Our Date With Judy

Celebrating the Judy Garland Centennial

Once a year, from around age three until even today, I have a date with Judy Garland. Millions of us did. That’s because for years there was an annual showing of “The Wizard of Oz” on network television. For those too young, there used to be only about three channels on TV – NBC, CBS and ABC. And for almost four decades, one of those channels would fiercely bid against each other for the rights to broadcast the “Wizard of Oz”. And each year, between 1956 to 1991, “The Wizard of Oz” would win it’s time slot, and place in the top 25 watched programs for the year. It was an event. Because of this annual tradition, this 1939 musical became the mostly widely viewed film in cinema history.

One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories was watching the annual telecast of the “Wizard of Oz” on network TV. It was a huge deal, with big celebrities from Danny Kaye to Angela Lansbury hosting. For weeks we would wait in anticipation, after being constantly reminded by frequent commercials for the broadcast.

I must have been three years old the first time I saw “The Wizard of Oz”. My mom loved celebrating traditions, and she rose to the occasion by organizing a slumber party for me, my sister and a couple of the neighborhood kids. I still remember the awe I felt when Dorothy first opened that sepia toned door to Technicolor Oz, and first seeing the munchkins, Glinda’s bubble, the melting witch and of course Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow”.  

Maybe if my parents hadn’t fought so much, I would have understood better the concept of being homesick, but after the movie, the only question I had was why Dorothy was in such a hurry to get back to Kansas? In my mind, Oz had everything a child would want, talking apple trees, singing scarecrows and a hilarious cowardly lion; while Auntie Em and Uncle Henry and their farm seemed a little dour by comparison.

For Christmas that year, my sister and I got the soundtrack album of the “Wizard of Oz”, with both the music and dialogue from the film, so we could follow Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road whenever we wanted to. As a result, I had the entire movie pretty much memorized by five years old, and adults delighted in having me do my impression of the Wicked Witch, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!”

 Margaret Hamilton should have gotten an Oscar. She was only in the movie a few minutes, but she leaves quite an impression. There are tales of kids being too terrified of her, but I ADORED the Wicked Witch. In those days, before my parents got divorced, my Mom enjoyed sewing our Halloween costumes from scratch. Because my sister was older, I usually got her hand me down costumes, which wasn’t a problem when the costume was a clown or a leopard, but my dad wasn’t thrilled when in kindergarten, I insisted on wearing my sister Lisa’s old wicked witch costume from the previous year. To me, a witch didn’t have a gender; she was like Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Given my dad was very homophobic, I’m surprised he allowed it, but I do remember there was some controversy about it.

Fast forward a couple years later. My parents had gotten divorced when I was in 1st grade and my Mom, sister and I all moved to a small apartment in the “big city” of Akron, Ohio, where I still played that Oz record in our basement laundry room/playroom.

My parents wisely hadn’t shared the news with us that the actress who played Dorothy had passed away a few years earlier, but our new baby sitter showed no such restraint. 

“She killed herself,” the baby sitter said – inaccurately as it turned out, but I didn’t know any better. (She also told us once that a really vivid sunset was a sign of the apocalypse, causing me and my sister to go into a fit of crying hysterics, but that’s another story.)

So at seven years old I was left wondering what could make someone so beautiful and so talented be unhappy. That question still haunts me.

In the intervening years, my Mom got remarried and we all moved to the country. Though I never missed Oz when it was broadcast on television, by 3rd grade I had discovered horror movies and old Universal monster flicks. Then came my Star Wars “kick”. I was also a voracious reader, having read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book our school library offered, and by 4th grade I had moved on to adult historical fiction, like “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, or any Reader’s Digest Condensed Books left around. For a fourth grader, I had some pretty sophisticated literary tastes.

But then around 6th grade, I got grounded from reading. My grades in school were mediocre and my mom blamed it on my constantly reading what she thought was fluff. She didn’t know you can learn more from Nancy Drew than a whole year of elementary school. There for awhile, I was hiding books in different parts of the house to read in secret, including a stash in my tree house, as well as a spot in a cement planter on our front stoop. 

