Arts

Mart Crowley - 1935-2020

Andrew Rannells and other ‘Boys in the Band,’ old and new, remember Mart Crowley

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The Daily Beast

Date:
March 17, 2020

Mart Crowley, who died recently, made LGBTQ history with “The Boys in the Band.” Andrew Rannells and other actors from the 1968 and 2018 productions share their memories of him.

Two groups of actors knew the playwright Mart Crowley, who died on March 9, aged 84, very well: the two New York City casts of The Boys in the Band set apart by 50 years.

Below, Laurence Luckinbill and Peter White from the original 1968 production, and Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins, and Brian Hutchison from the 50th anniversary revival in 2018—which finally saw Boys on Broadway and winning a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play—remember what Crowley was like as a colleague, mentor, and friend; and evaluate what his larger legacy has been.

Joe Mantello, director of the 2018 revival, told The Daily Beast of Crowley’s death: “The entire company of Boys in the Band is heartbroken, but grateful for the time we all shared together.”

Crowley originally wrote the play—later turned into a 1970 movie—with the encouragement and financial support of his friend, the movie star Natalie Wood, who once employed him as her assistant.

The Boys in the Band helped revolutionize how gay men were seen on stage and in popular culture. Crowley’s play was the first to bring LGBTQ lives to the mainstream stage, focusing on a group of gay men gathering to celebrate a birthday party, and then launching into a dark night of many souls.

Their number includes Michael, who is throwing the party for his frenemy Harold. Hank and Larry are a couple facing questions of monogamy and fidelity. Emory is flamingly camp, which particularly upsets Peter, who seems to be a tortured closet case. Drama bubbles up, and out of control. Crowley said the play was a work of “truth” rather than activism.

When the play was revived on Broadway in 2018, it featured an all-star, all-out cast including Andrew Rannells, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons. This critic hailed the play as an “exhilarating” and “meaningful” snapshot of gay lives, written pre-the 1969 Stonewall Riots, even if some in the modern audience found the characters antic. A new Netflix movie of the play will be released later this year, co-produced by Ryan Murphy.

The interviews below have been edited for clarity.

 

Andrew Rannells, who played Larry, 2018

Mart was such a wonderful man. Joe Mantello emailed our cast about his death. Nobody knew he was having heart surgery, or even that he was sick. He carried himself with such ease and lightness. No-one had any idea.

In 2018, I was very nervous to meet Mart. The production was going to be the 50th anniversary, its first time on Broadway. I don’t think any of us took that lightly. We met first at a table-read, briefly. He was very sweet. Then we really spent more time together at a New York Times T magazine photo-shoot.

I was struck by how genuine and how thrilled he was by the whole experience, even though he had done so many incredible things. He was so joyful and pleased that Boys in the Band was happening again. It filled us with a lot of joy, and reiterated how special this whole experience would be for all of us. It set the tone for the whole production.

Mart made some cuts and tightened some things up. It was really incredible how little ego he had about changing things. You might think that after 50 years he would have said, “This is the script,” but he was so collaborative. It was exciting to watch. He just wanted it to be as good as possible. It was great to do on Broadway, and win a Tony Award—Mart got to see The Boys in the Band come full circle after all this time, embraced by a wider audience, and a gay audience who had once turned against him had swung back.

 

Laurence Luckinbill, who played Hank, 1968

I knew Mart for 63 years. We met at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, where I was a graduate student and Mart was an undergraduate student in the theater department. We connected over the fact both of us had Southern accents. His was much thicker than mine: he was from Mississippi, I was from Arkansas. I had tried to erase the accent because I was actor, and having listened to Laurence Olivier talk. Mart still had his Mississippi drawl. Both of us were raised Catholic and had been altar boys.

We didn’t have any classes together, and worked in two separate theaters—mine was for people considered to be heading to Broadway, Mart’s was more experimental. I would rather make things out of two sticks and a piece of cloth than anything fancy, so I admired him.

Three years after we met, he called me up from Mississippi, and asked to see me. I was visiting my aunt in Arkansas. There wasn’t much to do in a small Arkansas town. We visited the Dairy Queen, and we went across the border to Oklahoma, which sold cheap 4.2 beer. We were sitting beside a creek watching water moccasins drift by, like a Tennessee Williams play. We began to talk about families.

I was talking about my dysfunctional family, and Mart said, “You have no idea what’s going in my life.” He told me about a morphine-addicted mother and violently alcoholic father, and then he looked at me for help, and I did not know what to say. My experiences, even though traumatic to me, were far less than what he had undergone. He looked at me very strangely and got very close to me. I wondered what was up.

