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July 2012

Madonna Releases Her First Album (July 27, 1983)

220px-MadonnaTheFirstAlbum1983AlbumCover At the end of July 1983, a few weeks before celebrating her 25th birthday, Madonna released her self-titled first album.  However, it wasn't until 1984 that sales picked up steam.  That's when the album cracked the top 10 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums Chart, on the strength of her first top-20 single, Holiday, and two top-10 hits, Borderline and Lucky Star.  (The single Everybody was released nine months before the album but it didn't chart.)  Two other tracks, Burning Up and Physical Attraction, were popular in clubs.  1983 also marked the ascent of another gay icon, Cyndi Lauper.  And although Lauper's career started out more strongly, on the strength of her smash single Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Madonna eclipsed her within a few years.  Her career took off following a memorable performance of Like a Virgin at the first MTV Music Awards in 1984.  




In addition to Lauper, Madonna also had competition from a number of other female singers in the mid-80s, such as Taylor Dane (top, below), Regina Alisha and Stacy Q (middle).  Dane had a string of hits, but after some initial success, the others' careers failed to gain traction.  




Regina - Baby Love Cover 





Madonna_blindfold_erotica Madonna, however, was in a league of her own, constantly finding ways to create controversy, reinventing herself and demonstrating an uncanny ability to remain in the publc eye.  Like Lauper, her career was propelled by a devoted gay fan base.  And both performers have been huge supporters of gay causes, especially bringing attention to the AIDS crisis in its early years.  (Interestingly, the "gay cancer" was formally called AIDS by the CDC exactly one year before the release of Madonna's first album.)




"Absolutely Fabulous" Introduced to America (July 24, 1994)

AbFab The pleasure-seeking duo of Eddie Monsoon and her best friend Patsy Stone was introduced to American TV audiences the evening of July 24, 1994 when cable network Comedy Central began airing the popular UK sitcom Absolutely FabulousOther cast members included Eddie's disapproving teen daughter Saffie, her somewhat dotty mom, and daft office assistant Bubble.  The show was probably best known for Eddie's term of endearment, "sweetie darling".  Eddie and Patsy were played by British actresses Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.




Patsy_and_eddieAbFab was embraced by gay viewers not only for the show's high-camp quotient but also because many identified with Eddie and Patsy's tireless pursuit of being hip and glamorous.  The humiliating fixes Eddie and Patsy got themselves into were not unlike those experienced by Lucy and Ethel or Laverne and Shirley - but with a touch more debauchery (and a lot more booze).  And although it appeared that Eddie and Patsy had no redeeming qualities (their lives were more pitiable than fabulous) viewers were occasionally reminded that they were the products of mothers who were either distant (Eddie's) or completely absent (Patsy's).   


Some of my favorite AbFab memories:

  • Interviewed on a morning "chat" show, a stunned Patsy could only manage to say, "You can never have enough hats, gloves or shoes".
  • Eddie regularly brought up the fact that pop singer Lulu was one of her most famous PR clients.
  • During a trip to Morocco, Eddie and Patsy arranged to sell Saffie. 
  • In one episode Bubble became super efficient and arranged for Eddie to adopt a Romanian child, much to Eddie's horror.  It turned out it was a dream of Eddie's. 
  • After a humiliating night at an awards ceremony Eddie and Patsy woke up and found themselves on a garbage barge in the middle of the Thames. 


In 1995 CBS produced a bowlderized version of AbFab called High Society, starring Jean Smart of Designing Women fame and Mary McDonnell (who later starred in the Battlestar Galactica TV series).  It aired on Monday but didn't catch on with viewers and aired just 13 episodes over two half seasons. 



The Death of Tormented Actor Montgomery Clift (July 23, 1966)

Montgomery clift smiling Montgomery_clift2The vast majority of troubled entertainers who have died prematurely, many of whom are gay icons, have been women, e.g., Marilyn, Judy, Billie and Dinah.  One of the few men on this list is actor Montgomery Clift.  He was found dead in bed in his New York apartment the morning of July 23, 1966; he was 45.  The cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but a major contributing factor was the cumulative effect of pain killers and liquor.




