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The Bijou Chronicles Steven Toushin
I Love You, Joan Crawford: Gay Men and Their Big Ladies, PART ONE by Madame Bubby
by Madame Bubby
2014-10-15

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The other day while on the subway, I heard two male high school students ( not sure if they were gay ) debate the respective virtues of Beyonce and Adele.

Diva worship is apparently still alive everywhere, not just in the gay community!

But what's the real scoop on the cliched gay obsession with Joan Crawford and other dead or superannuated movie stars, or as movie mogul Jack Warner put it more bluntly, "old broads," the language he used when referring to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

These larger than life ladies, and others like them, have always enjoyed large gay male followings.

So my question is: Is the "big lady" and her gay entourage now a stereotype of a campy, closeted culture of the past, in which diva worship, according to many cultural critics, was an elaborate "covering" dynamic for gay men's profound social and psychological insecurities?

The September/October 1977 issue of In Touch Magazine, in those early days when the magazine offered an array of cultural features, offers a tribute to Joan soon after her death, and, most significantly, before the now-notorious book and camp cult classic Mommie Dearest came out.

This article pretty much rehashes many of the claims made about the late movie legend, such as director George Cukor's paean to her face, "that extraordinary sculptural construction of lines and planes," her superlative ( and some might argue, obsessive ) projection of stardom, and her continual reinvention of her image.

She was the vibrant jazz baby; the assertive shopgirl who made good and got her man while fighting for her rights; the stylish, glamorous, yet suffering and vulnerable femme fatale; the Gothic horror queen.

Gay men found in these personas something they could identify with in their own struggles for individual identity and social respect.

For gay men, Joan was the star and, for many, still is the star—that luminous, glamorous figure swathed in furs and jewels, kind of a fairy queen, remote but also approachable. Joan was approachable, even if she did supposedly get dressed up to go to the grocery store; she answered every fan letter personally, sustained relationships with fans, and she would even thank you for a thank you note! "Goodbye, Joan" is the title of the article, and the author once again quotes the gay George Cukor, who expresses disbelief that the legend had actually died.

Joan, of course, lives on in the movies and a caricature of her lives on, as well; the wire-hanger- and can-of-cleanser-wielding monster of Mommie Dearest becoming one of the biggest gay camp icons ... ever. And a new generation can still see her ( if they want to ) on Turner Classic Movies, on DVD reissues, and on YouTube.

But do the "old broad divas," especially Crawford, with their larger than life personas, over the top ( to many eyes and ears these days ) characterization and dialogue, and often striking personal and professional flaws and vulnerabilities, really appeal to today's smoothly tech-savvy, more easily assimilated gay man?

www.bijouworld.com .


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