Dan Guerrero was 13 years old when he realized he was gay.
“I’ve always been very self-aware, and I decided I was going to look in a mirror and see what I had to offer the world — what do I have, what the hell am I going to do with my life and what gifts do I have and what are the bad things about me,” the playwright and performer tells Variety from his home in West Hollywood. “And I’m in the mirror, and I’m going, ‘OK, I’m pretty funny. That’s good. And I have a really bad temper, and that’s not good.’ And then suddenly I say, ‘Oh, my God. I’m queer!’ I admitted it to myself for the first time, and I accepted it right away.”
But this was also East Los Angeles in 1953. “There were no out and proud gay men on the cover of magazines,” says Guerrero, who turns 80 in October. “There were no movies, no television shows about gay people. There was nothing. There was just me and my mirror and my secret.”
If only little Dan could see himself now. Guerrero spent 20 years as a talent agent in New York City before becoming a television producer and director.
Today, he is shopping around “Gaytino! Made in America,” a film of his autobiographical solo stage show of the same name about his life as a gay Mexican American that he wrote and began performing when he was in his late 60s. The film was completed about a year ago. Guerrero was making the festival rounds looking for distribution just as everything came to a halt because of COVID-19.
Guerrero was in his 20s when he moved to New York from California with dreams of becoming a dancer and a stage star. After one too many failed auditions and a bit part in an Off Broadway show, he embarked on what would beome a two-decade career as an agent. He signed a preteen Sarah Jessica Parker to the children’s department of his agency. “She still likes to call me her first agent,” Guerrero says.
He’s also credited with telling 19-year-old aspiring actor Francine Drescher that she needed to change her name because it made her sound like an “old character actress.” “She didn’t want to change it so I said, ‘At least shorten it to ‘Fran,’” Guerrero says. He landed Drescher her first role in “Saturday Night Fever” as Connie, the woman who famously asks Tony Manero (John Travolta), “Are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?”
After returning to Southern California at age 40, he became what he calls a “born-again Hispanic” while reconnecting with his family. Not only was he embracing his Latin roots — his late father, Lalo Guerrero, is known as the “father of Chicano music” — but he became an in-demand producer and director of live television events and shows specializing in Hispanic content.
But then the work dried up. “I hit 65 and TV changed,” he says. “I was a certain age and it was bleak.”
That’s when he began writing “Gaytino!” “I always thought I would go back to performing one day when I was old and crusty and could play all those fun character roles. But I had no interest in sitting on a bench with 10 other old and crusty guys to do two lines in a sitcom,” Guerrero says. “I thought I had a unique story to tell and decided to return to my stage roots and write a solo show.”
It was a shot in the dark that paid off. “I had no idea if anyone was going to give a shit, but it took off,” he remembers. “The Center Theatre Group produced it, and all of a sudden I’m traveling around the country performing it. I’m being asked to do speaking engagements.”
After about a decade on the road, Guerrero launched a crowdsourcing campaign to help finance the film. “Not only was I able to shoot it, but we went into post and finished it,” he says. “I was able to do a Spanish-subtitle version and a featurette. I did everything all with the support of my LGBTQ and Latino communities.”
Despite not leaving the house much because of COVID-19, Guerrero, who lives with his partner of more than 41 years — “I don’t want to jump into anything,” he cracks when asked if they’re married — is keeping busy. He recently had a Zoom meeting with a major studio that’s interested in an animated film adaptation of his self-published children’s book “Pancho Claus,” a holiday story told through the lyrics of his father’s 1956 song of the same name. And most recently, he debuted “En Casa con La Plaza,” a biweekly digital talk show he hosts in conjunction with downtown cultural center La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
For now, he spends most of his days in front of his computer trying to secure distribution for “Gaytino!” “That gay Mexican American kid in 1950s East L.A. with his dark secret could never have imagined being onstage and in a film singing and dancing about being a gay Latino,” he says. “Ain’t life interesting?”