When VH1 shot its Top 100 Teen Stars special, the network didnt 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 couldnt 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 Id live in a small town like this but its 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 townI cant even explain it, its 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. Its 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 Garys 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 didnt 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 wasnt. 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: Youre 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 didnt 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 didnt have a lot of say over my own life. So, I left acting after Jennifer Slept Here went off the air. I didnt 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 youre 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 whos 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 Im 39, I look back and I go, Wow, that really was a pretty cool choice, but in the moment, no, I didnt know it. I was just following my heart. The business has always been important to me, but finding love was more important. I didnt know how to do that openly at the time. I isolated myself from a lot of people that I was close to because I wasnt 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. Shes 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 Garys 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? Its 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. Thats 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 Im at now. Im very proud of my life, Im proud of what weve done, Im proud of my relationship with Jude.
Isnt there some weird story about you just missing each other before you met?
Scarpelli: I had been back and forth between here and L.A. during the early 90s. I had rented this little room in a wonderful little house that looked like a barn from a woman named Marilyn and then I ended up going back to L.A. and giving her notice. A couple of years later I was living in L.A. and I had opened a digital editing facility. I had a friend visiting from Sedona, who walked in with Jude. And I tell ya, it was like kismet. My heart went ka-thunk. It happens when you least expect it! I was very attracted to him from the moment he walked in. We started talking and I said that I had lived in Sedona. I told him that I lived in a house that looked like a barn and he was like, Thats weird, I live in a house that looks like a barn. I said I lived with this woman named Marilyn, and he said, I live with Marilyn! We realized that he had moved in like a week after I moved out. Before I left there, I had given Marilyn a gift of a charcoal drawing I had done of the house. She had hung it over the bed in that room. So for those two years that he was living there, he actually slept under the picture that I drew.
Thats just creepy!
Belanger: When we got together we certainly had a lot to talk about because we knew all of the same people and had lived in the same place. So it made it really easy to talk and not just jump into bed together. Which, of course, happened.
But you had a choice.
Belanger: Yeah, we had an option. And something to talk about after!
Scarpelli: Its interesting, too, because we both got attracted to Sedona separately. And thats important because its not like Im here because of him or hes here because of me. Its truly where each of us wanted to be separately, and then together its that much better because its very difficult to be single in a small town, let alone gay and single in a small town. So having a partner to share it with is that much better.
Oh, please! This was fate! He was sleeping under your charcoal print!
Scarpelli: Its like a friggin novel!
A bad one! You cant write this stuff.
Scarpelli: Nope, you cant.
Jude, had you been aware of One Day at a Time?
Belanger: When we met, I really didnt know until he told me.
Scarpelli: I felt good that it didnt really matter. Im grateful for my childhood. I actually think it was a very healthy thing, being in the business. I loved it. I got to work on Broadway. Those experiences money cant buy. But its a job, its not who I am.
Were you ever worried of being outed sooner?
Scarpelli: I wouldnt say I was worried about it, no. Once I was out in my own personal life, I was comfortable.
And you were never a troubled Hollywood teen? No Dana Plato story there?
Scarpelli: You know, I always felt for Dana that even back then, she was not a happy girl and you could see that. There was something missing in her internally all along. And I dont know if she had not been on TV if things would have been different for her. A lot of people blame being a young actor and, yes, there are definitely challenges to living an adult life as a teenager. And thats what it came down to because you lived with many more adult responsibilities, but that doesnt mean that because of it she did the drugs or because of it she passed away. I dont know if its related. People have problems whether youre in this industry or not and we all have to take responsibility for our lives to figure out who we are inside.
During that time, were there other teen stars that you wished were gay, too?
Scarpelli: I dont know. I thought that Tom Selleck was hot. But I was very shut down. I knew in my heart that there would always be a time but my fear kept me shut down.
Belanger: Sometimes there are these stories, though, that he just remembers out of the blue. One of them is from when he was on Broadway [in Richard III]. Al Pacino used to give him a hug every day before they went out on stage. And there was one time when he told me I thought Al was hot!
Scarpelli: I was 12! But I guess youre horny at 12.
Please, youre at your horniest at 12! But tell the truth, Valerie Bertinelli made you gay, right?
Scarpelli: People used to say to me, Youre so lucky, you get to work with Valerie Bertinelli. Shes so hot. I always thought Eddie [Van Halen] was the hot one.
Was Valerie one of the 100 Top Teen Stars, too?
Scarpelli: No, she was on one last year. 100 Top Child Stars. But Mackenzie Phillips was on the list. I gotta tell ya, they were asking me questions like about my career and the show and I was stumbling through that part of the interview. I was just like, Get to the out part! Get to the out part! I couldnt wait to finally be able to say that publicly even though Ive been out in my personal life for a number of years. I felt two inches taller after the interview. It felt so gratifying. I look at my life 25 years ago and the thought of being able to say this in front of a TV camera was so out of my realm. To be able to do it was so satisfying.