Evening Standard (UK), July 6, 1995
Keanu, the rumours and the Gay Mafia
by Mark Honigsbaum
The showbiz rumour machine has been working overtime on heart-throb star Keanu Reeves - saying that not only is he gay, but he has secretly married another man. The stories became so widespread that Reeves has now publicly denied the marriage story - but not the allegations that he is gay. How do these stories come about? And do they really matter?
FOR some time now a rumour has been doing the rounds from Los Angeles to New York to the effect that Keanu Reeves, the handsome young star of Speed and the soon to be released Johnny Mnemonic, is gay.
Not only that, but, swear film industry gossips, Reeves and music and film producer David Geffen were recently married at a secret ceremony on a beach in Mexico, after which Reeves went on a mad shopping spree at the New York men's store Barney's using Geffen's credit card.
Never mind that the nearest many of these rumour-mongers have ever come to meeting the male pin-up is the front row of the stalls or that Reeves is wealthy enough not to have to borrow anyone's credit card.
Since the rumour first surfaced last winter it has achieved such currency that this month Reeves has had to deny it twice - first in an interview in the US gay monthly, Out, and now in Vanity Fair.
'I've never met the man,' says Reeves of Geffen in the current edition of Vanity Fair. 'It's so ridiculous, I find it funny.'
As for why he doesn't shoot down the rumours that he's gay, Reeves says: 'Well, I mean, there's nothing wrong with being gay, so to deny it is to make a judgment.'
Reeves has been the subject of homo-erotic fantasies ever since the campfire scene in My Own Private Idaho where River Phoenix's character confessed his love for Reeves's. But while his attitude is admirable, and likely to win him even more gay fans, the more intriguing question - assuming the rumours are false - is why Geffen?
UNFORTUNATELY, Vanity Fair makes no attempt to enlighten those uninitiated in the mysterious workings of American media. In the article, Geffen is quoted simply to deny the rumour. ('People make this stuff up,' he says.) What isn't said is that the reason they make it up is because Geffen, a partner with Steven Spielberg in the new Dreamworks studio, is a member of a group of influential Hollywood movers and shakers known as the 'Velvet Mafia'. The group, which dines regularly at New York's ultra-fashionable Bowery Bar, are almost all bisexual or gay. They include the former head of Murdoch's US Fox television network Barry Diller, producer and agent Sandy Gallin, as well as fashion designer Calvin Klein and Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone. In fact, Geffen first 'came out' in the media four years ago in an interview in Vanity Fair where he admitted 'being in love with a guy from Studio 54' the night club he and Klein patronised in the late 1970s. But such is the American media's fear of being labelled 'homophobic' that to this day mainstream US publications prefer not to refer to the personal sexual tastes of Geffen and his buddies, other than in the most coded, politically correct terms.
Indeed, when in March Wenner left his wife of 26 years standing for a male model who works for Calvin Klein, no US publication reported it for weeks, and then only very reluctantly.
Somewhat circumspectly, American journalists defended their decision by saying they'd known about Wenner's bisexuality for years and that his decision to elope with a man was therefore a non-story. What this ignores, of course, is that Wenner's sexuality was an open secret only within the closeted world of the media.
The question is: does it matter whether prominent people come out to the media but not to the wider public, and if so why?
British journalists have grappled with this issue in recent years, most notably in the cases of Elton John, Freddie Mercury and assorted MPs and bishops. But, given Britain's voracious tabloid press, coming out to the media is a virtual guarantee of wider exposure whether there are wider 'public interest' issues at stake or not.
In the US, it is the other way round and, according to some gay activists, that's a far from satisfactory state of affairs. For instance, Michelangelo Signorile, the author of Queer in America, and a columnist for Out magazine, campaigned for years to out Geffen, Diller and other prominent Hollywood homosexuals precisely because he believed their sexuality was a relevant public issue, given the then lack of homosexual characters and themes in films and television programmes produced by the major studios.
In particular, Signorile was incensed that both Diller and Geffen openly supported the controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay, whose act was viciously anti-gay (Diller gave Clay a three-picture deal at Fox and Geffen Records distributed his live album).
