Gaydom’s Gump

Getting to know you: "I definitely don't like your perfume" by Boris O'Klein.
Getting to know you: “I definitely don’t like your perfume” by Boris O’Klein.

My life, whether it be long or short, has taught me many things. One being you shouldn’t always accept difficult personalities at face value.

Some of my best friends wanted nothing to do with me when we first met. But for some reason they intrigued me. My persistence wore them down until they couldn’t imagine life without me.

Then there are those whom I have initially written off as way too much trouble. They have come back to be endless sources of fascination and comfort. The most recent example is my fellow vendor at the antique mall, Robert.

He was a nice enough curmudgeon at first but soon crankiness overpowered the loveability. He was always offering meddlesome advice that seemed to contradict itself. And he would invent gratuitous tasks just so he could order me around.

Robert drove me to a flashpoint and I snapped. Rather than take offense, it delighted him. He became more engaged, “I just wanted you to experience the joy of working with others.”

Things were barely civil between us for several months. The tension started to soften the day he acknowledged that me and my merchandise were cool. Then he added, “but strange.” Since he found out I was leaving he’s been my best friend. He’s been helpful, given me good advice and has shared countless stories.

In the late 50’s he had a wealthy accountant friend who traveled often for business. Since wives flew for free at the time, they would cash in on the perk with Robert accompanying him in drag.

When he moved to DC, his drag once again came into play when he was invited to dinner at J. Edgar Hoover’s. Everyone was dressed to the nines and unrecognizable except for Dorothy Kilgallen who came as herself.

He lived for a few years in the 1960’s Paris of Audrey Hepburn’s Charade: after the war but before the tourists. He then returned to LA to design sets at Paramount.

One day he received a call from the studio saying Faye Dunaway’s escort for the Oscars had cancelled at the last-minute. They wanted him to fill-in. She was nominated for Chinatown and, though they’d never met, he accepted. After she lost they ended up in the wee hours closing down a gay bar on Santa Monica Boulevard. As “last calls” rang out, Miss Dunaway continued to regal admirers with a stream of raunchy jokes.

When his gray poodle was lost, Kathryn Hepburn called the number on the collar. Robert went to fetch him at George Cukor’s house which she rented just around the corner from him. They became coffee clatch friends after that and he taught her to skateboard in the Beverley Hilton parking lot. Along with Ruth Gordon, the three would hit every garage sale or swap meet they could find.

He was at a party Carol Burnett held for Ken Berry in Malibu where the UCLA Marching Band paraded down the beach playing Happy Birthday at midnight. Another party he attended was thrown by one of his more over-reaching acquaintances. This queen invited everyone in Hollywood to a fete honoring Robert and Rosemarie Stack.

Lucy pouts over the ivy.
Lucy pouts over the ivy.

The only problem was the Stacks never showed up at the party because they had never met the guy. Robert struck up a three-hour friendship with Melina Mercouri that night as they made fun of the guests getting off the elevator. Most of the celebrities took one look at the gathering, turned on their heels and left.

One of the most hateful, unpleasant stars he met was Paul Lynde. Robert worked on Hollywood Squares and said he was unfunny and unoriginal in real life. All his quips were scripted and spoon-fed to him. I knew Lynde died in a sleazy motel from a massive heart attack caused by overdoing poppers. I didn’t know he was found in drag.

The same real life criticisms could not be leveled at Lynde’s square-mate, Joan Rivers. The three of them were in the buffet line once when Lynde took a rather large piece of bratwurst. Joan didn’t hesitate, “I would have dressed up, Paul, if I’d known you were bringing your boyfriend.”

Some of his stories are actually professionally related. Franciscan Ivy, for example, the china pattern that I Love Lucy and my Mother used was purportedly designed by Rose Kennedy in the 40’s. It was originally called Boston Ivy and made exclusively for the Kennedy’s Palm Beach estate. In the early 50’s permission was granted for Franciscan to produce it commercially. Lucy got the first couple of sets. Robert has numbered pieces marked “Lucille Ball.”

And not all of his stories are as wholesome as Rose’s china. In the 80’s he owned a small business in a strip mall. Working very late one night, he noticed flashing red lights reflected under the back door. He inched it open to peak and saw two empty police cruisers.

He then heard commotion in the vacant store space next door. Climbing up a ladder, he pushed up one of the ceiling tiles and looked over the common wall. There were four naked men going at it. He couldn’t see well enough to tell if they were using protection but everyone was definitely being served.

Robert is our gay Forrest Gump. But is he telling the truth or has he just read too many issues of People? I think he is. The stories flow so effortlessly. And when I questioned him about some of the details, applying the obscure minutiae that comprises 90% of my memory, his answers were spot on.

And if he’s not telling the truth, so what? He wouldn’t be the first person to embellish things to make them more entertaining (see my blog).

***

The Last Temptation of Me

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