Chad Allen: His own story

The former teen idol and current actor-producer-activist tells all about his 1996 tabloid outing, his circuit party days, and his road to self-acceptance

BY Bruce Vilanch

October 08 2001 11:00 PM ET

I met Chad Allen
some years ago at a pool party. Later that day somebody
took a picture of him kissing a young man in the pool at
that party, and some weeks later the tabloids outed
him with that picture. I was not the young man in the
picture, damn it. On the other hand, I didn’t sell
the picture either.

Since then, Allen
has continued his acting career relatively unabated,
and he has also established a theater career, both as actor
and producer, and another career as a show business
activist, organizing and performing in benefits for a
myriad of gay causes, including AIDS and civil rights.
At the moment, he’s workshopping a play in
Connecticut while producing one in Los Angeles, the
local premiere of Terrence McNally’s continuously
controversial Corpus Christi.

Outed, clean,
sober, and at ease, he recently shaved his head—not
for his sins but for a role. We shouted at each other
across a tiny table at a crowded Hollywood watering
hole.

So here you are, once again caught in the publicity
machine—although not in the same way as before.

Right. This time, I turned it on—the
publicity machine. I see it, but I just don’t
get it. One of my closest friends in the world likes to
appear at supermarket openings. I can do it; I just
don’t get it.

You don’t get why people would want to know more
about you?
Not really. I can get up in front of how many people
every night onstage and be somebody else, but to sit
here and be myself, I don’t know who that is. I
think, What are you trying to see here? Of course, I have
been doing it since I was a kid. You think I’d know
by now. Whatever!

You are a show business kid.
Well, I don’t come from a show business
family at all. But my sister and I are twins, and we
were cute kids, so we were always thrown into boy and
girl pairs, paraded around in ridiculous costumes. And then
it seemed like I had a talent for it. So we went for
it.

What was your first job?
My first series was St. Elsewhere. I was 8
when we started. I played an autistic kid, and I remember my
mother sitting me down and trying to explain what it
was, and she told me autistic kids lived in their own
world. And I understood that. I would sit there and
have this whole world going on in my head. I’d be
following the patterns on the wall, and in my head
there was an imaginary war going on between the
shapes. So I felt like I knew what I was doing.

Were you happy?
I was a child actor but never a child star,
except, of course, in my own mind. And I really was
happiest when I was performing. The part that you miss
is the socialization. You have no idea how to behave around
other kids. I didn’t have a bad time, but I
would never put my kids in the industry. It’s
just too sketchy, and I don’t care what they say, you
don’t ever have time to really be a kid in a world of
kids.

So school was on the set?
For years. I did five TV series, including Our
House
and My Two Dads, with Paul Reiser,
who is terrific. My recollections are this: I played
pretend, and I was good at playing pretend and enjoyed it
for a lot of reasons, and all of a sudden people were
making a lot of money, and I didn’t want to do
it anymore. But there was a machine, and beautiful
things were happening! I was on the cover of all these teen
magazines, and I would look at that guy on the cover and
wonder who he was. He was very well put together, and
I wanted to get to know him.

Who created him?
I’m sure I had a hand in it. But
publicists, mostly. Basically, I had been raised on
the set and at church—strict Catholic upbringing
there. And at 16, I more or less quit acting to go to
high school. I wanted to play sports and date and do
all those things. But I made the mistake of getting
involved in the drama department. It was basically for the
rejects, the gay kids, very uncool. We did these little
plays, but I didn’t want to be accused of being
an actor, because I had left that behind me. However,
I was drawn to the camaraderie of acting. I discovered
that I liked the world of the theater, which was so
different from the world of the teen star.

This sounds like a very potent mix. Catholic
schoolboy with theatrical training and a need for
companionship. I think we have the makings of a
very good personals ad here.
I believe we do!

How strict was the Catholic upbringing?
Oh, heavy. When I wasn’t working that was it, for
12 years. Of course, we didn’t have nuns by the
time I was in Catholic school.

Gay priests?
Sure. Some of them were very open. One was very open and
helpful to students who were openly gay.

Like you?
Like me. There was love and acceptance, and it was OK;
they just weren’t allowed to have sex. That was
not my situation. I had to strike out and try
everything on the great spiritual journey. Basically, I was
having a blast in high school. It was the first time I had
been off the set since I was 4 years old.

You were open?
Open and careful. What you had to be. I was also doing a
lot of other things besides sex. There was a lot of
partying. After high school, I was living by myself in
a motel. I had worked all my life, so I had my own
money, and things were not so fabulous at home. I mean, I
used to go there a lot to eat. They’d make sure
I’d come over for food. We’re Italian,
with a dose of German blood, so there’s always a lot
of eating and arguing. Besides my twin, there were
three other kids. It was good to be away from it, but
I kept drifting back for the food. I was a pretty
crazy 17-year-old, partying, never taking care of anything.
My rebelliousness was a big issue.

And what about your sexuality?
Well, it was a big issue to me at the time but not to
them. They never really knew anything about it. Maybe
I’m in denial. I saw a lot of my family, but I
was so busy doing crazy things that that kept them
occupied. [Being gay] never came up. I was living by myself
in a motel! They had other issues.

Such as?
First of all, I had decided to pack my bags and move to
New York and see if I could make it as a stage actor.
Then I got the offer for the pilot of Dr. Quinn,
Medicine Woman
. We did the pilot, and then I
went home and packed for New York, and they picked up
the series. I thought, Eh, what are the odds? How
long can it go?
And it lasted six years, and
we’re still doing Dr. Quinn TV movies.

So you were the prisoner of a hit.
I was the child of a hit! I mean, I actually grew up
doing that series. I went into it a crazy teenager and
came out of it a crazy young man! It was great; I had
many, many older brothers on that crew who looked out
for me. Jane [Seymour] was very mothering, and Joe Lando,
who played Sully, really was like an older brother. We
both loved motorcycles and guns—this was a
Western, remember—and I looked up to him. He was very
cool. The whole ensemble was great. A lot of wonderful
actors played characters that didn’t get a lot
of screen time on that show. But they had a lot of
time on the set, and that was terrific for me. I learned an
awful lot.

And you were once again in the teen idol pool?
Well, I kept a very low profile in that area. I dated.
Or I should say, I was dated. That was how I met
Heather Tom, who became a producing partner of mine in
a theater company. It was one of those classic
Hollywood dates. She was on The Young and the
Restless
, another CBS show, and I was her date for the
show’s anniversary party. We had nothing in
common. She was totally conservative; I was in extreme
rebellion. I had my first car, and I was more
interested in that than I was in Heather. So things went
pretty much along like that for a few years.

And that was when the world found out about
your—you should forgive the
expression—hanging Chad. OK, it wasn’t a
nude shot, but it was the shot that brought you out.
It was a truly extraordinary circumstance. I was 21
years old when a guy that I was seeing sold photos of
us kissing in a swimming pool to a magazine, a
tabloid. I was 21 and working on a family-oriented TV
series. All of a sudden I get this phone call from a
publicist saying the Globe is doing this thing and
running this picture, and they’re gonna claim I
was with a prostitute and all these things that
weren’t true. So I was scared. Just scared.

What happened next?
All of a sudden there’s a lawyer; I’m
stuck in a room with agents and managers and network
publicists and lawyers sitting around discussing my
sexuality. And I’m 21 years old, and I can’t
discuss my sexuality! I didn’t want to be on
the cover of a magazine, but I also didn’t want to
say anything. I didn’t want to lie. I was absolutely
convinced that whatever I did, whichever way I went,
lying was not an option. Certain people wanted me to
be one thing or another. But I didn’t want to be a
part of anyone’s agenda. I was not political,
certainly not then. Then I was trying to figure out
what to do about my family! I didn’t really care
what my dad thought at that point. But my mom was who I was
really worried about.

But you had to face them.
I drove down there, and I started talking, and out came
an hour’s long speech about what was going to
happen. My mom, I guess, thought she was supposed to
cry, and so she tried to cry, and then she said,
“Well, I always thought you were too cute not
to have a girlfriend.” My dad couldn’t
look me in the eye. And that hurt. Because a boy always
wants his dad’s acceptance. And I knew
I’d been lying to them. What’s amazing
is that I’m sitting here talking about my parents at
all. For a long time, that would not have been the
case.

Forgive me, but inquiring minds want to know: What
was the prostitute thing?
They had the truth in the photo. I was in the pool with
a guy. I don’t know about the other stuff. It
was weird. It was just made-up stuff.

Sometimes they’ll make something up so you can
deny it, and that will spice up the story, or maybe
you’ll say, “That’s not what
really happened. Here’s what really
happened.” It’s a time-honored trick.
I don’t know how those things work. The joke was,
they weren’t saying I was gay. They
couldn’t print the word homosexual in the article.
All they had was a picture of me kissing a guy, not
from a movie or TV but from real life. And that was
enough to get everybody started.

It certainly was.
The letters started coming in from gay
people—“Oh, my God,” “I had no
idea,” “Just knowing helps me so much.”
It helped me, actually, all this pressure I was
getting to identify myself, identify myself. It just meant
so much to know I wasn’t going through it alone
either. After all, what is it [loving men]?
There’s so much attached to it, but at the end of the
day, it’s love. I’ll take it. Whatever it
looks like.

Tell me about the fallout.
The truth was, just about everybody who knew me and
cared about me gave me support. The morning after it
hit, I had to walk from my dressing room to the set. I
was petrified. And I thought, Everybody who looks at
me is gonna know… [Shaking his head] What?
That there’s a scared little boy inside?

Is that because a movie set is a homophobic place?
No, it’s because I was a homophobic place! You
know, we hung out on that set, and we had a real sense
of give-and-take and community, and I didn’t
want that to change. And as I walked along, everyone, the
transportation guys, the engineers, they all came up and
slapped me on the back. They loved me, you know? We
were family.

Speaking of love, you poor thing, you’ve been an
idol all your life. Has that made it hard for you to
form relationships?
I haven’t been the world’s greatest
boyfriend, partially because I’ve spent a lot
of time deeply involved with myself and the things that I
want to do. It’s tough for people to be around
somebody who gets a lot of attention. A lot of people
I’ve been with aren’t willing to get thrust
into that position.

Have you ever been in love?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve loved deeply, in the
romantic sense. I’m very proud of that.

Is there somebody special in your life now?
No. I mean, lots of special people, but I’m not
romantically involved right now. I’d like to
be! [Laughs]

What are the job requirements?
A huge amount of mental stimulation and capacity. An
intense desire for adventure and fun. My life is about
doing things that are extraordinary. I love to be out
and adventuring and traveling. And I also love to sit
in deep prayer and meditation. I don’t really enjoy
spending a lot of time in bars or clubs—and I
certainly have, because there’s not much I
haven’t done at one time or another in my life.

Not so long ago you had a big reputation around
drugs and parties. Were you a circuit boy?
No, I was a guy who loved to push everything to its
limits. That included the use of drugs and alcohol to
expand and heighten every emotion to its absolute
extreme. I’ve experienced the rave scene, the
underground New York and L.A. scenes, the circuit party
scene among gay men—all of it.

I think I know where this is going.
At the end of the day, I was alone, and I
couldn’t stop drinking, and it wasn’t a
happy place. It was Chad sitting by himself in a condo in
Malibu with nobody else around, on the brink of death.

Did someone step in and help you?
There comes a time with addicts and alcoholics when you
have to say, “I’m not gonna watch you
kill yourself. Don’t call me until you’re
getting some help.” For me that phone call came from
my friend Heather Tom. When she walked away from me, I
realized I was losing my family. I began working an
intensive recovery program that I’m still active with
in my life. That was four or five years ago.
It’s been unbelievable since then.

Do you think being outed—and staying
out—has limited your options?

I’m asked that a lot. It’s
interesting, and I don’t know. In the end, of
course, it hasn’t mattered. I’ve never played
a gay role on television or film. Still! And
everything I’ve done in the last year, three films
and some TV, it doesn’t seem to have affected
that. Maybe I’m just not good enough at being
gay to be cast that way!

Doesn’t sound so bad somehow.
I thought about it a lot at first, naturally. I wondered
if CBS would find a way to make me disappear from Dr.
Quinn. But they didn’t. And the last few years
have been even more interesting. I think the drama of it
all has helped me in my work. In fact, I think it has helped
me to do better work. And as an actor, who knows why
you get certain parts or not? I haven’t spent
too much time thinking about it lately.

But you’ve played gay parts in theater?
Mostly in plays I’ve produced myself! One of
them—and this is seared in my mind
forever—one of them was in this cockroach theater in
L.A., a tiny two-man play. My parents had come. Now,
my mother is a very emotional woman. My dad is not one
to convey emotion. And at the end of the play, I was
crying as my character, and there in the second row was
my dad crying. And I knew then that the only place we were
probably ever going to connect was in the safe context
of a theater. That’s why I keep returning to
theater. You don’t get that kind of emotional
connection watching television. That’s
something I think only the theater is capable of.

In your teen heartthrob period, your posters were
in thousands of girls’ bedrooms. Were you ever
attracted to girls, or did you always know that
guys were it for you?
Quite honestly, this opens up a whole area of discussion
that it’s sometimes tough for people to
understand. It’s easy, especially speaking
politically, to want to clarify things as gay or straight or
homosexual or bisexual or heterosexual. But
I’ve always felt like the word homosexual
described a person about as well as the word Republican or
Democrat. It’s a nice little label to give somebody,
but what does it really tell you about them? Nothing.

I’ve had
beautiful, intense romantic relationships with women in my
life. And in this period in my life I have beautiful,
intense romantic relationships with men. I
don’t know for certain that it will always look
like that. It hasn’t always looked like that in my
life, so why should I assume [it always will]?
It’s important, I believe, to stand up and say
“I’m gay,” because people get hurt for
doing that. And until that’s not the case
anymore, I and hopefully a hell of a lot more other people
will continue to do so.

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