Sunday, July 26, 2015

20 THOUGHTS ON THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF MY TWIN BROTHER GREG

The caricature I did of my brother Greg for his memorial service in 1995.

Today's blog post is going to be a very personal one. That's because today is the 20th anniversary of my twin brother Greg’s death. He died on July 26th, 1995 in the intensive care unit of Midway Hospital in Los Angeles, CA. The cause of death was pneumonia complicated by AIDS. If you were diagnosed with AIDS twenty years ago there wasn't a lot that could be done about it. The strides in medical advances today have made AIDS quite treatable, but back then few survived it. And my brother was one of its victims. 

Greg was beloved by many people, and had a lot of friends and colleagues who thought he was the cat's meow. He was a boisterous and vivid man, full of passions, energy and wit. If you met him once, you'd never forget him. He was larger-than-life, always present, always thinking, always dropping a hilarious barb about whatever was going on. 

My twin was employed as a costume designer for the soap opera THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS, and he won an Emmy too. Greg was also my best friend. And the loss has taken an immeasurable toll on those who knew and loved him. I miss Greg every day. And I probably can't really measure just how much the loss of him in my life has taken on me. A little something is missing from me every day because he's not here.

Still, in a way I get to see him every time I look in the mirror as we were identical twins. We shared a lot of things in addition to genes: a talent for drawing, music, and the ability to mimic. (He did the best Lauren Bacall imitation imaginable. Pants-wettingly funny!) And we both had a passion for the entertainment industry. When I write this blog, I often wonder if Greg would have the same take on things as I do. Thus, today I am going to write about topics in the entertainment venue the past 20 years, particularly movies and TV, that I think would have made a definitive impression on him. Knowing Greg as I did, I know he would have had very strong opinions on these matters.

THE DECLINE OF MOVIES
Dustin Hoffman recently remarked that movies are the worst they’ve ever been. I certainly believe that to be true. And I know Greg would have thought so as well. In fact, it would probably have driven him nuts more than me since he made his living in Tinsel Town. He would’ve been particularly disappointed in how lazy studios have gotten with their countless remakes, reboots and regurgitation. Sure, as a gay man he’d probably have admired all the buff men in tight superhero costumes but I think he would’ve been bored silly by how many Marvel and DC projects studios continue to be jammed down our throats. (A third SPIDER-MAN actor in a little over a decade?) And I’ll bet Greg would have wanted to see more of Hugh Jackman cutting a rug on Broadway instead of slicing up more baddies on the big screen. How many more times can he play Wolverine, honestly?


THE RISE OF TV
Hoffman also stated that he believes the TV industry is at its all-time best high, and I know Greg would have agreed. He would have loved all there is to see in the medium’s new “Golden Age.” He’d have trouble keeping up with his DVR, in fact, and probably complain that there were too many incredible dramas, comedies and sketch comedy shows to watch. (I think he'd have loved KEY & PEELE.) 

I know he'd have been binging on a lot of series too. He’d probably have gotten angry with me as well that it took me four months to finally sit down and watch the first season of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT  after it premiere on Netflix in March. He would have loved its star Ellie Kemper as much as I do too. (Greg had a thing for redheads. More about that later.) 

But I know he would’ve loathed the permeation of reality TV. I can’t see him having any time for most of Bravo’s fare other than INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO. He’d have had no use for cable news either, with the possible exception of Rachel Maddow. He leaned left but all the arguing and endless chatter on CNN, MSNBC and Fox would've driven him nuts. (I'm sure he wouldn't ever watch Fox.) 

AWARDS SHOW STUPIDITY
As many followers here know, I have been very unhappy with some of the choices that the American Film Institute has made for their Life Achievement Awards. True, they honor all deserving artists but some have simply been honored too soon. Tom Hanks received his award when he was in his mid-forties, for heavens sake! Greg would’ve been furious about such choices too. I don't think he'd have forgiven Hanks for accepting the award that soon. After all, he was pretty dismissive when he won the Best Actor Oscar for PHILADELPHIA. Greg thought it was less of a performance and more of a succession of “wigs and scabs.” Greg could be a bit strident that way. Hilarious, but strident. And, of course, how Hollywood treated that subject back them was a point of contention with Greg. 

