Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Reading

Out in Hollywood: We’ve come a long way from The Celluloid Closet and gay actors like Rock Hudson marrying women to hide their secrets — not to mention the days when some actors would kill themselves rather than have the secret come out — but nevertheless the film industry is the last bastion of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the performing arts.

There’s a bisexual woman in “Bones” and a lesbian couple on “The Goode Family.”

“Dirty Sexy Money” features a transsexual and “Brothers & Sisters” a gay marriage.

In “Mad Men,” the Emmy-winning drama set in the early ‘60s, there’s Salvatore Romano, a self-loathing homosexual who marries a woman but pines for a male co-worker.

Never before have gay story lines been so prominent. Nor have there ever been so many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters on television — 83 by a recent count from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, not counting reality shows, daytime dramas or gay-oriented cable networks.

Hollywood, with its depictions of cowboy lovers and lesbian neighbors, has done much to make gay men and women part of mainstream American life.

At the same time, gay actors like Neil Patrick Harris and T. R. Knight play heterosexual characters on TV and in film, while couples — Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi — are covered by celebrity magazines as if they were any old romance.

“We’ve gone from the revolution to the evolution,” said Howard Bragman, a longtime Hollywood publicist who is gay and has advised actors like Amanda Bearse, of “Married … With Children” and Dick Sargent of “Bewitched” on how to handle their coming out.

Yet for most gay actors, Hollywood is not a warm and fuzzy episode of “Will & Grace.” Today, it is certainly more acceptable to be openly gay. But these actors must still answer wrenching questions: Just how candid do you want to be? Would you be happy appearing only in comedies, or being pigeonholed as a character actor? And what does the line “You’re just not right for the role” really mean?

Jasika Nicole, 28, an F.B.I. agent on “Fringe,” a new Fox drama, said that as bigger parts became available, her manager, John Essay, sat her down and asked how public she wanted to be about being a lesbian. Some roles could be lost, he told her, as would some fans.

Mr. Essay, who is gay, said he encouraged openness but warned clients of the risks.

“If it becomes exaggerated,” he said, “you just become the gay actress instead of a wonderful actress.”

Perhaps, he suggested, she didn’t want to be too vocal about it.

Ms. Nicole, who has a girlfriend, said she would just be herself. She has been open about her sexual orientation since she started dating women about 3 ½ years ago, while she was filming “Take the Lead” with Antonio Banderas in Toronto.

Now, as she becomes better known, “There’s no way I can keep quiet,” she said. “I want to be clear this is my partner. I don’t want to make that shameful in any kind of way.”

But most other actors calibrate just how out they want to be. Openly gay can still mean they would rather not talk about it. Most gay actors are mum in public or on the set, even if they don’t hide their orientation in private, actors and others in the entertainment industry said. Although most may no longer participate in charades — the “girlfriend” on the red carpet, for instance — many adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Why? For both men and women, being openly gay, at least for now, means giving up any hope of superstardom.

The Mortgage Crisis Hits Home: Here in Miami, it’s not the property, it’s what it costs now to buy it.

To understand how the credit crisis is hitting home in South Florida, consider the plight of Teresa and Hoover Encalada. The couple found a two-bedroom condo they loved at the Plaza on Brickell. At $434,000, the price was right. Their credit was good.

Friday, they got the bad news: The lender wants 45 percent down on a five-year loan with an initial interest rate of 7.8 percent. Now Encalada, a 39-year-old administrative assistant, and her husband, an Ecuadorean banana grower, are waiting on a second bank offer requiring only 40 percent down before they proceed.

Existing home prices in South Florida have fallen 20 to 30 percent over the past year, putting once-unaffordable homes within the grasp of buyers — if only they could qualify for a loan at reasonable rates.

Credit markets have gotten so tight that in many cases it is impossible to qualify for a loan with less than 20 percent down. Compounding the problems of financing, especially with condos, is the dearth of PMI, or private mortgage insurance, which is required for down payments below 20 percent.

”For every broker and developer, the biggest issue in 2008 is a lack of mortgage financing. The pendulum has swung this year to the other side: No mortgages to anybody, unless they’re Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” said Craig Studnicky, president of International Sales Group, an Aventura firm that specializes in marketing new condos.

