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My Gay Toronto - Bellini's 8 1/2

Gay is thicker than blood

I read a hilarious article the other day. It was about ABC's cult soap opera Dark Shadows. From 1966 to 1971, it ruled daytime TV and became one of the most watched and talked about soap operas in history. The most interesting tidbit is that the show had employed at least a dozen gay actors, several of whom - including Christopher Bernau, Gene Lindsay, Joel Cruthers, and Keith Prentice (who was also a star of The Boys In the Band) - died of AIDS. What makes it even more interesting is that Dark Shadows had both a name and a subject matter, vampirism, that lent itself well to gay male mythology. Back then, we were all running around after dark, sucking on things. 

In a series of bios written by Hollywood historian Michael Michaud, we learn that Hamilton-born CBC actor Jonathan Frid lucked into the role of Barnabas Collins. Barnabas was an immediate hit with viewers, giving Frid the clout to recommend several gay actor friends for roles in the show. Some of you may miss the point of this story, so let me put it in perspective. I worked on The Kids in the Hall (1989 to 1995), generally considered one of the gayest shows in television history, and yet, only five openly gay men - the floor director, the switcher, the drummer, Scott Thompson and myself - worked on the show. Our influence was obviously widespread. Dark Shadows had more than double that number of gays, and just in the cast. Who knows how many more worked behind the scenes?

It was like that in Canada at the time, too. Gays and the CBC, for instance, have always gone hand in hand. Legend has it that when the CBC operated their studio on Jarvis near Carlton, on the site where the Radio City condos now stand, the place was rife with gay men due to the hiring practices of one certain powerful individual whose name I never knew. There were so many gay men working at this one location that they built the Club Toronto bathhouse in order to accommodate their horny after-work needs. These men moved into the high-rise apartment buildings in the area, basically giving birth to the Gaybourhood we know today. These were the men who lived in Vaseline Towers, and who kept The Steps in front of the Second Cup buzzing with activity. 
But back to Dark Shadows. Is it the gayest show ever? Bewitched comes in a close second, with Dick Sargent, Paul Lynde, and possibly Agnes Moorehead. Then there's The Boys in the Band, which was not a TV show but the cast of the Off-Broadway production and subsequent film version featured six, possibly even more, gay cast members. And let's not forget Hollywood Squares, with Lynde again, as well as Charles Nelson Reilly, Roddy McDowell, Wayland Flowers, Vincent Price, and years later, Bruce Vilanch. Who said we didn't have any role models on TV in the '60s and '70s? 

All of which is to say, "Thanks, Jonathan Frid." You found lots of jobs for your gay friends, and you should probably be more famous in the community than you are right now. 

 


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