Sunday, 31 July 2011


 Rock goddess Beth Ditto turned heads when she posed naked on the February 2009 cover of London’s Love magazine

(July 30) I absolutely adore American rock star Beth Ditto. The last time her old band The Gossip played in Montreal, at Le Theatre National in the Gay Village, she popped into an unofficial Gossip pay-what-you-can benefit afterparty a couple doors over and danced and hung out with her fans for a couple of hours!

A few days before the concert I told Ditto that her local gig had been moved to a larger venue, from Sala Rossa on the Main to Le National. Ditto replied, "I’m so thrilled we’ve moved into a bigger venue in Montreal – you guys have always been one of our best audiences!"

The first time The Gossip headlined in Montreal, at Divers/Cité in 2004, Montreal's much-lamented Hour magazine put the band on the cover and Ditto has had a love relationship with this city ever since.

Ditto is a bona fide pop icon in Britain. So big, in fact, that to protect her girlfriend from London’s infamous tabloids, she reportedly "banned" her girlfriend from touring with her in the U.K.on her last tour.

"[It's] not because I don’t think she can handle it, but because that’s my life," Ditto told "Say what you want about me. Say it to my face, say it behind my back, write it on the fucking bathroom mirror, I don’t care. But do not talk about the people I love."

It’s not quite the same this side of the pond: The adulation is equally intense but the audiences are smaller. But that is about to change.

After she notoriously complained to London’s NME magazine backin 2007, “If there’s anyone to blame for size zero, it’s not women. Blame gay men who work in the fashion industry and want these women as dolls. Men don’t know what it feels like to be a woman and be expected to look a particular way.”

Overnight Ditto – all 5-foot-2-inches and 200-plus pounds of her – became one of French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier's muses.

“I think everybody is beautiful and has a different kind of beauty,” Gaultier told me earlier this month. “It is always a question of perception and of presentation. Beth Ditto is fascinating by the way she moves and assumes her body. She represents freedom. She comes from a small town in the US, is voluptuous and openly gay. She is very sexy. I have used a lot of plus-size models in my show. They are part of the society, so why not of the fashion world?”

When I asked Ditto about her NME quote, she told me, "It was a crazy debate and I don’t blame gay men solely because women do it to each other too. Fashion is one of the few professions where gay men and women hold the reins of power. It’s a shame we can’t be more empowering. But [today] I’d never just blame gay men. I’m gay and I’d rather support my community."

But Ditto not only got the attention of Gaultier, but of another Gaultier muse - Madonna. After Ditto released her eponymous solo EP in March 2011, she  paid tribute to Madge with the music video for the excellent dance track I Wrote the Book (watch below). Shot at London's swank Grosvenor House by director Price James (Hercules and the Love Affair, Peaches), the black and white video takes visual cues from Madonna's Vogue and Justify My Love clips and features Ditto being woshipped by three hot male models in various stages of undress.

Then just last week Madonna saw the mesmerizing YouTube footage of  Ditto performing Vogue (in her underwear!) at a very gay party in Moscow. "I just showed Madonna the video of Beth Ditto performing Vogue at Moscow Miller party,” Madonna's manager Guy Oseary Guy tweeted on July 28. “She thought Beth was great...”

As for Ditto, she is fast becoming an iconic figure in the gay community. Which is fitting, because when she grew up, she herself worshipped the ground another gay icon - Cyndi Lauper - walked on. In fact, Lauper invited Ditto to co-headline Lauper’s 15-city True Colors tour in 2007, to help raise money for gay grassroots organizations across America.

"I was infatuated with Cyndi when I was a kid!"  Ditto, now 30, told me. "So much so I thought she was my sister! So it was amazing to tour with her and give back to the [gay] community. It’s nice hanging out with gay crowds where all your points of reference are understood."

Saturday, 30 July 2011


 Eddie Edwards does an amazing impersonation of Cher  (Photos courtesy Eddie Edwards)

I saw famed Vegas female impersonator Eddie Edwards headline Montreal's packed Corona Theatre last night with his twin brother Anthony (together they are billed as The Edwards Twins) and, I gotta tell ya, Eddie does absolutely killer impersonations of Barbra Streisand and Cher. Killer, right down to their singing voices.

Eddie as Babs
In my recent interview with Eddie in Canada's Xtra!, Eddie said he and his brother as kids began mimicking celebrities they saw on TV, celebrities like Cher and Carol Burnett. In fact, it was Burnett (no relation to me) who advised them to start their own impressionist Vegas act. “I had no idea I could make a living doing this,” Eddie says.

Eddie also revealed, “People [always] pretty much knew that I was gay. I came out of the closet when I was 14 because I didn’t want to live a lie, even though I was born into a deeply religious family. But religion didn’t make sense to me — I mean, why would God make me as I am and then disapprove of me? It didn’t make any sense.”
Edwards says he did not encounter any homophobia headlining in Vegas, which, while it has few gay bars, certainly ranks as one of the gayest cities on the planet. “I have never denied that I am gay and I’m very proud to be a gay man, though I’ve never had a boyfriend or husband because I am married to my career.”

Eddie as Bett

Kind of like the divas he impersonates.

