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Stage icon Patti LuPone relishes new role in Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood’

It’s the Tinseltown that might have been in star-studded new Netflix series out May 1

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Patti LuPone, gay news, Washington Blade

Patti LuPone (left) and the cast of ‘Hollywood,” out today on Netflix. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

For award-winning actress and fierce LGBTQ ally Patti LuPone it all starts with the costume.

“I love costumes,” she says. “I love to wear them and I love to use them. I’ve been very fortunate in my career that I’ve had incredible costumes on my body.”

In fact, the legendary chanteuse says that costume fittings are an essential part of her rehearsal process.

“A good costume designer can help you define character. It all starts with the shoes. They determine how the character walks.”

She says everything else flows from there.

Glamorous costumes certainly set the mood for LuPone’s current television project. She’s starring in “Hollywood,” the latest series from gay television mogul Ryan Murphy. She plays Avis Amberg, the unhappy wife of studio executive Ace Amberg. When Avis unexpectedly assumes control of Ace Studios, she turns Tinseltown on its head and greenlights the controversial movie “Meg.”

LuPone says the series asks the question “what if?” What if you could change history? What if things were done differently in Hollywood? What would it look like if women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community could work openly and tell the stories they wanted to tell?

“It’s also a throwback to an extremely glamorous time in Hollywood with all of its gorgeousness and foibles,” LuPone says by phone. “I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say there is a happy ending.”

LuPone was of course thrilled at the chance to wear shimmering costumes from the Golden Age of Tinseltown.

“I get to look great,” she says. “When I went to the costume fittings I was in heaven. I was ravenous. When someone puts you in hats and gloves and furs and tailored clothes that are incredibly well-made you just behave differently. Sarah Evelyn did an extraordinary job with the costumes. There’s just stunning clothes for all of us.”

LuPone was especially excited that half of the costumes seen on screen were vintage.

“The workmanship was exquisite,” she says. “It’s amazing that these clothes are still wearable. Now there’s no quality control. You can buy a jacket for $10,000 and it falls apart on you.”

LuPone also says the excellent writing staff helped her slide into the character of Avis.

“I just fell into it,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to struggle with the part even though I’m not in any way like her. I’m not married to a studio head. I’m very happily married. I don’t have any of the concerns this woman had, but it felt very natural for me. When it’s good writing your job is done for you, and this is good writing.”

The iconoclastic LuPone, who just celebrated her 71st birthday, also appreciates that Avis is a rule-breaker who shatters traditional Hollywood stereotypes about older women.

“Avis has unbelievable freedom,” LuPone says.

Avis is proudly and forthrightly sexual and also supports other women instead of tearing them down.

For example, in her first moments onscreen, Avis hires the services of call boy/aspiring actor Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and the two enjoy a steamy tryst at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Later, Avis helps veteran studio executive Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor) break out of the romantic mire she’s stuck in and casts “over-the-hill” starlet Jeanne Crandall (Mira Sorvino) in a leading romantic role.

“Avis can break the norms because she’s in a powerful position,” LuPone says. “There’s nothing to hold her back. I had a ball playing her.”

All seven episodes of “Hollywood” drop on Netflix on Friday, May 1.

Meanwhile, Patti LuPone is waiting to get back on stage. She’s playing Joanne in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” a transfer from London’s West End. Previews started on March 2, but the production was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis. Performances are planned to resume in June.

LuPone has played the role before (and the iconic number “The Ladies Who Lunch” has become one of her signature songs), but she notes that this time there’s a twist. The lead role, a sexually active 35-year-old bachelor, is now being played by a woman instead of a man. Bobby becomes Bobbie.

The change, she notes, makes the show much more poignant. It’s one thing, she says, for a single man to be “boinking” beautiful women, but there seems to be a problem when a middle-aged woman is sexually active and single. Bobbie’s not married and the clock is ticking and that’s a big problem for a woman.
LuPone also adds that the recasting of the lead role is not the only gender-bending change in this production.

“The characters Amy and Paul become Jamie and Paul, a homosexual couple. This fresh focus on gender expectations really sharpens the lines.”

In typical fashion, LuPone credits costume designer Bunny Christie with helping her define her character.

“I told director Marianne Elliott that there are four people in my big scene,” LuPone says. “Three actors and a coat. I had to wrangle the coat. It’s wonderful.”

LuPone began building her LGBTQ fan base with her Broadway debut in “Evita” (1979). On stage, she’s best known for her legendary musical theater performances (Fantine in “Les Misérables,” Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes,” Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Lucia in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint”), but she’s also won acclaim for her starring role as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” and for her work with playwright David Mamet.