He would’ve loved all the different awards show telecasts though. He adored awards shows for their glamour and the speeches. Greg would have a lot of affection for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts of the Golden Globes. His sense of humor was a lot like theirs. And Greg would’ve probably despised how increasingly lame the Oscars had become year in and year out, both in their choices and the show itself. And he’d never have forgiven the Academy for choosing CRASH as Best Picture over BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.


MEAN GIRLS
I truly believe this coming-of-age comedy would have become one of Greg's favorite movies of the past 20 years. Like its writer Tina Fey, Greg loved and loathed high school simultaneously. He excelled at school and was a whiz at many extracurricular activities too, but he loathed the cast system that the movie skewers so. Greg would’ve loved Lizzy Caplan’s Janis Ian character in the film and probably related most to her and her endless smart-ass quips and epic eye rolls. And he would have been tickled that I managed to become good buddies with the talented actor (Dwayne Hill) who played Coach Carr in the movie. I cast Dwayne in a Blockbuster campaign my agency was working on back then, and we became fast friends immediately. Greg would've loved that. And he would have wanted to be friends with Dwayne too.

LINDSAY LOHAN
I’m sure Greg would’ve been very upset with Lindsay Lohan for throwing away her career the way she did after the zenith of MEAN GIRLS. He didn't like drugs, and never drank, so I'm sure her addictions would've depressed him. And he would not have liked her take on Elizabeth Taylor in that awful Lifetime TV movie either. I can imagine him engaging in that conversation at every Christmas get-together in Wisconsin with my mom too, as she was always a big Liz fan as well. 

FASHION POLICE
I think he’d have liked the idea of a bitchy "Who wore it best" show, and probably would have found Joan Rivers amusing, but I imagine he’d have despised all the others on the panel. He’d probably say, "I'm funnier and more insightful than than that Guiliana Rancic! I should be on the show!" And he'd have been right about that. 


DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Interestingly, I don’t think Greg would have liked this movie. I think he would have found it too depressing, too heterosexual in its way, and maybe even homophobic, especially with the main character's constant put-downs of gay men. And I think Greg probably would’ve despised Jared Leto getting an Oscar for a cliched performance that he'd likely sum up as mostly a success of  costuming and makeup. Greg always thought that costumes should support the performance, not become them.

DANCING WITH THE STARS
Greg would’ve loved this show and all its glitz, costumes, and hoofing Hollywood has-beens. He’d love Derek Hough. He'd love Mark Ballas. And he probably would have loved Karina Smirnoff’s endless legs. I couldn’t argue with him there.

LISBETH SALANDER
Greg liked fierce women, so I’ll bet he would have taken a shine to author Stieg Larsson’s most famous character. He’d probably have placed 'the girl with the dragon tattoo' in the same class as Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND or Alexis Carrington Colby on DYNASTY. All three were women who kicked ass and took no prisoners, and Greg loved that kind of woman. Extra points for them for looking fabulous doing so. And he probably would have costumed a few of his female friends as Lisbeth for a Halloween party or two.


PROJECT RUNWAY
This show easily would have been one of his favorites. In fact, he probably would’ve tried to get on it as a contestant. And he’d have adored Tim Gunn and likely have mastered a spot-on impression of him upon first viewing. Then he’d trot out that imitation every chance he got to any and everyone.

THE HEMSWORTH BROTHERS
Kind of glad Greg never got to experience the hunks that are the Hemsworths. He would've gone on and on about them too.


AMY ADAMS
Greg had great taste and always liked actresses who were incredibly versatile. He probably would’ve loved Amy Adams for being able to play the innocent and the vamp with equal aplomb. He also had a thing for redheaded ingénues. (At Northwestern, the three acting students who were his best buds were redheads Marg Helgenberger, Margaret Nagle and Ellen Smith.) 

Greg would have adored the way Amy rocked that sparkly silver disco dress in AMERICAN HUSTLE too. I could see him scouring Ebay daily for it, waiting for it to go up for sale. And he probably would have given it to my wife Paige as one of his overly generous Christmas gifts. She favors the color red in her hair too, and has a similar body type as Adams. (Sadly, he never got to meet her as she didn't come into my life until after he passed away.)  

