The diminutive, unforgettable creator of the emcee in Cabaret both on stage and on screen writes frankly of his diverse career, exacting mother, and public embrace of his homosexuality.
Although Joel Grey, born Joel Katz in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932, hated the role of master of ceremonies that he seemed to command from an early age, he unlocked the character in 1966 after 15 years of struggling to fulfill his dream of creating his own role on Broadway. His portrayal of the emcee in Hal Prince’s Broadway production of Cabaret emerged as brilliantly “mercenary, lascivious, and menacing” and made his career, earning him Tony and Academy awards. The first son to Grace Epstein and musician Mickey Katz, who eventually played with Spike Jones in Los Angeles, where the family moved in 1945, Grey caught the acting bug early on in Cleveland theaters, where, as a short, pixie-ish kid, he felt accepted and loved. However, his ambivalent sexuality meant that he had both girlfriends and secret boyfriends, and when he had to reveal a seduction by a male friend, his mother turned away from him emotionally. The theater, then, became his haven, and instead of pursuing his dream of college at UCLA, he dove into the nightclub circuit, represented by big-time agents. As Grey writes, “achieving some level of fame could protect me from the kind of rejection I had experienced from my own mother after she discovered I had had an affair with another man.” Marriage to a fellow actress brought out his intense yearning for fatherhood and domesticity, and although the couple had two children and many years of happiness, Grey’s inability to sanction his wife’s own career and his latent homosexuality doomed the marriage. In the last few chapters, the author elucidates his stunning Cabaret success and “coming out” in the role of Ned Weeks in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in the mid-1980s.
An honest, eloquent, memorable autobiography.