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Harvey Fierstein

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Also Known As: Harvey Forbes Fierstein Died:
Born: June 6, 1954 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: playwright, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of America's first few openly gay major celebrities, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein (pronounced Fire-steen) didn't need to "come out" after he became famous and was never "outed" against his will. In many ways a typical product of the post-Stonewall off-Broadway and live performance art scene of New York in the 1970s, Fierstein combined a semi-experimental, in-your-face approach with the campy nostalgia, the heart-tugging showmanship, and the conventional formats of the tearjerker, the drag revue, and the sitcom. In the process, he proved to be a key figure in promoting the idea that contemporary gay and lesbian life, with no apologies and no climactic suicides, could be a viable subject matter for contemporary drama distributed through fairly widespread venues. A very versatile performer, Fierstein brought his talent for focusing the outlandish with his debut as an asthmatic lesbian cleaning woman in one of Andy Warhol's few theatrical ventures, "Pork", in 1971. During the 70s, a very up-and-down period for the actor, the one-act pieces which eventually formed "Torch Song Trilogy" were written, performed and reworked until they became a highly polished triptych of contemporary gay...

One of America's first few openly gay major celebrities, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein (pronounced Fire-steen) didn't need to "come out" after he became famous and was never "outed" against his will. In many ways a typical product of the post-Stonewall off-Broadway and live performance art scene of New York in the 1970s, Fierstein combined a semi-experimental, in-your-face approach with the campy nostalgia, the heart-tugging showmanship, and the conventional formats of the tearjerker, the drag revue, and the sitcom. In the process, he proved to be a key figure in promoting the idea that contemporary gay and lesbian life, with no apologies and no climactic suicides, could be a viable subject matter for contemporary drama distributed through fairly widespread venues.

A very versatile performer, Fierstein brought his talent for focusing the outlandish with his debut as an asthmatic lesbian cleaning woman in one of Andy Warhol's few theatrical ventures, "Pork", in 1971. During the 70s, a very up-and-down period for the actor, the one-act pieces which eventually formed "Torch Song Trilogy" were written, performed and reworked until they became a highly polished triptych of contemporary gay culture. In retrospect, it seems incredible that "Torch Song" didn't make it to Broadway until 1983, but his dual Tony wins for both Best Play and Best Actor brought a new kind of face into American living rooms during the awards broadcast. Fierstein scored again in the theater the following year by writing the amusing book of the sumptuous, popular Broadway musical adaptation, "La Cage aux Folles", earning a third Tony in the process.

Acting roles in mainstream films began soon thereafter with a part in "Garbo Talks" (1984), and Fierstein eventually co-produced and starred in a somewhat disappointing film adaptation of "Torch Song Trilogy" in 1988. He has subsequently kept very much in the public eye with several AIDS awareness specials, the moving narration to the Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984), and hilarious performances on "Cheers" as Rebecca's former boyfriend and on "The Simpsons" as Homer's secretary. His voice-over for the latter spotlighted Fierstein's unique voice, once described in NEW YORK NEWSDAY as "that Brillo-and-bourbon growl". He played Dr. Lang for a time on the daytime soap "Loving" (ABC) and has included several nongay characters in his repertoire of acting stints in TV-movies and series work. His small but highly amusing turn as Robin Williams's brother in "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993) seemed a suitable reflection not only of mainstream culture's continued marginalization of gay characters and lifestyles but also its increased curiosity and, indeed, sometimes liberal acceptance of them, attitudes which typify Fierstein's important if unsteady niche in popular culture and social politics. He also played a key role in the sci-fi epic "Independence Day" (1996), about an alien invasion of the USA. For a while, Fierstein seemed to excel most at playing himself, or winking nods to his real-life persona, on TV guest appearances and the like, but continued to snare roles in everything from family fare such as "Elmo Saves Christmas" (video, 1996) and as a voice actor in Disney's aninmated adventure "Mulan" (1998) to barbarian fantasy like "Kull the Conqueror" (1997). He was Alicia Witt's gay guy pal in "Playing Mona Lisa" (2000) and reunited with Robin Williams for director Danny DeVito's manic "Death to Smoochy" (2002), but Fierstein would both completely reinvent himself and shrewdly play off his established image in 2002 when he took on the part of "Hairspray's" housewife Edna Turnblad (originally played by Divine in the film version) in Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman's Broadway musical adaptation of the John Waters cult film. Dressed completely in drag and not afraid to mine the part for the campiest gold he could, Fierstein became the toast of Broadway when the show became a smash hit, winning the trophy for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical at the 2003 Tony Awards.

