Connect with us

a&e features

Versace series draws controversy, familial renouncing

New Ryan Murphy FX project explores final days of gay designer

Published

on

Gianni Versace, gay news, Washington Blade

Gianni Versace on the runway in 1991. (Photo courtesy Michael Anketell)

The family of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace is not happy with gay producer Ryan Murphy’s latest endeavor, “American Crime Story: the Assassination of Gianni Versace,” a nine-episode anthology that premiered last week on FX.  In particular, they are angry that the series suggests Versace was HIV-positive when he was murdered by gay hustler Andrew Cunanan on the steps of his South Miami Beach mansion on July 15, 1997.

The family says that they had no involvement with the series and consider it a “work of fiction,” adding that Maureen Orth’s 452-page book upon which the series is based (“Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History”) “is full of gossip and speculation” and “second-hand hearsay that is full of contradictions.”

One example: “Orth makes assertions about Gianni Versace’s medical condition based on a person who claims he reviewed a post-mortem test result, but she admits it would have been illegal for the person to have reviewed the report in the first place (if it existed at all),” the family says.

“In making her lurid claims, she ignores contrary information provided by members of Mr. Versace’s family, who lived and worked closely with him and were in the best position to know the facts of his life.”

Orth says she conducted 400 interviews, including with Miami Detective Paul Scrimshaw who told the Vanity Fair contributor that he reviewed Versace’s autopsy results. “I had to know whether Gianni Versace was HIV-positive or not, and I was able to find out from autopsy results that he had tested positive for HIV,” Scrimshaw told Orth.

Orth writes that Versace kept his HIV status secret to not endanger a proposed public offering of stock in his fashion empire, estimated at $1.4 billion. Versace signed an agreement with Morgan Stanley to manage the initial offering in the United States on July 10, 1997. He was murdered five days later. “The consequences to his business would be incalculable. Certainly the public offering would be jeopardized,” she writes.

Murphy defended his series to Entertainment Weekly. 

“The Versace family has said it’s a work of fiction — it is not a work of fiction,” Murphy says, adding that the book, “has been discussed and dissected and vetted for close to 20 years.” Orth “is an impeccable reporter and we stand by her reporting. Our show is based on her reporting so, in that way, it is not a work of fiction, it’s a work of non-fiction obviously with docudrama elements. We’re not making a documentary.”

But both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times book reviewers reported that Orth was wrong about Versace’s HIV status.

In an April 11, 1999 review for the New York Times, then-Washington correspondent Frank Bruni writes that “the breadth and thoroughness of Orth’s research are often staggering,” but “Orth often loses her footing.”

“When Cunanan was found on a houseboat there, dead from a gunshot to his head, just eight days after Versace’s murder, the case was pretty much closed. An autopsy showed that Cunanan had not contracted HIV, disproving some speculation about what triggered his spree,” Bruni writes.

In her March 24, 1999 column, the L.A. Times senior fashion writer Valli Herman-Cohen notes that Orth is a fourth-generation Californian married to ‘Meet the Press’ moderator Tim Russert.

“Her book claims that Versace was HIV positive, which the Versace family has repeatedly denied. During the manhunt, police were testing a theory that Cunanan killed Versace in revenge for transmitting AIDS to him. … But as it turned out, according to the medical examiner, Cunanan was HIV negative.

Apparently rumors had circulated in South Beach that Versace had AIDS when he appeared gaunt, weak and emaciated in 1995. A Versace associate told Orth that by the end of that year, the designer “could barely walk half a block.” But his health improved six months before his murder, Orth writes, because he was taking the miracle new AIDS medication.

“My time with Gianni which was well over a year,” Michael Anketell tells the Los Angeles Blade. Anketell founded the California Fashion Industry Friends of People Living with AIDS benefit that honored Versace in 1991 at the Century Plaza Hotel. “I saw him with great stamina when in the throes of his work, but when I visited him in Milano he seemed quite tired and frail. Just my observation. We had great talks about L.A. and my coming of age in La La Land. He was fascinated by the famous people I had come to know and how serendipitous life can be.”

Anketell and a steering committee launched the fashion show fundraisers in 1987 to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles. Even though designer Perry Ellis had died of AIDS, it was hard to get people to turn out. With a few exceptions such as Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Midler, “Hollywood was as squeamish about the whole issue of AIDS as was the rest of the country,” Anketell writes in his book “Heavenly Bodies: Remembering Hollywood and Fashion’s Favorite AIDS Benefit.” “Finally, because fashion and entertainment are so integrally part of people’s lives, it can also be easy to forget that, first and foremost, they are industries and, like businesses, do not want to be associated with any issue that might offend any segment of their potential customer base.”

The Versace show was the fifth benefit for APLA and by 1991, Hollywood had stepped up. But this was the “first full-blown retrospective of his career,” Anketell says. “It was a big deal. People flew in from all over the world” to honor the designer who dressed and was close friends with Princess Diana, Elton John, Cher, George Michael and created that famous red jacket Michael Jackson wore in “Thriller.”

Since this was to benefit people with HIV/AIDS, the designers were responsible for 50 percent of the budget and the whole look of the show. Versace’s team designed the entire ballroom, flying in a backdrop from the La Scala opera house that looked like an Italian garden, using Versace fabric for tablecloths and lampshades. Elizabeth Taylor dropped by during rehearsals and walked out with an armful of clothes, Anketell says.

“Gianni’s brother Santo told me not to worry about money. They would pay for everything,” he says. That included flying in the Fab Five top supermodels — Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer, all of whom donated their time.

There were hitches, of course. When it was announced that Versace would be the honoree, Cher’s manager called Anketell to say she wanted to be a presenter. However Cher had stiffed Anketell in 1989 in the show honoring Bob Mackie. Though there was a whole segment devoted to the singer’s Mackie outfits, Cher failed to show up until the middle of the benefit when she came in a motorcycle jacket and torn jeans to underscore a tiff.

Anketell nervously agreed to have Cher present Versace at the tribute.

“We were getting ready for her to go out and she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she thought she looked fat. She refused to go out,” he says.

Anketell quickly resorted to plan B, made his way through his bodyguards to get to Sylvester Stallone and asked him to introduce his close friend Versace. But by the time they got backstage, Cher changed her mind and decided to go on after all.

“They got into a tiff, she pushed him and he fell over. He isn’t a tall man and he wore lifts,” Anketell says. But he got up, brushed himself off, cast aside the remarks prepared for Cher and winged it.

“Gianni was like a brother to him — this Italian brotherhood,” Anketell says. “To hear Stallone talk from his heart, he always plays the macho man and here he was at an AIDS benefit introducing one of his closest friends. It was quite moving.”

“Gianni could never understand why we chose him to be honored instead of Armani,” Anketell says. “It was because of his grace and how open he was about being gay.”

Anketell says he was devastated to hear about Versace’s murder.

“I can’t explain how much grief I felt. I worked with Gianni for over a year on the show. I was a guest in his house,” says Anketell, who is now battling cancer. “And when someone you know dies so unexpectedly — this unpreparedness washes over you. I couldn’t talk for a couple of days. It was just such a shock.”

“Young people don’t understand what it was like for us during those days” Anketell says. He hopes Ryan Murphy’s series will get people interested in the Gianni Versace he knew.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

a&e features

Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

Published

on

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

Continue Reading

a&e features

As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

Published

on

As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
Continue Reading

a&e features

Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

Published

on

‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular