Other than the far-too-early deaths of two of my most influential heroes and inspirations, Gilda Radner and Madeleine Kahn (both, ironically, from ovarian cancer), I can’t remember when the world of funny women has taken such a monumental hit as this past month.
First Brett Somers, a delightfully bawdy dame I used to hurry home to watch every day after school on Match Game. She made me not only want to grow up and make my living making people laugh, but also showed me that hanging out with fabulous and outrageous gay men was definitely what I wanted to do with my life. The banter between she and Charles Nelson Reilly used to make me scream with belly laughter — even though I was just a little kid. In retrospect, I know now that my future aspirations were fully coalesced even then: Professionally, I wanted to be a comedy writer and actor, and personally, I wanted to be a fag hag. I am pleased to say that I have made good on both dreams, and interestingly enough both of my daughters seem to have followed my footsteps both into the arts and into the gay clubs. My youngest tootsie is even accompanying a darling gay boy to the Homecoming Dance next month — and trust me, the talk of MAC eye pencil and Christian Louboutin shoes is epic, even in hell. Hurray for being surrounded at all times by fabulous and loving gay men!
And as if the departure of Miss Brett to regions beyond was not hideous enough, we also lost Alice Ghostley last month, also a hugely important figure in the development of who and what I am. My friend, Billy, is making a film about the life of Paul Lynde, and I learned while editing the script that it was widely acknowledged in the business that Lynde had shrewdly appropriated Ghostley’s voice, her delivery, and her schtick and made it his own. But what is not so widely known is that she, in turn, had stolen it from the wickedly sardonic Eve Arden — the only difference being that Ghostley readily admitted her theft. There is nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants — as artists, we all do it. The difference is, only true genius will own it. Alice Ghostley was a true genius.
Miss Brett and Miss Alice…thanks for all the belly laughs and for all the dreams. You will be missed.