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"The Lost Language of Cranes" Airs on PBS (June 24, 1992)

David_leavittLost_language_of_cranes_novelAuthor David Leavitt (pictured) was only 25 when his novel The Lost Language of Cranes was published in 1986.  Six years later it aired on PBS on the evening of June 24.  (Cranes was produced by the BBC and first aired in the UK in 1991.)  It tells the story of a young man, Philip, who comes out to his parents and later learns that his father is a closeted homosexual.  Although the novel is set in New York City, the movie, perhaps because it was produced by the BBC, takes place in London.  When it aired in the US a number of scenes showing frontal nudity were edited out. 

 

Lost_language_of_cranesI wasn't familiar with the novel so it wasn't until I watched the PBS telecast that I learned that the "cranes" weren't the birds but rather mechanical ones at seaports that lift cargo in and out of ships.  (However, this is never fully developed to show how it tied into the story.)  An interesting subplot concerns Philips boyfriend who is the adopted son of a gay couple, which seemed quite progressive for the early 1990's.  (One of the father's was played by openly gay director John Schlesinger.)

 

Lost_language_of_cranes_pbsBefore Cranes there had been TV movies in which either a child or a parent dealt with his/her homosexuality, but this was the first to have a parent and a child both coming to terms with their homosexual nature.  As the movie ends life for father and son appears to hold promise but the wife/mother is left with perhaps the greatest challenges.  (One line of dialogue I remember most vividly was spoken by Philips exasperated mother in response to her husband's revelation and the fact that her son is also gay.  She says "My life's the punch line of some stupid joke.")      

 

 


Julie Andrews & Ann-Margret Star in AIDS Drama "Our Sons" (May 19, 1991)

Julieandrews_oursons In 1985, in the early years of the AIDS crisis, the TV movie An Early Frost aired.  Six years later, with AIDS-related deaths numbering over 100,000, and climbing steadily, another AIDS drama, Our Sons, aired on ABC.  (Both movies were directed by John Erman.)  Starring Julie Andrews, Ann-Margret and Hugh Grant, Our Sons tells the story not only of how AIDS impacted families, but how mothers dealt with their children being gay.  The movie happened to air the same day as GMHC's annual AIDS Walk in New York.  

 

Hugh_grant_oursons Julie_andrews Andrews portrays Audrey Grant, a buttoned up businesswoman from Southern California.  At the behest of her son (Hugh Grant) she travels to Arkansas to deliver the news to Ann-Margret's white-trash character, Luanne Barnes, that her estranged son is dying of AIDS.  (Despite both being British, Hugh Grant had an American accent but not Julie.) 

 

Ann_margret_oursons Audrey has a strained reltaionship with her son while Luanne wants nothing to do with hers.  Their vastly different backgrounds leads the mothers to clash, eventually driving Audrey to scream at uncaring Luanne, in Dynasty-like fashion - "He's dying, you bitch!"  Ultimately, there was resolution as Audrey and Luanne bonded over shared feelings about coming to terms with their sons' homosexuality.

 

Although I wouldn't call the ending "happy", Luanne went to California and was with her son when he died and had him buried in Arkansas.  As often happens, movies from different eras seem quaint and outdated when viewed in the present, as is the case with this movie.  Nonetheless it was a brave undertaking at that time considering the dearth of open discussion about AIDS.    


Mario Lopez Portrays Greg Louganis in TV Movie "Breaking the Surface" (March 26, 1997)

Mario_lopez_greg_louganisGreg_louganis2In 1995 diving legend Greg Louganis' autobiography Breaking the Surface was published and it became a best seller.  In it he discussed how he developed into a champion diver; his torturous coming out process; and his revelation about being HIV+.  Two years later the book was made into a TV movie that aired on March 26, 1997 on cable's USA Network.  Starring 23-year old cutie pie Mario Lopez (far right), his portrayal was somewhat wooden - but this was easily forgiven, or not even noticed, because of the many scenes where he wore a Speedo!    

 

 

 

Mario_lopez_niptuckMario_lopez_dancing_with_starsAfter Breaking the Surface Lopez had a number of other roles that brought further attention to his physique, e.g. on Nip/Tuck - featuring a classic shower scene (left); on Broadway in A Chorus Line - a story made the rounds that he was furious that fellow actor Nick Adams also got to show off his hot body; and as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars - where he and his dance partner finished second.  He's now a correspondent for the entertainment show Extra, which doesn't give him any opportunities to strip down or shake his hips.  Interestingly, according to his Wikipedia entry Lopez is a conservative Republican who attends church every week. 


A Gay Son's Struggle Depicted In TV Movie "Doing Time on Maple Drive" (March 16, 1992)

Doing_time_maple_driveThe TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive aired on Fox on March 16, 1992.  Much of the publicity surrounding it was due to the casting of comic Jim Carrey in his first dramatic role.  He portrayed an alcoholic son in a tightly wound family.  Meanwhile, the family's younger son, Matt, their pride and joy, attempts suicide rather than reveal that the reason he and his fiance broke their engagement was because he's gay.

 

 

Doing_timeThe father was the parent who was more understanding of his gay son but mom was in vehement denial - despite the fact she had once walked in on Matt and his college roommate - and they weren't studying.  At the movie's end she's still unaccepting.  Matt, meanwhile, reaches out to his spurned college boyfriend (pictured).  What made Maple Drive somewhat unique from other TV movies that touched upon gay issues was the fact that its gay storyline here was just one of a number of plot points.  It was nominated for an Emmy as Best TV Movie but lost to Miss Rose White (a Hallmark Hall of Fame production.)

