Boze Hadleigh's 'Game Show Confidential'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday July 11, 2023
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Author Boze Hadleigh
Author Boze Hadleigh

To say that gay author Boze Hadleigh is prolific is an understatement. The author of nearly 30 books (including those forthcoming), Hadleigh has made a name for himself by going where few others dare: the dark underbelly of Hollywood. In his latest book, "Game Show Confidential: The Story of An American Obsession" (Lyons Press, 2023), Hadleigh doesn't play around, pulling back the sparkly curtain to dare to reveal truths some would never consider. Hadleigh recently took time out of his busy writing schedule to discuss his new book.

Gregg Shapiro: I know that some authors consider books they've written to be like their offspring, and don't like to play favorites, but with 29 books to your credit, is there one for which you feel a particular affinity?
Boze Hadleigh: I think my seven books that focus on the LGBT-etc. presence in and contributions to the entertainment world, though "juicy" and entertaining, are quite educational, both for gay readers and especially for heterosexuals who have no idea how big and excellent the "gay world" is.

In particular I'd say my 2020 book "Inside the Hollywood Closet," because in quotes directly from the horses' mouths we get what being LGBT-etc. and working and living in "showbiz" is like —most gay stars have to "act" whenever they leave their house— and "IHC" shows how much has improved over the years for gay people but also how much has not improved and how some things are worse.

What's involved in deciding on the topics for your books?
Usually, it's what interests me. "Game Show Confidential" evolved from my being asked to write a biography of "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek (partly because I was on the show and won). But that didn't interest me; frankly, dull, plus before I was on the show I'd seen him make three separate anti-gay comments, which as I say in the book is three too many.

A few times I've done a book because the topic interested me but there was no book. So, I did "Celebrity Feuds!" because at the library I only found two feud-related books. One on the Hatfields and McCoys (thrilling, right?) and one on "the writers' wars," meaning the fight to establish a writers' union in Hollywood. My book includes Laverne vs. Shirley, Diana Ross leaving the Supremes, Abbott vs. Costello, also family feuds like Julia and Eric Roberts, the Jacksons, and the gay feuds between Truman Capote and Gore Vidal.

Hollywood is a prominent subject in your books with at least half of them being about movies, actors, and actresses. Would it be fair to say that your fascination with Hollywood is equaled by that of the public's obsession?
Overall, I'd say we live in a media culture and celebrity journalism has become too prevalent. A lot about Hollywood, including reality shows and many current sitcoms plus many game shows past and present, doesn't interest me.

Also, my interest, and my books reflect it, is in the reality behind the show of show business. Say, you see a magazine or tabloid photo of a male movie star and his wife and perhaps it includes his manager or personal trainer. The caption only mentions hubby-and-wife, not the fact that the other guy is hubby's lover.

There is so much deception in showbiz, which is America's basic culture, and I like to show the truth behind it. It usually boils down to catering to the average, often bigoted public so that companies (studios, networks, newspapers, etc.) can make maximum profits. In other words, the business end determines what is shown.

Your new book, "Game Show Confidential" is being released around the same time that ABC's "The Game Show Show," which features queer voices such as Margaret Cho, Patrick Gomez, and Guy Branum, is airing. Is it a coincidence that a book and TV program about game shows are arriving concurrently or is something else at work?
No, just serendipity. ABC heard about my then-upcoming book and asked me to fly to L.A. for an on-camera interview, but I was out of the country. It would have been a great tie-in. The fact is that during COVID, game shows have become much more popular, including new shows, reboots of classic shows, reruns on the Game Show Network and Buzzr, and shows about game shows. Betty White called game shows "TV's feel-good genre."

In "Game Show Confidential," you mention game shows that originated in Britain and then became popular in the US. Were there many that started in the US that went on to success in other countries?
Yes, many US game shows have had foreign editions. Usually, the most popular are in Britain and Australia. Foreign-language versions are popular, too, from South America to francophone Canada to Southeast Asia. In Indonesia their version of "Tic Tac Dough" was titled "Tak Tik BOOM," spelled that way!

In the book, you spill a lot of tea, including revealing things about Bob Barker, such as his sexism and racism, as well as Pat Sajak being sexist, racist, and homophobic. Were there people you weren't able to mention for various reasons?
Besides Sajak, the sidebar —most of the chapters have sidebars— titled "File Under Bigotry" includes Chuck Woolery, Bob Eubanks and Steve Harvey. I also more or less answer the pertinent question, "Is Drew Carey gay?" He's the one who kept bringing it up. As for still-taboo subjects, I didn't include the longstanding rumors that perhaps "Password" host Allen Ludden (whose father died in 1919 at 26 from the global virus pandemic that's still mislabeled "the Spanish flu") and wife Betty White were basically very good friends.

Why do you think so many game show hosts, including Chuck Woolery, are right wingers?
That is, so many of the older male hosts. One journalist quoted in "GSC" says much of that derived from a time when white male hosts held a monopoly; no women, no people of color. However, Steve Harvey is also bigoted, and I mention that fellow African American Kevin Hart lost the coveted Oscar-host gig due to his recurrent homophobia. Alas, bigotry is not limited to any one group.

Nevertheless, Merv Griffin, whose homosexuality was an open secret, created an unparalleled game show empire. Do you think his remaining closeted was the reason or was there something else?
Merv's two big hits were "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." The game show giants were the ruthless Goodson-Todman empire. There's a chapter on them [laughs]! Griffin did not need to hide behind Eva Gabor, but one reason for that was rival real estate tycoon Donald Trump making homophobic comments about him, including the nickname "Merv the Perv."

Griffin was his own boss, he wasn't an actor, he was no sex symbol. I think his closetedness was due to his generation, where everything about being gay was demonized. He remained ashamed of being gay, despite the progress being affected mostly by younger generations.

Meanwhile, Jane Lynch, who is an out lesbian, currently hosts the primetime revival of "The Weakest Link," and before that hosted "Hollywood Game Night," co-created by Sean Hayes, for several years. What do you think, if anything, has changed?
There's now a diversity of game show hosts, including to some extent lesbian and gay ones, in that order, because general audiences are more comfortable with a Jane or Ellen than with most openly gay males. Ironically, Charles Nelson Reilly once hosted a game show about hetero romance, and for two whole years Rip Taylor hosted "The $1.98 Beauty Show."

Speaking of stars competing on game shows, what do you think about "Celebrity Jeopardy" and "Celebrity Wheel of Fortune"?
What makes them interesting is seeing, at least on "Celebrity Jeopardy!", how smart certain celebs are. As Nelson Reilly said, and is quoted in "GSC," lots of celebs and most sports figures avoided shows like "Jeopardy!" and "Password" but were glad to come on "The Match Game" (where Charles was a longtime panelist), because that show had no wrong answers.

Have you started working on or thinking about your next book project?
Due in spring 2024 is an outrageous quotes collection currently titled "I Can't Believe They Said That!!" Yes, two exclamation marks! Like all my books, including the two animal-themed ones —Betty White gave a lovely blurb for "Life's a Pooch" in 2017— (it's) very gay-inclusive. That book is complete.

I'm working on one about celebs and suicide —not just showbiz, though mostly— which includes a chapter on gay suicides. As Bea Arthur pointed out, 30 percent of teen suicides are due to homophobia. And today, with the Trump-inspired backlash against gays, lesbians, drag queens, and trans people, it's up to all of us to actively oppose this pro-fascist bigotry and attempts to turn back the clock to a sexual Dark Ages.

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