Monday, September 28, 2015

Richard Wall, Douglas in the Seminal Gay Film 'Parting Glances,' Has Died at 71

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.

RIP, my friend. You will be missed.


TomF said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. Your tribute to him is wonderful. Parting Glances affected me much the same way when I saw it first run at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. (Though I didn't make it to New York until just recently.) I hope that restored version of the film finds its way to blu-ray one of these days.

Mary Workman said...

THANK YOU for your post about Richard. He was an amazing human being who changed many lives. Hard to believe he's gone...

Damian said...

Such a lovely remembrance. Thanks for sharing that.

Jay said...

Thanks so much for the heartfelt tribute to Richard Wall. While I did not know him, the film remains a touchstone for me.

Back in 2007, I attended a New Festval screening of the film at Lincoln Center, with a discussion afterwards.

In attendance were Kathy Kinney, Richard Ganoung, John Bolger. (But not Steve Buscemi)

I took notes on the ensuing chat, simply because I am such a nut for the film. I found the notebook just a few days ago among my papers, because I could not bear to throw it out, thinking that one day someone might want these notes.

If you want those notes, let me know.

Mark Alexander said...

Parting Glances remains to this day one of my favorite LGBT films. I am saddened to hear of Richard's passing and the loss of your friend.

Eddie in OKC said...

'The season's over; the house is closed ...'

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