Hey Kids, Let’s Put On a Show! Cast & Crew Talk About “Myrna” TV Pilot

Marlo Bernier stars in "Myrna," image by Darlie Brewster.

Marlo Bernier stars in “Myrna,” image by Darlie Brewster.

MGM musicals in the forties made it look so easy: all you needed to “put on a show” were Mickey and Judy, an old barn and some blankets, and enough small-town neighbors willing to pitch in and help. Today in 21st-century Hollywood it’s a little more difficult. For one thing, they charge for the barns and blanket rentals and the small-town neighbors willing to pitch in and help earn union wages.

It takes money, honey, not to mention time and dedication to your craft. Lots of people come to Los Angeles looking for stardom, or at least a steady paycheck and a chance at residuals. But once in a while someone comes along who is destined to add something to the collective consciousness—something like a television series. All you need are actors and actresses, producers and directors, and crew members—along with the aforementioned money, time and dedication—to come together and create something important and unforgettable.

Enter, from stage left, Marlo Bernier, carrying with her the makings for a new TV series called Myrna.

FINDING HERSELF

Photographs by Kerem Hanci Photography unless otherwise noted.

Photographs by Kerem Hanci Photography unless otherwise noted.

Once upon a time there was an actor named Mark Bernier, who found success as a consistently working actor on stage and screen. And then, as Bernier has previously joked, “My career just wasn’t tough enough, so I woke up one morning and decided to change my sex.” Bernier’s personal story is a little more complicated than that, of course, but it all boils down to the fact that Mark became Marlo, and the work dried up.

Making the transitions from male to female, from actor to actress, and from onscreen-performer to writer, director and producer, Marlo has had to grow in many unexpected directions. “I made a decision at the beginning of my transition to step out from in front of the lens because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore,” she admitted. “Not because I wasn’t capable of doing it technically, but I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the reason I’m directing and writing now.’”

Stepping behind the camera, she and longtime producing partner Jennifer Fontaine worked on a couple of film shorts and a feature (which Marlo directed) before the idea for Myrna started to take shape. Transitioning from male to female requires far more than hormones and / or surgery; it involves a shift in attitudes, acceptance and self-acceptance, and a coming-to-terms with your place in a sometimes harsh world.

And that’s when Myrna entered the picture. Making the transition from Mark to Marlo laid the foundation for this groundbreaking new television pilot, a dramedy based “with some theatrical license” on Bernier’s own life and experiences. As she explains, “Myrna is a show about an actor who, after a modicum of success both in front of the camera and on the stage finally comes face to face with their true identity and makes the life-altering decision to transition from male to female.

“I can’t speak for the community, I can’t speak for fifty people. I can speak for me,” Marlo takes pains to emphasize. “I always hope that my work will help society or help people understand, or at least make people be compassionate. That’s all I ever ask. If you can’t fully get it, could you please attempt compassion? I know transsexualism is not easily understood. It’s not easy for me, either.”

THE EVOLUTION OF A SCRIPT

The subject of gender identity has been on everyone’s collective mind lately, what with the discussions surrounding Jared Leto’s performance and awards wins for Dallas Buyers Club last year, the speculation about Bruce Jenner, not to mention the success of the TV show Transparent and its own Golden Globe wins. But it’s a tough subject to discuss without it becoming prurient exploitation.

10537428_760061814045972_2584909311359217515_n“I’ve known Marlo for almost ten years,” explained Ted Campbell, who co-wrote and directed the pilot. “I first met her when she was Mark. So I’ve been around during the years of transition. We’ve worked on many projects together over the years—I AD’d her feature, she AD’d my short, we read each other’s scripts, gave notes, etc. During these years, she’d tell me stories about her day. And the more I heard, I kept saying we’ve got to write this stuff down! There was the expected. But there were also these little moments where people could be amazing.”

In real life Marlo has a therapist, one who has been with her throughout her transition. “She’d ask me every once in awhile, ‘Well, what kind of woman do you hope to become, or do you envision for yourself?’ And at first I just couldn’t answer the question because…I don’t think any of us, regardless of where we come from or what our philosophy is or whatever, have answers for everything. I think it takes time and we grow with it. But it finally dawned on me what my answer was: ‘What kind of a woman will you become?’ And I said to her finally, ‘The same kind I was as a man: kind. That’s what I hope to be, just kind.’”

And that realization also helps to define the character of Myrna Michaels, who finds the transition from male to female sometimes pales in comparison to the transitions from addict to sobriety, from emotional basket-case to fully-rounded human being, from child to responsible adult.

The script changed dramatically over its four years in development. Whole scenes were dropped, characters added, language toned down or bumped up. ”A very early version of the script had a more sitcom-style tone,” Ted Campbell explained. “More jokes, less ‘moments.’” And we weren’t totally comfortable with that. It wasn’t a natural fit for the things we like. So we went for more drama, allowing the comedy to come from the characters’ relationships and the moments in-between I really wanted to present the character of Myrna as a person struggling with things that we all struggle with. I didn’t want to make it about a transgender character, but about a character who is many things: friend, ex-lover, actor, addict…One of those ’things’ just happens to be that she’s trans.”

