“If you don't look, you don't know,”
Well, first of all, there is that voice. I always think of my distinctive voice, made possible by decades of pot smoking & whiskey drinking, but Harvey Fierstein brings it all to a whole new level. .. a 300-pound man who sounds like he's been chain-smoking since the age of 3.
Fierstein grew up in Bensonhurst, the son of a handkerchief manufacturer & a school librarian. He attended Pratt & began his career in the mid-1970s performing in drag bars under the name Virginia Hamm. It was Fierstein's collection of interconnected, semi-autobiographical one-act plays in the late '70s- Torch Song Trilogy, that eventually brought him to Broadway. (He also starred in the big screen adaptation.). He has the distinction of winning Tony Awards for both writing & playing the lead role in his long-running play, about a gay drag performer & his quest for true love & family.
Fierstein has since effectively become a celebrity spokesperson & champion for gay civil rights. He describes himself as a "first real, live, out-of-the-closet queer on Broadway". He wrote the book for the musical La Cage aux Folles & he has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards (the Tonys are a high Holy Day at my house & will be broacast live next Sunday). Fierstein has been featured in the films Bullets Over Broadway, Mrs. Doubtfire, Death to Smoochy, & Independence Day.
Fierstein's turn as Edna Turnblatt in Hairspray earned him a Tony award in 2003. Fierstein virtually owned the role, but he was ultimately turned down for movie version of Hairspray. Closet case-John Travolta was cast instead. He played Tevye in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway & & then toured the country in the iconic role. His brave, unlikely & open portrayal of a straight father of 3 daughters in the Jewish- The Sound Of Music earned him rave reviews all over the country. My first professional role was as Motel the tailor in Fiddler On The Roof in 1971. I have a soft spot for this show & I think it would have been nifty to play Grandma Tzeitel in Harvey’s production. He appeared in last season's popular revival of La Cage Aux Folles, replacing Douglas Hodges as Albine/Zaza. Fierstein wrote the book for this season's Broadway hit- Newsies & is working on a musical version of Kinky Boots, a film that I think is just begging to be a stage musical.
I really like & admire Harvey Fierstein. He has been a vocal gay rights activist, speaking out for gay people, queer theater, & AIDS causes. He has been a spokesman for the Services Legal Defense Fund, a group that advocates for the rights of gays & lesbians in the military. Fierstein: "Time will tell us what we did and didn't do. The way that I look at it, the only thing that I will definitely take credit for is that Torch Song & La Cage Aux Folles, 2 of my shows, were the first ever gay themed shows to make money on Broadway. I think that counts more than anything."
Harvey Fierstein Turns 60 years old today. He is nominated for a Tony Award for the book of Newsies. The Tony Awards broadcast is this Sunday. I will be there. Fierstein lives on 7 acres in Connecticut. Harvey... Let's have cocktails & have a chat.