I thought I knew what might be on his mind. At university, he was part of a small group of people that other students and some professors even called “the queers.” He didn’t come out, and say he was gay. He couldn’t.

 

Tuc Watkins, who played Hank, 2018

I remember how incredible Mart was with words. When we opened The Boys in the Band he wrote personal emails to me and the other 8 cast members. It was incredibly thoughtful, and to have the anointment of a playwright like him going into doing the play was like having providence on your back.

The words were private, specific, and about the marriage of the character and the actor. It was incredibly meaningful as an arrow in your quiver.

We saw him in rehearsals in Los Angeles, in previews, and when the show opened, and during the run. I remember getting food with him at (New York theater-land boîte) Bar Centrale, and hearing his salacious stories of the Hollywood golden era. He was quiet, but very insightful. I felt he saw each of us as a performer. To feel seen as a performer is great.

 

Peter White, who played Alan, 1968

Mart was not a warm and cuddly guy, but he was when you knew him. You knew he was always there for you.

Initially I had a hard time fitting into the role. I’m not gay, contrary to what a lot of people say. I couldn’t get a handle on Alan, and suggested they release me from the role. But Mart told me that after I had come into read from it—this was after my agent and I had initially turned it down—he knew “that our Alan just showed up.”

I took the role after Myrna Loy—who I was starring with in Barefoot in the Park, playing very squeaky-clean—said I should take some risks and do it. I was thrown into a world I didn’t know and didn’t understand and hadn’t thought about. After Mart reassured me, the director Robert Moore said that Alan was the least written role, which Mart had either done intentionally or because he hadn’t understood the character.

That let me go. He told me, “What you’ve got to do is play that fine line, so half the audience thinks you’re gay, half thinks you’re straight, and they would fight each other over it.” People ask me that, even today, and I won’t say. I think you have to make that decision as someone watching the play.

I think Mart was aware how ground-breaking the play was. He went into this knowing he would be beaten down because of the subject matter. We all were when people found out we were doing it.

There was a big New York casting director who wouldn’t see any of us because of our association with it. We all lost our agents. The big difference between our production and the 2018 one—which was wonderful— was that ours was dangerous. The 2018 one wasn’t. In 1968, it was even dangerous for audiences to come see it, and see things that in real life they were being arrested for.

Back then, the subject matter terrified me, but I was more ballsy then than I am now. I thought it could kill my career. But it didn’t. I got attention, and a powerful agent. I do remember gay liberation activists coming and booing my character. And when all the other actors were invited to Studio 54 and various openings, I wasn’t—because of playing Alan. People were angry with me. They were angry to see me walk out of my apartment with a woman.

 

Brian Hutchison, who played Alan, 2018

Mart was so thrilled and excited that he got to see his play be revived on Broadway. He wanted to be involved with us, but at first was a bit back-footed about approaching actors because of something he was told earlier in his career (maybe that writers weren’t meant to talk to the actors, only the director).

We greeted him with open arms and lots of questions anytime we saw him. He was around the theater quite a bit and at some of the events and press and dinners. He came to our usual post show weekly meet up at Sardi’s and clearly was so touched to be part of the scene after the show opened to positive reviews. This play was so groundbreaking for its time—the first play to feature gay men, their lives, humor, struggles, addictions, and crippling inadequacies. When he was asked why he didn’t portray gay life more positively he’d say, “Back then, there was nothing positive about it.”

Mart was kind, and hilariously neurotic. Sometimes he had no filter and would say whatever was on his mind. He enjoyed gossip, and was touched we were all so interested in his play.

 

Laurence Luckinbill

In 1967, I was in Hollywood, struggling up the acting ladder. I was doing pretty well, and had finally managed to get myself on The Secret Storm, a soap opera. It was the most money I had ever made. I heard from Mart, he was in Hollywood, and was working for Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. He was boozing quite a lot, but in five weeks pulled himself together and wrote a play, which he brought to New York to sell.

No one would read The Boys in the Band at that point. People fled from it because it was so raucous and so honest, witty and sadomasochistic—all kinds of things that plays were not then, especially because it was about being gay. The characters were killing each other with kindness, and worse. Mart’s play was totally open.

He asked me to read it, then asked me to be in it. He was expecting me to say no, as many actors had, including gay actors. It’s hard to describe how shocking the subject material was in 1968 when the closet door was locked, and you came out of it at your own peril. It was a real thing. This was the year before Stonewall.

