Monday, October 8, 2012

On Ben Affleck and Sam Champion

Oscar-winning actor, screenwriter and director Ben Affleck kicked off a new week of ABC's Good Morning America with a live in-studio visit to talk about his new film which opens Friday.  He stars in and directed Argo.  It's a movie about liberation, about setting people free.  It's based on the real-life, almost "Mission:  Impossible" rescue of Americans held in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.  Each time I've seen a photo of Affleck in Argo or watched the movie's trailer, I thought "Who does he look like?"
Then it hit me.  Remember Barbra Streisand's boyfriend during her A Star Is Born remake days of the '70s?  Affleck looks like hairstylist-turned-movie producer Jon Peters.
Affleck  -- seen here with Alan Arkin.....
Peters -- seen here with Barbra Streisand.
What do you think?  Kind of a resemblance?  At the end of his interview, the always gracious Ben Affleck congratulated Good Morning America weatherman, Sam Champion, on his engagement.  Champion broke his big news the end of last week.
Affleck's congratulations were so warm and heartfelt and tasteful.  And historic.  Sam is engaged to his partner, Brazilian artist Rubem Robierb.
The final segment of the 8:00 hour was devoted to the GMA on-air team sitting on the couch with Sam and also expressing its warm good wishes.  Mr. Robierb was also present.  It was a wonderful segment and, again, historic.  Let's face it -- we would not, could not have seen a segment like that on a live or taped network TV news program in the '70s, '80s or '90s.  Culturally, the country had not embraced diversity to that extent yet.  I admit it.  The segment with Sam put tears in my eyes.  I've been in broadcasting a long, long time.  On TV, one of my first celebrity interviews to air nationally was my PM Magazine feature with a new actress named Meryl Streep talking about her new film, Sophie's Choice.  During my career, I regularly had to crash through two barriers in my drive to move up and distinguish myself -- barriers of race and sexual orientation.  And not just in getting work.  Also in securing broadcast representation to help me get work.  As an entertainment reporter, I knew that straight and secretly gay actors were reluctant to play gay characters onscreen for fear that they'd be "stereotyped" and job offers would decrease.  Male actors feared hearing that the words "Reads light" were written on their resum√©s after an audition.  "Reads light" meant that the guy didn't come off as butch.  It takes balls to play a gay man in a major motion picture.  William Hurt proved that and won a Best Actor Academy Award for his breakthrough performance as the physically and spiritually imprisoned South American drag queen in 1985's Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Hurt replaced a veteran screen legend who had to withdraw due to minor heart problems at the time.  Originally slated to play Molina was Burt Lancaster, 1960 Best Actor Oscar winner for Elmer Gantry and Best Actor Oscar nominee for Bird Man of Alcatraz (1962).
Hurt's Oscar victory took chains off some Hollywood brains and freed top American actors to take risks -- like Tom Hanks, Oscar winner for playing a gay lawyer with AIDS fighting for his civil rights in  Philadelphia (1993).  Now it seems like playing a gay character is a straight actor's ticket to Hollywood Prom Night:  Tommy Lee Jones, Ed Harris, Sean Penn, Greg Kinnear, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jake Gyllenhaal all got Oscar nominations for playing men who weren't straight.  Look at today's TV hosts.  Back in 1990, after my VH1 years, I was in L.A. meeting with Disney's Buena Vista division for a possible syndicated celebrity talk show.  This came about because of the prime time Monday-Friday celebrity talk show I had on VH1.  My final meeting was with a V.P. whom, a few Buena Vista employers warned, was not known for his tact.  We all nervously walked into his office for the meeting like Dorothy and Friends walking in to have their first encounter with The Wizard of Oz.  I felt all was going well during the meeting until he said something to this effect:  "I've seen a lot of your shows and some of your humor seems...frankly...gay.  Should I be worried about that?"  I replied, "The biggest hit Disney's had recently is The Little Mermaid -- an animated redhead wearing a starfish bra and singing new showtunes in a key of B-flat.  Tell me THAT is a totally heterosexual production."  I didn't get a show (dammit!) and, reportedly, he was dropped by the company for his history of tactlessness.  In 2012, my two elementary school nephews' favorite after school entertainment includes watching the Ellen DeGeneres show.  They love her. Nate Berkus hosted a syndicated show.  Neil Patrick Harris plays a hetero ladies' man on a sitcom and hosts the Tony Awards.  Andy Cohen has a popular chat show on Bravo.  CNN anchor Don Lemon wrote a memoir and came out.  Anderson Cooper came out.  And now a relaxed and comfortable Sam Champion -- a network weather anchor and one of the best reporters to cover environmental issues -- introduced viewers to the man he loves and talked about his engagement with GMA's Josh Elliott.  Elliott reminds me of every cool straight guy I've ever known and had as a roommate.  That human treasure called Robin Roberts sent love and congratulations from her hospital room.  Did we ever see a moment like that on a network morning news program before?  No.  Trust me on this.  Twenty years ago, you could not have seen on-air news talent be "out" today like Sam was without him wondering if he'd still have a job, an agent, and if he'd be able to book future work.  Twenty years ago, a straight actor doing what Ben Affleck did today could not have expressed those pro-marriage equality sentiments without his agent having a hissyfit and a publicist working overtime on "damage control."  Twenty years ago, I worked on a local news program.  I was strongly advised by a couple of co-workers to not tell management about my relationship and keep hush that my late partner had just been diagnosed with AIDS.  I wasn't ill but my fellow employees warned that management might use the information as a reason to no longer need me.  In that workplace environment of fear, I felt spiritually imprisoned just like William Hurt's character.  What we saw today was progress.  And freedom.  And a brave, much-needed embrace of diversity.  It was network broadcast history.  If I was Sam, I wouldn't have been able to stop tears of joy and acceptance from streaming down my face.  There have been many times in my career when I have been emotionally drained and wondered "Does it ever get better?"  Today, on Good Morning America, came the reminder that yes, indeed.  It gets better.  Congratulations Sam.  Thanks Ben.  Thanks Josh and the GMA crew.


6 comments:

  1. And Rachel Maddow, we have a lot of new trailblazers. Thanks for writing so opening about your experiences, Bobby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw ARGO today and it is one of the best thrillers I have seen in a long time. Affleck doesn't always get a good rep in the media but you can't deny his talent as a filmmaker. I predict multiple Oscar nominations for this film. Yes, I agree with BJ Metz. Thank you for sharing your insights on GMA and the straight/gay issue. And woo hoo! I finally figured out how to leave a comment!

      Delete
    2. Thomas! So cool to see a comment from you here! I saw ARGO a few days ago. Wow. Would go see it again in a heartbeat. Will definitely do a blog on that highly entertaining thriller.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.
    Asus Laptops

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.
    Asus Laptops

    ReplyDelete

The Talented Della Reese

She was a trailblazer who really did make it all look easy -- when it really wasn't.  And she demanded to be paid well for hard work wel...