and bouncy number belied the violence of the movie it was part of, Scarface.  It was released as a single but failed to make the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at an embarrassing 104.  I liked running to this song.

 

Debbie-Harry-Rush-Rush-182028

 

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK FROM METROPOLIS (1984)

The instrumental, Machines, and the songs Here She Comes (Bonnie Tyler) and Love Kills (Freddie Mercury) come from the soundtrack to Fritz Lang's remastered 1927 movie classic, Metropolis.  The melding of Moroder's musical style to a black & white silent film was largely met with derision. 

 

Metropolis

 

CARRY ON - Donna Summer (1992)

Returning to his dance roots, this won Giorgio and Donna won a Grammy for Best Dance Track - five years after it was first released in 1992.

 

Donna.summer.carry.on


Saluting The Kennedy Center Honors' Roster of Gay Inductees

Kennedy center honorsLike the Academy Awards and Tony Awards, a considerable number of gay men have an affinity for the Kennedy Center Honors because of its celebration of personalities in the performing arts.  Since the first awards were handed out in 1978 a steady stream of accomplished gay men have been chosen as honorees.  However, not until 2015 year was a self-proclaimed lesbian awarded the honor - Lily Tomlin.  (But rumored lesbians such as Mary Martin, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and Dolly Parton have been honored).  The ceremony takes place in early December, with the President and First Lady in attendance (the exception has been Trump and Melania); the telecast of the event usually airs a few days after Christmas on CBS.  Interestingly, the colors of the award's sash are those of the rainbow flag.  In 2002 DC's Gay Men's Chorus performed as part of the tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.

 

Lily.tomlin
2014 honoree, Lily Tomlin

   

23 of the 213 recipients (through 2019) have been gay.  In four of the years there were two gay inductees: 1979, 1986, 1993 and 2010.  (In 1989 Claudette Colbert and Mary Martin were honorees).  The longest stretch in which no gay honorees were named was the five years between 2005-2009 (this drought might be matched next year depending on 2019's announcement).  Conversely, between 1979 and 1988 every year but one (1989) had a gay recipient.   

 

GAY HONOREES   

To be considered, a candidate must be living at the time of their induction.  Of the 23 gay honorees (listed below), eight are still alive.  The first gay honorees were Aaron Copland and Tennessee Williams in 1979.  One glaring oversight was playwright and director Arthur Laurents (who died in 2011 at the age of 93).  Perhaps it was because of his prickly personality?

 

Bill.t.jones.kennedy.center.honors
Bill T. Jones

 

Aaron Copland (1979) - composer (died in 1990, age 90)

Tennessee Williams (1979) - novelist (died in 1983, age 73)

Leonard Bernstein (1980) - composer/conductor (died in 1990, age 72)

Jerome Robbins (1981) - choreographer (died in 1998, age 79)

Virgil Thomson (1982) - composer (died in 1989, age 92)

Gian Carlo Menotti (1984) - conductor/composer (died in 2007, age 95)

Frederick Loewe (1985) – lyricist (died in 1988, age 86)

Merce Cunningham (1986) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2009, age 90)

Antony Tudor (1986) - ballet choreographer (died in 1987, age 79)

Alwin Nikolais (1987) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1993, age 82)

Alvin Ailey (1988) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1989, age 58)

Stephen Sondheim (1993) - composer/lyricist (born in 1930)

Arthur Mitchell (1993) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2018, age 84)

Edward Albee (1996) - playwright (died in 2016, age 88)

Fred Ebb & John Kander (1998) - lyricists (Ebb died in 2004, age 76; Kander is still alive, born in 1927)

Van Cliburn (2001) - pianist (died in 2013, age 78)

James Levine (2002) - conductor (born in 1943)

Elton John (2004) - singer/composer/pianist (born in 1947)

Bill T Jones (2010) - dancer/choreographer (born in 1952)

Jerry Herman (2010) - lyricist and composer (died in 2019, age 88)

Lily Tomlin (2014) - actress/comedian (born in 1939)

Michael Tilson Thomas (2019) - conductor, pianist and composer (born in 1944)

 

Michael tilson thomas

 

Other lesbians worthy of consideration for future induction may include Jodie Foster, Cherry Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Cynthia Nixon. And Johnny Mathis, Terrence McNally, Tommy Tune and Richard Chamberlain are worthy candidates on the gay male side.  

 

GAY ICONS/DIVAS

Although not gay themselves, sixteen recipients, all women, have the distinction of being gay icons.  The most recent was Cher, in 2018.  Another icon, Maria Callas, likely would have been honored but she died the year before the first Kennedy Center Honors (at the very young age of 53).

 

Barbra.streisand.kennedycenterhonors

Ella Fitzgerald (1979)

Martha Graham (1979)

Leontyne Price (1980)

Lucille Ball (1986)

Bette Davis (1987)

Katharine Hepburn (1990)

Aretha Franklin (1994)

Judith Jamison (1999)

Angela Lansbury (2000)

Chita Rivera (2002)

Elizabeth Taylor (2002)

Dolly Parton (2006)

Diana Ross (2007)

Barbra Streisand (2008)

Barbara Cook (2011)

Cher (2018)

 

Kennedycenterhonors.cbs


When They Were Young: Gay Heartthrobs From the Past

FaintingBesides being very accomplished in their various professions, some of our gay forebears were also blessed with strikingly good looks (not surprisingly, many were products of Hollywood's star-making machine.)  What follows are those men, in alphabetical order, who turned heads and caused fainting spells when they were in their prime.

 

 

Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972)

Spanish fashion designer whose house of Balenciaga thrived in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Balenciaga.handsome

 

Alan Bates (1934-2003)

English actor especially known among gay audiences for his homoerotic wrestling scene with Oliver Reed in the 1969 movie Women in Love (whose screenplay was written by none other than Larry Kramer).  In the photo I've chosen I see a little bit of Zac Efron in Bates' facial expression.

 

Alan.bates

 

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Composing and conducting were just two of his many talents.  Somewhat gawky as a young man, Lenny came into his own as a sex symbol as he approached his 40s.  And as an older man he cut quite the dashing figure in his tux while conducting the New York Philharmonic.  In pop culture he's best known for composing the music for West Side Story and his series of Young People's Concerts on CBS.

 

Leonard.bernstein

 

Leonard.bernstein.dashingolder

 

Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

A critically acclaimed (four Oscar nominations), and handsome, actor whose good looks were marred somewhat after a serious car accident in the mid-1950s caused facial scarring.  This was the beginning of a downward spiral that ended with his death ten years later.

 

Montgomery.clift.young

 

Farley Granger (1925-2011)

Actor best known for his starring role in the 1948 Hitchcock movie Rope, which had a gay subtext.  Looked a bit like Eddie Fisher.

 

Farley.granger.young

 

Rock Hudson (1925-1985)

There's eye candy and then there is Eye Candy, and that would be Rock Hudson.  If People Magazine had been around in the 1950s and '60s he probably would have been chosen its Sexiest Man Alive multiple times.

 

Rock.hudson

 

Larry Kert (1930-1991)

Actor, singer and dancer, he's best known for his role as Tony in the Broadway production of West Side Story.  Then in 1970 he replaced Dean Jones in the role of Bobby in Company.  In this photo he somewhat resembles Liam Neeson.

 

Larry.kert

 

Arthur Laurents (1917-2011)

Playwright, stage director and screenwriter best known for West Side Story, Gypsy and La Cage aux Faux.  Had a reputation for being very difficult to work with (ask Patti Lu Pone) and burned many bridges (ask Stephen Sondheim).  This demeanor is probably what kept him alive into his 90s.

 

Arthur.laurents.young

 

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)

Poet and novelist who was executed in the early weeks of the Spanish Civil War.

 

Federico.garcia.lorca2

 

Jean Marais (1913-1998)

French actor (stage and screen), director and sculptor.  Wildly popular in France for his roles as a swashbuckler.  Had a 24-year relationship with novelist/poet Jean Cocteau. 

