Portia De Rossi first walked into my life when I was in my 20s and was so obsessed with Ally McBeal that I went so far as to answer a personal ad in the L.A. Weekly where a guy described himself as a “gay Ally McBeal.” After he returned my call, we talked for more than an hour—even through a small earthquake (sigh). But then, just as I was about to ask if we could meet in person, he declared, “I don’t think this will work. You’re too gay.”
I didn’t know what to say. Perhaps because I was so surprised that someone who billed himself as a “gay Ally McBeal” in the “men seeking men” section of the L.A. Weekly would think that I was the one who was too gay. But the following week, when I saw he’d placed another ad that read exactly the same save for three additional words—“no rainbow flags”—I figured it out. He meant that I was too far out of the closet, that I was too comfortable being gay. And he was right. But as anyone who has come out of the closet will attest, that comfort was hard fought, and even at the height of my obsession with Ally McBeal, I wouldn’t have traded it for all the dancing babies in the world.
I should have been looking for a gay Nell Porter instead. Because if Porter was anything like the woman playing her, Portia de Rossi, she was dying to come out. What De Rossi couldn’t have known when she was closeted and making a name for herself on Ally McBeal was that a decade later she’d be married to the most famous lesbian in the land, Ellen DeGeneres.
When I met with photo director Albert Smith and art director Scott McPherson to discuss concepts for the shoot to accompany the De Rossi interview, we agreed that we wanted to capture a different side of the woman we’d seen so often in newspapers and magazines—especially since her 2008 wedding. We immediately gravitated toward a beautiful 1974 People magazine cover—the first People cover, actually—featuring Mia Farrow from the film The Great Gatsby. Would De Rossi go for it? Could photographer Don Flood get the shot? Could an homage to a 36-year-old cover work? The answer to all three questions was a resounding yes. Portia was the consummate sport and captured Farrow’s look before the first camera flash, and Don expertly one-upped one of the magazine world’s most classic covers.
There was initially no connection in our heads—other than a visual one—between Farrow and De Rossi. But after reading Shana Naomi Krochmal’s interview with De Rossi, I realize that both women are passionately outspoken on human rights, both are steadfast in their determination that the world can be a better place, and neither has absolutely anything to hide.
No rainbow flags. As if.