‘The Glass Protégé’, a play written by Dylan Costello, is coming to The Park Theatre (London) in April. It was originally inspired by the lives of Hollywood actors from the 1940s such as Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson, whom kept their true sexuality hidden for the fear of the impact it would have on their careers. Set between 1940s and 1980s Hollywood, ‘The Glass Protégé’ follows the story of young British actor Patrick Glass and his passionate love affair with a male co-star, and the effects of that forty years on. It delves in to the hidden secrets of 1940s Hollywood and the effects of homophobia on people’s lives. It’s arriving at the Park Theatre following a six week run in Chicago, having originally performed in London in 2010 under its original title of Secret Boulevard, which was nominated for three ‘Offies’. In this interview I got to chat to Dylan Costello a bit about the play, the themes and his activism through writing.
1. How did you first come to be interested in the lives of actors such as Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson, and the subject matter of ‘The Glass Protégé’?
I think this goes all the way back to 1984 when I was a nine-year old boy watching Dynasty with my Mum and Nan (the clues were there about my sexuality early on!). Rock Hudson was a guest star on the series as a love interest for Linda Evans and suddenly there was this whole scandal in the newspapers about him being gay and having AIDS. I remember vividly the hysteria surrounding this and realised for the first time that the actors I was growing up with – and idolising – on screen, had secret private lives that I was unaware of. It was the first time I started to get a sense of the differences between what was being portrayed on screen and what was taking place off it. Meanwhile my Mum was having a crush on Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds, who of course, years later, would also be revealed to be gay. The irony. Then in 2005 when I was living in Los Angeles and first had the idea for what would eventually become The Glass Protégé, I was looking for a dark secret that the lead character would have and remembered the Rock Hudson scandal of two decades earlier. It was then that I started researching and delving more into the historic private lives of these screen idols and was endlessly fascinated by what I discovered about so many of the actors I grew up watching.
2. The play first performed in London in 2010, under a different name. Has it changed much since then?
The story and the characters are essentially the same from the first production but this new version is like a ‘reboot’. There are new scenes, new lines, some more daring, more scandalous. Also, the majority of the play now takes place in the 1940s with ‘flash-forwards’ to the 1980s whereas in the original version it was more the other way around. The benefit of having a previous production is that I already knew what did and didn’t work on stage and the result of that valuable experience is what we now have with The Glass Protégé . Also, our incredibly visionary director Matthew Gould – as well as our stellar cast – are bringing out so many nuances in the characters. And the Park Theatre is a fantastic venue to be playing at. Everyone involved is very excited.
3. Did you make any interesting or unexpected discoveries whilst researching this era in Hollywood?
The most fascinating facts I uncovered were certainly all related to the ‘moral codes’ in movie production at that time. All movies were given an extremely strict set of moral guidelines, mostly enforced by the Catholic Church and any movie not adhering to these rules would face huge fines and the refusal of distribution. Looking back now, some of these censorship principles now look frankly bizarre – a two-shot had to be filmed in such a way that could give no suggestion at all that a man was on top of a woman, even when fully dressed. And any scenes featuring actors in bed had to have one of the actors keeping one foot out of the bed and onto the floor. And then there was the issue of actresses’ cleavage. Most of it had to be removed by retouching. In fact, there were retouchers whose only job was to retouch cleavage shots. And needless to say, another strictly-enforced moral guideline was that if a man was posed behind a woman, his hands had to be far away from her breasts. Can you imagine any of these censorship rules still being in place today?
Other interesting discoveries were about the actors themselves, so many weird and wonderful titbits. For example, Cary Grant always sported a radiant suntan to avoid wearing make-up and Errol Flynn and David Niven were notorious hard-drinkers who shared a house which they nicknamed ‘Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea’. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that house share!
4. Did you have an audience in mind when writing this piece? What do you hope audiences will take away from their experience of watching?
I’ve been careful not to pigeon-hole The Glass Protégé as just a ‘gay play’. Of course, the central storyline is a gay love story and one that gay audiences will hopefully enjoy – but the story has a much broader appeal and its subject matter will also attract anyone with an interest in the famed ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood – as well as the glamorous costumes of that era! Most importantly, there is also a strong theme throughout the play about the repression of LGBT rights and I hope that when the audience witnesses the trials of our gay lovers in the story and the effect that homophobia has on their lives; they will come away and consciously or subconsciously continue the fight against hatred and bigotry. We are also honoured to have a special performance of The Glass Protégé on the 28th April that will feature a Q & A panel hosted by the Kaleidoscope Trust, an organisation that fights for LGBT and human rights worldwide.
5. What are your key interests as a writer? What are you keen to write in the future?
I’m a bit of a LGBT activist at heart so focus mainly on writing stories that feature LGBT protagonists. Through my writing – and my company Giant Cherry Productions, I have a manifesto of creating works that feature LGBT characters and stories treated in the same way as ‘straight’ stories. I believe it is vitally important for the LGBT community to see itself represented on film, stage and television. Issues are universal, regardless of sexuality. We are all human beings who all live, love and lose just like everyone else. We have love stories, we have tragedies. Sexuality shouldn’t be an issue. So I believe it’s always appealing to see plays, movies, TV shows where characters have the same problems as everyone else – and they just happen to be gay. I do have to say that I write whatever comes into my head which always happens at random moments. My last play was about a gay man in Essex whose elderly Grandma claims to be Marilyn Monroe and this was a play that developed from one random musing in my mind. I always value human drama over car chases and explosions and this is reflected in my writing.
6. In some ways we have moved forward in leaps and bounds since the 1950s with many LGBT celebrities being out without it necessarily impacting their career, though Hollywood seems to lag behind. Do you feel that actors such as Ellen Page and Matt Bomer are paving the way for other Hollywood celebrities in the future to be more open about their sexuality?
I certainly hope so. How refreshing would it be for Hollywood to finally wake up, smell the coffee and realise that being gay shouldn’t be a hindrance to one’s career? There is certainly a small shift happening. After all, the last two Oscar ceremonies were hosted by out and proud LGBT personalities – Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris. And we have Matt Bomer who is a heartthrob not defined by him being gay. If Matt Bomer had been an actor in 1940s Hollywood then I’m sure his bosses would have kept him firmly in the closet. So yes, I do feel that the likes of Page, Bomer and Harris are showing that being gay is not a career-killer but yet at the same time, the ‘Hollywood Closet’ is still bursting at the seams, especially the more up the fame ladder you are. The Glass Protégé presents a narrative detailing the pressures and restrictions placed on gay actors over seventy years ago but the truth is that the censorship of LGBT private lives amongst the Hollywood set still exists to this day and the ‘Hollywood Closet’ is as full as it ever was. As a character in the play says – Maybe one day Hollywood will wake up and let everyone be who they want to be – and love who they want to love? I imagine that there are a lot of actors out there hoping for just that.
(C) Amie Taylor (@spoonsparkle) and Dylan Costello (@dylancostello74) 2015
To book tickets to see The Glass Protege at the Park Theatre (London) between 14th April and 9th May 2015 book here: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on