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Paper Trail: How
to Come Out

Paper Trail: How
to Come Out


Celebrity publicist Howard Bragman has helped actors like Dick Sargent and athletes like Esera Tuaolo and John Amaechi come out of the closet. In an exclusive excerpt from his new book Where's My Fifteen Minutes (available this month from Penguin Press), he talks about how the process has changed over the years.

While most publicists keep their clients in the closet, I've developed a reputation in Hollywood as the go-to guy for stars who decide to come out. The first celebrities I took out of the closet were Dick Sargent, Darren number 2 on Bewitched, and Sheila Kuehl, now an elected official in California and initially an actor on the 1960s TV sitcom The Loves and Lives of Dobie Gillis. Ironically, on a personal note, when I was 13, I came with my family to California for a cousin's wedding. Somehow my parents and I got in to see the filming of Bewitched, which was filmed without a live audience. It was just shot in a studio. The only Hollywood stars I met on that trip were Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick Sargent, and Agnes Moorehead. Of those three, I ended up working with two of them, Montgomery and Sargent. Elizabeth always believed that Bewitched was the perfect metaphor for being in the closet. Anytime Samantha used her powers as a witch, she had to close the doors, pull the drapes, and make sure that no one could see what was happening. Today, Samantha might be able to come out of the closet herself and practice her witchcraft for all to see, but that's not how things were back then.

When Dick Sargent decided to come out, I called Entertainment Tonight to get an interview for him. He laughed at the thought -- he hadn't been on TV for decades, and he couldn't believe that anyone would care. Yet by coming out of the closet, he got thousands of fan letters from viewers gay and straight, who basically said, "God bless you for living your life honestly." Then he started getting additional roles from casting directors who hadn't given him a second thought in years. Typically, when actors come out, good things happen. In fact, every person I worked with who came out ended up happier in their new life.

Along the same lines, Tom Villard's claim to fame consisted of roles in sitcoms in the 1980s, but 10 years later, he developed AIDS and was on the verge of losing his Screen Actors Guild health insurance. He decided to come out of the closet hoping that someone might hire him and give him enough days to allow him to keep his health insurance. A wonderful casting lady, indeed one of the preeminent individuals in the field of casting, became the unsung hero in the story. Mary Jo Slater immediately called and found a part for this actor. You might be familiar with Mary Jo's son, Christian Slater. To me, she's a hero. She never asked for praise -- she did it because it was the right thing to do. It still moves me to this day when I think about her kindness and compassion.

I've also worked with a number of actors right after they came out. Mitchell Anderson of Doogie Howser and Party of Five came out on the spur of the moment at a benefit dinner. He called me the next day to ask, "What the hell did I just do?" Amanda Bearse, famous for her role on Married With Children, came out as a lesbian and I helped her as well. Ironically, when Amanda, Mitchell, or any individual comes out, the media immediately views that person as an expert on everything to do with gay rights, from legal rights for gays in Hawaii to AIDS, from current events to legal decisions, from medical issues related to HIV to just about anything under the sun. Not everyone wants to get involved politically, and just because you come out doesn't mean you've got all the background in the world at your fingertips. My attitude is, give people a chance to find their way.

A perfect example of this is the story of Esera Tuaolo, an NFL player who decided to come out. He had no book or TV show to promote. He simply wanted to come out in order to "live in his truth." He had a partner and they had adopted children.

He wanted to be able to walk around town proudly with his partner at his side, his head held high. When you have a national figure to take out of the closet, the first story is very, very important. You don't want a press conference and a media frenzy. I'm a big believer in controlling the release of a story as sensitive as this. Bob Lipsyte, the legendary New York Times sportswriter, did a piece that demonstrated his incredible sensitivity toward this issue. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on HBO came up next and did a very fine story as well, and then Tuaolo appeared on Good Morning America, whose studios overlook Times Square. The show was broadcast live on a JumboTron screen in Times Square, and when Tuaolo emerged from the studio, he came out as a hero. Real New Yorkers -- the hot dog vendors and cops on the street, no quiche eaters they -- hailed Tuaolo as a star and a hero for his courage. They were giving him free hot dogs, free T-shirts -- you would never have believed it was New York.

Do gays in Hollywood have an entirely smooth path at this point? Of course not. It's OK for Tom Hanks to play a gay guy, but openly gay actors still have trouble getting roles as straight men. I find this double standard silly. It might be in its final days, though. Neil Patrick Harris, of the TV shows How I Met Your Mother and Doogie Howser, came out, as did T. R. Knight of Grey's Anatomy. The stigma is disappearing now that gay actors are playing straight people credibly and openly. We have yet to have our "Jackie Robinson" moment -- an 'A' actor coming out at the height of his career. But sit tight. It will come in our lifetimes.

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