Saturday night Randy and I attended the 20th Annual GLAAD Awards – always a big ta-doo, you know. Crème de la homos and all. This year LIZA was getting an award and Jake Gyllenhaal, yes, dreamy JAKE GYLLENHAAL was a presenter. WHEEEEEE.
When we got to the Academy Award Theater, we discovered the event was being protested by the cutest group of hate-mongers that you ever saw. There were about 20 fresh-faced bible belles with Colgate smiles, holding big day-glo signs that read: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS DESERVE TO DIE and my absolute, all-time favorite, FAGS EAT FECES (SCAT). I wanted to buy it off them right there on the spot, but imagined the negotiations might be needlessly unpleasant. I’ll make T-shirts instead.
They seemed like nice enough kids, holding hands and singing happy songs about Christ’s love. They smiled sweetly and photogenically as they shouted hateful epithets at the passers-by. They stood their ground, even as about a hundred outraged faggots began forming their own counter-protest. Yes, the gays soon surrounded the straights and the fur began to fly. Even though the Soldiers for Christ were clearly out-numbered and, in fact, facing a mighty hetero-bashing, they seemed upbeat and 100% sure that their message might still be heard – that any minute now this crowd and the whole theater inside would see the light, make a few minor lifestyle changes and join them on their hate parade. Good luck guys!
We walked half a block up the street and spotted about a dozen genuine Harajuku girls just hanging out in front of the Banana Republic. That’s it. That’s all I got. They didn’t do a dance or sing a song or burst into flames or pull poodles out of their noses. I just think Harajuku girl sightings are majorly 2005, and should always be documented. (No pictures unfortunately. We both forgot our cameras.)
As I mentioned, doe-eyed love-muffin Jake Gyllenhaal was listed as a presenter. Unfortunately, once the show started, he was a no-show. Upon hearing the news, a thousand bereft homosexuals began to cry great, heaving tears of loss. People considered walking out. Tension mounted. Queens got bitchy. The air crackled with impending violence. And let me tell you, in a situation like that, you do not want to be Hal Sparks, unh-unh. He was not going to satisfy this crowd. No siree. Poor Hal. Maybe if he was A LITTLE more visible, people might like him more.
Could John Stamos stanch the pain? Possibly. He was handsome and witty and urbane, as always, and confessed to having a crush on Kyan Queer Eye. That went over well. Brendan Fraser, who later presented Bill Condon with his award, was neither handsome nor witty nor urbane. In fact, I think he was drunk. Margaret Cho was “OUTRAGEOUSLY PROVOCATIVE.” You can quote me on that. I even provided the quotation marks. Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman looked unbelievably glamorous, and refuted the rumors of a riff between them, while simultaneously poking fun at the Marcia/lesbian rumor, by engaging in a long, lingering, onstage kiss. Yay, more faux-lesbian kissing, to be aired during sweeps! The Queer Eyes were acting decidedly royal. It’s odd. So quick is the current rate of celebrity-turnover, these goofballs are suddenly considered to be grand, old-school legends. I don’t get it.
The best presenter of the night, though, was Garry Marshal. He was absolutely hysterical. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO GET HIM TO HOST THE OSCARS. Better than Chris Rock, no diggity, no doubt. Best joke: “This auditorium is big. Last night it hosted the Bulimia Awards. The high point was when a cake came out of a girl. OUCH!” Second best joke? “This whole gay marriage thing is big news. I see that over in England, Elton John is finally marrying the love of his life – a man. Which is just what Prince Charles did, too.” HEY-OH!!
SO. WHAT ELSE? Well, there were winners and losers, of course, and long acceptance speeches and lame scripted jokes…BLAH BLAH BLAH…. Then, finally, 17 hours later, it was TIME FOR LIZA. And who better suited to introduce her…. than, um, Mandy Moore and Brittany Murphy?
Is that totally random, or what?
Do you mean to tell me that after a legendary, 40-year career with highlights that include an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony, an Emmy and a People’s Choice award, and despite knowing everyone everywhere, at every party ever thrown, not to mention the little fact that she grew up in the world’s most famous showbiz family – even with ALL THAT, GLAAD couldn’t find anybody who actually knew Liza and wanted to share their memories? Anybody? Anybody? Poor thing. Doesn’t she have any friends? Any former co-stars who were in town and could pop by? THIS IS HOLLYWOOD, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. Shake a stick! Swing a cat! I don’t even need a Liz Taylor. I would settle for a Burt Reynolds. Just somebody who knew her. What about one of her ARRESTED DEVELPOMENT co-stars? They weren’t doing anything. What about Portia di Rossi? Lesbian…. “friend of Liza’s”…? It was a perfect angle!
But no. Too late. First up was Mandy Moore. God bless her. Love her to death. But I don’t think she had ever even heard of this Liza woman before. She seemed genuinely surprised to discover, while reading her cue card, that this Liza Minnelli was what they call “a triple threat.”
