A Nightmare in Hollywood Couldn't Kill Mark Patton
BY Jase Peeples
August 08 2013 6:00 AM ET
Above: Patton, Cher, and Sandy Dennis in Come Back to the Five & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
Feeling a newfound sense of freedom and self-esteem, Patton found success quickly both professionally and socially in New York City. Within a few months, he began booking work acting in commercials and off-Broadway plays and made a new circle of gay friends. A few years later, he got the break of a lifetime when he landed the role of Joe Qualley, a gay character, in the Broadway play Come Back to the Five & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean opposite Hollywood heavy-hitters Cher and Kathy Bates. It was a role Patton felt he was born to play.
“I knew I was going to be hired for Jimmy Dean,” says Patton. “It was one of those moments where you knew it was your destiny.” The show was a success, and soon Patton found himself in Los Angeles with the rest of his cast mates working on a film adaptation of the Broadway hit. But just as the fresh-faced blond boy from Missouri’s star began to rise, he discovered a darker side to the industry he had come to love.
“I remember my first manager came to my house, went to my closet, and told me what I could and couldn’t wear,” recalls Patton. “All the things I could wear, she threw them on the floor in the closet and said, ‘This is the way normal boys dress. They wear wrinkled and dirty clothes. And the other things you really love? Don’t wear them.’” He quickly realized the open and free life he enjoyed as an out actor in New York was not accepted in the homophobic culture of 1980s Hollywood.
“When I started working in New York, I didn’t have the common sense to keep my sexuality a secret,” Patton says. “I wasn’t famous. I was just a kid going to auditions for commercials and stuff. In New York I would go out to gay bars and it was no big deal, but in Los Angeles, I was told I wasn’t allowed to step foot in West Hollywood because agents would post people in the L.A. gay bars so they could sabotage the career of any actor who competed with one of their clients. It was very cutthroat.”
Quickly, Patton found himself in a closet built by those around him who were guiding his career. “They wouldn’t even let me do certain interviews,” he adds. “I remember getting an interview request from The Advocate after we made Jimmy Dean and they told me I absolutely couldn’t speak with a gay magazine, even though I was playing a gay character. I think they were scared I would say something about my sexuality, and they were probably right.”