gay icons

Before There Could Be a Jack McFarland, There Was a Jim J. Bullock

If there was ever a decade to stay in the closet, the 1980s might have been a good time to rearrange the hangers.

While Jim lived in fear of being outed, he made no effort to play butch on camera. After all, his inherent queerness is what got him the work in the first place. But he did try to control his public image. He and his manager “worked hard” to fabricate stories for the tabloids about Jim’s love life.


“I had several girlfriends who were willing to…play beards for me,” he stammers sheepishly, “and we would do stories—plant stories—in the tabloids.” One such friend, Elaine Hill, agreed to pose as Jim’s girlfriend for a National Enquirer piece. “They took pictures of us doing domestic things,” Jim giggles, “Cooking, petting cats, and snuggling. The caption was something like: ‘We are so in love, so happy that God brought us together.’”

When Comfort ended in 1986, Jim was offered a chance to follow in the dainty footsteps of other closeted camp queens like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde on TV’s home for out of work entertainers, Hollywood Squares. “I thought this is a place where I can just be me. I’ve been called fag all my life so I decided, okay, if you’re gonna sit there and call me fag, fine, I’m a fag.” And though he was still publicly in the closet, with no quirky character to hide behind, Jim was his most unabashed queer self. But his gayness did not go unnoticed by the powers that be.

Whoever thought of pairing Jim J. Bullock and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1996 as co-hosts of a daytime talk show deserves a GLAAD award, a LAMBDA award, and a Kennedy Center Honors. They were absolutely precious, like two Kewpie Dolls with googly eyes and impish dispositions. As their show theme song (which they sang together) described, they were “not what you’d expect…a crazy, goofy duet.” The emotive televangelist and the now-publicly out Bullock both grew up in devoutly religious conservative Christian households. This, in Jim’s opinion, is what bonded them.

On working with Tammy Faye

“We had such an understanding of each other,” he says. “We were two very similar people with two very different paths but held onto a lot of what we both once had.” And both Tammy and Jim encountered struggles with their faith along the way.

Even years after the show ended, Evangelicals criticized Tammy for co-hosting The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show with a gay man — especially when Jim came out as HIV-positive. His status was half-outed, really. In preparation for the 1997 AIDS ride, Jim sent a sponsorship letter to possible donors. He mentioned that in addition to riding in memory of his deceased partner, he was riding for his friends living with HIV/AIDS and that he, too, was living with the disease. A few days later Jim was awakened by knocking at his door.

It was a tabloid reporter inquiring about his HIV status.

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  • Jaroslaw

    Not to take anything away from Jim Bullock, but Paul Lynde was pretty Gay acting on Hollywood Squares, Liberace too. And there are others, but that would not exactly make Jim the first and/or definition of “Gay” on TV would it?

  • merkin

    I understand not coming out in Hollywood in the 1970s, and I even understand taking a minstrel role like Munroe–but to give him kudos for it?! Ive met Jim, and he’s an nice guy. But it must be a frickin’ slow news day to run a seven-page story on the guy

  • Marius

    One of the other guys who was sitting in a square with Bullock – Charles Nelson Reilly. Kinda gay.

    Is Bullock the only one to have come out? I don’t know.

    Sean “Jack” Hayes hasn’t, but I know that’s none of my business.

  • Not So Fast Cowboy


    “Too close for Comfort” ran for _six_ years?

  • koalaboy

    You guys on here always piss me off with you’re ridiculous comments on what things the moderators should use their time reporting on.. why don’t you make your own site and write about what you want!

    I’m a young gay comedian and found this article very resourceful and entertaining. Thank you :)

  • David Ehrenstein

    Very nice interview. Jim J. is a lovely man and a very talented comic actor. It’s so odd to think of all the silliness (there’s no other word for it) that went on back then. It was obvious to anyone watching “Too Close For Comfort” that Jim J. was gay — and they loved him. Beyond sad that he was literally punished for being so talented.

  • Geoff M

    I always knew about Jim J, and I was a little kid. I had the biggest crush on him, and still do! Thanks Queerty!!!

  • MackMike

    Jim J.’s career began where Paul Lynde’s career ended, and while Lynde’s popularity soared during the sexual revolution that unfolded in the 1960’s and eary 1970’s, Jim J.’s was launched in a suprisingly oppressive era. The scourge of AIDs set back the GLBT community is ways that are probably incomprehensible to many who did not live through it. All gay men were viewed as disease carrying deviants, who God was specifically punishing. Stories of community pools being drained if a gay man thought to have HIV were featured on Oprah and Donahue, and gays who worked in restaurants, dental offices, in the medical profession were either fired, or exposed to rentless discrimination. Patrons even demanded that gay waiters be fired from restaurants who depended upon their dollars. Children with HIV, like Ryan White, were dismissed from their schools.

    This all unfoladed, even after a great deal of information swelled to counter the public fears–education seemed to simply fall on deaf ears. The Moral Majority was in full swing, and gays who had just begun to enjoy maintstream acceptance found themselves being forced back into a closet. Thanks to the courageous efforts of activists, such as Larry Kramer, a resistence built in the GLBT community, but in many ways our community is still recovering.