Marlo Bernier photographed by Marci Liroff.

Marlo Bernier photographed by Marci Liroff.

The character Myrna likewise has evolved and the changes in the script fleshed out her emotional range. It’s hard to capture a character’s history in a single episode, and while the temptation is there to make every scene into some kind of “message” it’s usually death to a script. The scenes have to develop organically and the writers have to trust the viewing audience will pick up any life lessons, even if it’s on a subliminal level.

A scene between Myrna pleading for reconciliation with her ex was written and added almost at the last minute. Award-winning actress Julie Carmen (who studied extensively under both Sanford Meisner and Uta Hagen and whose long list of credits include John Cassavetes’ Gloria) was cast as Steffi, who fell in love, once upon a time, with a man named Michael. Steffi faces a strange sort of widowhood, where Michael ceases to exist as he once had and has now been reincarnated into a woman named Myrna, and both must figure out how to move forward toward separate futures very different from the one they initially planned together.

“I love you,” Myrna tells Steffi. “I always have. I always will.”

“Michael, you gave that up,” responds Steffi. “You gave up ‘us’ so you could be ‘you.’”

It’s one of the major themes running through the series: the things one has to let go of, not always willingly, in order to move forward. A transition of any kind affects the lives of everyone involved–spouses and soul mates and friends and family members, and it’s not easy on any of them.

10524724_10152222036542821_350711107192623669_nOn top of life itself, Myrna is an actress. She faces reinventing herself in an already-established career. Hollywood is built upon brand-consciousness and the continuity of that brand; even a sitcom star who decides mid-career they want to tackle the stage often faces ridicule for being a “mere” TV star aspiring to Broadway stardom where the “real” actors work. It’s similar to what Lisa Kudrow’s character has to face on The Comeback, in dealing with age-conscious Hollywood.

Letting go of the past means also letting go of preconceived notions. Myrna Michaels is desperate for work in the entertainment industry, but when reality television comes calling (through her longtime manager, played by Paul McKinney), she balks. She wants work, but only on her terms.

“I’m not tabloid, Lewis!” she tells her manager.

“We’re all tabloid, sooner or later,” he informs her.

And therein lies the storyline for the series: finding yourself through whatever means necessary, even those unexpected, unthought-of means. Myrna can dismiss Reality Television as the enemy threatening to exploit her, but will she choose to exploit it first, in order to revive and reinvent her career? Will allowing that exposure help Myrna open up her mind and also help reality TV raise the bar and educate the masses?

This series is not really about a woman who used to be a man coming to terms with who she is in a cis-gender world. It is not really about an actress coming to terms with who she is in a show business that is more interested in the Kardashians than the films of John Cassavetes. It is about a human being who is pushing aside preconceived notions, chips on the shoulder, and the occasional personal demon to become the person she is best suited to be.

I’ve seen the Show Bible and there’s enough material for a full series running several years. The issues touched upon in the story arc are genuinely interesting and unexpected. It’s a well thought-out and unique series that is made for success.

THE COST OF SUCCESS

As for the fundraising, the production needed every penny they could get. Costs for producing a pilot include the actors, director of photography, lighting, sound, wardrobe, hair, and make-up. And then there are the post-production services such as editing, sound design, sound editing, music and score, music supervision, dialogue editing, color correction, titles and graphics, and all the rest.

An earlier fundraising effort two years prior fell short of the projected goal, but sometimes things work out for the better. A second attempt using the brand-spanking-new fundraising platform Fanbacked.com successfully raised the necessary amount in ten days flat, although predictably it was still a tight budget.

Out of a projected $25,000 goal, the fundraising effort raised a total of $34,699 (or 138% of the goal amount). Once the money was raised, then came the responsibility of not spending it too quickly. There was always the worry that production costs would exceed the estimated necessary amounts.

By mid-July, most of the locations were secured and the shooting schedule was locked down as well. “I’d rather be giving birth to Rosemary’s Baby,” Marlo joked, then wondered aloud, “How the f— am I ever going to get time to rehearse?!”

Myrna Executive Producer Jennifer Fontaine would later admit, ”You always know going into physical production what your problem areas will be. In addition to Executive Producing, I also Coordinated and Line Produced the show, so I knew the budget very intimately from very early on. With our limited finances, we had to make certain choices, literally stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Paying our cast and crew was number one. Locations and set design were number two. Luckily, we were very creative with social media and locking down donations for the costly items like delicious set food.”

THE INSIDE NOISE

A number of writers and bloggers helped get the word out about the fundraising efforts. Along with a profile of Marlo I had for West Hollywood Wives, other articles were written by Debra Pasquella, Rebecca Norris, and others.

Producing partner Jennifer Fontaine, during a rare moment of down time.

Producing partner Jennifer Fontaine, during a rare moment of down time.

One bright and sunny afternoon I popped in as Marlo and Jennifer Fontaine were being interviewed by Chrissy Carpenter and Barry Papick on The Inside Noise Show, a podcast taped live in the upstairs lounge at Mixology101 at The Grove. The group bantered back and forth as they discussed the fundraising efforts and what the show was all about. After the podcast, Marlo and Jennifer and I went downstairs and I took the opportunity to ask Fontaine about her feelings about the pilot.

