UPDATE: Dakota himself has been in touch with me! Through our correspondence, I have become convinced of something: He can SPELL. The first edition of his book had some crazy errors, but he's definitely working on fixing them. Also, and as importantly, he clarifies for me that James Dean was not a love-obsession, but a fan-obsession. His type was more John Derek and Tab Hunter.
I hate myself that I didn't write about this book when I first read it so it'd be fresh, but for some reason, I set it aside, unable or unwilling to really address how I felt about it—The Gossip Columnist by Bill Dakota (pictured) is a completely gonzo account of what it means to be a fan and a fag, or at least what it meant in the '50s and '60s. I could not put this sucker down.
A perfect quote to summarize what you should expect arrives in the preface, which was written by Dakota in the third person:
"Bill Dakota was born in Flint, Michigan. He claims to have been gay all of his life but never came out until in his late teens."
Dakota worked at the Butterfield Theaters in Michigan but moved to Hollywood the first chance he got basically to find out everything he could about his #1 fave James Dean (who had died by then). He worked as a "secretary" for (the original) Nick Adams, who'd been a Dean confidante. The stories he tells about running with crowds who'd run with Dean (including Vampira) are like wish fulfillment for starfuckers everywhere, and make it sound like it was so easy in those days, before people became hidden behind a publicity paywall and before the word "stalker" was invented. Sample here.
Dakota was best known as the take-prisoners-and-pull-their-pants-down editor of Hollywood Star, which gleefully outed anyone and everyone. But like TMZ, as merciless as he could be, he never ran anything he knew or thought to be untrue. The paper's "150 Bi-Sexual Male Stars" story is remembed by Dakota as being "a long list but missed a few too!" It's reprinted in the book in its entirety, and Dakota says he did it so:
"...they would be 'outed' and whenever anyone would say, such a such a person is gay or bisexual, it would have already been common knowledge and it wouldn't matter anymore if they were or weren't bi. And to be bisexual could mean that a person only had, perhaps, one gay experience. If you are straight, you do not have sex with another person of the same sex. Laying one brick doesn't make you a bricklayer and having sex with one person of the same sex doesn't make you homosexual."
Say what you will, but a list from 40 years ago that includes George Maharis, Rock Hudson, Jim Nabors, David Cassidy, Burt Reynolds, Charles Nelson Reilly, Rory Calhoun and Burgess Meredith can't be all bad. (He only found about 70 lesbians...maybe because of their naturally protective camouflage coloring?)
The book is filled with an observation of how the famous and nearly famous lived at the time, including a bizarre account of his friendship with troubled actor (and scorching-hot hottie) Christopher Jones, just plain crazy original correspondence from Charles Manson (and crazy threats from Frank Sinatra, who didn't appreciate suggestions his daughter had been intertwined with the cult), a loving interview with Steve Allen, a few dated racial jokes (this isn't exactly a highlight) and a list of all the latest gossip that's so many decades old it should be considered a list of blind items:
"Joan Darling, female director of 'First Love,' (the film that starred William Katt), denies she was busted in Georgia while making the film, for receiving dope that was allegedly sent to her in a film can originating from Paramount Studios...
"John Travolta has been visiting James Bridges (director) and that other guy who played Jimmy Olsen on the TV Superman series (Jack Larson), who now lives in the guest house. Anyhow, one of them was supposed to have been actor, Montgomery Clift's lover! Know which one? And in the last issue we said we heard, from New York, that John Travolta came out of the closet too. (Note: James Bridges died a few years ago. He had written and directed, '9/30/55,' the day James Dean died. He also directed Travolta in 'Perfect,'?"
It goes on and on and I could go on and on, but I'll summarize by saying there is something utterly charming about Dakota's untrained, unrestrained writing style, breathless fascination with gay gossip, unabashed cock worship and especially his heroic battles to run gay bars in Michigan in the '60s and to run a gay newspaper in Hollywood in the '70s. If this book sounds at all interesting and if you're okay with all manner of malapropisms and grammar mistakes and typos (many of which I've been assured will be fixed before you ever see them!) in hot pursuit of dish from the previous century (like I am), you gotta get it.
Bill Dakota's love/hate with the dark/light side of fame makes him some kind of a trailblazer, even if the trail he blazed was largely avoided from the time of Kenneth Anger until Perez Hilton and Harvey Levin and all of us middle-aged men with celebrity pic-withs littering Facebook came along.