Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pride: Billy Crystal on SOAP

The first mainstream gay character I remember seeing on TV was Billy Crystal on the ABC-TV sit-com SOAP (1977-1981). I think there were supporting characters around (I remember a couple of elderly men who appeared semi-regularly on BARNEY MILLER as crime victims) but "Jodie Dallas" was the first recurring character that I can remember.

He was introduced as a film director wanting a sex change operation so he could marry his football player lover. When he decided he could never come out as a professional athlete he left Jodie. On the rebound, Jodie slept with a woman lawyer for his Aunt Jessica's murder trial. She got pregnant and they planned to marry. He was hoping he could go straight for/with her. However, she left him at the alter and with a baby. Jodie grew up in a hurry and took on a lot of responsibility, becoming less of a caricature and more of a "leading man." When  the mother came back and demanded custody, the custody battle against him was heart-breaking. I'll never forget his daughter's grand-mother saying to the judge, in a tone as nice as can be, "Your Honor, he's a faaag. You can't leave my little grand-daughter with a faaag."

Because Jodie was portrayed by the hugely talented Billy Crystal, even when the situation was contrived or silly the acting was never less than wonderful.

Here's a scene that represents well the silliness and drama of SOAP....the drama of Jodie's impending wedding to Carol against the drama of the return of his boyfriend Dennis, juxta-positioned against a ridiculous cereal commercial. It boasts terrific comedy writing and timing. It's long, but stick with it. You'll laugh, I promise.

Along the way, you'll see that Jodie, while gay, is just another character. At the time, this was ground breaking.

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