“Myrna is everyone, anyone, who has ever woken up one morning and looked in the mirror and said, ’Who am I?’ realizing that you’re living for other people, not living for yourself,” she explains. “You need to make a change. And that’s why this story is so important, because Myrna has that strength within her to say, ‘I don’t care what other people think anymore. I’ve lived my life for everyone else, and now it’s time for me to be who I truly am.”

What does it take to become who you really are? That answer can range from ending relationships and getting rid of the negative people in your life to quitting drugs to getting a nose job to changing your gender. Everybody has something they are dealing with, and this just happens to be what Myrna Michaels is dealing with.

QUIET ON THE SET!

It’s the first day of filming, Tuesday, August 26, 2014, at The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena. The company already shot a scene involving a crowd of extras and set up for the next scene before breaking for lunch. When I arrived around noon, Marlo was standing in a small group outside the church, chatting away, holding a lit cigarette between two artfully extended fingers. She was dressed in a coral dress with pleated skirt, her blonde hair pulled back.

She made introductions to the others on break before we headed inside. As we entered the high-ceilinged chamber being used as a combination make-up trailer, mess hall and green room, Marlo gently tossed her pack of Camel 99′s on the long table. When we had lunch at a Silverlake cafe nine months earlier she’d lamented her struggle to break the habit but this wasn’t the week to worry about quitting smoking.

Candis Cayne sat nearby in a chair going over her lines while having her make-up retouched by Mary-Kate Gales. Assorted members of the cast and crew hunkered down at the long table eating lunch, ordered from Buca di Beppo. People magazine and Us Weekly make being on set look so glamorous and easy. As a TV star, Marlo should have been the first to enjoy the spectacle, but when you’re a TV star that’s also wearing the multiple hats of producer, writer, wrangler, gofer, and just about every other duty short of nursemaid and governess, you don’t have time to enjoy the floor show.

Executive Producer Jennifer Fontaine hovered in the background while scanning the room to see what needed to be done. Fontaine, her hair cropped in a pixie cut, looks as glamorous as a 21st-century answer to Audrey Hepburn, but she’s too busy cleaning up, wiping down tables and making sure the cast and crew got enough to eat to bask in the limelight.

After lunch it was time to head into the vast, cavernous sanctuary of the church, populated by lights and reflectors and other assorted electrical equipment. Everyone made sure not to trip over wires, of which there was no shortage. It was hot and dark. I wondered how the D. P. was able to even photograph the scene. Director of Photography Sam B. Kim hovered over the Arri Alexa camera and from a distance I watched the monitor. The shot looked dark to me, but I was assured that post-production would bump up the light and sound.

For many of the cast and crew members this is kind of like Old Home Week. Most, like Marlo, Jennifer Fontaine and Ted Campbell, have worked together on one or more projects. “I knew John Mattingly, who is the First A.D.,” said Stephanie Fugleberg, the Second Assistant Director for the pilot. “And he called and said, ‘Stephanie, will you be my second A.D.?’ And I said ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Tuesday, you’re on.’”

Toi Whitaker, who worked on Art Direction, acknowledged, “It’s good working with people you have a respect for and have worked with before, or enjoy them as people. That’s hard to come by in this industry.” Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing someone’s true abilities, not to mention their temperament. In the old studio system, directors like John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock had their band of regulars working on each of their projects. When you know each other well you can use a kind of shorthand to communicate what’s needed to get a particular shot without taking additional time to explain it.

Despite any time-saving efforts on the part of the cast and crew, the motto on any set is, “Hurry up and wait,” but it doesn’t come from mere idleness. Just after the clapboard was clapped and the take was announced, “Scene 22, take 3,” a light blew. The already dim church became murkier, and there was a scramble to find a replacement bulb, while the actors had to cool their heels, remaining in the pew while waiting it out. Finally the light was back on, and everyone was ready to shoot take 4.

The church scene called for Myrna to meet up with her friend and mentor, Holland Hollis, played by Candis Cayne, who made a splash a few years ago playing Carmelita on ABC’s prime time drama Dirty Sexy Money (the role made her the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender role on network television) and has had a recurring role on the Sherlock Holmes-inspired series Elementary on CBS.

Candis Cayne as Holland Hollis.

Candis Cayne as Holland Hollis.

“My agent called me and said there’s a pilot and they would love you to do it,” explained Candis. “I thought, it’ll be fun. I liked the script. It was funny. My character, Holland, was fun and yet deep. It looked like a cool thing. She transitioned a little early on and she had her party years, and now she’s responsible, a teacher, and a mentor to Myrna. Of course she still has her issues and stuff like that…and it’d be a fun character to unravel.”

She continues, “If it’s good writing, it tells a story that appeals to everyone in a certain way. If it’s written well and acted well, people can identify with that character. When I did Dirty Sexy Money, my character, along with Billy Baldwin, was a popular storyline on the show because it was a real relationship.”