I said yes to him. He was my friend. I wouldn’t have said no. My agent said, “If you do this, your career will be at an end, and you’re just getting started.” She was a lesbian, married to a gay man. I said, “Well, I’m going to do it.” She said, “Well, OK, there goes your career.”

I did worry about my career after the fact. But people go to the theater to escape circumstances, misery, and to express themselves. Who more needs to do that more than people shunned by society?

I am a rebellious person. I hate authority. That’s been a feature of my life. I also grew up in a dysfunctional family. That tends to breed rebellion. I’m 85 now. That family stuff is all forgiven, but not forgotten. You learn through experience. It was the same for Mart, who wrote a lot of plays about family. My favorite was A Breeze from the Gulf. It did not succeed. It was similar to The Glass Menagerie, but not really. It was all about Mart coping with his terribly screwed-up parents. Like “Boys,” it has a character called Michael; he liked that name for himself.

 

Brian Hutchison

When it came to Alan, the discussion I had with Mart and Joe was that half the audience can think Alan is clearly gay and not comfortable with that, and at the party because he is leaving his wife. And the other half could think Alan is having marital troubles, and has come to see his old friend to talk.

Important to Mart was the truth of the moment on the phone at the end, with Alan saying truthfully “I beg you to forgive me… I love you too” and the audience believes he may go back to his wife.

I have my own thoughts on what I was playing—but those guidelines were helpful in terms of interpretation, since the vagueness of Alan’s future was desirable. I think he’s misunderstood and never gets the chance to truly connect because of the group’s (probably justified) suspicion of Alan’s presence. At the beginning it could really go either way. They could maybe accept Alan while he’s there and then enjoy the evening, but therein lies the conflict of the play.

I loved playing Alan and the complexities of being the conflict of the play—the audience’s eye in a way, the straight voyeur at times, baffled, intrigued, disgusted, but also trying to connect; the explosive moment of rage after being harangued by Emory who Alan deems the most flamboyant of all the men there, then the toll the Scotch takes over the course of the evening.

We did discuss who my character was based on, or I wondered if it was an amalgamation of a few different people he knew. He finally told me midway through the run, although I still feel like it was meant to be a secret and have to keep that close to my chest. I’m pretty sure he sent us all a personal email or more during the run—mostly a note of thanks for being in his play.

 

Laurence Luckinbill

Mart was a vulnerable guy and also a tough guy, just like Michael in the play. Mart is Michael. And for a long time he did what Michael did, which was to drink himself into oblivion because of the feelings of rejection he felt around being gay. That wasn’t made up at all. That was Mart’s life. Everybody in the play was someone I knew from our college and subsequent New York lives.

It is only my surmise, but I think Mart finally accepted who he was in his late 40s, early 50s, when he finally got sober and got counseling.

 

Andrew Rannells

We were curious who our characters were based on, and Mart told us they were composites of different people he had been friends with. I was fascinated to hear his stories. When he would hang out with us at Sardi’s after the show I would grill him about working on Hart to Hart, a show I loved when I was a kid, and so I asked a lot of questions about Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.

I was very struck about how Mart spoke about Natalie Wood as a close friend, rather than a movie star. That summer there had been a piece in the Times about her death, interviewing Natalie’s sister Lana, which was rather salacious, and for him this was just a terrible tragedy that had happened to a friend. Mart made us feel close to him, and made himself very accessible; not just for and to us but everyone in the recent London production too.

The Boys in the Band has a huge legacy. It was a huge success off-Broadway in 1968. Then by the time the film came out in 1970, the Stonewall Riots had happened. The gay rights movement was in its infancy, and there was a backlash against the play. For a lot of people, they didn’t want a show that put all these secrets out there. It showed an intimate picture of these men on one particular night, and how complicated their friendships were, and how much love there was in those friendships even though it sometimes looks like not-love.

 

Laurence Luckinbill

We first did “Boys” as a 5-day tryout workshop in 1968. We stepped on each other’s lines and didn’t know if there were laughs, if it was funny or not. The director told us it was “bumpy.” I wanted to play Michael, but Mart asked me to play Hank, who I think turns out to be the emotional center of the play.

The day after that first workshop opened, I was on my way to the bank, near the theater. I saw a huge crowd of people on the street, standing, talking to each other. I thought there had been a fire, but there were no fire trucks. Nearly everyone in the line was a man, and they were desperate to get tickets for the play, but there were none left. The guy at the box office was taking names to tell them what future the play had. It was shocking. Overnight, all these gay men had heard about the play. I thought, “This is social justice in action.”

