November 23, 1948– Bruce Vilanch:
“To be gay and out of shape is almost as much of a stigma as just being gay used to be.”
After the horrors of the last 10 months, can we get back to the very serious business of awards season? Oscar-bait films are being released in the next few weeks and our publicists are working overtime on our “For Your Consideration” campaigns and our stylists are finding ways for us to kill it on the red carpet. Right?
I could not quite fathom the idea of Bruce Vilanch being hired by those homophobes Brett Ratner (sexual harasser) and Eddie Murphy to write for the Academy Awards Ceremony in 2011. The Academy did the correct thing by pushing them out and hiring back the best Oscar host ever, Billy Crystal, to do the job the next year. Don’t you agree? After the negative reception received from that year’s ceremony, openly gay producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan announced that they would not be returning to produce the Oscar Broadcast for a fourth year. Cutie pie Neil Patrick Harris, who was so charming in 2015, announced that he would not host the Oscars again. Harris:
“I don’t know that my family or my soul could take it. It’s a beast. It was fun to check off the list, but for the amount of time spent and the understandable opinionated response, I don’t know that it’s a delightful balance to do every year or even again.”
For the 2016 ceremony, the Academy hired David Hill (American Idol) and Reginald Hudlin (Modern Family) to produce, with Chris Rock doing the hosting. I felt pretty good about this. Rock was a perfect choice for a year when there was a real outcry over diversity in the film business. The 90th Academy Awards will honor the best films of 2017 and will be held on March 4, 2018. The Oscars are later this year to avoid conflicting with the 2018 Winter Olympics. It will be produced by three-time Oscar nominee Michael De Luca and Independent Spirit Award-winner Jennifer Todd. One of the bad-ass leaders of The Resistance, Jimmy Kimmel, will host for a second consecutive year, making Kimmel the first person to host back-to-back ceremonies since Crystal in 1997 and 1998.
Yet, let’s face it, the Oscar telecast always is subject to some tweaking, but butching up The Academy Awards seems rather perverse. I think it would be much cooler to have Bette Midler as host and to add big, crazy production numbers with Rob Lowe and Snow White, Sasheen Littlefeather, a streaker and, of course, Cher.
Vilanch was the very best writer of the Academy Awards broadcasts. He began writing for the Oscars in 1989 and continued for the next 15 years. He wrote the excellent, extremely funny special material for hosts Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and David Letterman, and he was was made head writer in 2000. He is responsible for one of my favorite Oscar moments, the one featuring Crystal’s Hannibal Lecter entrance. Vilanch has two Emmy Awards on his award shelf for his work on the Academy Awards. How meta!
He has roasted celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and William Jefferson Clinton. Never shy of controversy, Vilanch was responsible for the notorious material that had Ted Danson performing in blackface at a certain 1993 Friars Club Roast of his then-girlfriend, Goldberg. But, he also gave us the tender, touching You Made Me Watch You, send-off to Johnny Carson sung by Midler on Carson’s final night on The Tonight Show in 1993, winning an Emmy.
Vilanch has also written for The Tony Awards, The Grammys, The Emmys. It used to be that it wasn’t an award show if he wasn’t backstage cranking out the gags on the fly. He also shows up in person to give out awards at all sorts of LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS charity events.
Jewish, hairy and very funny, Vilanch is rarely been seen in public wearing anything than blue jeans and one of his many smartass T-shirts. His own website calls him:
“The man who put F U in funny.”
Vilanch’s career as the man who writes funny things for other funny people to quip started when he was writing celebrity features for The Chicago Tribune, schmoozing with celebrities or semi-celebrities who were in town.
In Chicago he met a struggling young nightclub singer named Bette Midler, and the pair became fast friends. It was Vilanch who gave Midler some very helpful career advice:
“You’re funny. You should talk more onstage.”
He wrote Midler’s Broadway show, Clams On The Half Shell Revue (1974), and then he moved to LA to write for The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which explains just how demented that show was. When it ended its run, Vilanch wrote jokes for anyone who would hire him: Lily Tomlin, Crystal, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O’Donnell, Paul Reiser, Elizabeth Taylor, and Robin Williams. He wrote material for Midler’s films Divine Madness (1980) and Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On (2010).
Vilanch is a notable “script doctor”, brought in to punch up other writer’s screenplays. Quite prolific, his credits include such insane classics as Donny And Marie (1976-78), Pride: The Gay And Lesbian Comedy Slam (2010), The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976) and the notorious The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).
He was head writer and then a panelist on Hollywood Squares for four years, writing gags for the other panelists while his friend and client Goldberg ran the show. Vilanch played Edna Turnblad in a nationwide tour of the musical Hairspray, shaving off his trademark 30 year old beard. About that experience, Vilanch wrote:
“Musicals have clearly gotten more physical. You never saw Ethel Merman doing step aerobics. The real culprit in all this is not even the costume designer but the choreographer, that malicious spawn of Gwen Verdon and Satan.”
Vilanch has worked as a reporter and columnist for The Advocate, contributing both humorous and serious pieces. His memoir, My Adventures In The Skin Trade (2000) was nominated for a LAMDA Literary Award. More statues for that award mantle of his include: Shanti Foundation’s Daniel P. Warner Service Award (1990), GLAAD Media Award (1997), LA Gay And Lesbian Center’s Distinguished Achievement Award (1998), Outfest Honors Award(2002), AIDS Project Of Los Angeles Hero Award (2003), and the JQ International (Gay Jewish Alliance) Trailblazer Award (2015).
Vilanch is the subject of an affectionate documentary, Get Bruce (1999). He has the amazing distinction of having acted in the films Mahogany (1975) and Ice Pirates (1984). I wish I could say the same.
“When you perform, you get a real, physical adrenaline rush that’s quite fabulous. You don’’ get that when you’re writing. You can get into what I call the ‘alpha state’ which is so involving that you forget about everything else. But it’s a very private thing. But I suppose if I had to make a choice I’d rather be performing because it’s more immediate. It’s lonely being a writer. Even when you’re in a room full of writers. You know at some point you actually have to sit down and come up with the stuff yourself.”