Theater

All posts in the Theater category

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/.

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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

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In Remembrance: Joseph Alan Johnson

Published June 25, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Joseph Main

Joseph Alan Johnson is the perfect Pride Month horror film icon. As an actor, he appeared in such ‘80s low budget efforts as the classic The Slumber Party Massacre, Berserker, which recently received a deluxe reissue by Vinegar Syndrome, and Iced, which he wrote and appeared in with his beloved TSPM co-star Debra De Liso, A few years in Europe resulted in credits with some of the masters of the giallo art form, as well.

His greatest work may have been on the stages of professional theaters in Florida, though. Settling in Saint Petersburg to attend to the needs of his ailing parents, Johnson wrote a number of plays that revolved around his experiences as a gay man in the arts and as a proud member of the LGBTQIA community. His works were often comedies, but also truly celebrated the heart and soul and the wonderful fluidity of the queer community.

https://www.tampabay.com/features/performingarts/after-misadventures-in-hollywood-theater-mainstay-joseph-alan-johnson/1215626/

Joseph, Deb, Me

When I met him in 2013, he was attending his first convention as a celebrity guest. We discovered that we had theater friends in common and had several long chats about life and the arts. In one of our first conversations, he mentioned his disappointment in how his career had unfolded, that he thought his mother had expected him to go much further than he had. I assured him that I thought he had done a lot of fascinating work and by the weekend’s end, he seemed to feel the same. It was nice to watch him discover that while celluloid buffs from all walks of life appreciated his work in TSPM, the film that was being honored at the Cinema Wasteland event that we were at, they also knew about and appreciated his other film efforts, as well.

Upon learning of his unexpected death earlier this month, I was glad to know that he left this particular coil with the knowledge that his body of work was not only appreciated by so many, but that it will also live on for ages to come. It also seemed significant to me that Slumber Party, his most recognized work, has such strong ties to feminism and, with its initial script being penned by the legendary lesbian author Rita Mae Brown, to the gay community, as well.

That is a legacy anyone could be proud of. Thus, let us all hope that he travels to future planes with joy and a true sense of accomplishment guiding his way.

Joseph Autograph

Joseph Alan Johnson (6/25/57-6/10/20)

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

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Va-Va-Villainess: Katharine Hepburn

Published May 2, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Katherine Suddenly 3

Coming on like a perfect precursor to the diva heavy Gothic horrors of the ‘60s and ‘70s (including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and many others), 1959’s Suddenly Last Summer gave the divine Katherine Hepburn a chance to bring a wickedly flawed character to the screen in the form of the matriarchal, incredibly wealthy Violet Venable.

As Venable uses all of her considerable influence to insure the lobotomization of her niece Catherine Holly, played with busty emotion by Elizabeth Taylor, Hepburn does add sympathetic touches to her portrayal (as any fine craftswoman would). Still, she doesn’t shy away from the uncontrollably evil nature of her character, ultimately creating a detailed look at a society matron compelled to carry out one of celluloid history’s more heinous acts.1959. Katharine HEPBURN during the filming of "Suddenly Last Summer."

Based on Tennessee Williams’ grotesque one act play, Hepburn’s own androgyny adds to the overriding gay mystique this piece offers up, as well. The screenplay here was not only adapted by queer literary icon Gore Vidal, but co-star Montgomery Clift, a performer whose sexual attraction to men has been well documented in various books on film history, gives it an inclusive vibe, as well.

 

Nicely, horror lovers on all sides of the spectrum can appreciate the visual background for the first meeting of the characters played by Clift and Hepburn. As Venable lays out her plans while walking through the mondo crazed garden of her estate, viewers can almost feel its macabre presence, entering them into a world akin to the twisted creations of Clive Barker and HR Giger.

 

LGBTQIA fans, though, will be glad that characters like Sebastian Venable, the unseen homosexual son of Venable who controls the plot from beyond his grave, are becoming rarer and rarer. A twisted individual who used both Hepburn’s grand dame and Taylor’s innocent minx, his is an example of the other at it’s most perverse, another artifact of how our community was considered to be akin to  chosen sickness and disease for decades.Katherine Suddenly

Hepburn, meanwhile, embraced the eccentricity of roles like Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter) and Countess Aurelia (The Madwoman of Chaillot) in the coming decades, but never again reached the divine fervor of her exquisite, unapproachable work here.

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

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Suddenly poster

Book Review: Always, Lana

Published February 16, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Always-Lana

Its the 16th of February. Candy hearts are half off at the Dollar Tree and the hint of consumerist love still drenches the air. Thus Always, Lana may be the perfect late weekend read. Written by Taylor Pero, a bisexual back-up singer who catered to both Lana Turner’s business and boudoir needs for 10 years, this slim tome details the latter day diva glazed romantic and professional antics of one of MGM’s comeliest stars.

Lana PersecutionHistorically, I was first introduced to this book as a soap opera obsessed 14 year old. At the time, Lana was appearing on Falcon Crest and her character’s onscreen combativeness with Jane Wyman’s matriarchal lead fueled my love for show business. Thus, I asked for a bio on Turner for Christmas that year. With unknowing prescience, this was the volume that my parents picked out for me. (Of course, it very well may have been the only option available at the tiny Zayres book department in Jamestown, NY.) While I found myself both intrigued and repelled by Pero’s sexual exploits, its tales of Turner’s adventures on the summer stock circuit and infrequent film projects have remained as wispy, silver smoked memories in my consciousness over the decades since.