It was the first time I ever felt that way about theater. I felt I had done something of real value, and it was right there in front of me. Gay people were seeing their own lives, and other people were seeing their lives and not judging them, simply enjoying them as humans.

The producers raised money for an off-Broadway production, one even mortgaged his house. The reason they took these risks was the same as activists today: they were not content to sit back and let people trash gay people. They wanted to get the truth out there, even if some gay activists criticized the play as about a bunch of whiners. But it’s just not about that.

Men made passes at me, I was a good-looking guy back then. But more than that, what happened then and still happens in Palm Springs now, is people telling me how much the play meant to them.

A Broadway lyricist once told me he was a law student when the film came out. He said he was all buttoned up, doing what his parents wanted him to do. He knew he was gay, but didn’t know how to tell anyone about it. Hank was the kind of person he saw himself being. So he went home and told his parents he was gay. They hugged him and told him they loved him. That was half of the stories; the other half were “They threw me out of the house, and I never saw them again.”

At that time, and still today, I thought being straight or gay wasn’t the issue. It was being human.

At first Mart didn’t know the importance of it. He was in shock at the reaction. The play itself was a lifeline for him; his way of saying, “I need to survive.”

Off-Broadway, we drilled a hole backstage to see which celebrities were in the sixth row every night: Groucho Marx, Jacqueline Kennedy, you name it. People rushed to see it because it was sensational. I left quickly every night, because I began rehearsals on the soap early every morning. One night, I came out to get my motorcycle, and there was a man in a black overcoat staring up at the marquee, moaning, clinging to the wrought iron railings. “Those boys, what is going to happen to them?” he asked me. Then his wife yelled at him that she’d gotten their taxi, and off they went.

“My god,” I thought. “This is the effect we are having on people. It was astounding to me.”

In London, the British laughed at it, which seemed strange to me, as they had arrested John Gielgud (for importuning).

 

Peter White

The British actress Hermione Baddeley told me the British audience laughed, because they were laughing at American society!

It never came up within the 1968 cast—who was straight and who was gay. If we were asked, we had a common response that we didn’t know, and for a long time I genuinely didn’t know. Of course, yes, I questioned my own sexuality, and I was worried people might ask questions. But then, it turned out everybody assumed we were gay anyway. I just didn’t think about it, and Kenneth Nelson (Michael) and Frederick Combs (Donald) became two very close friends.

Every once in while I’d check the internet, and see various rumors on it. People can say whatever they want to say. I’ve never had sex with a man. But if people want to say, I’m gay, that’s fine. (He laughs) I am whatever they want me to be.

If you saw Mart around, he was very quiet and observant, intensely thoughtful, private. I always knew that he was genuinely concerned about me or caring about me. When he did the sequel, The Men From the Boys (2002), he thoughtfully invited me to a drinks where he told me Alan wasn’t a character. I was devastated, but, having read it, I understood why.

When the revival happened, my agent got a lot of calls. It will always be a part of me. I will never forget the experience. Mart was very close to all of us and very protective. When my good friend Cliff (Gorman, who played Emory in the 1968 play and 1970 film) was dying, Mart called me all the time to ask how he was.

 

Brian Hutchison

Mart really recorded a forgotten time. Thankfully, we have his play to remind us what life was like back then, the possibility/probability of losing everything if you were gay—your job, your family, social standing, rights to property, let alone basic decency and respect from society. We’ve come a long way, so much so that younger gay men who are growing up with marriage as a given might be shocked at how tragic these lives seemed.

Like any great writer, Mart observed and reported back what he saw in that era. The play is classic to so many people because it’s true. Despite the brutality, the hostility, the trying to understand how these men were able to keep on, it is honest, and authentic, and devastating and hilarious.

For years, gay men didn’t want to be associated with this play because after Stonewall, gay people wanted to be out and proud and in the street and seen, as opposed to the men in The Boys in the Band who were mostly hiding part of their lives, unable to live wholly authentically except when they were together in private.

It’s moving to me now to see how, because of Mart writing this play, men and women became tired of being second class citizens and broke down the walls of visibility, showing our collective humanity and demanding equality. So much of this happened because of Mart. He was a true catalyst in the fight for gay rights.

