When I was 13 years old, I watched Nick at Nite nearly every night. Classic television shows, hilarious and entertaining. And I sought out other classic shows, watching them wherever I could. The Jeffersons. The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Brady Bunch. Bewitched. My Three Sons. The Donna Reed Show. Hollywood Squares. I Dream of Jeannie. The F Troop. Get Smart. The Carol Burnett Show. I Love Lucy.
I didn’t watch a lot of modern television at the time. I was a good little Mormon kid who tried to keep things clean in my head and heart, and shows like Blossom and Friends were just too racy.
It must have been obvious to at least few people that I was gay. I hated sports and was excessively creative, writing stories and planning parties, designing family activities and making treasure hunts for friends. Looking back, the signs were so clear. I looked longingly at boys in my class that I had a crush on quietly while the straight guys were cracking sex jokes about the girls they liked. In my mind, I had plans for a happy little Mormon home growing up, where I would have a wife and kids and pictures of Jesus and the temple on the wall.
And then Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet, and the world went nuts. Then Rosie O’Donnell. There must have been more, but the public controversy surrounding these two was enormous, they were names known in my household, and the world around me, in my small Mormon community, acted with disgust. I heard rumors about Ricky Martin, but no he couldn’t be gay.
More stars started coming out of the closet, and there was a general feeling of ‘ew, gross’ from everyone around. My ears perked up, and I began to associate, even more, with homosexuality being something disgusting, which meant I was disgusting. There were rumors about a couple down the street being gay, two women who lived together, and the kids in my high school scoffed. There was talk from people at church about God creating AIDS to help wipe out the gay population.
And adults longed for the morality of Hollywood years ago, with wholesome movies and movie stars who promoted family values. Only, some of these famous stars began dying of AIDS, and their attractions to men were being revealed. Rock Hudson. Liberace. Anthony Perkins. Freddie Mercury. And Robert Reed.
I had felt like I was the only one in the entire world. I had no idea my sister one bedroom over was also gay. I had no idea friends in my high school were gay. I had no idea that the world estimated 10 per cent of the population was gay.
But Robert Reed? Mike Brady, the father on the Brady Bunch, was gay. The epic father figure of the family that showed up in everyone’s households for decades, he was gay. I filed that away in my brain, unable to process it, for a very long time.
And it was only this past year that I dusted it off, and I began researching. Turns out I wasn’t alone at all. All those shows I grew up watching? They were full of gay people, and I had no idea.
Dick Sargent, who played Darren Stevens on Bewitched, was gay. Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show, was gay. Paul Lynde, who played Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, was gay. Sherman Helmsley, who played George Jefferson on the Jeffersons, was gay. George Maharis of Route 66, Charles Nelson Reilly of What’s My Line?, Richard Chamberlain of Dr. Kildare, Maurice Evans of Bewitched, Edward Mulhare of the Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Nancy Kulp of the Beverly Hillbillies, Alan Sues on Laugh-In, Hayden Rorke on I Dream of Jeannie, George Takei on Star Trek, Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle. And more and more and more.
The list of Hollywood stars grows even longer.
Somehow it brings me comfort, looking back to those days a lonely teenager and feeling all alone, realizing that the old television shows I found comfort in were full of gay people. I wasn’t quite so alone after all.