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In Beulah’s Land

My hubby Russ had a deceased aunt that no one talked about, until one day he heard a bit of her story and, in turn, wrote a poem to honor her. Here is what he shared on Facebook:

“Considering where we are with potential, historic, life-altering decisions being made by a far-right Supreme Court. I offer you this story of my Aunt—the Aunt I never knew.
My heavy heart feels her story should finally be told…

This is for all of the young women, where ever you are, on your journey.

(In honor of my Aunt Beulah)

Beulah’s Land

Heaven’s land… Oh, so far from it. So far and so long ago…
A farmer’s daughter, just one of ten. Beulah—a stranger to me, a ghost from the past.
A hushed memory. A life, invisible, framed on a bedroom wall, in a farmhouse in deep Appalachia.

Beulah, you were shamed, forgotten. You never even lived. What a shame. What a shame.

Where did you meet that man? Was he a farmer’s son?…
A preacher boy?
Did he pay you the attention that you so desperately craved?
Did he call you pretty? Did he caress your hair?
Did he kiss you deep?

Did he lay you in the tall green grass?
Say everything’s gonna be ok?
Did he love you, even for a moment?
Did he promise to take you away, away from Beulah’s Land?

Did he hurt you when he took you?
Were you forced, or did you go willingly?
I wonder if you loved him, or just the thought of it all—
to escape from nothingness to something,
Anything at all… Anywhere but Beulah’s Land.

I can only imagine your shame,
when you knew what you knew.
The boy was gone, but he left his mark, deep inside you.
Do you run away, or do you stay?
Will your daddy kill you, or will they send you away,
away from Beulah’s Land…

So, you took it in yourself, in secret and in shame.
You took your Mama’s knitting needle and thrust it deep within…
End the pain. End the misery—the inevitable shame that casts its long dark shadow…
On a life, never to be, in Beulah’s Land. In Beulah’s Land.

They said you passed from sickness, but Beulah,
now I know, that’s not so.
You died from gouging wounds—your blood turning against you, while darkness fell in Beulah’s Land.

They buried you high on a hill, deep below the tall green grass.
And that’s where they ended your story…
A hushed memory. An invisible life, framed on a bedroom wall.

Beulah, you were shamed, but not forgotten. You lived.
And I will tell your story…

For all the young girls who now live in Beulah’s Land—
poor and all alone, there is hope. There is a way…
Make your peace.
Find your strength.
Push on.
Tomorrow holds many keys…
To lives that need to be lived—stories that must be told.

Don’t let it all end in Beulah’s Land.
Live long in the tall green grass. For anything less,
would be such a shame… But, not your shame.
For, we’re all the same in Beulah Land—In Heaven’s Land,
at last.

Laura Harden

I first met Laura Harden when she came to audition for two one-act plays that I was directing/producing at the Olio theater in Silverlake in the early 90’s. She easily landed the role of the Preacher in RAT SONGS, a bitingly-funny and seedy part. I can vividly recall her demented take on the role, wearing full nun’s habit and crucifix in hand.

Later, while at Paramount, I kept trying to get parts for her in some of the sitcoms I was working on… She came in and read for a part I was sure she was perfect for, but the casting director chose to cast his friend instead.

Recently, she was a recurring cast member on all five seasons of Child of the 70s, a comedic webseries, on which she was cast by actor/creator Michael Vaccaro, whom she’d also met on our play, all those years ago.

Laura had suffered from health problems for years and was recently hospitalized. Bawdy, funny, and caring, Laura passed away last night (May 31, 2018.) She’ll be missed by her family, friends, and all of the cats she loved over the years. RIP, Laura.

Robert Michael Morris

Today marks one year since the lovely Robert Michael Morris was taken from us. Russ and I were fortunate enough to meet Michael through our good friend, writer/director Glenn Gaylord. Glenn knew of our love for The Comeback, especially the character Mickey, whom Michael played, and had directed Michael in a TV pilot, Lez Be Friends. One night, he brought Michael to dinner at our place. We quickly became fast friends, meeting him for lunch regularly at Shenandoah at the Arbor, as we loved the food and patio–and it was central to where we lived and where Michael lived, as he hated to drive, especially at night.