 

Jean.marais.young

 

Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007)

Not to be confused with Sherwin Williams, Mathews was a B-list actor whose roles ranged from Sinbad the Sailor to Johan Strauss (on the Wonderful World of Disney).  Reminds me of Paul Rudd

 

Kerwin.mathews.young

 

Sal Mineo (1939-1976)

Actor who rose to fame at a young age with roles in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and Exodus before he was 22 years old.  More cute than handsome, he tried to change his image as he got older and directed/starred in a stage production of Fortune and Mens' Eyes.

 

Sal.mineo.swimmingpool

 

George Nader (1921-2002)

Actor who appeared mostly in low-budget movies and TV series.  Perhaps best known for being pals with Rock Hudson, and some suggest they were romantically involved.  The photo below of them together brings to mind the even more famous poolside photo of Cary Grant and "roommate" Randolph Scott.

 

George.nader

 

George.nader.rock.hudson

 

Ramon Novarro (1899-1968)

Actor in the same mold as Rudolph Valentino, who was a contemporary.  (I have an acquaintenance, an accountant, whose name is Ramon Novarro.)

 

Ramon.navarro.young

 

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)

Acclaimed ballet dancer, he defected to the West from Russia when he was 23.  He and porn star/director Michael Lucas look as if they sprang from the same gene pool.

 

Nureyev

 

Al Parker (1952-1992)

The porn superstar of the 1980s, best known for such classics as Oversize Load, Heavy Equipment and Inches.  Not to be confused with '80s disco singer Paul Parker (Right on Target), who's still alive.

 

Al.parker

 

Anthony Perkins (1932-1992)

Boyishly handsome actor best known for his role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.  15 years later in the movie Mahogany he played the possessive/unhinged photographer who discovered Diana Ross's character.  Interestingly, his character's issues with his homosexuality were similar to Perkins' struggles in real life.  

 

Anthony.perkins.young

 

Howard Rollins Jr. (1950-1996)

Dramatic actor best known for his role as Coalhouse Walker in the movie version of Ragtime in 1981.  This was his first movie and he received an Oscar nomination for his role.

 

Howard.rollins.gq

 

Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008)

Although this world-renowned fashion designer wasn't leading-man sexy, he had a boyish appeal when he was first starting out.  Like Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift, St. Laurent's adult life was characterized by mental anguish.

 

Yves.st.laurent2.young

 

Tom Tryon (1926-1991)

Tryon was one of a number of actors I wasn't' familiar with when I began work on this post.  Others were Jean Marais, Kerwin Mathews and George Nader.  In his older years he was the spitting image of Mitt Romney.

 

Tom.tryon

 

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926)

Famed actor who looks very much like Cristobal Balenciaga and Ramon Novarro.  In many of the photos I've come across he's holding a cigarette.  (But he didn't die of lung cancer.)

 

Rudolph.valentino2

 

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

Novelist, essayist, writer of screenplays and an intellectual gadfly, Vidal wrote the novel Myra Breckinridge and created headlines when he and William F. Buckley Jr. got into a heated argument on TV during the 1968 Democratic Convention.  Vidal called Buckley a Nazi and Buckley called Vidal a queer.

 

Gore.vidal.young

 

Finally, some former heartthrobs are still alive, including Richard Chamberlain (80 years old) and Tab Hunter (83).  Of all the names on this list Chamberlain is the one most identified with TV, beginning with Dr. Kildare in the early 1960s.  And Hunter, besides having a movie career, is the only one to have a #1 song, Young Love in 1957.         

 

Richard.chamberlain
Richard Chamberlain

 

Tab.hunter
Tab Hunter

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gay Bowling: My Life In & Out of the Gutter

Gaybowling

 

Since I grew up in Pittsburgh I have bowling in my blood (Pittsburgh is part of the Bowling Crescent which extends up through Akron, Cleveland, Detroit and Toledo).  My parents both bowled in leagues, as did I in high school.  I even took a bowling class in college.  When I moved to New York after college I brought my ball and bag with me and for about three years, between 1981 and 1984, I bowled in a gay bowling league.  Twelve teams met every Tuesday at Bowlmor Lanes on University Place in Greenwich Village (there were also leagues on other nights).  My team was called '1001 Adventures', named after our captain's travel agency.  Besides the captain, Paul Albano, there was also Bo, Ron, Tony and myself (and Bo's twin sister, Linda, served as our alternate).