 

 

  

The actor who played the gay son, William McNamara, later portrayed Montgomery Clift in a 1995 TV movie on NBC about Elizabeth Taylor.  And much later, in 2009, Jim Carrey portrayed a gay man in the movie I Love You, Phillip Morris.


AIDS Drama "Andre's Mother" Airs on PBS (March 7, 1990)

Andres_motherWhen I read of actress Sada Thompson's death in February 2011 I was disappointed that her obituary in the New York Times didn't mention her performance in the TV movie Andre's Mother which she starred in with Richard Thomas and Sylvia Sidney (gay playwright Terrence McNally won an Emmy for its screenplay).  It aired on PBS stations the night of March 7, 1990.  In the movie Thompson portrayed a rigid, grieving mother dealing with her son Andre's death from AIDS.  

 

The storyline focused on her angry reaction to his partner's attempts at reaching out to her (played by Thomas).  Sidney played her mother, Andre's understanding grandmother.  Interestingly, Sidney had a similar role in the 1985 TV movie An Early Frost.  The movie has a lovely ending in which friends of Andre gather in Central Park and pay tribute to his life by letting go of white colored balloons - including his mother.   

 

I was on a date the night of the movie and we watched it together up in his penthouse apartment at 45 Christopher St.  He was in the middle of some drama with his Parisian ex and that ultimately was the reason nothing futher developed between us.  Nonetheless it was enjoyable watching the movie with him on that night.   


"Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story" Airs (February 6, 1995)

 

Serving_in_silence

 

Serving in Silence was a TV movie based on a true story.  Margarethe Cammermeyer, a colonel in the Washington national guard, was honorably discharged in 1992 after revealing her sexual orientation (the year before "don't ask, don't tell" was instituted).  At the time, she was the highest ranking officer to be discharged for being gay.  However, in 1995 a judge ruled her discharge unconstitutional and she was reinstated.  The movie aired on Feb. 6, 1995.

 

Starring Glenn Close as Cammermeyer, and Judy Davis as her partner of sixteen years, the movie gained further cache by having Barbra Streisand as one of its producers (pictured, below, with the real Cammermeyer).  Silence got a 13.4 household rating/21 share, and ranked among the week's top-20 shows among the key female age groups of 18-49 and 25-54.  Close would win an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a miniseries, and Davis for Best Supporting Actress. 

 

Cammermeyer_streisand

 

What also made this movie noteworthy was the fact that it was the last gay-themed TV movie to air on network TV.  After the networks aired about a dozen such movies (beginning in 1972 with That Certain Summer), all future movies with gay storylines aired on cable networks, such as Lifetime, A&E, USA, and the pay networks Showtime and HBO.    

 

 


TV Movie "Consenting Adult" Airs (February 5, 1985)

 

Consenting_adult

 

The TV movie Consenting Adult aired on Monday, Feb. 4, 1985 on ABC.  It starred Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen as parents struggling to accept the news that their college aged son is gay. (The son was played by relatively unknown actor, Barry Tubb.)  A capsule review in the New York Times perfectly captured the movie's tone: "A college sophomore's revelation to his parents that he is gay tears apart a "perfect" family, with mom shocked beyond belief and dad, recovering from a near-fatal stroke, devastated and betrayed."

 

It was somewhat ironic that Sheen was cast as the unsupportive father, since 13 years earlier he had played the gay partner of a father (played by Hal Halbrook) coming out to his teenage son in the landmark 1972 TV movie That Certain Summer (pictured, below).  Meanwhile, Marlo Thomas' frantic pleading in hopes of keeping peace in the family brought back memories of her Ann Marie character from That Girl - but in a much more serious tone.   

 

Sheen_that_certain_summer

That_Girl

At the time the movie aired I was 27, and by then everyone in my family was aware I was gay.  Mom knew first, Dad last, and my older sister and brother in between.  Mom was shaken, but adjusted, while it took Dad longer to come to terms, but he settled down as the years passed (after all, I still talked to him about sports!).  The news was never a big deal for my sister and brother.  (My sister-in-law, who was a nurse, warned me about the dangers of putting a shot glass in my rectum, as she'd seen a number of such cases in the ER.)  I called Mom the day the movie was to air and she told me she had already planned to watch.  (It got a solid 22 household rating/33 share.)

 


TV Movie "Prayers for Bobby" Explores a Mother's Anguish After Son's Suicide (January 24, 2009)

 

Prayers_for_bobby

 

Sigourney Weaver starred in the heartrending TV movie Prayers for Bobby, which aired on the Lifetime cable network on Jan. 24, 2009.  It told the true story of Mary Griffith, whose teenage gay son Bobby committed suicide, and how she channeled her deep regret at being unable to accept his orientation into something positive (she became a gay rights advocate).  It was based on the 1996 book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Son by openly gay journalist Leroy F. Abrams.  (Abrams, founder of the Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in 1990, died four years before the movie aired.)

 

Prayers_for_bobby2

 

 

 

 

 

When Prayers aired it had been six years since the last high-profile TV movie about gay issues aired (Angels in America on HBO).  And since Prayers, there have been no other such movies on network TV or cable.  Weaver joined an illustrious roster of actors who've appeared in previous gay-themed movies: