Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook
America's Newsmagazines in Review
Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998 by David Ehrenstein; William Morrow & Company; 372 pages; $25.00.
For decades talking about "who's gay in Hollywood" has been a favorite past time in both the gay and mainstream communities. It happens around water coolers, over dinner and at cocktail parties. It is the centerpiece of super-market tabloids, E! TV and Billy Masters's column.
Both Hollywood and homosexuality are exciting and explosive topics and, when they mix and match, watch out!
David Ehrenstein has been writing about gays and Hollywood longer than anyone except Steve Warren, most notably for the Advocate back when it was a tabloid. His book on gay Hollywood was eagerly awaited by gay film buffs and watched carefully by star attorneys and publicists.
In Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998, the chapter about Nicole Kidman's husband is par for the course. It is not a history of gays in film Ó la the late Vito Russo's Celluloid Closet. Nor is it a garland of gossip in the manner of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon.
Rather, as "part social history and past Tinseltown expose", Open Secret tries to be both serious and trashy and comes out wanting on both ends. It's almost as if Ehrenstein was told to write a book about queers in film and, equipped with a set of interviews and secondary sources, set out to fill the necessary pages any way he could.
However, once he got his material, Ehrenstein had trouble putting it together. All too often the narrative in Open Secret degenerates into a book of lists, as with the litany of AIDS casualties in pages 163-167.
Ehrenstein is also stingy with the photos, a staple of Hollywood history, giving us 8 pages where another historian -- Boze Hadleigh, for instance -- would have given us more.
This is not to say that Open Secret is not worth reading. There are few surprises in this book -- Richard Chamberlain is "exposed"? Really! -- and no one is outed.
When Ehrenstein deals with an important or interesting topic in great detail, his analysis is top-notch. Such is the case with Open Secret's treatment of the 1955 police raid on Tab Hunter's "pajama party" - which, as covered by Confidential, was young Ehrenstein's introduction to gays in show biz -- the rise and fall of Ellen; and the making of Gods and Monsters. Sections like these almost make up for the book's uneven tone.
There's more to "gay Hollywood" (or "straight Hollywood") than its stars, and Open Secret sensibly goes behind the scenes to profile the "producers, directors, writers, agents, executives, and technical personnel" who are openly gay and who are changing the industry accordingly.
Their achievements are not as flashy as the stars' sex lives, but they are more important, and it is to Ehrenstein's credit that he devotes much of his book to these men and women. In a sense, Open Secret is their story.
The AIDS Crisis: A Documentary History, edited by Douglas A. Feldman and Julia Wang Miller; Greenwood Press; 267 pages; $49.95.
Dr. Douglas A. Feldman is a well-known medical and applied anthropologist, a specialist in international and domestic AIDS social research, and a gay activist. Together with sociologist Julia Wang Miller, Dr. Feldman has done an admirable job compiling the major documents on the AIDS epidemic; both in the United States and abroad and in both gay and nongay communities. The selections are brief - sometimes too brief - but well-annotated, and are followed by useful lists of "Suggested Readings." The AIDS Crisis will surely live up to its promise and become an essential resource for anyone doing research on AIDS and its consequences.