Nelly Power: When Coming Out Isn't a Choice

These men — both real and fictional — who could never 'pass' might be considered the pioneers of gay visibility.



Wit Master: Charles Nelson Reilly

You may be too young to remember Reilly as the consistently funny panelist on a variety of game shows, most notably The Match Game. Although no one said the G word, it was understood who Reilly was, and he seemed to have a ball doing these shows. He was always funny, confident, and relaxed as opposed to his counterpart on other game shows, Paul Lynde. Both men were unwitting participants in the gay minstrel show, often being the brunt of the joke because of their perceived gayness or effeminacy. (See the video below.)

Reilly had a long career in the theater that was often overshadowed by his game show appearances. In 1961, Reilly was in the original cast of the big Broadway hit and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. For his performance in the role of Bud Frump, Reilly earned a 1962 Tony Award. In 1964, Reilly was featured in the original cast of yet another giant Broadway success, Hello, Dolly! For originating the role of Cornelius Hackl, Reilly received a second nomination for a Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.

In later years he worked as both a director and an acting teacher. He performed in a one-man show Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly.