Theater

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Great Performances in Horror: Helen Hayes

Published April 12, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

Helen Hayes’ wounded eyes resonate with such sadness on the Alter-Ego episode of Ghost Story, an early ‘70s horror anthology series, that she proves, without a doubt, that anyone at any age can experience the damaging effects of bullying.

Here, as the kindly Miss Gilden, a respected grade schoolteacher on the eve of her retirement, Hayes finds herself a victim of the demented antics of the evil doppelganger of one of her favorite students. As the child systematically destroys her reputation and turns all her beloved charges against her, Hayes vibrates with a haunted sorrow that provides the program’s emotionally connective glue. Nicely, a penultimate twist provides her character with a little affirmative revenge, producing a satisfying and contented sigh from all viewers.

That Hayes, an Academy Award winner and one of the most respected theater artists of her generation, applied such heart and depth to a one-off genre television appearance proves what a complete and dedicated performer that she was. Others can surely learn from her humility and grace.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Praising William Norris

Published December 24, 2021 by biggayhorrorfan

Known to decades of Chicago children as the ultimate Scrooge, due to his longstanding run in The Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, actor William Norris was a Midwest theatre mainstay. 

The openly gay performer also maintains a special place in horror film history. One of (terror legend) Stuart Gordon’s prime collaborators during his board bouncing days with the Organic Theater Company, Norris co-wrote the much sequel-ized contemporary terror classic Reanimator and made an authoritative supporting appearance, as the power bowing Dr. Huesos, in Full Moon’s extreme take on The Pit and the Pendulum, as well. 

Sadly, Norris, who helped train a multitude of stage actors with his honest and forthright teaching skills, died this past November due to lingering heart problems.  But his significant graveside legacy will be felt, forevermore. In particular, the LGBTQIA community will appreciate, beyond measure, the queer influence that he brought to one of the greatest cult horror offerings of all time.

Shine on, you rascally creator!

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Horror Mash-Up: West Side Waltz

Published October 5, 2021 by biggayhorrorfan

I’ve always considered this site to be an homage to the interests of the gay men who came up in the generations before me. By doing this, my work here also almost functions as an apology of sorts. I can’t tell you the number of times that I rolled my eyes, during my rebellious college years, while some martini sipping elder gushed to me about the wonders of Connie Francis’ phrasing or the dynamic flare in Joan Crawford’s eyes while playing one of the many ambitious, conflicted women that she excelled in bringing to celluloid reality. Clutching my Patti Smith t-shirts to me like rosary beads, I vowed I would never be that kind of a gay man. But as the decades swirled past, I found myself drawn to the moody gothic antics of Bette Davis and Linda Darnell in films like Deception and This is My Love – often more so than with any of the contemporary, gut spewing epics that burst across the film festival screens at events that I attended with like-minded friends. Thus, one of the main focuses of this blog was to highlight the oddly spooky credits of those established queens of cinema. Now, I find, even when watching something a bit more mundane, I am, internally, cataloging the terror credits of the participants. (You might even find this game could come in handy whenever your significant other forces you to sit through another rom-com or slow moving domestic drama.)

Therefore, I was surprisingly delighted this past Sunday afternoon. After throwing in a dollar copy of the 1995 television film The West Side Waltz, the cinematic treatment of a popular play about two middle-aged spinster types finding renewed life due to their involvement with a hearty homeless woman and a young Bronx vamp, I realized that all the headlining divas (Kathy Bates, Jennifer Grey, Shirley MacLaine and Liza Minnelli) had some connection to the worlds of horror. Grandest of them all, perhaps, is Bates, who won the Academy Award for her enthusiastic performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. Meanwhile, fellow Oscar winner MacLaine starred in 1972’s authentically effective The Possession of Joel Delaney, a film that might have cost her the lead in The Exorcist due to the similarity of the two projects. Less distinguished than those projects, perhaps, was Grey’s leading turn in Ritual, a still fun film that mixes the steamy, old school jungle melodrama of I Walked with a Zombie with another mighty performance from the legendary Tim Curry. Minnelli’s connections to the field, meanwhile, are more musically related. Famously, she sang back-up for shock rock legend Alice Cooper on his Muscle of Love effort while offering up a totally recognizable solo on the track Mama from My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade – proof of the power of her own Oscar winning status.

Meanwhile, true crime aficionados may find a connection with this particular title, as well. Co-star Robert Pastorelli, who brings the same kind of goofy energy here as he did with his popular long term role on the original Murphy Brown, was highlighted as a prime suspect in the suspicious (real life) gunshot death of his girlfriend in 1999. The reopening of the case in 2002 is rumored to be a possible reason why Pastorelli was found dead of a morphine overdose that year. Hmm…you just never know what you might find within the confines of a filmic adaptation of a Broadway play, right?!

