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Celebrating Leachman’s wonderful work, fearless life

Iconic actress defied ageism, sexism to conquer Hollywood, Broadway

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Cloris Leachman, gay news, Washington Blade
Cloris Leachman, the queer icon and legendary actress, died at 94 on Jan. 27.
(Photo Credit: Dfree via BigStock.com)

Some icons seem stiff, formal – ethereal. That was never the case with Cloris Leachman, the queer icon and legendary actress who died at 94 on Jan. 27 at her home in Encinitas, Calif. Leachman was as earthy as your granny, as eccentric as your wacky, but beloved aunt and sassier than any diva you ever met.

To me and her many other aficionados, aged eight to 80, it feels as if we’ve lost the actress who could tear your heart out (in movies like “The Last Picture Show”) one minute, and leave you rolling on the floor laughing (as in “Young Frankenstein,” the hilarious Mel Brooks horror spoof) the next.

It’s a hoary cliche to say that someone’s a life force. But, how else to describe Leachman? Born in Des Moines, she acted in children’s theater when she was 7. After becoming a Miss America finalist, Leachman studied at the renowned Actor’s Studio. In 1950, Leachman appeared on Broadway in “As You Like It” with Katharine Hepburn.

Decades later, she went back to the stage. In 1989 and 1990, she appeared in theaters across the country in “Grandma Moses: An American Primitive.”

Some Boomers remember Leachman as Ruth, the mother in the 1957-58 season of the TV show “Lassie.” Leachman told interviewers that the show’s powers-that-be had to remind her that the star of the show was Lassie, not her.

You wonder how Leachman could have the energy, stamina, and talent to do all that she did in her lifetime. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her heart-rending portrayal of the lonely coach’s wife in “The Last Picture Show” and eight Primetime Emmys (for her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Cher” and other shows).

Leachman flipped the bird to ageism. Until, the end of her life, she defied stereotypes about getting old. At 82, she appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.”

In 2009, “Cloris,” her autobiography (written with her ex-husband, the late George Englund), came out. From it, we learn that Leachman, among her many accomplishments, cooked chili “that was given four stars by both Elizabeth Taylor and the volunteer firemen of East Rochester.” (Englund sponsored a theater in East Rochester, N.Y.)

In her 80s and into her 90s, Leachman played zany, bawdy, demented grannies on “Malcolm in the Middle” and other shows.

At age 94, the last year of her life, she appeared as a frail, but energetic, grandma in the queer family drama “Jump, Darling.”

“At that age, most people are either long since passed or snoozing all day in front of their televisions,” Glenn Gaylord wrote in “The Queer Review” of her performance in the movie. “Cloris, however, is still at the top of the Call Sheet, showing up for work, and delivering powerful performances.”

Like many of my generation, I came to love Leachman as Phyllis, the bonkers, exasperating, but lovable, and in her way, loving friend on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” In college, we watched Mary (Mary Tyler Moore), single and the only woman, navigate the newsroom in fictional TV station WJM in Minneapolis. Rhoda (Valerie Harper) was her BFF. Yet, in many episodes, Phyllis (played fabulously by Leachman) was the highlight of the show.

As I’ve written in the Blade before, one episode of the program in 1973, “My Brother’s Keeper,” was groundbreaking in its queer representation. The show treated being gay as a normal part of life. Phyllis is dismayed that her brother Ben, who’s visiting, is hanging out with Rhoda. “I’m not going to marry, Ben,” Rhoda says, “he’s not my type.”

“Why not?” asks Phyllis, “he’s educated, he’s successful…”

“He’s gay,” Rhoda says.

At a time when being gay was thought to be a mental illness, the show helped us to come out to ourselves.

Thank you, Cloris, for your wonderful work and fearless life. R.I.P.

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Television

Fan-favorite host Dan Babic joins new ‘Vanderpump Dogs’ reality series

The series follows Vanderpump and staff as they match rescues to new forever homes.

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Dan Babic (Photo courtesy of Peacock Television)

LOS ANGELES – Any fan of Lisa Vanderpump knows loves animals, especially dogs! In fact, the restauranteur, TV star, author and actress has run a Los Angeles-based dog rescue foundation since 2016.

Now, the foundation has a show of its own – the “Vanderpump Rules” star’s newest spinoff series, “Vanderpump Dogs.”

Vanderpump founded the organization with husband Ken Todd after becoming aware of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China and witnessing the horrific images of slaughter and abuse faced by the dogs there. Together with their partner Dr. John Sessa, they launched the campaign Stop Yulin Forever, a movement which has gained momentum and inspired activists all over the world to end the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and encourage more humane treatment for dogs worldwide.

The three founders hope to reinvent the image of a dog shelter, from a pound to a palace, doing everything the Vanderpump way: they rescue, rehabilitate, primp, and pamper dogs in need of a loving forever home.

The new show, which airs this week on Peacock, will follow Vanderpump and the staff at the Foundation’s rescue center as they work to find just the right humans to give the dogs the loving home they deserve. Each of the episodes will focus on the characters who come to the foundation to adopt their forever friend, all with a dose of comedy and a dash of drama – and one of them will Los Angeles-based TV host and style expert Dan Babic, who has joined the show as a leading cast member.

Babic, an Australian native who identifies as LGBTQ, is known to fans as the lead host of FabTV on Roku, where he covers everything you need to know about celebrities and Hollywood. He is a fixture on red carpets at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and many other events, where his interviews have garnered over 36 million views. He also hosts “Design Genius” on Fashion Television, a “Project Runway” style show that currently airs in 160 countries and boasts nearly 350 million viewers. In addition, he travels the world on The CW’s “Unfiltered Experience,” hosting beauty exhibitions and panels with celebrities and influencers around the globe. In January, he appeared on E! Network’s “Dating No Filter.”

The larger than life host and fashion expert – who is often referred to as “gay Lisa Vanderpump” – joins the show with its second episode, which focuses on his jet-setting lifestyle and his wish to find a dog that can accompany him on the red carpet, front row at fashion week, and all his  other worldwide adventures. With the help of Lisa’s rescue foundation, he finds the perfect companion in the adorable Gizmo.

Peacock drops all six episodes of “Vanderpump Dogs” on June 9. Watch the trailer below.

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Television

Dashaun Wesley from ‘Legendary’ talks about the power of the ballroom

Known literally as The King of Vogue, and an icon in the ballroom circuit talks about Pose and Legendary with Rob Watson

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Dashaun Wesley (Photo Courtesy of HBO Max)

HOLLYWOOD – RATED LGBT RADIO welcomes special guest Dashaun Wesley!  He is not only a dancer, an MC, and actor who appears as Shadow Wintour on Pose, but he himself is an icon in the ballroom circuit and known literally as The King of Vogue. We talk about the magic of the show Legendary on HBO Max, his insights of the history behind it and all it represents, and the power of the ballroom!

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Television

Show must go on- Lil Nas X’s embarrassing wardrobe malfunction on SNL

He kept singing in what reviewers and commentators are calling “the gayest performance ever on national television” and “iconic.”

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Lil Nas X performing on NBC's SNL May 22, 2021 (Screenshot via SNL YouTube channel)

NEW YORK – Montero Lamar Hill, known by his stage name Lil Nas X, was performing his latest hit single ‘Call Me By Your Name’ from his album MONTERO on NBC’s Saturday Night Live when his pants ripped at the crotch.

The openly gay singer-songwriter- rapper glanced down then back up at the audience, covered the affected area with his hand and kept singing in what reviewers and commentators are calling “the gayest performance ever on national television” and “iconic.”

WATCH:

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