Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Roseanne's Late Bloomer

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Roseanne's Late Bloomer

Article excerpt

With the number of gay and lesbian characters increasing on television, the addition of one more to the roster may seem incidental. Bat not if you're Bev Harris, the hard-to-please grandmother on Roseanne. "At first I thought it was so silly," says veteran actor Estelle Parsons of her character's coming-out on the show's Thanksgiving episode. "Why on earth should my character become a lesbian? And who on earth would care?"

Much to Parsons's surprise, viewers did care. In fact, she adds, "Somebody told me that her mother actually did the same thing. And I thought, Wow ... well, it's real life." Of course, the sitcom's unflinching portrayal of real life--specifically, the Conner family's constant financial struggles--has always been what its star, Roseanne, was hailed for. That is, until last year.

As the series entered its final season this past fall, viewers watched Roseanne immerse herself in a series of fantasy-based situations, from winning the lottery to imagining herself as Barbara Eden in the classic TV series I Dream of Jeannie. The result? A massive drop in the ratings. By the time Bev revealed attraction to women, the announcement might have seemed like another gimmick to get through the season. But, Parsons says, her character's coming-out process began more than a year ago.

"At the beginning of 1996, Rosie asked me if I'd mind being gay, and I said no, that was OK." Parsons also notes she wasn't the least bit apprehensive. "Why would I be?" she asks. After all, this isn't the first time she's portrayed a lesbian. In the 1968 film Rachel, Rachel, Parsons played the role of Calla, a "spinster" teacher and frustrated lesbian who develops a crush on the film's star, Joanne Woodward, planting kisses on Woodward's face and lips.

"I don't know whether that sort of thing has had an effect on my career, but I don't think that much in terms of career," says Parsons, whose role as Calla garnered her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress (to go with her 1967 Best Supporting Actress award for the film Bonnie and Clyde). …

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