Hate, by Dennis O’Neil
Calling movie actors “stars” was appropriate when I was a midwestern lad, long ago, because they seemed as distant and unattainable as those celestial twinklers that speckled the summer sky. None of my friends or relatives were movie stars — they were butchers or clerks or drivers or printers — and what the stars did, acting, wasn’t a real job and so those who did it weren’t real people. They were…stars. But if you knew someone who knew, or at least had spoken to, one of these distant beings who lived in places you never expected to visit, the stars became somehow real — or maybe realer, anyway. They were, if not people, then some sort of demi-people.
Clark Gable was a star. But Rock Hudson was both more and less than a star because I knew a girl who had worked as an extra on one of his films. Julia Adams…heck, she was a person, because she did a personal appearance at the grocery co-op my father belonged to when she was co-starring with Tyrone Power in Mississippi Gambler and people I knew actually saw her in the flesh. And didn’t that make Power a demi-person, too, by association?
Which brings us to Heath Ledger. I was never in a room with him, never saw him on the street, spoke to him on the phone, none of that. But when a heard about his death a few days ago, I felt just a tiny bit worse than I usually feel when someone whose work I admire passes. Why? Mr. Ledger and I lived in two of the same neighborhoods, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan, though not at the same time, and my big 2007 project was writing a novel based on the script of a movie Mr. Ledger performs in. Somehow, all this makes me feel a dim and distant connection to him.
Which brings us to Fred Phelps… pardon me–the Reverend Fred Phelps, of Topeka, Kansas. The Reverend Phelps has a website. When I tell you its name, you may not need to know anything else about the Reverend Phelps. The name is: godhatesfags.com
Reverend Phelps plans to picket Mr. Ledger’s funeral because Mr. Ledger acted in a movie that suggested gays are not a whole lot different from anyone else. And the Reverend is my final link to Heath Ledger because several years ago the Reverend and a few of his acolytes decided to stage a demonstration right here, in a town that’s home to me and Rosie O’Donnell and a few thousand other folk, and has as its very capable mayor a gay politician.
The Reverend’s target was a church on South Broadway that had a service for gays every Sunday evening. And yes, there they were, eight or ten middle Americans, one of them a child, with their signs walking around outside the old brownstone church and there we were, maybe 500 townsfolk, quiet, polite, engaging in an ancient Christian practice, bearing witness. Not yelling, not hating, simply standing and watching. It was all over in an hour and we went home. I don’t know where the middle Americans went. Presumably not to hell.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow – among many others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Zen and Violence, reprinting the first six issues of his classic series with artist Denys Cowan, is on sale right now, the second volume, Poisoned Ground, will be on sale April 30, and his novelization of The Dark Knight will be available this summer, and you can pre-order them now.