The first time I heard that Rock Hudson was gay, I was in the Dallas condo of an interior decorator. That was back when they were decorators, not designers. Back when they knew the difference between Louis XV, Louis XVI and Louis Philippe.
The walls of that condo were padded and covered with a blue and white toile fabric, and hanging on one of those walls was a photo of Rock Hudson, signed to the decorator. (Did I mention the decorator was gay? Did I need to?)
“Oh, yes, he’s gay. I thought everybody knew that.” Well, I didn’t. But I soon figured out Rock had a really nice closet—even if there were some cracks in it through which we might peek.
Other celebrities of that time, such as Paul Lynde, Rip Taylor and Charles Nelson Reilly, weren’t closeted in the way Rock Hudson was. Their closets weren’t peeked into—the walls were made of glass. Guys like Liberace could prance and dance in that glass closet for years, so long as they never said the words.
So it was that my nephew told me first thing this morning that Barry Manilow had come out, and my immediate thought was “Out of what? The grave?” (OK, that was snarky, and I promised myself that I could write about Mr. Manilow without being snarky.) Sure enough, I went online, and People had the exclusive—Barry Manilow had said the words.
My Facebook feed had any number of comments on the subject, some quite clever, but mostly in the vein of “Really? This is news?” Folks were having a little fun with it, as well as they should. It’s kind of funny, but it’s really kind of sad.
Remember Jodie Foster’s labored “sort of” coming out speech at the Golden Globes four years ago? I watched it at the time, and I remember thinking, “Oh, Jodie, just spit it out.” And she more or less did, in the end, once she had knitted in some rationalization about the need for privacy.
People quotes Manilow as saying, “I’m so private. I always have been.” That’s a relief, isn’t it? I’m glad Barry and Jodie just needed privacy. I thought it might be something simple, like fear.
Of course, there wasn’t a closet—glass or otherwise—for me. Couldn’t find one big enough to get all my gay in, for heaven’s sake. There was a higher degree of safety in those closets, in those days, and I don’t blame anyone for going inside and bolting the door. For the need of privacy, out of fear, whatever.
And some of us didn’t need closets, we needed screens. Artfully arranged screens, so that we could say what we wanted to those we trusted, a little less to others, and nothing at all to some. These screens are vintage now, but it seems you can still find them in use today. (I think I spotted someone using one of my old ones last week.)
There are still celebrities and even people we actually know who seem to be living in a closet of sorts. The first one that comes to my mind may need to just stay put—we have enough to deal with already without throwing his crazy into the mix. And he’s not that cute anymore either. (I had to let that snark out, I just had to.)
And at the risk of going deep for a moment, there are other kinds of closets. Virtually everyone of us has some of our junk in one or the other of them.
As for Barry, I hope he had a good view of all that he missed. It couldn’t have been much fun watching the Big Gay Parade of the last forty years from inside a glass closet.
It would be like going to the horseraces and sitting in those glass boxes above the bleachers. The liquor’s better and easier to get to, but the most fun is with the crowd. Trackside.
And, you can breathe better, too.