Last week, we touched on Larry King‘s interview with the Queer as Folk cast, but may I further point out how unbelievably gross and retro Larry’s approach was? Each star was introduced with a reference to his or her supposed real-life sexuality, with King saying stuff like, “As a straight actor, why did you take the role of a gay person?” Oy gay! This technique inevitably led to some mistakes, since Larry dumbly assumed that unless you were openly gay, you had to be straight, right? What’s more, it seemed like a hideous attempt to distance the stars from their roles, as if to say, “Don’t worry, folks. This one only plays a queer on TV.” This tack would never be used to promote other projects. (“We now have Nicole Kidman, who’s not really a prostie, Woody Allen, who isn’t really going blind, and Sean Penn, who has been known to get violent.”) What’s more, Larry—who’s usually a little savvier—asked tons of questions about how icky it must be to make out with members of the same sex, also dabbling in the damage this kind of thing might do to one’s career. Meanwhile, they’re all sitting on Larry King Live as stars of one of the hottest shows on TV. So just how damaging is it?
Everyone was openly lesbian-gay-bi-transgender—calm down, Michael—at the Lambda Literary Awards, where, as one winner thanked someone named Linda, the foundation director leaned over to me and murmured, in all seriousness, “You know, Linda is now Sam.” I loved it—Larry King would have gagged. Host Emmanuel Xavier in s/m outfits and the Lady Bunny doing scat jokes also livened up the normally somber affair.
Former Lindas and other males will dominate Bravo’s The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality show which—get this—will have an unsophisticated hetero made over by five trendy gay renaissance men. My Fair Straighty?
If I may make you over with some fabulously trendy gossip: Jennifer Gatien (Peter‘s daughter) is buzzing that she and Cameron Douglas (Michael‘s son) have split. “He wants to go Hollywood,” says Jen. . . . Naomi Campbell‘s murmuring that she doesn’t look good enough to model anymore, but I bet she can be convinced. . . . A Sopranos star says a certain clubowner fooled around with her when she was drunk and out of it, which is this close to rape. . . . Diana Ross at a recent event: “I’m not wearing any makeup. Do I need any?” . . . Conversely, Liza Minnelli was told by a makeup artist that maybe she should tone it down. “No,” she replied. “Give the people what they want!” . . . Anthony Haden-Guest (no relation to David Gest) got what he wants—free cocktails—at the Bungalow 8 bash for his book of cartoons, The Chronicles of Now. “I would have passed out!” exclaimed Tina Louise as he admitted to his fifth drink in 45 minutes.
Let’s toast Alison Arngrim, who was the cunty Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie and now has a Fez-bound comedy show called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Arngrim calls late co-star Michael Landon “the Jesus of Malibu,” and says it’s weird that a poor dirt farmer from Minnesota had a $200 Beverly Hills haircut. What’s more, she reveals, he was a bit of a taskmaster to the kids on the set. These days, Alison’s friends with Marie Osmond and clarifies, “It’s not that her teeth are so large, she just has a very small head.”
Yet more joyous news for Nick at Niters: Five Taxi stars are either on or coming to Broadway. The last stop at that cab depot is clearly 42nd Street. Meanwhile, Wings‘ Steven Weber shines in The Producers, and so does Brad Oscar, but my Playbill still featured the guy they sent back to England. Even his bio stinks!
Moving from replacement casts to revivals, hordes of them are upon us, like college friends who think they still have open entrée into our lives. Into the Woods is that dense, brilliant Sondheim/Lapine work in which they weave too many stories, rhymes, and reprises, and preach too many life lessons, but it still clicks as a fractured fairy tale for anyone who never took what Mother Goose said at face value. They’ve added some shtick, but for the most part, “the end is worth the beans.”
The new Private Lives is a wonderfully melancholy yet acidly funny take, from Alan Rickman‘s almost-fourth-wall-breaking entrance to the biting and choking finale. At the opening-night party, Lindsay Duncan‘s husband remarked to a Times reporter that he’s not worried about wifey being with Rickman all the time because “he’s gay”—a crack that got the whole room buzzing. Scores of cognoscenti lined up to tell me, “No, he’s straight, married, and devoted”—and Larry King wasn’t one of them.
Thoroughly Modern Millie (an adaptation, not a revival) preaches just my kind of message—that it’s OK to love a poor guy as long as it turns out he’s really rich. Adding a wealth of luster to the fizzy musical is Harriet Harris as Mrs. Meers, the Chinese-accented hotelier who abducts orphans and sells them into servitude. A scene-stealer reminiscent of Roz Russell more than Bea Lillie, who played the part in the movie (which Harris feels “you have to be on drugs to watch”), Harris is a scream, whether singing “Mammy” with her subtitled cohorts or throwing zingers at pseudo orphan Sheryl Lee Ralph.
The accent would be a huge problem, except that the character is actually a frustrated actress and major be-otch pretending to be Asian. At Café Edison, Harris—a fine-boned presence right out of Stage Door, but with a healthy sense of self-deprecation—told me the pretend shtick was her idea, and she used it in the workshop version five years ago. She didn’t get the part when the show launched, but when Pat Carroll vacated it, Harris stepped in and got to faux-dragon-lady it up again (but only after her real Asian co-stars told her, “It’s so wrong, it’s OK”).
“We’re not endorsing anything Mrs. Meers does,” Harris told me. “She uses a bad accent. Is that really worse than sending girls away to white slavery?” Harris herself speaks quite well—she’s a Juilliard grad from Fort Worth—and has turned up in everything from Frasier (as the “nightmarish yet effective” agent) to Memento, in which she’s “got a real problem.” On TV, she said, “I’m ridiculous, power hungry, or snappy women. In film, I’ve played people who are down and out, sad, and thwarted.” Does she ever get to play ingenues? “Ingenues?” she shrieked. “Aren’t you cute? My, you must be everyone’s favorite person!” Yeah, I am pretty popular.
She can do it all, actually, but Harris is amazingly humble about it. She said she hates being photographed so much that she cried when she posed for her last head shot. (Funny, I sob when I’m not being photographed.) As for Millie, “I was always afraid they were gonna cut my song [‘They Don’t Know’] and say, ‘You’re not a singer.’ But they never did!” Of course not—it’s fab. Isn’t this show bringing her to a new plateau? “Not that I’m aware of!” she insisted. “Nothing is happening.” But she just got Drama Desk and Tony nominations, though award talk reminded Harris that when she was in Jeffrey, a friend told her, “I smell Obie.” Co-star Edward Hibbert ended up getting the award, so Harris reminded the pal, “I thought you smelled Obie” and he shot back, “I did, it just wasn’t yours.”
I like this woman. Take it away, Larry King: She only plays a snaggle-toothed meanie.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 7, 2002