Remembering Prolific Pornographer Robert Prion

I once heard Robert Prion described as “The Ed Wood of gay porn.” It makes a great punchline, but it’s not quite true. Prion was 69 years old when he passed away on March 28th at his home in Woodbridge, New Jersey. It’s a house that porn fans are well acquainted with, as he filmed over 70 full-length adult films there over the past 40 years.

Prion is survived by his lifelong partner, who appeared in his films under the name Jay Richards.

Robert Prion was born on July 1, 1952 and lived in Woodbridge his entire life. A 1970 graduate of Woodbridge High School, Mr. Prion was employed for many years in the meat department (how fitting!) at Foodtown.

In 1982 Prion released The Boys From New Jersey, the first of 12 films produced throughout the decade. The spirited performances of his skinny and hung cast shone through the muddy fidelity of the VHS home video recording. The films were also elevated by their kickass soundtracks featuring the songs of Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order and other new wave hits of the day – copyrights be damned. There was plenty of spandex, stone washed high-rise jeans, crop-tops and mullets. Lots and lots of mullets. These movies act as a time capsule of 1980’s mall culture – you can almost smell the Drakkar Noir when you watch them.

Prion shot scenes in every room of his house, from the low-ceilinged basement to the vaulted attic. Additionally, he filmed in another structure on the property that appeared to be either an elaborate children’s playhouse or a bungalow for little people. Coupled with low camera angles, his performers always seemed to be in danger of hitting their heads in the claustrophobic spaces.

Jay Richards and Karl Thomas (1990)

And yes, there was the pool area – a New Jersey approximation of the traditional California porn set, although the sun never seemed to shine on Prion’s pool and the tiki cabana appeared to be a season away from collapse.

Prion was aware of his place in the porn world: his studio was called New Jersey Trash.

His motto seemed to be “more is more.” Rather than the traditional porn layout of 4 or 5 sex scenes per feature-length film, Prion would cram in 7 to 9 – often starting off with a quick group oral scene before the end of the opening credits.

Bijou Video Catalogue Ads for Suckulent and Men Who Dare (1987)

Prion with Chip Ryan in Powerdrive 500 (1990)

Whether or not his performers identified as straight, they put that aside when the cameras were rolling and gave performances that (for the most part) were far above average. It is the quality (and quantity) of these scenes that kept fans coming back for more, despite low production values and questionable design tastes. Many of the models appeared in over a dozen Prion films, indicating that they were treated favorably and/or well compensated.

Prion retired from performing in front of the camera by the mid-1990’s, but his partner Jay Richards continued delivering versatile, if perfunctory, performances in all 70+ Prion films.

In January 1995, Prion formed his own production company, Galaxy Pictures. His first film for the new company was Men Matter Most. With the advent of DVDs, Prion repackaged and re-released his earlier films. With those and subsequent releases, he would take advantage of the “multiple angles” DVD feature to include whole other bonus sex scenes. Unfortunately, these “easter eggs” are now inaccessible with today’s DVD viewing practices.

His biggest discovery was Rick Thomas, whose real-life older brother Dane also appeared in a handful of Prion films. They were among his stable of stars who always brought their “A” game, including Eric Carter, Vincent DeMarco, Bryon Rogers, Antonio Vegas, Jon Dante, Alex Turner, Wicked, Cody Marshall, Titan, and Chris Collins, aka “The Mystery Stud” who appeared in over a dozen films and never took off his sunglasses.

Prion benefited from his close proximity to New York City. Big name adult film stars making personal appearances in the city could hop on New Jersey Transit and earn some extra cash for a day’s work. Some porn stars who ducked through the low Prion doors: Jon King, Joey Stefano, Karl Thomas, Marc Andrews, Terry DeCarlo, Eric Stone, Todd Stevens, Rick Pantera, David Grant, Storm, David Thompson, Kevin Alexander, Jason Nikas, Scott Matthews, Ryan Raz, Scott Spears, Brandon Aquilar, Tommy DeLuca, Chris Stone, Kurt Morgan and Aaron Lawrence.

Terry DeCarlo on the old Christopher Street Pier in Put It Where It Counts (1993)

Prion’s dizzying output of films began to slow after 25 years although he continued to repackage and re-release older titles in online platforms, where many are still available for viewing. His last movie was released in 2014. See below for a list of all his films.

