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Confessions of A Has-Been: Don’t Hate Me For Being Fame Challenged

Musto

I don’t use the word “has-been” as much anymore. Not since I’ve been called one. I actually started being tossed such an epithet back in the ‘90s, which is absurd, because I was actually doing very well then and was all over the tube like crabgrass. (I later found out that one editor who’d called me that actually didn’t have cable!) I still think it’s absurd when someone calls me a “has-been” today. I think, “Well, not really. I’m in the game. I’m relevant. I’m hired. I’m talked about. I’m quoted a lot.” And then I add: “But for the sake of conversation, let’s say I am a has-been. It’s not my fault!”

After all: The Internet changed journalism by gutting print and making the playing field enormous to the point where I’m now competing with the entire population of the world rather than a handful of columnists. A career in journalism generally doesn’t have the same impact it used to, because of all that (though I‘ve adapted with the best of them). And it’s not my fault.

Also: I specialized in covering events, but NYC nightlife waned for various reasons, and nowadays people can promote a project via social networks, so they don’t have to have events at all. If they do so, it’s usually a regimented affair where the press are sequestered and controlled, a far cry from the free-wheeling stuff I used to be privy to, where colorful copy (and behavior) were king. Again, not my fault.

Some TV stations that used to book me don’t call anymore, not because I’m any worse than before--I’m not--but simply because they’re ageist. Not my fault! Sorry I survived! Also, once Trump got into office, some channels I used to get booked on cut way down on gossip, because he is gossip and gets big ratings as such. They’re not going to interrupt chitchat about Trump’s latest blunder for a segment on Jeanne Moreau’s passing, believe me. But the week Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died, I got booked over 14 times. It was right before Trump took office.

What’s more, I am extremely plugged into current entertainment stories and other trends, but a lot of the sites and publications that come to me specifically ask for lookbacks at the old days. (I’ll gladly oblige, though I like covering the present too.) Not my fault.

There are also a few reasons that are my fault—mainly because I was pioneering and bold and helped pave the way blah blah blah. In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even ‘90s, I was one of a handful of openly gay people in the media. As such, I started begging other notables to come out too. Eventually, they did—first a few, then a whole army. Nowadays, my being out doesn’t make me very special at all. And I can take quite a bit of credit for that, thank you.

Furthermore, back in the day, I was one of the very few people covering drag queens and other flamboyant nocturnal creatures. To those looking into the scene via my columns, it was a glimpse into something special, outrageous, and fascinating. But now it’s mass media entertainment and covered by everyone--and I feel I definitely helped pave the way for that too.

So, basically, society conspires to try and make you become obsolete as you age (with help from your own achievements), and then creeps come along and say “You’re a has-been!” It’s like throwing battery acid in someone’s face, then saying “Ugly!”

But I’m still blah blah blah. In fact, I was celebrity roasted to much hoopla in May. My recent write-ups have been picked up by a shitload of outlets, and I’ve been interviewed in recent weeks for a variety of TV programs and docs. Even my injury got a ton of press. I’ve still got it. Everything’s as if we never said goodbye.

“PRIME” SUSPECT

Acclaimed actress Lois Smith still has it too, and proves it in Marjorie Prime, the movie based on a play, in which she’s an ailing woman communing with a computerized version of her dead husband as she grapples with a bevy of memory issues. In a Q&A after a screening last week, Smith’s own memory was fine as she recounted working with Spielberg in Minority Report. (“I was told, ‘He really wants Meryl Streep, but if he can’t get her, he’ll have you’.”) She remembered Shane Black’s unconventional direction for last year’s action comedy The Nice Guys. (“Before the first scene, he handed me a pair of comedy coke bottle glasses. I couldn’t see. I was unbalanced. So that was a little odd.”) But Smith has 20/20 vision when it comes to humility. When the interviewer talked about Oscar buzz around her Marjorie Prime performance, Smith laughed loudly and replied, “You know who talks about Oscar possibilities? The people who produce the movies. God bless you, but…where did you hear that? Did you make it up?” The utterly true highlight of the whole evening was a vintage camera test of a young Smith wordlessly posing with James Dean in preparation for East of Eden (1955), in which she had a small part. The footage was riveting as she pouted, smiled, stared into Dean’s eyes, held him, refused his cigarette, and looked surreally beautiful and pensive. “He was good,” said Smith when asked about the late legend. Backatcha.

HAVING HER CAKES AND EATING THEM TOO

Also playing the awards circuit, Patti Cakes is an atmospheric tale of a plus-sized New Jersey girl becoming an unlikely rap star, despite the jealous objections of mom, to name one of many challenges standing between her and the microphone. Danielle Macdonald is appealing as the girl, Bridget Everett (a longtime fixture on the performance scene) is tremendous as mom, and Cathy Moriarty is a riot as an extremely supportive granny who gamely joins the hiphop group. At a Q&A after a screening last week, Bridget talked about how she was initially afraid to do the film, but writer/director Geremy Jasper made her feel comfortable, so she joined the Sundance Directors Lab work on it. “By the end of it,” she admitted to the crowd, “I thought ‘If they make this movie and they don’t cast me, I’m gonna cut somebody’s dick off!” Everyone laughed and Bridget smilingly wondered if she’d offended anyone—“Are there children here?”—though she realized all was fine because “It’s Chelsea.”

Moriarty revealed that, though the other folks on the film did all that Sundance work, she had it easy because “I just kind of showed up, popped up on a gray wig and sat in a wheelchair.” And rapped! And wore a ski mask! And didn’t get paid anything! It was all worth it, because Patty is one angry white rapper that you can take to heart.

BROADWAY RHYTHM’S GOT ME

The long-running, Emmy winning TV show Theater Talk is coming back in October with executive producer Susan Haskins-Doloff returning as cohost. Haskins tells me that this season, she’ll be joined by a rotating bunch of journalists, including the New York Times’ Jesse Green and Jason Zinoman, Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman, CUNY TV Arts correspondent Donna Hanover, Broadway blogger Jan Simpson, roving writer Elisabeth Vincentelli, and little old me! And there’s already a lot of theatrical talk about it. I’m big again!

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