June 13, 2003 - Noh Way

A still from the new film ‘Garmento.’

"My favorite musical, Maher’s crew, an outing
‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ an overlooked show queen’s delight, gets a second chance. Now Richard Chamberlain comes out? Yawn!

By David Noh

I HAD A RIOTOUSLY FUN DINNER with super-publicist Stephen Schulman, actor Jason Butler Harner, and director Michele Maher, whose funny fashion biz satire, “Garmento,” has just opened. Dismissed by most critics (you should see the way they dress!), it’s perhaps the realest film ever made about this Machiavellian, seemingly glam trade. (Think Calvin Klein, before he became such a fool for basketball.)

Maher threw it handsomely together via family, friends and maxed credit cards for under a mil, and personally submitted it to Village East Cinemas who happily, accepted it, thereby cleverly cutting out all bothersome middlemen.

Like any mama hen, she has been down at the theatre, watching how things go, and was utterly dismayed when a thoughtless cashier sold some matinee ladies tickets to “A Mighty Wind,” after they had specifically asked for “Garmento.” (How many times does that happen, one wonders?)

Harner plays a gay fashionista with admirable subtlety and quiet charisma, and small wonder, as he is one of those young New York actors who, although not world famous, has an impressively solid body of work behind him (including that Lever 2000 commercial).

He originated the Robert Sean Leonard role in the San Francisco production of Stoppard’s “Invention of Love,” and was in “Observe the Sons of Ulster” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” He is currently considering a Hamlet, for which he would be, frankly, perfect.

For no other reason, I will always love Maher and her crew, for giving Manhattan Cable’s Barry Z the proper treatment his obnoxious interview “skills” beg for. By their segment’s end, Barry was on the floor, being pelted by the piquantly stuffed-crotch briefs Maher had Joe Boxer specially run up for her film.

SO, RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN COMES out? At 70? What a heart-stoppingly courageous move, especiall

y as he has an autobiography, “Shattered Love,” to hawk! Donnez-moi a fucking break! First of all, does anyone care?

It’s been 40 years since “Dr. Kildare,” twenty since “The Thorn Birds,” and he says he suddenly realizes, “My days as a romantic lead are over.”

In my book, he was never even that, as his performances were always marked by a waxwork lack of real emotion and chilly narcissism. Chamberlain says he was filled with self-hatred for years, but a certain self-love indubitably steered his private life.

His boyfriends, like the rumored James Franciscus, and his current lover of 25 years, Martin Rabbett (weirdly only referred to as “Martin” in his autobio), could have been physical doubles for him. (Why not just drill a hole in the mirror?)

Rabbett was in the same class as my brother at Punahou, an elite Hawaiian school, started by land-grabbing missionaries, plucked by the 20-year-older star at a tender age.

Everyone in Honolulu pretty much knew about them, how they razed some precious ancient trees to re-landscape their mountain-top estate, etc., but it got a tad tiresome to keep hearing that protective party line, which Rabbett was still recently mouthing about them, “Richard and I are special friends and business partners.” My cousin’s husband, also blonde and buff, has never forgotten the outrageous cruise he got not too long ago from Dr. Kildare. (Hawaii’s a small place, you may have noticed.)

Some years ago, friends of mine were researching a bio of him, and received threatening letters from Chamberlain’s law firm, stating that their manuscript would be seriously vetted for anything “libelous.” For me, the best statement about this media non-event came from Joy Behar when Chamberlain appeared on “The View”: “Excuse me, you played a Catholic priest in “The Thorn Birds!” A gay priest? Now that’s a stretch!”