But I was allowed to read non-fiction books, which included biographies. 

One day I was browsing a bookstore for something non-fiction to read when I saw a paperback edition of “Rainbow”, a biography of Judy Garland, so I scrounged up enough allowance money to buy it. I was finally going to get the answer to the question that had haunted me since I was seven years old: how can someone so talented ever be unhappy?

After devouring the “Rainbow” book, I went on a spree, reading every Judy biography published, hoping each time the ending would somehow be different. While I never did find the answer to my question in those biographies, I found out Judy Garland sure had accomplished quite a lot in her short life. She starred in 35 films, winning an Academy Award for Oz, and she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (Star is Born) and Best Supporting Actress (Judgment At Nuremburg); and she also won a Tony Award, a couple Golden Globes and she was the first woman to win the Grammy for Album of the Year (Carnegie Hall).

Thru her music, movies and biographies, Judy Garland opened a world to me I’ll always be grateful for: the world of Harold Arlen, George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter; not to mention the movies of her husband, director Vincente Minnelli and the movies and music of her multi talented daughter Liza Minnelli, who I also first fell in love with as a child after hearing her as the voice of Dorothy in the animated sequel “Journey Back to Oz”. Liza’s voice just blew me away, it echoed Judy’s in its richness and sincerity, but was also unique.

Growing up in a small town can be tough on a kid who is different. Being called “fag” by your peers might not be a big deal if you’re not actually gay, but when you are hiding that secret, it becomes more of an accusation. How could people know? I thought being gay meant you liked dick, not MGM musicals! So I was a nervous wreck by 8thgrade. But no matter what was going on at home or at school, I always had Judy’s music to explore, to soothe or uplift me. No one does “joyous” like Judy. She became sort of a fairy Godmother who would visit when I put the needle on the record. Also, there was an inspirational part of the Judy Garland story – every time she got written off, she came back stronger than before.

Another aspect of Judy’s movie persona that appeals to the marginalized is that she was always the girl who had to prove herself – from Andy Hardy to Easter Parade – at first losing to the glamour girl, until everyone fell in love with her when she opened her mouth to sing. I didn’t know about the gay connection to Judy Garland when I first began exploring her career – I didn’t even know what “gay’ meant. But even after I found this out, like for instance that her funeral in New York was associated with the Stonewall Riots, I didn’t care if people thought I was “gay” too for loving her. I think I’m most proud of that part of me – I never let peer pressure determine what or who I loved.

Some people like to dwell on the darker aspects of Judy’s life, but I don’t. Her music is enough of a testament. All I have is gratitude she existed. So, thank you Judy Garland for all the years of pleasure you have given me by sharing your heart and soul with the world. 

Frank Sinatra once predicted, “The rest of us will be forgotten, never Judy.” But I think he is wrong. Thanks to the enduring appeal of the “The Wizard of Oz”, Judy is going to drag everyone who was ever in her orbit with her – through the years and down through history.

My One Degree of Separation from Stephen Sondheim

David Holliday

When I was a wee twink, I was in a production of “Camelot” starring Broadway veteran David Holliday as King Arthur. Every night, 8 shows a week for two months, I got to wear tights on stage as a paige to King Arthur, and best of all, at the climax of the show, I had the great honor of bringing King Arthur his famed sword Excalibur.

Now it might have been how great my 18 year old behind looked in those tights, or maybe not, but one night David asked me to dinner at his place. Like most actors, he was eager to share his Broadway bona fides.

His most famous role was probably opposite Katharine Hepburn in the Lerner and Lowe musical “Coco”, followed by “Sail Away” with Elaine Stritch. (You can hear his lovely voice on those cast albums.) He was also in Man of La Mancha on Broadway, and he played the King in a TV movie of “Sleeping Beauty” starring Morgan Fairchild (he played a lot of Kings). And he was the voice of Virgil Tracy in the first season of the cult British show “Thunderbirds”!