“When Cher’s manager put photos of me dressed as Cher up in Cher’s gift shop at Caesar’s Palace, she came down to see the photos. Then I was invited to meet her backstage, and Cher was amazed the Edwards Twins sound exactly like Sonny and Cher. So she endorsed our show.”

When Bette Midler met Eddie Edwards, she exclaimed, “But you don’t look like a female impersonator!”

As for Streisand, Edwards says, “I put together photos and a DVD and left it at one of her concerts. The next morning her promoter called me and said Streisand thought I looked more like her than she did, and would I want to tour with her as her double to throw off the paparazzi? I was under contract in the Bahamas at the time, so I couldn’t do it.”

Bugs and Eddie backstage

During his stay in Montreal Eddie also went out wandering around this city's famed queer Divers/Cité music, arts and culture festival where at the 1 Boulevard des Reves concert he introduced himself to Montreal drag legend Mado La Motte.

“What a wonderful city you have,” Eddie told me backstage at the Corona Theatre last night. “I can't wait to come back!”

Monday, 25 July 2011


 Blues legend and drag king icon Big Mama Thornton died on July 25, 1984, at age 58

In 1983 my father took me to my first B.B. King concert, and halfway through his set at Montreal’s Place des Arts, Mr. King invited butch blues legend Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton on stage to belt out a song.

The hard-drinking Thornton – who would die seven months later, on July 25, 1984, at the age of 58 – was a regular headliner at Doudou Boicel’s Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club across the street. “Big Mama drank her gin with milk,” Boicel recalls.

When a frail Big Mama grabbed the mic at Place des Arts, she just about blew Mr. King off the stage.

“B.B. King came to my club after that show and he gave me a hundred bucks and he gave Big Mama a hundred bucks, and [blues legend] James Cotton was there and they played until 4 in the morning,” Boicel told me years later. 

Bugs enjoying a rum and ginger at the home of
legendary Montreal impresario Doudou Boicel
I bring up drag king icon Big Mama Thornton – she wore men’s suits and cowboy hats – since I recently discovered American author and University of SoCal professor Judith “Jack” Halberstam, internationally-acclaimed advocate of “female masculinity.”

Halberstam’s fascinating lecture Queer Covers: Big Mama Thornton, Lesbians On Ecstasy, and the Recycling of Political Culture pinpoints how Thornton's song Hound Dog (credited to songwriters Leiber and Stoller) and Thornton’s masculine stage presence was ripped off by Elvis Presley, in the process redefining cool and literally morphing Elvis into the King of Rock’n’Roll.

“He takes the shout from Thornton, the defiance, the confident rejection of the ‘high-class poseur,’” Halberstam states.

That’s not all.

“While the history of Elvis has often been told as the history of cultural theft and in terms of the absorption of black cultural influence into white cultural production, only rarely is this process described in terms of the 'straight' absorption of 'queer' cultural influence,” Halberstam notes in her lecture.

Stephen Barry is Montreal’s
Godfather of the Blues
(Photo courtesy Stephen Barry
Meanwhile, Montreal’s Godfather of the Blues, Stephen Barry, who has played with practically every blues and rock’n’roll legend in showbiz when his was the house band at the Rising Sun, backed up Thornton for three years. “For my money she wasn’t lesbian because I remember these French girls would come up and try to kiss her and she’d get her elbow up,” he told me. “She wasn’t androgynous – she was like a shaman. She had a wonderful singing voice, a depth of feeling. It was the closest thing I ever had to a religious experience.”

But Halberstam says, “Thornton, in her mode of dress, her affect, her phrasing and her bluesy performance, can easily be categorized as queer, and her effect upon Elvis, his masculinity, his way of dancing, his singing, has yet to be [properly] assessed.”

Halberstam tells me, “Big Mama Thornton is one of the unsung heroes of both rock and blues. She exemplified how people deal with masculinity in female performers: The term 'Big Mama' was used to domesticate Thornton and turn her masculinity into something female again.”

Interestingly, Halberstam’s lecture also incorporates Montreal band Lesbians On Ecstasy, named The Advocate magazine's Band of the Year in 2005.

(Former LOE drummer/percussionist Jackie Gallant also happened to be my schoolmate at MacDonald Cartier Memorial High School years ago. But I digress.)

“In my lecture I discuss how lesbians are always cast as derivative,” Halberstam explains. “Big Mama was a writer of Hound Dog that made Elvis famous but never got money for it [except for a one-time payment of $500]. The idea that lesbians can’t be original comes up in LOE, who make an art of making covers of other women musicians.”

Meanwhile, over at the now-closed legendary Rising Sun, Thornton headlined many gigs until her final days. She remained bitter to the end about how she and Johnny Otis were never properly credited for Hound Dog.

“I’ve been singing before Elvis was even born,” Thornton once famously quipped. “He makes a million and all this jive because his face is different from mine.”

In 1984, just weeks before Thornton passed away on July 25, my friend and blues singer Carolyn Fe auditioned to be a dancer at Boicel’s relocated Rising Sun nightclub in the old famed Rockhead’s Paradise nightclub in Little Burgundy (you can still see what Rockhead’s interiors looked in Louis Malle’s 1980 Oscar-nominated film Atlantic City starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon). It was here that Fe met Thornton.

