Academy Award Nominee (and Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award Winner for Best Actress) Sally Kirkland sat down with Contrast Magazine to talk about her mother (one of the original fashion editors of both Vogue and Life Magazines), gay rights, Andy Warhol, and growing up during Stonewall era in New York City. — by Royce Christyn | firstname.lastname@example.org
Contrast Magazine: Tell us about your relationship with the gay community.
Sally Kirkland: Well, my mother, the first Sally Kirkland, [was] the fashion editor for Vogue Magazine in the mid-to-late 40’s, then fashion editor for Life Magazine for twenty years… she was surrounded by gay designers and fashion icons. And, therefore I kind of inherited that world from her being a young child and being a child model. I was around it all the time. She was the first person to bring Italian fashions to this country post-war, so every Italian designer that came post-war was my mother’s discovery. As far as I can remember, they were all gay. I’m thinking about Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo who came around later in the 1960’s, I wore a lot of his dresses when I was nominated for the Oscar. Giorgio kept me looking gorgeous always.
CM: Did your mother ever make it a big deal or explain what being gay was?
SK: No, but her best friend was a woman named Mary Leatherbee who was the film editor of Life when my mother was the fashion editor. Back in 50’s and 60’s to get on the cover of Life Magazine was the most exciting thing that could happen [to someone]. So, she would make icons of all of these wonderful gay designers. Then she met Andy Warhol in 1963, [and] introduced me to him in 1964. He had a crush on [my mother], and they would go to Studio 54 all the time together. So, inheriting Andy [via my mother], I inherited his gay world. I lived on Christopher Street in The Village in New York from the age of 17 onwards. Stonewall happened right in front of my building in 1969. So, all of my formative years in the 60’s was spent on Christopher street and everybody was gay. That doesn’t mean I had gay boyfriends, but I was surrounded by the gay community from [the time I was 17 years old] onwards, even earlier if you count my mother and all of her friends.
CM: You have a huge gay following. What is that like? What’s been your experience with your gay fans?
SK: I can remember some months back walking down Santa Monica Blvd. near Robertson (the famous West Hollywood LGBT gay quarter of Hollywood, where Kirkland lives) and these people were chanting “Sally Kirkland! Sally Kirkland!”. I was so flattered that all these guys were yelling out my name on Santa Monica Blvd. after dark. I was meeting a friend at the time, and I was going to a party she was throwing for her gay friends and I thought to myself, “I need to come out more at night on the streets of West Hollywood!” (laughs). I thought it was so sweet. So, I have lived in West Hollywood since it “became” West Hollywood. I’ve always felt very protected by the gay community. I used to live in Santa Monica, and [one night] I woke up and a guy was in bed with me, it was horrifying – I thought he was going to rape or kill me. My manager at the time, Carl Parsons [who was gay], said “you’re getting out of here within 24 hours.” So, he found this building in West Hollywood on Havenhurst. I always heard that Bette Davis lived up the street on Havenhusrt, and in later years Ellen DeGeneres (who Sally Kirkland starred with in Ron Howard’s film EdTV) lived in the same building [as Bette Davis].
CM: You’ve played a lesbian a few times. Let’s talk about your gay roles. You kissed Judy Greer on film in the Brian To film “Audit”, right?
SK: I was thrilled to be able to kiss Judy Greer, I am a big fan. I’ve had bisexual relations in the past, mind you, [but] they ended by the 80’s. So, Brian To asked me to play this gay woman in “Audit” and I loved it. Judy [Greer] went along with it, and the whole thing, and Alexis Arquette was in it as [playing a] guy. This came long after I had been asked to play Eileen Brennan’s lesbian girlfriend in [the film] “Private Benjamin” (with Goldie Hawn). So I’m told, they couldn’t get an aboveground actress to do it, so I did it.
CM: We want to know about your spiritual practices, it is so interesting. You’ve married some gay couples!
SK: I was ordained in 1976 by a man named John-Roger, who passed away a year ago. I love his teachings because they talk about soul transcendence. It gave me this opportunity to be in this living love [environment] and be responsible for my actions. [The teachings are about] finding the God in everybody. I hate it when someone thinks they know something “more” spiritual than anyone else. My church is called The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and right at the top of everything, [Rogers] said is that no soul is ever lost. We are totally inclusive. Of my friends in MSIA, some of the most lasting relationships have been the gay men and women. John Morton is the leader of the church now, who is married to actress Lee Taylor Young, who I brought into the church. When I was winning all of those awards, back when I was doing “Anna”, members of MSIA would always be there to greet me – no matter where I was. It still happens to this day. I have married many gay couples, both in real life and on screen.
You can learn more about Sally Kirkland at SallyKirkland.com.
Update (3/9/2016): Sally has just been cast in Netflix’s upcoming feature “The Most Hated Woman in America” alongside Peter Fonda and Melissa Leo” releasing 2016.