Meet the Parents
"I wish we had spoken about it much more," Robert De Niro told Out magazine, referring to his father's sexuality. Not that the late artist Robert De Niro Sr. kept his gay life hidden. But he never had a heart-to-heart talk about it with his famous son.
Here, to mark the birthday of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, are 14 stars who had loving but sometimes complicated relationships with their gay moms and dads.
The two-time Oscar winner grew up with two moms, her biological mother Evelyn—called "Brandy"—and Evelyn's partner. Jodie herself came out in a cryptic but moving speech at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards, in which she addressed her mother, who was suffering from dementia:
"Mom, I know you're inside those blue eyes somewhere and that there are so many things you won't understand tonight. But this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you."
"When you grow up, your heart dies," said her character in "The Breakfast Club." Now well into her 50s, Ally Sheedy— whose mother Charlotte and daughter Rebecca are both lesbians—is proof against that statement. "It's difficult for me to understand a family member judging or not loving or accepting another family member because they are gay," Sheedy has said, adding that it all comes down to a simple question: "Do you love that person or not?"
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro Sr., who died in 1993, was a distinguished painter who saw both his art and his homosexuality as an "affliction." He wrote in his journal about his struggles ("I am past the point where I can walk the streets looking for a gallery or a lover"), as documented in the 2014 HBO film "Remembering the Artist," actor Robert De Niro's loving tribute to his father.
Inspired by Rosie O'Donnell's decision to come out as a lesbian, Russo gave a shout-out to her own gay mom during a 2002 "Good Morning America" interview: "I'd like to say that when I was born—oh, I'm going to cry, but this is for you, Rosie—my dad left, and it was women in my life that were gay that raised me and that helped me and nurtured me."
The women who raised Dorothy Dandridge fell short when it came to nurturing. Her mother, Ruby Dandridge, pushed Dorothy and her sister onto the stage when they were small children. Ruby's partner, Geneva Williams, made them practice until they dropped. But Dorothy, often compared to her friend Marilyn Monroe, grew up to become the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, for 1954's "Carmen Jones."
"I feel very happy for my dad that he has come to a point in his life where he feels safe and/or comfortable enough to declare himself in a public way as a gay man," Jennifer Grey told People magazine in 2015, when her father, Oscar winner Joel Grey, came out at the age of 82. "To love who you love," the "Dirty Dancing" star added, "I think it can only be a good thing."
As a kid, the future Motown legend was often teased about his father, Marvin Gay Sr., who was rumored to be homosexual. Asked if the rumor was true, his wife said she wasn't sure. "He liked to wear my panties, my shoes, my gowns, even my nylon hose," she noted. When Marvin Gaye (who added an "e" to his name) performed on "Midnight Special" in 1974, his father showed up in drag. Ten years later, he shot and killed his famous son during an argument,
Photo by Jim Britt
"I am, to say the least of it, bisexual," the British actor Michael Redgrave told his writing partner when they were working on his autobiography. In the end, they left that part out of the book. His daughter Vanessa (seen here in 1966's "Blow Up") has also kept quiet on the subject. But in 2011, her daughter Joely Richardson stepped forward to deny the claim in an unauthorized biography that Vanessa once walked in on her father in bed with her husband.
"What my father especially taught me was to not always take the safe road, the easy road," she said of her dad, Tony Richardson. Married to Natasha's mother, Vanessa Redgrave, from 1962 to 1967, the Oscar-winning director was bisexual, though he kept that private. He died of complications from AIDS in 1991, some 18 years before Natasha's death following a skiing accident.
"If there was ever a bigger pansy than my father, it was Marcel Proust," writes Alison Bechdel in her acclaimed graphic memoir "Fun Home"—the inspiration for a long-running Broadway musical—which combines memories of her closeted gay dad with her own lesbian coming-of-age story.
After Steve Forbes' father died in 1990, OutWeek magazine ran a cover story titled "The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes"—and Donald Trump outed him again in "Trump: Surviving at the Top." While running for president in 1996, Steve Forbes (full name: Malcolm Stevenson Forbes Jr.) subtly alluded to his dad's sexuality. "My father had his life." the conservative candidate said, adding, "You don't have to approve of something that someone does to have compassion and love."
In her 2001 memoir "Call Me Crazy," published a year after her high-profile breakup with Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche claimed in graphic detail that her father sexually abused her. Yet she has also said that he had "a very flamboyant homosexual lifestyle" before his AIDS-related death in 1983. Anne has long been estranged from her mother, who offers Christian counseling purported to "cure" homosexuality.
Photo by Hannes Magerstaedt
Married four times, most famously to Judy Garland, Vincente Minnelli was openly gay when he directed musicals in New York. "But when he came to Hollywood, I think he made the decision to repress that part of himself," said biographer Emanuel Levy. Although she was five when her parents divorced, Liza remained close to both of them and once noted, "My mother gave me my drive, but my father gave me my dreams."
Her parents were vaudevillians in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, but the family relocated to California when Frances Gumm—later known as Judy Garland—was five years old. The reason for the move: Word was getting around that her father had been coming on to male ushers. Decades later the Advocate would refer to the "Wizard of Oz" star as "the Elvis of homosexuals"—the ultimate gay icon.
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Many of them flourished, but before the advent of LGBT pride, it wasn't always easy