Homosexuality and Hollywood

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 21, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, my newspaper column this week, currently posted on BillOReilly.com, I make the case that the success of the "Brokeback Mountain" movie is partially due to its gay theme. Hollywood sympathizes with gay rights, and this movie humanizes homosexuals.

The film is nominated, as you may know, for eight Academy Awards, but even though it's being celebrated in Hollywood, the gay theme continues to be dicey.

Joining us now are two actors who have seen that firsthand. In Los Angeles, Tab Hunter, the author of the book "Confidential." And in our New York studio, Harry Hamlin, currently starring on the TV series "Veronica Mars." Mr. Hamlin says playing a gay character in the 1982 movie "Making Love" hurt him.

How so, Mr. Hamlin?

HARRY HAMLIN, ACTOR: Well, it wasn't exactly painful, but after having done that film, I have not done another studio picture in 20-some odd years. Which is not to say I regret in any way having made that movie. I think it was a film that was very timely. It was about a sub culture that the media was not paying any attention to, and I was very happy to be a part of it.

O'REILLY: Now, you think the fact that you played an aggressive gay character. And before that, you of course were on "L.A. Law" and a leading man type of person. Do you think they Hollywood execs say we can't put a leading man into a romantically heterosexual guy? Do you think that's what it was?

HAMLIN: Well, I think that Hollywood today remains somewhat of a cowboy town. I was a leading man at the time -- a young leading man on my way up. I think if they were casting a film and they wanted somebody to play a heterosexual male lead, they'd probably say wait a minute, that guy was just gay in that movie, and the audience is going to get confused.

O'REILLY: But that's not going to happen to Gyllenhaal and Ledger, the two guys nominated for acting awards in "Brokeback Mountain," I don't think. So have things changed in Hollywood?

HAMLIN: Absolutely they've changed. It's been 20-some-odd years. There's been so much media attention to the gay culture. It was a subculture in those days. Now it's much more in the mainstream. And I think the AIDS epidemic created a great amount of empathy.

O'REILLY: Sympathy, yes, I agree with that. All right. Mr. Hunter was in the real-life position, whereas Mr. Hamlin was in a movie position of being a homosexual, but the nation thought you were the big heterosexual leading man guy.

TAB HUNTER, ACTOR AND PRODUCER: Well, you know, I never put any emphasis on anything other than the work. I was very private. I didn't want anyone to know anything about my life, what kind of life I lived. It was nobody's business. I was brought up that way with a very strict, German, religious mother that said, you know, nothing for show, nothing out there.

Today, of course, that seems to be very in your face. But of course, the media and I think television had an awful lot to do with that.

TV brought gay individuals into people's homes and made them a part of the family and made them very human people, which they are, but they showed a lot of the flamboyant side of that. There are millions of people who are not flamboyant who are just sexually different.

O'REILLY: Sure, I mean, "Will & Grace" and these kind of shows have main streamed it. But really, when Rock Hudson came out and had AIDS and all of that, people were like stunned, Rock Hudson. Tab Hunter. I mean, these are big, big idols, heterosexual idols. And I submit to you that if people known you were gay in the '50s when you were ruling the box office, they wouldn't have gone to your movies.

HUNTER: Not necessarily, because three or four major times, they would have been presented. "Confidential" magazine, I made the cover three times with four stories.

O'REILLY: But people in Omaha, they didn't know about it.

HUNTER: Yes, they knew about it. They buy it like we buy The Enquirer in the supermarket.

O'REILLY: They said Tab Hunter, we're not believing it. You were a great actor.

HUNTER: I don't know about that. I had to serve my apprenticeship somewhere.

O'REILLY: But look, if you were to come out to "Confidential" magazine or Luella Parsons or any of these people and say, "Yes, I'm a homosexual"...

HUNTER: I could never have done that, Bill. I was the most frightened person in the world.

O'REILLY: They wouldn't have cast you as a leading man anymore. That's the ticket, that's the point. You and Rock Hudson couldn't have gotten those roles.

HUNTER: I will say the whole face of the industry has changed. And it's so in your face today. You know?

O'REILLY: But I don't think a gay leading man could play a heterosexual leading man. I don't think so, a real gay guy.

HUNTER: Oh, please. Oh, God.

O'REILLY: Name one. Name one heterosexual leading man who can play — who's really gay and get away with it.

HUNTER: What about Heath Ledger? I mean...

O'REILLY: He's not gay.

HUNTER: No, but he plays a wonderful...

O'REILLY: But I'm telling you, it's really.

HUNTER: But it's all about acting. That's what it's about. You view yourself as a human being.

O'REILLY: I don't know. Mr. Hamlin, do you agree with me that an outwardly gay actor, say — I'm not going to name names. I don't know them. I don't know.

HUNTER: I don't either.

O'REILLY: But if everybody knows somebody is gay and then they put him opposite Jennifer Aniston in a romantic comedy, it's not going to go.

HAMLIN: I think audiences more than likely would resist that, even to this day.

O'REILLY: They would.

HAMLIN: I hate to say that, but I have a feeling we're not ready for that yet.

HUNTER: I don't know. I just don't know.

HAMLIN: I hope it was the other way, that Mr. Hunter was right, but you know, I have a feeling we're really not there yet. Maybe we will be in 10 years.

O'REILLY: No, trust me. It would not happen. Because people want to believe what they see on the screen.

HUNTER: Not that they believe what they see on the screen. They want to believe what they want to believe.

O'REILLY: But they want to believe that a Tab Hunter and a Harry Hamlin are actually romancing the girl.

HUNTER: But you are.

O'REILLY: But you're not if you're really gay.

HUNTER: But it's all Hollywood. It's all make believe anyway. It's all a lot of B.S., as you know.

O'REILLY: Go ahead, Mr. Hamlin.

HAMLIN: I believed that, too, when I made "Making Love." And I'm an actor, a repertory theater actor. I played this role, thinking, well, I'm just playing a guy, I'm playing a role, and I'll be able to get away with this. People won't confuse me with the person that I'm playing.

It's so weird that when you play a role that has a different sexual orientation, they seem to cross over, and they don't get it. You could play an ax murderer or you could play a rapist or whatever and get away with that, but for some reason when you cross the sexual boundary, it makes a difference.

O'REILLY: I'm with you.

HUNTER: That is a good point because they do associate you, though, basically with what you play on the screen. I mean, they do.

O'REILLY: They do.

HUNTER: They do.

O'REILLY: And they want to believe it. They want to believe it. But we are in a different world. And Ledger and Gyllenhaal aren't going to be hurt, I don't think. I think that picture will win.

HUNTER: They had wonderful performances.

O'REILLY: I want everybody to buy "Confidential," Tab Hunter's book, because it's really interesting. And "Veronica Mars," I have to say, we like that program.

Mr. Hamlin, thank you very much.

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