Michael was smart, sassy, and funny–but not entirely like the beloved “Mickey” he played on The Comeback. At times he could be like an old auntie, scolding when he didn’t approve of something. He’d been a teacher for years, teaching both high school and college, which perhaps explains his tendency to “mother” people.

His generosity knew no bounds. When I was gathering items for a silent auction to help those battling HIV/AIDS, he handed over boxes of random trinkets and jewelry he’d collected through the years, as well as several original paintings. I doubt that he knew the value of any of them–they’d just struck his fancy–and it is likely that he felt that if they were worth something to him, they’d mean something to someone else as well.

Michael was also a prolific writer, with enough plays to fill four anthology volumes, and was the author of An American Scrapbook. Rumor also has it that, prior to his death, he was at work or had completed a memoir. How I’d love to read that!

In the months before his death, Michael sent us a beautiful Lladró porcelain, depicting Othello and Desdemona. He’s intended it to honor both our artistic endeavors and that both of our children are black, as Michael had mentioned more than once that he found our adoption of them somewhat noble. While to us there was nothing “noble” about these adoptions–we simply wanted healthy children–we thoroughly appreciated Michael’s unwavering support. Still, when we unpacked the gift, I looked at Russ and said, “Do you think he’s preparing for the end?”

We’d known about Michael’s cancer some time, and when he found out that they were indeed going to film a second season of The Comeback, he shared that his cancer would be part of the storyline. If you haven’t seen The Comeback, I urge you to and won’t spoil anything, other than to say that his performance in season 2 should have won an Emmy. There are moments throughout the season between him and Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) which are simply magical-breathtaking-emotional-riveting. Their relationship proved the show’s most strongest, allowing each a shoulder on which to rely. Season 2 marked some of the best television anywhere, and was Michael’s finest performance on film. He also gave memorable appearances on Running Wilde, Arrested Development, Will & Grace, How I Met Your Mother, The Class, and Brothers and Sisters.

In the end, it isn’t only his performances I’ll best remember, but the simple kindnesses he repeatedly showed… The way, when sharing something particularly delicious, he’d place his hand on yours, giving it a squeeze, showing he trusted your confidence… His hearty laugh, which inevitably made an appearance in every meeting…

Robert Michael Morris was a class act and deserved even more attention than he’d already received. Kind, caring, and witty, Michael lives on in the heart of anyone whom ever heard him utter, “Oh, Red…”

 

Gary Kalkin

As a young actor, trying to make it in Hollywood, I had the great fortune to become acquainted with producer Laurence Mark and his one-time partner Gary Kalkin. They’d been together for years, however, at the point I met them, they had split, but remained the best of friends. They still lived together in a beautiful home where I enjoyed some special dinner parties with guests you might know the names of…

Gary was the senior vice president of domestic marketing for Buena Vista Pictures (Disney.) As such, he oversaw the creation of the marketing campaigns for “Aladdin,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Pretty Woman” and “The Lion King.” I’m not sure why Gary took such a liking to me, but he put me on the Disney sneak preview list, inviting me to every screening of every movie they released during his tenure. As a starving actor, it was a wonderful gift to receive. I can still vividly recall the magical movie premiere for the animated “Beauty and the Beast,” at the then-newly restored El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, preceded by an elaborate stage show.

One of the best nights of my life–EVER–happened in February 1993 and also involved Gary. I have been a fan of Stephen Sondheim for as long as I can remember, so when I heard they were doing a one-night-only, 20th anniversary original cast reunion performance of “Company” at the Long Beach Terrace Theater, I immediately bought two tickets. My good friend at the time, Cheryl Dolins, was also a Sondheim fan, and we couldn’t wait to go.

Gary called shortly after we’d bought the tickets, and invited me to the Disney Golden Globes after-party; I was crushed at the conflict. He said to stop by afterward, if we could, and at least say hello.

Cheryl and I loved the performance of “Company,” and–completely exhilarated–we rushed back to LA for the after-party. Walking up the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton, there were a few photographers straggling about, trying to figure out if we were “someone” and, to us, we felt as if we were.

When we got to the check-in desk, the woman helping us apologized, saying the party was just about over, but if we wanted to go in for a quick drink, we could. Dejected to have gotten there so late, we still went it, looking about for Gary. Imagine our shock, walking in, to find that there were only about 12 people in the entire ballroom. But aside from Gary, those people included Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Al Pacino, and Rodney Dangerfield. Cheryl and I were completely beside ourselves, hovering with the others around the few platters of food left, acting as if hanging out with this particular crowd was an everyday occurrence.