David’s Virgil Tracy from “Thunderbirds

But David got his start with Stephen Sondheim, who cast him as a Jet in the original production of “West Side Story” and as the understudy for Tony. Later on, he got to play Tony in the London production of WSS with Chita Rivera and again for the 1966 London revival.

He was a pal of Elaine Stritch and David loved the story of how one day, out of the blue, Judy Garland called him up to invite him to a birthday party she was throwing for Stritch. He was also besties with Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise.

He would send me Christmas cards every year for awhile (those tights were magic). But sadly he died in 1999 from cancer.

As Don Quixote

Anyway, here’s the cast album of West Side Story with David Holliday as Tony. He starts singing “Something’s Coming’” at the 4:08 mark.

David Holliday from “Coco”
A video tribute for David Holliday with his gorgeous voice singing “Dommage Dommage”

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Wasted Away In Lake Geneva-ville

This pic is from a camping trip to Lake Geneva I took with my friends Tom, Giovanni and Jonathan. Unknowingly, our trip coincided with a Jimmy Buffett concert nearby and just our luck, our camp site neighbors were “parrot heads”.

We did not know this embarrassing fact about our neighbors until they loudly returned from the concert around 2am.

While I’m a very sound sleeper, my tent mate Tom was awakened by their loud, drunken campfire antics. I might have even slept through all their obnoxious laughing and yelling, were it not for Tom yelling every 5 minutes:

“Shut up!”

“We’re trying to sleep!”

Their parrot party went on past 5am, despite frequent warnings from the camp ground security guard. They would quiet down for a few minutes after getting a warning, only to start back up again when the coast was clear.

They finally passed out around 5am and the campground was at last quiet and we were able get some sleep

When we woke up around 10am, our noisy neighbors were loudly snoring in their crowded tent, their site littered with crushed beer cans and their campfire still smoking.

So we started packing up our gear to go home.

Loudly.

Each time we closed the car trunk or car door, it was with a bang; and I also kept “forgetting” to turn off my car alarm, so that every time we opened the trunk the alarm went off blaring.

Then I couldn’t find a lost shaker of salt, which required us to unpack and then repack the car, setting off the car alarm a few more times.

On our way out, with the car fully packed, we wanted to say good bye to our neighbors. So we paused the car in front of their tent and blew our horn until someone poked their head out.

“Goodbye!” we shouted painfully in unison to the bleary eyed, hung over Buffett bores.

My fear that our revenge scheme might have also annoyed the other campers was dispelled when we received a standing ovation from the other campsites as we rolled out of the campground.

Now I’m hungry for a cheeseburger. Hold the paradise.

Praising Pelosi

There’s a media drum beat against Nancy Pelosi, one of the most effective parliamentarians to ever hold the Speaker’s gavel. Don’t fall for it.

The reasoning goes that because the GOP use her as the boogeyman in campaign attack ads, Dems should dump her.

The truth is the Republicans would vilify anyone in that leadership role. They love to use Pelosi to stir up their base because she is a woman representing San Francisco, so there is a lot of underlying homophobia in their demonization of her.

The media obliges the GOP in this endeavor by asking every Democratic House candidate if they support her as House leader. But they never ask Republicans about Mitch McConnell, who polls 5% lower than Pelosi. That’s sexism. And how come we don’t see the media asking every Republican candidate how they are “wrestling” with their vote for Jim Jordan for House Speaker?

The Bernie left hate Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, because she supported Hillary. Well guess what, Pelosi not only got the Affordable Care Act and Dodd Frank passed, she also managed to pass the public option to the ACA that the same Berners accuse Dems of not supporting – though it passed the House and got the vote of every Senate Democrat, but failed in the Senate when newly Independent Senator Joe Lieberman blocked it. The Bernie folk would be very lucky to have her around to pass their proposed single payer bill if we retake congress. She has the track record of passing complicated bills. The Senate is where progress goes to die, not the House under Democratic control.

The best part of this is Pelosi has given her approval for red state Dems to say they oppose her, because she understands winning those seats is more important than her ego or career.

I can’t think of a male politician who would be as pragmatic a team player as Pelosi.