I wanted to talk to director Ted Campbell when he had some down time, but he never did. ”We lost an actor a week out,” Ted Campbell admitted when I caught up with him much later, “and recast in the eleventh hour. We got behind a few days and had to rethink the shot list. But I knew the most important thing we had to get were the performances. The cool shot or beauty shot could get cut. I really wanted to have more coverage, but when you’re a low budget show with very little time, attempting to perfect a single shot can be more time consuming than coverage.”

"Action!"

“Action!”

Although the Myrna camp were scheduled to be done by 7 P.M. the shooting followed by takedowns lasted another hour and a half. Cameras and equipment had be be carefully packed up and the crew made a sweep around the church, going from room to room making sure everything was in pristine condition, just as it had been at the start of the day.

WHAT MYRNA FACES

It’s Day Five in shooting the pilot. Casting director Marci Liroff was one of three real-life casting veterans playing the role of a casting director put in the rather uncomfortable situation of declining to audition Myrna, for whatever reason, whether due to the character’s own discomfort, the presumed discomfort of her clients, or whatever reason. I asked Liroff (also an Executive Producer on the pilot and whose impressive resume includes finding actors for now-classic films including Blade Runner, E.T. —The Extraterrestrial, Footloose, and Mean Girls) for her own take on the hurdles the character Myrna faces as a semi-name actor-turned-newbie-actress, and the ways in which she may be viewed by the industry from now on.

“Marlo and Jennifer came to me a few years ago with this idea which wasn’t as ‘formed’ as it was this time around,” she explained. “I loved the concept and wanted to work with them so when it came around again, I jumped at the chance. The synchronicity was perfect.

“Personally, I had a hard time playing this role as written. I would never do what she did – refuse someone an audition. I would let her read, work with her, and give her a shot. I have respect for all actors. Yet, it was very well written in that it showed us how things are in the marketplace for someone like Myrna. What I believe my character was saying is that even though she wanted to put her through to the next step, she knew that there was simply no way her producers and filmmaking team would go for it.”

IT’S A WRAP

The wrap party was held Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at Oil Can Harry’s in Studio City. Marlo was dressed in a red sleeveless top, black skirt and “killer” (her words) heels. Jennifer Fontaine was dressed in a flowing cream colored top with slacks and heels. The sixty or so guests were made up of cast, crew and fans of Myrna. Instead of the usual dancing, a slideshow of set stills taken by photographer Kerem Hanci throughout the filming was projected before and after a special screening of the finished pilot.

This was the first time most of the cast and crew had seen the finished product and everyone agreed it looked “network-ready.” Despite the darkness of the church sanctuary, post-production had indeed brought out all the color and light. The finished pilot features a nifty jazz score originally composed by Regi Davis (and scored by Emir Isilay). Davis also plays a casting assistant in one of the scenes. Almost every time I talk to Marlo, I rave about that theme song.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” admits Ted Campbell. “As a writer you’re trying to create a story, with a through-line, a beginning, middle and an end. As a director, you’re trying to capture moments. And all that time, we’re asking ourselves, ‘Do we have a show?’ It was later in the edit, cutting two shots together… I remember cutting a reaction shot to reaction shot between Marlo and Jen… and alone in the edit bay I’m cheering them on… ’cause we got it! A moment. And it’s those ‘moments’ that add up to a show. I remember texting Marlo and Jen from the edit bay, ‘We got a show!’”

Jennifer Fontaine agrees. “No matter how creative you are, if you’ve been through post-production before, you know it’s not going to be pretty and we had some challenges. I think what matters most is how you overcome those challenges and I was confident going in with the team that we had, that whatever we encountered would be surmountable. And I am so proud of every frame of the finished product. Proud of our team, proud of our message and proud of the courage of everyone who came together to tell this story of Myrna.”

At this writing, the pilot is being shopped around to the networks. If you want to see what the buzz is about, you can view the entire pilot episode for yourself for free on this link  on Vimeo as well as on Youtube. Share it with your friends and help spread the word. This is what the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) age is all about!

Stay tuned for more updates on Myrna and on Marlo Bernier.

 

Heterosexual Couples Denied the Right To Marry in Mobile

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Brian Fuller and Karen Baber were among the couples turned away Tuesday while trying to obtain a marriage license.

Marriage Equality took an odd turn today when more than a dozen heterosexual couples were turned away from getting marriage licenses today (Tuesday February 19th) in Mobile, Alabama.

Last month, a federal judge struck down a constitutional amendment and law that banned same-sex unions in Alabama. The judge put her ruling on hold until Monday, giving the U.S. Supreme Court time to intervene; but the Supreme Court said Monday it won’t step in with the Alabama case. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore threw the state into disarray when he ordered probate judges not to allow gay marriages, despite the ruling of the federal judge and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to interfere.

Probate offices around the state were groping over how to proceed. Three probate judges stated that rather than follow the state supreme court’s decision to allow gay couples to file for marriage licenses, they would not issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight.

Moore’s actions brought immediate comparisons to Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s vow of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” during the Civil Rights Era. Moore made a national name for himself in 2003 when he disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse. He was forced from the bench back then, but re-elected to the state Supreme Court in 2012.

