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Chad Allen: His
own story

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

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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