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    Stories That Matter

    By Jan Wahl–

    You know that feeling when you don’t want to put a book down or stop watching a great streaming series? It’s kind of wonderful, a reminder of the connection we have to words, characters, and story. Harvey Fierstein’s new memoir I Was Better Last Night is a perfect example of a book I couldn’t wait to return to every day.

    For those few who don’t know, Harvey is a cultural icon, gay activist, four-time Tony Award winning playwright, and actor. He has a story worth telling, a journey from Brooklyn to New York to Hollywood, with stops in between for drugs, sex, and rock and roll. His oeuvre (a snooty way of saying his work) is beyond amazing. My own favorites of his are Hairspray, La Cage Aux Folles, and Kinky Boots. His acting as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, his own tale of Torch Song Trilogy, and his poignant role in Mrs. Doubtfire are just a few of his other many accomplishments. 

    He tries to get shows off the ground, revealing to us the heartbreak of loving a work, writing it with care, and losing it to no audiences or worse. It’s refreshing to hear what homophobes Ginger Rogers (also my experience with the great dancer) and Kelsey Grammer were. I write the term “refreshing” because it is all so honest, as is the memoir itself. And he is never cruel, agreeing with me that Kelsey was terrific as the co-lead in La Cage on Broadway. But Harvey’s personal recollections are there for all to read, as are the stories about amazing people like Hermione Gingold, Jerry Herman, and Sondheim.

    There is an educational portion of this memoir: how one writes the book of a musical. I read that over a few times, hoping to be inspired and to understand the passion and work that goes into this challenge.

    Always an outspoken rebel, Harvey entered the bizarre worlds of Andy Warhol and edgy theatre. Then he went on to find himself in the Gay Rights Movement of the 70s, the AIDS crises, and through his own addiction and despair. He allows us into his fear of intimacy and his longing for it. All throughout is that famous Fierstein humor. What a delight. Thank you, Harvey.

    Here’s something different and delicious. Stanley Tucci, whom we all know from his many successful films and food visits to Italy on CNN, has a new memoir called Taste: My Life Through Food. I don’t cook but I love to watch cheesy TV shows where people do. I follow my darling Liam Mayclem on his foody adventures and talk to my friends about their fabulous feasts, but I leave cooking at take out and reservations.

    Yet, this book was so much fun. I’ve never read about someone who lives to eat. Tucci’s acting career really comes second to food. We go from peanut butter to lobster to the very serious world of pasta. Of course, he writes about my favorite Big Night and Julie and Julia, but the subtext is always food, cocktails, and when the next one will be. This gastronomic journey goes through good times and bad, from the irritation of someone cutting their spaghetti (don’t do it in front of him!) or falling in love over a glass of perfect wine. 

    Like with Harvey’s memoir, I fell in love myself with this author. He’s so authentic as he raves about some greasy spoon and then goes on in an operatic flourish about the perfect latke. There are tales of restaurants that no longer exist and what they meant to the community, and the food found from China to the Amalfi Coast. From fish stew to frittatas to simple pasta, the recipes are intertwined with storytelling. It is a fun ride and so tasty!

    Both of the above are new books. This one is from 2002, but I highly recommend finding it on Google, a library that will order it for you, or at a used bookstore. It’s Hollywood Divas: The Good, the Bad and the Fabulous by James Robert Parish. This is a blast of wild private lives and cutthroat careers—sounds like my life! As joyful as it always is to read about Davis, Taylor, and Bankhead, this illustrated book also has ones we don’t expect: Betty Hutton, Drew Barrymore (love her!), Madonna, and Sharon Stone. Take a ride through Tinseltown and be glad any of them survived!   

    I binged through Bridgerton season two in two and a half days. I could not stop. Heaven help me, what a sexy, fun show.  Hunky guys, 1850 period clothes, fabulously smart women trying to break out of the corsets and restrictions of the time. This time we get two sisters from India: one sweet and the other kick butt. The man between them, so to speak, has one scene in a see-through, wet ruffled shirt, so sexy as to be harmful to your health. For my lesbian girlfriends, there is the joy of watching really interesting women and their own fantasies. Thank you, Shonda Rhimes, for creating this.        

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on April 21, 2022