Despite Moore’s efforts, hundreds of jubilant couples have received marriage licenses in large cities, including Montgomery, Huntsville and Birmingham, making Alabama the 37th state where gay couples have been legally married. However, in a sad irony, couples, both gay and straight, faced disappointment in Mobile. Karen Baber and her fiance, Brian Fuller, took the day off from work to head to file for their marriage license, only to find themselves unable to.

“Everybody shouldn’t be punished,” Fuller was quoted as saying. “Obviously I understand everything is going on, but why should we be punished too?” he asked.

It’s a very good point. Why should Fuller and Baber, along with other heterosexual couples be punished? For that matter, why should homosexual couples, and why have they continued to be when it’s clear in which direction progress is headed?

One Ahead of David Bowie

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Need a word of encouragement after a long week at work or school? Then take heart with the following  words found online, and remember: no matter what happens, you’re already one ahead of David Bowie:

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Norm’s La Cienega Coffee Shop Faces Demolition

The Norm's at 470-478 La Cienega Boulevard, near the Beverly Center.

The Norm’s at 470-478 La Cienega Boulevard, near the Beverly Center.

The Los Angeles Conservancy just posted the following on their Facebook page, and with both cities of Los Angeles’s and West Hollywood’s track records on tearing down cultural landmarks, we took notice.

“We just learned that the new owners of Norms La Cienega have a demolition permit for the iconic Googie coffee shop at 470-478 La Cienega Blvd. The Conservancy and our Modern Committee submitted a local landmark nomination for Norms late last year that the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission will hear tomorrow (Thursday). We don’t anticipate the new owners acting on their demo permit today, but just in case, if you’re in the area, please keep an eye on it. If you see anything happening – such as the removal of the signage (fence going up, big equipment, guys in hard hats), please call the Conservancy immediately at (213) 623-2489. We’ll keep you posted.”

This particular Norm’s was built in 1957 by architects  Louis Armet and Eldon Davis and is a great (and increasingly rare) example of “Googie” design, which was once a commonplace style used in diners and coffee shops.

Already the comments posted below the posting were gearing up for a fight. “How many of those who want to save this place actually ate there?” asked one online commentator. “Maybe they’d still be in business. Save the building for what? Who will compensate the owner?”

These are very valid points. When an object or location has outlived its usefulness, shouldn’t it be replaced, especially in a busy city that continues to thrive and grow?  Places have life spans, just like people do, and people do not live forever.  Norman Royback opened his first restaurant in 1949 at Sunset and Vine and the chain grew to become a staple in L.A. The chain remained in the family until 2014.

To answer the above-mentioned commentator, I personally have eaten there numerous times and the place was always hopping, so I don’t feel bad for the developers who bought the property. When a location is already considered something of a cultural and stylistic landmark, why would you buy it in the first place if you’re not in the restaurant business? Clearly they planned to tear it down from the beginning, regardless of how well it was doing.

The so-called Googie style is a distinctly Los Angeles-based futuristic style, developed in the mid-1940′s and continuing through the mid-1960′s, inspired by car culture, jets, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age. Many examples of Googie architecture have been demolished over the years, and while this might be good news to those who want everything in Los Angeles to look like the same bland, culturally stale breadbox, this is after all a tourist town.

When most of the shops lining Rodeo Drive can be found in local shopping malls in Peoria or Cincinatti, why would tourists bother coming here? The answer is simple: to see the things they can’t see at home. Movie and TV stars. Sunshine and warm weather in the winter months. And the rapidly-dwindling list of pop cultural landmarks where people like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and any number of other celebrity once frequented. And if there is no Chateau Marmont, forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, or Formosa Cafe to see in Hollywood Babylon, then why come here at all?

To learn more about this issue check out the Los Angeles Conservancy website.

Take That, Anita Bryant! Gay Marriages Performed in Miami-Dade County

Same-sex couples and their attorneys in Miami celebrate Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel’s decision to lift the legal stay she had placed on her July decision declaring Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. EMILY MICHOT MIAMI HERALD STAFF.

Same-sex couples and their attorneys in Miami celebrate Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel’s decision to lift the legal stay she had placed on her July decision declaring Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. EMILY MICHOT MIAMI HERALD STAFF.

Today, Monday, January 5, 2015, is a very special day for Florida. Miami-Dade County has become the first place in Florida allowing legal recognition of gay marriage, half a day before a gay-marriage ban that has been ruled unconstitutional is lifted in the rest of the state. Same-sex couples are now able to marry in 36 states and Washington D.C. The ruling also means gay marriages performed outside Florida will be recognized in Miami-Dade.

While the event itself is of great social importance, the location itself –Miami-Day County–holds a special meaning to gay rights activists who remember the seventies, and the struggles taking place on a socio-political level at the time.

Armistead Maupin, photographed by Chris Turner in 2009.

Armistead Maupin, photographed by Chris Turner in 2009.

