Wednesday, 26 October 2011


 Chaz Bono, 42, with his Dancing With The Stars partner, DWTS pro Lacey Schwimmer (Photo courtesy ABC)

Chaz Bono was voted off Dancing With The Stars last night – but not before bravely educating millions of TV viewers that transgender folks are people too.

Before the series even began, conservative pundits and right-wingnuts went crazy over the inclusion of transgender contestant Chaz Bono in this season’s DWTS. Things got so bad, TMZ reports, that ABC officials became worried about his safety both on and off the studio lot and was put on 24-hour protection leading up to the show. 

Cher at the premiere of Burlesque

at the Empire Leicester Square in
London (Photo by Ian Smith)

Mind you, it hasn’t all been roses for Chaz on the home front over the years either. As FTM (female-to-male) sex radical and legendary queer icon Patrick Califia told me a couple of years ago, “Poor Chaz! He already had to go through Cher throwing a homophobic fit about him being a lesbian. Now I get the distinct impression Cher is equally unhappy about the gender change. And I frankly think that most of the negative publicity has been about the fact that Chaz is fat and not a pretty girl.”

But gay icon Cher dispelled any notion that she wasn’t 100%  supportive of her son when she appeared on DWTS cheering him on, even defending Chaz via Twitter. “This is Still America right? It took guts 2 do it,” Cher wrote in one tweet, adding that she supports Chaz no matter what he chooses to do. In another she wrote, “Mothers don’t stop Getting angry with stupid bigots who (mess) with their children!”

When Chaz appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Cher surprised him when she called in and said, “If [anti-LGBT bigots] got that excess time and that amount of hostility, I'm not so sure that I can say anything to you that would make you change your feelings. Because those are such feelings of hostility and fear that I don't know that I would have any magic words to could make you feel more comfortable and to soothe you into not being terrified of my child dancing on Dancing With the F--cking Stars.”

When Chaz originally came out as a lesbian in the 1990s, Cher herself told me frankly, “It's a really complicated thing. If you take a lot of the drama out of it, it's such a nothing thing. At the start, it was a big thing for me, and now, when you ask me, it just seems like such a nothing thing. I think it has more to do with the outside influence, that people don't want to be associated with things that the community at large feels negatively towards. That's the biggest thing. If everybody thought being gay was fabulous, it wouldn't be an issue. If everyone said, ‘Oh my god, your son is gay, lucky you!’ it would be different.”

See – even gay icons are human and worry about their children being gay.

Chaz Bono’s six-week run on DWTS took a lot of courage and opened a lot of eyes. As Gene Simmons of KISS told me the last time he performed in Montreal, “I love Chaz. I was living with Cher when Chaz and [his brother] Elijah were kids and I was a substitute dad for a while. Life is short and we should all make up and be happy. And everybody else be damned if Chaz isn’t happy today, God bless. If Chaz is happy, then he will have found the secret of life.”

Click here to read about Cher’s new comic book
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Wednesday, 19 October 2011


 Carole Pope headlines The Flying Beaver Pubaret in Toronto on Oct 23 
(Photo courtesy Carole Pope)

It shall come as no surprise to most folks that I can morph into a splendid diva if I’ve drunk too much champagne. That’s exactly what happened to me in Vegas a couple years ago at a Pamper Party at the Kim Vo spa in the Mirage, where I demanded they pop open another bottle of pink bubbly while I got the rundown on which Hollywood stars pampered at Kim Vo have the ugliest feet.

I was sitting between my colleague, Toronto publicist Stephen Shinn, and his good friend, Canadian pop icon Carole Pope, as we each got mani-pedis.

"Oh my God," Carole told me, "you are so gay!"

With those words I was, essentially, blessed by our Pope.

Bugs and post-punk legend Carole Pope
at POP Montreal music festival in 2010
But the post-punk queen of raunch can’t stand that other pope, the one I call the Benedict Arnold of our times, Pope Benedict XVI.

"Don’t get me started," Pope says from her NYC home. "And just look at the Catholic saints, especially the Spanish ones – they’re into S&M, bloodletting, repressed sexuality. I think the Catholic Church is really kinky."

Kinky is also the word many would use to describe the lyrics of Carole Pope, one of the most subversive and influential pop icons to ever come out of this country. Though Pope herself maintains she and Kevan Staples thought of Rough Trade’s music as "sexual parody."

Still, from the time Toronto’s CHUM-FM demanded her old band Rough Trade change a lyric in their number one hit, High School Confidential (the lyric "She makes me cream my jeans when she comes my way" was replaced with "She makes me mmm my jeans when she comes my way"), to her brand-new solo album Landfall (featuring a duet with Rufus Wainwright and a song written with Hawksley Workman), Pope has always made waves.

