Political Notebook: Moscone's gay son won't see Milk
by Matthew S. Bajko
Jonathan Moscone, the gay son of former Mayor George Moscone, has no plans to see the new biopic Milk set for release this fall. Seeing his father's assassination recreated on film is still too much for the 43-year-old Moscone to bear.
"I won't be seeing the Milk movie. I would have to leave at one point. I have no desire to see my dad's death recreated on screen," said Moscone, who lives in the Oakland hills. "I am not that brave of a guy."
Thirty years ago on November 27, Dan White, a former cop, firefighter, and city supervisor, shot and killed George Moscone and then-Supervisor Harvey Milk in their City Hall offices. The movie, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn as Milk, depicts the gay politician's rise to power from the streets of the gay Castro District to his election to City Hall.
As mayor, Moscone helped pave the way for Milk to become the first gay man in the United States to win an elective office. The two became political allies and both are considered pioneers in the struggle for LGBT rights.
The Emmy-nominated actor Victor Garber , best known for his role in the television series Alias, portrays George Moscone in the film. Despite his reticence about seeing the movie on screen, Jonathan Moscone did meet with Garber, whom he has long admired for his work on Broadway, and had dinner with Bruce Cohen , one of the producers of the film.
Visiting Garber on set during filming at City Hall, Moscone presented him with one of his father's ties.
"It is the only item I owned of my father's. I gave it to Victor as a gift," said Moscone.
The movie will have its San Francisco premiere Tuesday, October 28 and be in limited release November 26. It will then be released nationally December 5.
Even when the film comes out on DVD, Moscone said he would not watch it.
"It is too personal. As a college kid I tried to see The Times of Harvey Milk. I left," said Jonathan, referring to the Oscar-winning documentary.
The same thing happened when he attended the showing of Execution of Justice, the 1999 Showtime movie of the play of the same name starring Tim Daly as White, at the opening night of a local film festival.
"I had to leave," said Moscone, who for the last nine years has been the artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda.
While glad to see Milk's story given the Hollywood treatment, Moscone said he is fearful his father's role may be eclipsed by the film's singular focus on Harvey. He would like to see his father also given the same recognition.
"It doesn't tell the story of my father," said Jonathan, who in his youth met Milk several times. "From a son's perspective, and the people who knew him very well, it is time for people to know his story. In the same way people made clear that not just younger gay people but straight people do not know who Harvey was, the same thing happens to George."
To that end, he is writing a play about his relationship with his father as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's American Revolutions, a cycle of 37 plays about historical American figures.
"I want to see what this play yields," he said. "The whole goal is to be as honest and theatrical as possible. There is no deadline for it."
He is collaborating with Tony Taccone , artistic director of Berkeley Rep, on the project. Moscone was 11 years old when his dad became mayor and was 14 when he died.
"It will be an investigation of my relationship with my father before he died and after he died to the present day," said Moscone.
Prior to becoming mayor, George Moscone served in the state Senate beginning in 1966 and was soon elected as the majority leader of the upper house. Due to his being in Sacramento, he was mostly an absent father to Jonathan until 1975 when he ran for mayor and moved back to San Francisco to live full-time with his family.
"It was like having a new father. He would be there in the morning and be there at dinner," recalled Moscone.
The day of his father's death, Moscone remembers the fire chief coming to school to pick up him and his brother Christopher and then drive them home.
"There were reporters everywhere in front of the house. We were ushered past them. Our family and friends were all huddled around the family room and kitchen," he said. "I was completely just blindsided. All of us were. My mom kept us away from the newspapers, magazines, television."
He recalls his mom receiving a phone call from then-President Jimmy Carter as well as a host of other political dignitaries who paid their respects. But for the most part he and his three siblings "were just in grief and stunned," he said.
To this day longtime residents of the city will stop Jonathan on the street to reflect on his father. One time a waiter at a Mexican restaurant in Dallas sat down with him to talk about the impact his father had on him.
"They start crying; they remember George and remember working on his campaigns. You cherish the conversations with people who did know him. It keeps the story of my father alive," he said.
Sometimes older gay men will also recall the importance Moscone's father had on their lives.
"They don't know who Harvey Milk is but they know my dad," said Moscone.
Still in his teens when his father died, Jonathan never came out to him. It was more than a decade after the assassinations that he came out – first to himself at age 25 and then to his family during Thanksgiving when he was 26 years old.
Publicly, it wasn't until the 20th anniversary of Moscone's and Milk's deaths that he revealed he was gay. Asked to speak on behalf of his family at a city-sponsored memorial, he included in his remarks that if his father knew he was gay, he would be "nothing but proud" of his son.
He hadn't expected disclosing his sexual orientation would be the main news at the event, and he berated the journalist covering it for the local paper for making it the lead of her article.
"It was the lead story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle the next day. The headline said 'Moscone son comes out at funeral.' I was furious with the writer and called her," said Moscone. "I said of the seven to eight pages of my speech that was what you wrote about? She was very harsh. She told me 'that was the news story and if you don't know that, you have a lot to learn.' The story was about me and not my dad; that wasn't the point."
The disclosure brought national media attention and made Jonathan a minor celebrity within LGBT circles. He agreed to pen a first person piece for the Advocate and spoke at several LGBT events, but then withdrew out of the limelight.
With the upcoming release of the Milk movie, he is once again speaking up on behalf of his father. In his eyes, part of his dad's legacy was setting the stage for people like Milk and others shut out of the political process to gain a seat at the table.
"He changed City Hall," said Jonathan. "He made a Harvey Milk possible. He helped Harvey succeed. He opened the doors of city power to those who had been denied entrance. The city certainly was changing and my dad was right at the forefront of it."