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Fierstein, Harvey (b. 1954)  
 
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With a great score by Jerry Herman, La Cage aux Folles was a smash hit on Broadway and won numerous honors, including the 1983 Tony Award for best book.

Fierstein's next three plays, Spookhouse (1984), Safe Sex, another trilogy of one-acts (1987), and Forget Him (1988), met with considerably less success at the box-office, although some critics found parts of Safe Sex to be some of his best work. Fierstein also wrote the book for the musical Legs Diamond (1988). The show, which starred Peter Allen, was a disaster that has achieved a kind of legendary status in Broadway lore.

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In the mid-1980s Fierstein began his career in movies, some cinematic and others for television. His early projects included the narration of Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen's The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and an acting role in Sidney Lumet's Garbo Talks (1984).

Fierstein revised the script of Torch Song Trilogy to bring the story to the big screen. Producers expressed reservations, saying that the play had become a "period piece" since it is set in the 1970s, before the AIDS crisis became acute. They also felt that a more prominent actor--either Dustin Hoffman or Richard Dreyfuss--should play the lead role. However, both Hoffman and Dreyfuss, having seen Fierstein onstage as Arnold, told him that they believed he was the best choice for the part.

The independent production company New Line Cinema made the 1987 film, in which Fierstein starred and which Paul Bogart directed. The movie was enthusiastically received. Critic Brian D. Johnson called it "a funny, poignant, and surprisingly wholesome tale of romantic love and old-fashioned family values," and David Ansen pronounced Fierstein's "generous, overspilling performance . . . a marvel."

Fierstein became a commentator for the television series In the Life in 1992. He also continued acting in a wide variety of films including Chris Columbus's Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway (1994), Rob Epstein's The Celluloid Closet (1995), in which he appeared as himself, Roland Emmerich's Independence Day (1996), and Emily Squires' Elmo Saves Christmas (1996). As a favor to his friend director John Nicollela he played a pirate villain in Kull the Conqueror (1997). Critic Rafer Guzman, though commenting that "the acting in Kull . . . leaves a lot to be desired," singled out Fierstein's performance as "the most delightful surprise in the film."

Fierstein also made guest appearances on numerous television shows including Miami Vice (1986), The Simpsons (1990), Murder, She Wrote (1992), and Ellen (1998). His 1992 turn in the Cheers episode "Rebecca's Lover . . . Not" won him an Emmy nomination.

In 1998 Fierstein voiced a character in the animated Disney feature Mulan (directed by Tony Bancroft), a story loosely based on the ancient Chinese tale of a girl who disguised herself as a boy so that her family could comply with an imperial decree that every household must supply one soldier to the army. Before accepting the part Fierstein verified that the majority of the cast was Asian so that he would not be "tak[ing] work away from an Asian actor."

One of Fierstein's many works on the theme of respect for all was the 1999 television movie The Sissy Duckling (directed by Anthony Bell). The project, for which Fierstein wrote the script and voiced the title character (Melissa Etheridge voiced his mother), won a Humanitas Prize in 2000. His adaptation of the story as a children's book (2002) was warmly received and sold extremely well.

Another of Fierstein's television projects was the movie Common Ground (directed by Donna Deitch, 2000), made for the Showtime cable network. Fierstein, Paula Vogel, and Terrence McNally each wrote a piece for the trilogy. The film, set in a fictional small town in Connecticut, looks at the lives of gay men and lesbians in the 1950s, the 1970s, and at the turn of the twenty-first century. Fierstein's contribution, "Andy & Amos," in which he also acted, concerns the issue of gay marriage.

After a lengthy absence Fierstein made a triumphant return to Broadway in the run-away hit musical Hairspray (2002), an adaptation of John Waters' 1988 film. The highly regarded team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote the music, and Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan supplied the book.

Fierstein made his Broadway musical debut in a dress, as Edna Turnblad, the role played by the legendary drag performer Divine in the Waters film. Fierstein was thrilled to get the part and declared that he would "always be grateful, because for this brief, shining moment, I am Ethel Merman, starring in a musical."

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