The actor returned to film work in 2003 with a role in the DeVito directed comedy "Duplex" opposite Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Duplex (2003) Kenneth
4.
 Death to Smoochy (2002) Merv Green
5.
 Playing Mona Lisa (2000) Bennett
6.
 Common Ground (2000) Don ("Andy & Amos")
7.
 Double Platinum (1999) Gary Millstein
8.
 MULAN (1998) Voice Of Yao
9.
 Safe Men (1998) Leo
10.
 White Lies (1997) Art
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Began performing a drag act in local gay bars; appeared under the stage name Virginia Hamm
1971:
Made his stage acting debut at La MaMa E.T.C. in Andy Warhol's only play, "Pork's"
1972:
First play produced at La MaMa E.T.C., "The International Stud"; later incorporated into "Torch Song Trilogy"
1976:
Made first film appearance, as himself, in Rosa von Praunheim's documentary, "Underground and Emigrants"
1982:
Broadway acting debut, "Torch Song Trilogy" (also wrote play)
1983:
Supplied the voice of the Devil for the TV-movie, "The Demon Murder Case"
1983:
Wrote first book for a Broadway musical, "La Cage aux Folles"
1984:
Narrated the Oscar-winning feature documentary, "The Times of Harvey Milk"
1984:
Made feature acting debut in "Garbo Talks"
1988:
First leading role in a film, the adaptation of his stage play "Torch Song Trilogy"; film also marked his producing debut
1988:
Adapted one of the short-plays ("On Tidy Endings") from his stage play "Safe Sex" for the HBO TV-movie, "Tidy Endings"; also played one of the leading roles
1988:
Wrote book for the Broadway musical, "Legs Diamond"
1990:
Featured as the voice of Karl, Homer's assistant, in the "Simpson and Delilah" episode of "The Simpsons" (Fox)
1992:
Earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Rebecca's first love on "Cheers" (NBC)
1993:
Played Robin Williams' makeup artist brother in "Mrs. Doubtfire"
1994:
Co-starred in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway"
1996:
Had featured role in the blockbuster hit, "Independence Day"
1998:
Voiced the role of Yao in Walt Disney's "Mulan"
1999:
Voiced Elmer in the HBO special based on his children's book, "The Sissy Duckling"
2000:
Undertook the role created by Divine in the workshop of the musical version of "Hairspray"; starred in the show when it opened on Broadway in 2002
2000:
Wrote the "Andy & Amos" segment of Showtime's "Common Ground," a drama special examining gay and lesbian life
2002:
Had supporting role as the corrupt head of a charitable organization in "Death to Smoochy"
2005:
Cast as Tevye the milkman in the Broadway revival of the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof"
2008:
Wrote the book to the Broadway musical, "A Catered Affair"
2011:
Cast as drag diva Albin/Zaza, a role he created 25 years ago, for the Broadway revival of "La Cage aux Folles"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Pratt Institute: Brooklyn , New York - 1973

Notes

Fierstein has received many other awards for his stage work, including the Oppenheimer, Dramatists Guild Hull/Warriner and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards.

He received a plaque on Brooklyn's "Walk of Fame".

He has received grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Bruce Bibby. Entertainment journalist. Together 1987-92.
companion:
Joe Grabarz. Lawyer. Executive director of Connecticut Civil Liberties Union.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Irving Fierstein. Manufacturer.
mother:
Jacqueline Harriet Fierstein. Teacher.
brother:
Ronald Fierstein. Personal manager. Manages singer Shawn Colvin.

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