Two years later, Gary would be dead of AIDS. He’ll never know just what a remarkable impact his simple generosity had on me. He was directly responsible for some of my best “life moments.” In a town not known for kind acts without the expectation of something in return, Gary’s sweet gift of access to film to this young actor provided me with endless opportunities to soak up the movie business, for which I’m eternally grateful. I missed him then, and I miss him now. RIP, handsome Gary.

My thanks to Stuart at The AIDS Memorial on Instagram for my daily remembrances of the countless souls lost to AIDS. They are emotional to read, but I try to reach each and every one, despite the tears they bring.

Gary Kalkin

Jon Cantonwine, 1965-1990

Sobering… Back in the day, I dated a guy named Jon Cantonwine. Cute, dark-haired, short and compact, he was utterly delicious, sweet and kind. Prior to meeting, I’d seen him across many a bar, usually wearing a tank top and tight pants. We weren’t really a “match” so at some point after dating, we lost touch…

A few months later, I ran into a common friend and asked them if they knew what had happened to Jon, as I hadn’t seen him for a while. “Oh, didn’t you know? Jon died. He had AIDS. And his friend Peter (whom I also knew) died right after.”

They were my first direct contacts to the AIDS epidemic. Prior, I’d known “names,” but not people. I’ve searched online for him periodically ever since, hoping to bring closure, of some sort. A decent photo, an obit, but today I happened to look and found this. Dates match, but I’m not entirely certain it is him without a photo.

So many lost. So many in my thoughts. Jon, I still remember. Hope you traveled quickly, my friend…

In Honor of World AIDS Day…

…today I’m holding up Shane, David, Eduardo, Howard, Jon, and too many others to count. We need to continue to tell their individual stories, and you can read about my beloved Shane here. AND tell others about how their loss impacted us. Keep telling their stories, again, and again, and again. We cannot let them be forgotten.

RIP, you gentle souls.

Are You Following The AIDS Memorial on Instagram?

If not, I highly recommend it. An anonymous man in Scotland, known only as Stuart, curates the page, taking submissions from friends and family of those lost to AIDS. It is a very touching page, sharing photos and memories of those lost forever. I find it cathartic to read of those both known and not, and it meant a lot when The AIDS Memorial shared this remembrance of Shane, below. If you want to learn more about my partner, Shane Sawick, who died in 1995, please click here.

https://instagram.com/p/BasBgqAFUMU/

“Were it not for his love of overalls, Shane Sawick would’ve fit perfectly into a 1940’s Cary Grant movie, trading quips with Rosalind Russell. An actor and Hotline coordinator at AIDS Project Los Angeles, Shane sailed through life, embracing it, until his final days. I was lucky enough to spend two years with him, and that impact–of loving and caring for him–cannot be underestimated. Without knowing him, I wouldn’t be the partner, father or writer I am today. Only by telling his story, and that of others lost, far too young, can we find a way forward, into the light.” – by Kergan Edwards-Stout

#whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids #lgbthistory #lgbthistorymonth

Thanks for the Great Review of SONGS, Gay Book Reviews!

So nice to see someone discovering my debut novel and having it resonate with them. I know it is a challenging subject and character, so when folks “get” it, it really makes me happy. Sirius at Gay Book Reviews writes:

Songs for the New Depression mixes the contemplative styling of Michael Cunningham with the black humor of Augusten Burroughs… once I started reading I could not stop, it was so engrossing, captivating, painful and at times funny… I highly recommend this very well-written work, but have the box of tissues handy with you.”

Many thanks, Gay Book Reviews!

Follow on Facebook: UNDERRATED WOMEN

Russ and I have started a new Facebook page, highlighting uber-talented women in the arts. Too often, we’ll be watching a movie or listening to a song and ask each other, “Why is this woman not working more?” To address this, we’ve decided to launch UNDERRATED WOMEN, where we’ll spotlight a different artist each week. To start, we’re focusing on the amazing actor Patricia Clarkson. Join us by “Liking” our page and send us your suggestions on women to celebrate. Together, we can make this world just a little bit better!

Women. Underrated