 

Although it was a fun way to socialize with sixty or seventy gay men,  this activity caused me some strife for a couple of reasons.  First, I had trouble converting spares.  My ball would go beautifully down the center of the lane but all too often one pin was left standing and I'd have trouble converting it into a spare.  This frustrated the hell out of me.  A second source for strife was the cruisy atmosphere, which created some friction between me and my boyfriend Rick (who didn't bowl).  I actually had an affair with one bowler and that precipitated a brief break up a few months after Rick and I moved in together in the spring of 1983

 

Bowlmor.lanes.university.place

 

Sadly, our team captain succumbed to AIDS complications in 1984.  He was only 43 years old and was the first person I knew to die from the disease.  Another teammate and the two fellows I had dalliances with also died later in the '80s.  Additionally, the elderly night manager of Bowlmor was murdered, beaten to death with a bowling bowl for the money in the cash drawer.  Finally, I became disillusioned when it turned out the president of the league was accused of pocketing our league's dues; because of this dues were being raised.  I quit after the 1984 season and never picked up my ball and bag from the locker.  I haven't bowled since.  (Just one month after writing this post I learned that Bowlmor had closed its doors - after 76 years of operation.  And in early 2016 the entire block was razed.) )

 

Bowlmor.murder

 

I realize I haven't painted a very rosy picture of my time at the alleys, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless (I particularly liked being scorekeeper).  And it wasn't all angst.  In fact, I won two trophies - for high series during the summer of 1982 and in fall/winter 1983 for rolling the highest score with handicap (236 + 50).  Thinking about it now, perhaps I should give it a second try.

 

Bowlingtrophy

 

 

 


Remembering Adventures at the Baths: A Gay Rite of Passage

Stackwhitetowels Vaseline RushBefore the onset of AIDS bathhouses were very popular with gay men.  After graduating from college in 1979 I moved to New York and, being a frisky 21-year-old, I felt like a kid in a candy store whenever I'd go to "the baths" - with a variety of different venues to visit.  I went on a regular basis for a little more than a year, from the spring of 1979 thru the summer of 1980.  Besides being exciting it was also a learning experience.   Most of the time I went to the Club Baths, but I also experienced Man's Country, St. Mark's Baths, the Everard and the Big Apple.  Besides being a place for anonymous hook ups, the baths, like bars, also served as a place for making friends.  (I can think of the names of eight guys I met there who I saw outside of the baths on a number of occasions.)  What follows is a synopsis of the venues I went to. 

 

THE CLUB BATHS

The Club Baths was part of a chain with locations across the US.  New York's "franchise" was on 1st Avenue near Houston St. next door to an Hispanic funeral parlor.  It had a lounge with a bar and TV and there was a swimming pool and sauna downstairs.  The price of admission got you a locker; for an additional charge you could rent a cubicle-sized room (with a cot and a door) for four hours.  I never rented a room since I preferred walking about the complex - and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of rejecting those I wasn't interested in (and there were many, especially since I was fresh meat and everyone wanted a taste).  For those looking for groups of guys to play with there was an orgy room, a movie room with bunks, and a maze.  Patrons walked around with a towel wrapped around their waists and opened it, or dropped it to the floor, as "opportunities" presented themselves.

 

Mark.beard_manintowel
Mark Beard, "Man in a White Towel"

 

My first trip on a New York subway was made during a visit to the baths.  I usually went on Saturday night, arriving around 9PM and staying until daybreak, when I'd fine myself on the subway with people who looked like they were going to church.  Since I lived in New Jersey at the time it wasn't an easy trip, but the fun that awaited easily motivated me.

Disco station WKTU played throughout the complex.  Whenever I hear songs such as Put Your Body In It (Stephanie Mills); Harmony (Suzy Lane); Street Life (The Crusaders); or Yellow Beach Umbrella (Bette Midler), warm memories come to mind.  The music would be regularly interrupted by the desk clerk announcing a room number whenever its four-hour rental was about to expire. 

