Having seen him on more YouTube clips than anything, as a brutal gay comedian, with a brilliant mind. I decided I would read actor Harvey Fierstein’s story if anything just because I am used to hearing his raspy scratchy voice. Listening to that in my head as I read his story made the whole thing very enjoyable. I am not going to lie, there is a lot of darkness and pain and lessons to learn, and hearing that voice also got me through those parts. From accolades of his writing the play Kinky Boots to Mrs. Doubtfire, this book itself is yet another great piece of his work, making it to the New York Times Best Seller list. Crack it open and you will know why.
From the preface, Harvey Fierstein lights up with his wit and keeps you entertained throughout.
“History may echo but never repeats. Humans struggle to get a recipe right twice in a row. I can’t count how many times I’ve had friends visit after a performance only to hear myself say, ‘I was better last night’. Of course I was better last night, I was younger, fresher, and had one less day of life clogging my brain. Most of all, it was last night.”
A plethora of stories have been penned and read about people’s lives that happened in Brooklyn. I suppose in these small neighborhoods of different ethnicity, you get the quirky and wonderful people that somehow bless our lives just by telling us about it later. Fierstein is a Jewish actor who lets you know he is gay very early in the book (we of course already knew). He tells wonderful stories of falling in love, not knowing even what it meant, what he was feeling, or where he was going to steer his life. He takes you from small theater companies to art school, to other theater companies, all with a whirlwind of wit, each page literally moves you into a different phase of his life, with sidebar comedic commentary that makes you enjoy the story, even if you feel like you never got to the end. It all feels like a bunch of loose ends and moving on. These themes are well worth the read, and the laugh.
If his story of learning about masturbation wasn’t enough to split your sides, or his dressing up as a horror film character (in drag), I would have to say his brief romantic re-enactment with the famed actor Richard Chamberlain is reason enough to read this book. I would not do it justice to explain it, just read the book, and you will believe it, only because no one could make something like that up, except that Harvey Fierstein did make it up, then made it happen.
He takes on his emotional dichotomy of the gay rights movement and gets involved at a young age and then mentions the Stonewall Riots. He talked about his friends in the theater company not wanting to rock the boat, but that going back into the closet was not going to work for him as retreat was not acceptable. As a “Taxpaying American Citizen” and thus, he had a right to everything else offered to any heterosexual citizen.
Fierstein brings up about being gay and about Stonewall, and the way Harvey tells it, it reached me differently than any other readings of the historical event or a gay man’s journey. As a straight man, I love hearing stories from the gay community, and that is why I do this, but after reading Harvey’s, I felt in any way I can relate even more, at least to have more empathy to the rest of my wonderful queer family by reading his memoir, his experiences.
I also see my own life, as a kid growing up in the ’80s, and early ’90s, seeing how brave my friends were, in coming out and being honest about who they were. I gained so much respect for them, seeing how my friends were able to stand on the shoulders of people like Harvey Fierstein and those who were at Stonewall. Something I never really could have learned on my own, but to see it through his eyes, hearing it in his raspy voice as if he was Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof (one of his great performances), just laying it out there gave me more to appreciate about all my LGBTQ+ friends, present and future.
By the time he talks about Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway becoming the enactment of the struggle for gay rights, I had already walked through some of his other great stories, wonderful laughs, and scandalous insights of “Behind the scenes” of the Broadway actors’ world, he continued to enlighten me about religious leaders, and gay clergy. The things I wish weren’t true when I was religious, all just kind of come full circle to make me smirk. The entire chapter came to a pinnacle of anxiety and laughter when he shared a quote from Ethel Merman about the show, “I thought it was a piece of shit, but the audience laughed and cried, so what the fuck do I know?” I asked myself, “Did it really happen that way? Is this real or fiction?” Who cares, it is brilliant storytelling, at its finest.
He talks about his performances in different Broadway shows. Harvey Fierstein is one of the best Broadway performers alive right now, if not in the last 50 years. One that stood out, because I was such a fan of Divine over the years, was his storytelling of Hairspray, explaining why he wanted to do it, and what it meant, not just to do Divine justice, but to give a view of women breaking out of the “Hausfrau” world. In Hairspray, it was the young daughter doing that for her mother.
I have read a thousand Rock & Roll stories from musicians, producers, and even record executives. I love those stories, and the blessing of living those moments through proxy has been wonderful. Harvey Fierstein manages to deliver the same enjoyment of the world as a Broadway actor. This is a book for anyone in the LGBTQ community to enjoy as it is the telling a story of a young gay kid who went through a million wonderful moments to become the best at what he does. You don’t have to love the theater to enjoy this memoir as this book has more than enough to keep you entertained and inspired on so many levels.
In closing, he shared some great pieces of his life with us, but the best advice he gave in the pages of his book, “Look back, Just don’t stare.”
Your amazon basket is waiting for this one.