“Doudou called me to audition because he wanted to start an old-style revue but when I arrived he was busy, so I hung out at the bar while this skinny older woman in a straw hat sat onstage singing One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. And I thought, ‘This voice is familiar!’  After the audition, Thornton finished her set and hung out at the bar. I paid my respects but she told me, ‘Honey, you ain’t got nuthin’! You don’t know!’ She was really bitter about what had happened to her. She said a bunch of expletives about how blues people ‘don’t get it.  But if a few people do, then I can go to my grave with a smile on my face.’”

Years later when I told B.B. King that his 1983 Montreal concert at Place des Arts with Big Mama was my first blues concert, I also asked him about Elvis and their days working for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis. 

“I liked Elvis because he called me ‘Sir,’” Mr. King replied.

That kind of respect eluded Thornton in life, though when Janis Joplin first heard Big Mama sing what would become Joplin’s signature song, Ball and Chain, Joplin went backstage to ask permission to sing it.

A decade later, in 1977, on the Sassy Mama album (Montreal-based Just a Memory Records), you can hear Big Mama sing Ball and Chain in a live set recorded at the Rising Sun. You can hear her tell her band to do the song “B.B. King-style,” then hear her a minute later chastise her guitarist Phil Guy (the late brother of Buddy Guy) for soloing too long.

Thornton may not have gotten her due in life, but no one messed with Big Mama on stage.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


 Luba supports gay marriage and loves her gay fans (Photo courtesy Luba)

(July 20) I had lunch with 1980s Canadian pop icon Luba - for my money still the greatest rock singer to ever come out of Canada - and we blabbed about a lot of things, from how she broke into showbiz, to the time Tina Turner came up to her in a hotel lobby to tell her how blown away she was by Luba's raw talent. You can read it all in my one-on-one interview with Luba in my POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette.

One story Luba told me that I didn't have room for was about her deep connection to her gay fanbase. Luba explained a few years ago she was asked to sing at the wedding of a Calgary art gallery owner and his husband -- and she did so happily.

"It was in a vineyard," Luba recalls. "It was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen, and I 'd never seen two people more in love."

Monday, 18 July 2011


 Glenn Burke is a worthy successor to another great baseball player, Jackie Robinson

(July 18) Major League Baseball outfielder Glenn Burke began his career with Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 and was expected to become the next Willie Mays. But there was just one problem: Burke was an out and proud gay man in an era when he was expected to stay in his closet.

Now the subject of the critically-hailed documentary film Out: The Glenn Burke Story (following Burke's poignant 1995 memoirs Out at Home: The Glenn Burke Story), Glenn Burke is finally being hailed as the hero he always was (Burke died of AIDS-related causes on May 30, 1995).

“The players had no problem with it," Burke's old friend and Out producer Doug Harris tells Xtra newspaper. "They loved him as a person despite his sexual orientation. He was a part of the team. They were upset, sad, pissed off when he was traded. That was the beginning of the end of his career. And that’s where his downward spiral began.”

Burke played four seasons in Major League Baseball. In 225 games playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's, Burke had 523 at-bats, batted .237 with two home runs, 38 RBI and 35 stolen bases. When Dodgers general manager Al Campanis offered him $75,000 to get married to a woman, Burke flat out refused. But he was only traded after he refused to end his friendship with Spike Lasorda, the gay son of then-Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda.

(Incidentally, to this day, Tommy Lasorda still refuses to acknowledge his son was gay and died of AIDS. It is such a sad story that even I didn't have the heart to ask Lasorda about it when I interviewed him in 2006 when the former pitcher for the Montreal Royals was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.)

So Burke was traded to the Oakland As where coach Billy Martin - a brawler, boozer and all-around asshole - called him a “faggot” in front of his teammates. After a knee injury, the As sent Burke to the minors in Utah. Martin refused to call him back up to majors and he retired.

That's why just six gay male athletes from North America’s four major pro leagues – the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB – have publicly come out.

Of those six I’ve interviewed four of them:  NFL offensive lineman Roy Simmons, former Green Bay Packer and Atlanta Falcon Esera Tuaolo, Major League Baseball utility player Billy Bean and former NFL running back David Kopay, whom I’ve interviewed several times over the years.

The fifth former NBA journeyman John Amaechi, came out in 2007. But quite frankly I didn’t particularly want to interview Amaechi then because I’d heard it all before.

But none none of these Johnny-come-lately gay guys is a Jackie Robinson.

The sixth gay male athlete from North America’s four major pro leagues to come out was, of course, Glenn Burke, who unlike the other five came out when he was still in the majors. To my eye, he is a worthy successor to another great baseball player, Jackie Robinson, who broke pro baseball's colour barrier with the Montreal Royals in 1946 (ironically, he was also Tommy Lasorda's teammate).

So I'm delighted with Doug Harris's doc about his late friend Glenn Burke. It is a worthy tribute to a genuine baseball hero who also invented the High-Five, now imitated by athletes and fans in virtually every sport around the world.