Armistead Maupin, the celebrated author of the Tales of the City series, posted a special message on his Facebook post today. “Thirty-eight years ago, on stage at the Castro Theater, I read Michael Tolliver’s coming-out Letter to Mama for first time in public,” he wrote. “That event — the ‘Moon Over Miami’ benefit — raised money to fight Anita Bryant’s hateful anti-gay ‘Save Our Children’ campaign in Miami-Dade County. Today in Miami-Dade gay couple,s were legally married for the very first time.

“Thirty-eight years. That’s how long it took. But justice prevailed at last.”

While some who remember the pre-Stonewall era expressed amazement at the progress that has been made over the past four decades, others are looking forward to the day when we can willingly value love above prejudice without the need for a federal judge’s order.

Be Still, My Rapid Heart TV!

Journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur David Del Valle.

Journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur David Del Valle.

Our very own David Del Valle–journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur–has written a few articles for West Hollywood Wives, but his misadventures have gone beyond the written page (and web page) and made it big on the small screen.

His first love has always been movies, beginning with the horror films he fell in love with in childhood, and branching out all over the map from there. He recently began a new column in Chris Alexander’s Delirium magazine, along with his regular Camp David column on the Films In Review website. In the 1980′s David hosted his own talk show on cable called The Sinister Image, on which he interviewed cult figures ranging from film directors Curtis Harrington and Russ Meyer to actors like his close friend Vincent Price. Recently, David teamed up with director and producer David De Coteau to host a series of movies streaming on De Coteau’s Rapid Heart TV channel.

1313WICKEDSTEPBROTHERRapid Heart Productions offers a dazzling array of eye candy, ranging from De Coteau’s original movies like Voodoo Academy 2 and Wicked Stepbrother (which might not have won many Oscars but won many, many fans with their scantily-clad cast members) to a bevy of vintage cult and genre spectacles grouped together into several collections hosted by David Del Valle and featuring names like Camp Grindhouse, Sinister Image, and Ghoul, Please!

The Ghoul, Please! collection includes horror flicks like Tower of Evil, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s swansong, Trog. The Camp Grindhouse collection includes a campy selection of titles like Airport ’77, the Bette Davis howler Dead Ringer, and the rarely seen The Gay Deceivers.  Del Valle’s intros offer up informative tidbits about the feature you’re about to watch. His comments about 1969′s The Gay Deceivers is particularly interesting since he was a friend of one of the film’s stars, Michael Greer (and has written extensively about him for West Hollywood Wives).

Check out David’s introductions as well as the cinematic splendor offered up by Rapid Heart. And during the holidays, what could be better than staying home and watching some fun movies and some hot guys?


David Del Valle introducing The Gay Deceivers.

Here’s to the Lady Who Lunched: Goodbye, Elaine Stritch!

Broadway icon Elaine Stritch.

Broadway icon Elaine Stritch.

I’d like to propose a toast: to the lady who lunched, who occasionally chewed scenery, and who was a character actress with great character but also great dignity, great honesty, great fears she faced, and great star power. She was more than a broad from Broadway, she was a Lady of the Theatre in the proper sense, a student of finishing schools and also the University of Hard Knocks.

The unforgiving microphone: recording "The Ladies Who Lunch" on the cast recording of "Company" proved harrowing for Stritch who flubbed her way through take after take. The next day she nailed it and the song became her signature tune.

The unforgiving microphone: recording “The Ladies Who Lunch” on the cast recording of “Company” proved harrowing for Stritch who flubbed her way through take after take. The next day she nailed it and the song became her signature tune.

I saw her perform live and she was at one with the stage, a zen exercise in which the lines and lyrics didn’t matter. She could have stood on stage and read the Hong Kong telephone directory aloud and literally no one in the theatre would have cared. It was a chance to bask in some good old-fashioned star quality.

Having worked in talent agencies in Los Angeles and Chicago I have met some of the most beautiful men and women in the world, I have known some very recognizable names, and had the pleasure to know a great many hardworking actors and actresses whose work is solid and who are consummate professionals. But you can spot a class act like Elaine Stritch a mile away and as the old cliche goes, they don’t make ‘em like her anymore. “Everybody rise!”

Poised to Shatter the Glass Ceiling: Meet Marlo Bernier!

Triple-threat actress-writer-director Marlo Bernier.

Triple-threat actress-writer-director Marlo Bernier.

When Jared Leto was nominated then won the Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performance as a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club, reactions to Leto’s being cast in the role were mixed throughout the mainstream and transgender communities.

Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee further diluted any positive message his film might have offered when he was quoted by Time magazine asking, “Is there any transgender actor? To my knowledge—I don’t know one…I’m not aiming for the real thing. I’m aiming for an experienced actor who wants to portray the thing.”

Whether it was the case or not, Vallee’s quotes were taken by many as signs of Hollywood laziness and an apparent refusal to leave the comforts of a studio office in search of talent outside of a limited A-list circle. Not only are there transgender actors and actresses out there, but some of them also possess a vast array of experience in the acting field, not to mention talent.

One of them is Marlo Bernier.

Once upon a time there was an actor named Mark Bernier, who found success as a working actor on stage and screen. And, as Bernier has previously joked, “My career just wasn’t tough enough, so I woke up one morning and decided to change my sex.” Bernier’s personal story is a little more complicated than that, of course, but making the transition from Mark Bernier to Marlo laid the foundation for a groundbreaking new television pilot called Myrna, a dramedy based “with some theatrical license” on Bernier’s own life and experiences.

