Quick! What do Councilman Tom Labonge, Judy Tenuta’s accordion—along with Judy Tenuta herself, Reverend Troy Perry and Batman’s original Catwoman Julie Newmar have in common? Each, among many others, was present at the June opening of The Hollywood Museum’s Third Annual Reel to Real: Gays and Lesbians Portrayals and Perceptions in Hollywood exhibit. Just a Stonewall’s throw and a Catwalk’s Sashay between the commencement of L.A.’s LGBT Heritage month to the Christopher Street West Parade, the display opened to rousing speeches and inspiring words from the likes of Council Member Mitch O’Farrell, Assistant Chief of Police Bea Girmala, Erin Murphy aka 1960s sitcom “Bewitched’s” own Tabitha—all grown up, but still as youthful as if she finished her tour with the Village People but a few years hence–Reverend Troy Perry, Judy Tenuta in all her hilarity, and Julie Newmar who, in kind, caused us all to CATerwaul in laughter!
Included in the display: Costumes galore primarily from the film “Liberace” which, at first glance, resembles something from a “Siegfried and Roy” magic extravaganza minus the lions, tigers and bears, Oh my! (aside from a perhaps similarly patterned fur line around the neck and cape.) A comfortable looking caftan from the still relatively new series “Grace and Frankie” starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, two gorgeous bejeweled frocks sported most fetchingly by Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in “The Bird Cage,” Liza Minnelli’s red feather boa and black décolletage from “Arrested Development,” and Bruce Vilanch’s not-so-skintight but equally fetching yellow signature shirt!
And oh…a picture of John Borrowman (among many others) because well… he is ADORABLE!
Cindy Lauper, who could not be there, graced the evening through stylin’ sentiment with her own contributions in the costume and collectible realm and James Dean was there in spirit in his own right with his very own retrospective, most arrestingly, a college-age (circa 1950) portrayal of Malcolm in UCLA’s production of “Macbeth!”
And saaayy, ever wonder what the first gay portrayal through film was in Hollywood?—and When? Well, look no further than said exhibit as it takes us back to 1895 to an image of two men dancing together in a most dreamy black and white MANtage(?) in William Kennedy Dickson’s: “The Dickson Experimental Sound Film” most often dubbed “The Gay Brothers” in cinematic reference books (and NOT just because it was the 90s—if you catch what I’ma sayin’…)
Moving right along to living vibrant color, flush with near electric pinks and refreshing greens is a real world recreation of Roddy McDowall’s Powder Room! Known for his rousing dinner parties designed to bring just the right people together for optimal conversational capability, it seems one of the favorite recreations was a visit to the place wherein one might decompress after a satisfying meal (or escape from an overabundance of constructed conversation) by way of McDowell’s festive and photo-clad loo at the entry hall of his equally merry abode. Rife with photos galore along the walls, to speak nothing of a stained glass window accenting the sink, one could worship the porcelain God and all whose images resided within as said restroom-oidal recreation boasts enough reading and perusal material to rival that of a modern day cellular phone! Whatever the case, the whole evening, bathroom visits and all, sounds absolutely enchanting!!!
Most arresting however were a couple retrospectives: that of the Black Cat Riots on New Year’s Eve 1966 and the “Fagots–Stay Out” sign on display inhabiting a glass case catty corner below.
Preceding Stonewall by more than two years, The Black Cat Riots went down at the then newly established Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles’ more or less Bohemian Silverlake district. Having opened its doors to the gay community as one of its first neighborhood bars in November of 1966, just two months later, plainclothes police officers would infiltrate the place and arrest several gay couples with beatings! The commotion would then spread out into the street and across Sunset Blvd to the New Faces bar wherein the female owner would be knocked to the ground, leaving two bartenders beaten unconscious!
The entire fiasco gave way, however, to one of the first civil rights demonstrations of its kind on February 11th 1967, whereupon members from a striking cross section of the populace (factory workers, bankers, teachers, street cleaners, artists, retired military men and women) stormed the corner of Sunset and Sanborn to the tune of speeches from legal specialists, activists, and clergy proclaiming, “No more abuse of our rights and dignity!”, “Abolish Arbitrary Arrests,” and most importantly “Peace.” All local police officers could do is nervously stand across the street at the ready, lest any perceived “uppityness” transmogrify itself into senseless violence, but fortuitously it never did! From this event would spring The Advocate: A newspaper for PRIDE (Personal Rights for Defense and Education.)
