Joan Rivers has built a career (a life, really) out of saying precisely what’s on her mind and daring you to judge her for it. At 77 years old, Rivers doesn’t exactly care what other people think. That’s why she happily told The Advocate in an interview this week that gay actors should only come out of the closet for the publicity. In the process, she outed a legendary actor who has long been the subject of unconfirmed rumors.
If everyone had known that Cary Grant was gay, he wouldn’t have been the great romantic idol, and that would’ve been the end of his career. Same with Rock Hudson, who was a very good friend of mine… If the world had known, maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to see him make out with Jane Wyman. It makes sense, in a way. If you’re looking at someone who’s your idol, thinking that maybe one day they’ll come ring your doorbell, you don’t want to hear, “There’s no chance in hell, honey, but still buy a ticket to the movie.”
If you’re going to be a romantic idol and try to get every teenage girl to love you, then you’d be an a-- to come out and say you’re gay. That’s why Ricky Martin was so smart — he did what he did, he made his millions, and then he said, “Guess what, everybody? I’m gay, I’m having this life, and here are my children.” It didn’t matter anymore because he didn’t have to bring in 16-year-old girls.
These quotes come on the heels of that minor dustup involving Sean Hayes and Newsweek columnist Ramin Setoodeh, who wrote that Hayes lacked credibility in a heterosexual role because he’s gay in real life. That column caused an awful big stir in the gay community. I doubt Rivers’ remarks will cause the same kind of furor, given her longtime good relationship with the gay community, and given that, you know, she’s Joan Rivers. It’s her job to say controversial things.
The question here is… Is Rivers right? Here’s one thing that’s absolutely correct: If Cary Grant had been openly gay, he wouldn’t have been able to get a job in Hollywood back then. And certainly, a whole lot of Americans still don’t accept the idea of gay actors in heterosexual roles (or the idea of anyone being gay, period). From a career perspective, isn’t it wise for gay performers to wait until they’ve made all their money to come out?
I guess so. But that isn’t why the Newsweek controversy blew up. Everyone knows that gay actors aren’t universally accepted. But what made the gay community upset about the Sean Hayes thing was that it implied that America will NEVER accept a gay actor in a hetero role. This is untrue, given how far gay actors have come in the past couple of decades. You can be openly gay and still get work now. That wasn’t true in Rock Hudson’s era. That makes it pretty clear the American viewing audience has changed their attitude. Not all the way to blanket acceptance, but certainly closer to it.
The other issue, of course, is much more personal. No gay person should ever feel forced to stay in the closet. That’s why Setoodeh’s article caused such a stir. It implied that it’s your duty as a gay actor to deny who you are to be a credible performer, and that self-denial has caused a great many closeted gay person considerable personal anguish throughout history. One of the goals of the gay rights movement (a very good one) is to create a world where no one has to feel like they NEED to stay in the closet for any reason at all. Rivers is right in saying that world doesn’t exist yet. But things certainly don’t have to stay that way.