Anyone who knows me, knows an immediate family member must practically die or get married in order to get me into any religious building. I used to go to a church weekly only because it was where my yoga class was held. However, I’ve been in some famous churches, mosques and synagogues when traveling. In Italy I got bitched out for wearing a baseball cap in church, since I don’t speak Italian, it made for a fun impromptu game of charades with the holy police.
A couple weeks ago, my friend Chuck told me he was going to see Harvey Fierstein speak at a nearby church about his new autobiography, “I Was Better Last Night”. It was being put on by The Mark Twain House here in Hartford, CT. I knew Harvey from a few acting roles and plays he wrote, but having the chance to see an outspoken gay icon dishing dirt and getting a signed copy of his book, amen to that.
The Mark Twain House’s rear
A few days before the event, we got an email warning us that the event would have five hundred people in attendance so we had to get there early to find parking, get our tickets and have our vaccine cards checked. Harvey hit the stage or whatever the praying platform is at 7:00PM to be interviewed by the journalist Duby McDowell for an hour and a half. Harvey was unapologetically Harvey, making Duby’s head spin like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist waiting for a bolt of lightening to strike us all, as Harvey told stories of being on stage with a woman douching in an Andy Warhol play and dropped more than one F-bomb. If all services were that fun, I’d actually wake up early on a Sunday to attend.
We got there WAY too early
“I Was Better Last Night” is full of stories from Harvey’s five decades in show business. It’s a who’s who from off, off, off Broadway to the Tony Awards. I’m not familiar with Broadway celebs so many of the stories were lost on me. However I was all over the stories about him pitching an idea to Madonna and working with Cyndi Lauper on Broadway’s Kinky Boots. I enjoyed hearing the stories of the early career of Estelle Gettleman who later became The Golden Girls Estelle Getty. I laughed at him meeting his childhood idols, Richard Chamberlain and Sean Connery, and sharing his crushes on them. Richard Chamberlain played along with Harvey’s fantasy of being asleep when Richard comes home after a long day and sweetly gave him a kiss on the cheek. However, Sean Connery was having none of that and didn’t know what to do with the praise.
They needed to install stadium seating so my view wouldn’t be obstructed.
What I most admire Harvey for is how open and excepting of his own sexuality he’s always been. He’s been blurring the lines of sexuality and gender roles, flipping between male and female, his entire career. He was the first openly gay person to play an openly gay character on TV in the unwatched show “Daddy’s Girls” with Dudley Moore and he wrote the first openly gay play, “Torch Song Trilogy,” with an openly gay lead on Broadway. He’s been blazing trails and opening doors for the QUILTBAG community even before it was acceptable, at times when it was actively attacked (in the early days of the AIDS epidemic) and even when the community itself gave him a hard time for things he’s said or did.
In my gay opinion, you can say whatever you want about Harvey Fierstein but you can’t say his presence hasn’t been legendary and he’s never been boring.