Tag Archives: dallas

40, Love: Collected Works of Playboy

Today on 40, Love: Jon Paul ponders the consequences of early exposure to his father’s complete Playboy collection.

It’s probably a good thing that my father didn’t live to see this day, since all of his hard work has been undone by a technological flip of a button.  I’m not talking about the WikiLeaks or his well-publicized judicial decisions for the underdogs—advancing gay rights, guaranteeing equitable elections.  No, this is much more personal: his blood, sweat and tears building a complete collection of Playboy magazines.  What took my father nearly a decade to acquire is now available in a snazzy electronic version.  As reported in today’s New York Times, Bondi Digital—the same company that electronically packaged 80 years of my father’s other favorite publication, the New Yorker—has downloaded every issue of Playboy onto a hard drive costing just $300.  Judge Jerry Buchmeyer wouldn’t be pleased.

From 1969 through 1984, in his efforts to build the collection, my father maintained a spirited and private correspondence with a man he never met named Murray Zuckerman, a rare book dealer from Southern California.  Reading the carbon copy of the letters now, I realize that my father’s emotional relationship with Murray was the deepest and longest of his life.  The letters read like a ‘70s-mod 84 Charing Cross Road.

My father ended up with 3 original Marilyn Monroe 1953 editions

The resulting Playboy collection was an odd fixture in our family.  It held a very mysterious place—physically, it was off-limits, kept behind closed doors in our father’s study, high up on out-of-reach shelves with labels for the various years.  Each treasure was protected by a plastic sleeve.  The day a new one arrived in the mail via subscription hidden by brown paper wrapping, my father would disappear for hours, and when finished, put it into the protective shield and place out of our reach.

When asked, my mother rather defensively told people that my father read Playboy for the articles.  And I believed her.  I imagined the magazines articles held secrets, that if revealed, might be too much for my pre-adolescent brain.  When you’re a kid, you generally take whatever is in your house as the norm.  Since I was pretty isolated from other families, I didn’t have much to go on.  It wasn’t until I was nine, when other boys came over to the house, and I told them about the Playboy magazines, that I began to suspect something else was up.  My friends acted shocked and amazed, and so of course we would sneak a peek.  My play date card began filling up rather quickly.

Funny though, I was more curious than aroused looking at the pictures of the nubile young women.  They didn’t look like my sisters or mother.  For one thing, there was no hair down there.  I don’t think I even knew what to call it.  But I had seen my mother after showers, and my sisters, and knew there was something odd about how these women had almost no hair below their waist.  And the boobs!  Bigger than the teased hair on top!

As I snuck more peeks, I began critiquing the art direction.  I preferred outdoor locations to interior shots—studio pictures seemed too easy.  But spreading out on a rock formation with those enormous boobs—now that was some kind of talent.  I think now that my introduction to Playboy lead to my life long appreciation of the female bosom—for a gay guy, I comment on them a lot.

Occasionally, I’d glance through the rest of the publication.  There did seem to be some articles about vaguely familiar current events topics that didn’t interest me.  And there was a sex advice column and some fantasy fiction that I read and tried hard to understand, but lacked any of the basic vocabulary of sex.

For years, I just took it as a badge of honor that my father had a complete collection of Playboys.  He was cool and interesting.  The first time my father ever gave any hint of shame was when the FBI came knocking.  They were conducting a background investigation for his nomination to the federal judiciary.  Before their arrival, my father persuaded a friend to house the collection, no questions asked.  At least not at his Senate hearing.

Somehow Jeff Stryker doesn't live up to Marilyn Monroe

Later, as an out gay teenager, I lost interest in perusing pictures of women.  I needed to see men.  So sweating nervously at Dallas’ gay bookstore Crossroads Market, I placed The Advocate newsmagazine on top of an Advocate Men porn publication—as if that was going to fool the cashier.  I handed them over to the cute guy behind the counter and blushed.

“I read them for the articles,” I stammered.

He smiled at me and winked.

“Don’t we all, honey?”

