OF ALL the childhood aphorisms jostling within my grown-up mind, the one about judging books by their covers surged to the surface when I first saw Michael Kearns’ new book, The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Hustler? (CreateSpace, 2012). Next to the subtitle there appears an alluring photograph of the young Kearns cradling a teddy bear. The back jacket is peppered with celebrity and literally oozes Hollywood Fabulous, making this precisely—to be honest—the kind of book I used to sigh over and reshelve within the ever-diminishing queer section at the late Borders Books. “Hollywood’s first openly gay actor … puts most other show-biz autobiographies to shame,” boasts Sir Ian McKellen. Impressive, yes. But please! The “who’s on first” game is best saved for baseball or sketch comedy. Such “glamorism” isn’t activism, is it?
Knowing Kearns, I knew to think twice. I first met him in 1999 as a colleague working to open USC’s ONE Institute & Archives. I interviewed him formally in the summer of 2005 as part of my research on the history of GLBT activism in Los Angeles. My second interview with Kearns, occasioned for this article, arose from a heightened interest in branding and labels inspired by my impressions of the cover of his new book.