Robert Prion Films (including compilations):

  1. The Boys of New Jersey: 1982
  2. Friends Are Best: 1983
  3. Men Grip Tighter: 1983
  4. Cum and Get It: 1984
  5. Boys Do It Better: 1984
  6. Guy’s Just Can’t Stop: 1985
  7. The Young Stimulators: 1985
  8. The Wild Guys: 1986
  9. Men Who Dare: 1987
  10. Suckulent: 1987
  11. Addicked: 1988
  12. Raw Impulse: 1989
  13. Ultimate Desires: 1989
  14. Powerdrive 500: 1990
  15. X-Posed Images-The Naked Truth: 1990
  1. Untamed Seductions: 1991
  2. Uncensored: 1991
  3. Hidden Instincts: 1992
  4. Total Impact: 1992
  5. 19 Good Men: 1993
  6. It’s Raining Dicks: 1993
  7. Solid Intake: 1993
  8. Uncle Prion & His Young Men: The Best Of Robert Prion: 1993
  9. Up Close & Sexual: The Best Of Robert Prion 2: 1993
  10. What A Man’s Gotta Do: 1994
  11. Put It Where It Counts: 1994
  12. Men Matter Most: 1995
  13. Pushing The Limit: 1995
  14. Power Grip: 1995
  15. Everything A Man Wants: 1995
  1. Point Of Entry: 1996
  2. Natural Response: 1996
  3. Whatever It Takes: 1996
  4. Unexpected Persuasion: 1996
  5. Drive Shaft: 1997
  6. Every Man’s Desire: 1997
  7. Can’t Say No: 1997
  8. Nothing Else Matters:1997
  9. Don’t Hold Back:1997
  10. Pushover: 1997
  11. Stop At Nothing: 1998
  12. You’ve Got The Touch: 1998
  13. Make It Count: 1998
  14. Relentless: 1998
  15. One Way Or Another: 1998
  1. Shameless: 1999
  2. Any Way I Can: 1999
  3. Let’s See What Happens: 1999
  4. Aim To Please: 1999
  5. What Guys Want: 1999
  6. Best of Robert Prion 1 – Give and Take: 2000
  7. Best of Robert Prion 2 – Outdoor Seductions: 2000
  8. Best of Robert Prion 3 – Three In The Sack: 2000
  9. Best of Robert Prion 4 – Mix and Match: 2000
  10. Best of Robert Prion 5 – Video Virgins: 2000
  11. Best of Robert Prion 6 – Superstars: 2000
  12. Going Too Far: 2000
  13. Every Inch Of Him: 2000
  14. If You Dare: 2000
  15. So That’s How You Want It: 2000
  1. One Step Further: 2000
  2. Don’t Stop There: 2001
  3. Qualified To Satisfy: 2001
  4. I Want More: 2001
  5. Never Stop The Urge: 2001
  6. I’m Your Guy: 2001
  7. Over The Edge: 2002
  8. Take It All: 2002
  9. Natural Impulse:2003
  10. Doin’ The Nasty: 2003
  1. Return The Favor: 2003
  2. Teasin’ N’ Pleasin’: 2004
  3. From Every Direction:2004
  4. Access All Areas: 2005
  5. Standing Firm: 2006
  6. All Men Should: 2006
  7. Back Door Advances: 2007
  8. Prion’s 69 More To Cum aka That Sucks: 2007
  9. Can I See It?: 2008
  10. It’s Only Natural… Daddy: 2014

We extend our condolences to Jay Richards and the friends and family of Robert Prion.

See also:
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2021
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2020
Costello Presley and 80’s Gay Porn Guilty Pleasures

The Lion In The Emerald City: Promise Of A New Day

Eagle’s calling and he’s calling your name,
Tides are turning, bringing winds of change
Why do I feel this way?
The promise of a new day…

Paula Abdul still reigns supreme on Lite-FM, if my trips to the pharmacy and grocery store are any indication. Her #1 hits from the Forever Your Girl LP are still in heavy rotation there, yet her chart-topping follow up album, Spellbound, seems to have been forgotten along with its two #1 hit singles: “Rush, Rush” and “Promise Of A New Day.”

