Robby and Me

So 31 years ago this month I spoke to a guy I didn’t know on an actual landline.  No, it wasn’t like that.  He was a friend of a friend who was new to town and he had the soft, sexy voice of a young Robby Benson.

For those who don’t know – Robby Benson was a big film and TV star in the seventies with great hair, impressive acting chops and endless boyish charm.  Extremely smart and fun loving with a talent for playing often troubled though never irredeemable characters.

NOT ROB LOWE. #better

Anyway, I agreed to take Robby’s voice to a party because It/He didn’t know many people in town and when he came to my door I was taken aback.  He not only looked a little like Robby, by way of Italian heritage, but was smart, fun-loving and far LESS TROUBLED than any of the people he played.

This was Robby as you wanted him to be.   Or so I thought.  And it turns out I was right.  That night turned into that morning and more than three decades later here we are, his voice still intact and my crush now my husband.

and they lived happily ever after #AWWWWWW

It is important to remember Robby my husband and I met in 1987 in the height of the AIDS crisis.  The idea of finding a person with whom you could survive with 31 years later seemed…well, no one was thinking that far ahead.  About a week or two was all you could manage, and even that was pushing it.

We were ending the horrible Reagan years where gay people were branded nationally as diseased sinners whom the public at large needed to be protected from.   It wouldn’t get too much better in the four years of George H.W. Bush, though one of my favorite political moments of that time was when a former boyfriend gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention nominating Bill Clinton that chastised Bush, Sr. for willfully ignoring so many of the sick (nee gay) members of his (Note: Bush, Sr.’s that is) American family.

That boyfriend is long dead but his words linger in my mind.  I think of him and so many others often, though not in tragic terms.  I wonder – what would they make of Ellen coming out nationally?  Will and Grace and the return of Will and Grace 15 years later?  Could they have imagined RuPaul would not only have a high-rated show but win an Emmy and spawn a nationwide trend towards EVERYONE workin’ it 24/7 by simply being your true self?

Preach Ru

This is to say nothing about gay marriage in the age of Grindr, gay parenting, #ItsGetsBetter, gays in the military and, well, pretty much gay everything, anything and in any way possible if you so choose.

Exhibit A  #heyantoni

That does not mean there are now zero consequences from family members, neighbors and the world at large for one’s choices.  But pretty much every choice we make has consequences.

The fact that there is even this much of a level playing field felt like a quaint pipe dream in 1987.   Kind of like your parents saying you were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye five years before you were born.  (Note:  Okay, maybe my family were the only ones who spoke this way but nevertheless the star metaphor feels apt).

It is in this context that I tuned in NBC’s The Voice this past week and saw a gay male couple in their 30s – one African American, the other lily White but both super hot – talk about meeting, singing together, falling in love and forming their own singing group.

They then discussed their parents and siblings, families who were finally face to face for the first time at this about-to-be televised audition.  Amidst all this we were also told they had an upbringing steeped in the church, information that would have been the whole point of their appearance even a decade or two before.  Assuming, that is, they would have even been let on TV as their true selves, which they wouldn’t have been.

Never mind that I thought their musical act was kind of corny, albeit sweet – sort of Up With People trying to mix with vintage Temptations music.   What was being broadcast here was in PRIME-TIME NETWORK TELEVISION.  More than their music, their story had reduced their four heterosexual vocal coaches/International music stars to sighs of admiration and tears.

YES IT IS LISA #exceptyourlips #help

It was also pre-determined by a corporately held network, owned by a conglomerate, that this would similarly tug at the heart strings of America’s heartland. Why else make them the lead off act in the 8:00pm family friendly time block?

Heck, I wondered, what does my sometimes still stuck in the eighties self make of that?  What would any of my friends, particularly the musical ones and specifically those who were long gone, make of it?

Answer – most of us around these days don’t think of it much at all.  Those not around couldn’t think of it as real.  At least that’s what I and my husband concluded.

None of this is a reason to pat ourselves on our collective backs and break out in cheers as a nativist movement sweeps the country and the world, imperiling minorities everywhere and even thumbing its nose at some MAJORITIES, nee WOMEN.

OK OK Stay with me!

It is only to say, sometimes one has to look at where they came from as well as from where they started in order to gain perspective and energy about where they are now and in what way they are to proceed.

