Very sad to report that Richard Wall, best known for playing the wealthy, Piaf-loving Douglas in Bill Sherwood's "Parting Glances," died over the weekend in North Carolina after a long battle with kidney disease. He was 71. Despite a plot that involved AIDS at the height of the epidemic, "Parting Glances" was the first film that convinced me that being gay was going to be OK, as I watched Robert and Michael -- two guys I saw as role models -- go through the normal ups and downs of a relationship while living an exciting, friend-filled life in New York City. But despite two handsome leading men, an adorable twink and a knockout performance by Steve Buscemi, it was Richard, as the humorless, quintessential older queen, who stole most of the film's scenes, and it was his lines that my friends and I have repeated over the past three decades in full Douglas fashion:
"Just one, honey!"
"I may have committed the gay cardinal sin of being a tad bit overweight, but it's this so-called unattractiveness that's spared me from the plague."
"Why don't you pack a little bag and fly to Paris for the weekend with me. I have a standing reservation on the Concord, a suite in the huitieme, and a box at the opera. I never dine at a restaurant with less than two stars. What do you say?"
... and so on.
Richard contacted me years ago after reading some things I'd written on my blog, and in an interview I conducted in 2007, he described his experience working on the film like this:
It was a wonderful experience for me, because the casting director "discovered" me walking up 85th Street towards Broadway and said, "Are you and actor?" and of course, I said, "Yes." The next thing I know I'm at the Tribeca Film Center auditioning for Bill Sherwood, and the following weekend, we were in Fire Island. All the Fire Island filming was done in one August day in 1984. It was blazing hot and I had to change make-up and clothes many, many times because of all the whipped cream. And I got sunburned because of all the aluminum reflectors!
Although best-remembered for playing Douglas, Richard had a long and successful career as a professional musician, including working with Bob Fosse conducting national tours of "Chicago" in the '70s and '80s -- right up until 1985 when the last production was done at Harrah's in Atlantic City starring Chita Rivera -- and was even portrayed in "All That Jazz" as a larger piano player. In 1981, he toured "Makin' Whoopee" with Imogene Coca and Mamie Van Doren. In the '90s he managed a classical FM radio station in Raleigh, N.C., and began working at Duke University conducting for the Duke Children's Golf Classic Celebrity Show.
I had the pleasure of accompanying Richard to Outfest's screening of the restored version of "Parting Glances" at Lincoln Center nearly a decade ago, and we maintained a friendship ever since. Just last month, I had the opportunity to see "Parting Glances" on the big screen for a second time (when BAM did an indie film retrospective) and was sure to let him know about it. Richard was going through some rough stuff at the time, yet always kept an upbeat attitude, documenting his journey on a blog he said I'd inspired him to write. Here's one of his last posts -- I'm so glad I checked in when I did.