Notable film roles include “Witness” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and her early television work includes gritty roles as Libby Thatcher in “Life Goes On” and librarian Stella Coffa in the HBO prison drama “Oz.”

Given her love of exotic costumes and larger-than-life characters, LuPone has enjoyed taking on more flamboyant roles in recent years. In “Coven,” season three of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” she played Joan Ramsey, a deeply religious housewife who made the mistake of moving next door to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. In Murphy’s “Pose,” she appeared as real estate tycoon Frederica Norman and got to sing the Stephen Sondheim anthem “I’m Still Here” at an AIDS cabaret.

She also appeared as both Dr. Florence Seward (season one) and hedge-witch Joan Clayton (season two) on “Penny Dreadful.”

The award-winning actress (two Tonys, two Grammys and two Olivier Awards to date) is also winning over a new generation of LGBTQ fans with her work on the queer-themed cartoon “Steven Universe.”

LuPone says she had never done voice-over work before, but jumped at the chance when series creator Rebecca Sugar asked her to join the cast. LuPone voiced the evil Yellow Diamond in the television series and the subsequent movie.

Like the rest of us, LuPone is trying to stay safe and sane during the COVID-19 crisis. She recently celebrated her birthday with a Zoom bingo game (and a lot of martinis) and has become an active presence on Twitter (@PattiLuPone), where she’s taken fans on a tour of her basement while dressed like silent screen star Norma Desmond.

With LuPone’s busy schedule, it’s “as if we never said goodbye.”

‘Hollywood’ sizzles

David Cornswet and Patti LuPone in ‘Hollywood.’ (Photo by Saeed Adyani; courtesy Netflix)

Expectations matter. If you binge-watch Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix limited series “Hollywood” this weekend (and you should) and expect to see the “revisionist history” they advertise, you’ll be disappointed.

But, if you tune in and expect to see a delicious escapist fantasy, then you’ll be in heaven. “Hollywood” is a frothy wish-fulfillment dream, a delectable parfait with terrific acting, gorgeous costumes, engaging heroes, despicable villains and a happy ending worthy of a classic Tinseltown blockbuster.

“Hollywood” centers on the glamorous Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), a former silent movie star who married a studio executive when her career tanked (she sounded “too Jewish” for talkies). When she unexpectedly takes the reins at Ace Studios, she turns Hollywood into a real dream factory where women, people of color and queer people get to make movies, tell their stories, win Academy Awards and live happily ever after.

LuPone is simply magnificent. She’s smart, stylish and sexy. She looks amazing (the terrific costumes are by Sarah Evelyn) and delivers the crackling dialogue with fantastic flair and flawless timing (Janet Mock served as one of the producers, writers and directors for the show). LuPone also brings an appealing warmth and vulnerability to the role. She becomes the brains, heart and soul of this new celluloid kingdom and her performance is perfection.

LuPone is surrounded by a top-notch cast that brings together veteran actors and fresh-faced newcomers. Jim Parsons, known for his work on the sitcom “The Big Bang,” is electric as the snarling Henry Willson, the closeted agent and sexual predator who knows where the bodies are buried. Holland Taylor (“Bosom Buddies” and “Two and a Half Men”) is wonderful as casting agent Ellen Kincaid and Joe Mantello (Broadway’s “Angels in America”) offers a richly layered performance as a closeted studio executive.

Murphy regular Dylan McDermott is charming as Ernie, the suave Hollywood pimp based on the historic Scotty Bowers. His stable of affable sex workers includes Archie Pope, who blazes with sincerity and passion as a black gay screenwriter and David Corenswet, who’s period-perfect as the ambitious actor with the chiseled cheekbones.

Samara Weaving conquers some inconsistent writing to turn in a fine performance as Claire Wood, an aspiring starlet, but two of her castmates struggle with their roles. Darren Criss is rather monotonous as the cheery wanna-be director and Jake Picking is wooden as a fantasy version of actor Rock Hudson.

The cast has great fun demolishing Hollywood stereotypes, especially those around older women. LuPone and Taylor (both over 70) get sizzling sex scenes with their younger male co-stars. And while the female characters engage in delightful repartee with each other, they always have each other’s back. Despite some personal friction, Avis hires an “over-the-hill” actress (a superb Mira Sorvino) for a romantic lead and Claire cheers on the actress who gets the role she wanted.

In “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy and company create an exquisite escapist fantasy where Tinseltown really is Dreamland and dreamers do find their rainbow connection. Since it simply ignores the historical reality of the period (messy things like laws against miscegenation and sodomy), it’s not really revisionist history, but does that really matter? Right now, a stylish and sentimental fantasy sounds perfect.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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