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The quilt thread

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It occurs to me we haven't had a thread about the AIDS epidemic and how in the 1980s a lot of talented performers died very young. Had they lived, who knows what kinds of performances they might have been able to give in mainstream and LGBT cinema.

 

Last night I watched an episode of Kojak online. It was a season 2 offering that featured a very interesting guest star as a demented killer. I had never seen or heard of him before. Supposedly, he earned a Tony in 1977. This particular Kojak story was produced in 1974. It's one of only 15 screen credits for Lenny Baker (causing me to think his career was more confined to the theater), though he was the lead in a motion picture called NEXT TIME, GREENWICH VILLAGE in 1976.

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There is no picture for him on the IMDb, and if you read fan comments on his message board, most lament the fact he is unfairly forgotten. What's interesting, though, is that when he died in April 1982 at the age of 37, his death was reported in most media outlets as having been the result of cancer. But it seems that he was really one of the early casualties of AIDS, which back then was known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). 

 

Was Lenny Baker the first to die of AIDS in the acting community? Or were there others before him? If anyone has seen a Lenny Baker performance, either on screen or on stage, please chime in and tell us about your experience watching him. He was very good in the Kojak episode I viewed. It's called 'Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die' and can currently be seen on Hulu. 

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I saw Lenny Baker as one of four stars in the highly entertaining Broadway musical,"I Love My Wife".

 

He was a  such a magnetic personality - and he could actually sing.

 

You were instantly drawn to him!

 

He was so tall and so skinny - and looked a bit odd - but he really and truly inhabited the stage.

 

"I Love My Wife" is available on CD.

 

At the performance that I attended, the audience went wild with applause.

 

Lenny Baker had such a bright future ahead of him.

 

It is sad that he didn't live to fulfill that promise.

 

 

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Thank you Ray for sharing your memories of that performance. In the episode of Kojak I watched, he is also quite thin. His acting style is very memorable. There are scenes with Andrea Marcovicci, where you can see she is just pulled into the moment with him. Like he had a very guiding presence. So I can see how that would have been even more dynamic in a theatre, where he was playing to a live audience. He earned the Tony for 'I Love My Wife.' You were lucky to see it.

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Thank you Ray for sharing your memories of that performance. In the episode of Kojak I watched, he is also quite thin. His acting style is very memorable. There are scenes with Andrea Marcovicci, where you can see she is just pulled into the moment with him. Like he had a very guiding presence. So I can see how that would have been even more dynamic in a theatre, where he was playing to a live audience. He earned the Tony for 'I Love My Wife.' You were lucky to see it.

Lenny Baker won a Tony Award for "I Love My Life" - and he certainly deserved that Tony Award.

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I also saw Lenny Baker in "Secret Service", which was an early melodrama by William Gillette.

 

It was given a Broadway revival in the mid-seventies.

 

It starred John Lithgow, Meryl Streep and, in a supporting role, Lenny Baker

 

What a night that one was!

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I saw Next Stop, Greenwich Village.  It used to play fairly regularly on the Fox Movie Channel. It's a semi-autobiographical film by Paul Mazursky. It was decent, and Baker was good. I remember as I watched I wondered why I didn't know him. Now I know.

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I saw Next Stop, Greenwich Village.  It used to play fairly regularly on the Fox Movie Channel. It's a semi-autobiographical film by Paul Mazursky. It was decent, and Baker was good. I remember as I watched I wondered why I didn't know him. Now I know.

There were so many young, talented actors who worked on the stage and in TV and in the movies who were infected with the AIDS virus and then, tragically, died.

 

"People Magazine" used to do a yearly death toll of these actors with their attached photos.

 

It was heartbreaking.

 

One of these actors was the truly unforgettable Peter Evans.

 

I attended his memorial at Playwrights' Horizons.

 

It was packed with gay actors, gay playwrights (like myself) and celebrities (such as Mike Nichols).

 

I could not believe that I had gotten a seat.

 

RIP, Peter Evans, you will always be missed.

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Thank you for introducing this thread. The Names Project seems to have had a very low profile in recent years but it was the perfect vehicle for bringing the personal aspect of AIDS to the public. You're right that it's interesting to speculate about the careers which never happened. And it went beyond that: There's a documentary about Fran Liebowitz called Public Speaking which Martin Scorsese directed in 2010 in which she spoke (specifically in terms of New York theater) about the loss to the arts. She made the point that not only was a generation of actors and theater professionals decimated, but the audience was as well. Just as some of the best theater artists were taken, so were some of the most discriminating and appreciative members of the audience (ie: ones who truly understood and had a passion for opera and theater), which compounded the loss to the arts. She went so far as to say that there are actors and professionals whose careers persist today who might never have achieved the prominence they have had if that generational void hadn't been there and that theater may never have really completely recovered from the distress it suffered as a result.