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE. Big Gay Horror Fan

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Va-Va-Villainess: Dolores Gray

Published June 13, 2021 by biggayhorrorfan

The sultry Dolores Gray (1922-2002) had a unique career. She will probably go down in history as the only actress to win a Tony Award for a show that lasted only 6 performances (1954’s Carnival in Flanders). She also lit up the MGM Studios in the mid-fifties with her personal brand of glossy sophistication, but, ultimately, only had major roles in four films.

Thankfully, those celluloid adventures offered her the chance to often play game seductresses and extremely glamourous, catty rivals to her (generally more innocent and trustworthy) female co-stars.

She, perhaps, made her most significant performing mark as the vindictive, backstabbing Sylvia Fowler in 1956’S The Opposite Sex, a remake of Clare Booth Luce’s zing worthy The Women. This project found her going arched eyebrow to arched eyebrow (with some exuberant fisticuffs thrown in for good measure) with such cinematic notables as June Allyson, Ann Sheridan and Ann Miller.

Her most popular public offering, though, was perhaps 1957’s Designing Woman, directed by the diva loving Vincente Minnelli. Here, as theater starlet Lori Shannon, Gray provided competition for Lauren Bacall’s sensitive fashionista Marilla. While her character is more of a victim of circumstance here than in the previous effort, Gray still puts in a good show as a majorly distracting influence upon the whirlwind romance and marriage of Bacall’s fashion queen and Gregory Peck’s beleaguered sports writer, Mike Hagen.

While Gray was quoted, by certain sources, as wishing that she had a more extensive filmography, one cannot deny the quality of the cool charm that she provided in the credits that she did have.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Linda Purl

Published February 22, 2021 by biggayhorrorfan

One perk of being a freelance entertainment writer is being able to spend a moment or two with performers who have meant something to you over the years. Illustrating this concept, I grew up watching actress Linda Purl on various movies of the week and television shows. As with many of the artists that I followed in my small-town youth, she personified hope. She was living proof that creative worlds existed far outside the seemingly narrow confines of my very sheltered, seemingly unworldly circumstances. Nicely, during my stint as the Midwest online theater editor for Sheridan Road Magazine, I was able to briefly interview Purl.

Of course, one of the negatives of journalism is that, over the years, certain online pieces are archived or erased completely from existence. This was the case with my mini-chat with Purl. But with another birthday approaching and the isolation of COVID still maintaining a strangle hold on most socialization efforts, my nostalgia has, unsurprisingly, been in full bloom. Thus, I have decided to revive that long ago conversation here.

This feels especially appropriate as Purl has given strong performances in two of my favored terror efforts. The clipped strength she provides as Nurse Sheila Monroe in the 1982 slasher effort Visiting Hours nicely balances out the misogynistically violent actions of Michael Ironside’s villain with a powerful feministic glow. Interestingly, she, herself, provided a sense of delicious glee, ten years later, in a role that completely reversed the more honorable characteristics of Monroe. As Norma in Body Language, she archly presents that character’s over-the-top psychotic energy, seducing and bludgeoning her victims with succinct forthrightness.

As a lover of the arts, I probably admire this fine performer’s dedication to traditional thespianism the most, though. Therefore, I am glad to present this exploration of her show business roots from the fall of 2012, here, in its (short but sweet) entirety.

From Sheridan Road Magazine – 10/2012.

“Meanwhile, the news of the Goodman Theatre’s (www.goodmantheatre.org) upcoming production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, starring Diane Lane, is proving to be one of Chicago’s hottest tickets of the fall theatre season. Williams, best known for uncovering the emotional ravages of the heart, dealt with class issues in his prime works, as well. Sheridan Road was lucky enough to catch up with deservedly popular actress Linda Purl at the Hollywood Show (www.hollywoodshow.com) in Rosemont, this past weekend. The amazingly eclectic Purl, currently enjoying success with her versatile roles on The Office and True Blood, revealed she is a theater artist, at heart, in our brief conversation. The generous singer-actress also, mentions a very personal connection with Williams, one of history’s greatest playwrights.

Sheridan Road: It’s very apparent from your detailed, layered work on camera that the theater is very close to your heart.

Linda Purl: True. I grew up in Japan and my parents and I attended a lot of theatre. We would perform summer stock in the living room together – that was our family glue.

SR: That’s an amazing memory. Is there a particular play that you’ve done that stands out as a favorite?

