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Fierstein, Harvey (b. 1954)  
 
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Fierstein made the most of the opportunity and won a Tony Award. He became the first man to earn a Best Actor prize for playing a woman and only the second person to win Tony Awards in four different categories. (Tommy Tune was the first.) Among other honors, he also garnered a Drama Desk award for best lead actor in a musical.

After 711 performances as Edna, Fierstein left the show to continue his movie career. His recent projects have included two Danny DeVito films, Death to Smoochy (2002) and Duplex (2003), and the Craig B. Highberger documentary Superstar in a Housedress (2004) about Jackie Curtis, a flamboyant drag performer in the late 1960s and 1970s. Fierstein has also toured with his club act, "This Is Not Going to Be Pretty."

Sponsor Message.

On the occasion of his final performance in Hairspray, Fierstein auctioned off two tickets to benefit the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. He has long been a vocal and outspoken champion of glbtq rights. He has pressed for AIDS research and also for education about safe sex. He has contributed his time and effort to a number of organizations including the Services Legal Defense Fund, a group that assists gay men and lesbians in the military.

In an eloquent speech in 1998 Fierstein decried the that had led to the vicious murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. He called upon glbtq people to be visible and active--to speak out, to vote, and to boycott--to work towards an end to bigotry.

Fierstein created a stir in 2003 when he appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as Edna Turnblad dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus. Prior to the event he had written an op-ed piece for the New York Times questioning whether a figure as beloved as Santa would continue to enjoy respect as a partner in a same-sex couple, and used the example to advocate for gay marriage.

Fierstein has vigorously encouraged all glbtq people to come out publicly but disagrees with the tactic of outing. He believes that the decision to come out is a personal one and also feels that people dragged from the closet make poor representatives of the community.

Fierstein is conscious of his own opportunities and responsibilities as a prominent gay man. He turned down the part of a child-eating clown in Stephen King's It (directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990) lest he provide fuel for people who unjustly portray gay men as preying on children. He has consistently tried to write and perform roles that affirm personal dignity and encourage people to take pride in who they are and to respect others who may be different.

For that Harvey Fierstein may take pride in himself.

Linda Rapp

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   Related Entries
  
literature >> Overview:  AIDS Literature

In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

literature >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

In literature, the gay male cross-dresser and the lesbian cross-dresser are depicted quite differently.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

arts >> Overview:  Film Sissies

The film sissy had his heyday in the 1930s, but persists as a film archetype, subtly reminding audiences that there are other ways of being than conventional heterosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Humor

Like other minority groups, gay men and lesbians have had to develop both a particular sense of humor among themselves in order to make their marginal social status endurable and also a defensive awareness toward the rest of the world in order to disarm their adversaries with laughter.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

social sciences >> Overview:  Outing

First used by homophobes and then by glbtq activists, outing is the public revelation of a person's sexuality without the consent of that person.

literature >> Overview:  Political Blogs

The explosion of political blogs has served to multiply greatly the number of voices    participating in glbtq activism and to expedite the transmission of political information to glbtq communities.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

arts >> Overview:  Screenwriters

Although film may be a director's rather than a writer's medium, gay and lesbian screenwriters have made significant contributions to both mainstream and independent film.

arts >> Overview:  Stage Actors and Actresses

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual actors and actresses are among the elite of contemporary theater, but only recently have many come out publicly.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

arts >> Overview:  Transvestism in Film

Too often cinematic drag is reduced to a mere joke, a harmless tease that tacitly reassures us that people can change their clothes but not their sexual identities.

arts >> Allen, Peter

Although not publicly out as a gay man, Australian singer and songwriter Peter Allen signaled his homosexuality through his flamboyant persona and the subtexts of many of his songs.

arts >> Busch, Charles

Actor-writer-director Charles Busch has distinguished himself through his virtuouso performances of "grand dame" characters and through his writing of dramatic vehicles for these roles.

arts >> Deitch, Donna

Although pioneering film and television director Donna Deitch is best known for Desert Hearts, a classic of lesbian cinema, she has also made other films that probe gay and lesbian relationships

arts >> Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead)