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH
My brother’s favorite actors were always those who had strong, dominating presences. Yet, Hemsworth boy aside, Greg favored leads who were unconventional, quirky, even a bit eccentric. He would have loved a leading man like Benedict Cumberbatch. The man's diction, power and ability to play good and bad would've been catnip to Greg. I’d have told him he was a “Cumberboy” but he’d have corrected me and insisted on being called a “Cumberbitch”, I am sure.


THE ARTIST
This movie tickled my fancy so, and I'm sure Greg would have loved it as well. What a loving valentine to moviemaking it was. (The lead character was even named George Valentin!) I know Greg would have eaten this confection up with a spoon. And he’d have loved the costumes, the score, and the novelty of it all with a passion. He'd have wanted to pet Uggie too, along with Jean Dujardin as well.

THE RISE OF THE LGBT COMMUNITY
Greg would’ve been proud of the LGBT community and how Hollywood helped moved the cause forward with shows like WILL & GRACE, QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, and TRANSPARENCY. I think Greg would’ve also been a great admirer of Caitlyn Jenner, though he would have likely had little use for Bruce when he was with the Kardashians. (He'd be floored that so much wealth and power started with Kim's boring sex tape. Ugh.)


THE COSTUMES IN MAD MEN
My brother probably would’ve been horrified to know that I was in a profession that could be so ruthless, but he’d have loved the show about the ad biz nonetheless. He'd have been particularly dazzled by the amazing 1960's period costumes and hairstyling. I'm sure he would've bought me a Don Draper-esque suit or two for Christmas as well. 

THE DECLINE OF THE SOAP OPERA
Greg took daytime drama and the craft it took to put on a show every weekday very seriously. Everyone on THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS did. And it still is the top soap today, but it would’ve depressed Greg to see so many daytime serials not succeed and go by the wayside. Interestingly, he called it back in the early 90’s, stating that soaps were too big, too expensive and rifling through money. He felt they needed to streamline casts, location shoots and big budget ratings ploys. 

Whether he remained part of that world, or went onto other things, is moot at this point. However, if he had stayed with the genre, he’d have been very saddened by the inability of the three major networks to keep more than four soaps running. It would've greatly upset him.

WHAT'S UP DOC? was a movie made in 1972, but since Streisand was his favorite actress, I had to include a shot!
WOMEN IN COMEDY
Greg would be indignant at the argument in Hollywood over whether women were funny or not. He loved women and funny women, in particular. Heck, his favorite Barbra Streisand movie wasn’t FUNNY GIRL, it was WHAT’S UP, DOC! (Though he'd have hated her road trip movie with Seth Rogan.) Greg would’ve loved Amy Schumer, Ellen DeGenerese, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon...he'd probably even find Kathie Lee and Hoda hilarious. And I’ll bet he would’ve been tickled to see his old Northwestern classmate Julia Louis-Dreyfus thriving so on VEEP.

SOCIAL MEDIA
I think Greg would’ve loved social media and enjoyed following and bantering with his friends and colleagues on it, particularly those who didn’t live in LA. I’m sure he would’ve been contributing to the Facebook threads of old chums like George Dalzell and Sarah Partridge. He’d probably push Eric Larson and David Sobottka to be more active on it, and for girl friends Jennifer Johns and Ailey Smith to participate in it. And I’m sure he’d have some funny quips for Ron Fassler’s endless stream of old photos he trots out on most Throwback Thursday's. (If you're reading this, Ron, he'd probably love and hate that you don't age.)

I’ll bet he would’ve connected with a lot of old classmates from high school too, and probably have come around to see Lomira High School in a truly positive light. He would’ve been FB chatting with his best friend Terese Burns daily, I'm sure. And he would have loved all the clever thoughts and the beefcake photos from Ron Runde, one of our high school besties. He'd probably have even succeeded in getting my mom on social media, but I've failed for these past 20 years to even get her to buy a computer! 