The Encaladas thought they’d have no problem. At most they planned to put 30 percent down, leaving enough money to buy new furniture. ”Now, I can only get the place,” Teresa Encalada said. ”Furniture and improvements will just have to wait.”

Gone are the days of easy credit. With home values on the slide and new capital tight, lenders are sometimes asking for extraordinary terms.

Last week there was a ray of hope in the troubled South Florida housing market when August sales figures were released. Sales of existing single-family home rose 22 percent in Miami-Dade and 12 percent in Broward — albeit from very small bases a year ago. Meanwhile, condo sales rose 13 percent in Miami-Dade and stood flat in Broward.

But real estate and mortgage brokers say those sales numbers would be far higher — if would-be buyers could just get a loan.

It’s a far cry from the go-go days of 2004 and 2005, when mortgage lenders were doling out cheap loans with no down payment and no credit checks — the kind of deals that often have gone sour, spreading chaos throughout financial institutions in the United States and around the globe.

Now even solid borrowers are facing stiff guidelines. Lenders want buyers to put some skin in the game, and with home prices in many markets still sliding, they want an extra safety margin. The problem is exacerbated by the billions of dollars in ailing mortgage securities on the balance sheets of many financial institutions that hamper their ability to offer new loans.

Frank Rich: John McCain’s “suspension” bridge to Nowhere.

There was no suspension of his campaign. His surrogates and ads remained on television. Huffington Post bloggers, working the phones, couldn’t find a single McCain campaign office that had gone on hiatus. This “suspension” ruse was an exact replay of McCain’s self-righteous “suspension” of the G.O.P. convention as Hurricane Gustav arrived on Labor Day. “We will put aside our political hats and put on our American hats,” he declared then, solemnly pledging that conventioneers would help those in need. But as anyone in the Twin Cities could see, the assembled put on their party hats instead, piling into the lobbyists’ bacchanals earlier than scheduled, albeit on the down-low.

Much of the press paid lip service to McCain’s new “suspension” as it had to its prototype. In truth, the only campaign activity McCain did drop was a Wednesday evening taping with David Letterman. Don’t mess with Dave. Picking up where the “The View” left off in speaking truth to power, the uncharacteristically furious host hammered the absent McCain on and off for 40 minutes, repeatedly observing that the cancellation “didn’t smell right.”

In a journalistic coup de grâce worthy of “60 Minutes,” Letterman went on to unmask his no-show guest as a liar. McCain had phoned himself that afternoon to say he was “getting on a plane immediately” to deal with the grave situation in Washington, Letterman told the audience. Then he showed video of McCain being touched up by a makeup artist while awaiting an interview by Couric that same evening at another CBS studio in New York.

It’s not hard to guess why McCain had blown off Letterman for Couric at the last minute. The McCain campaign’s high anxiety about the disastrous Couric-Palin sit-down was skyrocketing as advance excerpts flooded the Internet. By offering his own interview to Couric for the same night, McCain hoped (in vain) to dilute Palin’s primacy on the “CBS Evening News.”

Letterman’s most mordant laughs on Wednesday came when he riffed about McCain’s campaign “suspension”: “Do you suspend your campaign? No, because that makes me think maybe there will be other things down the road, like if he’s in the White House, he might just suspend being president. I mean, we’ve got a guy like that now!”

That’s no joke. Bush has so little credibility he can govern only through surrogates (Paulson is the new Petraeus). When he spoke about the economic crisis in prime time earlier that same night, he registered as no more than an irritating speed bump en route to “David Blaine: Dive of Death.”

It’s that utter power vacuum that gave McCain the opening to pull his potentially catastrophic display of economic “leadership” last week. He may be the first presidential candidate in our history to risk wrecking the country even before being voted into the Oval Office.

Society News: The Times of London predicts that the pending nuptials of Bristol and Levi will be the next shiny object to distract the presidential campaign.

In an election campaign notable for its surprises, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice- presidential candidate, may be about to spring a new one — the wedding of her pregnant teenage daughter to her ice-hockey-playing fiancé before the November 4 election.

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

The bridesmaids will all wear matching halter tops, the groomsmen will be decked out in the latest mullets, and the father of the bride has ordered a custom-made shotgun for the occasion. The reception will be held at the Golden Corral featuring their all-you-can-eat salad bar and karaoke room.

Doonesbury: 24/7.

Opus: Memories…