“Just like me!” she burbled.
Yes, dear, just like you.
Brittany Murphy, on the other hand, was a little more prepared. OH. MY. GOD. She managed to turn her (obviously self-written) introduction into an edge-of-your-seat, oh-no-she-didn’t, what-in-the-hell-was-that, tour de force/ homage that revealed far more about the precarious state of Brittany’s mind than her knowledge of Liza’s life.
It was Train Wreck Theater of the most glorious kind. Her excessively high-spirited gushing (i.e. “sniff, sniff,” some say) was completely over-the-top. Just bat-shit bonkers. Full of creepy, obsessive, Liza-stalking stuff that often teetered into total “needy actress/please treat this as an audition/I’ll let you beat me” territory. She was playing the role of QUIRKY STAR, BRITTANY MURPHY to the hilt. And she seemed to like how it was going. Why, sometimes it seemed the beauty of her own words, coupled with her killer sincerity, might actually bring her to tears. She was THAT TAKEN with herself.
The high point came when she felt the need to explain to us JUST WHAT MAKES LIZA SO SPECIAL. She – Luanne from KING OF THE HILL – was going to deconstruct the Liza Mystique to the most jaded, hard-core, campest queens in all of Hollywood. You know, in case they’d never thought about it before. Well, you might be shocked to know that we love her for her triumphs and tragedies, her fabulous comebacks, her kooky fashion sense, her unique vocal stylings, and because her mother was The. Judy. Garland. who publicly struggled with her inner demons for decades. And (BIG IDEA COMING) because we see Liza as a mirror image, struggling with the same demons.
Oh, is that what it is?
And now we see Brittany struggling with those same images too. Why, it’s the Circle of Life. Maybe she was the perfect choice after all.
Anyway, it was the most self-indulgent piece of claptrap I have ever witnessed. The entire theater was frozen, every mouth open in a silent “Oh my god!” By the end of her marathon love letter, she was positively shouty-crackers: laughing, crying, shaking, and unable to stop her mad rambling.
I felt sorry for Liza. “Who the hell ARE these freaks?” she probably wondered.
Just as my heart couldn’t take any more excitement, Liza got up onstage and EMOTED, as only Liza can do. And HER “quirky actress” blew Brittany’s “quirky actress” right out of the water. And Liza doing “sincerity” was better than Brittany’s old “sincerity” any day.
Frailty, thy name is DIVA.
Her voice cracked, right on cue. She stumbled for the right words, as I’m sure she practiced stumbling for months. She “suddenly” remembered a story about “Mama” that was both bawdy and humanizing for both of them (hint: it takes place in A PUBLIC RESTROOM! CAN YOU IMAGINE?). She gave a great Liza guffaw at the memory. Then her eyes began dripping with tears, as she confessed how nervous she was. She TRIED to be all glamorous, you know, but gosh darn it, she’s just no good at all this speechifyin’… (PAUSE)
“But I CAN sing” she said. (WINK)
(HUGE WAVES OF APPLAUSE)
With that, a piano glided onto the stage and she launched into “What Makes a Man a Man?” a dreary and dated little ditty, sung from the point of view of a world-weary drag queen suffering from …. Oh I don’t know what the fuck s/he’s moaning about, but there is DEFINITE suffering, all right, as it DOES go on a bit. You could install traffic lights between some of those last notes. I guess Liza wanted us to really listen to the message and contemplate the cruelty of life, or man’s inhumanity to man, or something. But the real reason she milked it, was so that we would have enough time to “get” the not-so-subtle conceit of LIZA playing a DRAG QUEEN, for once, instead of the other way around. See? See? Get it? The old switchroo! Liza doing a drag queen doing Liza! Buffing the legend, buffing the legend… someone’s got to do it.
And if all this sounds like I’m being sarcastic or snarky, OMG, I’m not. No really. I LOVE-LOVE-LOVED every minute of it. I was frothing at the mouth and flopping on the ground. Knowing what string she’s pulling at any given time is part of the fun. That she let’s us SEE her pull them – “now feel NOSTALGIA, now feel SYMPATHY, now feel PROTECTIVE, now feel CHUMMY” – acting in plain view, so to speak – is part of the magic. Knowing her every cliché, every monkey face, and every shtick and tic before she does it, somehow never lessens the impact. It’s uncanny.
However you chose to approach her appearance Saturday night, it was undeniably fantastic viewing. Just seeing her, onstage, in person, being legendary, SURVIVING, is a riveting spectacle. Will she make it to the end of the song?
Ah, but now I’m doing it, too: trying to explain Liza to a bunch of jaded queens. I just know I will never forget it. One crappy song, one corny five-minute speech, and I walk away feeling like I “got” the whole Liza experience. That’s an art.
– James St. James
(Photos: If you have to ask – Murphy and Minnelli)