Voter ID Laws: The Latest Poll Tax

No, you do not need an ID to buy groceries – for the moment anyway. But some states require you to produce a specific ID card for you to exercise your constitutional right to vote.

One of my former hobbies was registering people to vote. I’d do it at street festivals or events and I’d even bring my stuff to parties. It was cool to register first time voters.

So, I have an opinion on voter ID laws, which are just an attempt to suppress minority votes and votes of other economically vulnerable people, who may move often and can’t afford $20 for a government ID each time they relocate. The discriminatory intent of these ID laws is plain to see when you notice they usually allow NRA membership cards but not college IDs to vote.

A person establishes their eligibility to vote when they register to vote, not when they attempt to participate. To register to vote, you have to establish your identity and address. Just like a state ID card, you do this by providing a postmarked utility bill or some other official correspondence received at your current address along with a birth certificate or some type of a photo ID.

You attest to your eligibility to vote when you register and swear under penalty of perjury that the info you provided is correct. When you go to vote, a copy of your registration is there that contains your signature. If a person’s address and signature match, that person should be allowed to vote. Voter ID laws are a thinly disguised attempt to suppress minority voting.

Here are Illinois requirements to register to vote.

Buzzing for Jesus

So, this afternoon some kindly, well dressed Christian lady with her equally well dressed two young daughters just randomly buzzed my buzzer hoping to talk to me about Jesus. I was expecting a UPS delivery, not deliverance.

She was already on thin ice when she greeted me with “I’m so sorry, I see I got you up from a nap.”

Instead of replying,” No bitch, I always look tired and disheveled, thank you very much,” I was gracious.

Refusing her religious pamphlet, I politely informed her I was comfortable with my decision to burn in hell; and unless she had a package from Amazon, she should please move on to her next address.

She then asked me which buzzer was mine, as she was planning on ringing the next apartment in my 7 unit building. “Maybe they want to hear the Good News I bring.”

“Look,” I said, getting a bit annoyed, “I know my neighbors, and they’re also comfortable burning in hell. We’ve made a pact.”

As they left the lobby, I complimented her two young girls, both adorably dressed in their church best.

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Barbies


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One night, back in college sometime in the late 1980’s, a buddy and I were hanging out at my apartment with a camcorder, and some beer, along with construction paper and a few dollar store Barbie knock offs; and we decided to make a movie we called “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Barbies“. (We were both huge Russ Meyers fans.)

The plot centered around Varla, a deranged, stiff armed, dollar store Barbie who – out of bitter jealousy over her lack of bendable arms and legs, plots revenge on the real Barbie who can bend and pose anyway she pleases.

A sub plot involved a kinky Ken and his dominatrix interior decorator named Barb Wire. Yup, we beat the comic book “Barb  Wire” by 6 years!

Enjoy!

 

music credit: “The Rich Man’s Frug”

I wish I could credit my friend, who  painted Barb Wire using White-out and magic marker and supplied her voice. I came up with the idea of shoving a coat hanger up her ass to give her some movement. Also, note the funny visual of Barbie on the phone, while literally being on a phone

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Introducing Barb Wire

Quiet Please, There’s A Lady on Stage

Karen Mason

There’s a line from the musical “Gypsy” when Mama Rose accuses her daughter Gypsy of trying too hard to sound like an intellectual, telling her “You read book reviews like they were books.”

Like Gypsy, I used to read concert reviews like they were concerts. Though I loved music, I didn’t have the dough to hang out in cabarets and piano bars. Instead, I lived vicariously through Howard Reich, the Chicago Tribune’s long time music critic whose column over the years introduced me to a multitude of musicians and helped nurture my unquenchable taste for Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, and thru him I also found out about a lot of new singers I might never have heard of, like a fresh faced newcomer named Madeleine Peyroux, whose debut CD “Dreamland” I rushed out to buy after reading Reich’s glowing review of her back in 1996.