Greg would’ve been resistant to texting though, even if he liked cellphones. Greg loved to chat but would've balked at doing so with his fingers. He’d think that texting was simply a far inferior form of communication. And his cellphone would have been used mostly for talking, not checking weather or asking Suri for directions.



A PARTNERSHIP WITH ME
Greg took me to the Y & R Christmas party at executive producer Bill Bell’s house the year before he was diagnosed with HIV. Bill was tickled to meet Greg’s doppelgänger and seriously talked about wanting to put us on the show. “We’ll be the first soap to actually have twins playing twins!” That would’ve been a ton of fun, but it all became moot when Greg got sick. After that, his life became a battle to survive, and talk of a career change became a non-topic. In a couple of short years, he would leave this world all too suddenly.

Greg and I were the kind of twins who did everyone together in high school. Even though we went to different colleges, they ended up both being in Chicago, and we got together to hang out every other weekend. We probably would have found some way to work together, in some capacity as our lives went on, THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS star turns or not. Perhaps I would have moved out to LA as well to really give it a go with Greg. Who knows?


What I do know is that Greg's life was tragically cut short at only 34 years of age. I salute his memory today and all that he's missed these past 20 years. I miss him so much. And I wish I had seen all the subjects I wrote about here with him by my side.

7 comments:

  1. A lovely tribute to your brother, Jeff. Thank you for letting us get to know him. He sounds like he was a beautiful and fun person! I've watched The Young and the Restless since day one with my Mom. Haven't stopped, it's my guilty pleasure. Now I know I saw some of your brother's work :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Juli. You would have loved Greg. And he always had some fun stories to share about THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS. (For example, some of the cast required two wardrobes - "regular size" and "I haven't been to the gym size!") I see that veteran character Ray Wise is now playing a villain on the show, and he's won an Emmy for his work there. Long overdue recognition of a great talent. (I would've awarded him for his turn as the devil on REAPER.) I met him at dinner once as my agency made a TV commercial with his wife Kass Mccluskey, who was the line producer. They couldn't have been a more lovely couple. It was right around his time as Leland Palmer on TWIN PEAKS! Small world, eh? Anyway, thanks so much for following the blog and for saying such nice things about this post.

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  2. I remember going to the movies with you guys to see What's Up Doc? The movie still resonates with me today and I laugh my ass off every time I see it. I own the DVD and have shown it to my family. I have two cynical teenage boys who prefer, well, we all know what they like...believe it or not, they loved it!! Great movies/great comedic acting wins every time. So many pratfalls and one-liners..."Don't touch his rocks!"

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    1. Hi Robert! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here today. Indeed, we did see WHAT'S UP DOC? together (Cab driver to Howard Bannister: "I know what you mean, pal. I hate it when my igneous rocks are even TOUCHED!") and we used to quote Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars and Austin Pendleton from it endlessly. I remember we saw a ton of movies together, quoted a lot of them endlessly too, and of course, we participated in so many things together as friends at Lomira High School. Heck, you used to fill three pages of my yearbook each spring chronicling them! ("Chum digga dum zing one!") Thanks for reaching out during this difficult time, Robert. Very nice to hear from you.

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  3. I know your story and it's gotta hurt. Your brother would have wanted better days for you, Jeff.

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  4. What a lovely homage to Greg. Although I agree that he would bemoan the decline of movies, he would also relish in the ghastliness of some of the films that make it to the big screen. I recently read an article that was headlined, "And Now, a Tribute to Kate Mara’s Awful Wig in Fantastic Four!" that clearly was channelled from our dear Greg. And yes, he would be disgusted by the glut of reality television...while at the same time enjoy a certain guilty pleasure from what has become of poor, dreadful Kim Richards.

    I enjoyed the tribute, Jeff. We all miss him a ton.

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  5. Thanks so much, David! It's great hearing from you. Indeed, Greg would've loved ridiculing the ghastliness of the many mistakes by Tinsel Town. (There was always a bit of Kenneth Anger in him, no?) And poor Kim Richards. We loved her on NANNY & THE PROFESSOR. Ah, youth. Both hers and ours. So long ago and far away. And can you imagine what Greg would say about Donald Trump? Yikes!

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