“Reel to Real: Portrayals and Perceptions of Gays in Hollywood” Exhibit Rocks the Hollywood Museum until September

(L-R) Actress Morgan Brittany and President and Founder of The Hollywood Museum, Donelle Dadigan, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

(L-R) Actress Morgan Brittany and President and Founder of The Hollywood Museum, Donelle Dadigan, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

What do Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies, Erin Murphy, best known for her role as Tabitha on Bewitched, classic Hollywood actress, Margaret O’Brien, and LAPD Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala have in common?  Read this badass article to find out!

Just a week before Gay Pride, a suspenseful three weeks prior to the momentous marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court, and a day’s stone(wall’)s throw (but not like a girl) from the unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner’s most glamorous Vanity Fair cover, an historically significant event in its own right was transpiring at Hollywood Museum on the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

Actors, city officials, noted artisans, and supporters alike gathered together to kick off the latest exhibit opening at the venerable old Max Factor building, rendered Hollywood Museum, for a night of reminiscing, speech making, speech listening, cheese eating (and there might have been kabobs too), drinking, merriment, exhibit absorption, and inspiration!

Replete with photos, keepsakes, and life-sized scene recreations commemorating any and all gay characters who were gay characters (and some up and coming names to go down in the books)  in nearly every film and television show ever conjured, the third floor of the Max Factor building waxed replete with costumes, photos and statuesque shadows and scenes of eras past!

In all specificity, the wall of fabulous-fame, in an ambient collage of photos of every wonderfully textural gay actor or character ever remembered from childhood on was too arresting to pass up.

One such snapshot not to be ignored, like an old mix-tape I had made in sixth grade but recently unearthed:  Jim J. Bullock from Too Close for Comfort –remember him?  Whatsis character name:  Monroe? To speak nothing of the reminiscence it reactivated of the episode recorded in the ol’ memory banks of his confession to still being a virgin prompting “the girls” to recruit someone age appropriate (and decidedly female) to change all that for him, but due to unforeseen circumstances, an elderly neighbor lady rapping on the door instead, in hopes of borrowing a cup of sugar or some such, and said younger lady never showing.  And from there you can guess what happened next…  Having neither a clue or inkling of what a virgin was, let alone what it was to be homosexual at the time of its viewing, this–in said writer’s naïve little brain—this was surely a watershed introduction in ambient grown-up explanation of adulthood labeling, and sexperience.  (Quite in keeping with said writer’s first introduction to the definition of sex by way of inquiring what a ‘hooker’ was upon hearing Frankie Avalon croon “Beauty School Drop Out” on Grease’s most glorious soundtrack—but that–my friends–is a completely alternate story for another time!)

Also included in the third floor display:  A Mannequin and photo of Cher (in one of her most arresting zebra stripped, skin bearing frocks).  There is no denying said diva is one of the few historic pop/rock icons at the dawn of the 21st Century (not to mention mother of one of the first widely known transgendered children, Chaz Bono, along with having quite the gay following herself) who reinvented her persona to the tune of Do you believe in Love only to hear it actually played on top 40 radio:  a scenario that has never been since and sadly may never be again.  Even the B-52s and Duran Duran have attempted mainstream musical comeback despite their present day prolifically produced albums but to no avail…

And lest we forget, Nancy Kulp as Miss Hathaway, one of the first actresses in the memory banks to ever officially come out (at least in this child-of-the-70’s vault)… Well, the treats mount further as right in the center of the room stands a life-sized reenactment of Jed Clampett driving his kin out West to make her magnificent acquaintance!

But this is not merely a nostalgic exhibit.  Works of actors and currently producing directors alike garnish the walls!

“I’m actually featured in the exhibit,” declares Erin Murphy, best known to most of us as Tabitha on the 1960s sitcom Bewitched.  “One of my dresses from the show I just did called Life Interrupted is here because in that series I play a lesbian married to Allison Arngrim who [was] Nellie Olson on Little House on the Prairie.  So my dress, not even just wardrobe, it’s actually my dress that belongs to me, is here in the exhibit!”

