By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Howard Bragman, the Hollywood publicist who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Monica Lewinsky and has been variously described as a “PR star,” “Hollywood spin doc” and “PR guru” by such shows as Entertainment Tonight and E! News, is sitting in front of the cameras again. Known for saying exactly what he thinks, Bragman is often asked to appear on celebrity gossip shows and cable-news networks, where he offers sometimes remarkably honest analyses of celebrity controversies.
“You can’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a red carpet and a charity event,” Bragman once said live on Headline News. “Get off your ass, Paris [Hilton], and show up somewhere!”
But on a warm afternoon in late August, the topic is a little more serious than Hilton’s failure to give back to society. In the cramped back patio of the comfortably disorganized home of filmmaker Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Bragman is being interviewed for Dreifuss’ documentary about the impact of the slur faggot.
Bragman represented actor Isaiah Washington after Washington faced public criticism for reportedly calling his Grey’s Anatomy co-star, gay actor T.R. Knight a “faggot” while on the set. “When you’re a PR person,” Bragman tells the documentarian, “your life is about words. ... They can do great damage and great good. I think it’s a disgusting word, and it shouldn’t be used.”
Bragman, a tall, goateed man in his early 50s with the physique of a linebacker and the personality of the favorite uncle who cracks naughty jokes at family reunions, sits on a wooden bench with a fuzzy boom mike hanging above him. Two men point high-definition Sony cameras at Bragman as producer Dreifuss asks questions. Bragman is dressed neatly in wrinkle-free, tan slacks, a pressed blue-collared shirt, and shiny brown-leather shoes. Unlike many top Hollywood PR types, Bragman is not slick-looking or concerned with status symbols — he drives a baby-blue 2007 Mercury Mariner — which befits his Midwestern upbringing in Flint, Michigan, and his no-nonsense reputation.
Bragman, who’s legally married to the prizewinning horse trainer Chuck O’Donnell, handles the interview with an easy confidence: His parents were “tolerant and accepting” when he came out of the closet in his 20s; Proposition 8 was “extremely painful”; gays and lesbians need to “call people on their shit.”
Dreifuss, a youthful-looking 30, asks Bragman if he has had any “personal experiences” with homophobia. The PR man initially goes around the question, then gets to the nub of who he is, and the role he increasingly plays: “In Hollywood,” Bragman says, “most publicists keep their clients in the closet. And I’m the guy people tend to come to when they want to come out of the closet.”
This is no empty boast. Since 1991, when Bragman helped actor Dick Sargent — who starred opposite Elizabeth Montgomery as the second Darrin, the irascible but loving husband in the hugely popular 1960s and ’70s family show Bewitched — come out to a somewhat stunned American public on Entertainment Tonight, the publicist has assisted numerous gay and lesbian celebrities in navigating this tricky and, for decades, risky terrain.
During one high-profile stretch involving top sports figures, Bragman brought out NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, LPGA star Rosie Jones, WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes and retired NBA center John Amaechi, all of whom remained closeted until after they consulted with Bragman, sometimes working for months on their coming-out plan. The publicist has also brought out former Party of Five regular and one-time leading man Mitchell Anderson, Married ... With Children co-star Amanda Bearse — who played Marcy, the Bundys’ straight, tough-talking neighbor — and 1980s TV character actor Tom Villard, a cute, button-nosed talent who appeared in We Got It Made, Taxi, The A-Team and The Golden Girls before dying of complications from AIDS in 1994.
“What [Howard] was really good at,” says Amaechi, who, in 2007, came out as the first openly gay pro basketball player but didn’t want to be turned into a poster boy for the gay-rights movement, “was that he made sure I stayed authentic to myself. I couldn’t imagine it being done better.”
Anderson, who wanted to make a statement to the entertainment industry that gay actors can play straight leading-man roles, says, “Howard helped me focus on the message in a way that I wanted to deliver it.”
Although Bragman made his name founding a major entertainment public-relations firm — Bragman, Nyman, Cafarelli — and his new boutique firm, Fifteen Minutes, caters to Ford Motor Co., Mandalay Entertainment, and heartthrob actor and Extra celebrity host Mario Lopez, the publicist has also created an unusual, if not remarkable, niche. He is not merely helping gay actors to form sensible plans for going public. The gay guru of Hollywood, Bragman is in fact facing down the U.S. film industry on its insistence that gay actors remain in the closet.