As she explains, “Myrna is a show about an actor who, after a modicum of success both in front of the camera and on the stage finally comes face to face with their true identity and makes the life-altering decision to transition from male to female.”

Television programs have often used humor to win over an audience, while still making a point regarding social change or understanding. Producer Norman Lear’s groundbreaking body of work is an obvious blueprint: shows like All In the Family, Maude, Good Times, and One Day at a Time brought people from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences into mainstream American homes, using humor to deliver the basic message that underneath the surface we’re all the same. Whether it was lower middle-class Archie Bunker or upwardly-mobile George Jefferson, recently-divorced Ann Robinson or the struggling-to-make-ends-meet Evans family, the characters on these shows illustrated our common bonds, becoming members of our collective family.

Marlo Bernier as Myrna Michaels.

Marlo Bernier as Myrna Michaels.

And now Marlo Bernier wants us to welcome Myrna Michaels as an addition to that family. Bernier co-wrote the script and will play the title role alongside a gifted ensemble cast. The script is funny, heartfelt and thoughtfully written. While many sitcoms choose laughs over heart—or vice-versa—and paint their characters in stark black-and-white contrasts, Myrna paints its characters in varying shades of gray. Not all the characters are always likable, and they aren’t meant to be, because they are realistic human beings with foibles and frailties, living within a story arc allowing them room for growth.

“I can’t speak for the community, I can’t speak for fifty people. I can speak for me,” Marlo takes pains to emphasize. “I always hope that my work will help society or help people understand, or at least make people be compassionate. That’s all I ever ask. If you can’t fully get it, could you please attempt compassion? I know transsexualism is not easily understood. It’s not easy for me, either.”

Her Myrna compatriots, cast and crew members, are all in agreement that this is an important story to tell and one delivered using the proper tone.

“There has never been anything like this before, ever, in the history of films or television,” says fireball actress Alexandra Billings, one of the show’s co-stars. “There is no such thing as a television show whose central character is transgender.”

That’s why Bernier & Co. have teamed up with Brad Wyman’s brand-new online crowd-sourcing platform Fanbacked.com in order to raise the budget to shoot and deliver the pilot episode.  You can find the Myrna TV show page here at greenlight.myrnatvshow.com. The fundraising video features Bernier briefly discussing Myrna. “It’s not just about a boy who is a girl,” she explains to viewers. “It’s about the human connection. And ultimately it’s about all of us striving to be who we really are.” Even the show’s theme song, a jazzy, sophisticated score composed by Regi Davis (a friend and colleague of Marlo & Co.) which plays in the background of the video, hints at the level of things to come.

“We need a voice,” Billings said, “because the only time we’re represented on television or on film is when we’re sick, getting ready to be sick, or dying…This is an actual group of people who live on the planet. These aren’t cartoons, they’re not stereotypes.”

Having moved past the typical man-in-a-dress routine we’ve now graduated to something with a little more depth. “It’s time that we started telling our own jokes, don’t you think?” Marlo asks rhetorically, giving a clue what to expect from the show’s writing. Instead of being maudlin and delivering its message with a heavy-handed sermon, it’s got bite, humor, and subtlety. Above all it wants to entertain its audience.

“I only ever wanted to assimilate,” says Marlo. “I’m not Dame Edna, I’m not a drag act.” And the character Myrna is dealing with the same emotions, realizations and milestones in the course of the show’s storyline.

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Bernier’s offscreen journey has been every bit as interesting as Myrna’s onscreen one. Born a heterosexual male on the East Coast, Bernier made the choice to pursue acting.

“When I came to L.A. I had a decent amount of experience, primarily theatre. It’s there I cut my teeth, and yes, I was known in Baltimore. I wasn’t a celebrity, but people knew my work and kept hiring me. I did a lot of work at AXIS Theatre, which was at the time a cutting-edge theatre company. I did good work with other companies, too, but I did a lot of my work at AXIS.

“I was Taft-Hartleyed into SAG on my first film job in 1977. I was eighteen years old. I worked with Alan Arkin and Richard Jordan and Shirley Knight and Donald Pleasance and Ted Shackelford in a movie-of-the-week when there were only three channels to choose from. That’s how old I am!”

“I did a guest star role on Homicide: Life on the Streets. I did an indie film. I worked for John Waters, I did Cecil B. Demented. When I came here I had my SAG card and didn’t have that struggle to overcome, but it was almost two years to the day before I booked my first job [here]. There’s a long wait in line. I booked a guest star in the second episode of the first season of Cold Case with Kathryn Morris. It was a great role. Paris Barclay directed me, a famous director, now the president of the DGA. They booked me on a week and I think I shot three or four days. I did Alias, I did Las Vegas.”

