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Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook

Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998

America's Newsmagazines in Review

Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998 by David Ehrenstein; William Morrow & Company; 372 pages; $25.00.
opensect.gif - 11.80 K 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.

tomcruise2.jpg - 24.08 K Tom Cruise: Threatned author with legal action The keepers of Tom Cruise's reputation were particularly wary of any unwanted revelations, and threatened legal action if Mr. Ehrenstein were so bold as to imply that their charge was queer. Not to worry.

Though Open Secret has a chapter on "Tom Cruise", the only thing we learn about the former Thomas Mapother is that - surprise! - gay men find him attractive.

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 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.

It's not that Ehrenstein didn't have enough material. The men and women who sat for an interview with him are legion and include Don Bachardy, Chastity Bono, Howard Bragman, Bill Condon, Mart Crowley, Lea DeLaria, David Geffen, Harry Hay, Gavin Lambert, Armistead Maupin, Ian McKellen, Richard Natale, John Rechy, Howard Rosenman, Gloria Stuart and Gus Van Sant. Ehrenstein's research is generally thorough and includes both scholarly tomes and trashy tabloids. gvansant.gif - 19.59 K Gus Van Sant

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.

mclift.jpg - 10.00 K Montgomery Clift On the other hand, some of the star couples Ehrenstein mentions are intriguing, to say the least: Montgomery Clift and Jack Larson ("Jimmy Olsen" in the Superman TV series), Farley Granger and Arthur Laurents, Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins appear along the often-written about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

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.

The AIDS Crisis: A Documentary History is one of a Greenwood Press series, "Primary Documents in American History and Contemporary Issues," "designed to meet the researchneeds of high school and college students by making available in one volume the key primary documents on a given historical event or contemporary issue." Though the high cost of the book keeps it out of reach for the average reader, it is sure to make its way into libraries and other research institutions. It certainly accomplishes its purpose, which is to provide a useful, one volume compilation of material about the AIDS crisis and its impact.

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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.

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