Dan Savage’s The Kid and 5 Other Gay Memoirs That Went Big

If you hadn’t heard, Dan Savages’ gay adoption memoir The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend And I Decided To Get Pregnant is now an Off-Broadway musical. Even though the NY Daily News called the musical “a boring baby that needs to grow up” we haven’t snagged a ticket just yet. So while waiting for the box office to open we found five other gay memoirs adapted for stage and film. They’re crawling with bisexual Berliners, hateful elves, and gaylebrity gossip. But even better, if you don’t wanna read the originals, you can always just watch them in a theatre. It’s CliffsNotes for the cultured set.

The Berlin Stories (1946)

AUTHOR/DATE OF BIRTH: Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood, August 26th 1904

ADAPTED INTO: a play entitled I Am a Camera by John Van Druten (1951) and a film of the same name (1955)

HIS MEMOIR IS FAMOUS FOR: providing a thinly-vieled and homo-erotically encoded chronicle of Isherwood’s life in Berlin just before WWII. In it Isherwood says, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” He then goes on to provide a conversational yet melancholy view of Berlin’s “cafes and quaint avenues, grotesque nightlife and dreamers, and powerful mobs and millionaires” just as the Third Reich ascends to power.

THE PLAY IS FAMOUS FOR: inspiring the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret and the subsequent 1972 film of the same name with Lisa Minelli. In it, Minelli plays the inimitable Sally Bowles, a cabaret performer at the Kit Kat Klub who befriends and seduces Brian Roberts a reserved English writer she suspects of being gay. The film follows their lives and the fate of the club as the Nazis come to power. The film won 8 Academy Awards and Minnelli continues to perform the title song “Cabaret” at most of her concerts.

AUTHOR QUOTE: “To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you – from the cradle to the grave and beyond – which it would be easy, fatally easy, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command.

“Wake up, wake up – before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whisky, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity.” (source)

BONUS NUGGET: Another Isherwood memoir Christopher and His Kind will soon open in London with the 11th Dr. Who playing the lead.

The Santaland Diaries (1992)

AUTHOR/DATE OF BIRTH: David Sedaris, December 26th 1956

ADAPTED INTO: an NPR broadcast (1992) with Sedaris reading the essay himself and a one-man, one-act play of the same name adapted by Joe Mantello (1996)

HIS ESSAY IS FAMOUS FOR: launching Sedaris’ career. Sedaris worked as “a penniless, gay, would-be soap opera writer working as an elf named Crumpet at Macy’s mega-department store on Herald Square in New York” and excerpted his diaries from that time into a radio essay for NPR’s Morning Edition. It was an immediate success with listeners and eventually got him a job writing monthly segments for NPR as well as a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company.

THE PLAY IS FAMOUS FOR: being the ultimate in holiday entertainment for people who see Christmas for the shallow, mean-spirited orgy that it is. “He makes fun of disabled children, failed hygiene and sexual impossibilities that have nothing to do with goodwill toward men. There are fistfights, vomiting and shoals of bad behavior and worse language at play on this stage.” It has since “become a seasonal staple of regional, college and high-school theatre.” (source)

AUTHOR QUOTE: (From the essay) “The woman in charge of costuming assigned us our outfits and gave us a lecture on keeping things clean. She held up a calendar and said, “Ladies, you know what this is. Use it. I have scraped enough blood out from the crotches of elf knickers to last me the rest of my life. And don’t tell me, ‘I don’t wear underpants, I’m a dancer.’ You’re not a dancer. If you were a real dancer you wouldn’t be here. You’re an elf and you’re going to wear panties like an elf.”

BONUS NUGGET: Recently, 26-year-old indie director Kyle Alvarez agreed to turn Sedaris’ essay “C.O.G. (Child of God)” from his book Naked into a film.

My Trip Down The Pink Carpet (2008)

AUTHOR/DATE OF BIRTH: Leslie Jordan, April 29th 1955

ADAPTED INTO: a staged reading of the same name (2010)

HIS MEMOIR IS FAMOUS FOR: revealing how a gay boy from Chattanooga, Tennessee with only $1,200 sewn into his underwear made a successful career in commercial and television acting. The book has a funny, upbeat tone, gossipy stories about Boy George and other celebs, and recounts Jordan’s triumph over alcohol addiction. Off the page, Jordan is probably most famous for his role in Will And Grace as Beverley Leslie, Karen’s short effeminate rival who briefly dates Jack.

