June 15, 1973– Neil Patrick Harris
We need Neil Patrick Harris now more than ever. Two-time Academy Award and Tony Award winner Kevin Spacey did a rather rather limp job of hosting the 2017 Tony Awards on Sunday night, and in made me long for the sparkling, energized work of Harris, possibly the greatest Tony host in history. But, Space certainly did do a Tony-worthy job of avoiding his own gayness on the gayest of award shows. Spacey has coyly gone without confirming or denying those longtime rumors for years, and Sunday night brought more of his wink-wink attitude. His unnecessarily drawn-out opening number poked fun at the fact that the 57-year-old Spacey was not the producers first or even twelfth choice to host, and then Whoopi Goldberg, another Oscar winner whose possible gayness has often been rumored, stepped out of a closet, and Spacey asked:
“Whoopi, how long have you been in that closet?”
She shot back:
“Well, Kevin, it depends on who you ask…”
I had to just sigh and turn to The Husband pleading: “Don’t we just miss NPH?!?”
Harris is a master magician. For realz. He is on the board of the Magic Castle, a private club in Hollywood, where magicians from all over the globe get dressed up in formal attire to share secrets about their art. It takes a special type of person to do magic: The Magical Extrovert Nerd. Harris:
“When you go to a magic conference, and you spend time with 500 magician people, you start to realize … trends. It’s the coolest hobby in the world, but people tend to get into magic because no one would talk to them.”
Harris was already a magic nerd before he became a teen heartthrob on Doogie Howser, M.D., the 1980s era television series drama about a very young surgeon. But for me, the real magic came when Harris casually became an out & proud gay actor who can host award shows, play a womanizer on television, walk the red carpet with his cute husband, David Burtka, and then get cast in films as a sinister straight guy. That’s a terrific trick, coming out of the closet without ruining his career.
Harris is a living, breathing variety show. Working on stage, film, television, doing comedy and drama, singing, dancing, joking, and of course, performing magic. In his 40s, he remains boyish and breezily likable, in the manner of Cary Grant, or even Hugh Grant. Harris is really our first out of the closet actor to become an A-list star.
Stunning in his versatility, in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004), Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008) and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Harris played a fantastically filthy version of himself, and then he turned around and appeared, or his voice did, in a sweet film for kiddies, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2011) and two Smurf movies (2011, 2013). On Broadway, he played Lee Harvey Oswald in Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical masterpiece Assassins, and online he starred in Joss Whedon’s Emmy Award nominated Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
Award show magic: Harris won Emmy Awards for hosting the Tony Awards in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. That’s right, he won an award for hosting an awards show. He also hosted the Emmy Awards in 2009 and 2013, but somehow didn’t win a Tony for doing so. You can’t win a Tony for hosting a television show. It gets confusing, I know. But, he hosted the Academy Awards in 2015, the first openly gay man to do that job. He played the title role in John Cameron Mitchell’s rock musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch on Broadway in 2014 and finally took home a Tony Award for that performance. His husband, David, had to build him a special shelf for all those awards!
He loves working on stage, starring in plays like Proof (2002), musicals such as Cabaret (2003), Rent (1997) and Company (2012).
Doing research for this #BornThisDay tribute, I watched Harris’ YouTube clips: that hilarious Les Misérables duet with Jason Segel, his charming Fairy Shoe Person on Sesame Street, his turn in Prop 8:The Musical, sweet Tobias in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street(2001), even an Old Spice commercial where he dances through the halls of a hospital wearing a stethoscope, saying: “I used to be a doctor for pretend”.
He should have won some sort of award for coming out of the closet. It was its own kind of magic trick. It’s a reveal. For most of show business history, coming out was part of the aftermath of a scandal. Think Elton John or George Michael. Even Ellen DeGeneres, whose famous “Yep, I’m Gay” Time Magazine cover stalled her career until she returned, triumphant as host of her own daytime talk show. But, I really appreciate that celebrities can now be more casual about it, forgoing big announcements by making a little mention on page three of an interview: Rachel Maddow, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Stipe, Adam Lambert, Wanda Sykes, Sara Gilbert, and Tony winner Cynthia Nixon. Even some long-closeted stars have simply shrugged it off like we should have known all along, including Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, and Kelly McGillis.
But it has always been tough for male actors, especially romantic leading men or action stars. Tony Award winners Alan Cumming, Nathan Lane, David Hyde Pierce, Ian McKellan did it, but they made a career on stage. Rupert Everett was supposed to manage it, but he never did get cast as James Bond and he moved back to the theatre world. The common thought has always been that an out of the closet male star could never be a leading man. Straight females could never fantasize about him. Straight dudes could never relate. Poor Kevin Spacey!
Harris has defied those clichés. In 2006, he flung wide that closet door with an upbeat, simple statement in People Magazine and then in an interview in Out Magazine, and in a funny spot on The Howard Stern Show. When Stern asked Harris if he was a top or a bottom, he answered: “Whatever you please, man…” It was all rather magical. Harris possesses an easy going style of masculinity, both non-threatening and seductive. On film, not only can Harris convincingly play straight, he can convincingly play a lady killer (Gone Girl, 2014).
Along with magic, Harris is zany for: variety shows, Buster Keaton, acrobatics, cryptography, treasure hunts, Sondheim, puppets and puzzles. He is obsessed with competitive reality television series.
Burtka and Harris met when Burtka was playing Tulsa in the 2003 revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters and Harris was just down the street playing The Emcee in Cabaret. They dated for a decade before getting married in Italy in a rented castle, with Sir Elton John performing. The happy couple lives with their five year old twins and two rescue dogs: a cairn terrier named Fred and Labradoodle-Wheaten mix named Watson, in a townhouse in Harlem. Burtka is not just a total cutie pie; he is a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu.
NPH executive produced and stars in the Netflix series Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, currently streaming.
His bestselling memoir Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography (2014), is structured like a choose-your-own-adventure book. His first novel, The Magic Misfits, is scheduled for release in September 2017 and is planned to be the first book in a series.
Harris is super-talented, graceful and tall, with pronounced cheekbones and sinewy muscles, and with just three expressive wrinkles on his forehead. I should hate him, but I just can’t. He is so damn adorable.