(L-R) Erin Murphy and Steven Wishnoff, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

(L-R) Erin Murphy and Steven Wishnoff, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Life Interrupted [is a] half hour comedy that was included in tonight’s exhibit,” explains creator, executive producer and writer Steven Wishnoff.  “It stars Mason Reese, Alison Arngrim, Erin Murphy, Dawn Wells (aka Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island) and Michael Learned (formerly recognized as Olivia Walton of The Waltons)… And we are happy to be a part of it.  [After finding out about its inclusion I had to laugh and say] ‘Fine, I spent five years doing a prison drama called OZ on HBO and didn’t get asked to do something like this. Now I write for a lesbian couple and all of a sudden I’m doing this and I thought that was really kind of sweet.”

And really folks, when one merely considers the cast, it is already a “Must See”.

But it is not just up and coming shows pushing the envelope more forcefully than ever, Bold and Beautiful Producer Cynthia Popp had a host of her own innovations as she gave a most rousing reception speech:

“I am so pleased to be here to represent The Bold and the Beautiful.  I have worked on that show for 28 years so to be part of the show’s history [is a dream come true!]… [And writer/creator] Brad Bell’s team is so special… He never backs away from social issues… He’s a passionate storyteller and we as a cast and crew, get to live it first.  We get to be educated.  We get to share in the words and the journey that these characters go on before our fans do and we appreciate that so much. Our latest story that we’re telling [is] of transgender.  [Brad] takes one of…our long term characters…and he decides to give her this storyline:  That she was a transgender female…and talk about inclusive! Each of these other characters respond:  Some positively, some negatively, some questioning.  But it turns out to be a love story.  Because the man she is in love with…accepts her.  And it’s really touching, ‘cause we didn’t know how Brad was going to tell this story and we were all waiting with baited breath…”

But even back in the day though other actors were walking the straight and narrow, their life experience might very well have been that of the gay and expansive.  Remember the Jim J. Bullock reference back at the beginning of our journey?  Well The Facts of Life’s Geri Jewell is another breath of colorful, freshly nostalgic air.  Having pioneered the airwaves as one of the first actresses with cerebral palsy ever to portray a regular on a mainstream sitcom, Jewell ‘s spirit mirrors her most enterprising and momentous entry onto the entertainment scene:

Geri Jewell, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Geri Jewell, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

“I came out in 1978: I told the whole world that I had cerebral palsy.  Actually…I am gay; a lesbian and proud of who I am; just like cerebral palsy, I came into the world a fighter.  It’s just the kind of woman I am.  …All my life I’ve had challenges and like I said, I came into the world differently but I wouldn’t change my life with anybody because it’s made me more compassionate, more loving, more accepting, and more sensitive of all people’s journeys in life…  That’s what’s important for all of us.  [It’s about self respect]; to love yourself to respect others, and love others.”

Going back further, venerable soap and silver screen actor Jack Betts had some of his own recollections.

“I was on a show called One Life to Live as Ivan Kipling for many years and [someone recently] asked me, ‘Was [anything] ever brought up on the gay thing and I said, ‘Absolutely not!’  It wasn’t on television in the daytime or nighttime.  And I’m talking only ten years ago.  Think about it, the word ‘gay’ was never even used on television let alone the fact  that they now have gay characters playing on some of the hit shows, which is wonderful [not to mention] the fact that it happened in such a short period of time… Ten years ago a lot of people didn’t know what LGBT was, and now it’s become part of our conversation and free talk and I think it’s just extraordinary the advances we’re making in such a short time.  Acceptance, acceptance is really the most important thing!”

No stranger to real life scenarios of gay and transgender issues, Betts’ recollections go back further to a recollected scenario way ahead of its time:

“I’d graduated University of Miami, I was living in New York and I got a call from this woman saying, ‘Are you Jack Betts and did you live at [such-and-such] street in Miami, Florida?’ and I said ‘Yes, who is this?’ And she said, ‘Your mother’s name is Betty and your sister’s name is Joan; you lived on the second floor?’  And I said, ‘Yes, who is this?’  And she said, ‘You were very, very good friends with the owner of the house. You were very good friends with her son Fred.’  And I said, ‘Yes he was my best friend.  We were in the naval reserve together and everything.’ I said, ‘Who is this?’  And she said, ‘It’s Fred.’ Now I’m talking…30 years ago…  I was so totally shocked…and this is long distance on the phone, there must have been a ten minute silence. Because I was trying to remember my friend…by butch friend Fred who was now calling me up and saying he was a woman. [And] for that I wrote a play… It was done last year at the Marilyn Monroe theatre called, It Goes Like This and it deals with transgender in a very, very powerful way and I have a movie script of that and that’s what I’m hoping to do [next].”