HIS PLAY IS FAMOUS BECAUSE: it’s presented by Lily Tomlin and her partner playwright Jane Wagner. It’s basically a staged reading with the author narrating segments from his autobiography. Variety says “Jordan achieves the evening’s most effective moments by dropping his shtick, however briefly… [when he] recalls standing before an aud of straight AA members and confessing that he’s terrified of them [in a] a too-brief period of vulnerability.”

AUTHOR QUOTE: “To this day, I still write in my diary nightly. Most of the entries deal with my current crush. You would not believe how I gush and carry on (Well, maybe you would. I am an infatuation junkie. Like most gay men my age, I have no earthly idea how to love in a healthy and blessed manner. I only know how to obsess…

“But who can fault us? When all those red-blooded heterosexual males were slowly learning the fundamentals of flirting and dating in junior high, finding healthy ways to deal with all that teenage-love shit, where were we? Where were the queers? We were hiding out within the confines of our big secret, that’s where. We were locked in the recesses of our own minds, forlornly sitting in the back row of homeroom, creating fantasies in our head.”

Tales of the City(1978)

AUTHOR/DATE OF BIRTH: Armistead Maupin, May 13th 1944

ADAPTED INTO: a TV series for Channel 4 UK (1993) released on US TV via PBS (1994)

HIS MEMOIR IS FAMOUS BECAUSE: the book and its six sequels provided a realistic chronicle of life in San Francisco from 1978 to 2007. The characters included a weed-growing landlady, a bisexual dad, a hetero lothario, and a thinly-veiled representation of Rock Hudson. Maupin’s books were among the first American fiction to deal with the AIDS epidemic. Tales of the City has since been translated into 10 languages.

THE TV SHOW IS FAMOUS BECAUSE: “The homosexual themes, nudity, and illicit drug use in the miniseries… gave PBS its highest ratings ever for a dramatic program.” They had to pixelate actors’ junk ust to put it on public broadcast. Uptight US feds threatened to cut funding if PBS helped produce a TV sequel. PBS caved but UK Channel 4 eventually teamed up with Showtime to produce More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001.

AUTHOR QUOTE: ” …the notion of people who’ve narrowed their focus to only write books for a gay audience for gay people about gay people is stifling to me; in some ways, it’s another form of the closet, as far as I’m concerned. I think Jerry Falwell must be very happy with those little cubby-holes at the back of book stores that say ‘gay and lesbian’ – it’s a warning sign, they can keep their kids away from that section. I’d like people to stumble on my works in the literature section of Barnes and Noble and have their lives changed because of it.” (do yourself a favor and read the entire delicious quote right here)

BONUS NUGGET: Jake Shears and John Garden of Scissor Sisters just agreed to write and score a theatrical musical version of Tales of the City set to debut in May 2011.

Running With Scissors (2002)

AUTHOR/DATE OF BIRTH: Augusten Xon (yes, Xon) Burroughs, October 23rd 1965

ADAPTED INTO: a film (2006)

HIS MEMOIR IS FAMOUS BECAUSE: Burrough’s psychotic lesbian mom sends him to live with her looney therapist. Under the therapist’s roof, the 13-year-old Burroughs begins dating a 33-year-old man, having oral sex with him and using threats of “statutory rape” to control him. In 2005, the real-life therapist’s family filed suit against Burroughs and his publisher for defamation of character and invasion of privacy claiming that Burroughs had lied and exaggerated in his memoir. They settled out of court and Burroughs altered his book’s introduction to say that even though he and the family recalled the events differently, he thinks highly of them and means no harm by his depiction.

THE FILM IS FAMOUS FOR: “[shying] away from many of the sexual aspects of the book. The nature of Augusten’s first sexual episode with [the 33-year-old man] is different (the film does not portray it as a rape as the book does), the nature of Augusten’s discovery of his mother’s lesbianism is changed (this is presented in the film as the discovery of her kissing her lover, Fern (but in the book he walks in on them engaged in oral sex), and Deirdre accuses Dr. Finch of stealing from her, rather than raping her as in the book.”

AUTHOR QUOTE: “It was something. I’d never written anything beyond an ad, you know, that was long, and so by the seventh day I had finished the book. I didn’t know if it was a good book or a bad book, but I’d finished the book. And that’s really when my life changed. That’s when I decided, I’m going to do this the rest of my life. I’m gonna be a writer, I’ve just finished writing a book. Now, it may be a piece of shit, but that doesn’t matter, it’s 150 pages, and they’re in order—”

(More nuggets about writing and addiction)

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