"I just want people to know that I’m still writing and making music," says Pope, who points out her terrific 2004 album Transcend "was not properly promoted by the record company. People don’t remember it. But I just want to move forward and expand my writing."

Still, it is hard to forget her past, especially since it’s so well-documented, including in her own star-studded bestselling memoir Anti-Diva (Random House), published in 2000. The film rights for Pope's autobiography have been optioned and a film is in development.  

Not to mention it was David Bowie who chose Rough Trade to open the Canadian leg of his 1983 Serious Moonlight tour. And it was Carole Pope who taught Divine – the iconic drag queen who rose to cult fame in director John Waters’ film Pink Flamingos – how to sing for the 1980 musical Restless Underwear at the Beacon Theatre in NYC.

She also rerecorded High School Confidential for the hit Queer as Folk TV series. And one of the great punk-rock songs of all time, Rough Trade’s Shakedown, stole the soundtrack of the hugely controversial 1980 film Cruising directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino.

The film is about a serial killer targeting gay men in NYC’s S&M scene. Gay activists absolutely hated the film at the time, which, to be honest, has aged quite well and hauntingly presaged the coming AIDS onslaught.

"It was pretty shocking back then but we couldn’t turn down the chance to work with Friedkin," Pope says today. "Even I found it shocking. But now it’s a big cult film and I love those ass chaps!"

The Rough Trade album Shaking the Foundations was also adapted into a musical by Montreal-based playwright Bryden MacDonald, who remembers it even shocked La Pope.

"She’s amazing and a little scary, but I think she’s an amazing songwriter," MacDonald told me last year. "When she found out [my play] was going to be [all] jazz piano, she was like, ‘Fuuuuuckkkkk…’ But it was five hot chicks in tuxedos and Carole almost creamed in her pants!"

Pope was also the long-time love of British music legend Dusty Springfield. In fact, when I bumped into Carole in an elevator in Vegas, I actually had a copy of the 2008 book It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems (Freehand Books) by Jeanette Lynes in my hand.

"[The author] is probably a stalker!" Carole deadpanned when I gave her the book.

Today, Carole says, "I thought some of that poetry was pretty good, pretty insightful."

What about the new Dusty Springfield Hollywood biopic now in the works – will Pope get involved?

"I don’t think so," Carole replies. "I do feel a bit protective about Dusty’s legacy. I really want [the producers of the film] to get what an innovative musician she was and not just focus on the sexuality and the drinking. Many singers were influenced by her."

Just like many have been influenced by La Pope, who now wishes she never got rid of her 1980s wardrobe. "I could shoot myself because they could be museum pieces!" she recently noted.

Like Grace Jones – who notoriously said of current fashionista Lady Gaga, "I prefer someone who is more original [and] not copying me" – Pope has little respect for Gaga. "She is very derivative and asexual," Pope says.

It’s true that 30 years ago Pope, now 61 (who goes to the gym four times a week and rides her bicycle all over NYC), was far ahead of her time. In many ways, she still is today.

"I’m flattered when people call me a living legend but…" Here Pope’s voice trails off and I am reminded of the time she told me a decade ago, "I’m so over me."

Carole Pope and her band headline The Flying Beaver Pubaret (488 Parliament Street) in Toronto on October 23 at 8 pm. Advance tix and/or dinner reservations strongly recommended (647.347.6567).

Facebook page for Carole Pope at The Flying Beaver Pubaret 

Friday, 14 October 2011


Cher's rollercoaster life is chronicles in the December 2011 issue of Female Force comic book series

Cher is the epitome of the showbiz survivor. As someone once said, “After a nuclear holocaust, all that will be left are cockroaches and Cher.”

And standing beside her over five decades through thick and thin has been Cher's hardcore gay fanbase.

"I specifically recorded [the song] Strong Enough for my gay fans," Cher once told me. "You know, my gay fans have been so loyal and so great. Gay fans usually love you when you're in the dumps, in the toilet. They were there when other people weren't."

Cher at the premiere of Burlesque

at the Empire Leicester Square in
London (Photo by Ian Smith)
Now Bluewater Comics features Cher in their December 2011 issue of Female Force, the comic series that explores the lives of strong and influential women who are shaping modern history and culture. Past issues have featured, Madonna, Britney Spears, JK Rowling, Ellen Degeneres, Selena Gomez, Sarah Palin and others. December's issue is called Female Force: Cher and will profile the life of the woman born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946 (yup, she's 65!).

