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Oscar Bowl Monday.

If you've seen me as Ted Casablanca on E! Entertainment Television's Gossip Show, you know I've fearlessly (and stupidly) dished Hollywood's biggest and brightest. But when The Advocate asked me to explain why the Academy Awards have come to be known as the gay Super Bowl, well, I had to catch my breath for a minute.

The gay Super Bowl? Well, yeah. I don't know much about the straight Super Bowl, but I've been told that's when hetero men gather to indulge and fantasize about their guilty pleasures. When our Super Bowl comes around, on Oscar night, aren't we doing the same thing?

After all, the Oscars embody the four classic guilty pleasures of the American gay man: fashion, drama, camp, and a good cat-fight. Oh, I know. In the `90s we're supposed to be over all that superficial crap. But come Oscar night we're free to revert to our bitchiest selves and bask in the glory of our own camp culture. What could be more splendid!'

Naturally The Advocate wanted a range of opinions. So I picked up my telephone headset to ask some of Hollywood's movers and shakers, "Why are the Oscars the gay Super Bowl?"

My first victim, Harvey Fierstein, seems to agree with my "guilty pleasures" theory. "The glamour, the dresses, the stars!" offers the Tony-winning actor-playwright when asked why he loves the Oscars. But then he throws me a curve. "It's a gay night, but that's not all it is," he says. "The dresses and the bitchiness aren't even what I really look forward to. I like to see whose lover gets thanked "

I guess those straight guys who watch the Super Bowl might say the same thing. The event is a chance to know more about their favorite players. Whether it's the Super Bowl or the Oscars, it's a date with our heroes. Whether it's the acceptance speech or the postgame locker-room interview, it's our chance to get to know our heroes better.

"I think awards shows in general are the gay version of televised sports," jokes Joe Keenan, head comedy writer for TV's Frasier. "They offer the excitement and suspense of fierce public competition without the visual monotony of having the players all dressed the same way. However, I prefer to think of the Super Bowl as the straight Oscars."

As my friend Howard Karren, deputy editor of Premiere magazine, tells me, "The thing I loved about the Oscars, particularly growing up, was the fact that here was a night I could watch something while my straight brothers were watching football. Finally I, as a gay man, felt I had a chance to shine."

There are other parallels between these two great American tribal rituals. Each event is best when viewed among friends, a fact that even the Academy acknowledges. Says Rick Robertson, the Academy's executive administrator: "Like Super Bowl Sunday, Oscar night is a wonderful excuse to throw a party."

And we all know who throws the best parties. "The Oscars are about caviar and blini, not beer and potato chips," says Sandy Gallin, executive producer of the Oscar-nominated Fly Away Home. Maybe at your Oscar parties, Sandy: The last gay Oscar party I went to (after Elton's, of course, which had not a fried potato in sight) was loaded with Lay's.

What we do while eating leads me to another similarity, known as "Go, team, go." Rooting for your home team isn't done only in football stadiums. Those living-room Oscar brawls can be fierce. It's well-known that vicious gay feuds erupted, for instance, over the famed Liza Minnelli (Cabaret)--Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues) Best Actress wars of 1972.

My favorite war story took place in 1962, when Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress, while her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? costar Joan Crawford was not. Crawford, so the story goes, hatched a plan. Anne Bancroft, also nominated for Best Actress (for The Miracle Worker), couldn't attend the ceremonies. If Bancroft were to win, Crawford offered to accept the Oscar on her behalf. Sure enough, on the big night, when Bancroft was announced as the winner, Crawford brushed past Davis and snapped, "Excuse me, I have an Oscar to accept."

"That's why gay people identify with the Oscars," says film critic Rex Reed, who's witnessed more than his share of awards shows. "The Oscars are all about people who want to be somebody, like Crawford did. I think that's something a lot of gay people identify with--the greatness of it all, the epic appeal.

And what appeals more than epic suffering? All gay people know how it feels to be the underdog. But to watch a goddess like Crawford in the midst of a very, very bad night reminds us that everybody hurts--even when they're famous, powerful, and straight. "It's almost too much to bear," says Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto. "I do love to watch the fashion, but more than that there's this noble quality about the Oscars that I admire. We gays are the downtrodden, so we identify with someone like Brenda Blethyn [Best Actress nominee for Secrets & Lies]. It's a vicarious thrill. "

I don't have to tell you, that thrill can be catty, campy, and silly. "Gay men love any event where the budget and taste are in inverse proportions," Keenan notes, "from the presenters' fashion statements to the Best Song production numbers where somber leotard-clad chorus boys waft among vast abstract sculptures that seem left over from the Nuremberg rallies.

Billy Crystal, who's hosting this year's Oscarfest, has his own Super Bowl--esque opinion on the subject. "The Oscars are a gay version of the Super Bowl," he says, "because they're like one big, long halftime ceremony."

"My favorite year was 1988," embellishes Keenan. "That was the year when producer Allan Carr persuaded Rob Lowe to sing and dance opposite Snow

White to the strains of `Proud Mary' (a song that may have had particular resonance for Mr. Carr). In my perfect universe, Carr would be commanded to produce every single Oscar show--always with a stern warning that last year's show was too sedate."

Incidentally, if you think only gay men go over the top for the Oscars, think again. Lesbians are also passionate about the show, insists one who should know. "I've been watching the Oscars since I was 5," says lesbian comic Suzanne Westenhoefer, "just so I could catch a glimpse of Susan Hayward, the great love of my life. She actually presented in 1973, the year before she died. I was thrilled, even if it was Charlton Heston that brought, her out."

But the Oscar shows also got Westenhoefer wondering where all the gay actors went on their way to the ceremonies. "Do gay people stop being gay when they get to Hollywood?" she says. "I don't think so. We run this fucking town. This is our big awards show."

The irony is that, even in 1997, Westenhoefer is one of the few gay performers willing to go on record about the Oscar--gay connection. Which brings me to the people I peeved when I asked about Oscar's gay tendencies.

"Frankly, it's an offensive question," says one of the country's most widely read (gay) columnists. "Why pigeonhole the ceremony like that?"

"No, I don't think I care to answer that," says an Oscar-nominated (gay) actor. "As you know, I'm a member of the board of governors, and I don't think it would be a good idea."

"I don't think I could come up with an answer clever enough for you," says one of the world's cleverest, not to mention most successful, (gay) directors.

Translation: He's scared. After all, our gay Super Bowl is his year-round business. Academy Awards make careers, and as long as that's true, the Oscars will stay in the closet.

But not the audience, and that's the key. "Perhaps the real question isn't `Why do gay people like the Oscars?' but `Why do straight people like the Oscars?"' Keenan concludes. "I think the answer is that the sheer glamour and campiness of the spectacle are strong enough to make heterosexuals temporarily gay. I've seen this in action. Halfway through Oscar parties the most macho guys start saying things like, `Look at Melanie Griffith's dress! What was she thinking?"
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Title Annotation:includes related article; why gays love the Academy Award shows
Author:Heston, Charlton
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Words:1379
Previous Article:Intimate Portrait: Dr. Susan Love.
Next Article:The NEA gets gay-bashed; gay themes again become the focus of a pitched battle over federal funding of the arts.
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