“Fagots – Stay Out!” a sign all too pervasively gracing the license-plate-clad bar of Barney’s Beanery in the—now established–city of West Hollywood was willingly mounted at the hands of its admittedly antagonistic owner but, above and beyond, as a conciliatory tactic in order to placate an all too pervasive and prejudiced police presence!
Established in 1927, this Santa Monica Blvd (when it was originally Route 66) watering hole (and uh…“gas station”?) known as “pub n’ grub” would initially set out to serve trolley yard employees but would go on to cater to more celebrities than a combo of McDonald’s and the Brown Derby combined, commencing with Clara Bow, John Barrymore, Clarke Gable, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Judy Garland (when her handlers allowed her to eat, I suppose ~sigh~), Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, (and two personal Hollywood crushes of mine) James Dean…and Lou Costello!
Moving right along to the more Bohemian, earthy and one might assume (but to no avail) *tolerant* 60s, the establishment would cater to regular guests such as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Bobby Fuller Four, Janis Joplin (whose favorite booth was #34), Marlon Brandon, Jack Nicholson, and Jim Morrison and the Doors. In 1968, ol’ Jim even urinated all over the bar. You’d think this display would have closed some DOORS on this Drained Lizard King/Maker of the Storm but hey, People are Strange. Moreover, to this day, there is a plaque above the bar proclaiming said prominent pee-fest. (~sigh~ Only in Hollywood—Or perhaps a random Urologist’s office) (Lucky for Jim, however, he never lived up—publicly anyway–to some of the potentially salacious colloquialisms inherent in some of his song lyrics, ‘cause that CERTAINLY would have offended back in the day!!! But pee on the bar of a bean house, and you get a PLAQUE apparently!)
Moving right along to the 70s, 80s and 90s, Barney’s Beanery welcomed British Rockers, FM underground musicians, Led Zeppelin, Elliot Gould, Bette Midler, and Brat Pack artists: Rob Lowe, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack and Andrew McCarthy, who all liked to play pinball (before there was Pokemon) in the back (before they could play any game anywhere). Rounding out the motley crew was The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Liza Minnelli and bang-bang-shoot-em-up Quentin Tarantino.
(Heck, as a teenager I even read once in Teen Beat…or was that Tiger Beat, that another personal crush Tom Cruise went there in the 80s, no doubt before becoming a more hardcore Sci-Fiologist er Scientologist and surviving primarily on Alien Skin Jerky and Tang as his sustenance—or something…)
The sign, mounted anywhere between the restrictive 30s and the oppressive 50s would be put up and taken down several times in between, though the restaurant’s matchbooks would be emblazoned with the slogan until the sign’s evaporation. Its first disappearance occurred following a bout of angry picketing at its storefront, in 1970, the last in 1984 (the exact incongruous age as the oppressive Orwell novel of the same title) but serendipitously enough, the same year West Hollywood was rendered a city in its own right through favorable voter turnout. And it is really just as well as (Note: Fagot is spelled incorrectly. Probably because the maker, to speak nothing of everyone else frequenting the joint, was perhaps too ignorant to spell the insult…?)
It is touching and fascinating as denizens from walks of life the burg over come together to honor this third annual tradition commemorating something so important from police officers, to city officials to reverends, to museum curators to accordion playing comediennes, and slinky cat women alike, the speeches are as rousing as the farmwife-grandmother that would wake up the rooster himself before the crack of dawn!
“Two years ago we opened this exhibit the first time,” proudly declares Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. “We did not have nationwide recognition of equality and the freedom to marry. Now it is the law of the land! …[Less than two years ago] you could get married in Mississippi one day and be fired from your job the next and it was perfectly legal to do that because it was legal to discriminate against sexual orientation in many states across the country, so there’s a lot more we have to do at the National level but it’s good to do things at the local level because it gets attention… But this year, we’re really highlighting the ‘T’ in the LGBT because it’s in the zeitgeist. We’re talking about access to restrooms. We’re talking about a greater awareness of this most marginalized of groups: The Transgender community and we have to be there. We are stronger together and we owe it to everyone to stand up and be allies in this fight for full and equal civil rights for everyone and that is what this is about!
