One Gay at a Time
By Eddie Shapiro
When VH1 shot its Top 100 Teen Stars special, the network didn't expect to be the forum for a coming out. But for Glenn Scarpelli, who spent the early '80s playing Alex on the CBS hit One Day at a Time, this was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. After all, like the theme song says, 'This is it! This is life / the one you get / so go and have a ball!' Scarpelli did just that, leaving acting shortly after One Day at a Time left the air in order to live his life as a gay man. Currently, he and his partner of eight years, Jude Belanger, are happily ensconced in Sedona, Arizona, where they own a small TV station. In our March issue, we briefly chat with Glenn. Here we include the complete interview with Glenn and Jude.
How did you end up in Sedona?
Scarpelli: We found a really cool lifestyle out here, man. I grew up in New York and lived in L.A. for 10 years and bopped back and forth between the two for such a long time. Never in my life did I think I'd live in a small town like this but it's working out!
Scarpelli: I lost a partner to AIDS in 1992 and I really needed a break from everything. I needed to figure some stuff out and mourn and go through all of the things you go through after a thing like that. I had a friend who was living out here and she suggested that I try Sedona. As soon as I took that first trip after Gary died, as soon as I drove into town'I can't even explain it, it's a very special town. I saw the red rocks and the green trees and the blue sky and I felt like I came home. I never felt like that before. And never thought I would feel like that in such a small town. It really attracted me. I felt very comfortable and very at peace.
Belanger: There are a lot of interesting people here, too. A lot of artists. It's a very creative and fun community. It attracts very liberal-minded, crazy people.
Was it a radical adjustment for you?
Scarpelli: It was a really radical adjustment. I was coming off of such an intense time with Gary's illness and then his death. I was looking for something different. It shifted me in such a way that my priorities changed. What I thought was important turned out to be not as important. I changed, and when I changed my surroundings did too. When I came to Sedona I didn't live here officially. I bounced back between Sedona and L.A. for quite a while throughout the '90s.
Were you still acting?
Scarpelli: No, I really wasn't. After One Day at a Time ended, I did a short series called Jennifer Slept Here with Ann Jillian on NBC.
I remember that.
Scarpelli: You're the one.
Did you know you were gay then?
Scarpelli: I always knew I was gay and I had never pursued it. I had never been with a man and I was 17 years old, going on 18. I didn't know how to do it back then. I was very much under a microscope. I had publicists and managers who told me what to say on interviews and how to do my hair, and everyone picked out my clothes. I didn't have a lot of say over my own life. So, I left acting after Jennifer Slept Here went off the air. I didn't know how to be honest and true to myself. I really needed to back away. So I moved back to New York, which, of course, if you're going to be anonymous anywhere in the world, I think New York is the place to do that. And then I met this guy named Gary and we fell in love. I went to NYU film school, which was my way of staying connected with my creative juices and the industry since there was never anything else that I really wanted to do. But it was also my way of staying a little more anonymous by not being in front of the camera.
Were you aware of how mature it was for an actor who's been in a hit to make that kind of a choice at that age? Most actors are too focused on the next gig and maintaining their stardom to be able to face their inner truths.
Scarpelli: In retrospect, now that I'm 39, I look back and I go, 'Wow, that really was a pretty cool choice,' but in the moment, no, I didn't know it. I was just following my heart. The business has always been important to me, but finding love was more important. I didn't know how to do that openly at the time. I isolated myself from a lot of people that I was close to because I wasn't ready to talk to anybody about it. I have now, of course, come out to Bonnie [Franklin] and I remain very close to her. She adores Jude. She's been fantastic. I say to her often, 'I wish I had come out to you because I would have had someone on my side!' It was really Gary's illness in '87 that brought my truth out because I started to realize that life is too short. Here I am, in love with a man and so what? It's a man. I still need the love and support of my friends and family, I still need the people outside of that relationship in my life. That's what gave me the push to finally be honest.
Having watched the culture shift, what made now the time to come out publicly?
Scarpelli: VH1 came to us for the 100 Top Teen Stars, and when they called and wanted to do a where-are-they-now, I really wanted to share where I'm at now. I'm very proud of my life, I'm proud of what we've done, I'm proud of my relationship with Jude.