When I rushed home and got my first glance of the male gaze, I was comforted.  Not so different from Playboy, really.  Same come hither look.  Pecs as big as boobs.  And little hair down there.

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Gary Does Dallas

Gary Does Dallas

back on book tour with tyra

Today on Alphabet City: JP’s alter ego Gary Tyler Moore does Dallas in a Big Way. Guest star: Tyra Banks (sort of)

Viewer programming note: Special Alphabet City tweeting project—follow #ABCity

Homecoming trips to Big D are always complicated affairs for me—add on book tour and I was one jumpy bundle of nerves.  I’d been practicing politic responses to probing questions about my father and our issues, while packing, unpacking and repacking my wardrobe—Mary taught me to always have on a cute outfit.  But a familiar face staring at me in American Airlines First Class calmed me down—although she did look paper thin and flat.  Tyra Banks eyed me from the cover of the American Way magazine, and I took that as an omen that things always work out in the end.

Stepmom knitted me a scarf!

First came the reunions.  One of the positive side effects of Alphabet City’s publication has been the surfacing of some new information as it relates to many of my life episodes involving Dad.  Dinner with my stepmother/friend was on tap for a much needed re-bonding, so I chose a spot that would let us take Dallas in style—the swanky Nana on the top of the Hilton Anatole towers.  The hotel is the site of some of the action in Alphabet City’s Episode 2—where I triumphed/floundered as the villain in a sticky sweet show Calling All Kids, that led to me meeting Tommy Tune and dreaming of being whisked right then to the Great White Way.

Nana's duck breast with a view

The Anatole and I have both grown up since those days—and Nana sits like the crown jewel offering stunning views of the Dallas skyline.  Over a perfectly grilled Texas quail and tender duck breast, we dished on tales of behind-the-scenes life on the set of Courtside Manner (the name that I gave to my father’s courtroom drama of a life).  Turns out, he was “a much more emotionally complicated person” than even I knew—a sound bite I would starting using in my press interviews.  And while the new information doesn’t change the betrayal I often felt at his hands—in fact it makes it worse actually—it was tremendously validating and fulfilling to reconnect with a person who was one (the only?) pillar of stability in my confusing teen years.

That night, I slept soundly with another old friend—The Stoneleigh.  My history with the hotel is long and fun.  My father lived in an apartment for a week or so when my parents split up.  On assignment a few years ago for Condé Nast Traveler, I returned to the scene after the hotel was renovated, reviewing the property for the magazine’s Hot List (original review).  As a travel writer, it’s gratifying to revisit and find out if first impressions are ever lasting—and I’m happy to report that the hotel is still in fine style, with large rooms and a bright color scheme that I’m still trying to recreate at home in NYC.

David Taffet proves everything's bigger in TX, including coffee & bagels

Truthfully, my first media appearance on KNON 89.3 Lambda Weekly—one of the oldest gay and lesbian radio shows in the country—made me nervous.  How would the gay media react to revelations about my father, a public gay hero, but who privately wasn’t always supportive of his gay son?  I needn’t have worried under the skillful direction of host and friend David Taffet, a New Yorker who has taken to calling himself Rhoda to my Mary.  My experience so far is that folks tend to understand that often public figures are often much different at home—and that my father separated intellectual issues from emotional ones.  As David advised, one hour on air flew by and boosted my confidence for future appearances.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book tour is the personal events and parties that friends are throwing for me all over the country.  With a hectic sitcom life, I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve lost touch with those who early on made sure I would survive and ultimately thrive.  I love that the tour is allowing me to reconnect, like at the party that my high school advisor (the woman who raised and furiously waved the red flag about my teen troubles) hosted with fellow alums from The Greenhill School.

Like old times

My dear friend Valerie (who should get a credit for one of the photos on the book’s cover—17 year-old me coyly using a scarf to cover terrible acne) drove up from Austin, and took up her spot by my side like we were back in high school—corralling the group to listen to a reading, and then peppering me with questions like a good audience plant.  Bless her.  Even better, we had a chance to catch up more at dinner at Ocean Prime, a trendy new establishment in Dallas’ Uptown area.

couldn't capture dry ice!

