Gays and lesbians have long thrived professionally in the entertainment industry — even if for decades their private lives were as under wraps as a Woody Allen script before shooting. Yet in recent years, certain actors, writers, directors and other creative types have been slowly emerging from the proverbial closet to acknowledge their homosexuality. Much of the time, they’ve opted for the traditional interview route, be it in print or on the tube. But when you think about it, there’s really no place like an awards show to insist you’re here and queer. And as kudocasts go, nothing suits this purpose better than the Oscars or the Tonys.
In recent years, the two telecasts have been sprinkled, if not rife, with all manner of gay references. In 2001, for instance, Oscar host Steve Martin made this observation: “There are 800 million people watching us right now, and every one of them is thinking the exact same thought: that we’re all gay.”
Jokes aside, some vestiges of old prejudices have survived into recent history.
At the 1992 Tonys, William Finn and James Lapine’s “Falsettos” won for book and score but lost the big musical Tony to “Crazy for You,” a populist Gershwin amalgam. “Falsettos” was robbed, it has been suggested, because voters feared its gay hero would face poor prospects on the road.
And the jury is still out on how presumed fave “Brokeback Mountain” lost this year’s best picture Oscar to “Crash,” even as “Brokeback” helmer Ang Lee won the statuette for director.
There have, however, been plenty of happier moments at both kudocasts, most famously the 2003 Tonys, doubtless the gayest awards telecast ever, with two very queer shows — “Take Me Out” and “Hairspray” — taking the evening’s top honors.
In addition to playwright Richard Greenberg, “Take Me Out” took home Tonys for director Joe Mantello and featured actor Denis O’Hare. Mantello saluted his ex, playwright Jon Robin Baitz, from the podium, and O’Hare thanked his “beautiful boyfriend” on receiving his award.
More significant, Mantello made mention of the evening’s most celebrated image, the onstage kiss composer Marc Shaiman planted on his life and work partner, lyricist Mark Wittman, after they won the score Tony for “Hairspray.” Said the director, “I think I just saw two guys kiss on CBS, which is cool.”
The evening’s most gay-friendly moment, though, surely belonged to Michele Pawk, a straight actress who won the Tony for her featured role in “Hollywood Arms,” a play based on a memoir by Carol Burnett. “I have never been more proud to be a member of this community,” said Pawk on accepting her award. “Men kissing each other onstage. Drag queens. Children. It’s a perfect world, as it should be.”
The 2003 Tony were certainly not the first time gays and lesbians mentioned lovers. Twenty years before, when Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” won best play, John Glines referred to fellow producer Lawrence Lane as “my partner and my lover.” Fierstein himself was rather tight-lipped on winning that award, but he let loose a bit when, in an upset, he took the lead actor trophy. Looking stunned as he held the award, he exclaimed, “You thought I was acting?”
And in 1995, when Cherry Jones won her first Tony, for “The Heiress,” she embraced her almost identically dressed female companion and then mounted the stage in a simple black cocktail dress with only a string of pearls and a prominent red AIDS ribbon adorning her ensemble. It was a subtle but unmistakable statement.
There was nothing subtle, however, about the long speech Tom Hanks gave on winning the first of his back-to-back actor Oscars in 1994, for the AIDS drama “Philadelphia.” His voice cracking with emotion, Hanks signed off with a stirring (some would say purple) image of a heaven “too crowded with angels,” i.e., people who had died of AIDS, urging all listening “to see the simple, self-evident, commonsense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all.”
This year, levity trumped politics at the Oscars, with its surfeit of “Brokeback” shtick. In the telecast’s first 15 minutes, viewers saw Billy Crystal and Chris Rock compromised in a pup tent, Jon Stewart waking up in bed with George Clooney and a Chuck Workman montage that used clips from famous Westerns — “Red River,” “Shane,” “The Big Country,” “My Darling Clementine,” among them — to send up the notion that “Brokeback” broke ground.
Of course, the “gay cowboy movie’s” best pic loss put a damper on things for many gays and lesbians. But those taking the long view won’t dwell on the occasional slight. Instead, they’ll likely take a page from the Gershwin songbook, insisting, “Our love is here to stay.”