Russo developed his material following screenings of camp films shown as fundraisers for the early gay rights organization Gay Activists Alliance. He traveled throughout the country from 1972 to 1982, delivering The Celluloid Closet as a live lecture presentation with film clips at colleges, universities, and small cinemas such as the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. In both the book and in the lecture/film clip presentation, he related the history of gay and lesbian moments – and the treatment of gay and lesbian characters – in American and foreign films of the past.
In 1983, Russo wrote, produced, and co-hosted a series focusing on the gay community called Our Time for WNYC-TV public television. This series featured the nation's first GLBT hard news and documentary video segment produced and directed by social behaviorist D. S. Vanderbilt.
Russo's concern over how LGBT people were presented in the popular media led him to co-found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a watchdog group that monitors LGBT representation in the mainstream media and presents the annual GLAAD Media Awards. The Vito Russo Award is named in his memory and is presented to an openly gay or lesbian member of the media community for their outstanding contribution in combating homophobia. Russo was also actively involved in the AIDS direct action group ACT UP.
Russo appeared in the 1989 Academy Award-winning documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt as a "storyteller," relating the life and death of his lover Jeffrey Sevcik.
In 1990 Vito Russo spent a year in California at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaching a class, also entitled "The Celluloid Closet". He enjoyed being a professor, spending lecture breaks smoking and joking with his students.
Also in 1990, Merrill College at UC Santa Cruz established Vito Russo House to promote Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered awareness and provide a safe and comfortable living environment for queer, straight-supportive and all students who value and appreciate diversity. The house tailors its programming to meet the needs of GLBT students and offers all an opportunity to build understanding and tolerance.
Russo died of AIDS-related complications in 1990. His work was posthumously brought to television in the 1996 HBO documentary film The Celluloid Closet, narrated by Lily Tomlin.
After his death there was a memorial in Santa Cruz put on by students and colleagues. There were testimonials about how inspirational he had been and en masse, the group sang "Over the Rainbow" in his memory.
Russo's papers are held by the New York Public Library.
A family-approved biography of Vito's life, written by NYIT professor Michael Schiavi, titled Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in April 2011.
A documentary film on the life of Vito Russo, Vito premiered at the 2011 New York Film Festival and will air on HBO in June, 2012. It is directed by Jeffrey Schwarz of the Los Angeles production company Automat Pictures.
Russo´s invaluable scholarly work is also crazy-readable in its coverage of absolutely every film containing homosexual themes, most of them objectionable in some way. This book´s activist tone informed my entire outlook on the issue of outing and made me realize it´s okay to be offended by offensive material and that there is no such thing as harmless entertainment when that entertainment contains elements that cast homosexuality in a negative light (as opposed to those that cast someone who just happens to be a homosexual in a negative light). "I´m tired of trying to figure out whether the latest well-meaning soap opera has succeeded in convincing America that I don´t have horns and a tail, that I am not interested in molesting their dreary children or that the Bible doesn´t really say I´m headed for their world-famous but quite imaginary hell," Russo wrote in an afterword in the $6 used updated edition I bought. We need another Russo. --Matthew Rettenmund
Vito Russo, 1987, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1082001)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies by Vito Russo
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper & Row; Revised edition (September 20, 1987)
Amazon: The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies
Praised by the Chicago Tribune as "an impressive study" and written with incisive wit and searing perception--the definitive, highly acclaimed landmark work on the portrayal of homosexuality in film.
Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo by Michael Schiavi
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (May 10, 2011)
Amazon: Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo
Celluloid Activist is the biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies and one of the first to be widely read.
But Russo was much more than a pioneering journalist and author. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. His life as a cultural Zelig intersects a crucial period of social change, and in some ways his story becomes the story of a developing gay revolution in America. A frequent participant at “zaps” and an organizer of Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) cabarets and dances—which gave the New York gay and lesbian community its first social alternative to Mafia-owned bars—Russo made his most enduring contribution to the GAA with his marshaling of “Movie Nights,” the forerunners to his worldwide Celluloid Closet lecture tours that gave gay audiences their first community forum for the dissection of gay imagery in mainstream film.
Biographer Michael Schiavi unravels Vito Russo’s fascinating life story, from his childhood in East Harlem to his own heartbreaking experiences with HIV/AIDS. Drawing on archival materials, unpublished letters and journals, and more than two hundred interviews, including conversations with a range of Russo’s friends and family from brother Charlie Russo to comedian Lily Tomlin to pioneering activist and playwright Larry Kramer, Celluloid Activistprovides an unprecedented portrait of a man who defined gay-rights and AIDS activism.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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