Montgomery. clift 


During the first half of the 1950s Clift was considered one of Hollywood's finest actors, but his life went into a tailspin after he was seriously injured in a car accident in 1956.  He made eighteen movies during his career and was nominated for an Oscar four times - but never took a statue home (Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton were each nominated seven times without winning).  The movies were:

  • The Search (1948)
  • A Place in the Sun (1951)
  • From Here to Eternity (1953)
  • Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)


Montgomeryclift_elizabethtaylorLong before his accident, Clift abused pills and booze.  Additionally, he was a closeted homosexual in the habit of picking up strangers and male hustlers, often finding himself in trouble that had to be cleaned up by his agent or movie studio.  He was moody, insecure and an outsider to Hollywood's A-list.  However, he counted Elizabeth Taylor as a close friend (they appeared together in A Place in the Sun; Suddenly Last Summer; and Raintree Country




Gay Son on TV Drama "Political Animals" is a Refreshing Mess

Political_animals_tj_hammondGay TV characters of late seem to be either sainted daddies, bitchy fashionistas, or winsome quipsters.  It's been years since a drug-addled, self-loathing, suicidal homosexual stumbled across our TV screens.  Until now.  In USA Network's limited-run political drama, Political Animals, which aired in the summer of 2012, TJ Hammond (played by cutie Sebastian Stan) was the openly gay son of Secretary of State Elaine Hammond (played by Sigourney Weaver), and he was a mess. 


Not since Queer as Folk's mild-mannered accountant, Ted, became addicted to crystal meth had a character been depicted in such an unappealing fashion.  But it was actually a refreshing change from the abundance of politically correct, "we're like everyone else!" portrayals.  


James_wolk Ben_benson_madmenElaine also had a straight son, Doug, played by actor James Wolk.  After USA decided not to renew Political Animals for a second season, Wolk turned up in a brief role as the gay love interest of Max on the ABC sitcom Happy Endings (since cancelled).  Then he was cast in Season 6 of Mad Men as eager-beaver account executive Ben Benson (pictured, near left), a character, who it turns out, may also be "family".  And most recently, he now co-stars on another show about advertising, the CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones.  

"Soul Makossa" Ushers In the Disco Era (July 22, 1973)

220px-Manu_dibango1 SoulmakossaDuring the summer of 1973 Cameroon-born saxophonist Manu Dibango's Soul Makossa became the first "disco" record to enter the top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart (peaking at #33).  A song with African rhythms and tribal incantations ("ma-ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ma-kosa"), its mainstream success was a bit of surprise.  Since then a long list of artists have sampled parts of the song, the most popular being Michael Jackson's Wanna be Starting Somethin' (1982) and Rihanna's Don't Stop the Music (2007).     


A year passed before disco songs began appearing regularly on top-40 radio playlists.  For the most part they had a more accessible "pop" feel than Makossa - Gloria Gaynor's Never Can Say Goodbye; Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation; KC & the Sunshine Band's That's the Way I Like It; and Vicki Sue Robinson's Turn the Beat AroundBillboard published its first "Disco Action" chart in autumn 1974.  


Gay_discoThese mainstream dance hits were popular in gay clubs as well, but there was a list of "parallel" hits that never made it beyond gay circles, making them even more cherished - songs like Cocomotion, Spank, Puff of Smoke, I Need a Man, Hot Shot, and Hold on to My Love


Click here for a more in-depth account of Soul Makossa and its place in the disco-dancing pantheon. 

Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in Canada (July 20, 2005)

Canada_gayprideCanada became the fourth nation to legalize same-sex marriage on July 20, 2005 (following the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain).  By the time the legislation, known as the Civil Marriage Act, was approved, all but two of the country's provinces had already passed legislation in favor of same-sex unions in their jurisdictions (Ontario was the first province to do so on June 10, 2003).  This came one year after Massachusetts became the first US state where same-sex marriages were legal.


Samesexmarriage2In the ten years since then eighteen more nations have legalized same-sex marriage - including the United States.  Back in 2012 President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage; one year later the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); and in June 2015 the Court struck down all remaining state bans, making it legal nationwide.  The combined population of those nations where same-sex marriage is legal is more than 900 million, about 13% of the world's population.


When Marcie Met Peppermint Patty (July 20, 1971)


Peppermint_patty_marcieHere's a question that wouldn't look out of place on an SAT exam: Which pair doesn't belong?

  • Betty & Wilma
  • Betty & Veronica
  • Lucy & Ethel
  • Laverne & Shirley
  • Peppermint Patty & Marcie? 


Of course, the correct answer is Peppermint Patty and Marcie as they are the only duo with hints of a lesbian vibe between them.


Nearly 20 years before the smitten Waylon Smithers and Mr. Burns were introduced on The Simpsons, Marcie made her first appearance in the comic strip Peanuts as Peppermint Patty's devoted friend.  She was famous for always addressing Patty as "sir".  The strip introducing her ran on July 20, 1971. 


Smithers_and_mrburns While not as obvious as the deep crush Smithers has for his boss, Mr. Burns, there is something unspoken going on between the two girls - even if they are unaware of it (and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz denied it).  And the fact that the two of them have vied for Charlie Brown's attention suggests that their radars aren't working properly.  After all, what straight girl in her right mind would be interested in Charlie Brown?  ("Girly-girls" Lucy and Violet certainly aren't.) 


