In late 1999, I was walking down Ventura Boulevard in
Sherman Oaks with my late producing partner Sharyn Lane after a day of editing Sordid Lives. We passed the Psychic Book Store and decided
to go in and get a reading. We weren’t
believers, but what the hell? We needed
a sign. Something. We had just taken a big risk, had shot one of
the first Hi-Def movies for about $500,000 (we raised from mainly friends with
money) and quite frankly, we really didn’t know what the hell we were
doing. I came from the theatre which had
given me opportunities in television as well as a film adaptation of my second
play Daddy’s Dyin’… Who’s Got The Will?
for MGM. Sordid Lives was also based on a hit play, but it was my first time
to direct a film, Sharyn’s first time to produce and although we liked our
little movie, we weren’t sure anybody else would. It was dark.
It was twisted. It was… bizarre.
The psychic that day told us, “Your film will have a very
unusual journey to success” and she advised us to “be patient.” Good guess?
Perhaps. But truer words were
It’s been 18 years since my play Sordid
Lives opened at Theatre/Theater in Hollywood, 14 years since it played over
20 film festivals, 14 years since the risky platform release that lasted almost
three years and 11 years since the DVD was initially released.
The play has had over three hundred productions worldwide,
the film won over 20 film festival awards (13 audience) then played
theatrically for about a year in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Laguna Beach, Provincetown, and it still holds the record for
the longest running film in the history of Palm Springs – 96 weeks at The
Camelot Theaters. They gave me a star on
Palm Canyon Blvd. and if I ever need a dose of self-esteem, I just grab Ann
“LaVonda” Walker and we go bar hopping in the desert.
The film spawned a
hit series on Logo in 2008 — a prequel — with much of the original film
cast, along with Rue McClanahan as the matriarch. The creative experience was heaven, the shoot
divine and the critics and viewers loved the show. We were ordered for a second season, but everything
came crashing down because of legalities when the producer (not Logo, so please
do not blame Logo) decided to not pay the artists their due residuals. The guilds descended, we won all arbitrations,
were awarded collectively over $2.5 million in unpaid residuals and
penalties. Yay! Not so fast.
That was a Friday. On Monday, the
producer filed bankruptcy and Sordid
Lives: The Series was over.
But, the crazy continues. I never go to a Halloween parade in the
gayborhoods across America where I don’t see “Brother Boy”, “Juanita”,
“LaVonda” and “Sissy”. Sometimes, a
group parades around as the entire cast shouting “Ohhh-kay”, “Woo, hoo”, “Lug
Nuts”, “32.09, 32.09, 32.09” and “Do you see my pussy now?” There is even a parrot in Palm Springs that
can say “Shoot ‘er Wardell, shoot ‘er in the head.” And yes, I am shocked at
the cult status that my little movie Sordid
Lives has been awarded.
I’m often asked, “Why do you think Sordid Lives became such a cult phenomenon?” After observing and evaluating, I think I
finally know. First and foremost – Palm
Springs. That city adopted my
movie. Since it is such a gay mecca and
tourist destination, the locals shared their pride and joy with anybody who
came to visit. Word of mouth was taken
back to other cities, so by the time the DVD came out in 2003, there was much
anticipation. I’m told that the DVD has
now sold over 300,000 units, and with the recent re-release by Wolfe, once
again, Sordid Lives is “off and
Another reason I think the movie hit a chord is because
people recognize themselves and their families in my “Sordid” family. This was my coming out story, and the
characters of “Latrelle” and “Ty” were based on my mom and myself. I thought it was my story, but so many tell
me it is theirs too. They have aunts
like “LaVonda” and “Sissy”, Moms like “Latrelle” – and everybody knows or wants
to be a drunk like “Juanita.”
People also love to share the film. Gays and straights feel comfortable sharing
it because it’s not overtly a “gay” film.
It’s a film about family with a theme of love and acceptance. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve gotten
where someone showed Sordid Lives to
their mom, dad or family and used it as a tool to come out.
And finally, I know that the movie is hysterical. And somewhat touching.
I recently got a letter from a fan who thanked me for the
film. This Southern woman, a lesbian,
had come out to her mom by showing her the film. After the church scene where Kirk Geiger
(“Ty”) comes out in front of his grandmother’s coffin to his mother “Latrelle”
played so deliciously by Bonnie Bedelia, the fan paused the movie and said,
“Mom. Me Too.” Her mother smiled and said, “Yes, honey, I
know. Let’s finish the movie. ” The woman went on to write me that her
mother was diagnosed a few years later with terminal cancer. During her last days, her mom told her that
she wanted to watch Sordid Lives
every day because she wanted to die laughing.
So yes, it’s been an amazing, unusual ride and I can’t
believe that it’s still going. The film
was just re-released on DVD /BluRay to much fanfare. And, I have just completed the final chapter
of the franchise – a new film called A
Very Sordid Wedding — which brings
the story into 2014 where gay history is rich during our Equality
movement. Much of the cast is back, and
we just launched an indiegogo campaign which is off to a
great 15K in one week start. If all goes
according to plans, we will be shooting in Dallas in May, hoping for a late
So my “Sordid” journey continues. And I am grateful.