One of my favorite Broadway tales was provided by an actress who appeared with the legendary Ethel Waters in a play. Waters was apparently known, industrywide, for her Sapphic interests and her co-star was a bit nervous when the two decided to rehearse alone. But before they even had a chance to begin their line readings, Waters sensed the apprehension in the air and chuckled, telling her scene partner to relax as she must certainly didn’t waste her time trying to hook any timid, very uninterested fish.
This cute tale belies the complexity of Waters’ life, though. Conceived from a rape, Waters had a chaotic childhood, surrounded by prostitution and crime. Despite disadvantage and rampant prejudice, she worked her way from the stages of Black vaudeville to Broadway productions and onto film and television. Married three times throughout her lifetime, she also proudly wrote about her loving relationships with women. Interestingly and seemingly at cross purposes with her past, this powerhouse wound up her life campaigning and performing for televangelist Billy Graham, sure proof that she was a singular entity who listened to only one pertinent drummer – her own.
Much loved for her unmistakable renditions of such standards as Irving Berlin’s Suppertime, a heartbreaking song about lynching, and Am I Blue?, which was included on the soundtrack to genre series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Waters died in 1977 at the age of 80. Then and always, she reigns as a beacon of pure talent and uncalibrated willpower – a true icon for the LGBTQIA community.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!