“Promise Of A New Day” – the lead track on the album – was my unofficial theme of the Summer of 1991. Not the edgiest choice, but it perfectly captured the energy I felt as I moved into my first New York City apartment. I picked up a used promo CD of Spellbound at St. Marks Sounds and played it as I hung posters and organized my books and records on unstable milk crate shelving units.

So I wasn’t a rebel through and through, but I loved the East Village. I felt like I belonged there more than anyplace else, even if I was content to spend most nights in my apartment getting acquainted with Robin Byrd and leased access television rather than going over to Avenue B to watch GG Allin roll around in his own poop.

I previously wrote about my first professional theatre job as the Cowardly Lion on a children’s theatre tour. It was a big adventure with a little romance and a lot of angst as the tour drew to a close. Most of the other cast members had theatre jobs lined up for the summer, while I was about to wake up on the black and white side of the rainbow with no prospects other than crawling back to Carle Place Tower Records and asking for my job back.

I had to get to Manhattan. It was looming in the distance like the Emerald City. As I wrote in another post about this period… Dorothy may have been happy to go back home, but the Lion, with his newfound courage, stayed in Oz.

It turned out that Glinda the Good Witch didn’t have a job lined up, either. She lived in a women’s hotel on Gramercy Park South but was ready to make a move. When she suggested that we find an apartment together, I jumped at the chance.

I knew this might not be a perfect fit. Glinda’s nickname on the tour was Eeyore – partly because she carried the stuffed animal around with her, but also because it matched her personality. She was a lumbering sad-sack with a constant cloud of doom over her head. It was much more amusing when we were on tour than while apartment hunting in the summer heat.

We looked at one apartment after another – she would hem and haw and say that she needed to think about it. Any halfway decent place was taken by the time she made up her mind. In the meantime, she continued to live in the women’s hotel while I kept schlepping into the city from Long Island. This went on for almost two months.

By the time I found the apartment on East 6th street and Avenue A – a converted 2 bedroom in a 5th floor tenement walkup for $750 a month – I felt that this was our last chance. If she didn’t go for this one, then I needed to come up with an alternate living situation. Perhaps she sensed that this was the end of the line, because she agreed fairly quickly and we got it.

There was a clause in the lease – a standard apartment lease – that says something about the tenant being responsible for carpeting 80 percent of the floors to reduce noise for the downstairs neighbor. When we asked the landlord about this on the day of the lease signing, he started to laugh. A little too long. Then he simply said; “Don’t worry about it.”

Our first night in the apartment, we were startled awake by the blood curdling screams that sounded like a woman being attacked. This quickly escalated into a shrieking, incoherent babble that echoed inside and outside the building. I immediately thought of Kitty Genovese and the nightmare of urban apathy. It abruptly stopped before we could find the source. We soon learned that the neighbor right below us had frequent schizophrenic episodes – usually in the middle of the night, although they would happen at any time. So no, we did not need to carpet our floors to limit our noise for the downstairs neighbor.

Despite its flaws, I loved that apartment. It was above this derelict bar called the Cherry Tavern. 20 years later, the NYU kids were lining up to get in. We had no door buzzer so visitors would have to call from the pay phone on the corner – this was pre-cell phone, of course. One of us would have to walk down all those flights to let them in. The floors in the apartment were so slanted that we had to put a 2×4 under one end of the kitchen table to keep it level. The ceiling leaked. The exposed brick wall in the living room was actively crumbling. Anything placed near it was subjected to a coat of debris.

Our living room furniture was purchased by chance at a garage sale on moving day for a total of $8: a $3 wood coffee table with a wobbly leg and a $5 foam couch which folded out into a bed. Suddenly, we had a guest room.

Unfortunately, the couch would collapse sideways if you leaned on the armrests. Our heavy foot lockers were placed on either side to act as end tables as well as bookends.

Before the move, I had started working in the city. Technically, it wasn’t a telemarking job, but it was pretty close: trying to persuade doctors to take part in phone conferences sponsored by drug companies. My friend worked there and made tons of money in commissions. He loved it.

Two weeks after the move, I was fired. My success rate wasn’t high enough.  I didn’t have a strong, assuring voice that was able to convince doctors that spending an hour on a conference call talking about Cardizem was a particularly good use of their time.

I tried not to panic. I had bills now. REAL bills. Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Hit the Village Voice want ads. I applied at St. Mark’s Sounds, which would have been my dream job if the $4.25 an hour they paid would cover my expenses.