Over a dramatic theatrical presentation of oysters featuring dry ice, we laughed about the good ‘ole days—driving to fancy Greenhill in her Dallas Cowboys van, later at UT-Austin making stealth round-trips in the middle of night to pick-up/steal coffee pots and fans from our unsuspecting parents.

But reunions always seem to end too soon.  Reluctantly, we parted ways early as the next morning’s appearance on Good Morning Texas started to weigh heavily on me.  Gary Tyler Moore definitely needs his beauty sleep.

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Hometown Heroine

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s book causes dramatic revelations about long held family secrets.

JP wonders if he'll ever wear Big D on his sleeve

There’s no way around the fact that I’ve always had a delicate relationship with my hometown Dallas.  Anyone who has read Alphabet City: My So-Called Life knows that part of my Mary Tyler Moore life in the Big Apple has been about leaving behind painful parts of my Big D past.  But when wearing my (very stylish) PR hat, I knew it just made sense to start my book tour in Big D—after all, that’s where the journey began.  But the ramifications of that decision are just beginning to unravel—revealing unexpected connections, hometown heroes and dramatic revelations about long held family secrets.

Mockingbird Hilton turned Kimpton's Hotel Palomar, an urban oasis

First, the connections.  Because Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is a national sponsor of the Alphabet City Book Party Tour, their Hotel Palomar is my first stop.  When I was growing up, the property that opened in 1967 was called the Mockingbird Hilton.  On the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway, there was no way of avoiding the modern structure when traveling to and from our house on Hillgreen down the road.  Over time, I developed an immense fascination with the hotel.  There were the giant Tiki masks outside the ground floor Trader Vic’s restaurant that served smoking drinks!  And the top of the building featured floor to ceiling windows from a sparkling disco that my older sister Pam sometimes frequented.

Hotel Palomar lobby in its retro-chicWhen I was 10, my mother left Dad, and took up residence at the hotel for a week or so.  That’s when I got my first taste of a real live urban oasis.  For a couple of days, I kept her company lounging poolside, just feet away from the perpetually clogged highway, while some of her best girlfriends showed up to commiserate with her misfortune.

A few years ago, the property was returned to all its ‘70s chic retro-glam by Kimpton, and I find it too delicious that my tour begins at Hotel Palomar.  Thanks Kimpton for being such a terrific company, and for expanding your creative marketing to the GLBT community by sponsoring the tour!

Second, the heroes.  Sometimes on a journey like this you never quite know how folks are going to respond—from the press to family to friends.  So far, so good.  Robert Wilonsky’s post yesterday on the Dallas Observer site sent my blog numbers through the roof.  David and Arnold at the Dallas Voice have been a delight—as always.  Now fingers crossed for Dallas Morning News and D Magazine.  Local PR maven Kellie McCrory is all over it.  As is my extended family hosting Book Club Parties—Christine and the Greenhill Alumni Gang (shout out to Katie Young); my mother-in-law-once-removed Cathy and her Colleyville Ladies who Lunch; and certainly can’t forget the TCU Chi Omega Sorority Alumni Book Club arranged by my sister-in-law-once-removed Mandy.  I mean amazing.

Finally, the revelations.  Are you ready for the really juicy part?  Often I am asked if I am worried about reactions from the people who appear in the book.  For the most part, I am not.  The memoir is not snarky, and even when celebrities appear, it’s more about my journey, than it is about revealing hidden dirt.  The parts that involve family members are included to show a sense of my sometimes painful background—so readers understand what motivated me to take this journey.  In essence, it’s my truth.  I did check-in with the major co-stars and guest stars with whom I have ongoing relationships—more to give them fair warning than make changes.  Chef, Susan, Angela, even my Mom, have all read the book.

