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    Marc Huestis Outshines Stars in Larger Than Life Intimate Showbiz Memoir

    “My name is Marc Huestis and I am an impresario. Yes, I have been dubbed ‘Impresario of Castro Street.’ I’ve come to embrace that title, but getting there has been a long, circuitous journey; rough and rocky, often full of capricious twists and turns. In the swirl of historic events, I have often been at the right place at the right time. Even in the wrong times I tried to make them right. I was not a silent witness; I have always been a participant—both in show business and as an activist for social justice. And throughout, the stars have always been my touchstones. Morning stars and death stars. Shining stars from Hollywood, and guiding stars high above the Sierras. ‘The Morning After’ from The Poseidon Adventure is my theme song. I’ve lived through a whirlwind of memorable nights and mornings after. Some mornings were filled with heartaches, headaches, and hangovers. Others brought dreams fulfilled. This book will attempt to balance all those nights and mornings—to make peace with the past. With others, and with myself. Now step right up, the show is about to begin!”

    So opens Huestis’ remarkable page turner Impresario of Castro Street (Outsider Productions, 2019), which is unsurprisingly in the top 20 of Gay Studies books at Amazon now. In 1977, Huestis was in Harvey Milk’s camera store when the young fillmmaker helped to found Frameline, now the oldest and largest LGBT film festival in the world. He made several award-winning shorts including Unity (1978) about the persecution of gays during Nazi Germany. In 1983, he released his first feature Whatever Happened to Susan Jane?, a new-wave musical comedy that documents San Francisco’s underground scene. Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, he took his talents and made Chuck Solomon: Coming of Age, one of the first documentaries concerning the AIDS crisis from a gay perspective.

    Those achievements alone could cap off a successful career. But Huestis additionally rocketed the Castro into the international limelight with his unparalleled in-person tributes/benefits feting celebrities from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The book is full of revealing juicy tidbits from many of these events, such as the following from actress Carol Lynley:

    “I rehearsed for three weeks with Judy Garland, who played my mother (in The Poseidon Adventure). And the night before we’re about to shoot, Judy said: ‘Carol, I’m quitting. They’re gonna say that I’m crazy and I’m drunk and I’m stoned.’ And she wasn’t. Then she said, ‘I gotta tell you, this is a piece of s–t and I’m outta here.’ And I went home that night and thought, well maybe she’s just testing me. And the next morning Ginger Rogers was there on the set instead!”

    The cast of Huestis’ real life adventure also includes Debbie Reynolds, Ann-Margret, Ann Miller, Jane Russell, Sandra Dee, Tony Curtis, Patty Duke, Rita Moreno and Kim Novak, to name drop a few. Then there are cult personalities such as John Waters, John Cameron Mitchell and Joey Arias.

    Huestis’ own voice and perspective carry their own gravitas. It is hard to imagine anyone else like him, particularly given his unique background that even a Hollywood scriptwriter could not have dreamed up. As he explains in the memoir, ” … show business was in my blood. My dad was an editor for NBC-TV. And my mother was a stripper. My gene pool danced. On television, in living color.”

    The story about his mother alone could have warranted the book. Bored as a housewife, the Lithuanian immigrant got an agent. He informed her that her real name, Matilda, “would never sell.” So, she became “Marija, the Continental Gypsy” and subsequently was a scantily clad draw at Atlantic City clubs and more. She would bring Huestis and his older brother Henry with her. Later, the boys endured their mother’s mental illness that led to embarrassing emotional outbursts and multiple suicide attempts.

    With such a family life, it is understandable how Huestis as an adolescent became “the resident Gypsy Rose Lee” in the Boy Scouts. Already demonstrating his showbiz knowhow, he would use flashlights as spotlights once the scoutmaster went to sleep. They flashed over his body as he entertained Troop 69 with his strip tease. His performance even included a seductive dip and glove a/la Gypsy.

    Huestis discovered his sexuality at around this time of his life, gifting his sister’s Easy-Bake oven brownies to a 13-year-old boy named Walter who caught his eye. Walter cursed, smoked and was ready for action. Let’s just say that their first sleepover led to repeated other meetings.

    Fast forward and there’s another whiff of smoke, this time clouds of marijuana, perfuming Huestis’ co-produced fledgling film festival—The Gay Film Festival of Super-8 Films—that evolved into Frameline. The film splices broke and the audiocassette soundtracks often played out of sync. As Huestis explained, though, “The audience didn’t care; they were there to see images of the lesbian and gay community, something rarely addressed by the Hollywood machine.”

    The memoir is not all about the arts, though. It describes the shock and sadness after Mayor George Moscone and Milk’s assassination, and delves deeply into the AIDS crisis. Yet again, those chapters alone could have warranted the book, with Huestis evoking the fear, anger and grief that emerged at various stages of the epidemic. An early memory, for example, concerns how actor Tommy Pace wore full-length gloves over his multiple costumes in the production Naked Brunch. When Huestis popped his head into Pace’s dressing room, to congratulate the actor on his performance, the gloves were off. It was then that Huestis saw the Kaposi sarcoma lesions covering Pace’s arms.

    When Huestis himself was diagnosed as being HIV+, he became a leading activist and was one of the first to undergo AZT trials. “Let me live,” as he said, became his new mantra. Yet he still spiraled into alcohol and drug addiction, which resulted in other battles that he eventually overcame. He addresses such difficult subjects with great candor, providing inspiration for anyone who has struggled with similar demons.

    Yet another memorable aspect of the book is the LGBT community in the Castro, with Huestis’ numerous friends and colleagues, such as Lawrence Helman, featuring prominently throughout its chapters. Where Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin transforms real life LGBT subjects into collaged fictional tales, Huestis weaves the arts with his actual life in ways that can be just as compelling.

    We love this quote from actor and writer Bruce Vilanch: “Marc Huestis is the master of a universe you’re gonna love, a small stretch of turf in San Francisco that is as crazy, funky, glamorous, flamboyant and eccentric as he is.”

    Vilanch was among those who attended last month’s Frameline event celebrating Huestis. It chronicled his over two decades worth of legendary Castro star-studded extravaganzas. Rare footage from those events was fused with in-person readings from the memoir by Vilanch, Danny Nicoletta, Helen Shumaker and a host of others. The Victoria Theatre was therefore deservedly packed that night: Sunday, June 23.

    It is hard to imagine what Huestis will do next, but those of us here at the San Francisco Bay Times who have admired him for decades are definitely hoping to be along for the ride. The memoir covers what he calls Act I and Act II of his life. He advises that readers not “go too far; Act III is about to begin!”