Article 86

Chamberlain jumps out of closet; Hawaii yawns

Actor Richard Chamberlain came out of the closet, and nobody noticed. At least in Hawaii nobody noticed, probably because just about everyone in Hawaii already knew he was gay. And didn't care. Which is how it should be.

The longtime Hawaii resident is making national television appearances pushing his new book, "Shattered Love: A Memoir," which I assume is not a "kiss and tell" book. Chamberlain is too dignified for that.

But on a recent appearance on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor," Chamberlain seemed relieved to finally be able to step out of the longest-running role of his life: acting like a straight man.

Viewers tuning in to see Chamberlain talk with Bill O'Reilly, who many mistakenly brand as a right-wing conservative, were probably surprised to find out the firebrand commentator actually supports gay unions.

O'Reilly's one complaint about gays is the same one I have, that many gays feel compelled to broadcast their sexual preference to anybody and everybody they can. To me, sexuality is a private matter. I've got a pretty big ego, but I suspect that no one would really want me to organize a Missionary Position Parade down Kalakaua Avenue.

Chamberlain chose to keep his homosexuality private because it was nobody else's business and because it was essential to his acting career. Since he first played the studly Dr. Kildaire eons ago, Chamberlain knew that his success depended on him playing leading men of the macho variety. So when he picked up a samurai sword in "Shogun" and "pillowed" with the lovely heroine, viewers bought it.

In movies a role is a role, and it shouldn't matter if a gay man plays a straight hero. But the reality is that many viewers cannot separate the real person from the actor. So Hollywood goes to great lengths to maintain the fiction that actors like Rock Hudson were manly men who did manly things even when the camera wasn't on them.

I don't know if Chamberlain chose to live in Hawaii to avoid news weasels in California prying into his private life, but he couldn't have picked a better place. Hawaii's historically diverse cultures have led to an atmosphere of tolerance in the islands that allows even public people to have private lives.

The neighbor islands are littered with famous actors, musicians and entertainment personalities. You can't walk though Princeville on Kauai without tripping over Ben Affleck or several cast members from "Friends." The only time former Beatle George Harrison was bothered by civilians on Maui was when they crossed his property to get to the beach.

Richard Chamberlain has been able to live a quiet life in Hawaii because people here pretty much leave other people alone.

Ironically, Chamberlain's brush with being outted came from radical gay activists who feel all gays must go public. Forget "don't ask, don't tell," with gay fanatics it's "must ask, must tell and damn the consequences." They didn't care that Chamberlain had made a personal career choice to portray straight men before and behind the camera. In their view he had no right to privacy, which is scary.

Through his many years living in Hawaii, Chamberlain found a safe haven where aloha means you no bodda me, I no bodda you.

2003 Charles Memminger