 

You've opened it up to both theater and film, so I'd like to mention a person I've always been curious about in terms of unrealized future potential. Randy Allen toured with his one-person show, P.S. Bette Davis, (which actually referred to post stroke), in which he brilliantly captured the feisty star in her later years. Davis wasn't shy about public appearances and was a staple on the TV talk circuit, so the demeanor, mannerisms and odd wardrobe choices of her post-stroke years were well known to the public. Randy Allen not only captured all that perfectly, he got to her essence and indominable spirit as well. It was an extremely wise and touching performance. He performed frequently in small clubs but there's no doubt in my mind that what he was doing was theater and that he should have had a brilliant future.

 

I know I'll seem excessively focused on female impersonators, but the ones I'm mentioning qualify as actors, at least by my standards. Craig Russell is probably best represented by the Canadian film Outrageous! (highly recommended if you haven't seen it), but his live shows had the improvisational flair of a true actor, riffing endlessly in character, again with a wise insight into his subjects. In theater, I'd say Jackie Curtis was a real loss. Jackie was a playwright/actor who should have had a career to equal Charles Busch, perhaps even Harvey Fierstein. Who knows? That's what's so tragic.

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Yes, I agree, thanks to Jarrod for opening up this truly important topic and thanks to you, DougieB, for your lovely post.

 

Yes, Jackie Curtis should've had a career that rivalled Charles Busch's - his great tragedy is that he did not.

 

In his Warhol films, he had a terrific presence and, in "The Mysteries of The Organism", he was such fun.

 

He wrote plays, too, in one, "Glambor, Glory, and Gold ", he starred opposite Candy Darling as - JAMES DEAN.

 

In that performance, he was most impressive.

 

And he was able to share, not steal, Candy Darling's spotlight.

 

He had enormous potential.

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Thank you for introducing this thread. The Names Project seems to have had a very low profile in recent years but it was the perfect vehicle for bringing the personal aspect of AIDS to the public. You're right that it's interesting to speculate about the careers which never happened. And it went beyond that: There's a documentary about Fran Liebowitz called Public Speaking which Martin Scorsese directed in 2010 in which she spoke (specifically in terms of New York theater) about the loss to the arts. She made the point that not only was a generation of actors and theater professionals decimated, but the audience was as well. Just as some of the best theater artists were taken, so were some of the most discriminating and appreciative members of the audience (ie: ones who truly understood and had a passion for opera and theater), which compounded the loss to the arts. 

You're welcome...and thank you Dougie for your most excellent post. Wonder why the Names Project has had a lower profile. The day I saw the quilt as a 21 year old on the University of Southern California campus was an experience I will never forget. Gives me chills just thinking about it. 

 

The idea about the audience being decimated by the AIDS epidemic is an interesting reverse perspective, isn't it? Of course, some of the audience might have become future performers/artists. So the loss is even greater when you look at it in those terms.

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I also saw Lenny Baker in "Secret Service", which was an early melodrama by William Gillette.

 

It was given a Broadway revival in the mid-seventies.

 

It starred John Lithgow, Meryl Streep and, in a supporting role, Lenny Baker

 

What a night that one was!

Thanks for mentioning another Lenny Baker performance you had the great fortune to see back in the day. That's exactly the type of reminiscence I was hoping this thread might facilitate. 

 

On the IMDb, there was someone who complained that none of Lenny Baker's contemporaries seem to recall him or discuss him now, and it contributes to his becoming forgotten. I'd like to see Lithgow, Streep, Gleason, Marcovicci and others mention Lenny and their experiences of collaborating with him.

 

Please tell us more about the evening you watched 'Secret Service.'

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PETER EVANS - he was such a terrific actor, very, very personable, in roles in the theater, in films and on TV.

 

He died of complications from AIDS at the age of 38.

 

He had a major success in Mike Nichols' production of "Streamers" at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in New York City.

 

He played Richie and he was memorable. 

 

He also had a major success opposite Ellis Rabb in David Mamet's "A Life In The Theater" at off-Broadway's Theater de Lys in 1977.

 

He and Ellis Rabb had such extraordinary chemistry and they were such "a wonder" to behold.

 

After touring with "Children Of A Lesser God" throughout the US of A, he replaced the lead actor in the Broadway production and gave "new meaning" to the play.

 

His personal magnetism was unique

 

Later, he appeared in an Off-Broadway production of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame".

 

His performance was extraordinary - and he did it eight times a week.

 

He also appeared in the lead role of Bobby in the Playwright Horizons' production of "Company".

 

When Bobby is played by a gay man, the role takes on an added poignancy. 

 

He also lit up the big screen alongside Charles Ludlum in "Impostors".

 

At the end of his life, he was appearing with a great deal of comic aplomb in a TV version of "9 To 5".

 

I once saw him at Howard Johnson's on Broadway - he was having a quick bite - but he had time to look over and smile warmly.

 

And I once asked him via letter if he would like to appear in a play of mine.

 

He wrote back to me and said, sure, if I could get Playwrights' Horizons interested in it.

 

RIP,  Peter, I have always loved you.

 

Below, Ellis Rabb and Peter Evans in "A Life In The Theater".

 

Theater magic came so easily to the both of them.

 

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Peter Evans, in another signature role, as the gay Ritchie, in "Streamers" - 

 

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