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Gaga over Gless: Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival honors movie, TV star Sharon Gless

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Sharon Gless is the perfect choice to be honored at this year's 12th annual Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

Lesbians have loved Gless since her breakthrough role as detective Christine Cagney on the hit '80s cop drama, Cagney & Lacey. And gay men love Gless like a mother since her portrayal 20 years later as the supportive mom on Queer as Folk.

Gless' new film, Hannah Free, has its South Florida premiere Saturday night at the film festival, which opens Friday and runs through May 2. The movie -- followed by a reception with Gless -- marks the first time the actress actually plays a lesbian.

``Yes, sadly,'' says Gless, 66, a longtime gay ally who last week was a grand marshal at the annual Miami Beach Gay Pride parade. ``Years ago, I wanted to play a lesbian. Just a woman who's a lesbian living in a straight world.''

Sorry, women, Chris Cagney was not gay.

``Cagney drew the lesbian audience,'' Gless says. ``She was single. She never could make a relationship work. Mainly because she was alcoholic. She was a complex, tortured person.''

gless2 Gless, who lives on Fisher Island with her husband of almost 19 years, Cagney & Lacey producer Barney Rosenzweig, says ``people made up a scenario'' that Cagney was secretly in love with Tyne Daly's Lacey.

``To this day, a lot of people think I'm gay. It's fine with me,'' she says. ``I finally got down a pat answer. `No, I'm not gay. I'm just festive!' ''

Gless first acted on television 40 years ago in an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D. She became a contract player at Universal and appeared as an extra or bit player in a string of 1970s TV shows and films.

``I played a stewardess in Airport '75,'' Gless says -- no dialogue and just one close-up. ``At least I got to be in first class.''

She graduated to bigger roles in TV miniseries and movies including Centennial, The Scarlett O'Hara War and Revenge of the Stepford Wives.

In 1982 -- after six episodes -- Gless replaced actress Meg Foster in Cagney & Lacey, which ran for six years on CBS. During the run, Gless won two Emmys and a Golden Globe award. Fifteen years ago, she and Rosenzweig moved to Miami's Fisher Island.

In middle age, Gless' acting career faltered. ``When I hit 50, I physically changed. I went into menopause and gave up smoking. I weighed 200 pounds and had a drought.''

Then Gless was offered the role of Debbie Novotny, the tacky mother of a young gay man in an Americanized version of a hit British TV series.

``Queer as Folk really brought me back,'' Gless says. ``It was that move from leading lady to actress.''

The controversial show, which featured graphic man-on-man sex, became an instant hit with gay men. The show's leading men all were required to perform nude.

``Those boys were not exhibitionists. They were actors,'' Gless says. ``They were all uncomfortable, but they knew what they signed on for.''

Only the extras displayed frontal nudity. And, jokes Gless, ``in Queer as Folk, they paid me to keep my clothes on.''

gless3 Shortly after Queer as Folk folded, Gless signed on as Madeline Westen in the cable TV drama Burn Notice, filmed in Miami. USA Network just renewed the series for two more seasons.

During a hiatus from Burn Notice last year, Gless went to Chicago to star as Hannah Free in a film adaptation of friend Claudia Allen's stage play.

``It was such a labor of love, 30 percent of that Chicago crew -- mostly gay -- worked for nothing, just to support Claudia and their belief in the film,'' Gless says.

Gless plays the title role, a lesbian senior citizen separated inside a nursing home from her comatose longtime partner.

``Sharon Gless was truly the most amazing actor,'' says the film's co-producer Tracy Baim, a lesbian journalist in Chicago.

The Hannah Free crew -- mostly women ages 35 to 40 -- had to ``pretend it wasn't true'' they were working with a lesbian icon, Baim says.

``We were a generation that grew up with Cagney & Lacey,'' she says.

The 17-day shoot was uneventful, except for one incident, Gless says.

Hannah Free is told in flashbacks and ``most of the sex scenes were given to the 30-year-olds,'' Gless says.

One scene, however, depicts an older Hannah and her partner, Rachel, having sex.

Gless and stage actress Maureen Gallagher acted the scene, but the director briefly left the room without saying ``cut.''

``I just kept going,'' Gless says. ``Thank God I had been in Queer as Folk, so I knew what I was doing. I got on top of her, and I put my hand down her shirt.''

Top photo: Sharon Gless and Maureen Gallagher in ‘Hannah Free.’

Bottom photo: Sharon Gless and U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi, grand marshals of the Miami Beach Gay Pride 2010 parade in South Beach. Photo by MARSHA HALPER / Miami Herald Staff.


Presented by HBO, annual event showcases films from around the world with historical and contemporary perspectives on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. Includes awards ceremonies, panels, parties, live comedy show and appearances by members of the film community; Friday through May 2; $12 unless otherwise noted. Packages available at website for MGLFF members. 305-534-9924 or www.mglff.com or see full description of films at www.MiamiHerald.com in Calendar by searching the category of Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.


Florida International University-Biscayne Bay Campus,

3000 NE 151st St., North Miami. 305-919-5500; in the Mary Ann Wolfe Theater; FIU.

Gusman Center, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. 305-374-2444. GUSMAN.

Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd., South Beach. 305-674-6766. REGAL.

Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Little Havana. 305-237-3456. TOWER.


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I am gay, too--as in happy. Why would and how could someone, anyone, be sexually gay? That is ugly and the description of what God thinks about it is captured in the Bible book Genesis. Kepp it up queers, God is waiting! Please give up that life style and turn to God.

With Love,

ok, you fake Shakespeare... lets do each other a favor... Do you eat shrimp? Donate or havea you ever had a blood transfusion? Eat pork? Then dearie, you are GOING TO HELL! The devil is waitning for you you stupid cow...

And no, I am not an old gay man...
I am a straight 65 year old woman, with no gay children.... just disgusted by stupid people like you!

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