Museum Founder and President Donelle Dadigan got us all jazzed for what we were about to see at her disclosure of the collection’s vast array: “We have more than 500 exhibits tonight on display for this [presentation] and we hope that we’ll have a chance to see the Cyndi Lauper exhibit this evening. As many of you know, she is a tireless, longtime activist to the gay rights movement and she even has her own foundation, True Colors. She is considered a gay icon in the LGBT community… “
“Additionally we have a very special exhibit this evening,” Dadigan continued. “It’s in memory of two great friends of the museum, Ms. Doris Roberts a five time Emmy Winning actress and you heard her speak last year at our second annual opening night reception, and Dale Olson: Veteran Hollywood publicist. He represented Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood and of course Doris Roberts, to name a few…He represented Rock Hudson during his public battle with AIDS. Please make sure you check out Dale Olson’s rolodex. How many of you know what a rolodex is? …and of course we’re thrilled to announce that Miss Bette Midler’s Delores Delgado’s Mermaid’s tail just arrived this afternoon so please come back and have a chance to visit with it in the next week or so! …And a big thank you goes out to the 97 contributors, studios, production companies, celebrities and collectors alike… who graciously loaned our iconic pieces to co-create this educational, entertaining and informative retrospective…iconic imagery that all tell the story about the milestones and influence that LGBT characters and storylines have had in Hollywood from the early stereotypes to modern day representations as seen on stage, film, network and cable television and new digital platforms.”
Assistant Chief of Police Bea Girmala, a 31-year veteran on the force, works closely with the LGBT community herself and had this to say: “One of my duties for the Chief of Police is liaison to the LGBT community… My day started yesterday at City Council. Mitch O’Farrell was there and there was a celebration of Pride Month… with a very historic moment, the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, sang in the chambers of City Council. Not only were they invited to sing in a council chamber but their beautiful voices echoed and resonated not only in the halls but in the hearts of everybody that was there… Later on that day, was the second annual LGBTQ Mixer in, of all places, the LAPD Headquarters. Now could you imagine [that happening] in 1968 and it was hosted by Chief Beck… We took a room that is usually filled with boring crime statistics and turned it into a celebration of fellowship and love with the words.“
“[In closing there’s] just a few things I’d like to tell you the LAPD is doing and it really has the support of our Chief of Police. He’s allowing us to move forward. One of the biggest complaints that we receive, especially from the LGBTQ community, is that hate crimes and hate incidents are not taken seriously enough, or if members of the community come to a police station, there’s a dismissive attitude there which [motivates] someone NOT to come and report so we get underreported crimes. Or when they get there, there’s an awkwardness to try to tell of a victimizing experience that has happened to you for a second time, in a lobby full of people and a lobby full of strangers. Well we have what we call the LGBTQ Working Group with the LAPD and in a few weeks, a commission will be revealing an updated way of reporting hate crimes so that members of the LGBTQ community especially can feel that the arms are wrapped around them and that when they come through the doors, every police station will give them the respect that is long, long overdue!”
We all love former Councilman Tom LaBonge for both his hilarity and insight alike and this—THIS is what HE had to say: “When we talk about [The Hollywood Museum] being a second home I thought of Dorothy ‘There’s no place like people,’ and all people are so important. [Then] I go back to 1969 best picture then and there it was: Rico Ratso and Joe Buck [of ‘Midnight Cowboy’]. Those two men loved each other which is a very, very big part of the transformation of a lot of people who understand that love is so important [and important] for people to feel free and people to feel good about themselves… But peace comes in the world when we learn about each other and bring people together so I just want to thank everybody here tonight!”
Ever so endearing Erin Murphy, otherwise known as Tabitha from “Bewitched,” had some sprightly, rousing, and humorous observations of her own: “I am a lifelong supporter of the LGBTQ and any other initials you want to add community, and it’s not just from being on the show “Bewitched” because I know that our sitcom has an enormous following in the gay community and there are a lot of reasons for that. I think we have colorful and flamboyant characters and we had some actors who were gay [but] that’s not the reason I think it was so popular, one of the reasons is that the underlying theme of “Bewitched” is that Samantha as a witch was living in a closet… I did not know that my television dad was gay, people always ask that, and it’s because I was a kid. I didn’t even know what sex was. I do now!”