Going back even further than that, classic movie star Margaret O’Brien calls attention to observations about Hollywood prejudices–both that of the homosexual variety and concerning downright open and shameless ethnocentrism:

“I’m half Spanish, which [most] people don’t know, and…at the Studio, [when I was a little girl] Mr. Mayer only had one or two Latin people working [there]; he wouldn’t let my mother speak Spanish to me because he wanted to pretend I was all Irish and that was such a shame because…as a child I could have known my language much better than I do today… One other story I have–do you remember Johnny Ray?  Wonderful singer, sang my very favorite song, The Little White Cloud that Cried. Well he was at the studio with me at the time and he came over to me one day (and again I was a little girl) and he said, ‘I don’t think I’ll be working anymore because it came out that I’m gay. It came out in the paper and I won’t be singing anymore,’ and I said, ‘Oh no!’ And it happened to be true! Can you imagine all the wonderful songs that he could have given us…if he had been able to continue his career?  We have come a long way, and I’m just so pleased to be here and there’s more to go and we certainly have made strides and it’s just amazing what everybody has done and how the world is changing and we should all be exactly who we are and what we want to be!”

Singer Barbara Van Orden would echo the same sentiment:

“I came [here tonight] because I think it’s about time that everyone in this world should be what they want to be, be happy, love who they want to love, work at what they want to work at and it should just be accepted and anyone should accept people [whether] they’re gay or they’re not gay, whatever it is it doesn’t matter because…today, to find love, and have love is so very special and I think people should find it and have it wherever it is.”

Carolyn Hennesy, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Carolyn Hennesy, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

“Whatever it is I am here to support it,” declares actress Carolyn Hennesy.  “Because as an actress, this is a brutal career.  It’ll break your heart.  That’s just putting on masks, and putting on characters.  To have to live that way [concealing something consequential about yourself]…I get to go home and make a meatloaf and feed my dogs, but to actually have to live that way is inconceivable to me and it’s inconceivable that anybody  should be having to struggle with that this day in age so… Whatever I can do…”

And of course culling past-into-present firsthand accounts to solidify how far we’ve come in the last few decades is imperative:

“I started modeling in the sixties. That was when free love, burn your bra…all that kind of stuff was happening so that all was very free and of course a lot of people were smoking pot [etc…], but it wasn’t [entirely] free,” recollects Barbara Van Orden.  “You could not say you were gay or you were or transgender or anything like that.  It just was very hidden… That was [also] an era when women were treated like chattel in a sense.  They were treated like silly little people; they were just objects, arm pieces, arm candy… If you were very pretty you could never be in the business world.  You couldn’t be behind the camera.  You had to be in front of the camera.  You had to do the glamour stuff.  That was a terrible time…and I know so many people that were wonderful talents, the stars, writers, producers, actors who had to hide it because they were so afraid that if they announced who they were and what they felt they wanted to be in life that they would not be able to work or not be able to have their creativity or survive in this world to make a living!  So a lot of people did get married who really were gay, they married the opposite sex only as a cover just as a protection and it was so very, very sad to see that kind of thing and a lot of people’s careers were ruined or they didn’t happen because of the situation.”

Judy Tenuta, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Judy Tenuta, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Yet even to this day and according to Carolyn Hennesey people still have their own arrangements in order to dance around convention:

“I cannot name names, but there’s a couple and they came out here from another state that is not in the Northern section of the country… and she’s his beard…  But what’s fascinating is that he behaves true to his inner nature.  He dresses true to his inner nature…and when I say inner nature, what I mean by that is what is um…everyone is different but when someone um…how do you say this–you can tell.  Sometimes you can just tell. They put it out there because they’re very comfortable with it. So he’s very comfortable being gay but only refers to his wife:  always and only refers to his wife, never dates, never does anything—nothing, only refers to his wife…So he’s gay in persona, not in sexuality that we know.  It’s fascinating…fascinating. And she talks about her husband. I have no idea how it works but it obviously works for them and more power to them. I’ve known them for 20 years.”

Homosexuality however was never a vast a consideration mrerely in entertainment.  Even in politics both constituents and candidates alike have been affected by it both historically and presently.

