Gregg Homme

He was always aware that most young gay men and women probably didn’t know who he was. Yet Larry Kramer had a worldwide reputation in two important spheres: as an author of some of the most important gay fiction and plays ever written, and as the foremost AIDS activist and campaigner of our time. He recently talked to OutUK's Steve Bustin about his incredible work and remarkable life. ago at the age of 84, less than a month short of his 85th birthday.
Having started his career in the film industry, where he picked up an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for ‘Women in Love’ in 1969, Kramer became an author, publishing the now seminal ‘Faggots’ in 1978. The book established his reputation as a straight-talking gay commentator, unafraid to talk frankly about sex and sexuality during the pursuit of equal rights.

In 1981 Kramer joined with five friends to found Gay Men’s Health Crisis, in response to the emerging AIDS epidemic among gay men, and in 1987 he founded ACT UP, the advocacy and protest organisation.

In 1998 he set up Treatment Data Project with a wide range of medical companies and organisations, with the aim of collecting treatment data via the Internet from several hundred thousand people with HIV around the world.

In parallel with his activist work, he wrote two major plays about AIDS, The Normal Heart (1985) and The Destiny of Me (1993). The Normal Heart was performed to great acclaim in London, but The Destiny of Me didn’t appear in London until a fringe theatre production some years later.

Kramer is aware that it’s reputation as a ‘difficult’ play may have delayed its appearance in London.

“I wrote The Destiny of Me as a companion play to The Normal Heart, as opposed to a prequel or sequel, as a lot of the action in the play takes place before that of The Normal Heart, and you don’t have to have seen one to see the other. It’s a very hard play to stage as it has a lot of complicated technical business, especially a lot of scenes in a hospital, and I think it frightens off directors. It was a very big success in New York, and was runner up for a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a play that’s very dear to me, about my growing up and my family. It’s been described as my attempt to write a gay, Jewish Long Day’s Journey Into Night!”

The Normal Heart was produced by The Royal Court, and transferred into the West End for a highly acclaimed run, but The Destiny of Me has never moved beyond the fringe. “I don’t know why that is,” says Kramer. “I think once a play has opened, run and closed somewhere, they pass into an area where they’re not noticed any more. Also, resources are never available to a gay play or a play about AIDS. I write what I write, as classifications about gay plays or AIDS plays don’t serve any purpose. The Destiny of Me was considered a family play in New York, and audiences were largely heterosexual.

KRAMER & STREISAND

Despite huge success on the stage, and Larry’s reputation as an author, neither play has yet been filmed, although famously Barbra Streisand held the rights to The Normal Heart for ten years, without taking them up. Larry explains:

“Barbra, who is a friend, still wants to do Normal Heart, but when push came to shove she was frightened, although she’ll claim she couldn’t get financing. She had it tied up for 10 years, so it’s now a bit ‘shop-worn’. As for Destiny of Me I don’t know. When it comes to movies, it is very definitely a discriminatory thing, as the studios don’t want to do gay stuff or anything that’s not sweetness and light. I’d like to see them filmed if they were done well, and I was a bit frightened about whether Barbra would have done it well, but one hopes that somebody strong would come along and want to appear in it or direct it.”

Kramer lived in London for 10 years during the Sixties, living in Chelsea, Belgravia and Marylebone, and working in the film industry. How does he remember the capital at that time?

“There was us and them” says Kramer. “It was a secret life, and all the gay pubs were hidden. For instance, to get into The Rockingham on Shaftesbury Avenue you had to use a back entrance in the basement. However, once in, there was a pseudo-elegant gay world. There was a lot of way-out drag including Danny la Rue.

One was aware one was leading a double life, as your sexuality wasn’t brought into your daytime life or work. The film industry expected you to turn up with a woman for a premiere. It wasn’t really unpleasant – it was just different.”


Faggots is available from Amazon.
“I went through a time that when in London I would see the newspapers and magazines, and the social change was very similar to what happened in New York; wonderful in terms of equality but heart-breaking with rates of infection in the young rising and rising. It’s very dispiriting to think that so many people appear to have died in vain.”

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