Reilly did not publicly affirm his homosexuality until his one-man show, Save It for the Stage. However, much like fellow game-show regular Paul Lynde of the same era, Reilly played up a campy on-screen persona. In many episodes of Match Game, he would lampoon himself by briefly affecting a deep voice and the nickname "Chuck," and self-consciously describing how "butch" he was. He mentioned in a 2002 interview with Entertainment Tonight that he felt no need to note this and that he never purposely hid being gay from anyone. Patrick Hughes III, a set decorator and dresser, was Reilly's domestic partner; the two met backstage in 1980 while Reilly appeared on the game show Battlestars. They soon moved together into Reilly's Beverly Hills home, where the two lived a quietly open life. Despite sporting what appeared to be a full head of hair for most of the prime of his career, Reilly was in fact bald, wearing a toupée throughout most of his appearances in the 1970s and 1980s. During the taping of Match Game 74 his toupee became the joke of the filming when Reilly had to go to NYC to have his toupee put back on. During the taping of several episodes Reilly is seen wearing different hats because his toupée is back in NY waiting for him to be fitted. This was the start of the long-running jokes on Match Game about his hair. He abandoned the toupée in the late 1990s and appeared bald in public for the rest of his life. He dramatized the experience in his stage show, The Life of Reilly.
Reilly was born in The Bronx, New York City, the son of Charles Joseph Reilly, an Irish Catholic commercial artist, and Signe Elvera Nelson, a Swedish Lutheran. When young he would often make his own puppet theater to amuse himself. His mother, foreshadowing his future as an entertainer, often would tell him to "save it for the stage."
At age 13, he survived the infamous 1944 Hartford Circus Fire which killed 169 people in Connecticut and as a result, he never sat in an audience again through the remainder of his life, because of the event's trauma, he rarely attended theater, stating that the large crowds reminded him of what happened that day. As a boy, Reilly developed a love for opera and desired to become an opera singer. He entered the Hartt School of Music as a voice major but eventually abandoned this pursuit when he came to the realization that he lacked the natural vocal talent to have a major career. However, opera remained a lifelong passion and he was a frequent guest on opera-themed radio programs, including the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. He also directed opera productions for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Portland Opera, San Diego Opera, and Santa Fe Opera among others. He was also good friends with opera singers Renée Fleming, Rod Gilfry, Roberta Peters, and Eileen Farrell.
Reilly primarily spent his life touring the country directing theater and opera, and offering audiences a glimpse into his background and personal life with a critically acclaimed one-man play chronicling his life called Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. In 2004, his final performance of the play was filmed as the basis for an autobiographical independent film titled The Life of Reilly. Reilly was ill with respiratory problems, while filming The Life of Reilly, and retired from directing and performing immediately after the final day of shooting. The show premiered in March 2006 at the South by Southwest film festival and Reilly's performance in the film received great acclaim. Reilly canceled his personal appearance at South by Southwest due to illness and by the time the film premiered he had been hospitalized. Reilly died of pneumonia at his home on May 25, 2007 and his body was cremated. That weekend the Game Show Network was dedicated to Reilly, airing his funniest episodes of Match Game.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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