LP: I have two. (Thinking a moment. Then, happily -) No. Three! There’s a beautiful play called the Baby Dance. We performed it in LA at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. We, eventually, got it to Off-Broadway.  Then there’s The Road to Mecca – with Julie Harris! – Which speaks for itself. Then – playing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.

SR: Tennessee Williams’ master work!

LP: I knew him. Tennessee Williams had lived with us, briefly, when I was a child. – It’s a perfect play, as close to doing opera as you can get with a drama.

SR: Were the emotional places that Blanche descends into challenging for you as an actress?

LP: The play supports you fully on your journey. But, it’s daunting – you have to dig down deep.

SR: How long did you perform the role?

LP: Three months…I wasn’t ready for it to close.

SR: That’s understandable. Anyone who was lucky enough to witness your perfect, tender take on the ballad “This Time Tomorrow” from Tom Sawyer on Broadway knows you are a cabaret artist of note. I understand that you have a new show opening this fall.

LP: Yes, Midnight Caravans…Travels Through the Great New York Nightclubs will open at Feinstein’s in New York City on September 30th. We have Tedd Firth, a brilliant young musical director, and Desi Arnaz, Jr, is flying into do percussion. He is just so talented, so gifted and I am so grateful that he willing to be a part of this project with me. The first night, a portion of the proceeds will go the Actors Fund, a charity that is very close to my heart, as well.

SR: A perfect example of how art can entertain and benefit society, as well. You have such a vast body of work – from mini-series to comedies to drama – and every person probably has their personal favorite. Is there a television or film project that is close your heart?

LP; I loved doing Like Normal People.

SR: The television film with Shaun Cassidy! You’re amazing in that. It’s, also, a project about the social injustice of the handicapped that everyone should check it out, if they haven’t!”

Fortunately, while it is too late to attend that version of Midnight Caravans, Purl does offer up a recorded tribute to that show at Linda Purl – An American Actress & Singer. You can sign up there to receive notifications of all her future projects, as well.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Googie Withers

Published November 13, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

The height of English elegance, the distinguished Googie Withers made appearances in everything from Alfred Hitchcock adventures (The Lady Vanishes) to multiple, stagey dramas with Michael Powell (the director of the controversial Peeping Tom).

If they search their memories, classic horror lovers would find they remember her fondly, as well. As Joan Cortland in the acclaimed 1945 anthology Dead of Night, Withers proved herself to be a cunning adversary for a maniacal spirit that dwells within a mirror in one of the film’s most haunting tales. As Cortland’s husband Peter (Ralph Michael) suffers greatly due to the visions he sees within the spectral looking glass’ reflection, Joan wisely uses her investigative skills to determine its history, learning simultaneously how to defeat it. Working with subtle economy and grace, Withers proves herself to be truly modern, gracefully victorious heroine of horror here.

Nicely, Withers showed the extent of her range by playing the connivingly determined Helen Nosseross in the moody 1950 film noir Night and the City, as well. Teaming up with Richard Widmark’s wild eyed con man, Wither’s spits out Helen’s dialogue with spite and vitriolic vinegar, her disdain for her corpulent businessman husband (Francis L. Sullivan) visible in every frame of film that she imbues with her commanding presence.

Indeed, with dozens of theater projects and distinguished cinematic adventures to her credit, Withers, who died in 2011 at the age of 94, is definitely worthy of significant rediscovery by today’s always hungry celluloid masses.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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In Remembrance: Christopher Bernau

Published October 30, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Christopher Bernau made me gay.

Well, he actually didn’t strap me down on some slick gurney and take me into some underground laboratory with lightening crackling overhead and test tubes exploding all around us… But I did come home one day from school — and there he was on Guiding Light, all shirtless and delivering his lines with a sadistic sneer as he ordered the distinctive and talented Sofia Landon Geier, the actress playing his employee-lover, around and…. Well – I got that special little tingle.

Years later, I discovered that some other handsome performer actually probably gave Bernau that exact same sensation when he was growing up. Living his life as openly gay as was possible in an era when that was frowned upon, he seemed like a hero to me. This isn’t surprising, though. He was definitely someone who made an impression on many folks – first as Phillip Todd on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows and then, most famously, as the manipulative and occasionally cruel Alan Spaulding on the afore mentioned Guiding Light. There, the story of his illicit lover affair with the sweet Hope Bauer (the always honey-lit and eternally warm Elvera Roussel) raised many of the temperatures of the local ladies in my tiny neighborhood like few others did, before and after.

Nicely, in addition to his Dark Shadows experience, he also played a wildly seductive Count in the 1977 Off-Broadway production of The Passion of Dracula.

