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The Emmy Award-winning actor, playwright, and gay icon shares his personal story from his childhood as a member of a conservative Tennessee family and his early commercial stints to his one-man testimonials off Broadway to his struggles with substance abuse and sex addiction.
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Leslie Jordan hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Standing at just four feet eleven inches, he has become an instantly recognizable face in film and television. He is best known for his role as Beverley Leslie in the hit series Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy in 2006. He lives in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Good Southern Stock
My mother always said, "Stop making a spectacle of yourself," something that I have obviously made a career out of.
- John Waters, Spectacle
My mother was a bashful champagne blonde who always smelled of White Shoulders perfume. On special occasions she would dab on a little Shalimar. She always conducted herself with a great amount of class. She was never one to succumb to fads, and she wore her hair in a modified bouffant. It was very glamorous -- Jackie Kennedy with just a little touch of the Supremes -- and it had an amazing flip to the side that she sprayed with a cloud of Aqua Net.
I was so proud that she was my mom. Her name was Peggy Ann and to me she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I thought she was a fairy princess. When the other mothers showed up for the Parent Teacher Association meetings in frumpy housedresses, my mother was always perfectly turned out. Until I was almost out of grammar school, she wore white gloves when she left the house. She looked like a fashion model from the pages of a magazine.
I also adored my mother's mother. Her name was Mary Lucille Griffin. My mother was the baby of eight children, and I suppose that's why she was so spoiled. When she was growing up, what she couldn't get from her mother and father, she got from her brothers and sisters. Mary Lucille had raised all of her children on a plumber's salary and was known for feeding the neighborhood kids as well. She was the best cook in all of Hamilton County. It was more than just a rumor that Grandmother Griffin's red velvet cake could make a Baptist get up and dance.
When poor Mary Lucille was practically on her deathbed, my mother decided that it would be a shame for all those wonderful recipes to go with her. My grandmother, like most Southern cooks of her era, cooked without any written recipes. It was a pinch of this and a little of that. I know, because out of all the grandkids I was the only one who took a real interest in the way she cooked. I would follow beside her in the kitchen as she whirled about in her flour-covered apron, making her delicious tea cakes.
My mother decided that it was up to us to get all those recipes on paper. So off we went to Grandmother's house with my Big Chief tablet in hand. Mary Lucille was trying to nap, but my mother was not to be deterred. She gently poked her and whispered, "Mama? About your biscuits?"
"What?" Mary Lucille asked, without opening her eyes.
"Leslie Allen and I are going to write down the recipe for your biscuits."
"Oh Lord, Peggy Ann, do we have to do it now? I wanted to rest a little before my stories come on."
Mary Lucille's "stories" were her beloved soap operas. She watched them every afternoon without fail. One time we went to her house and the television was off. She was in bed during her stories and got us all worried. Granddaddy Griffin explained that Lynette had been framed and was in jail. She'd just found out she was pregnant with Hawk's baby. Poor Lynette was going to have the baby behind bars. It had upset my grandmother so much she had to take to the bed. We thought he was talking about some of our trashy relatives, but it turned out Lynette was the heroine of Mary Lucille's soap opera.
My mother persisted. "It's now or never. How much flour, Mama?"
Mary Lucille thought for a while, then opened her eyes. "Well, let me see. Enough to make a nest."
"Make a nest? That doesn't make sense."
"I know what she means," I piped in. "You pour enough fl our in the bowl to pat it out and then it looks like a nest."
"Well, all right. Write that down. How much shortening, Mama?"
As I scribbled in my Big Chief tablet, Mary Lucille held up two shaky fingers, then promptly rolled over and went right back to sleep.
My mother sat there looking befuddled.
"I know what she means," I said again. "She means you take your two fingers and scrape them into the Crisco. And that's how much shortening you plop in the bowl."
"Well, Lord help us all, we can't write that down."
So our little project came to a disappointing end.
I get most of my sense of humor from my Granddaddy Griffin. Homer Howard Griffin was a stitch until the day they put him in his grave. Even in his nineties he had the nurses at the hospital eating out of his hand because of his amazing sense of humor. He liked to talk a little dirty, much to the delight of us grandkids. And Lord knows, with eight children there were a lot of grandkids.
One time, he was cutting up at the dinner table, and my favorite aunt Dot said, "Daddy, when you talk like that in front of the children it makes my skin crawl."
Granddaddy Griffin cocked his head inquisitively and said, "Well, Dot, what does your heinie smell like when it crawls past your face?"
All of us kids just hollered.