This year there are dozens and dozens and dozens of LGBTQ-themed films already or about to be released.  Click here for a list

Sure, we are still a niche audience but so is pretty much EVERY audience these days.  In 2018, it’s all about niche music, niche TV, niche radio, niche….don’t get me started.  So much to catch up on, so, so little time.

I’m sorry Sarah.. there is literally no time #AHSApocalypse #netflixIguess

But ultimately it’s more about subject matter and the lens within that niche.  In the seventies and eighties it was acceptable for straight male characters to make “fag” jokes without retribution.  The notable major LGBTQ crossover releases in 1987 were Maurice and Prick up Your Ears – two period pieces about a time when gay meant sick and in the shadows, and lesbian love or BTQ existence were barely an onscreen flicker.

It would be five years before Neil Jordan pulled off an international gender hat trick in The Crying Game.  This was 23 years before TLC aired its first episode of a reality show focusing on a transgender teenager, I Am Jazz.

We’ve learned that the point is the lens from which something is viewed.  We are offered the travails of a white suburban gay kid coming out in films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon (Note: L-O-V-E) and the oppressiveness but ultimately unapologetic victories young gay protagonists can have when their parents try to convert them to straight in movies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the upcoming Boy Erased, all of them 2018 releases.


This doesn’t erase the tragic last days of Oscar Wilde in Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, now out at theatres.  As its star, writer and director, Mr. Everett effectively reminds us that this literary giant served TWO YEARS hard labor for engaging in gay sex (aka sodomy) with the man he loved at the turn of the century and was damaged beyond repair, not to mention shunned by society, in the few years he had left after he got out.

Yet in 2018, it’s an openly gay artist telling the story about an iconic gay artist from the past to a world that in the great majority, at least in the U.S., are on HIS side.   If that weren’t the case, you can bet Sony Pictures would have NEVER picked up the film for distribution.   

We’re not exactly to Avengers level, but good on them.

Nor would a gay Black man co-write the screenplay to his own autobiographical story, Moonlight, and then watch his story become 2016’s surprise best picture Oscar winner.

So as we all deal with the Trump America of it all, the international Nativism that could be our ultimate destructions, not to mention the latest U.N. report on climate change and the tragedy of global warming that threatens the extinction of the human species, it’s nice to remember history, progress, regression, revolution, resistance and more progress is our legacy.

It’s a roller coaster of emotions, dear.

History can turn on a dime, either way, and many of us have lived through periods where all fights seemed in vain and the best we hoped for was simply getting through.

What we didn’t know was that the future could be brighter than we imagined, BLINDING so DAZZLINGLY as to be rendered un-seeable, with only inevitable dollops of dark.

And that dream Robby Benson can appear at your doorstep just when you thought there was never a chance.

If this last thought seems too LGBTQ Hallmark, check out what one member of our new generation just unabashedly posted on his YouTube Channel.  Colin O’Leary you are 2018 Robby – reincarnated.

Big Red Lips: Learning from Lucy

LucyIf one more talking or writing head on TV or in print proclaims that young people entering the marketplace will have a near impossible time getting a job or that the “millennium” generation better get used to the fact that they’ll never live as good as their parents, I’m going to scream. Or let someone do it for me.

And they say it with such certitude – with intellectual arguments — and near irrefutable evidence. “Unemployment is at an all time high.” “The economy is crashing.” ‘The world is teetering on the brink of disaster.” And just checking the web, TV or newspapers for the daily riot quotient only seems to confirm this outlook.

Those entertaining a career in entertainment would seem to have it even worse. It’s an unstable business full of illogical people. Or perhaps it’s an illogical business full of unstable people. Take your choice. Or choose both.


Because while this news certainly upsets me as a screenwriter who wants to work again, it makes me positively (but in a good way) LIVID as a teacher of many extremely talented, creative, enthusiastic students of the millennia who want to be in entertainment and are doing more than entertaining that career option. They are actually doing it. Or trying to do it. Or are entering or about to enter the marketplace despite what you say.

To these courageous youngins I say, it’s never not always wise to listen to your nay saying elders.

To their elders I say – SHUT UP THE F&$K HECK UP!!