Unfortunately, Bernau, as with many of that era’s extraordinarily special creative types, was also stricken with AIDS. He ultimately died of the disease at the age of 49 on June 14th, 1989, leaving behind a legacy of amazing performances…and loads of stardust sprinkled inspiration for many a young small-town homosexual who dreamed of bigger and better (and, unfortunately, occasionally unfair) worlds.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Elaine Stritch

Published October 9, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

She put the BROAD in Broadway, carving out an extraordinary career for herself on the stage. But those blinded by the sheen of her Tony and Emmy wins (and her association with such theatrical legends as Noel Coward and Stephen Sondheim) may not be aware that the magnificent Elaine Stritch has a couple grizzly genre credits to her name.

Significantly, in a time when the world was still afraid of lesbians, Stritch bravely enacted the role of Sapphic minded club owner Marian Freeman in the 1965 psycho-stalker thriller Who Killed Teddy Bear? Interestingly, the presence of the openly gay Sal Mineo as the disturbed busboy that the story focuses upon adds another lavender component to this gritty look at obsession and murder. Granted, Marian’s advances on Juliet Prowse’s Norah, the film’s heroine, are unwanted, affording her preferences the stereotypical ring of the perverse. But Stritch fills the character with as much dignity as she is able to while simultaneously applying her noted and uniquely salty perspective to the mix.

10 years later, Stritch sarcastically zapped her way through the second theatrical remake of The Spiral Staircase, as well. While a mysterious killer hunts down Jacqueline Bissett’s plucky mute adventuress, Stritch’s world weary nurse tends to the needs of Mildred Dunnock’s uncooperative matriarch character. Gravitating to the movie’s theatrical set-up of a winding mansion on a dark and stormy night, she ultimately provides the necessary diva antics while still remaining true to the take no bullshit essence of her character.  

With two appearances in the British genre anthology series Tales of the Unexpected, an arc on the murder-mystery based soap Edge of Night and the effective voicing of the grandmother in the animated favorite ParaNorman among her further credits, the truly singular Elaine Stritch definitely earned her place among the notoriously unsung heroines of horror before her passing at the age of 89 in 2014.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Scott Free

Published September 6, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

On the rare moments when one is able twist a thought or two away from the many social disasters that are plaguing us, it’s easy to remember that the world is actually populated with a ton of cool people. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you got to associate with one or two of them. LGBTQIA musician and activist Scott Free has been a longstanding voice for queer artists in Chicago, hosting a decades long performance showcase called Homolatte and being a very loud reminder to queer festival organizers that actually booking gay acts is a necessity for their events to be a true source of pride and awareness.

A few years ago, we spent a lot of time together working on a show called Zombie Bathhouse: A Rock Musical. To this day, friends still tell me how his lyrics for that project totally nailed aspects of their own lives, a true testament to his empathy and talent. His latest work, The Last Revolution, is a social call to arms that has deservedly gotten tons of praise and attention and, as with the majority of his work, really raises an eye on the tremulous circumstances that we are now facing as a nation.

Obviously, it almost goes without saying, that It’s truly been my honor to know Scott as a collaborator and friend and it’s truly my pleasure to welcome you to visit more of his fine output at http://www.scottfree.net/ and http://www.zombiebathhouse.net/.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!www.facebook.com/biggayhorrorfan

In Retrospect: Ruby Dandridge

Published August 15, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Rudy main

While Dorothy Dandridge is recognized as one of the tragic goddesses of celluloid history, she was not the only accomplished performer in her family.

Ruby and DorothyDorothy’s mother Ruby was a highly regarded character actress, in her own right. Beginning her career as a dancer in the classic King Kong, Dandridge eventually became known for providing accomplished persona work in such mainstream MGM films as Saratoga Trunk and The Clock. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, she was also a common fixture on a variety of television shows.

Unfortunately, like many of her contemporaries, Dandridge spent the majority of her career acting out the over the top antics of frazzled domestics or appearing as helpful shop keepers to such prominently billed performers as Ingrid Bergman and Judy Garland. Ruby Dandrige

Personally, the little information that is available about her online highlights her as woman obsessed with her career who had little time for Dorothy and her siblings. Instead, she left the bulk of the child rearing duties to her romantic partner, Geneva Williams. Williams was noted for treating her inherited offspring harshly while relentlessly training them for careers in show business.

Thus, as we crawl our way into more progressive times, it may be natural for one to wonder if Dandridge’s maternal instincts might have been more on cue if she actually was allowed to fully bloom as a performer and not have to stare down racism at every turn. While pondering this, we can also appreciate the professional glow and earnest determination she brought to the opportunities that she was given whenever she appears, magically young and full of life, on our late-night nostalgia strewn television screens.

Ruby Dandridge performing

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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