Short Life of an Actor in Un-gay Times
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Published in: September-October 2023 issue.

by Thomas Mallon
Knopf. 353 pages, $28.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW who Dick Kallman was, you aren’t alone. He’d be a stumper as a Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit question. You can discover this has-been (never-was?) minor celebrity in a new novel on his tumultuous life, Up With the Sun, by Thomas Mallon, a prominent writer of gay historical fiction. Mallon has resurrected Kallman from the almost dead; and indeed, how he died is perhaps his biggest claim to fame. On February 22, 1980, he and his male lover were shot to death by three intruders in their tony Manhattan townhouse, in a robbery of their antiques business gone awry.

            Kallman’s acting career, the events leading up to this sensational homicide, and the aftermath, including the killer’s trial, form the bases for Mallon’s novel, which is part show-business history, part crime mystery, and part love story covering a thirty-year period spanning the pre-Stonewall era to the early AIDS epidemic. Gossipy and entertaining, featuring appearances from authentic Broadway and Hollywood stars, the novel is a moral dissection of a closeted gay life and a psyche distorted by ambition.

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Brian Bromberger is a freelance writer who works as a staff reporter and arts critic for The Bay Area Reporter.