Vito, Randy, and Harvey

By Zadan, Craig | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), June 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

Vito, Randy, and Harvey


Zadan, Craig, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


People remember Vito Russo because he wrote The Celluloid Closet. I remember him because he was my best friend and the first gay activist I ever met. Everything I know about gay activism I learned from Vito. One day in 1982 or '83 he called me and said, "Are you aware of this amazing book by Randy Shilts called The, Mayor of Castro Street? It's about Harvey Milk." I took the book with me on a vacation to Hawaii, and I was glued to it from the moment I arrived at the hotel. By the time I finished it I was trembling and weeping. When I came home, I said to Vito, "This is the most amazing book I've ever read." And he said, "Don't you think it should be a movie?"

A short time afterward Vito called again. He said, "You've got to see this documentary"--it was The Times of" Harvey Milk, which later won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It was an amazing experience--actually getting to see the real Harvey Milk and the people in his life. It hit me like a bat to the face. I've never had such a powerful emotional experience seeing any film--ever.

When it came out on videotape I bought lots of copies, and I would take it almost door-to-door--to friends, acquaintances, straight people, gay people--and I'd say, "Do you know about his documentary?" And if they hadn't seen it, I'd say, "If I give you this tape, will you promise me you'll watch it?" I have to confess: I judge people by their reaction to that film--if they don't cry, then I don't want to know them. I once showed the movie to a guy I was dating. He didn't cry, and I stopped dating him.

Shortly after the film came out, I started working with Neil Meron as a producer out in Hollywood. I showed him all the materials on Harvey Milk, and he flipped out the way I had. So we contacted Randy Shilts and started a relationship with him. As brilliant as the documentary was, it did not contain Harvey's personal life--his lovers, his codependency, his friends. We knew we could portray that in a feature film of Randy's book.

We sent Oliver Stone the book and the documentary. …

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