"We have been creating the biographies of the famous in a sequential art form for almost two years and it was only a matter of time before we got to this icon," says Darren G. Davis, publisher of Bluewater Comics. "Her life has been marked failures and successes, but she still stands boldly for herself and for her friends and we had to tell her story."

Female Force: Cher turns back time and tells how the onetime back-up singer – she sang back-up vocals on many hit songs (including Tina Turner's iconic track River deep Mountain High in 1966) for her soon-to-be first husband Sonny Bonno who worked for record producer Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood – became an award-winning actress and a performer for the ages.

The 32-page comic features the art by Zach Bassett and the inks of Warren Montgomery as well as a cover by provided by DC Comics Joe Philips.

Writer Marc Shapiro says Cher's life and career "reads like a comic book."

"The clothes, the times, the attitudes of the decades shes lived through, the different styles of music she's been involved in – so much of what Cher has experienced is so flamboyant, over the top and just plain out there," Shapiro says. "She has been very much the real life equivalent of a superhero, and writing about Cher, to a large degree, has been just about letting my imagination go."

Female Force: Cher is now on sale at your local comic book shop and

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


 Marlene Dietrich plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler herself

I adore Dietrich: her gaze, her husky voice, not to mention her participation in one of the greatest barroom brawls ever filmed, in Destry Rides Again.

But it's Morocco I love most. Dietrich plays a bisexual cabaret singer who gives everything up for the man she loves, a Foreign Legionnaire (a gorgeous Gary Cooper) whom she follows into the Sahara desert.

Even now, over 80 years after her Hollywood debut and nearly 20 years after her death on May 6, 1992, the tempestuous screen legend and gay icon still captivates. Just ask Montrealer John Banks, who was 15 years old when he met Marlene Dietrich backstage during her run at Her Majesty's Theatre in Montreal back in 1960.
Marlene with John Banks
"The announcement [that she was coming to Montreal] unleashed a frenzy of excitement that only a concert combining Céline Dion and Madonna might match today," recalls Banks, now 67. "The night itself — well, it was Halloween and there were more Dietrichs to be seen on the streets of Montreal [in the city's then-downtown Gay Village] than men in trousers, though quite a few of the Dietrich impersonators were wearing trousers too!"

After Dietrich's Halloween night concert, she met many of her admirers — including several Dietrich female impersonators — backstage. And there was Banks, who asked Dietrich to autograph three records. She refused to sign the third, a Decca compilation from her films.

"But these are old songs," Dietrich said. "I don't sound like that anymore."

Instead of acquiescing, though, Banks snapped, "Well, I wasn't around then and I like the way orchestras sounded back then!"

Dietrich paused, then pushed Banks aside and said, "You stay here."

Then Dietrich greeted her other admirers. Later, after drinks at Montreal's Ritz Carlton Hotel, Banks was hired as Dietrich's personal secretary for the next 12 years. "Let's face it," he says, "I was her gofer."

Banks lovingly explains how the unlikely pair became friends ("Jahn-ny," Dietrich called him) over plenty more meals and drinks while Dietrich toured Europe and America. "She was my university," he says.

"She never had her face lifted," Banks says, "because she didn't give a shit. She could tape it up and do all sorts of things to make herself look like Dietrich. But in her offstage life, she really didn't care. [Director] Mike Nichols said something that is so very, very true: When you went out with Marlene, she was the only woman he ever knew who didn't look in a mirror all night. And it's true. She was very secure in her looks. She had been an exceptionally beautiful woman."

Dietrich also had affairs with other women. She and Claudette Colbert were close all their lives, and Banks suspects they were even lovers. "Getting Marlene to talk about Hollywood was very hard," he explains, though he points out that Marlene never hid the truth.

When, for instance, rumours claimed she was having affairs with Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper at the same time (she was), she appeared at the 1932 premiere of Cecil B DeMille's biblical epic The Sign of the Cross on the arms of both men — dressed as a man!

"Marlene adored drag. At every show, there would be drag queens dressed as Marlene. And she liked meeting them backstage to see what they were wearing. In 1920s Berlin, she was often the only woman allowed in gay bars. She'd arrive in drag herself."

Dietrich autographs the cast on the leg of
Tec 4 Earl E. McFarland at a U.S. hospital
in Belgium where she was entertaining GIs
on Nov. 24, 1944
With the rise of the Third Reich, though, Dietrich — ranked the ninth-greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute in 1999  — stunned Germany when she spurned Hitler's advances and took American citizenship.

Then she sang for the Allied troops during World War II. Of all the units that she adopted on her USO tours and who considered her one of their own, it was the 82nd Airborne that truly captured Marlene's heart.

