Staying in the closet was not an option for Allan Carr. Not his own closet, anyway. It was already rafter-packed with custom-made caftans and enough women’s jewelry to choke Elizabeth Taylor, a close friend. “Because hiding wasn’t an option for Allan, he made extravagance into a calling card,” explains Robert Hofler, senior editor of Variety and author of a new Carr biography, Party Animals (Da Capo Press, $15.95). Carr’s career was an exercise in excess, ricocheting between cocaine-fueled triumph and calamity. Carr, who died of liver cancer in 1999, produced such landmark musicals as Grease (the movie) and Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles, but he was also to blame for such duds as the campy film musical Can’t Stop the Music and the 1989 Oscars telecast, which featured Rob Lowe’s notorious duet with Snow White—derided as the worst performance in the Academy’s history.
Carr developed a following among Hollywood’s glitterati for the bacchanals at his fabulous Beverly Hills mansion that doubled as a West Coast satellite of Studio 54. It seemed that all of Tinseltown indulged themselves at Carr’s urging. But it was the closeted A-gays of the 1970s and ’80s who really cut loose—at sybaritic soirees such as the Rudolf Nureyev Mattress Party—engaging in behavior that would have made the characters in Boogie Nights blush. Carr laid out hustlers in every room, like canapés, for his guests’ entertainment. “Young, hairless boys,” called “fetuses,” staged priapic wrestling matches. And people queued up to ride sexually voracious stars as if they were Disneyland attractions.
Carr’s life and sexuality offer a unique illustration of his era’s limitations and the extent to which it was possible to transcend them. He briefly endeared himself to Hollywood’s elite by playing their fey jester, but they soon bounced him out of show business in a homophobic fit of pique. Carr, however, managed to translate his social clout (while it lasted) into a kind of progress, most notably by mainstreaming gay culture through projects like La Cage. It was hardly the Stonewall riots, but a chorus kick in the right direction nonetheless.