Dream Teams

Are you losing your mind yet?

I don’t know about you but I most certainly am.

More than once a day I think of myself in a celebrity box on The Hollywood Squares and I’m not even famous.  Nor has The Hollywood Squares really been a thing since around the time I graduated college.

But ZOOM – here we magically all are, perhaps multiple times a week, in a virtual new reboot of a TV game show where we play to the camera, try to seem intelligent and attempt to crack jokes when all else fails.

I don’t even want to see what 50th day looks like #itsnotpretty

Except, of course, we don’t have writers.  Certainly not judging by any of the countless Zoom chats I’ve been on.  Instead, midway through 2020 we are all solo acts, responsible for creating our own material and literally living and dying by each choice we make both inside and outside the grid.

It’s enough to make you long for the glory days when everything you said in your square was rehearsed and scripted for maximum effect.  Sure, you didn’t always get to be your absolute true self but at least you didn’t have to think about who and/or what that was 24 hours a day. Note: I’m including sleep time because, well, haven’t YOUR dreams been more than vivid lately?

This seems normal now

For those of you who don’t know, The Hollywood Squares was an addictive daytime and primetime game show in the sixties and seventies (and rebooted shortly in the late 90s) where celebrities each occupied a box in a glamorous life-size tic-tac-toe board and answered true or false questions on a myriad of topics of the day.  It was then up to a contestant to agree or disagree with the celeb, thus earning them an X or O and eventually prize money.

If you can’t quite picture it in your mind give it a few months and I’m sure some enterprising souls will come up with a Zoom version app and make a mint charging you for your own intellectual property.

This is too much to process

But back to the real Squares.  By far my personal fave was center celeb, Broadway, TV and movie actor Paul Lynde, who occupied that prime spot for almost a decade and a half.  Mr. Lynde was the funniest and outwardly gayest performer in the entertainment world during those years, quite a feat since he was never out at all, at least in how we traditionally define it.

If you want a sense of how it was back then with Paul and those of us who loved him, it went something  like this:

Moderator Question:  Paul, you’re the world’s most popular fruit.  What are you?

Paul’s Answer:  Humble.

.. with his signature giggle  #icanhearthispicture

Of course, I can’t recreate the sniggering, snide delivery (Note: Well, certainly not these days, if we can’t be face to face) but you get the picture.

This particular Paul question came courtesy of a short, snappy profile of him in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly.  It’s officially called the PRIDE issue and in it the magazine devotes itself to pioneering LGBTQ entertainers and storytellers – past, present and future – and the many ways they have influenced culture, and in turn, our world.

Pour the champagne!

Lovely as it is to be noticed, by far the standout item in this week’s magazine is the bizarre cover, well, drawing, of noteworthy  LGBTQ celebs of the last century in what could best be described as the gayest nighttime cocktail party you will never experience.

It’s a virtual queer dream team of a party with the likes of Queen’s Freddie Mercury beckoning Janelle Monae over to his side of the room; Marlene Dietrich grabbing Cynthia Nixon by the waist and pretty much ogling her; and Ellen DeGeneres with her arm so tightly wrapped below Rock Hudson’s elbow that he can only barely make eyes at the hot – well, I’m not quite sure who he’s making eyes at but rest assured from the expression on his face there must be a myriad of hotties he’s focused in on at some unseen corner.

And to top it all off there’s good ole RuPaul in a red gown and black satin gloves, flounced across a baby grand piano, making goo-goo eyes at – yes, you guessed it – Elton John.

If you didn’t know better you’d think the media was dominated by gay or gay sympathizing liberals who had nothing better to do than to gang up on straight America and subvert their traditions by showing them just how much fun you can have by not insulting the minority of your choice and, in fact, being inclusive.

NPH knows

Of course, the bigger message of the photo is, much like a fantasy sports league, it gets you to thinking of the dream teams of your choice in all kinds of areas and just how they might rescue you, or us, from the doldrums of Zoom chats and quarantine.

For instance, can you imagine if we could bring back Marie Curie and Jonas Salk to a medical cocktail party of choice with, say, Anthony Fauci, recently demoted vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright  and well, let’s throw in Albert Einstein for the hell of it.  What might they all come up with, aside from witty chatter and medical cures, or even talk about?  If not a cure or a shot, at the very least I’d bet they’d have plenty to say.

You know he’d be good at parties

And how about a political confab with Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Golda Meir mixing it up with Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, okay I’ll say it, Donald J. Trump?  Trump says Lincoln was his favorite Republican so he’d make it, right?  Or would we have to invite Hitler Andrew Jackson?

Personally, I’d much prefer an afternoon run at a dog park I’d rent exclusively for Lassie, Lad-A-Dog and Nana because I’d get to bring my Jack Russell Rosie, my sister’s Havanese mutt Louie and several other friends’ pooches if they could make it down here in time.  Not to mention, well, every other pooch I and any of my friends and family once owned and loved as part of our family in our pasts.

Sorry not sorry

Which is sort of the point of a dream team, isn’t it?  Or even a tic-tac-toe board of celebrities on The Hollywood Squares.  To bring out the best of us by coming up with exactly the right answers to all the top problems and/or questions of the day.  And to make us feel a bit better in the process.

There was a time when a game show could do it with just a team of good writers and a handful of well-known performers.  The U.S government generally accomplished  this with a small Cabinet and a handful of clever appointees through  every single Administration in the last century while also managing to avoid the most severe consequences of several severe global pandemics.

Don’t mind me as I weep

These days, um, we have Zoom chats, the Gang that Wont Shoot Straight Under Any Circumstances in the White House and Operation Warp Speed to do the deed.

I hate to say it but not even a cocktail party with every LGBTQ star in the history of the world, can take my mind off of that.

Sorry, Entertainment Weekly.

Aretha Franklin – “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”

Making it Work

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The big news this week was that Tim Gunn – America’s Teacher and longtime Project Runway mentor and defender – finally went off on one of his designer contestants for the first time in 14 seasons and 11 years. Confronted with endless excuses and Swapnil Shinde’s admitted laziness despite his obvious talent, Mr. Gunn told him his behavior and excuses were a bunch of bullsh-t, adding what is the f-cking point of doing anything if you’re not going to commit and give your all.

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If someone else had ranted this – from me on up – it would have been just another day at the workhouse or of trolling the web. Certainly, it’s de rigueur when it comes from the mouth of The Republican Apprentice – who now ranks as America’s top GOP presidential candidate by a lot, to use his exact words. But when a beloved nice guy or gal explodes in your face it’s a lot different.

There is nothing like the unexpected – especially when it goes from nice to naughty – to jolt us into temporary attention and perhaps submission – if not shock, awe and/or revulsion. Remember when Tom Cruise jumped up and down like a madman on Oprah’s couch? Or when we found out that NY Congressman/nice Jewish boy Anthony Weiner was really Carlos Danger, the secret online seductor? How about when Disney’s own Miley Cyrus stuck her very elongated pointed tongue in and out and towards a man twice her age on television at MTV’s VMAs? The country went absolutely, positively apoplectic.

It could be a partial explanation for our preoccupation and fascination with the phenomena that is The Republican Apprentice – or at least it was until recently. It’s scary to write this out loud but yesterday I found myself saying over dinner to a handful of very smart people who asked me that I now actually believed for the first time that The Ole RA might very well be the presidential nominee by next year’s GOP. What was once shocking and unique has now suddenly become establishment and imaginably viable. Plus, there’s no denying several months of double-digit poll numbers.

