It's Ann Jillian's Turn! The 'Gypsy' Star Gets a Good Gay Grilling
The 1962 film version of the classic musical Gypsy was just released on Blu-ray. How else would one commemorate the occasion other than by chatting up Ann Jillian, who played Dainty June?
One of the few surviving performers from the movie, Jillian, who began work on the film on her 12th birthday, cemented her status as a gay icon by going on to star in ’80s sitcoms like It's a Living and Jennifer Slept Here.
Doubling our pleasure, she recently talked to both Out.com and Advocate.com about her recollections of making Gypsy — including the controversy over Rosalind Russell taking the part of Mama Rose over the legendary Ethel Merman, whom Jillian had seen play the role on Broadway.
“Even then, I appreciated the difference,” she tells Advocate.com. “Both were equally as valid, and Rosalind Russell did a beautiful job.”
"There wasn’t a question in my mind about why they were choosing Rosalind over Ethel," she reiterates to Out.com. "Having seen Ethel and working with Rosalind, I’d say they both brought to the role their own energy, their own talent, and their own perception of the woman. I think they were both valid. Ethel brought a very brassy, 'get-out-of-my-way, I’m barreling through' quality. Rosalind did the same thing but also brought a regal quality and more layers to the character, but I think that’s because of the medium. When you’re watching something on stage you don’t see every flutter of the eye or every tremor of the lips. It’s bigger than life. In film every thing is magnified. Rosalind was very skilled at that. I think she did a beautiful job and gave the character more complexity."
Jillian also addresses the film's undeniable gay appeal. “There’s a drama about it, of course,” she tells Advocate.com. “Relationship drama, a variety of characters. I’m sure [gay viewers] loved Rosalind. I know without a doubt they loved Natalie.”
In later years, they'd also fall in love with Jillian, who eventually took a step back from her acting career to raise a family. Is there hope for a Hollywood comeback? She tells Out.com readers, "I think at some point now that my son is in college I will be stepping out on my own again."