Another artist Reich adored was a singer named Karen Mason, who got her early start singing in Chicago’s cabaret scene (according to her Wikipedia page, she was once a singing hostess at a place called Lawrence of Oregano!) before graduating to better things. If you’re unfamiliar with this 12 time MAC Award winning vocalist, it’s time to get you up to speed. In addition to being a famed cabaret artist, Ms. Mason’s credits also include starring in several Broadway shows, such as playing Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”;  she also originated the role of Tanya in “Mama Mia”, and she played Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray”. Additionally, Karen has appeared on TV in “Law and Order: SVU” and she was in the film version of “A Chorus Line”.

Though I became familiar with her name from reading reviews of her shows at the Park West or at Davenport’s, I never got to see her perform live until she was booked as the entertainment at an AIDS Benefit.

At the time I was hitched to a pharmacist and we attended so many of these events, as his employer Walgreens was a major sponsor and would buy up multiple tables and distribute the tickets to their pharmacists and executives. Over the years of attending these benefits, we got to see a lot of great acts, like the B-52s, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Koko Taylor among others.

No offense to the pharmacy profession, but pharmacists make for lousy audiences. I remember that one of these events was hosted by Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider, who was very pleasant and graciously introduced himself to my group of already over-served seat mates, who kept embarrassingly insisting he do the “making copies” guy from SNL, which he declined.

With the B-52s, these overpaid drunks got a band they knew, so they behaved, but Koko Taylor got no such respect. Neither did Karen Mason.

I was so excited when I found out Mason was performing at one these benefits because I’d read so much about her amazing vocal talent, but had never heard her in person.

Well, the pharmacists weren’t fellow readers of Howard Reich, so most of them had never heard of Karen Mason. Instead of shutting their free wine holes or leaving the room when Karen took the stage, these philistine boozed up bozos proceeded to talk over the music. Now, when they did this to Koko Taylor the year before, the event organizers went around chastising the loud mouths, but no one was coming to Karen’s rescue.

Except me.

I shushed more than a few of those professional pill pushers that night and despite their antics, I still managed to enjoy the vocal prowess of this amazing talent. Whether Karen noticed the talkative bores, she never let on.

When she concluded her set, I felt an impulse to apologize. I spotted her heading to the escalators and followed after her. There she was, a glittering gowned diva all alone riding a hotel escalator. So I sprinted up to her, “I’m so sorry that people were so loud, I really enjoyed your singing,” I told her.

Then I explained that these weren’t music lovers, but just a bunch of drunks who got free tickets and didn’t appreciate great music.

Anyway, Karen Mason is in town at Davenport’s this week and I’m so excited to be going. And if a mother fucker opens their mouth while she’s singing, I’m going to throat punch them.

Here’s some samples of the great Karen Mason, whose new album “Its About Time” is now available. Check her out and witness the perfect example of a great singer who is also a gifted actress.

Karen Mason in Sunset Boulevard

Karen singing “This Nearly Was Mine”

Karen celebrating equal  marriage, “It’s About Time”

My Coming Out Diary

coming-out-title

It’s been several years since I’ve “come out”. After telling my immediate family and close friends, and experiencing the liberating feeling attached therein, I  made it my mission to come out whenever possible to whomever possible. This is an excerpt from My Coming Out Diary.

 

Monday, February 5

I came out to the cable installer today. He was quite surprised at first – a reaction I’ve come to expect after coming out to the Sprint operator earlier today. Despite my hopes for furthering understanding, the cable guy ignored me, saying, “I’m just here to install your cable.”

I could tell by his avoidance that he was in deep denial and desperate to hide from the shocking truth that one of his cable subscribers is a homosexual!  I followed him about as he hooked up the lines, relating how horribly misunderstood gay people are and how tough it was for me to reveal such personal information to strangers, but also how important it was for me to be honest and open in all my dealings. His discomfort with my truth must have overcame him for in his haste to leave, he accidentally hooked me up with free HBO, Showtime and the Spice Channel. I sure hope HBO reruns that Streisand concert!

