Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NYT: What Fierstein Wore at His
First Meeting With 'Torch Song' Director

Whenever the credits rolled at the end of an episode of "All in the Family", I always wondered if the director Paul Bogart was related to Humphrey Bogart. He wasn't. Paul Bogart passed away on Sunday in North Carolina at the age of 92, and the New York Times obituary said he was born with the surname Bogoff, which his family had previously changed from Bogoslavsky to sound more American.

If gays remember him at all it may be as the director of the film version of drag artiste, writer and actor Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award-winning play "Torch Song Trilogy". I had the distinct pleasure of catching the show early in its Broadway run at the Little Theatre, which I think is now named the Helen Hayes Theatre. If memory serves, the cast at the time included Estelle Getty and Fisher Stevens.

Bogart helped bring "Torch Song" to the screen, with the pre-AIDS backroom sex included and a fine cast that included high-wattage names Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick, not to mention a black gay character and an aging drag queen, played by Ken Page and Charles Pierce respectively.

The Times relates the amusing tale of Bogart's initial interaction with Fierstein, that illustrates while Bogart may have been straight he had the necessary moxie to deal with the diva at the center of the story they were to put up on the silver screen:

Newsweek in 1989 reported on a meeting he had with Harvey Fierstein about possibly directing Mr. Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” as a movie. It had been a success on Broadway, where it ran from 1982 to 1985, but Mr. Fierstein, who both wrote and starred in the play, had delayed making a movie version. “Torch Song” told of the life and loves of a New York drag queen, and no director had seemed quite appropriate, until he met Mr. Bogart, who he said “seemed so naturally unafraid” of the material.

Mr. Fierstein may have been persuaded by what happened when they first met. He was wearing a see-through, floor-length black bathrobe. Mr. Bogart took one look and said, “This is our first meeting; don’t you think you should cover your breasts?”

1 comment:

Andy Humm said...

Harvey was also told--I am not sure if it was by Bogart--that he had to lose weight or "no one will believe that Matthew wants to be your lover." I don't think that is true since the character of Arnold, in addition to being heavy, was also an out-there drag queen. But such is Hollywood.

Harvey went on a starvation diet and didn't look much like Harvey in the movie. But his performance shone through anyway.

It is also true that Matthew--who had played Arnold's son in the original off-Broadway production down in the Village of "Torch Song"--turned down the role of Arnold's lover in the film (the one that gets gaybashed to death). But after casting someone else, Matthew--by now a big star--thought better of his decision and signed on.

"Torch Song" is now in revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London sans Harvey, but it is a good if scaled-back production, clocking in a 2:30. It is still a funny, moving play.