For Signorile, the final straw came when Geffen was quoted in an article in 1990 in Vanity Fair, written by Bob Colacello, a gay journalist, saying he didn't find Clay's jokes offensive. There was no mention, of course, of Geffen's own sexuality and when Newsweek perpetuated the conceit, referring to Geffen's alleged affair with Cher and portraying him as 'a bachelor to boot', Signorile was furious. Since then Geffen, Diller and other homosexual producers in Hollywood have recognised the criticisms of gay activists and used their influence to challenge the studios' traditional puritanism. Homosexual films may still be few and far between, but at least homosexual characters now feature in such mainstream TV programmes as Melrose Place, Roseanne and, pace the Oscar success of Philadelphia, the occasional screenplay. Despite Signorile's success in outing the Velvet Mafia, however, mainstream publications like Vanity Fair still remain remark- ably coy about referring to their sexual tastes.
Indeed, leafing through recent editions of Vanity Fair it becomes clear that if the magazine is guilty of playing down the influence of any cabal in Hollywood it is not, as William Cash wrote in the Spectator last November, a 'Jewish' one, but the powerful group of homosexuals in key positions of influence in Hollywood.
The extent to which this matters depends on the extent to which you think Geffen, Diller, et al really constitute a 'mafia'. For instance when author Steven Gaines, who claims to have coined the phrase around 1973, was hunting for a new publisher for his best-selling book, Obsession: The Life and Times of Calvin Klein, which revealed, among other things, the designer's long history of homosexual liaisons, Geffen is said to have tried to use his influence to quash it.
However, Signorile argues that just because members of the Velvet Mafia look out for one another that doesn't necessarily mean they're sinister. Indeed, following a recent probe by Spy magazine into the activities of Hollywood's 'Gay Mafia' which was peppered with such phrases as 'capo' and 'don', Signorile now fears that the stereotyping may have gone too far.
HE SAYS: 'The idea that because these people happen to be gay they're part of a gay conspiracy is laughable.'
'I've spent a great deal of time in fact criticising these individuals for not toeing the gay line. If they are promoting the 'gay agenda' where is the flood of gay-themed films coming out of Hollywood? Why are gay actors still forced to live tormented, closeted lives if they want to make it big?' It is a question that Keanu Reeves and other actors sympathetic to the gay cause would do well to ponder, whatever the truth about their sexual proclivities.
WHAT REEVES SAYS ABOUT HIS 'MARRIAGE' TO ANOTHER MAN
THIS is the key passage from Michael Shnayerson's interview with Keanu Reeves in Vanity Fair:
IT WAS while he was in Winnipeg, Keanu says, that he first heard the rumour that had originated in Italian and Spanish newspapers, then spread to all of LA and New York: not only was he gay but he had even entered into a secret marriage with producer David Geffen.
'So,' I ask, 'about this Geffen business...'
Keanu gives me a real level gaze. 'I've never met the man.'
'But suddenly this rumour was everywhere. Like Richard Gere and the gerbils. It's funny, a friend of mine said that.'
'Does it bother you?'
Keanu shrugs. 'It's so ridiculous, I find it funny.'
'I've never laid eyes on him,' Geffen confirms, by now more than a little exasperated by the question. 'It's a phenomenon: people make this stuff up. I even had a friend say that his trainer said he was at the wedding. You think I could keep something like that secret? And then people saying I bought Keanu $ 15,000 worth of clothes at Barney's. I mean, come on. I'd buy him some clothes, but he doesn't need that. It's just an ugly, mean-spirited rumour meant to hurt him because he's a movie star.'
Speculation about Keanu's sexuality goes back at least five years, when a reporter from Interview asked him directly if he was gay. Keanu denied it, adding, rather sweetly, 'But ya never know.' Some of the talk seems inspired by the observation that Keanu has had no high-visibility romances with women. 'Wouldn't it be useful,' I suggest, 'to shoot the rumours down cold?'
Keanu is taken aback. 'Well, I mean, there's nothing wrong with being gay, so to deny it is to make a judgment. And why make a big deal of it? If someone doesn't want to hire me because they think I'm gay, well, then I have to deal with it, I guess. Or, if people were picketing a theatre. But otherwise, it's just gossip, isn't it?'