Prince Henry

Yesterday on Facebook, an old friend of mine uploaded photos from nearly 20 years ago, from my first year in college.

The year was 2001. I was a newly returned missionary, age 22, and I planned on a major in social work and a minor in acting; at the time, this made a lot of sense, but later I dropped the acting. I was taking between 16 and 21 college credits per semester while also working nearly full-time. I went to my Mormon ward every Sunday, attended the temple weekly, had roommates, and dated girls. At this particular time, I was just pretending that I wasn’t gay, though deep down I had a hope that I might be able to cure it all if I could just try hard enough.

After the completion of my second semester, I stayed on campus for the summer. I was at Ricks College, an all-Mormon school in Rexburg, Idaho, and in the summertime there were less students, but the school remained a very busy place. I’d already been in the Ricks College Mens Choir, and I’d tried out for a few plays and had joined the story-telling troop. Later, I’d help found the improv comedy group on campus, and I’d form my own A Cappella group. But for this summer, while I took classes and worked, there was nothing I wanted to do more than to be in a school play, entertaining the crowds.

The play was “This Castle Needs a Good Scouring”, a silly farcical comedy version of Cinderella, designed to get big laughs from kids, and the director of the show was one of my former teachers, a warm and friendly Mormon man named Omar. Not only was Omar directing the show, he had also written it himself, and he would play one of the lead characters, the ineffectual king; Omar’s lovely wife, Laurie, would play the wicked stepmother. In the play, the king had two sons, one quite effeminate and bumbling, the other a handsome and witty rogue.

I hoped for the latter part. Instead, I was cast as the effeminate prince.

Despite my worries about being on stage in this role while also trying to hide the fact that I was gay, I quite grew to enjoy playing Prince Henry. He was loud, prone to monologues, and quite dramatic. He got jokes only several seconds after the punchline was delivered, and he responded with a loud hearty laugh. He spoke with a thick, lilting, upper register British accent, and he walked in long strides. Henry loved the idea of love. He wanted to fall in love with the most beautiful girl in the land, and he often turned toward the audience and spread his arms wide as he loudly proclaimed what love meant to him.

We rehearsed the play for weeks and I grew to lose myself in Henry. He was delightful, and I knew the audiences would simply crack up at him. Along with a few other characters (including a malicious and dreadful stepsister and a bumbling mute elf named Wolfgang), he was the show’s comic relief. In one scene, he had to sing a love song to Cinderella, and I had a nice tenor voice. The song suited me. At the end of the song, as we rehearsed the scene, I tried convincing the director that I should be able to kiss Cinderella to show my love. Inwardly, I needed this to happen. I was going on lots of dates, but I was unable thus far to kiss a girl, not for lack of opportunity, but because I was simply too scared or too grossed out; I wasn’t wired for women, but I needed to be straight. I felt like if I could kiss a girl on stage, I could finally, finally see what it was like. But Omar wanted the moment to be funny, and so, when Henry moved in for the kiss, Cinderella turned her cheek, and the kiss landed there instead. I was disappointed, but it was the right call for the play. Audiences would love it.

As the set was completed for the show, the costume designing department finished their work for the play. I was given green leggings to wear underneath a very flow royal-looking shirt. It billowed out in a skirt-like fabric. A white shirt with lace collar and sleeves was placed underneath it, and my arms would go through the holes of the outer shirts’ sleeves, which hung down to my sides. The shirt was green on the outside with a pink interior, and a pink stripe ran down the center. I wore a simple felt crown on my head. As I moved about the stage, my outer shirt would flip upward, revealing the pink beneath. One particular scene, in which I brandished a sword, I would turn my body quickly, and the shirt would billow outward like a flowing skirt, creating a bright pink slash through the air. The effect was hilarious.

Without realizing it, I was participating in a long-standing tradition of making audiences laugh at effeminate men pretending to be straight. I was the buffoon. I was the character that audiences would look at and laugh at, practically limp-wristed as I pranced about talking about women and love. I saw myself Prince Henry as a comedic character, but I never thought of him as gay.

Iw as the closeted gay Mormon kid, playing the closeted gay prince, and I didn’t think of either of them as gay.

I look back at Prince Henry with affection. I adored playing him for that summer. But as I see these photos now, of me in pink and green, prancing about the stage in tights, I marvel at how deep the programming was back then. Being gay simply wasn’t an option. Were I to view myself in this production as an audience member, I would find the character hilarious, and I would immediately realize the actor was gay. I would embrace him exactly as he was, and never try to change him.

