Sunday, March 4, 2012

Out Spotlight

Today’s Out Spotlight was one of the first primetime television actors to come out, doing so four years before Ellen Degeneres. She helped pave the way for a new, more open gay-friendly shows during the 1990s. An actor, activist, and director today’s Out Spotlight is Amanda Bearse.

Amanda Bearse was born on August 9, 1958 in Winter Park, Florida, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where her family has deep roots and Young Harris College, a small northeast Georgia liberal arts school. She began acting in high school and college productions and left Atlanta for New York City, where she studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, honing her craft.

In 1981, she moved to Los Angeles and studied directing at the American Film Institute and the University of Southern California.
Her first break in the television came with a role on the ABC soap opera All My Children, where she played Amanda Cousins from 1981 through 1984. She was cast as part of the show's attempt to increase its young viewers by adding new young actors and storyline. During her run on All My Children she appeared in a string of independent and B-movies in such films as First Affair (1983) and Fright Night (1985). Fright Night, a comic-horror classic that she co-starred with William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, and Roddy McDowall, became a surprise hit and attracted a cult following.

In 1987, she was cast in a new syndicated series called Married . . . with Children on the FOX Network. The show, an irreverent look at the dysfunctional life of a working-class American family, the Bundys, was a twist on the traditional television sitcom.

Bearse played the family's tightly-strung wacky neighbor, Marcy Rhodes D'Arcy. The show, which was the FOX's first regular sitcom, became a cult hit and ran from 1987 to 1997. It continues to be widely syndicated.

Although Bearse has referred to the show as a "Road Runner cartoon," she has also expressed gratitude to it for giving her a second career that sustained her after the sitcom ended. It was on Married . . . with Children that she began directing.

During her growing acting career, Bearse lived openly as a lesbian. She became involved in a two-year affair with comic Sandra Bernhard, which alerted the tabloid media to her sexual orientation, and in 1991 The Globe printed a story outing Bearse. Though she paid little heed to the tabloid exposés, they did cause her to begin to think seriously about coming out on her own terms.

In 1993, Bearse and then-partner Amy Shomer adopted an infant daughter, Zoe. Her new role as mother gave her yet another reason for public openness about her personal life.

Although she had never hidden her lesbianism from colleagues and friends, she was aware of the ways that the closet limited choices and enables oppression. Purposely choosing the time right before National Coming Out Day in October, Bearse publicly came out in an interview in the September 21, 1993 issue of The Advocate, where she also encouraged other gay celebrities to use their fame and position to increase gay visibility.

In the interview, Bearse expressed relief at having been outed by the tabloids. "The outing really was quite a freeing experience. . . . That one thing, that one big secret is out. For a lot of people, it was just a confirmation of what they thought about me. I mean, I look like the girl next door, but I was always kind of off-center."

Her decision to come out in 1993 (four years before Ellen came out) carried considerable risk. No primetime actress had previously done it. However, Bearse had an advantage that encouraged her to take the risk: she was supported by her colleagues on Married . . . with Children.

As she remarked at the time, "I've been very fortunate. I'm supported by the people I work with. I'm on a hit show. I just renegotiated my contract: It was completely up, and this was a time when they could have easily cut me loose. Fortunately I'm valued there as a person, as an actor, and as a director. Being lesbian is a nonissue on the show."

Bearse's coming out had little negative impact on her career. She continued acting and began increasingly to work behind the camera as well, directing over 30 episodes of Married.... with Children between 1991 and 1997.

She also has directed episodes of Reba, Mad TV, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, Malcolm & Eddie, Pauly, The Tom Show, The Jamie Foxx Show, Dharma & Greg, Veronica's Closet, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Jesse (starring her former Married... with Children co-star Christina Applegate), and Ladies Man. In 2005, she directed The Sperm Donor, a pilot for NBC starring Maggie Wheeler and In 2006, Bearse teamed with Rosie O'Donnell to direct The Big Gay Sketch Show, that debuted on Logo on April 24, 2007. Her comedic sense and timing that she had as an actress is also characterized in work her as a director.

