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Harvey Fierstein Sings the Song of Himself in ‘I Was Better Last Night’

Blessed with a excessive I.Q., Fierstein skipped two grades and attended the Excessive Faculty of Artwork and Design in east Midtown, the place there was a smoking terrace for college students: “Hiya, 1965!” When the writer Anaïs Nin visited Fierstein’s English class, a sublime harbinger of what can be many encounters with the celebrated, he learn her tarot playing cards. Undiagnosed dyslexia drew him to play scripts: sparer texts, meant to be spoken aloud. Unsurprisingly, among the snappiest elements of this guide are bits of remembered dialogue. (“You’re Madeline Kahn!” a ticket vendor protested when the comic, nearing 40, brandished an N.Y.U. ID and demanded a scholar low cost to “Torch Tune.” “With a lot extra to be taught,” Kahn replied.)

Andy Warhol additionally figures. Little Harvey had admired the illustrations of footwear the artist did for Bloomingdale’s newspaper advertisements; whereas a sophomore at Pratt, the place he made ceramics with genitals known as Dangerous Boy Jugs, Fierstein received the a part of an asthmatic lesbian maid sporting a purple wig in “Andy Warhol’s Pork” at La MaMa, the temple of Off Off Broadway. He mingled with underground sorts at Max’s Kansas Metropolis (to pay the examine, the Manufacturing facility would ship over a portray), although not with out what grew to become a trademark contrariness. “I might by no means catch what Sweet Darling was speaking about, and after I did, it wasn’t definitely worth the effort,” he snipes about one member of Warhol’s entourage.

The writer’s dad and mom, regardless of their qualms about queerness, should have performed one thing proper, as a result of all through his life Fierstein (he pronounces it FIRE-stein, although his brother pronounces it FEER-stein) has been each fiery and fierce. “Jeez, but it surely was enjoyable to be a youngster dropped in the course of a revolution!” he writes of his early activism. Performs like “A Style of Honey” and “The Boys within the Band” troubled him as paperwork of  loneliness and self-loathing, and spurred him to write down of homosexual life extra affirmatively, extra assertively.

Credit score…Bruce Glikas

It’s sobering to be reminded that as late as 1973, a male tradition author for The Village Voice was arrested for holding one other man’s hand as they crossed a avenue in Greenwich Village. Fierstein’s interview with Barbara Walters in 1983, through the first profitable run of “La Cage Aux Folles,” by which she “questioned me as if I had been an interstellar alien” from Planet Homosexuality, was a thundering name for acceptance that also echoes right now, on YouTube. “The norm,” he realized, “meant nothing however the majority.”

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