Sean Penn in the Title Roll of ‘Milk’
After having watched the Academy Awards this year and seeing as how Sean Penn won best actor in his roll of Harvey Milk, I was anxious to see the performance I had heard so much about.
To win a best actor Oscar is a big deal in my book. It’s a wonderful recognition by the industry for an actor’s work. I remember as a kid and even into my young adulthood, practicing my acceptance speech for the Oscar I knew I would one day win.
Penn delivers a beautiful performance as Harvey Milk in the film titled “Milk,” and I learned a lot by watching it.
Some people may find the subject matter of gay rights disturbing, but I am not one of them. I have many gay friends, male and female, and of course in acting, it is very common. But on top of that, I roomed with three different gay men, both in New York City and Los Angeles. All three of these guys, Jacques (who is sadly no longer with us), Chuck and Michael were wonderful friends and roommates.
Jacques was my best friend from Cleveland and then we both moved to New York to pursue our careers in acting. Of course, I wound up tending bar and he sold shoes. (I in trendy bars and he in very upscale booteries.)
Jacques and I were both very conscious of clothes and fashion and thought everyone should have a talking mirrior that would alert the person in front of said mirror,”This outfit isn’t really working for you. You shouldn’t be seen in public like that.”
There is some of this same silliness in the relationships of “Milk,” but the overall film is a serious retelling of the gay rights movement and its first nationally recognized elected representative of a major city as a gay supervisor in San Francisco who had an impact across the country on individual rights.
Milk maintained he wasn’t just fighting for gay rights, but for senior rights, women’s rights, disabled rights and others who had no strong lobbying or financial backing in government.
He famously joined with the teamsters in a city-wide boycott of super-traditional Coors Beer (my personal favorite in spite of their political views) to keep Coors out of bars in San Francisco in exchange for gay men being given truck driving jobs without question- a truly strange alliance that worked to both the groups’ benefit.
My last bar tending gig was at a bar/restaurant on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Cienega in West Hollywood.
The restauarant was downstairs with the bar upstairs and every step was a pain with my MS starting to act up back then. It was called Benvenuto which means “to your health” and was in the heart of “Boytown,” with the clientelle 95 percent gay. It was my first and last experience working in a gay environement and I have to say I enjoyed it more than any other bar tending job I ever had.
It was nice not getting hit on by male patrons, but very weird getting hit on by female patrons. It didn’t matter how many times I said it, no one ever believed I was straight working in a gay bar.
I saw a lot of the good cheer and comraderie illustrated in “Milk” and kudos for the Academy recognizing Penn’s work, the film and the memory of Harvey Milk.
Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site www.kathrynskorner.com