January 26, 1958- Ellen DeGeneres
From a commencement speech delivered by DeGeneres at Tulane University, in her hometown of New Orleans:
“I never really have a plan. My point is, by the time I was your age, I thought I knew who I was. But I had no idea. Like for example, when I was your age, I was dating men…. So, what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay! …. The way I ended up on this path, was from a very tragic event. I was, maybe, 19 years old, and my girlfriend at the time died in a car accident. And I passed the accident, and I didn’t know it was her, and I kept going…. I started this path of stand-up, and it was successful, and it was great but it was hard because I was trying to please everybody, and I had this secret that I was keeping that I was gay. And I thought that if people found out they wouldn’t like me, they wouldn’t laugh at me. Really, when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean, it was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing was to be true to yourself.”
In 1986, after years of being on the road playing comedy clubs all over the country, DeGeneres scored a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She performed her “Phone Call With God” and then was invited by Carson to sit on the couch, the first female comedian to be called over to talk with host, the highest endorsement a comedian can achieve.
Two decades ago, DeGeneres was on top of the show biz world, with her own popular sitcom, club appearances, plus she was dipping her toes into feature films, and then came the Oprah confession (Winfrey would go on to play her therapist when DeGeneres came out of the closet in an episode of her own show), and the public was pulled into the drama of a Hollywood celebrity coming out, a revelation that was not as common as it is now.
The Puppy Episode was history making, one of the biggest moments for the LGBTQ community in television history. DeGeneres became the first lead character to come out of the closet, paving the way for shows like Will And Grace, Modern Family, and Glee. Her method of coming out was not the expected dramatic tearful, shame-ridden scene, but a funny, joyful moment. Guest stars Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, Melissa Etheridge and Laura Dern appeared on the episode to show their support.
This episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing, a Peabody Award, and a GLAAD Media Award. It is probably the most influential gay moment on television.
Her coming out ignited a storm of controversy, prompting ABC to place a parental advisory at the beginning of each episode of her sitcom. Her ratings began to tank, and Ellen was cancelled in 1998. Pop culture pundits suggested that her public coming out and the heartfelt admission of her gayness on The Oprah Winfrey Show had killed her career.
DeGeneres returned to doing standup, and in 2001 she rebounded with The Ellen Show, a primetime sitcom where she played a lesbian named Ellen. The show lasted only a single season, and many dismissed it as a good try, but conservative America probably just wasn’t ready for a loud and proud lesbian television star. But, times did begin to change, and being openly gay slowly became less of an issue in the business we call Show.
In 2003, with her closet door thrown wide open, DeGeneres stepped out as the host of a crisp new, fun daytime talk show. The Ellen Show is not only a ratings winner but it has turned the comedienne into a much loved mainstream star. I adore the way she mentions her wife as a toss off. She is gentle. She never pushes.
The same year, DeGeneres supplied the voice for Dory in the Pixar animated film Finding Nemo. The family friendly movie earned critics’ praise, and grossed more than one billion dollars at the box-office.
For the first time ever, an openly gay person became a children’s hero. Her daytime show became true family friendly viewing, with segments featuring cute kids.
These days it seems that everybody loves DeGeneres. Her distinctive hip populism cuts across divergent demographics without dividing. As an interviewer, she is sweet and naturally funny, a perfect host who just happens to be gay. Middle America, to my surprise, embraces her uniqueness and today, DeGeneres has a bunch of Emmys, and she represents American Express & Cover Girl Cosmetics in commercial campaigns. She hosted the Emmys in 2001 and twice hosted the Oscars in 2007 and 2014, the first openly gay person to do so.
DeGeneres has given passionate, persuasive and poignant voice to the position of gay people in this country, especially gay young people. DeGeneres does not apologize or shy away about being gay, joking and sharing details about her life with her wife Portia de Rossi. They legally married in a ceremony at their Beverly Hills home in 2008.
I have always found DeGeneres to be funny and original in her humor, and I think that she is a true hero to gay people. She looks smashingly good on her 58th birthday. I guess lots of money, a hit show, awards, a personal trainer, a personal chef, and a beautiful spouse is the secret to looking good after 50.
The times, they are a-changin’. These days it seems that everybody loves DeGeneres. I do. I am watching her show at this moment. She just had Zac Efron perform a shirtless dance. Thank you, Ellen! My only gripe is that her famous giveaways seem aimed at the straight women and families in her audience. She needs to toss something to an old, feeble, post-cancer homo in Portland, Oregon.
“We use 10% of our brains. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we used the other 60%.”