And the debate rages on in the salons of Northampton, Smith College, Cherry Grove and the Cubby Hole in Greenwich Village.





Showtime Sitcom "Web Therapy's" Gay Pedigree

Lisa_kudrow_webtherapyThe delightfully biting sitcom Web Therapy debuted on Showtime the evening of July 19, 2011.  It follows the travails of Fiona Wallace, played by Lisa Kudrow, a self-centered, impatient and somewhat caustic therapist who conducts three-minute sessions online.  All of the show's action is shown on two computer screens. And although Kudrow is its star, the show has quite a gay pedigree. 



Dan_bucatinskyDon Roos (who directed Kudrow in her first film after Friends, the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Sex) and his husband Dan Bucatinsky are its co-creators along with Kudrow (Bucatinsky also plays Fiona's assistant, Jerome, pictured); out actor Alan Cumming plays a womanizing media mogul; another openly gay actor, Victor Garber, portrays Fiona's long-suffering closeted husband of 17 years, Kip; and Lily Tomlin plays Fiona's mother.  Finally, Rosie O'Donnell plays the put upon and devoutly Catholic assistant of Alan's character. 



Victor garber and lisa kudrow web therapyA few weeks after watching a handful of episodes I was on the uptown subway platform at 14th St. waiting for the 1 train and saw Victor Garber waiting as well.  Not one to usually approach a celebrity, I was emboldened by his character so I walked up to him and told him how much I enjoyed his role and how refreshing it was to see him in a comedic role.  He was very gracious.


Men's Fashion Ads That Tease & Tantalize

The old trope about a picture being worth a thousand words is especially true when it comes to fashion advertising.  In fact, the six ads I've chosen here rely entirely on photographs - there's not one line of copy.  And upon looking at the selection of ads below the first word of each readers' thousand is likely to be "wow".



Famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe snapped this breathtaking photo for this short-lived (and not very highly regarded) apparel company which flamed out in the late 1980s.  It hit the skids when its financial backer, a notorious personal banker, art connoisseur and social climber named Roberto Polo, was jailed in Italy for misappropriation of client funds.





If you didn't know that Rockport sold shoes you'd be hard pressed to figure out what this ad was selling.  But it's a pleasure gazing upon the ad and trying to figure it out.  In business for more than 40 years, Rockport, based in Massachusetts, is now a subsidiary of Reebok International.






Sex appeal conveyed in a gritty, blue collar setting.  Part of this ad's appeal is guessing what the model looks like from the front.  (And why is he looking down?)





Ladies and gentleman, introducing the Versace iron!  Wait, I think it's the shirt that has the Versace label!  This ad is a classic from some 30 years ago.





Most likely the carefree model is skipping off to some oh-so-fabulous destination.  BV is a nearly 50-year-old luxury brand best known for its leather accessories.  The company is a subsidiary of Gucci and is headquartered in Italy.





Nothing brings attention to a shirt like one that is unbuttoned and opened wide (or, as in the case here, almost off), affording a view of a beautiful chest.  (However, a warning label should be at the bottom of the ad that reads: your results may differ.)  Alex Cannon is a menswear company that's been in business since 2003.  The label is sold at Lord & Taylor and a number of specialty stores across the U.S.



The Baffling Murder of Gianni Versace (July 15, 1997)



Gay serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy claimed many more victims than Andrew Cunanan.  However, Cunanan may be more famous because the last of his five victims was world famous fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was gunned down in broad daylight the morning of July 15, 1997 in front of his mansion in Miami's swanky South Beach neighborhood.  He was 50.  Seventeen years later the motive behind this sensational crime continues to be a mystery.  Did the openly gay Versace even know Cunanan and if he did, under what circumstances?  How was it that Cunanan happened to be in front of the mansion when Versace went out to pick up coffee and magazines, something he did infrequently?  And why did Versace have $1,200 in cash in his pocket?




The 27-year-old Cunanan walked away after the shooting and became a fugitive.  Eight days later he committed suicide on a houseboat not far from the murder scene.  He took his life the day after the grand memorial service for Versace was held in Milan.  Among the countless A-list friends/clients who attended were Princess Diana and Elton John.  Sadly, many of the same people would be in attendance at Diana's funeral less than two months later.    




Twenty-one years later, in the winter of 2018, a nine-part mini-series that attempts to unravel the mystery about the murder, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, aired on the FX cable network.  It starred Edgar Ramirez as Versace, Darren Criss as Cunanan, Ricky Martin as Versace's boyfriend, Antonio, and Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace.  Ryan Murphy was executive producer and directed the first episode.


 Versace in swimming pool



Versace mini-series