 

Andrew Rannells

The play was very ahead of its time. Back then, homosexuality was not in the mainstream nor as accepted as it is today. What Mart wrote was not a play about being gay but a kitchen sink slice of life drama about one night in these gay men’s lives. What was groundbreaking was that it showed we are all people and have the same insecurities.

He wrote all these beautiful monologues for us in the “telephone game” near the end, talking about feeling left out and feeling abandoned. In writing Larry and Hank’s relationship—played by me and Tuc Watkins—he wrote the complications of any relationship. That what was what revolutionary: The Boys in the Band showed audiences for the first time that gay people were just people, with the same problems as everyone else. That is why the play is universal, and continues to get performed. It gets filed away as a “gay play,” but as time passes people realize it’s just a great play.

 

Peter White

For the revival, I assumed we would be invited to the premiere, but we were not, until Mart stepped in. I sat with him and his god-daughter that night, the last time I saw him.

That was the highlight, to be with him, 50 years later. We both admitted how nervous we were to see the show. I said that I didn’t like there being no bathroom break, and having to sit there for an hour and half without peeing. Mart said he was the same age as me, and had the same problem. Well, I didn’t have to go to the john, and neither did Mart.

It didn’t feel like the new producers gave a damn about us (White and Luckinbill). I felt we should have made to feel more welcome, and we really weren’t. We were completely discarded. I took it to mean they thought we were passé, and didn’t really care if we were there or not. But maybe this is my paranoia!

I loved the production, although the set was too elegant for an apartment supposedly belonging to an unemployed freelance writer. The public and people in the theater treated us like rock stars. I walked into the after-party wearing the same tux Alan wears in the film. It still fits. I’ve only had to let it out a little bit. There were lots of young people there who must have thought, “Who is this old guy?” But then I met Brian, and this lovely friendship began. Who would have thought, two very different people who played the same role 50 years apart, would become friends? But we have, and I love him and his partner. Brian and I are like soul brothers.

 

Brian Hutchison

The experience has been one of the great joys of my life. It was wonderful to celebrate him in last summer at a dinner in his honor with our whole group in Los Angeles. He got to be on set, and watch us film and also be part of the EPK that will go along with the film. It’s clear how much the play meant for him, and for how long, as is evidenced in my friendship with Peter White, the original Alan, who has known Mart for over 50 years.

It’s clear how many people loved this play, as evidenced after our show when we met young gay boys and girls with their parents, friends I grew up with saying their daughter wanted to see the play to understand LGBTQ history, and the older man who stopped me while we signed autographs who said, “You are why we marched.”

I also recall a senior gay couple who approached me—one man welling up with tears couldn’t speak, while his partner looked at me, and referring to his partner, said “He was Alan”—meaning my conflicted married character—“all his life until recently. Thanks for doing this play.”

On social media, since Mart’s death, there has been an outpouring of so many men who watched the film or did the play or read it, unsure how they could proceed in a world like that, but grateful that over time they began to see the light of equality and acceptance where once there was none.

 

Andrew Rannells

I’m 41 now. I wasn’t alive when the play was first performed, but when I came out in the ‘90s in the midst of the AIDS crisis, I had a lot of the same fears as Michael says he has. I wished I could be something else, or wishing that being gay was not part of me. I came to accept it, as some of the characters do.

I heard some younger people say they found the revival bitchy, but I don’t think they grasped that the meaning that some of those insults and behavior come from a place of insecurity and love. It’s a unique thing about gay men: these one-liners and putdowns are not always coming from a mean place. The end of the show shows you how much these men love each other.

The Boys in the Band stands the test of time. It’s just unfortunate that what is missing from our timeline is what would have been created had the AIDS crisis not happened, and not slowed down or delayed so many stories we would have told about our lives. The AIDS stories that came were urgent and necessary, and it has taken us some time since to tell more slice-of-life stories. It’s interesting that when we first announced the play, people conflated it with (Randy Shilts’ AIDS history book and later film) And The Played On…, and we had to explain: no, this came a long way before AIDS.

When the play won the Tony for best revival of a play (Rannells’ voice breaks), getting up on stage with Mart, seeing him accept the Tony, is something I am really grateful that I got to experience—the pure joy he had that night was really moving, and something I was so proud to be part of.

Some of the original cast had very sad lives, and a lot died of AIDS. For all 9 of us to be able to stand on stage, not only having careers but also having personal lives and be healthy and be out, was also really moving for Mart.

