Love, Sidney (1981–1983)
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His loneliness was not the result of his being gay, it was the result of his not having made lasting relationships. Remember, Sidney wasn't all gay men, he was just A gay man. He was living outside of the stereotype the way we all do.
It wasn't a great show, but it surely was a well-intentioned one and it was very well acted by the two leads.
It's hard to appreciate now, but Tony Randall was taking a huge chance when he took this role. Playing gay used to cost actors work in other projects and if you look closely at Randall's resume, you will see that his career did take a few hits from having taken on this role.
Kudos to Randall and Swurtz and the producers and writers who were trying to tell a story about some humans and the ways that humans create connections and family. Big kudos to all of them for having the guts to make one of those characters a gay man.
Billy Crystal was a supporting actor on 'Soap' and so was not a Lead. And while the writing was not all that great and the concept was paper-thin, this show did break new and important ground on television. Shows like 'Will & Grace' and 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' owe a lot to this program. Was the show any good? Yeah, it was decent. Was it important? Yes, unbelievably so. As Tony Randall passes away from our sight on this day, we should remember that we all owe him a debt of thanks.
Thanks, Tony; We will miss you.
One fact that I have not seen mentioned is this: Sidney is miserable and friendless because he is bitter over the loss of his lover, which he seems incapable of getting over. If I remember correctly, his boyfriend had died, and - with the great reluctance to explore that relationship on the show - it is easy to assume in retrospect that the boyfriend was a victim of one of the big issues - gay bashing? AIDS? ...Anyway....
The whole message of the show, as sugary sweet as it was, is that everyone needs someone to share his life with, and, while the ideal is to have a lover (whatever your sexual persuasion), good platonic friends can be a pretty good substitute. Families are made, not born.
The great achievement of the show was that it shattered stereotypes - that was the whole point of Sidney being neither a disco-dwelling, toy-boy hunting sugar daddy, nor a camp, shrieking queen. The show also captured an ennui that was soon to swamp the gay community, and those who saw it as a pop-culture touchstone, as AIDS took a greater and greater toll.
Love, Sidney was soulful and complex, and is owed much by all involved with, and fans of, such shows as Will and Grace.
"Hot L Baltimore" also starred James Cromwell, who was better known as "Jerome 'Stretch' Cunningham," best workplace (the loading dock, before "Archie" bought "Kelsey's Bar") friend of "Archie Bunker" on the sitcom "All in the Family," and best known as that guy in the "Babe" pig movies.
Coincidentally (or not), Ferrell would also play "Rita Valdez" in the episode of Lear's "Maude" that said goodbye to housekeeper "Florida Evans," when the character and its star (Esther Rolle) were spun-off into "Good Times." Ferrell's "Valdez" was a funny and flippant Spanish-speaking job applicant for the position in which "Maude" ultimately chose the feisty, booze-swilling "Mrs. Nell Naugatuck" (played by the terrific Hermione Baddeley).
And the first TV series to feature a "gay" male as a regular, starring character was, indeed, NBC-TV's "Love, Sidney," which starred Tony Randall and Swoosie Kurtz. The pilot of the series was the film "Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend," which clearly mentioned the sexual orientation of the title character, while in the series that fact was assumed but never mentioned.
Kurtz didn't portray "Laurie Morgan" in the pilot film. That role in the film was played by Lorna Patterson, whose best-known role was as the title character (originated in the film by Goldie Hawn) in the TV version of "Private Benjamin." And the spelling of the surname of the lead character in "Love, Sidney" was changed from "Shorr" to "Shore," perhaps to further create a differentiation between film pilot and series, thus providing a claim to advertisers the two were different characters.
But, come on, we all know Paul Lynde was having himself a fabulous time, whether sitting in the center square trading barbs with Peter Marshall on "The Hollywood Squares," or playing "Uncle Arthur" in the long-running ABC-TV sitcom "Bewitched." As "Uncle Arthur" really was a semi-recurring character, I suppose he may be considered TV's first continuing gay male character. Does it always have to be stated to be so? Aren't some characters' natures implicit? And if one raises the issue of subtext, "Bewitched" and homosexuality were inextricably linked; the witch keeping her supernatural powers a secret from all but one mortal (the Down-Low or gay-friendly "Darrin"), symbolic of many homosexuals (then) remaining in the closet with most heterosexuals.
So, Norman Lear ("Hot L Baltimore"), Witt-Thomas-Harris ("SOAP"), and George Eckstein ("Love, Sidney,"), you may all defer to Sol Saks and William Asher (and Elizabeth Montgomery), as "Bewitched," thanks to "Uncle Arthur," may be considered the first TV series with a regular gay character.
This is also not forgetting Dick Sargent (the second "Darrin Stephens"), Maurice Evans (who played the dad of "Samantha Stephens," and was also a renowned Shakespearean stage actor--a lot of 'em are "light-in-the-loafers," must be those tights), and Lynde, were all homosexual males in real life, and the possibility Agnes Moorhead ("Endora," the mother of "Samantha") was a closeted lesbian (she was coy when specifically asked her orientation). But even in her role on "Bewitched," you just know "Endora" had to be a great fag hag.
The first made-for-TV film with gay characters, at least that I recall watching, was "That Certain Summer," which starred Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen as the gay couple, Scott Jacoby as the Holbrook character's son, and Hope Lang as Holbrook's character's estranged wife. This film debuted on November 1. 1972 as an "ABC Movie of the Week." Do you remember when the broadcast television networks aired originally-produced films on a regular basis?
In conclusion, "official" first television series with regular "gay" characters--"Hot L Baltimore" (debuted January 24, 1975); figurative first TV series with a regular "gay" character--"Bewitched" (1964), with Paul Lynde making his debut as "Uncle Arthur" in the October 14, 1965 episode "The Joker Is a Card." As country-western singer Collin Raye once sang, and stand-up comic Colin Quinn used to say, on the "Weekend Update" segment of "Saturday Night Live": "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
The image that has lasted in my mind for years was of Sidney having a party and inviting his mother's friends. You see, he was gay and therefore had no friends of his own. Right.
It was the last days of disco, this guy was gay, and couldn't scare up enough friends for a party? Right.
It was really sad that the series implied that gay people are to be pitied because we have no friends and that a meaningful relationship, platonic as it may be, is only possible with a straight person.
I know a lot of gay people who hated "The Living End", which featured fatalist gay people shooting up stuff with guns. "Too violent," they say. I say that I prefer the "Living End" image over "Love Sidney". Maybe if Sidney would have had a gun and shot up a few gay bashers it would have been more interesting.
And in all seriousness, this stupid TV show left indelible images on a gay 13 year-old's mind that stuck for years, leaving him afraid and ashamed. That 13 year-old was me. Though I'm now out and happy, I think the show's creative team should issue a public apology for this crap.