Are gay and closeted stars just as bankable as straights?
This weekend, Oliver Stone’s gritty new SAVAGES took to screens across the country, with the embattled John Travolta as one of the main headliners. Travolta has had his fair share of controversy of late, with more than one male “masseur” (the term should probably be applied with only light pressure) claiming sexual misconduct against the actor, as well as a cruise-ship worker just two weeks ago. Along with his fellow mega-moviestar Scientologist buddy Tom Cruise, Travolta has long battled a rumor mill that seems hellbent on outing him as gay. While the verity of those claims remains hotly contested, the real question is: Does it make a friggin’ difference anymore?
Travolta and Cruise come from a generation of Hollywood actors who shot to fame in a time when a movie star’s bankability rested in part on unquestionable, irrefutable masculinity. As sex symbols, each of them had to maintain this veneer of manliness; Cruise still does. But, hey boys: This isn’t your Hollywood anymore. Being bankable means many different things now, and although sexy masculinity is still at the top of that list, its definition has evolved considerably.
Just look at the younger set of stars. For many, coming out is thankfully a no-brainer, and the phantom threat of damaged bankability is simply not an issue. For some, like Neil Patrick Harris, the opposite is true: In addition to years of playing an über-straight macho asshole on How I Met Your Mother, the out star has enjoyed incredible success across the board, hosting various high-visibility events like the Tonys, with a dedicated following of all sorts of folks (NPH is considered the epitome of adorability even by some straight-sex-symbol-prone girls). Zachary Quinto, still in the closet for his turn as the villain Sylar on Heroes and Mr. Spock in the first STAR TREK reboot, has only seen his career grow since coming out, and is all set to Spock it up again in the ST sequel (and no one expects the box office receipts for the new film to be any lower because of arguably its most recognizable star’s sexual orientation). Other examples go even further back; look at Ellen DeGeneres, who came out to much public hoopla on her sitcom in the late ’90s and is now the reigning queen of daytime talk (tell Ellen’s bank account that being a lesbian has damaged her earning potential).
So in this era of mainstream, it’s-no-big-deal-that-I’m-out stars, what is Travolta — and Cruise for that matter, who could use his very public divorce as a perfect springboard to finally live an honest and open life, if he is in fact homosexual — afraid of? Trying so hard to prove that they’re so totally not gay seems like a lot more work in the long run than, say, coming out on their own terms (that is a key element, too) and using the ensuing publicity to infuse their careers with a boost of exposure. Clearly, the elements keeping closeted stars where they are have nothing to do with the external pop culture climate. Coming out is an intensely personal decision, and those who choose not to are usually battling with demons that are so deep-seated, in place for so long, that even logic can’t convince them otherwise.
As for SAVAGES, the box office so far doesn’t immediately spell doom for Travolta and company. The movie managed to break into the top five films of the weekend with $16.2 million, beating Steven Soderbergh’s MAGIC MIKE, released one week earlier, and Katy Perry’s inexplicable 3D concert documentary PART OF ME. Granted, SAVAGES is an ensemble piece, and many paid for their tickets to decide once and for all if pretty Blake Lively can act, but so far there is no evidence that a scandal-ridden, allegedly closeted star like Travolta can damage a film’s box office. If anything, scandal might even help (that’s why we have people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian in our lives). And if Travolta were to come out on his own terms, he’d probably be in for yet another career renaissance (he’s had quite a few already).
So, John, what do you say?