My next job was a temporary night time position filling laundry carts at the Midtown Sheraton Hotel. I was in charge of the 36th through 50th floors, filling housekeeper’s carts with freshly laundered sheets, towels, little shampoos and soaps. I climbed a lot of stairs. I never saw any guests or housekeepers. It was solitary work but it paid well.

Although this was supposed to be a three month position, I was let go after three weeks. Was it my earring? It had been suggested that I not wear it to work, as the head of housekeeping would not approve. But I never SAW anybody while I was working, so I left it in. I crossed paths with her one day, and was let go at the end of my shift.

On the plus side, I had acquired a linen closet full of Sheraton sheets and towels and a year’s supply of sundries.

I had to remind myself that I didn’t move to Manhattan to be a housekeeper or telemarketer. I continued to audition but that went about as well as the employment prospects.

Meanwhile, Glinda was having her own issues. She was in full Eeyore mode: Unhappy in her day job. No theatre job prospects. No social life.  She would stay in bed all day watching television with the lights off in her windowless room. I tried to include her when I went out with my college friends, but she complained that we all talked about the past and she felt left out. She became increasingly petty and jealous.  She was not the kind of person who would be happy for me when I got a job or a callback audition or went on a date. Her first response was always some variation on “Why don’t I have that?” She also seemed quite pleased when the job, callback or date didn’t work out for me. Years later she was diagnosed as clinically depressed and went on medication, but we didn’t know about that at the time.

One day I came home, opened the apartment door and walked into the Amityville Horror. She had painted the 5’x5’ entryway high gloss blood red. But she didn’t do it carefully. There were red spatters on the black and white tile floor and red smears along the ceiling. It looked like a slaughterhouse. If she had ever mentioned that she wanted to paint, I certainly would have helped… first and foremost by explaining that a simulated bloodbath in the vestibule might not give guests a favorable first impression.

In late August, I got the call from the children’s theatre company that had done our Wizard of Oz tour. They were lining up their Christmas shows – would I like to do a New England tour of Babes in Toyland? Hell yeah. Of course, Glinda was not happy, because they didn’t call HER. And now she would be living with a subletter.

I needed two months of employment to get me to the start of the tour. My sister worked in the main office of the Petland chain of pet stores and directed me to an open position at their 14th street location. I would clean out the bird room every day – scrubbing bird shit off the cages with a wire brush. I learned how count out bags of 20 live crickets, and how to hold mice by the tail, flick them on the head to knock them out before feeding them to the snakes. Every day I acted like this was my career choice – nobody knew I was just biding my time.

I was barely making enough money to get by. I still feel a little queasy when I see those cheapo Table Talk individual dessert pies, which were 50 cents each. The Wendy’s dollar menu was also a big treat. And I was in New York City! I was sitting in Union Square eating my sad little lunch rather than a suburban mall parking lot. One day I watched Harvey Keitel film a scene from Bad Lieutenant and then went back to work and sold a bag of live crickets to Ellen Greene. Besides, I knew I would be back onstage and out on the road again soon. I was a New York City Actor now, with my own apartment to come back to.

One of my favorite memories of this period was a hot summer evening when I took my dinner plate of spaghetti out on the fire escape to catch a little breeze. I was wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, eating off of a paper plate, while five stories below was the rear garden of a pricey Swiss restaurant on 7th street – an early sign of how the neighborhood would eventually change. A string quartet serenaded the outdoor diners.  Every once in a while, one of them would notice me, up on my perch. They would point and whisper to their dinner companions while I pretended not to notice.

In my head, I heard the tremulous voice of Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch saying “It’s all right… it’s just one of the little people who live in this land…”

I didn’t care. I was as happy as a clam on my city balcony with the Empire State Building off in the distance. I felt like I was exactly where I wanted and was supposed to be. I had come to the end of one road and felt a sense of accomplishment, knowing how hard I worked to get there. There was a whole other adventure up ahead, but for now I was in the East Village, and I was home.

Alexis Arquette’s Lost Porn Flick

Hard to believe that it has been 5 years since the dynamic actor/actress, performer, reality television star Alexis Arquette passed away. The youngest member of the Arquette clan was just 47 years old.

Fun fact: 12 year old Alexis was featured in The Tubes’ music video for She’s A Beauty.