I kept bothering him with the idea of remaking Hart to Hart as Gay Hart to Hart. I want to be Stefanie Powers. Mart would very much entertain those conversations, but I don’t know how seriously he took me. Tuc and I pitched each other as a package deal.

Tuc and I got the email about his death together, and got choked up. We started talking about what a great man he was and how grateful for the experience of working on the revival we were. That show means a lot to us also because that’s where we met, and now we’re together. We’re grateful to Mart on a very personal level as well as a professional one. He brought us together. He very much did.

 

Tuc Watkins

I was crushed to find out he had died. To me, Mart—at his age—was the kind of guy I would like to be at his age. He was clear of thought, and completely in charge of his faculties. I know people in my own family who have not been that lucky. I really admired to see that in him.

The significance of the play, to me, is that the freedom I feel to live my life as a gay man is down to people like Mart and those in the original cast. Those of us performing the play in 2018 were standing on the shoulders of giants. Many of those giants fell during the AIDS crisis, leaving a path for those of us that came after. I was so proud for him when the play won the Tony Award, being on stage with him. That moment had been simmering for 50 years.

 

Laurence Luckinbill

Later, Mart knew the social importance of the play, but didn’t talk much about it. He wrote the sequel, The Men from The Boys, to carry forward that revolutionary feel, but it didn’t work. He told me about some of the experiences in the play—a Catholic priest putting his hand down Mart’s pants as he corrected Mart’s homework, and his father’s abuse­. Mart was not a political man. I think what he wanted to do was express the emotions of what he grew up with and tried to figure them out still. He never wrote another play that knocked people down as The Boys in the Band did.

Watching the 2018 production was like déjà vu: I could say every line. I enjoyed it hugely, but something felt slightly off. When we did the original play there was a closet in the wings. Those gay guys I did the play with were brave people, they outed themselves. I was not a brave person by comparison. When they left the theater they had to go back into the closet. I didn’t.

That aspect of fear and loathing and anxiety and the poverty it forced on people, and the misery of the closet, was an actuality in our production.

Tuc told me things hadn’t changed that much. He was doing soap operas and doing quite well. Then he told me he had lost work after doing the show. Things progress, things don’t progress.

Mart had a very serious heart attack in the 1990s. He did not expect to live, but they pieced him back together. But it meant that when he died he was prepared. We were close friends, but he was a hard nut to crack or solve. You see that in all his plays, which are about his life, and it’s always surprised me they didn’t do better. He was thorny, kind, funny, and highly analytical; we could talk about a show for hours. He had the courtesy of a Southern boy and an absolute bitchiness, too.

Mart called me a week or so before the Tony Awards, and asked for help with his speech in case he won, and asked how the experience had been for us watching the play now. He didn’t expect to win. I was so glad when he did. It validated so much.

 

Peter White

A few days after the 2018 revival’s premiere, I spoke to Mart, and we both said how much we had loved it. I said I might see him at the Tony’s, but we were not included in that—and that was fine, we shouldn’t have been.

When Mart won the Tony it was his dream, of course. God knows he deserved it. In his wonderful speech, which I will remember for the rest of my life, he thanked the original cast, which showed me just how thoughtful he was. A few days later, I called him to thank him for remembering us, and to say thank god he’d got his Tony and name on Broadway. Mart giggled and said something like, “Well, it took a long time, but it did happen and I’m glad you were all there with me. I’ll never forget what you did for me.”

Mart’s influence on all of our careers was incredible. It was a unique experience not many actors can say they’ve had. I don’t know if he was aware how indebted we were to him, and what he did for us. It was because of his faith in us, that he was put us in that play, and got us started.

I said to Mart many times, “Thank you for my life.” He gave me my start professionally, and believed in me—and, as an actor, it’s hard to find anyone to believe in you unless they can make money off you. I’m incredibly fond of him, and grateful.

Years later, when I was doing the CBS soap opera Love is a Many Splendored Thing, my producer bought me a note from a viewer which read, “Did you know your Sandy (my character) attended a very strange party?”

The Boys in the Band gave me a far bigger career than I ever anticipated, although I remember once going to see the casting director at Disney once, a gay man, who told me to take “boys” off my resumé. I said I never would. He said then Disney would never hire me. I was flabbergasted. I thought they would be more sophisticated from that. Afterwards my agent asked if I would consider taking it off my resumé, and I said I wouldn’t—that I was very proud of it, and that I had nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of.

Actually (White laughs), I hoped I could understudy Brian (Hutchison) if he got sick. It would have been a trip having an 80-year-old walk in the door, right?