I smile at these photos, but they also make me sad. Cause this guy, who disliked himself so much back then, had another ten years to spend in the closet before he came out of the closet. He needed a lot of love back then.

I downloaded these photos, showed them to my boyfriend, and said “Look how masculine and heterosexual I was back in college! I could sword fight! I was surrounded by women! And I was so confident in my masculinity, I could wear pink and green!” He laughed then, and so did I.



Balls to the Wall


On the second season of I Love Lucy, Lucy Ricardo gave birth to little Ricky Ricardo, making her husband Ricky, the Cuban band leader, a proud father. An estimated 70 per cent of the American public tuned in to watch, more viewers than the inauguration of President Eisenhower on the same night.

When Lucille Ball became pregnant during the filming of the show, she and Desi Arnaz fought to allow her character to become pregnant as well. The Ricardos were to sleep in different beds, and they couldn’t possibly use the word ‘pregnant’ on television, it was too suggestive and immoral. Still, they fought, and won, and “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” became one of the most viewed episodes of any show in television history.

They timed the show just right, and around the same time, Lucille Ball gave birth to her younger son, Desi Arnaz Jr. During the first season of I Love Lucy, she had been pregnant with her daughter, Lucie Arnaz. And the pregnancies themselves were as miraculous as Lucy and Desi’s sudden rise to fame; Lucy had had several miscarriages early on. At this point, she was in her forties, and her marriage had been falling apart from the start.

On the small screen, Ricky Ricardo was a patient and persistent husband who was charmed by his red-headed wife and her screwball antics, finding joy in all of the schemes she adopted to get into show business. In real life, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was the son of a prominent Cuban politician who had been jailed in the revolution. Years later, in the States, Desi turned to show business, singing and leading bands, enchanting crowds with the Conga dance and Latin flair. He landed a few small roles in films before meeting a talented and hilarious older woman that he couldn’t take his mind off of.

On the small screen, Lucy Ricardo was a charming and emotional housewife, constantly in trouble and in over her head, in chocolate factories, television commercials, and wine vats. In real life, Lucille Ball was a dedicated actress who had spent years honing her craft in dozens of films and shows, never making her big break. Her dad died when she was young, and she had a difficult childhood, and in her first years in the business, she had taken to modeling, even posing nude from time to time. She acted in vaudeville shows, starred in radio shows, and performed in the streets. She was scared of romantic commitment, and tended to date men that were non-threatening or perhaps a little bit scandalous.

And then she met Desi, and Desi proposed, and they were swiftly married. And she loved him, she did, deeply and passionately. She loved him enough to ignore, for the most part, his dozens of affairs, his jealousy of her success, his excessive gambling, his Latin temper, and his mounting alcoholism. She fought back sometimes, and they both got violent from time to time. But they loved each other. And with an unexpected hit television show, two unexpected children, and a suddenly thriving production company, divorce just wasn’t a feasible option. They were the most beloved married couple in America, and they had a reputation to uphold.

They named their company after themselves, like they had named their children after themselves. Desilu.


They finally divorced in 1960, after ending their show on a high note. Desi went on to marry Edith, and they would last for over two decades together. He put on weight, he gambled, he cheated, he caroused, he traveled the world, he wrote books, he drank, and he struggled to stay on top of his bills and, as often as possible, to stay famous. He eventually died of lung cancer at the age of 69.

Lucy went on to marry comedian Gary Morton, who would be at her side until her death 29 years later. She described Gary as a faithful and true husband, and created a home life with him, and he helped raise the children. She took over the company and was harsh and cutting at her job. The public accused her being a communist, of being a taskmistress and a bitch, of being a fading talent who just needed to retire. But she kept making television shows (the Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life With Lucy) and movies (Yours, Mine, and Ours and Mame). She accepted awards and gave interviews. And the syndication of her original show ran every day on television stations throughout the world, immortalizing her bright red hair, here wide open eyes, her classic crying wail, her cartoon facial expressions, and her brilliant physical comedy forever.

Lucie and Desi Jr grew up, as all children do, and both went into acting. Desi Jr started a band and struggled with drugs while Lucie became a well known actress. They married and divorced and had children, and married again, and Lucy, in her older years, enjoyed being a grandmother. Now the children manage the estates of their parents, and keep their legacies immortal.

