It was a crisp, clear October afternoon in 1976. I was standing in front of The Dakota, an apartment building on the Upper West Side of the island of Manhattan. The Dakota is one of my favorite residential buildings in the world, once home to: Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Rosemary Clooney, Lillian Gish, William Inge, Boris Karloff, Rudolf Nureyev, Jason Robards, Jack Palance, Gilda Radner, and, most famously, John Lennon, Sean Lennon, and Yoko Ono. As I stood studying the famous building and praying for a glimpse of Bacall or Bernstein, instead, out a side door and sliding into a waiting town car was Rex Reed! A celebrity sighting!
Six months later, I had managed to insinuate myself into Reed’s life with a visit to his tiny apartment in the famed building. While working at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), I was at a reception for songwriter Jule Styne, and I found myself chatting-up Reed, where I recounted my stalker incident. This simple anecdote got me invited for a post-party line of coke at his small upper-floor flat with a turret. It had once been a maid’s room. Even then, in the 1970s, I really appreciated that Reed was such old school gay.
Being a daily columnist has always been on my short list of prized avocations and for decades Reed has written an entertainment column for The New York Observer, On The Town With Rex Reed. He still does. Before his current job, Reed has been a film critic at Vogue, GQ, the New York Post and Women’s Wear Daily. For a decade and a half, he was the culture critic for the New York Daily News.
In 1970, Reed made his film debut, playing Myron, the young man whose post sex-change operation persona was played by Raquel Welch in a mixed-up adaptation of Gore Vidal‘s Myra Breckinridge a truly demented film from a demented era. Reed should have stuck to reviewing films, instead of starring in them. Movie stars may come and go, but movie reviews by Rex Reed go on forever.
His columns and reviews were avidly read and reviled by me when I was a youth. I would see him on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, ripping apart the character and foibles of the personalities of the day, with his signature: “Oh, Puh-leeze“. Not everybody loves Reed, but I could hardly resist his zingers.
Reed and I agree strongly on one point of view. Reed:
“There’s a great history that young people today have not even bothered to investigate. I just feel sad that these people have been ignored because these are much more interesting people than anybody today. I’m going to tell stories and personal anecdotes about Tennessee Williams, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. Young people today don’t even know who Bankhead was and she was one of the most interesting women who ever came out of the South.”
What Reed doesn’t let you know in this quote is that he does a terrific impression of Bankhead. I am of an age when most gay men were required to. It now seems to be a lost gay art.
Reed continues to live in that apartment in The Dakota and seems to have changed very little in the 40 years since we briefly spent some time together. He celebrates his 80th birthday today, October 2nd.
Reed is not very woke. In a review of Identity Thief (2013) he made references to Melissa McCarthy‘s weight, referring to her as “tractor-sized” and a “hippo”. Paul Feig, who directed McCarthy in Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013) tweeted: “I cordially invite Mr. Rex Reed to go fuck himself.”