Openly gay playwright Lanford Wilson‘s (1937 – 2011) The Hot l Baltimore was produced by the Circle Repertory Company in 1973. It then transferred to the Off-Broadway Circle in the Square where it closed in 1976 after 1,166 performances. It was directed by Marshall W. Mason; the cast included Trish Hawkins, Conchata Ferrell and Judd Hirsch.
Adapting it from the play, Norman Lear created a sitcom version, which featured the first gay couple to appear on American television. Premiering on January 1975, the show took place in a cheap, fictional hotel in Baltimore, which got its name from the neon marquee that had a burned-out ”e” letter. Because of the controversial gay couple named George and Gordon, it was the first time ABC decided to display a warning at the opening of one of its shows, cautioning viewers that they were about to encounter ”mature themes”. Despite the network’s big push, the show never found an audience and was cancelled after 13 episodes. ABC’s Baltimore affiliate never aired the show, forcing the city the sitcom took place in to watch the show from a Washington DC television station.
The Hot l Baltimore was the first flop for Lear after a streak of mega-hit series: All In The Family (1971), Sanford And Son (1972), Maude (1972), Good Times (1974), and The Jeffersons (1975), which premiered six days before this show.
The cast of The Hot l Baltimore was just terrific, and many went on to become very successful in their careers: James Cromwell played the hotel’s desk clerk; Richard Masur was the hotel’s young manager; Conchata Ferrell repeated her stage role as prostitute April Green; there was also Al Freeman, Jr. and the late, great Charlotte Rae. The middle-aged gay couple were played by Henry Calvert and Lee Bergere.
Bergere (1918 – 2007) was known for his haughty and superior, majordomo Joseph Anders on the campy 1980s prime-time soap opera Dynasty. His on-screen billing in the show’s opening credits starting in season two, and Bergere achieved a level of fame rarely matched by other character actors. He appeared regularly only during the first three seasons of Dynasty, returning briefly in season four just to be “killed off”.