People are in fact becoming much more tolerant out in flyover country (where I live).
A gay athlete's or politician's (or coworker's -- assuming 'out' doesn't mean 'in your face')orientation has utterly no bearing on their job.
However, that's not quite the case for an actor trying to portray a character in a het romantic relationship (if a significant part of the story), it most definitely has some bearing on the job, requiring an extra level of suspension of disbelief above and beyond the norm when viewing the performance. 'Bigotry' has nothing to do with it.
Yes, some actors might pull it off, but concern on the part of casting directors and producers is hardly irrational..
Thanks for the interesting article. I'm glad to hear that you are supportive of trans issues, but wanted to add my support to the earlier comment regarding trans pronouns etc. partway through the article. Simple rewording which respects the trans person's preferences about pronouns etc is almost always possible. Here (just to spell it out) it would have been more appropriate to say: "The phone interrupts him � it�s someone calling about one of his newest clients, Chaz Bono, child of Cher and Sonny Bono. Raised as Chastity, Bono is making the personal and public transition to becoming a transgendered man, and may become the best-known American person to do so. Bragman has been working closely with Bono, advising him to disclose his gender reassignment, but says, �We�re keeping our powder dry until the time is right, and our time is not right yet.� Other than that... thanks very much for the article, and for including trans issues!
Excellent article. It would be interesting to see if any studies could be done on the true perception of the audience. It's fascinating, for example, that Adam Lambert now has women throwing their panties at him onstage after he's come out officially. I believe many women "get it" that they'll never sleep with that star or celebrity whether they're straight or not, but have fun playing the game. Straight men, however, might have a harder time accepting a gay man as romantic straight lead. On the other hand, younger straight men now, to a large degree, don't seem to care who you sleep with. They're even open to the idea of having a gay fling or even romance. So, a lot of Hollywood's perceptions are dated as far as the younger demographic goes (which is ironic, considering that's their target market).
Hi Know It All,
It's funny...gay audiences are not turned on by straight sex, but we get over it, get into the characters, and watch the movie. You've fallen for the outdated notion that gay sex is somehow ugly or wrong or unnatural, where that's the furthest thing from the truth. It may not be something you like, which is fine. But don't push that attitude on us and try to make us feel inadequate, or give it as a reason for us to stay in the closet and deny our full, true selves. We'd never demand that from you, and we expect the same courtesy.
GREAT ARTICLE...well done...could have done without ending it with a Perez Hilton Quote...he is such a scumbag for the gay community and you just gave him PR that he craves.
I DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHO IS GAY OR LESBIAN. WATCHING A MOVIE LOVE SCENE, WHEN YOU KNOW THEY ARE GAY/LESBIAN, RUINS THE WHOLE THING. ALL YOU CAN THINK OF IS HIM SUCKING SOME GUYS DICK OR HER LICKING SOME DAMES CUNT!! HOW CAN THEY EVEN STAND TO KISS EACH OTHER FOR THE MOVIE??
If this is some attempt to restore Mr. Bragman to respectability among the gay and lesbian people he betrayed with his embrace of Doug Manchester, please forget it- it is as cheap and hollow as Mr Manchester's insulting offer.
Mr. Bragman has betrayed himself, his spouse, and every LBGT citizen in California, if not the world.
His embrace of Mr. Manchester proves that there may be a shortage of out gay men in Hollywood, but the supply of prostitutes remains ample.
The odd thing about the ridiculous argument that a gay male actor can't be "convincing" as a leadin man is this: An ACTOR is supposedly praised because he is convincing in a role that is DIFFERENT from who he is in life.
So, what could be a better display of acting talent, then, than a gay person convincing audiences that they are romantically interestd in a member of the opposite sex?
Kate Winslet won the Oscar! She's as A-list as they come. How's that a poor example? :)
In terms of Chaz Bono and transgender folks, I have the utmost respect for him and the transgender community, and I've written about their struggles for other publications. But thanks for the reminder.
It's easy for people to say "come out, come out" but these people have mortgages and car payments and perhaps they are taking care of their parents and siblings. They can't afford to lose money. Perhaps I'm naive but, I just don't think it's all that important for someone to announce their sexual orientation to the world, and personally, I don't care!!!
As for worrying about box office decline . . . it can't get much lower with the drivel being put out these days so I don't think the honchos need to worry. (And Kate Winslet hasn't had a hit since "Titantic" so that was a pretty poor example!!)
Hollywood is completely out of touch with reality. They don't like openly gay/lesbian actors. They don't like openly conservative actors. They don't like openly Christian actors. They don't like non-white actors. The funny thing is that most Americans are probably more accepting and tolerant than Hollywood.
I'm REALLy surprised at Paris Barclay for saying that. I thought he had his act together. But apparently many directorial (and other behind the scenes) talents don't. Could it be that Barclay, Holland and Roos are re-living painful coming-outs of their own and are projecting their fears onto everyone else? If they are there's no excuse for it.
Really, really sad.
I'm enjoying this article, but it could do a little better with regards to trans folks - using proper pronouns is really important, and it's really invalidating to see the article referring to Chaz Bono with "woman" where the word "person" would do. Same goes for using "she" instead of "he," and Chastity instead of Chaz.
Great article. I think if your a good actor or actress it doesn't matter who you sleep with. Also actors as well as sports figures are role models. I think people should come to terms with themsleves. The world is changing and era of purple marriages and hired beards needs to go bye bye.
Thanks for the nice words everyone.
I'm a little surprised no anonymous actor or producer or whoever has written in this comments section that the closet in Hollywood is still necessary.
I attended a SAG function the other night, and some of the panelists were basically saying that if an actor wanted to be a leading man, they have to consider staying the closet. Director Paris Barclay, in fact, ended up defending Todd Holland, a fellow TV director who said gay actors should "stay in the closet" if they want to make it in Hollywood.
It was a strange night. Even more so since no one backed up their points with hard data--i.e., 68 percent of America (just a number I'm throwing out there) hates gays and lesbians, according to the such-and-such poll. There was none of that. Just guesses and hunches and nothing scientific.
Hollywood has some major catching up to do. No wonder the studios rarely make a decent movie these days. The studio heads and others are completely out of touch with their audience, no one is taking any risks, and no one really knows what the rest of America wants, believes, or cares about. With this kind of working atmosphere, it's hard to believe that the gay closet will end any time soon in Hollywood.
Quite true about the Disney chief. That's a biggie. And equally big is Chris Colfer, who plays the gay kid on "Glee." He's gay -- and out -- in real life.
Despite any number of stragglers the closet is collapsing. Not just in Hollywood. Everywhere.
Might be nice to include an update with the news that the new head of Walt Disney Studios, Rich Ross, is an OPENLY GAY MAN.
Good job. A tough subject handeled with sensitivity and frankness. I have been around for quite while and can attest to how hard it is talk about this in the 'hood. I personally tried to get some actors I know to talk about this for this piece, and even assured confidentiality, they declined. This is more than the ususal closet issue.
This is one of those upside down descrimination cases. The public image of a profession and a surround "Hollywood" as liberal and free wheeling -when the reality is just the opposite. Ironically, this only closes the closet door more tightly.
This is so prevalent that an older actor I spoke to, who is firmly retired, largley due to age related health issues, would not speak to Patrick under any circumstances due to a fear about how his work might be viewed retroctively. That's right - how he might be viewed in films and TV he already did a number of years ago.
This is, I believe, all of a piece with the still very lopsided presence of women and people of color throughout the industry. This is still a bastion of the white male, despite certain well known exceptions. The vast majority of players are white males. No offense guys - some of my best friends are white males, but a lot of you all are a well known of bastion of a certain kind of conservatism, even if many to most of you don't realize it.
It is telling that one of the actors speaks of women having less fear of casting him. Fact is, that Patrick is dead on when he uses the ephit "faggot" as an exemplar of the problem. Too many adults are driven and haunted by school yard taunts into adulthood and unto death. Most of us doin't even realize how much the ghosts drive us.
I think the military will probably get freere of this "don't ask don't tell" stigma sooner than Hollywood. That was certainly true in racial and gender issues.
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