“One of the last things I did, I worked for David Fincher on Zodiac. I was on IMDB credits a year before the film was released and it was right before the premiere and I had a new agent. I said, ‘Can you get me into the premiere?’ And she said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do.’ All of a sudden she goes, ‘You’re not listed on the IMDB anymore.’ I’d been cut. And I still get residuals, which is the oddest thing ever. You see me in the background but you don’t see my mouth move. It’s possible I’m in the director’s cut or something. I know I’m not the only person in Hollywood to ever get cut, but I needed that one really badly.”

But that’s showbiz, baby. And as they say, where one door closes, another one opens, and that’s where Myrna fits in. Making the transitions from male to female, from actor to actress, and from onscreen-performer to writer, director and producer, Marlo has had to grow in many unexpected directions.

“I made a decision at the beginning of my transition to step out from in front of the lens because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore,” she admits. “Not because I wasn’t capable of doing it technically, but I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the reason I’m directing and writing now.’”

Making the segue into writing, she co-wrote a couple of indie film scripts before the idea for Myrna started to take shape. Transitioning from male to female requires far more than hormones and or, surgery; it involves a shift in attitudes, acceptance and self-acceptance, and a coming-to-terms with your place in a sometimes harsh world.

In real life Marlo has a therapist, one who has been with her throughout her transition. “She’d ask me every once in awhile, ‘Well, what kind of woman do you hope to become, or do you envision for yourself?’ And at first I just couldn’t answer the question because…I don’t think any of us, regardless of where we come from or what our philosophy is or whatever, have answers for everything. I think it takes time and we grow with it. But it finally dawned on me what my answer was: ‘What kind of a woman will you become?’ And I said to her finally, ‘The same kind I was as a man: kind. That’s what I hope to be, just kind.’”

And that realization also helps to define the character of Myrna who finds the transition from male to female sometimes pales in comparison to the transitions from addict to sobriety, from emotional basket-case to fully-rounded human being, from child to responsible adult.

Marlo’s background as a performer long-since prepared her for everything she and Myrna have to face. “My mantra is, ‘Deny nothing, invent nothing, tell the truth,’” and she quotes John Cassavetes when she says, “We as artists must be willing to risk it all.”

To check out the Myrna TV show fundraising page on Fanbacked.com and hear Marlo discussing the project in her own words, click here.

 

Behold, Franz Szony’s Homage to “Maleficent”

"CAST BY SPELL!" photographed by Franz Szony, modeled by Deven Green.

“CAST BY SPELL!” photographed by Franz Szony, modeled by Deven Green.

Walt Disney’s Maleficent (starring Angelina Jolie as the title villainess) just opened in movie theatres and in anticipation of the film photographer Franz Szony created the image above in its honor.

Entitled “CAST BY SPELL!” the image was captured using black paper, smoke grenades and a curtain rod. Maleficent was “played” by model Deven Green.

“Maleficent has been my favorite animated character since I was a child,” Szony wrote on his Facebook page. “It seemed the perfect time to create a piece of art in homage to the 1959 Marc Davis animation. Using black paper, smoke grenades and silk, I transformed the fabulous Deven Green into this incredible villain.”

Szony’s photographic studio at The Brewery just east of downtown L.A. has proven to be one of the most popular stops in the twice-annual Brewery Artwalk. Sightseers visiting his loft space were dazzled by the baroque tableaux on display there and at a recent exhibition of his work at the Archangel Gallery in Palm Springs.

The Reno native relocated to Los Angeles within the past year and has already built up a sizeable following among art devotees, not to mention clients in the fashion world. To see more of Szony’s photography, check out his Instagram page and his official website. You can also find him on Facebook.


A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of “Cast By Spell!” (Credits at the end of the film.)

Stonewall Activist, Drag King Storme DeLarverie Dead at 93

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Storme DeLarverie

Storme DeLarverie, a lesbian activist who took part in the New York Stonewall riots in 1969 that started the gay rights movement in the United States, died Saturday at a Brooklyn nursing home. She was 93.

Born in New Orleans in 1920 to a black mother and a white father, DeLarverie “was born into adversity and lived in adversity her whole life,” said Lisa Cannistraci, a longtime friend and one of her legal guardians. In 1969 she was among those who fought against a police raid in the Stonewall 1969 riots.

In a 2010 profile, the New York Times wrote, “Her life has been flamboyant, boundary-breaking, the stuff of pulp fiction.

“Friends say she worked for the mob in Chicago. The drag-queen group she performed with decades ago, known as the Jewel Box Revue, regularly played the Apollo in Harlem (she dressed as a man and the men dressed as women). She was photographed by Diane Arbus. She carried a straight-edge razor in her sock, and while some merely walked to and from the gay and lesbian bars in the Village, friends said, she patrolled.”

Peter Frank of the Bronx LGBTQ Community Services Center called DeLarverie “a fierce woman who stood up for our community on countless occasions.”

In recent years, DeLarverie suffered from dementia, and was the subject of a 2010 article in the New York Times.

storme-willard59Friends mourned the fact that many young members of the LBGT community had never heard of her and were unaware of her place as a gay rights pioneer, but DeLarverie herself seemed not to mind. She had a positive message of empowerment for the up-and-coming generation of queer youth. “Just be themselves, like they’ve always been,” she said. “They don’t have to pretend anything. They’re who they are.”