Story goes, in 1977 Burke ran onto the field to congratulate his Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker for hitting a home run in the last game of the regular season. Another High-Five came moments later when Baker returned the favor in celebration of Burke's first major league home run

About the doc Out, Harris says, "The film is just a statement. Someone’s sexual preference is their business. Glenn was openly gay. He didn’t hide it. Did he come out publicly? No. Did he have to? No. Glenn was comfortable with who he was. Other people weren’t comfortable with it. People shouldn’t have to be pressured to come out publicly. But if they don’t want to, that’s fine.”

Or as Burke himself told People magazine in November 1984, "My mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype . . . I think it worked."

Out: The Glenn Burke Story is on the festival circuit this year and will be released on DVD later this year.

Friday, 15 July 2011


 Jean Paul Gaultier (Photo by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, courtesy MMFA)

(July 15) I hustled hard for an interview with fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier for 18 months. And while almost all of the international press only got sound bites at his French and English press conferences to launch the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ terrific exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, I managed to score a long, comprehensive interview with the openly-gay French couturier for Canada’s gay press.

Gaultier happily discussed everything from Madonna to AIDS to singer Beth Ditto of the rock band The Gossip who once notoriously complained to London’s NME magazine, “If there’s anyone to blame for size zero, it’s not women. Blame gay men!”

“I think everybody is beautiful and has a different kind of beauty,” Gaultier replied in my interview published today in Toronto’s Xtra. “It is always a question of perception and of presentation. Beth Ditto is fascinating by the way she moves and assumes her body. She represents freedom. She comes from a small town in the US, is voluptuous and openly gay. She is very sexy. I have used a lot of plus-size models in my show. They are part of the society, so why not of the fashion world?”

While Gaultier believes women are dressing more for themselves these days rather than for men, he says straight men are also becoming much more style-savvy.

“I think all men should show more their sensitive side, to show more their bodies and shapes,” he explains. “It is not a question of gay or straight. Both can have good and bad taste! I think straight men are getting better with their style. [But] gay men are [still] more aware of what suits them best in some cases, because they have this sensitivity.”

Gaultier will also return Montreal for the MMFA and Just For Laughs Festival’s downtown Pinkarnaval Parade honouring Gaultier this weekend, on July 16 (the theme is Gaultier’s signature use of stripes).

It’s clear the man loves Montreal, as well as this city’s famed and infamous gay male strip joints, where he has been spotted many times over the years.  Says Gaultier, “It must be my twin brother you saw!”

Gaultier has much, much more to say, including about Madonna. You can read the whole interview here in Toronto's Xtra.

You can also read it in French in  Montreal's Fugues magazine by clicking here.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk
Until October 2 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1379 Sherbrooke Street West)

Pinkarnaval Parade, July 16
The Pinkarnaval Show, July 17
Place des Festivals

Monday, 11 July 2011


 Puelo Deir in a publicity still from his one-man show You’ve Got to be Kidding!
(July 11) I call him the Larry Kramer of Montreal because whenever I need a good old-fashioned loudmouth gay activist quote for a news story, I know I can always call Montreal gay living legend Puelo Deir

Deir, that fabulous bitch, got her start in Montreal hosting Queer Corps on CKUT two lifetimes ago, produced the benefit at Parc Lafontaine that helped pay the $5,000 in fines of those arrested at Montreal’s Stonewall, Sex Garage, in the hot summer of 1990. Deir also co-founded Montreal’s world-renowned Divers/Cité Festival with Suzanne Girard; and for years produced the Queer Comics showcase at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival.

When he left Montreal in the late 90s to make more money in Toronto – where he was chief publicist for both Star TV and Space TV – Deir found his groove. But he nearly lost soul, so returned to Montreal where for the past decade he has worked closely behind-the-scenes with a Hollywood who’s-who, among others Christopher Plummer, Omar Shariff, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Giamatti (on Barney’s Version) and Heath Ledger. 

“He had no ass,” Puelo once told me about Heath.

Another time, when news broke from Hollywood that Will Ferrell had died in a car crash, Puelo was the set publicist for the film Blades of Glory. I immediately called Puelo who held up his cellphone and asked Ferrell, who was standing next to him, “Are you dead?”

“The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated!” Ferrell cracked.

Another time, during filming of a TV series, Puelo and I picked up entertainer Lea DeLaria at her Montreal hotel and crashed the 15th anniversary party of my then-crosstown newspaper rivals, The Mirror. When I called my club-owner friend to make sure we wouldn't be barred from entering, he happily rolled out a red carpet!

Antonio Bavaro (Photo from Facebook)
But recent health problems forced Deir to recognize that – with the exception of his 2004 Montreal Fringe Festival one-homo show You’ve Got to be Kidding! –  for the last two decades he’s been working on the wrong side of the spotlight.

“Between chemo therapy, hip replacement surgery and looking death squarely in the face – when faced with all of that stuff, I began to realize that I had better do what I have always wanted to do," says the 40-something Deir. “We have just the here and now to do what we have always dreamed of doing. I went off on that other showbiz path. But inside I was meant to tell stories. And that’s what I’m doing now.”

So Deir has hired a talented and good-looking Montreal cast – Cameron Sedgwick, studmuffin Nicholas (Koy) Santillo and Antonio Bavaro, fresh from his Montreal Fringe triumph in Hedwig & The Angry Inch – to co-star in his musical comedy Holy Tranity!, directed by David Di Giovanni, the Montreal-based theatre-maker and associate director for The MAP Project that presented FOUR:Yourself at the Mainline Theatre in May 2011.  

The cast is reading Holy Tranity! at the Toronto Fringe Festival this week. 

“Fringe Festivals are a wonderful lab for new works, works in development, works in progress,” says Deir. 

“When I put my name in the lottery I originally intended to write a piece about bullying. In the meantime, I underwent a number of pretty severe medical challenges which left me extremely fatigued. I wasn't sure I was up to writing and producing a play. But 10 minutes before the Fringe program deadline, I came up with the title and synopsis, and my best friend created the artwork. Holy Tranity! is very different work I originally intended but it still speaks of self-esteem, death, suicide and the joy for life.”

Holy Tranity! tells the tale of three young adults – trans woman Gracie (played by Bavaro), twinkie $anto (Santillo) and soldier Michael (Sedgwick) just before the onslaught of AIDS changed gay life forever, something Deir himself witnessed on the front lines in Montreal when he started Divers/Cité.

For David di Gionvanni, a recent Concordia University theatre grad, Holy Tranity! is “somewhere between Cabaret and Christian mass, the backdrop of the rise of a 'gay disease.' Though never really stated, it has a pre-80s feel to it. We have Gracie, the high priestess Trans; Michael, ex-soldier and a real angel, and $antos – young, hung, and naïve. The play follows the three of them inside the nightclub walls. We never get to see outside, though, where something close to the apocalypse seems to be erupting.”

After their cast readings at the Toronto Fringe, Deir plans to flesh out Holy Tranity!  Initial reviews are mixed but clearly Bavaro is stealing the spotlight.

“I want it to become a big splashy musical!” Deir says. “If the response in Toronto is good, if the readings go well – these are young talented kids, and we’ll see an old crank like me working with young puppies. I’m still in shock that they’ve taken this on.”


Mel Gibson's gay brother Andrew defends his brother ( Source: PerthNow)

(July 11) Mel Gibson's adopted gay brother Andrew Gibson publicly came out in the pages of the July 10 edition of Australia's The Sunday Times. And while it appears Andrew Gibson, now 43, is somewhat estranged from his family, he is still defending older brother mel's homophobia.

Mel Gibson stated in a 1991 interview, "With this look, who's going to think I'm gay? I don't lend myself to that type of confusion. Do I look like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?"

But Andrew Gibson now says his brother's comments were not meant to cause any offence and, when he had come out to family and friends more than two decades ago, Mel had been supportive. "He's a straight man and he was illustrating that fact. In the same way a gay man wouldn't want to have sex with a woman," Andrew told The Sunday Times. ""He never meant to upset anyone. I have never once heard anything anti-gay come out of his mouth."

As for his own coming out, Andrew Gibson says, "It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. I was 22. When I told my dad he cried and blamed himself he felt he had done something wrong. That broke my heart and I told him it wasn't my fault. I think they all suspected. I was at a family dinner at Aria restaurant when I told Mel. He just said, 'It's not my choice, but I love you and you're my brother'. [Then] I distanced myself [from the family] and they didn't come after me. It was a very difficult time."

Friday, 8 July 2011


Crawford and Davis make-believe on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane

(July 8) Hollywood’s most notorious feud  between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford peaked in 1962 after the two Hollywood veterans – viciously competitive in real life – were signed up to appear onscreen together for the first time in the classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, a chilling story about two former film stars living a lonely existence in their Hollywood mansion.

While Bette Davis’ character torments the bedridden Joan Crawford in the film, off the set, just to needle Crawford – who was married to the CEO of Pepsi Cola at that time – Davis had a Coca Cola machine installed in her dressing room.

Bugs visits Houmas House in Louisiana
For a scene in which Bette had to drag Joan across the floor, Joan filled her pockets with rocks. Despite their petty insults and jealousies, the two actresses were described as consummate professionals, always remembering their lines and always turning up on the set on time.

Baby Jane enjoyed rave reviews and widespread acclaim, with Davis nominated for a Best Actress Award at the Oscars. But Crawford was not, and so called all the other nominated actresses, offering to accept their awards on the night if they won. Unbelievably, they all agreed and on Oscar night when Anne Bancroft won for Miracle Worker, Crawford accepted the award to great applause.

 “I almost dropped dead!” Davis said afterwards. “I was paralysed with shock. To deliberately upstage me like that – her behaviour was despicable!”

So when it came time to director Robert Aldrich’s 1964 Baby Jane sequel, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland successfully plotted to rid the production of Crawford.

According to Turner Classic Movies, Crawford worked only four days, then quit the film, claiming she was ill. On set Crawford was treated terribly by Davis. However, Crawford can still be seen in the film. There is a long shot at the beginning of the movie, when Miriam gets out of the taxi upon her arrival at the Hollis plantation, that actually shows the back of Joan Crawford's head and not de Havilland's.

Incidentally, in 2008, I spent an afternoon at the “Hollis” plantation, which in n real life is the famed (and haunted) Houmas House in Louisiana, protopype for Tara in Gone With The Wind, and whose livingroom purchased by Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy now sits in the White House. When I was there, I visited the Bette Davis room (where she slept during production) and – I swear – a ghost slammed her bedroom door shut behind me.

What’s New Orleans without a good ghost story?

Anyway, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is just one of the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford movies being screened over 16 days (July 8 – 23) at Montreal's Cinema du Parc.

Other Crawford titles being screened are Ninotchka, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Humoresque, Possesed, Hohnny Guitar and Grand Hotel.

Other Bette Davis movies being screened are Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter and All About Eve.

And the Greta Garbo movies being screened are Mata Hari, Two-Faced Women, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Camille, as well as the aforementioned Ninotchka and Grand Hotel.

This is a rare opportunity to discover these talented actresses on the big screen. Admission per film is a whopping $6. Surf to for dates and time.

Monday, 4 July 2011


Photo of Bugs by Robert Laliberte

It's official: I have begun writing my new POP TART blog for the Montreal daily The Gazette.

As I wrote in my first blog column / post, "After 15 years of writing my national column Three Dollar Bill, which was based at Montreal’s much-lamented Hour magazine – the first alternative or mainstream newspaper in Canada to publish a regular gay column – it feels pretty good to break new ground again, this time here with The Gazette.

"There are a zillion gay journalists out there, of course, but few have made a career out of being, well, out. In America fabulous sex columnist Dan Savage began his Savage Love column with the Seattle alt-weekly newspaper The Stranger in 1991. Then Deb Price began her groundbreaking weekly column on gay issues for the daily newspaper The Detroit News in 1992 (Deb retired her column last year, but Dan is still going strong). And I began Three Dollar Bill in 1996.

"Today, while the blogosphere is packed with name bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Michelangelo Signorile and my buddy Joe My God, just one daily newspaper in America boasts a bonafide gay blogger, staff writer Steve Rothaus of The Miami Herald. Now, with Pop Tart, Montreal’s 233-year-old daily newspaper The Gazette has become Canada’s first daily to host a (not always) gay blog."

You can read more from my Gazette debut - which also features all-star cameos by R.M. Vaughan, Scott Thompson, Michel Tremblay and Rufus Wainwright - by clicking here.

You can read my other POP TART posts by clicking here. Thank you for reading POP TART and Three Dollar Bill!

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


May 20, 2013 UPDATE: The Doors keyboardist and founding member Ray Manzarek died of cancer today around 3:30 p.m. ET at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim, Germany, surrounded by his family. He was 74. Manzarek spoke with Three Dollar Bill a few years ago about whether Jim Morrison was really bisexual. As always, Manzarek gave good quote. RIP.

Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at the age of 27.  Had he lived, I think he would finally, happily be out of the closet.

I was dealing with my own closet when I was 15 years old back in 1981. I was a student in a tough Montreal-area high school packed with 4,500 other teens when I read the sensational, over-the-top Jim Morrison bio No One Here Gets Out Alive. I even sported a Morrison-circa-1967 haircut. That same year Rolling Stone put Morrison on their cover with the banner headline, “He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s dead.” I remember looking at Jim and thinking, “I wouldn’t mind sucking his dick.”

Bugs in high school
But Jim was straight, so he might as well be dead. I mean, you couldn’t pick up a book or magazine without reading how many women the Lizard King fucked before his heavy drinking prevented him from even getting it up. But after reading Boston-based rock biographer Stephen Davis’s 2004 book Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, I was not surprised to discover that Morrison was, in fact, a closeted bisexual.

Davis writes that Morrison copped Marlene Dietrich poses (aha!) while posing in his leathers in the early days of The Doors, and Morrison’s girlfriends often bitched that he liked to take them up the ass. (Gives new meaning to the Doors’ cover of Willie Dixon’s Back Door Man, doesn’t it?)

“He really preferred women from the backside,” Morrison friend Miranda Babitz explains in Life, Death, Legend. “[Morrison’s longtime girlfriend] Pam [Courson] was pissed off about that, but she stuck with it. It was part of the reason she was always snarling at him. One time when [I was] living in her apartment with them, she got pissed off at him because she thought he was running around with someone else, so she took his favourite vest that he liked to wear onstage and wrote FAGGOT on the back of it with a Magic Marker.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Courson called Morrison a faggot.

Rumours of Morrison’s taste for men made the grapevine when he hung around Andy Warhol’s Factory crew. “I first heard about Morrison’s bisexuality on the street in New York City on the off, off outer fringes of Warholism,” Davis told me after his Morrison bio was published. “You never knew what to say because they said everybody was gay.”

What is beyond dispute, though, is Morrison’s affair with a Hollywood hustler in June 1968. Davis writes that Morrison “reportedly had a fleeting relationship with a well-known male prostitute who worked along the strip. This hustler then tried to extort money by threatening to expose Jim’s secret sexual habits. Jim’s lawyer, Max Fink, arranged for a meeting between the hustler and an intermediary, who was a private detective and leg-breaker. The hustler was left bleeding and missing teeth in an alley behind a motel near the Los Angeles airport, and the blackmail attempt stopped.”

Meanwhile, Elliot Tiber, the fabulous gay man who made Woodstock happen (Ang Lee’s 2009 movie Taking Woodstock is based on Tiber’s own memoirs), met Morrison at a NYC party. “Morrison was stoned and he and I messed around a bit,” Tiber told me. “He definitely strayed.”

Morrison, as everybody knows, was an angry young man. (He was just 27 when he died of a heroin overdose. His dealer, Frenchman Jean De Breteuil—who also supplied Keith Richards and sold Janis Joplin her fatal dose—fled to Morocco with his then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, where they told my friend Roger Steffens, now the chair of the Grammy Awards reggae committee, what really happened that fateful night. Scroll down for that complete story.)

Roger Steffens today
Anyway, Morrison’s efforts to subvert authority make all the more sense when you consider that in those pre-Stonewall days there wasn’t an alternative to the closet. I tell Davis I believe Morrison’s anger was fueled by his inability to deal with his sexuality.

“I think that’s astute,” Davis says. “I didn’t really think of that. I think he had [more of] a heterosexual life than a homosexual life. His heterosexual life was so public. There were likely quite a few boys. I’m going with my gut: why wouldn’t Jim Morrison be gay and so what if he was?”

When I interviewed Pamela Des Barres on the eve of her 60th birthday, Pam —author of the classic tell-all I’m With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie, and the supergroupie who had affairs with Mick Jagger ("He made androgyny acceptable"), Jimmy Page ("One night he gave me mescaline and didn't take any so he could be in control") and Keith Moon ("I'd have to recuperate for two weeks after he left town, he was so outrageous!")— told me, "I never witnessed Jim being bisexual, never even heard rumblings of it. [But] he was so fucking stoned I don't think he even knew who he was with at a certain point in his life. He couldn't even see. We'd see him staggering down the street and he'd fall down and nobody would even pick him up.”

Meanwhile, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek hates Davis’s book. “Woof! This is a strange story by a weird guy turning Morrison into an Oliver Stone-like stranger,” Manzarek told me over the phone from his Los Angeles home back in 2004. “I don’t know the Jim Morrison he writes about. There are some things that are true. Why the guy wrote this book I have no idea unless he wanted to get into that supposed bisexual action himself. It’s Freudian.”

Davis shoots back, “I was doing a radio interview [to promote my book] and one of the DJs said, ‘Ray Manzarek is really slagging your book and no way was Jim bisexual,’ and I didn’t know what to say. Well, bring it on, Ray.”

Manzarek tells me, “If Jim was a bisexual I never saw him with a beautiful young man as [Hollywood gay hustler turned literary icon] John Rechy would write. I read City of Night—it is Hollywood, after all. I had no awareness [of Morrison’s alleged bisexuality]. I always saw him with girls.”

That, of course, is the problem with the closet, whether one is gay or bisexual: you only know what you see.

I have no doubt Morrison loved men as much as he loved women, but I give the last word to Manzarek, the man who discovered Morrison and to this day maintains the myth of the Lizard King. “I never had sex with Jim,” he says, “and you know what? Neither did you. But what a fine and thick member he had!”


How did Morrison really die? My good friend Roger Steffens, chair of the Grammys reggae committee and nicknamed Ras Rojah by his old friend Bob Marley, met the French count Jean De Breteuil in Morocco (Steffens summer job in 1971 was to paint the Marrakesh chateau owned by De Breteuil’s mother).

Roger and Bugs
Anyway, De Breteuil – a 22-year old heroin dealer who fancied himself a “dealer to the stars,” supplied Keith Richards and sold Janis Joplin her fatal dose of heroin – fled to Morocco with his then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull the day after he sold Jim Morrison his fatal dose of heroin on July 3, 1971.

After De Breteuil arrived at his family’s chateau, he told Steffens about Morrison’s overdose. As Roger explained it to me, "I thought he was full of shit because there was nothing in the international press yet."

The next day Morrison’s death was all over the news. As for De Breteuil, he would die of a massive heroin overdose later that same year. He was 22 years-old.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


I watched Old Hollywood movie star Farley Granger in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Rope on TV last night and I thought, “My God, this guy is hot.”

Then I googled him and discovered Farley died (of natural causes) at his home in Manhattan this past March 27 at the age of 85.

I met Mr. Granger once, back in 2007, when St-Martin’s Press published his memoirs Include Me Out. And I asked him then about Rope, which was loosely based on real-life, early-20th-century gay killers Leopold and Loeb, who committed a “thrill kill” to impress their mentor who, in Rope, is played by James Stewart.

Granger and his co-star, the late John Dall, played the gay killers. Coincidentally, in real life, Granger was bisexual and Dall was gay.

“John and I did discuss the [gay] relationship between our characters,” Granger told me in New York City. “But we never discussed our own private lives. We discussed [sexuality] in terms of our characters, not our personal lives. You got to realize this was 1947. No one discussed those things openly then. People forget that. The word ‘gay’ wasn’t even appropriated yet.”