"I think when she said her war work was the most important thing she'd ever done in her life, she meant it," Banks says. "She loved performing for the soldiers. She liked being one of the boys."

Banks points out that Dietrich, director Billy Wilder and other Hollywood Germans created a fund in the late 1930s to spirit Jews and dissidents out of Germany. "When she did Knight Without Armour in England in 1937, her salary — which was $450,000 — was put into escrow to help Jews escape Germany. Marlene went totally broke during the war."

In her 2011 book Marlene: A Personal Biography (JR Books), author Charlotte Chandler writes that Dietrich asked her onetime lover Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. for his help in an extraordinary plot: Dietrich would agree to make one film in Germany, on condition that she could be alone with the Fuhrer. And this would give her an opportunity to kill him.

“I would gush over how I feel about him, intimating that I am desperately in love with him,” Dietrich told Fairbanks. “I've heard Hitler likes me and I'm certain he would agree.”

Realizing she would be searched, Dietrich was prepared to go into Hitler's bedroom naked – but Chandler reports the only detail Dietrich could not resolve was how to smuggle in a murder weapon. She considered a poisoned hairpin, but Fairbanks said, “Fortunately, her idea didn't go any further because she didn't figure out how to complete the assassination, but she was a very brave girl and I know she would have gambled her life if she thought she had a chance of success.”

Dietrich's return to Germany in 1960 for a concert tour was controversial and made international headlines. While some Germans spat on her in the streets of Berlin, and protestors chanted "Marlene Go Home!" during her performances at Berlin's Titania Palast theatre, she was warmly greeted by other Germans, including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt.

Much of this is documented in British biographer David Bret's excellent book Marlene My Friend: An Intimate Biography, published a year after Dietrich died in 1992.

"I was the last person she talked to — she called me two days before she died," Bret told me a couple of years ago.

"I have called to say that I love you, and now I may die," Dietrich told Bret.

(I told Bret about John Banks and how John met Marlene in Montreal in 1960. Bret got back to me later, saying he'd dug up all of his Marlene interview notes and rediscovered that Dietrich kept referring to a man named "Johnny," which is Montrealer John Banks. So I offered to introduce Bret to Banks if ever he wants to follow up on his Dietrich biography.)

"When I die," Dietrich once said, "I'd like to be buried in Paris. But I'd also like to leave my heart in England, and in Germany — nothing."

When she died in Paris on May 6, 1992, though, her body, draped in the French flag, was flown to Germany in a German military plane and buried next to her mother in Berlin. To this day, neo-Nazis regularly desecrate her tombstone, whose inscription reads, "Hier steh ich an den Marken meiner Tage" (Here I stand at the milestone of my days).

Banks, meanwhile, says he'd finally had his fill by 1973. "[Her daughter] Maria, in London, would open a bottle of scotch in the afternoon for Marlene and that — that just threw me. And Marlene adored her daughter. There was no fighting Maria and I wasn't going to work with a drunk Dietriech."

Things only got worse in 1975 when Dietrich fell into the orchestra pit during a concert in Sydney, Australia, broke a leg and went into isolation for 17 years.

Banks last spoke with Dietrich in 1988 in Paris, where she lived out her final days in her 993 Park Avenue apartment surrounded by books, pictures and mementos. She watered her beloved geraniums, watched CNN and read several newspapers each day.

But Banks prefers to remember the old days with "Miss D" who, I discovered from David Bret, also remembered her "Jahn-ny" as that challenging loudmouth 15-year-old backstage in Montreal, where she took him under her wing.

"She was very nice to young people," Banks says softly, "and I miss her very much."

Read another version of this story in Canada's Xtra newspaper by clicking here

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


  Steve Galluccio: “When it comes to Mambo Italiano on Broadway, I’ll believe it when I see it onstage.”

Montreal playwright Steve Galluccio – best-known for scripting the films Mambo Italiano and Funkytown – launches the paperback version of his hit 2010 play In Piazza San Domenico at Montreal's Centaur Theatre on October 11.

Galluccio will sign books at the 5 a 7 cocktail that is open to the public, and the original Piazza cast will be on hand to do a reading from the book.

Galluccio, meanwhule, is not sitting on his laurels. He is currently writing his guide to Montreal called Montréal à la Galluccio (Les Éditions de l’Homme) which will be published in the spring of 2012. And Galluccio recently secured the French Canadian rights for the hit Broadway play 39 Steps.

