Monday, December 1, 2008


Today is the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day and I'm thinking of talented men who impacted, affected, inspired, and influenced me in my youth before they died from AIDS.

*VITO RUSSO (1946-1990) ACT UP AIDS activist and author of "The Celluloid Closet" - a book I always refer to as my queer film Bible.

In the mid 1980's, when trying to find queer representation on screen and on TV was like looking for a needle in a haystack, Vito's "Celluloid Closet" steered me towards a cinematic history I didn't know existed. I used to study it and then try to find the titles I wanted to see at the video store. Luckily for me growing up in L.A., the Video West chain was gay owned and operated and had a considerable amount of titles in stock when no regular outlet carried them. While I didn't realize it at the time, I was teaching myself to be a queer film historian and expert and eventually it led to my niche in entertainment journalist. I was lucky enough to get to see Vito's traveling show of "The Celluloid Closet" when I was just 16 or 17 when he came to the Wadsworth Theater at UCLA. Vito spoke and showed clips (many that I had never seen) showing gay images on film going back to the earliest days of celluloid.

Vito is also featured in the documentary "Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt" speaking about the loss of his lover Jeff Sevcik to AIDS, his own HIV + status, and ACT UP activism (he was a founding member). Later when I was a college student at CSUN, part of the AIDS quilt came to campus and I was able to request Vito's panel be brought to the school. Looking back now, Vito had only died a year or two before I saw the quilt.

There is a movie version of "The Celluloid Closet" that was made in 1996 but it pales in comparison to Vito's original book. While Vito didn't accept the crumbs that Hollywood gave to gay portrayls, the film version of "The Celluloid Closet" gave off the vibe of gays being grateful for any mainstream inclusion. Now in 2008, I think Vito would be proud of a film like "Milk," finally glorifying the achievements of gay rights activist Harvey Milk hitting the mainstream cineplexes.

*KEITH HARING (1958-1990) - artist extraordinaire.

I'm not an art historian, but I'm pretty sure that artist Keith Haring was one of the first and most prolific to use his art to fight AIDS (and apartheid) in a mainstream way. According the, "Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS." Keith's art was fun, accessible, and completely original. While Andy Warhol masterminded Pop Art in the 1960's and early 70's, Keith Haring took the torch and became THE Pop Artist of the 80's and my formative teen years. Keith Haring was out and proud and his art reflected his social activism and sexuality. The radiant baby and barking dog live on.

*CHRISTIAN FARROW aka CEE FARROW (dates unknown)

Cee Farrow was an early 80's new wave star with his hit "Should I Love You" while Christian was a major underground club promoter in L.A.'s gay club scene. My best friend Robert Pavlick got me my fake I.D. and then took me to all of the best clubs in the mid to late 80's so of course I eventually met Christian who was really at the top of the scene. He was one of the nicest people I've ever met. You didn't have to be a star to be treated with respect and friendliness at one of Christian's clubs. I remember the last time I saw him walking along Santa Monica Blvd in the middle of WEHO's boystown just crossing the street and making the rounds with everyone else. He was tall, good looking, down to earth and very sweet. One of the comments on the You Tube page for the "Should I Love You" video says it best, "Cee Farrow...gone to the great SoCal disco in the sky."

*TONY BECKETT (dates unknown)

I met Tony when I was around five years old. My Mom was very close friends with a gay couple (Bob and Charles) and we met Tony at one of their fabulous parties. Tony was British and a longtime Butler (or Major Domo) to Paul Lynde. When Paul was out of town, Tony would invite my Mom and I over to Paul's wonderful mini mansion in Beverly Hills. I would check out the closets (lots of caftans), go for a swim in his blue tiled pool, and just investigate the house filled with antiques, tchotchkes and interesting design including a guest bathroom that was completely mirrored from top to bottom and side to side. Tony had the cool disposition of a Brit, but he really had a gooey center that would show off in his devotion to me and my family. His actions spoke louder than words - like when he let me drive him around in his new car when I was just 15 and just had a learners permit. He was so supportive that way. As he got sick, he never wallowed or complained, I think he knew that he'd had a good life and good friends, and just accepted what was happening to him. Since he was infected in the early years of HIV, I think that the ATZ "cure" was probably worse on him than the actual illness. No matter what, you could always count on Tony for funny, tart stories about famous people that he'd met or worked with. When Tony was stuck living out the end of his life at an AIDS hospice, he gifted me with my first computer - his Radio Shack Tandy 2000 that had been put in storage when he got sick. Tony was a lot of fun, a wonderful cook, and a valuable friend to me and my family. While I do have images of Tony somewhere in a box of old photos, unfortunately I don't have one handy to share today.

To read more about World AIDS Day go to amFAR.

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