“Growing up in Hollywood I’ve had so many friends who are gay and lesbian and when I was young and in my twenties I toured Japan with a little band called The Village People…and I hosted parties at the Limelight. I’ve always been open-minded and when Elizabeth Montgomery passed away, her wishes were to donate her clothing to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation here in Los Angeles. So I participated in that with her daughter Rebecca and her family and we did a fashion show and all of her clothing was auctioned off and the proceeds went to that charity! And of course my TV dad and Liz rode in the Gay Pride Parade!”
“Probably a year ago I was approached to do a sitcom with a group of my friends… my friend Alison Arngrim from ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ she’s Nelly, she came to me and a couple other friends, and said, ‘We’re doing a sitcom with all kid actors.’ I said, ‘Unh uh that doesn’t sound good.’ And Alison said, ‘Well, I’m in it!’ And I said, ‘Well maybe…’ and they said well, ‘You can be a lesbian,’ and I said, ‘I will do it!’ I thought, ‘I have been an outspoken supporter of NO Hate and everyone should be able to marry the person they love,’ and um people kind of question me like in Middle America more than in California like ‘Why would you do that? Why were you comfortable acting like a lesbian? That should be wrong.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me let you in on a little secret, I wasn’t really a witch either…’”
“Okay let’s celebrate this wonderful event right LGBT Reel to Real,” quipped an accordion wielding Judy Tenuta. “As you can see, we had to turn people away. You know that right? Yes you do Catwoman. We had to turn people away. There was this guy in the front. He would not leave me alone, he’s like ‘Judy, when you get onstage say ‘hi’ to me and mention my name. Say ‘hi’ to me.’ Yeah like I’m gonna bring this show to a stop to say ‘Hi Donald Trump!’ We hate him! Build a wall around your head!”
But the piece de resistance and icing on the cherry right above the magnificent multi-layered cake of all sugar pies was the one, the only Julie Newmar, Ms. Catwoman herself with a little lesson in fabulousness, affection and fashion to boot!
“… I am always grateful to have the support of the LGBT Community… I am grateful to you therefore to be standing here. I must confess I am not a feminist… I never had to assert myself. As you know we women can have 50 orgasms to your three. Thank you. Darlings, God made it better than equal! In life there is nothing to prove. Just do your homework and show up! …I…have to tell you that that word ‘Icon’ sticks in my throat, however once I have humbled myself we might have more fun if I ask the question: What is it like to be a sex symbol? To tell you the truth, it’s almost a free ride. Years later it still feels good. What do you think is the most important thing in life now? ‘Love’—Anything else? How about lighting? Darlings, never be photographed without flash! The more light, the better. If you don’t look good, don’t leave the house. God we need more mirrors and less dress-as-you-go. Now about the Paparazzi, they make normal movie stars look like Peter Dinklage. Our legs look like pin ball machines. Gentlemen, do what Marlene Dietrich told you to do: Get down on your knees with that camera! Women these days don’t wear stockings. Without stockings women’s legs look like aging halibuts!
…Did you know that open toed shoes make your feet look three sizes smaller? And they make your legs look longer?”
“When I was a young girl, age 11, I was almost 6 feet tall and being made fun of or even being admired for what I was not yet made me uncomfortable. Being teased with ‘How’s the weather up there…?’ So I figured out two straight lines appeared taller than two curvy lines, the lines being equal. Then I figured… that if I sewed an indented waistline in all my clothing including bathing suits and leotards people wouldn’t make fun of me, and it worked, I got a different reaction that didn’t hurt anymore. I put the wind behind my back, they were for, not against me. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and I were born with a visceral agitation with imperfection. So let’s get back to sex. You all know what the subtext of an active script is, it’s what the actor’s thinking underneath the written dialogue. Well 9/10th of my thoughts were sexual, but it wasn’t a come on, it was a free space. Thoughts have power…it makes you glow. Ecstasy, you’re in the zone. It’s where you want to be. So, before you enter a room, a restaurant or walk on stage breathe and think the word ‘love’. You can’t be hurt. You don’t have to calm anybody and it doesn’t matter what happens. That’s it folks. Have a nice evening. I love you…”
“Reel to Real: Portrayals and Perceptions of Gays in Hollywood” can be viewed at the Hollywood Museum aka the Old Max Factor Building through Sunday September 4th.
For more information and admission prices, please visit: