At first, the scene Saturday and Sunday at this year’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Festival in West Hollywood was familiar: tens of thousands of guys in Abercrombie & Fitch shirts, girls in leather vests, and various and sundry drag queens making their way up and down Santa Monica Boulevard before heading toward the Erotic City pavilion and line-dancing tent on a closed-off San Vicente Boulevard. (The weekend’s biggest political statement: a sea of Howard Dean stickers — “The Doctor Is In!”) But in the back corner of West Hollywood Park, right across from the alcohol- and tobacco-free dance zone, was a cordoned-off area for gay dads, lesbian moms and their exponentially growing number of kids. There were arts and crafts, a toddler toy corner, popcorn- and snow cone–making stations and, the most popular attraction, an inflatable Scooby-Doo moon bounce. “I wanted Spongebob,” admitted organizer Arielle Rosen, as she watched kids careen with glee inside the nelliest of cartoon dogs.
The kids’ zone is called the David Reed Gamboa-Brandhorst Children’s Garden, renamed in 2002 to honor 3-year-old David and his dads, Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, who died returning to L.A. from a Cape Cod vacation on United 175, placing them among some of the first victims of 9/11. Organized for the past three years by Rosen, family-services manager for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the children’s garden represents a quiet but profound revolution in the queer community.
“There are over 1,000 families on our mailing list,” said Rosen, while doling out bags of chips, “and every week I get requests from a lot of perspective parents.”
“I vividly remember coming here 15 years ago and being drunk the entire day,” said Helene, mother of 3-year-old Brenner, who was playing with his friend Destiny. She and Destiny’s mom Amanda were chatting about how much their lives have changed since they had kids. L.A. Pride, Amanda noted, used to have a bad rap for not providing family services, but now is considered a good place for gays to bring their kids. Helene nodded, then looked fondly at the 20-something women exploring the more earthly delights of the festival on the other side of the fence. “All those baby dykes,” said Helene, beaming. “They’re so cute and they’re just starting.”
On Sunday, one of the best-known L.A. gay dad groups, the Pop Luck Club, arrived en masse to the garden, after marching in the parade. Pretty much every family at the garden belonged to some kind of gay or lesbian family play group or support organization. Pop Luck Club member Josh, who also facilitates a group called Maybe Baby, has three adopted sons under 5. His boys all wore matching and easily identifiable striped shirts, a good strategy in a public space with thousands of people. “That was the idea,” he noted.
“I like that stroller,” one dad said to Josh. “Check out the wheels.”
“It’s an SUV,” Josh replied. “I got it from Bob’s in San Luis Obispo. It’s the Dually.” The other dad was intrigued. “Is it foldable?”
The conversation halted when Rosen announced that Hiccups the Clown was done making balloon animals and was starting his magic show. About a dozen kids and their parents made their way to Hiccups, who was doing fancy tricks with helpers from the audience. The money shot of one trick produced a metal canister of Skittles and M&M’s.
“Skittles come from rainbows!” Hiccups shouted as the kids clapped with glee. Sitting on benches, watching their children, more than a few rainbow-bead-wearing gay parents nodded with approval.
Crowd Control: Waiting for Harry
The new Harry Potter books come in plain white cardboard boxes. The boxes are stamped with a warning: “Do Not Open Until June 21, 2003.” It is June 20, and I am at the Barnes & Noble in the Westside Pavilion, squashed into an aisle between Current Affairs and Biography. At the stroke of midnight, the cash registers in this store and booksellers all over the city will ring up the first public copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I haven’t seen a line this long since Introduction to Biology, college textbook, circa ’95. My cousin Wendy was supposed to meet me here, but instead she’s at some other Barnes & Noble, at some other mall, with some other friends. My cell phone beeps.
“We brought beer and drank it in the parking lot,” she says. “We’re having a Harry Potter tailgate party.”
“Would Ron and Hermione ditch Harry for beer?” I say. No. I don’t think so. Harry Potter is about loyalty. Only two hours to go. All the little kids have been given black plastic eyeglasses to wear while they wait. They banshee up and down the escalators. A boy in a cape with a fake scar on his forehead bumps me with a pet-store birdcage. Inside is a stuffed owl. Harry Potter is about adversity. Too bad the mall’s already closed.
Alohomora! One hour to go. People are thumbing through books they never knew existed. They are reading about finance and romance and magic and cults. Harry Potter is about open-mindedness, creative spirit and thinking outside the box.
“Dude,” a guy asks, “who’s the author of the Bible?”
Twenty minutes and holding. I’ve set up camp underneath a picture of Stephen King, who’s smiling his trademark doughboy-meets-psycho smile. Two girls in pajamas wander in and wish they’d gotten there earlier — sorry, all the tickets to buy Harry Potter are gone. Come back next week. Oh, the horror. The girls look around frantically. We who have tickets clutch them even tighter. Harry Potter is about standing your ground. At midnight the final countdown begins:
“Ten — Nine — Eight —” How will
“Seven — Six — Five —” How will
“Four — Three — Two — One — Happy Harry Potter Day!” we scream, and the coveted Book 5 is in hand. “That’ll be $29.99 plus tax,” says the salesclerk with a flourish, and then asks the magic question: “Now . . . will that be cash or credit?”
Marx A Lot: A Night at the Cabaret
Last Tuesday, Gregg Marx’s mellow, eclectic cabaret show, “Wet Night, Dry Martini — Love, Shaken . . . Stirred . . . and on the Rocks,” opened at Feinstein’s at the Cinegrill. And if anyone ever doubted whether Gregg Marx was one of those Marxes — as in Groucho, Harpo, et al. — an audience roll call would settle the matter. There was dad Bob, son of Gummo, plus sister Laura Guzik, the costume supervisor for Dumb and Dumberer, The Nanny and other film and TV hits. There was handsome, suntanned, silver-haired Uncle Bill, Harpo’s son, in from Palm Springs. Cousin Jade, granddaughter of Groucho and an aspiring actress, burst in like a giant poinsettia, attired all in flaming red, from the flower in her long, dark hair to her slinky dress, shawl and heels.
And then there were the Gildas. In a strange twist of fate, or perhaps the result of a deep-seated obsession with Rita Hayworth on the part of his father, Gregg Marx’s mom and stepmom are both named Gilda. The former, Gilda Block, was Bob’s high school sweetheart; the latter is famed designer Gilda Marx. Add piles of old family friends and other distant relatives and you would have thought it was a bar mitzvah.
It’s not impossible that The Brothers were there too. A few days before, Gregg Marx had an odd little experience. He was getting into his car when the horn suddenly tooted. All by itself. Then it did it again. And again. Could it possibly be . . . Harpo?
Had this ever happened to anybody else in the family?
“Can’t say it has,” shrugged Bob, an obvious skeptic.
“Not that I remember,” mused Bill. “But if he was playing anything, it should have been his harp. He’s certainly in heaven, because he was as great a man who ever walked on this planet.”
So did the mute Marx brother ever talk? “Only when he had something to say!” ‰ said Bill, laughing. “And then, you listened! You know, he was very soft-spoken and gentle. But he could cut through any conversation, straight to the core of the issue.”
As for Gummo, said Bob, “He was very kind, very low-key. Did you know that he had the biggest agency in Hollywood? It was so big that when he sold it, the government made him split it up. So one-half went to MCA and one to William Morris. Here’s something you won’t believe: Nobody ever signed a contract with him. It was all done on a handshake. That’s how honest he was.”
“My grandfather was very elegant and genteel,” Laura Guzik remembered. “The Chasen’s type all the way.”
The younger generation has virtually no memory of Chico, who died in 1961. And any recollections of Groucho are at best dim. “I met him a few times,” said Laura. “I don’t remember much about him, other than he was very nice.”
“I just remember being held by him,” added Jade.
The show started up. From their table, the Marx family cheered and whistled. Gregg Marx, a well-built man of 48 who looks 35, and whom soap fans remember from his Emmy-winning role as Tom Hughes on As the World Turns, sang about love. Love lost, love found, love unrequited. It was obvious from the moment he opened his mouth that he had The Gift — a combination of physical exuberance, rich musicality and personal warmth that seems to run in the Marx blood.
There were great old songs by Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer. There were great new songs by Ray Jessel and Cynthia Thompson, Ken Hirsch and Lindy Robbins. Marx paid homage to the Brothers with a delicious rendition of “A Message From the Man in the Moon,” from A Day at the Races. And, in a shining impromptu moment, Uncle Bill, a pianist who has a devoted following in Palm Springs, ascended the stage to accompany his nephew at the shiny Baldwin grand, exhibiting an incredible command of the keyboard.
“Bill is a brilliant composer and pianist,” Gilda Marx whispered. “He studied at Juilliard. We were at Barbara Sinatra’s a few weeks ago — she was married to Zeppo before Frank, you know — and she said, ‘Bill’s the best pianist I know. They don’t come any better.’ Coming from her, I call that a compliment!”
After the show, we recalled a statement that Susan Marx, Harpo’s late wife, made about their marriage after her husband’s death.
“I miss him so,” she said. “Every day with Harp was such a surprise.”
“Listen,” said Gilda Marx. “Every day with this family is a surprise!”
—Mary Beth Crain