Days after Arquette’s demise, the streaming site XHamster released a statement where they pat themselves on the back for executing a “catch and kill”: allegedly paying $25k to acquire and destroy a sex video peddled by one of Arquette’s ex-paramours. In a blog post about it, KennethInThe212 points out that: a) it seemed like XHamster was pulling a publicity stunt, b) if they were protecting Arquette, why mention a video that nobody previously knew about, and c) how could a sex tape embarrass the free-spirited Arquette, a person who gave zero fucks about other people’s sexual hangups?

When I read about this alleged sex tape, I was reminded of something I had not thought about in years: Piccadilly Pickups, the 1999 hardcore gay porn flick that Arquette appeared in, and that I had seen it at a screening in New York City with Arquette in attendance.

I read an article in the November 5, 1999 issue of The New York Blade about the MIX Film Festival, which featured experimental works. Arquette was hosting a part of the festival called “The Honcho Midnight Blue Movie Series,” which featured midnight screenings of Andy Warhol’s Couch along with other titillating avant-garde fare. Next to this article was a second one detailing Arquette’s recent foray into gay porn, as the resulting film, Piccadilly Pickups would also be shown.

In 1999, Arquette was still publicly identifying as a bisexual male. He was an indie film darling – a member of Hollywood royalty who dared to push the envelope with unconventional film roles and an outspoken personality.

I was intrigued… so I went to the screening at midnight on Saturday, November 13, 1999. Surprisingly, it was, as advertised, a full-on hardcore gay porno. Unfortunately, it was not a very good one. It wasn’t particularly erotic and the attempts at campy humor fell flat. There was also an extended sequence with a character in blackface. Arquette appears in and out of drag as Henri de la Plus Oooh Aaargh, a wealthy American who wants to exploit the hero of the story. The climax of the film is a group sex scene with Arquette joining in.

Hard to stay gender neutral here, but at one point in the group scene Arquette bends down and sucks their own dick. In the audience at the screening, there is applause. Arquette, in drag, goes on to fuck one of the twinks before producing a climactic money shot which also garnered an enthusiastic audience reaction. And that’s about all I remember about this forgettable film.

A few times throughout the screening Arquette, in the audience, drew laughter with comments about the action onscreen, but I was not sitting close enough to hear this real life version of MST3K.

After the screening Alexis got up, took a modest bow and said a few words, leading off with “I know it’s not exactly Citizen Kane.. but thank you for coming.”

And then the film vanished. Although there is an IMDB listing, I was unable to find any reference to the film online for many years, which is odd, because even the vaguest whiff of a mainstream actor appearing in anything close to porn is recycled and re-discovered across the internet repeatedly. (see Stephen Geoffreys, Simon Rex or even Sylvester Stallone, just to name a few.)

Recently a cut of the film popped up on gay torrent and streaming sites. This watered down version appears to have come from a UK DVD release, which is edited like cable porn: Still an X but not XXX. The autofellatio, penetration and money shots are gone, so why bother, really?

Arquette was a favorite subject of Hollywood photographer Greg Gorman, including some nudes featured in his 2004 book As I See It.

Arquette would go on to become a vocal activist and visible leader in the transgender community. The diversity and complexities of this fearless artist should be remembered and celebrated, even if Piccadilly Pickups is not.  

The Tin Man and the Lion: Unanswered Prayers

Every once in a while I find myself accidentally humming a Garth Brooks song called “Unanswered Prayers.” The gist of this 1991 country hit is that the singer runs into a girl he was in love with in high school. Back in the day, he prayed to God Almighty that they would stay together for the rest of their lives. Now he sees that time has not been kind to his old flame. He compares her to the hot babe he’s now got on his arm and thanks the Lord that he wasn’t saddled with that old mess for all those years. It’s really quite touching and heartfelt…. unless you are the first Mrs. Garth Brooks. He divorced her to marry Trisha Yearwood.

My life was at a crossroads when this little ditty was all over the radio. I was touring the country in a children’s theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. Previously, I had been working at Tower Records on Long Island and feeling rather lost after being cut from two different drama schools in the previous two years. I felt like I had twice slipped off the launchpad of my illustrious theatrical career. So there I was at 22 years old: depressed, living at my mother’s house, treading water in the old familiar pool of a record store.