    This was the environment that Jim J. was faced with as he portrayed Monroe. Where as Lynde’s Uncle Arthur was laughed with, with a nudge and a wink; the social attitudes at the time created such an environment of intollerance that viewers were only willing to laugh at the most outrageous, the bitchiest and the most fey characterizations of gays at the time. The character of Monroe was none of these, yet still perceived as being possibly gay, and this more realistic portrayal of a “gay” man was very threatening to audiences.

    Though not a fan of the show, I did watch from time to time as a kid, and even I could see that Bullock was walking a high beam in a difficult to maintain balancing act. Nevertheless, the one thing that should be pointed out is that Lynde, who had the benefit of a friendlier culture in his time, was reportedly not a very kind human being. Having had the pleasure to spend a long afternoon with Jim J. at a wedding reception, I can first hand report that he is in person what he has always appeared to be on camera, a very gracious and warm man, with an engaging sense of humor and great knack for timing.

    Jim J. deserves all seven pages that have been dedicated to him here, I assure you.

  • Dabq

    Thanks for one of the best articles I have ever read on this site, and, all the best to Jim J. Bullock who was indeed a gay trailblazer!

  • J-Like

    It’s a great article. I remember this show, vaguely, and I think the only reason I watched was Monroe. I was a kid, I could somehow sense something about this Monroe guy, it was the kind of thing where you wait for that fleeting echo of something that seems familiar to you and yet you don’t understand. We can now talk about minstrelsy and all those things, but we really can’t adopt a holier-than-thou attitude about it: we don’t know what those times were really like. We roll our eyes when we read a book from the early twentieth century advocating a woman’s right to stand up to her husband, thinking that she really should divorce him and set up her own business and get a “room of her own.” But these people did not live in our current world. Were there people who bucked the trend, who seem more courageous to us now b/c they were uncompromising? Sure. But those who do the high wire act, trying to be in the mainstream and also to be true to themselves, they deserve our respect, not our condescension. I had forgotten about Jim J and Too Close for Comfort until today. I’m glad I remember him now: I liked seeing him, brought me back a sense of childhood and of being different even before I could name it. I also think that b/c the show was set in SF, I began to develop an association between SF and queers—and here I am! Thank you Jim J!

  • Monstro The Whale

    I don’t think ever played Monroe as gay — he played him as a SPAZ. And it was funny. His effiminate qualities were thrown in ofcourse – but people watching in Too Close For Comfort’s heyday were more astounded by his energy and clowny spazzy character.

    I was called ‘Monroe’ by a few close fahhag in highschool. Go figure. ‘Gay’ was still the thing that dare not speak its name in suburbia circa 1982.

    I also really liked the TCFC’s army camoflage and head-band wearing dyke-prototype character of APRIL played by Deena Freeman. She rocked hard.

  • lifeofthecity


    slow news, fast news day…you’ll still be as cynical i bet….you’re such a twat

  • Cam

    I remember how offputting it was to me, how gay Monroe was on the show, and then they tried to have him have a girlfriend later, I was very little and didn’t quite get why the character bugged me. I had a similar feeling when Anthony on Designing Women had a series of Vegas/stripper girlfriends….it’s like. Yeeeeaaahhhhhh, Riiiiiiiight.

  • BobP

    What about Nancy Culp as Miss Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies? We can’t leave her out.

  • Sarah

    I was a kid and I knew Monroe was gay…and Monroe helped shaped my sense of humor. Thank God for that.

  • marius


    Even the Hillbillies writers gave Miss Hathaway a crush on Jethro.

    That was believable. I’d take Cousin Bessie over him.

  • Joanaroo

    Thank you for this article. I liked Jim J. and watched T.C.F.C. It’s a shame he had to work thru the homophobia of the 80s. Technology was being developed, yet attitudes about gays went back to the Salem witch hunt days. Glad to see Jim J. again.

  • Mike

    Great article! A perfect change from some of the other crap that is posted on this blog.

  • nina

    Great article- substantive and uplifting as well. Thanks

  • hephaestion

    That clip with the Captain & Tennille on Jim & Tammy Faye’s show had me crying. I had no idea Toni Tennille was a big friend of the gays. It was very moving.

  • mikebuc

    Thanks for the memories. Absolutely love Jim J. Always envied his hair in the 80’s!

  • Marius

    Too Close for Comfort was on the air at pretty much the same time as Three’s Company. Monroe vs. Jack Tripper…something, anything there?

  • Brian JC Kneeland

    I remember Jm J Bullock – on the Ted Knight show.

  • Jeffrey Thomas

    And before Jim J Bullock there was Paul Lynde

  • Douglas Schlitz

    Thank God we have progressed since the dark times of the 80s and Reagan.
    Lots of progress to be made yet.

  • Ruth Winkler

    Its Jm. No “i” in the middle.

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