Though her only lesbian acting role to date is Marcy D'Arcy's gay cousin Mandy on a 1997 episode of Married . . . with Children, Bearse being out was referenced to in another episode of Married...With Children titled "Breaking Up is Easy to Do (Part 2)" where Al and Peggy were separated and in the process of a divorce. In the episode the first instance occurs when Marcy bursts into the house after the Bundy’s initial separation and starts to sing about Al leaving, ending her song in "I've never felt so gay." The second reference came soon after as she sat next to Peg who was suffering from being alone. Peg looks to Marcy and comments about how much she likes her boyish haircut with a sly smile.

Bearse has continued to be a strong advocate for gay rights and gay parenting issues. She was part of a 1995 Advocate profile of gay parents, and, in 1997, brought public attention to lesbian custody issues when her partner at that time, Dell Pearce, a TV commercial producer, was involved in a custody dispute with a former lover.

In the late 1990s she began to work as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, and she has remained a strong supporter of the LGBT community’s visibility and National Coming Out Day, saying "It's harder to discriminate against a face than an abstract." She has also served as a "Gay Games Ambassador," signing on to help get the word out about the Gay Games in Chicago in 2006.

In 2010, Bearse and Carrie Schenkman, a Seattle businesswoman, married in Vermont. The spouses commute between homes in Atlanta, where Bearse has long lived and where her daughter attends high school, and Seattle, where Schenkman lives with her daughter.

In addition, she spends a great deal of time in Los Angeles, where she works on a number of projects.


Jersey Tom said...

NHLers helping to end homophobia in hockey
Chris Johnston, The Canadian Press

...First, it's Rick Nash. Then Duncan Keith, Brian Boyle, Matt Moulson, Joffrey Lupul, Claude Giroux, Daniel Alfredsson, Scott Hartnell, Corey Perry, Andy Greene, Dion Phaneuf and Henrik Lundqvist.

As each of the NHL players repeats a simple message in a powerful public service announcement released Sunday, they add their voice to a growing movement aimed at creating a level playing field in the sport, regardless of sexual orientation.

It's the brainchild of Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. He created the "You Can Play" project to help eliminate the homophobic culture found in some corners of hockey.

In doing so, he called on powerful allies to help get the message across — and more than 30 NHL players responded by taping spots that will air throughout the remainder of the season.

"The messages are very simple, yet meaningful," Patrick Burke said in an interview. "It's variations of the idea that all they care about is winning, all they care about is having the best teammates and it doesn't matter if the best teammate happens to be gay or straight.

Wow some really good things going on. Sure is nice.

Special K said...

That's great about the NHL.

It's great to see.

destiny said...

That is great about the NHL Tom.

I always forget about Amanda. Didn't know she'd become a director. It was great of her to come out back then, although it was probably a bit easier for her than some because she was a character actor, and she had the directing to fall back on.

curtain call said...

Jesse Tyler Ferguson ‏ @jessetyler

One of my fondest memories of being in the play "8" last night will be Brad Pitt whispering to me: "Jesse, how do you do a curtain call?"

the real m said...

Good work by the NHL. I like the message.

Slow news weekend for Jake and I've been overrun with chores so not much else to add. I did put 8 on and had it going on my computer while doing other things so got most of it. A bit too detailed for me with all the things I had to do this weekend but now that its on youtube I can watch it again when I have some more relaxed time.

prairiegirl said...

I love that all of those actors participated in "8".

Enjoyed this OutSpotlight, too. I remember her barely - I didn't watch that show but I knew who she was.

destiny said...

That's cute and sweet about Pitt whispering to Ferguson. For those who may not know, Ferguson has done a lot of theater.

tweet said...

SergeiBezrukov (@SergeiBezrukov)
3/4/12 10:56 PM
Jake and Maggi Gyllenhaal,
Just had dinner with family and friends at Mari Vanna,

Special K said...

Sounds like Bay Area got a little shake this morning.

Austin said...

The final season of One Tree Hill starts in the UK today on E4. Please let me know how many of you are going to watch.