 

Club.baths

 

THE BIG APPLE

The first bathhouse I ever went to was The Big Apple in the Times Square area - on Good Friday.  My first encounter was with a lawyer from Mexico City whose name was Javier.

 

Javier.fernandez  

 

ST. MARK'S BATHS

Located on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, the St. Mark's Baths had the reputation for attracting the hottest men.  The one time I went there was on a balmy October evening and the roof deck was open.

 

Stmarksbaths2

 

MAN'S COUNTRY

Man's Country was on West 15th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues.  Like the other bathhouses, it was multi-level with long, narrow floors.  What made it unique, however, was that upon entering one of the floors you came face-to-face with the front of a red semi with a trailer attached that guys went into to have sex.  This floor also held jail cells for more role playing scenarios.  A famous billboard for Man's Country was in Sheridan Square with the word "Come" dominating.

 

Come_mans.country

 

THE EVERARD

It was infamous for a deadly fire in 1977 that killed nine patrons.  It was located on 5th Avenue south of 34th St.  I went there in the winter of 1980 (it relocated a few blocks after the fire) and met a fellow named Gordon who I dated until the end of the summer.  I'd take the train up to his place in Poughkeepsie on weekends.  He is just one of the men I saw outside of the baths ...

 

NOT ALL ENCOUNTERS WERE ANONYMOUS

Perhaps the most interesting experience I had with someone I met was with Joey, owner of a car dealership in Westchester County, who took me out on his boat in the town of Harrison on Long Island Sound.  He picked me up on a Saturday morning in August 1979 and there were two children in the backseat of his car.  It turns out he was married, and while he and I went out on the boat to "relax" his wife and kids were back at the boathouse.

Dennis was a Catholic priest from Douglaston, Queens, who I met through a personal ad in the Village Voice.  Although I didn't meet him at the baths I introduced him to the Club Baths on a Friday when it was "Buddy Night" and two got in for the price of one.  Another fellow, Tom, a librarian from Scranton, PA, invited me to visit him but with the caveat that since he lived with his father we'd have to have sex in his car in the garage.  We spoke on the phone a few times but I didn't take him up on his invitation.

 

Man.white.towel

 

Bill was a guard at the US Embassy in Iran on Tehran's Teleghani Ave.  I met him in the summer of 1979, just a few months before embassy personnel were taken hostage.  Then there was Bruce (at first he told me his name was Rick), who was a chef at a restaurant on Cape Cod during the summer in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.  On one date he came to my apartment and made Coq au vin and showed me how to prepare asparagus.  Phillip, who lived in Inwood in northern Manhattan, was the first black guy I was ever with.

Mel was a former copywriter at McCann Erickson and lived on Staten Island.  I've only been to that borough a few times in my life and the first time was to visit him.  He took me to see the Broadway musical Whoopie and we also saw the Woody Allen film Manhattan.  His was the first uncut cock I ever "encountered."  One more thing - he was in his early 50s, my father's age.

Bill, originally from Milwaukee, was a temp at Touche Ross (before it became Deloitte Touche) and lived at an SRO on West 12th St. off 6th Ave. called the Ardsley House.  He took me to the Russian Tea Room for dinner.  He was smitten with me but I wasn't ready for a serious relationship.  His was the first of many hearts I've broken.

Don lived in Bethpage on Long Island and I visited him there on Memorial Day weekend 1979.  Upon coming back on Sunday I went directly to the baths and ended up meeting Joe from Bensonhurst Brooklyn.  On one of our dates we saw Alien in Times Square and during the movie his car was towed.  He had a share out in the Pines but he wouldn't take me because he didn't think I was ready.

 

Towel

 

My adventures at the baths ended once I started seriously dating someone in September 1980 (we didn't meet at the baths).  Many bathhouses closed by the mid-80s in the midst of a backlash caused by the onset of AIDS.  Today there are a few in business (e.g. The West Side Club in Chelsea), but they aren't nearly as popular as they were back in the carefree '70s.

 

Continental.baths
Poster for a 2013 documentary about the iconic bathhouse, which had its heyday before I moved to New York.

 

 

 

 

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