Influential gay actors

18 Sep

Deciding what makes a person influential is very subjective as there can be a number of factors one considers when setting a criteria. We assume that the influence people exert will be positive, however sometimes it is a negative and that should not be discounted, especially when we examine influential gay actors. It is no secret gay actors have graced the stage and screen since performance arts sprang to life. Being so in the public eye elevates these actors in the opinions of many making what they do and say influential. What you will read may surprise you. In some instances perhaps even it may shock you, but it is the truth, good and bad.

Out me if you want, I'm Perry Mason and Ironside rolled into one Bitches! I'll find some dirt on you!

The first gay actor under the microscope is Raymond Burr most noted for his role as attorney Perry Mason. On the Screen Burr portrayed a sharp witted litigator that was always in control and never lost, well except that one time. In real life however Burr was a mess. he was so ashamed of and fearful of his homosexuality destroying his career he manufactured a story about a wife and child that died and never recovered from as a smokescreen to deflect questions as to why he was never seen with women. Granted being outed would likely have destroyed his career, it didn’t take long for co-workers and the press to figure out Burr was gay. They respected his privacy though and kept his secret while he was seen with the likes of Natalie Wood for appearances only. By the time he was outed publicly it mattered very little and did no harm to his career which he had basically given up preferring retirement.

Why Burr was influential was that when most gay actors denied their homosexuality, even to their closest friends on the job, Burr gave up doing so. He was so beloved that nobody wanted to hurt him. Unlike the image so many in the industry had of the more free-spirited and flashy gay actors like Rock Hudson, Burr was considered the ultimate gentleman; generous, intelligent, compassionate, and loving. While he may not have influenced the public, he certainly changed the way those he worked with would view gays the rest of his life at a time a gentler role model was sorely needed.

Rupert Everett the famed British award winning actor is influential in large part not because he came out, but more so because of when he came at. At the height of his fame perhaps in 1989 when he was poised to seize the most choice roles, Everett did the unthinkable against the advice of virtually everyone. As those who recall the 1980’s can vividly remember, it was a very difficult time for gay men socially, in large part due to the AIDS epidemic.

Harvey Fierstein

For an actor to come out then it was considered the kiss of death for a career as the roles available to them would be limited. Many actresses at the time went on the record saying they would not do a love scene, or even kiss a gay man for fear they may have AIDS. Beyond that many producers and directors felt gay men would create too much tension on the set, studio executives feared the public would avoid anything gay related and make projects with gay men instant losers. Everett refused to to lie about his sexuality and as a result did lose plenty of work, but he persisted and went on to gain even more success as times changed. For taking a stand and publicly coming out when it could cost him his livelihood, Rupert Everett is most decidedly an influential gay actor.

Harvey Fierstein is a unique case when we discuss influential gay actors. Born in 1954, he was out but 1967 at age 13 and when we say out, he was way out and completely unashamed or apologetic for it. By 1971 he was already a noted drag performer and had appeared in Andy Warhol’s play Pork. Why Harvey is so influential is basically just him being him. He was already so well known as being gay he had no reason, need, or even opportunity to deny or hide it even if he wanted to. As such he used it to make himself the top choice for all gay roles which advanced his fame, but at the same time gave him a much wider audience to listen when he spoke on gay rights issues. For some forty years he has been perhaps the most tireless unrelenting gay actor on the issue in the entire industry. He is not just an influential gay actor, he may be the most influential.

Sir John Gielgud

Sir John Gielgud (Yes, he was the butler Hobson in Arthur!) was regarded as one of the greatest British actors of the 20th century. His life parallels the changing attitudes of gay men throughout the century, and his influence cannot be ignored. By the age of 20 he had a lengthy and accomplished resume which was already earning him elevated billings. He began his first serious relationship then with another actor John Perry which lasted some twenty years and ended in the early 1940’s.

Why he was influential is that he was as openly gay as was legally possible, sodomy was against the law in England until 1967 after all. As a man and a talent he was so respected, that even though his sexual orientation had been used to deny him knighthood, other actors rallied around him, most notably Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson who plead his merits to Winston Churchill. Sir John Gielgud is therefore influential because he brought people together to end, at least in one instance, a discriminatory injustice which eventually opened the door to other gay and lesbian British actors to be out of the closet as well.

Nathan Lane

A final favorite is comedic actor Nathan Lane. Like Firestein Lane has never hid his homosexuality to secure his career, in fact he has used it to advance it as much as possible, he has time and again used the attention he has garnered to advance gay rights and understanding any way he possibly can while not forcing it on anyone. he almost got the first lead role for a prime time actor when appearing in the short lived Encore! Encore!, however his vision of the diva chef was heterosexualized as executives felt it would alienate audiences. Perhaps had they followed Lanes Vision the show would have had a longer run. Lane is influential because he pushed for such characters on television in addition to his many efforts on behalf of the gay community.

While that is a tiny sampling based on one view of what influence is, there are many others that you may find influential in their own way as well. Some other notable gay actors who influenced public opinion are: Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, James “Rebel Without a Cause” Dean, Randy Harrison (Queer as Folk), Sean P Hayes (Will and Grace), Rock Hudson, Charles Laughton, Ian McKellan, Peter Page, Anthony Perkins (Psycho), Danny Pintauro (Who’s the Boss), RuPaul Charles, and Rudolph Valentino to name a few. Each in some way has influenced the publics perception of gays, some positively, some negatively.

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