Wednesday, February 7

It was Margarita night and I had quite a few of them. So many, I found myself “coming out” to the bartender, before remembering I was in a gay bar. The bartender cut me off.  On my way home, I came out to my cab driver. He was very understanding, and then he told me his own personal tale, some of which I actually listened to. Evidently, his native country’s culture demands absolute purity from their women, and thus the men find it difficult to release their sexual energy. At some point, he pulled the cab over and asked me for a blowjob. Afterward, he drove me home and do you know, he had the guts to charge me full fare? Of course I didn’t tip him.  You know, some cab drivers really leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, February 8

Home alone – again. Feeling bored. Nothing on TV. Just a bunch of jiggling breasts on the Spice Channel.  What is it with soft porn? They give you every conceivable view of a woman, frontal, back-al, you name it. It’s a complete breast fest, but you barely get to see even a guy’s ass. This is wrong and another example of the unfair treatment for LGBT. I’d call and complain, but I’m getting the channel for free.

Thank God the doorbell rang! l was greeted by rug rats selling Girl Scout cookies. I politely explained to the green skirted children that I reserve my charity contributions for gay related causes only, but as they were walking away I spied a box of Thin Mints, so I relented.

Friday, February 9

I met someone! He’s a cashier at Burger King. Granted, it’s not a profession I  imagined my future husband to be involved in, but he’s in college. Our meeting was tender and memorable. l had just ordered my Whopper, careful to specify no onion (you never know who you’re going to meet). When he saw my Pink triangle lapel pin he asked me about it and I explained that the pink triangle was a symbol of homosexual oppression in Nazi Germany and that in recent times had been adopted as a gay rights symbol, adding that not much has changed and homosexuals are still being oppressed.  He looked at me quizzically and responded, “I just wanted to know where you got it –  mine just broke.”
Well l almost fainted. I heard strains of “Some Enchanted Evening” and thought l was dreaming until l realized it was just the Muzak. Well, to make a long story short, we agreed to meet tomorrow. Oh,  and he threw in an order of free chicken fingers!  I never noticed before, but those burgundy polyester uniforms look kind of hot. I hope he doesn’t wear it on our date.

Monday, February 12

Chip and I had our first date. It wasn’t as romantic as I’d hoped, but we’re both between paychecks so we dined at Taco Bell. Chip spent a good part of the dining experience commenting how much nicer the uniforms at Taco Bell were and how he wished his Burger King had free drink refills so he wouldn’t have to deal with it.  I got really bored by this. Then he let it slip – the deal breaker. He wasn’t “out” to his mom and dad!

As someone who “came out” just last week, this infuriated me. I told him off right there and then about the importance of coming out to your family and how if everyone came out we wouldn’t have the discrimination we encounter today. He then lets it spill that he’s an orphan – just my luck! I said that was no excuse and he stormed out.

Tuesday, February 13

Went to pick up my clothes at the cleaners. I just got my “Gay Dollar” stamp and stamped all my currency with it at breakfast.  The woman who owns the cleaners was there and I handed her my ticket. She’s usually a nice little old Asian woman, but she didn’t seem so nice after I carefully counted out fifteen dollars all stamped with my pink and glittery “Gay Dollar” stamp, which I had to count out twice because she didn’t see my political statement at first. “Notice anything?”

Her eyes widened in fright, pushing my cash away, “You defaced money – that’s a crime!”

“No it isn’t” I insisted, now wondering if it was.

But she didn’t want to be part of a crime, so I had to find a cash machine to pay for my dry cleaning. Note to self: try the Gay Dollar trick on someone who isn’t holding $500 in dress shirts hostage.

Today

After cross checking on my computer the names of people I know against the people I’ve “come out” to, I’ve come to realize that there is no one left. Short of waiting for some employee turnover at Burger King, for the near future everyone I know knows.

Briefly this though left me in a fit of despair until I spied the telephone book. Then it struck me – there’s a whole lot of people out there I don’t know! My God, there’s billions of Chinese alone who I don’t know and who don’t know that I’m gay! So, I picked up the phone and started dialing the A’s.

Hello world, I’m coming out!

 

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