I entered Studio One backlot the day after my lover Scott died. Julie Budd was the torch singer on display. We had followed this Streisand copy since her Merv Griffin appearance in the late sixties. During our sixteen years we had visited Studio One a hundred times.
The Studio One Backlot of the Los Angeles was the answer to the cabaret haunts of Manhattan. Bon-Soir, Reno Sweeney, and Don’t Tell Mama that were the rage. The backlot fell into our laps
Chita Rivera was the opening performance in 1975. The cover charge was $3.00 which even then was a bargain. Thirty tables were all within up close distance to the stage. The maître d gave a disgusted look when he saw me, my lover Scott, mom and friend Paul. We didn’t look like the hot hip gay boys that were the rage. The boys that danced until four in the morning at the Studio One Disco in the enjoining room. We had no muscles. We didn’t use poppers. This was the beginning of the gay work out era. Our femininity was shunned.
“The reservation is under Blitz” I explained.
“I don’t see the name here. Give me a minute.” He snipped.
We waited five minutes before he returned.
“I see the problem. Let me show you to your table.”
He led us to a table at the back near the kitchen. There was a pole partially blocking our view.
“Can I bring you some mixed drinks?” the waiter asked.
“We don’t drink. Can we have some cranberry juice?”
“You know there is a two-drink minimum”
We were so excited to see Chita Rivera live that we ignored the snobbery. This Broadway star from West Side Story and Bye, Bye Birdie was a legend. When she entered kicking her dancing legs as the three-piece band played America, we were transported. The smoking energy of the tiny room blasted our senses. We were in her living room as she vocalized. Staring at us. The microphone pulled us in as she snarled. She bravely stole a Streisand song How Lucky Can You Get from Funny Lady and put her signature musing to it.
During the next fourteen years we would see Roslyn Kind, Lesly Ann Warren, Morgana King, Sally Kellerman, and Helen Schneider. We never tired of their repetitious patter “This is one of my favorite songs. I discovered this composer and wanted to share his songs. This is the first song I ever recorded.” Unrequited love laments were the staples of these singers. Who better than gay men understand? Why would these stars be willing to perform for little money at the backlot? Because the gay cultured audience was smarter and more attuned to what works. They could make or break you.
As AIDS decimated the community in the late eighties the audience for the Backlot disappeared. My piers dwindled. Madonna replaced the torch singers.
The reservations for Julie Budd had been placed a month before Scott died. I wanted to prove I could do this alone. I wanted to honor Scott and make him proud that I could carry on our cabaret tradition. The elitist maître d no longer puffed at me. As I am being led to a brilliant center section table, a familiar face says “Hello.” It’s the gay icon Michael Kearns. The writer of The Happy Hustler and one of the first gay Los Angeles performance artists, hugged me.
“Sorry to hear about Scott. I’d heard about his one-person show Life after Aids and wished I had gotten to see it.”
Scott had performed at Dominquez Hills State University where had been a teacher and few other venues.
Julie’s voice was pitch perfect. Her patter relieved my fragile state. For her encore of I Loves You Porgy, I almost lost track of the space. The high note bellowed through the room. I wanted Scott to be there. The history of the backlot slowly faded. There hasn’t been a replacement. I gave up grazing. My reminisces kept my passionate stamp alive. I refused to be stopped dead in my tracks.