“[Producer] Denise Robert and I saw the play together in New York [last year] and absolutely fell in love with it,” Steve says. “Our next trip to New York we negotiated the rights for French Canada. So we’re bringing it to Montreal in 2012. We’ve hired our cast and crew, our director is Benoit Pelletier and the translation was done by [theatre veteran and 39 Steps stage manager] Lucianna Burcheri. We start rehearsals in November and previews will begin in June 2012.”

Adds Steve, “We will not be presenting the play as part of a festival or theatre season. We’re doing this on our own, likely in several different theatres. So there is risk involved.”

Meanwhile, what about that planned Broadway musical based on Mambo Italiano with renowned NYC producers Jean Cheever and Tom Polum, whose rock musical Toxic Avenger did boffo business Off-Broadway?

This past January, when we last spoke about Mambo on Broadway, Steve told me, “It’s supposed to go for the 2012-2013 season but it’s very hard to get something done on Broadway right now. I don’t think we’ll break the show on Broadway. It takes a lot of time and patience. Not to mention the average cost of a Broadway play now is around $2 million to $2.5 million. The reality of doing theatre in New York on Broadway is so different than the reality of doing theatre here [in Quebec] where everything is spoon fed to you. You get money from the government, you put your play on for four weeks and then you go on to your next play. In New York you have to find investors and it may close after three weeks. There are so many plays that close in New York that it’s such a big gamble for everybody.”

By this week not much had changed in New York.

“The producers are still very excited, but they’ve been very excited for three years! Their option expires later this year,” Steve notes. “So when it comes to Mambo Italiano on Broadway, I’ll believe it when I see it onstage.”

In Piazza San Domenico book launch at Montreal's Centaur Theatre (453 St-Francois Xavier), Sept 11 from 5 to 7 pm

In Piazza San Domenico book launch on Facebook

October 13 Update: Click here to see pictures of the October 11 book launch, on The Charlebois Post, Canada's best source for all theatre news.
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Sunday, 2 October 2011


 LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender heroes each day during the month of October

There are now so many unfortunate straight kids being killed or committing suicide because of homophobic bullying at school that I can’t help but point out the chickens have finally come home to roost

For years I’ve been screaming about gay kids being tormented by bullies at school, but it took straight kids dying – 12 students and a teacher at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999 – to finally get the attention of parents, educators and authorities. Even then, the bullying and suicides of gay kids didn't get much traction in the media until Dan Savage introduced the It Get's Better campaign in September 2010.

A couple years ago I was blabbing with internationally renowned child expert Barbara Coloroso – whose book The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander is essential reading for every parent – and she told me friends of her own children attended Columbine during the shootings.

"High school is a very sensitive time, a time when your sexuality is coming to the fore," Barbara told me. "And when you ask students the worst thing they can be called, right across the board they will say ‘queer’ or ‘faggot.’ I say to people if the majority of your children are heterosexual and they fear those words and are devastated by it, how do you think a gay child feels?"

The problem is also rife in schoolyards around the world. This trauma often continues into young adulthood. A study by the Imperial College for the British Journal of Psychiatry surveyed 1,285 LGB people and found that those who had suffered bullying at school – nearly 85 per cent of respondents had experienced violence in the previous five years, from verbal insults to property damage and personal attacks – are more at risk for suffering from mental health problems, ranging from sleep disturbance to anxiety and depression.

And Gens Hellquist, the executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, estimated in 2004 that the economic cost of homophobia on Canada’s universal health care system was then a whopping $8.95-billion each year.

Yes, you read right: billion.

So to help raise awareness of gay issues, Philadelphia-based Equality Forum's annual LGBT History Month celebrates a gay hero each and every day in October. 

LGBT History Month 2011 includes an internal search engine for all 186 heroes from 2006 - 2011. By clicking onIcon Search and choosing one of hundreds of categories, such as African-American, Athlete, California, HIV/AIDS, Military, Religion, Singer, Transgender, Youth, you will find links to all the heroes in that category with their resources. 

This year's LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender heroes, including author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Oct 3), Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Oct 5), actor Alan Cumming (oct 10), Lady Gaga (Oct 12), Neil Patrick Harris (Oct 14), poet Langston Hughes( Oct 16), former MLB umpire Dave Kopay (oct 21), Ricky Martin (Oct 22), tennis player Amélie Mauresmo (Oct 23), U.S. "high school prom" student Constance McMillen (Oct 24), Dan Savage (Oct 26), coemdian Wanda Sykes (Oct 28) and Virginia Woolf (Oct 30).

Beginning October 1 a new LGBT hero is featured each day at Equality Forum's terrific LGBT History Month website, with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.

Meanwhile, if you're a young gay teen being bullied and having problems at school in Montreal, call Project 10 at Batshaw Youth and Family Centres at 514-989-4585, or surf to