Dream stomping is such a common pastime in our culture, especially during tough times, that it’s almost become de rigueur. Remember the old adage that it’s not enough to succeed, but you have to see your friends (or loved ones) fail? – multiply it by a lot and you get what’s going on now. People will say – “oh, we’re just being realistic – “warning ‘em” “preparing them “ For what? Another reason not to get out of bed in the morning? (as if we needed to add to the list) A new and improved excuse to not try anything new at all? (I mean, if that’s the case, why even wake up at all?) Are you saying that it used to be easy but now it’s hard? Or it used to be difficult but now it’s impossible. Or something else? Because whatever is being said, I can tell you from the trenches, is extremely, uh….. (let’s be polite here) counterproductive?

What is productive in August – a time when Congress, the president and other people who have paying jobs are on vacation (it still is vacation even if you’re unemployed) and are still looking for a laugh – is to go to the tried and true for some WISDOM that’s stood the test of times and yeah, even a few laughs. (hey, we’re on vacation).

And what better place to look for all that than to Lucy.

Yeah, Lucy. As in Ricardo. She was a housewife in the 1950s. Actually, she was a fictional character. But rather than listen to anything the dooms-dayers are saying, I’d urge every young (and old) person to watch a bunch of the made up, meaning not real, “I Love Lucy” episodes from the past and consider some of the lessons imparted for the present. If you don’t want to do it because I said so – do it in honor of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday – which was commemorated nationwide in various celebrations, writings and web/TV pieces last week. Heck, even Google posted a clip on their page from “I Love Lucy” in recognition of her centennial. And how many black and white TV show fictional characters from the fifties do you see Google modifying their logo for? (The correct answer is ——NONE). Given Google’s standing as a success model in our post millennium world, that and that alone, should mean that at least some of her lessons are worth following.

LUCY LESSON #1 — BE WILLING TO TRY SOMETHING NEW – meaning — BE FEARLESS IF YOU WANT IT. You may or may not know Lucy was determined to break into show business with or without the approval/help of her bandleader husband Ricky. So determined that she talked her way into being the TV commercial pitch lady on one of his upcoming TV appearances despite the sour taste it left in her mouth (with dubious results).

LUCY LESSON # 2 – THERE IS ALWAYS A PLAN –Lucy was consistently told by her bandleader husband Ricky she could not be part of his nightclub show for various reasons (talent being a big one) but she knew she had it and always came up with a plan to prove him wrong. Even if it meant doing the jitterbug right after the eye doctor dilated her pupils and she couldn’t see.

LUCY LESSON # 3 – IMPROVISE, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE ODDS SEEM AGAINST YOU – When Lucy’s back was against the wall she NEVER gave up, no matter who much the odds seemed stacked against her. When she was told by her husband she could never get a paying job (yeah, men FREQUENTLY said that to their wives in the fifties) and she indeed found herself in an impossible situation, she still found a way to sweetly (‘cause it was a candy factory) trudge forward.

LUCY LESSON #4 – DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER, DESPITE WHERE IT LEADS – When Lucy’s bandleader now turned would be movie actor husband Ricky is not being given a film by his studio (MGM) she pretends to be his agent because A) he doesn’t have one, B) he needs the help and C) the studio needs a push in his direction. Someone has to take the initiative and stop complaining so — she goes into action.

LUCY LESSON #5 – ASPIRE TO SING, EVEN IF NO ONE LIKES YOUR SONG – If you really want to sing, you’ll find your audience – and a way to be heard. That’s the Lucy way. Sure, she might not have had the typical singing voice – but what she lacked in traditional pitch, she made up for in stage presence.

LUCY LESSON #6 – IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH WHILE YOU’RE DOING ANY AND ALL OF THE ABOVE – Lucy is in Italy. She has a PLAN to soak up the local culture in preparation for a potential MOVIE ROLE when an Italian director thinks she could be ON CAMERA – something new and interesting in his next film. No matter she doesn’t know Italian, or grape stomping. She WON’T TAKE NO FOR ANSWER and perseveres even though IT’S RISKY and NONE OF THE OTHER WOMEN LIKE HER.

These are tried and true themes that have survived show business FOR DECADES. They might not all work for you, but I’ll bet at least one does. Or at the very least, lightens the load. And these days, you can’t do much better than that.