Current mood

Current mood

But back to Mr. Gunn, for whom who I have always held a soft spot. He was on to something when he spewed out his tough love truths in a desperate attempt to deliver one final wakeup call. Think of it as a gay Hail Mary pass to a competitor possessing the clear ability to win the game but who lacked focus, discipline and respect for not only himself but the entire competition in which he voluntarily chose to participate in the first place. As a teacher myself I can tell you there is nothing more infuriating. You mean you have the goods but are just…. lazy… scared…. stuck in your own drama…. unwilling to move just three more steps…. prefer instead to… play??? Seriously??? See your less-talented colleague over there, the one who works 24/7? Don’t come bitching to me (or anyone else) in 20 years when you wonder why what they do has gotten the response they have – be it in either money or creative praise or both. It just doesn’t happen out of nothing. You have to put in the time in order to perpetrate the crime that you now see as success. They did. You didn’t. Now suffer the consequences.

Nice try, honey.

Nice try, honey.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to it. All the hard 24/7 work in the world doesn’t guarantee victory nor is the converse true. There are those in the minority who through timing, luck or extreme talent can stumble into a kind of momentary success despite all of their best efforts to NOT make it so. Still, on the whole it really is the hard work, the push back against the most desperate straits and all evidence to the contrary in those dark moments of doubt, that produces something unique or even spectacular. At least on any sort of consistent basis. Whether the world recognizes it or not is never the point. The real victory is when you know you’re leaving it all on the stage – as they say in show biz.  Or on the field – as is noted in sports. Or in/on the ________, as people tell you in whatever is your chosen field of labor and/or desire.

The fifth season of American Horror Story premiered this week and has gotten royally raked over the coals for — well, I’m not exactly sure what. It seems as if it is to some degree on this very subject. Have Ryan Murphy and company finally jumped the shark and delivered something so dull or gratuitous, as many culture vultures have so GLEEfully pointed out, or have we (meaning THEY) all just grown all too used to it? As a longtime fan of the series I am the first to admit that it occasionally lacks a certain story sense or too often than not falls victim to an overindulgence of style, sexual subversion and violent perversion. But jeez, isn’t that part of the fun of it all?

American Horror Story edition

American Horror Story edition

The brilliance of the whole concept is that there is nothing quite original in the storytelling, look or manner of the show in itself. The point is that it takes every subject trope of its season of choice – be it haunted houses, insane asylums, witches or carnivals – and ribaldly steals from every movie, television show, play or short story every executed on the subject. Then it throws it all together in some bubbling stew of camp, pathos and politically unacceptable (Note: Or acceptable depending on whether you’re me or everyone else) morality where it emerges with something if not new then unique unto itself. Its strength lies in its overall execution and what often becomes two handfuls of truly memorable moments over the season. Yet it is those moments that make the parts of the whole that fall flat work – which is more than I can say so far for either The Republican Apprentice or this season of Project Runway. (Note: Although Mr. Gunn did give me one of those in this past week’s episode meltdown so there is that).

I mean, whatever, I'm into it! #noshame

I mean, whatever, I’m into it! #noshame

Watching Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer portray what amounts to millennial versions of Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in 1983’s much under-rated The Hunger as they executed deadly sexual games with another couple in their all-too-stylish boudoir on the premiere episode of AHS: Hotel more than worked for me. As did the creepy kids skulking around a la The Shining and The Innocents. As did loveable Max Greenfield’s gay, blonde hair-dyed heroin-injecting pretty boy burnout being sexually violated by a dead ghoul with a power tool. Yeah it was gruesome, but it was also Grand Guignol ridiculous. The gay positive sensibility of the series puts this sort of thing in the crazy context of just one more form of mindless brutalization the AHS word offers, rather than serving to cast a specific retribution towards a member of one specific minority group the creative forces behind the scenes don’t cotton to.

One wishes The Republican Apprentice, the entire GOP field or any number of religious organizations across the world would take note before they choose to scapegoat their next real-life victim(s) of choice. They’re dealing with real life choices not the creative ones in television and Grand Guignol theatre. Or are they? Well, if nothing else, at least they’re committed. Or should be.