We are delighted to have the author of the smash-hit SUB-LEBRITY*: *The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote with us today. To say I’m giddy would be an understatement.
SUB-LEBRITY*: *The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote hit the bookshelves on April 21st and has continued to garner praise from reviewers across the nation.
Read on for my exclusive interview with Leon, an excerpt of his highly entertaining and insightful memoir, and for your chance to win a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card!
A droll, oddly inspirational memoir from the actor Breitbart once called “a gay leftist activist,” SUB-LEBRITY by Leon Acord (Old Dogs & New Tricks) is an honest, sometimes bitchy but always sincere story about growing up (very) gay in rural Indiana, achieving acting success outside the closet, and generating headlines with his very-public smackdown with Trump-loving Susan Olsen (Cindy, The Brady Bunch).
Thank you for coming to our site today. We are indeed privileged to have you with us.
Your new release, SUB-LEBRITY: *The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote, was released April 21, 2020, and you’ve been getting some pretty rave reviews. Do you feel a little like Sally Fields, when she won her Oscar for Places in the Heart in 1985, “You like me! You really like me!”
I’m sure I am far too young to understand that reference. (Laughs) No, I totally get it! I have to say, I’m both surprised by the reviews, but also almost not surprised. Let me explain before you dismiss me as an egomaniac! I was surprised by the reviews, because, you know, these kind of show-biz memoirs aren’t usually taken very seriously. But I was also kind of not surprised, because I realized my challenge before I started writing it: Since I wasn’t famous, my book would have to be particularly engaging and well-written for people to pick it up! So, I worked hard to make it both fun and good. I’m giddy to see so many folks think it worked. I’m incredibly happy people are enjoying it.
Your pivotal moment in your early acting career could have been your end. But you made a horrible childhood prank into your crowning moment. As you state in the book, “Rick wanted me to feel like Carrie White [from Stephen King’s Carrie]. Instead, I felt like Cary Grant.” How, at such a young age were you able to turn that prank around so that instead of feeling abject humiliation, you became the star of the show and knew at that moment, the applause, the adulation, that was what you had been chasing after and what you wanted in your life?
Oh, that was easy! I’d already spent a childhood watching those kind of moments happen on the Carol Burnett Show – when props would break, or actors would crack up, or things would go wrong and they’d struggle not to laugh while the audience went nuts. Every time, I’d watch and think “I wanna do what they’re doing!” So, when that moment happened to me on the high-school stage in real life, it was just – I don’t know – the manifestation of a lifelong desire, at the risk of sounding terribly Californian! It felt like destiny delivered. Turns out, the surprise was on Rick, wasn’t it!
But you know, I’ve always had that streak, I think. I’ve always felt very strongly about stripping bullies of their power. Even now. For example, in my web series Old Dogs & New Tricks [now on Amazon Prime] I wrote one of the characters to frequently say “Faggot, please!” because I’m all about taking “weapons” away from bullies and using them for ourselves.
Even the name of my book, SUB-LEBRITY. A blogger wrote about the series, which he liked, but he called be a “sublebrity.” I’m sure it was intended as shade, but I decided to co-opt it. Before the web series, I was a non-lebrity. So as far as I was concerned, being a sub-lebrity was a step up! I decided to embrace it, celebrate it, instead of giving him the power of making me feel diminished or even mad!
You wrote of living next door to your paternal grandparents in Kokomo, Indiana, and how they accepted your then-boyfriend, Neal, without judgment even though they were staunch Christians. In your footnote you write, “Remember when that’s what Christianity was about?” Can you explain a little more what you mean by this footnote? Do you feel the definition of Christianity has morphed over the past 40 years or so?
The definition of Christianity hasn’t morphed. It’s been completely blown to smithereens. Back then, many Christians actually read their Bibles, and followed its teachings, like “Love Thy Neighbor” and “Judge Not.” The religion used to be all about love, about helping those less fortunate. But then it got co-opted by bigots and the Republican Party, and they turned it into something ugly and hateful. I just don’t recognize it anymore. But make no mistake, most of these folks calling themselves “evangelical Christians” haven’t touched a Bible. They only embrace the title because it gives them license to hate and discriminate under the guise of their pseudo-religion! Now you knew you’d get me going with that question, didn’t you!
In the early years of AIDS, before we knew what really caused it or how it spread, you had an honest and frank discussion with your mother one Christmas. You state, “The more she learned, the less she feared.” Do you feel more of us could benefit from your mother’s attitude, whether it is LGBTQ+ issues, BLM, or other social issues?