And we remember Lucy as the ditzy funny redhead with the funny faces. A deeper look reveals her as a mother, a survivor, a trendsetter, a brilliant business woman, a wife, an actress, a comedienne, a grandmother, a troubled soul, and an all around powerful woman with both a fiery temper and an enormous heart.

In an interview, Lucy once described herself best. “I am not funny. My writers were funny. My direction was funny. The situations were funny. But I am not funny. I am not funny. What I am is brave.”



the Supper Club

empty-stage-and-micThe walls are purple, and I think what an interesting choice.

I can picture Liberace on the stage years ago, Freddie Mercury and Mae West and Judy Garland and Cher and the Solid Gold Dancers and Joan Rivers, perhaps Merv Griffin and Paul Lynde. I can picture the crowds of men in Palm Springs, gay men who are out and proud, laughing with the wine and beer flowing. Drag shows and thick curtains, late nights and cocaine, alcohol and dancing.

I imagine what Palm Springs must have been like back then, the freedom, the glamour of it all, out and gay, colorful and sexy and exhausting, all those men tired of hiding and now there and free to be themselves.

I’m in a “supper club” in early January, 2016, in Palm Springs, California, and a smile comes to my face as I picture what this place used to be, and then I look at what it is now. Times have changed. Gay people are out everywhere, and with new phone apps they no longer have to go to clubs and bars and health spas to meet each other. But this place has that feel to it, still here, still entertainment-focused, but with such a different feel.

I look over the crowd. Mostly older, and an even mix of gay and straight couples, most of them likely tourists here on the close of their vacations. A couple in their 70s with Irish accents sits at the table next to me, both small and thin, and they have finished a bottle of wine between them. At the table just behind me, an older gay man is loudly telling his friends about meeting a younger man “on the Internet”, something he apparently vowed he would never do, and he boasts at how the sex was amazing. An older couple sits behind me, a man and a woman, who are talking to their gorgeous adult daughter, lauding her for her success as an interior designer.

The waiter makes his way from table to table, clearing plates and refilling drinks. I order something yummy and sweet and cleverly named, and my date gets a glass of wine, and it’s clear the show is about to start. I haven’t been to a stand-up comedy performance in years. My date and I have been seated right next to the stage. I take a sip of my drink and lean over, whispering, “you know the comedian is totally going to make fun of us, right?”

A few minutes later, a woman in her early 50s comes on stage and delivers her routine, something you can tell she has done for years before. She cracks jokes about her difficult past, her daughter being on the straight and narrow, and her judgmental mother who now has selective Alzheimer’s, and closes with a long joke about her grandmother giving her sex advice. It’s corny and fun, and I find myself laughing good-naturedly.

A heavyset man in his late forties comes out next, with his opening line “Hello, gays and gals, I’m only gay on the weekends.” He tells jokes about growing up Jewish and gay and spends plenty of time looking around the crowd, interacting with them and making fun of them. Most of the crowd is buzzed on alcohol now and they are laughing hysterically at the jokes made at their own expense. The elderly Irish couple keep speaking loudly, interrupting his routine, and the comedian takes it in stride, teasing them but being sweet and kind.

“Well, now, who do we have here?” The comedian takes a look at my date and I at our table. “They put you two right up front for me, how nice.” Throughout the evening, he keeps referencing us, talking about us in between his jokes. “I can’t decide which one I want to take home and tie to a chair. Either of you want to volunteer?” Another time, he winks at me, and says “See you after the show.”

Toward the end of his routine, the comedian performs a hilarious version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, as if an overly excited auditioner on a reality television show were singing it. He steps off the stage and promptly sits in my laugh, wooing me a bit to the delight of the audience.

And then soon the show is over. The supper club with the purple walls begins to clear out as people gather their coats, empty their drinks, and head to the door, laughing. I take a moment to sit there, surveying the room, wondering about the history of the place again, getting lost in time for a moment. I once had a psychic tell me that when I enter a building, I bear with me the entire history of the place and the people who dwelt there, and a smile crosses my face as I realize that I’m doing it again, whatever it is.

On my way out, I stop to shake the comedian’s hand, expecting him to flirt again, but he is suddenly very  mild-mannered. He shakes my hand, gives a grin, and says, “I hope you enjoyed the show”, and I realize that he is very different off-stage than he was on.

I take one last look at the purple walls, feeling all of the joy that has been had here, and I wonder what the room is like when it is quiet, when the business closes and all that is left is the history of the night before and the coming of the next show. I carry that history with me as I step into the chilly air outside.