One day at work I got a phone call from a former classmate who was now stage managing children’s theatre tours. He was calling to say that they needed a last-minute replacement for The Cowardly Lion on a Wizard of Oz tour, and could I be in Philadelphia to start rehearsals, tomorrow?

I had just come out of a meeting with my supervisor in which he told me I was doing an excellent job and if I kept up the good work, I would be moving up the record store hierarchy very soon. Now I had to go back into his office to clarify that the pro-company bullshit I had just shoveled at him was no longer relevant, and that he should start spreading the news, ‘cuz I’m leaving. Today.

I took off my polyester vest with the yellow and red name tag, headed down the yellow brick road and never looked back.

The 10 days of rehearsal were a blur. This was my first paying theatre gig, hired sight unseen and thrown in with people who actually auditioned and were cast in this show. I was a wreck. I hadn’t sang or danced in almost a year. I felt like I would be discovered as a fraud and fired before we even left Philly. Luckily I was playing the Cowardly Lion, so channeling that nervous energy wasn’t a broad stretch. I didn’t exactly transform into Bert Lahr, but I held my own. I worked my ass off to prove I belonged there. And it worked. Nobody had a clue how I got the job.

We hit the road and I soon learned that traveling in a non-union theatre tour is quite a unique experience. You get to know each other intimately in a very short period of time. Relationships develop. Alliances are formed and broken. It has all the drama of a reality show like Survivor or Big Brother, but in a van. This can be a nightmare situation with the wrong combination of people, as I would find out on subsequent tours. But this cast gelled well, onstage and off.

There were 9 of us floating from town to town – a microcosm in Glinda’s bubble. Together we weathered bad hotels, truck-stop food, common colds passed around the cast. We went to museums in Chicago, partied on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, broke down outside of Memphis, hit the beach in Miami, and got drunk… everywhere. We played venues ranging from a church basement in North Carolina to the opera house in Cleveland. I had never been to any of these places – some I still wish I could revisit, others I have no desire to see again.

The Tin Man caught my eye from the first day of rehearsal. Beneath the silver makeup was a golden boy: a blond-haired, blue-eyed dancer with a perfect rack of sparkling teeth. Truth be told, the boy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, and his singing voice…. well … it was kind of amazing: he had this uncanny ability to sound both sharp and flat at the same time.

But the boy had charisma. And when he started to dance, he lit up the stage. Your eyes would just go to him. It didn’t matter who else was there.

Besides his moves and physical appearance, he really was a golden boy in every way – a  positive energy that just lifted me up and made me feel good. I tend to dwell in darker places, so this rather simple ray of sunshine totally captivated me.

Yes, he was simple. That needs to be mentioned. There was no deep thought process going on there. Let’s just say he was unencumbered with a lot of brain activity. I tend to get stuck in my own head so this was the breath of fresh air I needed.

It’s such a cliché – the blond hair, the blue eyes… I’m sorry but I totally fell for it. Given my dark coloring and more cerebral tendencies – not that I was curled up in the back of the van reading poetry, but I knew the difference between Proust and Juliet Prowse – the whole “opposites attract” factor worked in my favor.

My odds of nabbing the Tin Man were certainly helped by our situation. But we did have an undeniable rapport – everyone could see what was going on between us before anything physical actually occurred. And it did. Before long, The Tin Man and I decided to take ourselves out of the cast’s hotel roommate rotation and shacked up together full-time. 

As the tour moved on and we passed through state after state, I began to meet different people from the Tin Man’s life. Ex-boyfriends, a potential new boyfriend he had put on hold until after the tour, the best girl-friend from home who had been in love with him since 8th grade…. with each new appearance, I’d get pushed aside until we headed to the next town. I’m afraid I did not react well to these situations, as I was reminded that the boy could have anyone he wanted, so why stick with me, other than the fact that I was on the tour? 

The thing was, he played the helpless card pretty well. There was a dependence on others that worked like a charm, whether counting change or picking out clothes to wear. He needed to have someone there to pay attention, to help, to do things for him.  I mistook this for a dependence on ME until I realized that this parade of people that passed through had all been in the position I currently held, and they were only too happy to jump back into that role when given the opportunity.

