First, I don't watch a lot of television. Second, even after 20 years in Los Angeles stars often pass under my radar unnoticed. I've seen lots of them. Typically, I have the same response: I'll see someone in a store and think, "Oh, she looks like someone who looks like Brooke Shields." It doesn't immediately occur to me that it IS Brooke Shields. A beat later I'll remember where I'm living. This has happened countless times.
When Joan Collins kissed me, it was sweet but not stupefying. I'd complimented her on Dynasty (this was 20 years ago), and she said "My, aren't you a sweet boy," and kissed me on the cheek.
When I went to pick up Ruth after having her hair done at Jose Eber's salon, I talked about lipstick with Cher as she waited for her hair color to cook.
I listened to an arrogant, rude Liz Hurley complain about the service at the finest hotel in the world, while a rumpled Hugh Grant stood nearby looking pussy-whipped. All I could think was, "Who does this bitch think she is?"
The one exception was Elizabeth Taylor. This was many years ago. I was in a Beverly Hills department store. I turned around and nearly toppled a violet-eyed woman so extraordinarily beautiful that it took my breath away. There was no mistaking Miss Taylor. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry," she said. I'm not proud of saying that all I could do was babble insensibly and walk away.
I mention these celebrity encounters as examples because it sets up my story. Last year I was still living in Long Beach and had occasion to drive up to Los Angeles. Sean was having a yard sale and asked me to stop by. The plan was to hang out for a while and then get some lunch. When I arrived, among the items for sale on the lawn was a sofa.
Sitting on the sofa was a tall, sandy-haired, shirtless man in shorts and sandals. He was buffed, tan and quite handsome, but this is Los Angeles and the sight of a handsome man is like the sight of smog--so commonplace as to be unnoticeable. The man was looking through a photo album of Sean's pictures from his recent trip to Italy. Thus, I was introduced to "Bobby."
I saw him a few more times after that and always enjoyed his company. I liked that he wasn't just a beefcake; he was smart, funny and friendly. Some weeks later when I expected to see Bobby at some function or other, Sean said that he was still shooting.
"Bobby plays one of the teachers on that WB show Popular."
Oh. That was how I learned that he was Robert Gant, presently on Popular, formerly on Friends, Caroline in the City, Veronica's Closet, Becker, Melrose Place, and Ellen. I had no idea. He was just Bobby. He came to dinner at my condo--and what an appetite that man has! After dinner we watched a DVD of The Way We Were. Bobby had never seen it. When I had a party, he cancelled a trip to Palm Springs to surprise me by showing up unexpectedly. That's the kind of guy Bobby is.
I conveyed my condolences when Popular was cancelled. I'd even made a point to watch the show to see him in action. It was a cute show, and I was sorry it didn't make it. But Bobby already had other things in the pipeline.
A few weeks later Sean said Bobby was up for a part that would change his life and his celebrity profile: "He's going to be Hal Spark's new boyfriend on Queer As Folk," Sean said in a whisper. Even though I have a love/hate relationship with the show, I was thrilled for Bobby. I also forbid Sean to tell me about Bobby's character or his storyline. Sean lied and said Bobby was going to play a cross-dresser. All I could think was what a hideous woman Bobby would make with his super-masculine features. At best he might look like a lady gym teacher.
Off he went to Toronto to shoot the show. The first time he appeared naked on the show, I called him and teased, "Bobby, what are you doing naked on my television?" He laughed and said, "I was freezing. That's what I was doing." We agreed that it was good he hadn't done a full frontal because the cold-induced shrinkage would have been devastating.
When I was discussing this column with the nice folks at outinamerica, one of the topics they wanted me to address to was gay characters on television (hence my call to Bobby). I couldn't talk about gay characters without talking about Queer As Folk. But with my friend not officially out, I was uneasy talking about the show because there would have to be a statement about who was and who wasn't "openly" gay (as much as I hate that term). Bobby was not out at the time, and I certainly would never out him. I winced through the QAF interview with Larry King when Larry said, "Scott Lowell plays Ted Schmidt. And by the way, he's also a straight man Robert Gant also is straight." But then Larry assumed; Bobby didn't lie, nor did he correct Larry. From a business standpoint, I understood Bobby's reticence.
I have a lesbian friend who was passionate about gay celebrities coming out. I never agreed with the idea that they somehow "owed" it to the community. It's as individual a decision for stars as it is for the rank and file. No one owes anybody anything. As for the practice of outing, I generally deplore it with rare exceptions. If some closeted person is doing harm to gays and lesbians, then that person should be exposed. In all other cases, it's no one's damned business who's doing what to whom.
I feel free to write about Bobby now because he's come out as a gay man on the cover of Advocate. I haven't seen him lately, but I understand that his career has never been hotter. Slowly but surely we are making progress. The rocky road just got a little easier. Thanks, Bobby. When are you coming over for spaghetti and meatballs? I'll make those cookies you like.
See you in two weeks.