Revisiting the memoir this Valentine’s week, Pero’s economic exploitiveness here actually reads with a sense of sympathy and understanding for the star that he devoted himself to. Her eternal tardiness, precise self focus and obsession with her appearance are explained as being a product of a studio system that prized beauty and self deception over emotional and spiritual growth. The author also nicely details Turner’s humor and her ability to deal with the multiple disappointments that life brought down upon her shoulders. Lana Turner Persecution aka Terror of Sheba

Nicely, one disenchantment that is given prime focus here is Persecution (AKA The Terror of Sheba), the one true Gothic Horror (in the Baby Jane tradition) that Turner appeared in. This project is usually given little import in other treatments of her filmography, but with Always, Lana it gets almost a full chapter. The author chronicles everything from the year long inception of the project to the shimmering star’s on set battles to the aborted reactions to this much troubled film upon its official release.

As with similar writings, this is a quick read and may be worth exploring for genre fans for this particular aspect alone.


Horror Hall of Fame:

Turner was a glimmering presence in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (and she always spoke fondly of co-stars Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman for instilling her with a sense of professional confidence). She also gave breakdowns a groovy, psychedelic glow in the 1969 cult classic The Big Cube.


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

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lana dr

 

Music to Make Horror Movies By – June Havoc

Published February 9, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

June Havoc

Sporting one of the most unique life resumes for a performer, the unstoppable June Havoc was a vaudevillian, playwright, film actress and the owner-landlord of an entire town during her lifetime. Perhaps best known as the inspiration for the character of Baby June in the classic musical Gypsy, a theatrical offering she always emphasized was a fable not reality, Havoc also gave vampirism a distinguished glow in Larry Cohen’s A Return to Salem’s Lot. June Havoc Salems

Of course, her vampishly dynamic performances in a series of Hollywood musicals left quite an impression on a generation of young men, as well.

Sinful Cindy Lou from Sing Your Worries Away paired her with the rubbery Buddy Ebsen and comic legend Patsy Kelly.

Meanwhile, The Man With the Big Sombrero from Hi Diddle Diddle allowed her to sonically compete with herself.

The maverick Havoc, who died in 2010 at the age of 97, actually has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was nominated for a Tony Award as the director of Marathon ’33, a play that she also wrote.

June Havoc signed

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

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Review: BETTE Xmas at the Continental Baths

Published December 15, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

Bette ad.jpg

Bette Midler is many things. Her repertoire of songs alone includes rock and roll, MOR pop ballads, girl group classics and new wave energizers. Her role as the hysterically vengeful Winifred in Hocus Pocus also imbues her with a strong horror pedigree, allowing generations of outsiders to delightfully engage in their inner wicked witches.

In BETTE Xmas at the Continental Baths, Chicago theater goddess Caitlin Jackson invokes many of those Midler personalities while also remaining uniquely herself. Based upon the Divine One’s ‘70s showcase at a NYC men’s club, this production is full of goofy energy and go-for-broke silliness, making it not only a seasonal delight, but one of the year’s best stage offerings as a whole, as well.

Jackson’s desire to make this a sort of performing arts fever dream is perfectly realized. For example, the corny jokes in Jackson and David Cerda’s fun script are often so obvious that they don’t land with the audience…at first. But the performer’s skilled reactions to the theater’s radio silence are truly hysterical, making the presentation as a whole an unmitigated delight from start to finish.

Of course, Jackson’s softly anguished takes on songs such as Superstar, River and I Shall Be Released are the evening’s master points. This go-for-broke yet subtle emotionality is her forte as a performer, making one pity those who will never experience this kind of brilliance in their lifetimes.

bettexmas-5-web

Nicely, Jackson is ably assisted here by Terry McCarthy as Mr. Gerard, Midler’s game hairdresser, and Sydney Genco and Allison Petrillo as Laverne and Trixie, Midler’s backup singers. Genco and Petrillo get a chance to shine on their own during the show’s intermission/costume change. Their pert energy and spot on timing ultimately prove that they deserve a show of their own one of these days. Hmm…maybe next season!!!

But until then… give proper kudos to Jackson and co-director Marc Lewallen, by checking out this year’s festivities before closing night on December 31st.

https://www.facebook.com/events/570448403729627/

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

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Pearl Bailey

Published November 24, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

Pearl main.JPG

From The Mummy to Thinner to Drag Me to Hell, gypsies have been colorful characters in the world of horror. While their predictions and curses have long generated trauma and ruin for the people they encounter in these films, the divine Pearl Bailey gave us a more jovial approach to their abilities with the amusing The Gypsy Goofed.

A powerful icon in her own right, Bailey commanded the worlds of film, stage and television. Famously replacing the (seemingly) irreplaceable Carol Channing in the Broadway production of Hello, Dolly, this undefeatable songstress is rightfully remembered, in perpetuity, as one of the giants of the entertainment industry.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pearl-Bailey

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

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Pearl album cover.jpg

 

Dagger Cast Divas!

Published November 22, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

Davette

As with many of us, I am tired of straight white men controlling the narrative. Therefore, I was thrilled by the two latest guests on Dagger Cast, the horror based podcast that I co-host with The Cell Phones’ dynamic Lindsey Charles.

Our Halloween show centered around Davette Franklin (above), a young black theater artist who curates an annual horror play festival. November’s show, meanwhile, finds me be very thankful for Sarah Yeazel (below), a comic book loving gay woman who is writing a series of essays about how cinema has shaped her life and sexuality.

You can listen to both episodes on Soundcloud (below) and other outlets like Spotify and iTunes.

Sarah

Happy aural journeys..and until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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