One day, I was having a conversation with the Wicked Witch, fairly oblivious to the feelings she may have had towards me. She was incredulous when I expressed my envy of our Tin Man. She was thoughtful for a minute and said, “Don’t you see? He is like… dessert. He’s strawberry shortcake. It’s delicious. Everyone wants it. But you can’t live on that. No nutritional value. You are……… a baked potato. It’s sturdy. A staple. It’s good for you. It’s not as showy as the strawberry shortcake, and people might not think to go for that initially – they want to go right for the dessert, but the baked potato is better for them.”

Now… I have repeated this to people through the years and it is always interesting to gauge the different reactions it elicits. Some perceive it as a total insult. Others “get it.” At the time she told me this, I got it. I understood what she was saying. It was not what I wanted to hear. I just wanted to continue gorging on the fucking dessert. But I got it.

Ah, the pain of hearing things you know are true but don’t want to hear. I remember, toward the end of the tour, we were in some Super 8 dive bar and the Tin Man slipped some money in the jukebox, which then started playing the aforementioned “Unanswered Prayers.” He was laughing and boozily sharp/flat singing it to the Wicked Witch. And she’s looking at me. And I realized that, as painful as it was to admit, the tour was ending and the golden boy would be gone. There was never any delusion that we would continue on together after the tour was over.  He had another theatre job lined up and I was…. what the hell was I going to do? Go back to Tower Records?

I was scared to death. This band of friends, this lifestyle that I had grown accustomed too, making a living doing what I loved… well, a children’s theatre version of it, anyway… it was all about to go away. This trip to Oz had opened my eyes to the possibilities of my life. And very soon I was going to land back in my own black and white Kansas. I didn’t want to wake up from my Technicolor dream. Wasting time in a suburban record store was no longer an option.

The tour ended, as they do. I got an apartment in New York City with Glinda the Good Witch – you can read more about that transition here. I was hired back for a Babes In Toyland tour with the same company that fall. It was a total nightmare. But while in rehearsal, I did meet The Scarecrow from another Wizard Of Oz tour. He was not a golden boy, but he did have a certain glow… He also had a brain and appreciated the value of a baked potato. We were together for 9 years. 

The Tin Man and I did end up working together again in summer stock the following year. By then, the spell had been broken. I had grown a lot and he had not. I saw him for the shallow, needy person that he really was. Yes, my heart would still flutter when he would gaze with those baby blues and smile that thousand-watt smile, but now they just seemed like tools in his arsenal: tactics to lure in the next “devotee du jour.” It was not necessarily calculated – just second-nature for him. I don’t think he had the capability to put that much thought behind it, even if he wanted to.

So he turned his attention elsewhere. And as I watched him work his golden magic on someone else, I’d hear the faint strains of a familiar song…. “Some of God’s greatest gifts… are Unanswered Praaaayers.”

UPDATE: This story was a topic of discussion on Episode 518 of the Scriptnotes podcast. You can hear their discussion of whether this piece would work as a TV show at the 43:00 mark. (Click here)

1991: Homo Alone

In May of 1991, I completed my first professional theatre job – playing the Corwardly Lion in a national children’s theatre tour of The Wizard Of Oz. It was a whirlwind experience full of laughter, adventure and romance that ended as soon as I was dropped back into my parent’s house on Long Island. I felt just like Dorothy – unsure if what I had just experienced was real or a Technicolor® dream.

The Cowardly Lion on the road: Spring 1991. This photo is featured in Dee Michel’s 2018 book Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love The Wizard of Oz.

While Dorothy may have felt that there was no place like home, if you think about it… the Lion, with his newfound courage, remained in the Emerald City.

I was determined to stay connected with New York City – my Emerald City – and continue my life as a working actor. I purchased a Long Island Railroad ticket for the month of June to ensure that I would go into the city to audition, search for a job and find a place to live.

The Wicked Witch from the tour had mentioned that her sister was curating an evening of performances called Homo Alone in the East Village on June 3rd. She suggested that I go see it and be sure to introduce myself.

So I hopped on the LIRR, a homo alone, to go see Homo Alone.

My own journal from the time reads:

Just went and saw 3 performers – somewhere between single-person one acts and stand-up comedy…. I’d love to do it. This journal would serve me well up there. Hmmm…

I then continued to write for 6 pages pining for the tour that had just ended and planning out my transition into NYC. But I remember how the performances that night made me feel: this was where I belonged, in a little theatre in the East Village, getting up in front of people with a notebook full of stories. To speak in my own voice with confidence and… yes, courage. To trust that what I have to say is unique and worth sharing and maybe even funny or touching or meaningful. Hopefully some combination of all those things.