We were lucky enough to enjoy a rousing speech by Councilmember of the 13th District Mitch O’Farrell on this fair night:

“So I was reflecting today all day long about gays in Hollywood, Reel to Real: Gays in Hollywood, Gays on Film and I just remember a whole bunch of films that I watched as a child.  One was The Children’s Hour where the lesbian hanged herself at the end.  Another one was Reflections in a Golden Eye remember that one?  They were tortured homosexuals who ended up, I think he had some sort of grizzly death as well…and then I’m a huge Bond fan so Diamonds are Forever:  Remember the two villains and the gay couple who met a very, very, terrible end? And here I am a child seeing these movies and I’m thinking ‘Okay I’m doomed…I am doomed. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life!’ ‘Cause I knew I was gay then but there were no role models, so everyone who’s gay, lesbian, transgender, questioning, you name it, you’ve been on your own journey of survival despite a lack of role models to follow, so you all  deserve a huge round of applause! …We are tough, we have survived!  We have thrived and we will not take any other way of life as acceptable other than one that’s full where we have every right and every privilege to fulfill our potential and that is what we are teaching the next generation.  So I am so proud to see…Mike Bonin, Ron Galperin and everyone else that we can now say ‘Hey look if you’re gay, lesbian, transgender you can become an elected official, you can help govern the city; you can do really great things in your life and that’s what we need to teach the next generation.  And to chief Bea Girmala you are amazing… Bea and I worked together for five years and every time I see her I think “Captain—no, commander—no—CHIEF—CHIEF Girmala,” because she has risen through the ranks because she is exceptional!  Bea Girmala deserves a huge round of applause!”

In kind, a most warm and sincere Chief Girmala had her own words of inspiration:

“In addition to my responsibilities as the Deputy Chief for Operations West Bureau which takes us from Korea Town to the Sea, all the way to Venice Beach, and a little bit of the airport and in between, my other duties are to represent the Chief of Police in all manners involving the LGBTQ community and I’m very proud to have that as the duty to represent those interests.  As we move forward…we’re trying to move in a direction so that there’s never any distinction that ever needs to be made again, that we are all being treated with dignity and respect and we shouldn’t even have to use those words in the same line because we are at natural course with our dignity.”

City Controller Ron Galperin gave his own heartening, personable charismatic speech to rival any actor in show business:

“First of all, I’ll begin by telling you that I’m the one with the deceptive title in the city of Los Angeles ‘cause I don’t get to control everything but I do get to control the money of the City of Los Angeles and first of all thank you so much…to the museum and everybody who’s been a part of this wonderful evening as well as to council member Mitch O’Farrell.  I have to say, we both got sworn in on the same council two years ago and I still remember that day as we were walking down the steps of City Hall…and I got to walk down hand in hand with my husband, and he was walking hand in hand with his husband and also Mike Bonin and his and I thought, ‘Wow, we have come a long way  in the city of Los Angeles!’  But we also cannot forget, it’s not so easy or not so safe when a lot of people walk hand in hand down the streets of L.A. or any other street. How many of us, myself included, sometimes think, ‘Well, should we actually hold hands on this block? Is it really safe?’ and this is something that people experience all over the world, and in the United States, and until we have addressed that and until everybody feels safe– everybody no matter whether they’re lesbian or gay or transgender…then we can rest but until then we’ve got a lot of work to do!  … Although I will admit, I’ve got a gay agenda for City Hall.  I want to redecorate!’  And I do–not just in that literal sense but in every other sense of having changed the way we govern, having actually changed the way we interact with the people who elected us!”

Doris Roberts, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

Doris Roberts, Photo Courtesy of Bill Dow

One of the highlights of the evening was the appearance and oration of Doris Roberts providing some slick and comedic sheen to Galperin’s anticipated redecoration:

“I thought I’d start off with something funny.  I love being here, I really do. A couple of years ago I was here and I think somebody from CNN was interviewing me and he said, ‘Miss Roberts are you gay?’  And I said, ‘No but I’m a Russian Jew; I know about prejudice and that’s why I’m here.’ [And hope upon hope]…God if some gay man would marry me…and that everybody is accepted.—EVERYBODY is accepted!”

Reel to Real: Portrayals and Perceptions of Gays in Hollywood is now on display, extended until September 18th at the fabulous Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor Building on the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

For more information, please visit The Hollywood Museum.

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Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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