You know, there’s a reason many of the most fearful, reactionary Americans are those who’ve never traveled more than 100 miles away from where they were born! Knowledge is not only power, it is understanding, it is calming, it is the opposite of fear. So is exposure to other ways of life. I swear, if your average, arm-chair racist had to live and work in San Francisco for twelve months, he’d return home a year later more tolerant and with a much more open mind. Everyone should challenge their own prejudices and even their own “tastes” in food and music and such.
My mom is amazing, by the way. She really has come a long way, baby!
After the loss of your friend, Jeffrey, among other things, you went into a severe depression. Temporary depression and grief are healthy, but long-term, they can be very debilitating if people don’t get help. How were you able to overcome your depression and despair?
Well, I did have some great help, a very capable doctor named Chris Wilmer at the Thalians mental health center at Cedars-Sinai. But I also took an extended break, from Hollywood, show biz, my marriage, you name it, and went back to Indiana for a couple of months to get back to who I used to be. I began writing and feeling creative and like my old self again.
You know, I didn’t really make this connection while I was writing the book, but I just did now with your question: Creating and writing the gay friendships in Old Dogs & New Tricks helped tremendously. I was able to honor the kind of friendship we shared, and even project it onto the characters, so that it lived on through them. Hmmm. Though, gosh, maybe that doesn’t sound too sane now that I say it out loud, does it?
But yes, therapy was the first step. And I encourage anyone dealing with depression or heavy-duty grief to seek help. Hell, if macho Michael Phelps can seek help, so can you!
What is one big thing you would “do-over” if you could go back in time?
Oh God, that’s a terrifying question, isn’t it? I don’t think you could change just one thing, without it rippling through other things, causing other changes. I also try not to have regrets. I try to think of mistakes as lessons. That said, I wish I would have finished college. I wish I had been kinder with some folks who are no longer with us. I wish I could have one more summer with my grandparents at Diamond Lake! And I’d would work harder to get Hillary elected!
If the adult you could tell the teenage you anything, what piece of advice would it be?
I was a pretty headstrong teen, so even if I could do that, I don’t know if young me would even listen! I guess I’d just say, “Look, you’re on the right path, just work harder and smarter and don’t waste so much time looking for validation and sex and other distractions!”
What advice would you give an aspiring LGBTQ+ actor?
The first piece of advice I’d give is this: Watch an interview with Ian McKellen, or any other actor who had success first before coming out. They almost all say that they became better actors after they came out. So, come out now. While I respect actors who do after they find success, I admire the ones who were never “in” in the first place. And what if you plan to stay closeted until you “become famous” but then never become famous? Are you going to stay in that freaking closet the rest of your life?
Beyond that, I’d give the same advice I’d give any aspiring actor, which has changed.
I used to encourage young actors to go to college, get a BA in theatre, make those connections, really learn your craft before you start. But unless you can land a scholarship, its insanity nowadays for an arts student to take out a loan they may never be able to pay off.
So now, I tell young actors to do what I eventually did: Find a really good, affordable acting coach, and then study with that coach for four years, minimum, as if you were going to college. Study, study, study. You’ll come out the other side with acting chops and in a hell of a lot less debt!
The business has changed so much since I was young, that any further advice would probably be hopelessly outdated.
You write in the book about driving home after your time on a talk-show with Susan Olsen (The Brady Bunch), “…I remembered (too late) a piece of advice Dad once gave me. ‘Never argue in public with a crazy person.’” Do you still stand by that advice?
You know, I try, but man, it’s so hard now. Crazy people are swinging from the trees these days! I do try! I don’t always succeed.
If you could write the footnote to your story, what would it be?
*People eventually began asking Andy Dick if he was Leon Acord – instead of the other way around! (Ah, that’s a nice fantasy!)
We’ve enjoyed having you with us today and look forward to seeing what the next 40 or 50 years have in store for you!
Thank you! And thank you for doing your homework! This was a hoot!
Leon Acord will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.
Leon Acord is an award-winning actor and writer who has appeared in over 35 films you’ve never seen and 30 plays you’ve never heard of. Possible exceptions include the digital TV series Old Dogs & New Tricks on Amazon Prime Video (which he created, wrote & co-produced), and the stage hit Carved in Stone (in which he played Quentin Crisp in both SF and LA productions). His memoir, SUB-LEBRITY: The Queer Life of a Show-Biz Footnote, is now available in paperback & e-book on Amazon. He wrote his one-man show Last Sunday in June (1996) and co-authored the 2014 play Setting the Record Gay. He was a “Take Five” columnist for Back Stage West throughout 2009 and a former contributor to Huffington Post. He has also written for San Francisco Examiner and the journal Human Prospect. He currently lives in West LA with husband Laurence Whiting & their cat Toby. Learn more at www.LeonAcord.com
Old Dogs & New Tricks website: www.odnt.tv