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The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Hustler? Paperback – May 17, 2012
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"Kearns is unsparing in recounting his addictive days, candid about how his queer and AIDS activism impacted his Hollywood career and - in the final chapters - luminous in imparting the love he shares with his daughter, who now aspires to be an actor, just like dad. This multi-textured memoir shimmers."
Richard Labonte, Book Marks
"As an author, Kearns stays on his path and writes what he feels. I like Michael Kearns for who he appears to be, based on this memoir. My perception of him is that he is an enigmatic, quirky, free spirit--all traits that I admire in people."
Joseph Yurt, blogcritics
About the Author
Beginning in the early seventies with his appearance in the Los Angeles production of Tom Eyen’s The Dirtiest Show In Town, Michael Kearns has been a significant figure in the world of art and politics. In one of the Twentieth Century’s most notorious hoaxes, Kearns was hired by Warner Books in 1974 to play the role of Grant Tracy Saxon, a fictitious character depicted in The Happy Hustler. The promotional blitz, encompassing a guest stint as John-Boy’s college “Big Brother” on The Waltons, spanned over two years and resulted in Kearns’ title as “the first openly gay actor in Hollywood.” Kearns continued to establish himself as a mainstream actor (The Waltons, Murder She Wrote, Cheers, Body Double, Beverly Hills 90210, And The Band Played On) while immersing in the worldwide theatre scene. He has achieved international acclaim as a solo performer (intimacies, Rock, attachments, Tell Tale Kisses, Make Love Not War, Once Upon a Time in South Africa). His award-winning theatrical resume includes an international tour of Dream Man as well as Los Angeles appearances in Camille, Bill and Eddie, Rubicon, the tenth year anniversary reading of The Normal Heart and the twentieth anniversary reading of The Boys In The Band. Kearns directed the world premieres of Eric Bentley’s Round Two, Robert Chesley’s Jerker, James Carroll Pickett’s Bathhouse Benediction and the Off Broadway solo pieces, The Porcelain Penelope Freak Show and Elevator Sex. Kearns has also directed an international tour of Dream Man (Spain, Ireland, Scotland, America). In addition to having more than a dozen plays produced (Myron, Robert’s Memorial, Barriers, Blessings, and Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee? among them), he also co-wrote the screenplay of Nine Lives, based on his play, complications. He has achieved international acclaim as a solo performer (intimacies, Rock, attachments, Tell Tale Kisses, Make Love Not War). The author of six theatre books published by Heinemann (T-Cells & Sympathy, Acting = Life), his most recent—The Drama of AIDS, My Lasting Connections with Two Plays that Survived the Plague—was released in the fall of ’09 in conjunction with the 20th anniversary tour of intimacies. Openly gay and publicly HIV-positive, the artist-activist is the recipient of several Lifetime Achievement Awards and Humanitarian Awards. Kearns is presently the Co-Artistic Director of the Katselas Theatre Company. He lives in Los Angeles with his daughter, Katherine Kearns.
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Mr. Kearns tells his tale with fierce honesty and integrity. I was a little titillated by the names of the Hollywood celebs he has known. Kearns however, never `drops' their names gratuitously. These are the people he has either worked with or had a personal relationship with. It is all in context. `Just the facts ma'am' is all he gives us, well, maybe just a little jab in the ribs added here and there, why not? He does call Hollywood to account for it's ongoing homophobia but only factually, never with much vicious intent, just some long needed expression of justified impatience. It's a dirty job but thank God someone, Mr. Kearns in this case, is doing it.
I am always impressed by anyone with the courage to just `tell all' about their life. And all that Mr. Kearns tells us in this book is not necessarily pretty. To tell it all so generously, not-to-mention with humor, must have taken tremendous courage.
This book is a mix of easy reading and some extremely gritty realities. These gritty realities include his `maniacal' family life; early acting career, coming out and his struggles with the plague and the consequent heartbreaking losses of many loved ones.
But it's in the last part of the book, when we get to know his adopted daughter Katherine (Tia) that Mr. Kearns shines, nay beams. This is also the part when I stopped holding my breath and came up for air. Mr.Kearns calls being a father his `greatest role'. We've all heard too many similar, insincere claims by celebs on chat shows, ad-nauseum. But I believe Michael Kearns; his love is written in every word about her in this book. Then I got it; it's LOVE that saves Kearns. It is love that is the thread that holds together the complex fabric of his life, including deep down into the darkest hues. It's also love that is the foundation on which every word in this tale is built. Love of life, love of acting and love of family and friends.
This was an inspiring book to say the least. A deep and fun read. I will be calling out loudly to all my friends, parents or not, homo or hetero that this book is a `must read'
The Happy Hustler myth is one of the great Hollywood legends in that it does not matter if it is true as long as they spell your name correctly (in this case, they spelled the name Grant Tracy Saxon correctly). Michael Kearns is a Hollywood legend on his own and he also represents a generation of Hollywood stalwarts who were prematurely silenced. Gratefully, Kearns fills in a lot of the void left from the cursed plague and when this survivor speaks, sometimes he roars. Sometimes he purrs like a kitten but he never whines; he owns his truth.
Yes, he gives the reader enough of the expected bon mot backstage details and tidbits of less than polite gossip and he politely confirms (or denies) some of the rumors (Rock Hudson, anyone?). He also gives us what we need most from this story -an inward journey of a front stage guy. This is not a shallow Hollywood anecdote it will pierce the core of many preconceptions, it's about showbiz people that lacks pretense. Reading this book feels like a very real story of real experiences with real people, some of them nice and some not so nice, and some of them famous, all of them flawed. It's the story of a good kid from a screwed up environment in a small town who makes a go of it in the big city and he lives to tell us about it. From porn star to AARP cover boy, Kearns' adept writing keeps us laughing and crying with him, not at him, all the way.
Sadly, a standard Hollywood story from Kearns' generation has become sort of a litany of obits. But while in the midst of death and dying, Kearns does a wild life affirming deed and adopts a baby. A long-term AIDS survivor, Kearns decided to become a single parent to an adopted infant daughter. It is a beautiful human act that many called selfish and crazy. His daughter is a young woman now and Kearns as a father is rightly proud. He admits, "Love and death are the two most difficult subjects" and yet he finds them irresistible to write about. He faces the difficult and therein truth is always good and exactly as it should be.
It's all in the book, it's a quick fun read and you'll cheer for the hero at the end. The Truth is Bad Enough is so good you won't want to put it down. I may even go see for myself on Saturday afternoon at Skylight Books in Hollywood what became of the Happy Hustler.