But after yesterday’s Dallas Observer post, I realized there was one person with whom I hadn’t checked in.  I did so last night, and the results have been, dare I say, life altering.  Folks who have read Episode 2—and I’m not going to give it away or spoil it—might remember that there’s a confrontation with my father about my then partner Nathan and I being allowed to stay at his home.  Let’s just say that in the book, my father’s position is shocking because it runs counter to his early support of gay rights as a federal judge.  But he basically “explains” it to me as a decision coming from my stepmother whom, as his wife, he must support.  From the book:

my Dad felt it was his duty to support her.  Never mind that Dad was a hero to many in the gay community and knew better.  He had never taken my side—I had always been a burden.  And now he was through with me.  I had been written out of his show.

One of the hardest parts for me in the whole affair was the stake that it drove between my stepmother and me.  She had always been one of the people whom I credited with getting me through my very rough teen years (and I’m putting it mildly).  So the idea that she was uncomfortable with my sexuality just never made sense to me, nor my sisters.  But Dad’s word was final and he told us not to make an issue out of it with his wife.  Slowly, I drifted away from one of the key mother figures in my life.

But my journey often takes unexpected turns—especially with this book in hand.  Yesterday, my stepmother, who reads my blog and reconnected with me at my Dad’s funeral last year, emailed me within minutes of the Observer post to say, “how cool is this?”  I used that as an opportunity to give her a heads up about what was in the book, but that I felt like that was water under the bridge and had more to do with my difficulties with Dad than with her.  Not only did she take it in stride, but she shed some new light on the situation—she never expressed any concerns about me being gay (after all, she was the one who snapped a Polaroid of me “coming out of the closet” and put in the family photo album).

Seems like my father might have had a unhealthy habit of spreading untruths when it came to emotional issues—he was possibly covering up some of his own complicated feelings about my sexuality.  In retrospect, given all of the other issues Dad and I encountered over the years, that seems to make sense.  Sometimes very admired public figures lead much more complex private lives—and none of this should take away from my father’s well-regarded accomplishments civil rights, just add another intriguing layer.    Unfortunately, I will never be able to clear the air with him.  But I can with my stepmother—she and I are having a much deserved catch-up dinner when I’m in town on book tour.

There's room for Pegasus

On my arm, I have a couture tattoo of all my favorite places—Sydney, Paris and, of course, New York.  My amazing tattoo artist Friday Jones at Senses in NYC has always questioned me about why Dallas is missing from the mix.  Maybe it’s time to change that, and let a little Pegasus love into my heart, and onto my arm.  Like Mary Tyler Moore taught me: things always work out in the end, and when they do, remember to have on a cute out fit—and, now, tattoo.

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Going Rogue

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul wonders about his readers’ preferences.

First, the good news: Barnesandnoble.com now has Alphabet City available for $13.48—10% off the cover price.  Sweet.  But now, the odd news: evidently, customers who purchased Alphabet City on BN.com also bought Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.  I’m sorry—really?

Now, I’m the first to admit that when the Alaska “governor” burst onto the national scene unexpectedly I had a little gay guy crush on her.  Or well, maybe I had the hots for Tina Fey’s version of her.  And let’s be honest, she was decked out in all those suits from my hometown retailer Neiman Marcus—clearly she was after my Dallas heart.  But now, enough is enough.

Curiously, I then flipped to Amazon.com to see a similar listing of readers’ preferences.  What a little relief—customers who purchased Alphabet City on Amazon.com also bought Game Change.  Now there’s a book I can get into—and have.  It’s an incredibly fascinating and fast-paced inside look at all the personalities in the last election.  If I were still teaching government at my alma mater Greenhill (shout out to Bryan, my former student-now good friend hosting a NYC Book Club Party for me), I’d put this book on the required reading list.

At the end of the day, I love that Alphabet City fans are such a diverse bunch.  My first Book Club Party stop is in Southlake, TX, a suburb of Dallas where I will be speaking to the TCU Chi Omega Sorority Alumni Group Book Club (shout out to Mandy for organizing that—I’m super excited!).  And now I have a new cheeky topic to add to that appearance—what do the sorority sisters think about ‘going rogue’ in Alphabet City?  Don’t worry Mandy, I promise to behave.

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