When Grandaddy died, I was performing with a melodrama troupe in Bakersfield, California. It was my first acting job after college and I was in heaven. I was making $165 a week! My mother called and tearfully told me, "Your biggest fan passed on this morning."
And he was. He really was my biggest fan. Even toward the end, when he was crazy as a bedbug and did not recognize anyone else, I would walk in the room and he'd say, "Leslie Allen, can you help spring me out of here?"
I had other fans from the beginning. When I was little, I think both Peggy Ann and Mary Lucille took one look at me and thought, He's going to need some help!
They circled the wagons, as only true Southern women can do, and created a secret garden where it was okay for little boys to play with dolls. How sweet is that? It was also okay for little boys to read about Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew instead of those rambunctious Hardy Boys. And it was okay for little boys to make potholders and sew doll clothes. I was "artistic," and they encouraged me in that arena. But somehow, even at a young age, I knew it was best to not let Daddy into our little secret garden. So even though I was allowed to do what I wanted, I knew it was somehow shameful.
My daddy, Allen Bernard Jordan, was a man's man. He was as handsome as a movie star. Even though he stood a little less than five feet five, he was in possession of an easy kind of masculinity that both awes and terrifi es me -- and that I am extremely attracted to. I've been in therapy about that for years.
My daddy used to call me "son" as if he was in deep pain. He'd say, "Oh, son," and it would sound like "sohhhn."
One of my early ambitions was to be a go-go dancer. I used to sit and watch the dancers on a TV show called Hullabaloo, which was the MTV of my generation. I was transfixed as the dancers wildly cavorted on white platforms. I knew it took a lot of practice to achieve that level of expertise, so I pushed all the furniture in the living room out of the way and commandeered the coffee table. Once I had mastered "the Jerk," I moved on to the next level, which included "the Swim" and "the Hitchhiker." After several weeks of intense practice, I also had "the Batman" and "Mashed Potato" under my belt. By the time my repertoire included "the Dirty Dog," which involved a whole lot of hunching and some really intricate facial expressions, I was on my way.
My poor daddy would come home and his firstborn son would be feverishly go-go dancing on the coffee table to "Wipeout" by the Safaris.
"Daddy, watch me do the Pony!" I'd squeal as I hopped from foot to foot, jerking my head back and forth.
"Oh, son," he'd sigh.
My career hopes were dashed when I noticed that one of the boy dancers on Hullabaloo had bleached bangs. This was before even the Beach Boys had bleached bangs, and I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I talked my friend Charlie into helping me achieve my new look. We took hydrogen peroxide and combed it through my bangs, which promptly turned bright orange. When confronted by my daddy at the dinner table, I swore right over my Chef Boyardee ravioli that I didn't know what had happened. I just woke up that morning and there it was. Orange bangs. Can you believe it?
He did not believe it.
I got a good whipping for that. Not because I bleached my hair but because I lied. The whipping apparently did not do a lick of good, since when I was growing up I could lie with the greatest of ease. I have been in therapy about this, too.
Anyway, it was so disheartening. If I couldn't even get away with bleached bangs, how on earth was I ever, ever going to get away with high-heeled, pointy-toed Italian boots and skintight, striped pencil pants?
So I gave up my dream of becoming a go-go dancer and replaced it with dreams of becoming a majorette. My mother had been a majorette in high school (aren't they all in Tennessee?). I pulled out her baton one sweltering summer afternoon and begged her to show me a routine. I had always been fascinated with batons. My daddy had once taken me to a football game and tried patiently to explain all the ins and outs of football.
"Now, son, that is the offense and that is the defense."
I tugged on his sleeve and asked impatiently,
"Daddy, when do the majorettes come out?"
On that summer afternoon, Mother showed me a few of her best moves and that was all it took. I began to practice with a vengeance. I was in the front yard going to town with my baton when my daddy pulled up with his army buddies in tow.
"Daddy! Daddy! Watch me twirl!" I yelled in my high, squeaky voice.
"Oh, son," he lamented, pulling me aside, away from the pitying eyes of his buddies. "Why don't you twirl that little baton in the house?"
"Mama's afraid I'll break something!" I threw the baton over my head, did a big final twirl, and caught it in a pose. I wanted to show those big, butch army boys a thing or two.
"Son, I'll pay for whatever you break! Just please twirl in the house." Now, don't get me wrong. My daddy was a good man. I adored my daddy. Everyone ...
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Book Description Gallery Books. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1416955550 Ships from Tennessee, usually the same or next day. Seller Inventory # Z1416955550ZN
Book Description Gallery Books, 2008. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1416955550
Book Description Gallery Books, 2008. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111416955550
Book Description Gallery Books. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1416955550 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0589560