A versatile character actor, nightclub singer, and international cult star who generally performed his stage show and movie roles in drag, Divine became famous through his appearances in John Waters' films.

arts >> Epstein, Rob

Writer, director, and producer Rob Epstein is one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of his generation, having worked on a number of landmark gay-themed films.

arts >> Etheridge, Melissa

Award-winning rock singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge has not only managed to carve out a spectacularly successful career as a popular mainstream performer, but she has also become a lesbian icon and activist for gay and lesbian causes.

literature >> Fierstein, Harvey

Award-winning Harvey Fierstein is one of the finest gay male playwrights currently working in the American theater.

arts >> Herman, Jerry

A proponent of the "diva musical," Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman made homosexuality the undisguised subject of La Cage aux Folles but he did so just as gay culture lost its need of a diva to voice its concerns.

arts >> In the Life

America's only nationally broadcast gay and lesbian newsmagazine, In the Life began in 1992 as a variety show, but has since evolved into an acclaimed public-affairs program.

literature >> McNally, Terrence

Texas-reared Terrence McNally, whose first play, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, was one of the great scandals of the 1964 New York season, emerged in the 1990s as America's most important gay playwright since Tennessee Williams.

arts >> Shaiman, Marc (b. 1959), and Scott Wittman (b. 1955)

Composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist and director Scott Wittman, partners in life and collaborators in theater, film, and television projects, have a long list of credits in the entertainment industry.

social sciences >> Shepard, Matthew

Matthew Shepard led an unremarkable life, but his shocking death transformed him into an icon of the glbtq movement for equality.

arts >> Tune, Tommy

The first person to have won Tonys in four different categories, dancer, director, and choreographer Tommy Tune is known for his choreographic sense of humor and for his celebration of the chorus line.

arts >> Vilanch, Bruce

Comedy writer and performer Bruce Vilanch has appeared on stage, television, and film and is a tireless proponent of glbtq causes.

arts >> Vogel, Paula

In her work, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel has tackled difficult topics, including AIDS, incest, and prostitution.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)

Although Andy Warhol is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct, his contribution to gay cinema is incalculable.

arts >> Waters, John

A director, writer, producer, and photographer, John Waters became well known in the early 1970s through his filmic collaboration with actor--and drag queen--Divine.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.


    Bibliography
   

Ansen, David. "In Search of Mr. Right." Newsweek (January 2, 1989): 58.

Bennetts, Leslie. "Harvey Fierstein's Long Journey to the Tony and Beyond." New York Times (June 26, 1983): 2, 3.

Campbell, Scottie. "Color Me Harvey." Watermark (May 25, 2000). www.gayday.com/news/2000/watermark_000525b.asp.

Cuthbert, David. "Harvey's Hairy Hit." Times-Picayune (New Orleans) (February 23, 2003): Living, 1.

"Fierstein, Harvey." Current Biography Yearbook. Charles Moritz, ed. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1984. 122-126.

Graham, Jefferson. "'Common Ground' Does Ask, Then Tells." USA Today (January 28, 2000): 11E.

Gussow, Mel. "Theater: Fierstein's 'Torch Song.'" New York Times (November 1, 1981): 1, 81.

Guzman, Rafer. "Camp 'Kull" Good Trashy Fun with the Stand-in Barbarian." Buffalo (New York) News (August 29, 1997): 20G.

"Harvey Fierstein's Speech." Arizona Lesbian's List. (October 15, 1988). www.geocities.com/westhollywood/park/9700/harvey.html.

Holden, Stephen. "Always the Lady, Even When He Needed a Shave." New York Times (May 5, 2004): E5.

Johnson, Brian D. "Drag Queen Romance; One Man's Search for a Loving Relationship; Torch Song Trilogy." Maclean's (February 20, 1989): 53.

Marks, Peter. "Onstage, in a Dress, in His Element." New York Times (June 23, 2002): 2, 5.

Singer, Heidi, and Tatiana Deligiannakis. "Pageant's Main Drag; B'way Star Gets Santa Slight." New York Post (November 28, 2003): 9.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Fierstein, Harvey  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 29, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/fierstein_h_art.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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