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DeCaro, Frank (b. 1962)  
 
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Frank DeCaro has found success both in serious journalism as a fashion writer and editor and in comedy as a writer, performer, and radio talk show host.

Frank DeCaro's future existence came as a great surprise to his parents, Frank and Marion LaRegina DeCaro. After a decade of marriage, during which they had endured the painful experience of three miscarriages, they had given up the hope of having children, but when Marian DeCaro underwent an operation for a tumor in 1962, the couple learned that she was once again pregnant. Their only child was born in New York City on November 6 of that year.

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DeCaro grew up in nearby Little Falls, New Jersey in a household that included his maternal grandmother, who lived in the basement and "ruled the roost." When he was a toddler, his father suffered a heart attack and survived but, DeCaro wrote, "stopped dreaming and lost any semblance of playfulness he ever had." As a result of his father's emotional withdrawal, the boy became especially close to his mother.

DeCaro's childhood was a mixture of Catholic Italian-American experience, pop culture, drag Halloween costumes, gym teachers, and Advanced Placement courses.

In A Boy Named Phyllis: A Suburban Memoir (1996) he recounts this mélange with characteristic humor; nevertheless, he also speaks touchingly of the pain of being "different," enduring bullying and slurs from schoolmates, and getting very little support from teachers who could and should have intervened to stop the abuse. The effects of his experiences were long-lasting.

He wrote, "It was years before I could hear the word 'faggot' uttered by or about anyone without feeling mortally wounded and being mentally transported back to the art class" where, as a seventh-grader, he had made a three-dimensional letter "F" as an homage to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on which a similar "M" decorated the apartment of the sitcom star. When the teacher held up his well-done project, a classmate asked if the "F" stood for "faggot," whereupon the students burst into laughter, "but the teacher did nothing except to tell the class to quiet down, which they did when they were quite through giggling." The teacher subsequently told him not to "let those kids bother you"--clearly an impossible command.

DeCaro stated that "the other kids had known I was gay since [kindergarten, but] I figured it out in my junior year of high school, when I fell in love with a boy from my geometry class, the boy who would not only become my first boyfriend but would nickname me Phyllis."

A New York Daily News columnist had reported that singer Rod Stewart had nicknamed Elton John "Phyllis" and that John had responded by calling Stewart "Sharon." In fact, the reporter had the story backward, but "Phyllis" became DeCaro's nickname nonetheless.

At the beginning of his senior year in 1979 DeCaro played the Paul Lynde role in Passaic Valley High School's production of Bye Bye Birdie (book by Michael Stewart, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams), which afforded him the opportunity to "come out of my shell, if not out of the closet." His bravura performance turned him from the kid who was bullied and called names into a school celebrity.

He was also enjoying a happy romance with his crush from geometry class but became depressed when the other boy suddenly called it off. DeCaro's concerned mother repeatedly asked him what was wrong, and he finally revealed his love for his classmate. Although his mother had told him that he could tell her anything, DeCaro wrote, "As it turned out, this wasn't one of the things that I could tell her." Her response to the announcement was to order him not to tell his father.

DeCaro rekindled his love affair with his schoolmate, and the pair dated through the spring and summer. Although they were happily in love, "we had no gay identity then, no sense of a gay community existing beyond the world we knew in Little Falls," he stated.

In the fall of 1980 DeCaro enrolled at Northwestern University as a journalism major. He soon befriended some gay students from the theater department and "formed a support system" as they embarked upon college and adulthood.

DeCaro came out to his father that same autumn. His father's reaction, "'You mean all those kids were right all those years!' . . . cut through [DeCaro] like broken glass" because his father had never attempted to protect him from his tormentors. The relationship between father and son deteriorated. "It would be years before we became close again, and by that time neither of us thought the day would ever come," DeCaro wrote.

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Frank DeCaro on the set of the Game Show Network's I've Got a Secret in 2006.
  
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