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June 16, 2008

Upcoming Biography of Vito Russo

Sorry I haven't posted anything since last week. Recently, I've spent most of my time researching info for interviews I've been having with Michael Schiavi in New York. Michael is putting together a biography of Vito Russo who wrote the groundbreaking book "The Celluloid Closet" which chronicled how gays and lesbians have been treated by hollywood through the years. The book was turned into a movie in 1995 and starred Lily Tomlin as the narrator. Ms Tomlin was also a very good, personal friend of Vito's. Vito and I were partners and fellow activist in the Gay Activist Alliance in New York City in the early seventies and he was one of the most unique, gregarious and loving people I've ever known.

Vito's concern over how LGBT people were presented in the popular media also led him to co-found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a watchdog group that monitors LGBT representation in the mainstream media and presents the annual GLAAD Media Awards. The Vito Russo Award is named in his memory and is presented to an openly gay or lesbian member of the media community for their outstanding contribution in combating homophobia.

When Michael initially contacted me, I didn't know who he was or what his ultimate intentions were and I wanted to be sure that whatever information I gave him about Vito would be used positively so I asked him a few questions. In response, he said:

"I've been fascinated by Vito for 20 years. In 1987, as a closted and terrified college freshman, I accidentally discovered THE CELLULOID CLOSET. I can't tell you how much comfort I received from knowing that someone was out there writing about both homosexuality and film (my other major passion, then and now).

Three years later, out and proud--due in no small measure to the self-respect I got from THE CELLULOID CLOSET--I learned that Vito had died. I remember standing in my dorm room, reading the obituary in tears, feeling that I'd lost a cherished uncle. It's one of my biggest regrets that I never got to tell Vito what he and his work meant to me.

Ever since, I've been curious to know more about him. It astonishes me that there is no full-length biography of this pioneer in the GLBT movement and in film studies. During the past year, I discovered Vito's papers at New York Public Library, where it's been a joy to learn of his life. I've also been interviewing dozens of people who knew or worked with him. I have to say, after 10 years of being a professor, I've never so enjoyed, or felt more personally connected to, my research."

Since then Michael has conducted over a hundred interviews for the biography and I have gotten to know him a lot better. There is no doubt in my mind that I can trust his honesty, integrity and intentions and I've come to personally respect him a great deal. Michael is taking a sabbatical from his teaching duties to concentrate solely on Vito's biography.

I'll keep you posted when more information is available.