 As for Dall, Granger added, “I wasn’t attracted to him in that way – it just never would have happened.”

But Hitchcock caught what chemistry they had on screen. In fact, Hitchcock would have elevated the gay subtext had it not been for the censors.

“Hitch wanted to be more forthright,” said Granger, whose affectionate friendship with the legendary film director is explored in Granger's star-studded memoir which was named after one of the most famous malapropisms of his old Hollywood boss and nemesis, MGM studio head Sam Goldwyn.

“I liked Hitch a lot,” Granger continued. “He gets a bum rap because they say he disliked actors and said that actors should be treated like cattle. But he loved the press. He loved the press most of all. And he was great to work for because he was so prepared. I think we became good friends for a while, especially during [the filming of] Strangers on a Train, which was certainly a happier experience for us both.”

Granger lost his virginity twice – first to a woman, then to a man – in the same night. It makes for a pretty fun chapter in his memoirs.

In fact, over the years, Granger would have love affairs and relationships with everybody from Hollywood beauty Ava Gardner and Shelley Winters to Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein. And his childhood and lifelong friend was celebrated Hollywood and Broadway actor Roddy McDowell, later renowned for his weekly “salons.”

(Salon regular Joan Rivers once told me how she and other Hollywood legends loved to dine and tell stories at Roddy’s palatial California home. “There’s nothing left like Roddy and his salons anymore,” Rivers said.)

When Granger served in the U.S. Navy during WWII he never had sex with another man because, he said, “I felt it was dangerous.”

Granger’s relationships with women were, of course, well documented – notably his engagement to Shelley Winters – but Granger said he never hid his gay affairs.

“That never happened in Hollywood. I never hid. I never considered myself in the closet. When I had my relationship with Arthur Laurents during the filming of Rope, all of my friends knew about it. We went out to dinner together and went to parties together. It was the crowd we hung out with – it was a New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”

Granger’s falling out with Goldwyn at MGM (“I was bothered they kept loaning me out for trashy Universal films”) would effectively end his Hollywood film career. He then made mostly forgettable films in Italy, starred in several U.S. daytime soap operas, and triumphantly returned to the stage and Broadway, where he won a Village Voice OBIE Award in 1985 for his work in the Off-Broadway production of Lanford Wilson's Tally & Son.

Still, Granger admitted he’d rather be a star in Old Hollywood than today.

“With all its flaws, the studio system was much more conducive to developing an actor’s career. Today it’s scattershot. Some people make it and some people don’t. Today you get one chance and that’s it. The thing with Goldwyn was his golden touch had passed. He no longer knew how to make stars like the other studios. He had passed his prime.”

Granger, who was 81 years old when I sat with him, had no regrets, especially since he and his late partner, the television producer and director Robert Calhoun (who would pass away a year later, in May 2008, at the age of 78), had been a couple since 1963.

“I never thought I’d have a relationship that would last that long. We [survived] our ups and downs. Getting married [was] not important to me. But whether I want it or not, I think it [same-sex marriage] should be legalized. There are people who want it and need it. It would offer protection from discrimination as well as an emotional stability that isn’t always found in gay relationships.”

Granger paused for a moment. “If we could [have], Bob and I might [have] even [gotten] married,” he said.

Which would have made for one of the finest Hollywood endings ever.

Friday, 1 July 2011


(July 1) Leave it to the current incarnation of Maclean's magazine to make waves: Canada's national news magazine this week published a very conservative op-ed (headlined "So Rob Ford doesn’t like the gay pride parade? So what?") that supports the Toronto mayor's controversial decision not to attend his city's June 27 Gay Pride flag-raising ceremony ceremony at city hall, or Hogtown's upcoming July 3 parade. 

The writer of this piece, Emma Teital, is a dyke, so she should damn well know better when she writes, "If Pride’s mandate is to host an epic party, then it should never change; but if its purpose is to advance gay rights—as many anti-Ford activists maintain—then perhaps it’s time for Pride to evolve with the rights it celebrates. Because until the parade looks more like an affirmation of same-sex freedoms than sex itself, important people will seem justified skipping town."

As one of my friends astutely noted on Facebook, "Well Jesus Christ on a bicycle! Someone needs to remind Miss Dyke that sexual orientation isn't about her right to put on overalls and hit up a fancy dance club - it's about people's right to HAVE SEX. Sheesh."

Toronto's LGBT newspaper Xtra reprinted Teital's op-ed (and I suspect that won't exactly win her any new pals at the parade either). After all, Teital actually mocks Pride when she writes, "Call me old fashioned, but since when did our mayor’s civic duties include being hosed down with super soakers by men in diamond-studded cod pieces? Tolerance is a two-way street. If you want the socially conservative mayor to shake your hand, put on some pants."

Of course, Mayor Rob Ford was elected to represent all Torontonians, even the gay ones. So let us remind him that Toronto’s Pride parade is the third-largest in the world. Pride Week 2009 drew an estimated one million people to Toronto and contributed $136 million to that city's economy. And when Toronto host's World Pride in 2014, the economic spin-offs of that event will likely exceed $500 million. W

Buy will Rob Ford be too busy too attend World Pride too?