By the following month, I had found a job and was sharing a leaky 5th floor walkup on East 6th street with Glinda The Good Witch. By the end of the summer, I had lost the job and Glinda turned out to be a clinically depressed nightmare person, but another tour loomed in the Fall and I was on my way. I had made the move to the big city and the life that I was looking for.

Fast forward to 1998: I read David Sedaris’s Naked and absolutely loved it, so I picked up his previous book Barrel Fever, which I had somehow missed. A fbarrel feverew pages into “Parade,” the first story in that collection, a light bulb started to flicker on: I know this story. How do I know this? I didn’t read this… I have heard this. Where did I hear this? Wait. This was the guy from Homo Alone. Back in 1991. That was David Sedaris reading onstage that night. 

I mean, how do you forget the tale of a guy who breaks up with his boyfriend Charlton Heston to start dating Mike Tyson and then one night after strenuous sex, he accidentally swallows Mike’s gold teeth?

Something like that stays with you.

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David Sedaris does the laundry in his Astor Place apartment on June 28, 1993 (Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

In 2017, when David’s selected diary entries were released in book form as Theft By Finding, the first thing I did was flip to June of 1991 to see if there was any mention of that night, but it skips from May 15th to June 22nd. It was interesting to read about this period of his life though: he had moved to NYC the previous October and worked at SantaLand in Macy’s that Christmas. In 1992 he would gain national exposure reading “The SantaLand Diaries” on NPR.

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Later in 2017, my partner Chris and I went to see David read at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a sold-out multi-night engagement. He is known for meeting and autographing books for every single person who is willing to wait in line to see him after his readings. This can take hours.

When it was my turn to get my book signed, I stepped up and launched into the statement I had waited 20 years to say: “In June of 1991 I saw you at some little place in the East Village in an evening of solo performances called Homo Alone and you read the story about Mike Tyson out of a notebook….”

He said “Oh. It wouldn’t have been a notebook.”

I redirected. “Uh… it might have been a notepad. Or some papers. I’m not sure but I always remembered that night.”

He didn’t. “You have a really good memory.” He said without looking up from signing my book.

I mean, what did I expect to happen? Was he supposed to throw his arms around me and exclaim “My GOD that was a magical night! Your laughter and applause meant so much to me! And here you are! My biggest fan! After all these years!”?

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And yes, my memory might be good, but it’s not GREAT, or I would have also remembered that “the little place” was The Club at LaMama and  another one of performers that night was Lisa Kron, who would go on to win two Tony Awards for the book and score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

The third performer, Dominique Dibbell, has also had an impressive career. Kudos to Heidi Blackwell for collecting this trio.

I only know all this now because I unearthed the original program & promotional postcard from my mother’s basement this summer. And while I cannot say that I have a flawless memory bank, I will accept being called “A pack rat with decent recall.”

Note the “Thank You” to David’s partner Hugh Hamrick. According to Theft By Finding, they had only met three months prior. “This spring” David wrote, “I am, if I’m not mistaken, in love.” 29 years later, they are still together.

Had I unearthed this program sooner, I could have gone up to Lisa Kron at the 2015 preview of Fun Home that I attended – one of the most memorable Broadway experiences I ever had – where she and Alison Bechdel were sitting two rows in front of me. I could have said “I saw you with David Sedaris in 1991 and I don’t remember what you did but I know I really liked it and now I think you’re awesome!”

Lisa Kron with her two 2015 Tony awards for Best Book and Score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

But I didn’t. And again, what is the anticipated reaction? What do we expect of people we admire when we reach out to them? When the shoe is on the other foot and someone mentions that they were moved by something that I did or wrote, I am grateful… but I don’t have a proper response other than to just say “Thank you.” It can easily become an awkward exchange, but the impulse is strong to make a connection with someone whose work motivates us and/or makes us feel something.

The next time I attend a David Sedaris reading, I will bring that old program along to show him and say; “I was at this show. You read Parade and I never forgot it. You inspired me to write. Thank you for all your work over the years.”

Maybe then I will get a different reaction. Then again, maybe not: