Books

Leslie and His Dad

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In an excerpt from his new book, funny man Leslie Jordan remembers life with father.

By Tim Brookover

PinkCarpetThat 4-foot-11 comic powerhouse, Leslie Jordan, hits Houston this month with a performance of his one-man show, My Trip Down the Red Carpet, based on his brand-new memoir of the same title (from Simon & Schuster). The June 11 performance is at Wortham Theater Center.

Just three years ago, Jordan—best known for his Emmy-winning Will & Grace role as Beverly Leslie, Karen Walker’s nemesis/best friend—delighted the crowd at the Houston Black Tie Dinner. In advance of that benefit event, he appeared on OutSmart ‘s October 2006 cover. In the accompanying interview, the actor hinted at a new HBO series that made our remote-control finger twitch in anticipation: Twelve Miles of Bad Road, with a cast that included Lily Tomlin, Mary Kay Place, and Gary Cole in addition to Jordan. “We are realtors in this very exclusive suburb of Dallas,” he told OutSmart. “We drive big Bentleys and we drink a lot and smoke a lot and cuss a lot.”

The series was set to debut in March. What happened? Twelve Miles has been shelved, a casualty of the recent Writers Guild of America strike, Jordan told the San Diego-based Gay & Lesbian Times last month. “HBO sunk $25 million into it, we shot a brilliant pilot, we shot six brilliant episodes—Linda Bloodworth-Thomason [Designing Women creator] wrote it,” he said. “‘The Strike Train shut us down, and we just assumed that when the strike was over, we would shoot our last four episodes and go on the air.” However, mid-strike changes at HBO put executives in charge that decided the series no longer suited the cable network.

Besides his Houston appearance, Jordan fans do have something to look forward to this summer. On July 23, Logo debuts a series version of Sordid Lives, the Southern-fried cult hit by Texas-born Del Shores that was first a play, then a 2000 movie. Jordan reprises the role of Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, who in the series has been “locked in a mental institution where he performs as Tammy Wynette,” the Logo publicity relates. The ensemble cast includes Rue McClanahan and Olivia Newton-John. A big-screen version of Southern Baptist Sissies, another Del Shores stage hit starring Jordan (this time with Delta Burke and gay singer/songwriter Levi Kreis), is in production and set for a 2009 release.

Jordan is still “a busy, busy boy,” as he described himself in our 2006 interview. His latest book hits stores on June 3. In this excerpt, he remembers his father, who reared a son who didn’t turn out the way he might have expected. — Tim Brookover

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My daddy, Allen Bernard Jordan, was a man’s man. He was as handsome as a movie star. Even though he stood a little less than five feet five, he was in possession of an easy kind of masculinity that both awes and terrifies me—and that I am extremely attracted to. I’ve been in therapy about that for years.

My daddy used to call me “son” as if he was in deep pain. He’d say, “Oh, son,” and it would sound like “sohhhn.”

One of my early ambitions was to be a go-go dancer. I used to sit and watch the dancers on a TV show called Hullabaloo, which was the MTV of my generation. I was transfixed as the dancers wildly cavorted on white platforms. I knew it took a lot of practice to achieve that level of expertise, so I pushed all the furniture in the living room out of the way and commandeered the coffee table. Once I had mastered “the Jerk,” I moved on to the next level, which included “the Swim” and “the Hitchhiker.” After several weeks of intense practice, I also had “the Batman” and “Mashed Potato” under my belt. By the time my repertoire included “the Dirty Dog,” which involved a whole lot of hunching and some really intricate facial expressions, I was on my way.

My poor daddy would come home and his firstborn son would be feverishly go-go dancing on the coffee table to “Wipeout” by the Safaris.

“Daddy, watch me do the Pony!” I’d squeal as I hopped from foot to foot, jerking my head back and forth.

“Oh, son,” he’d sigh.

My career hopes were dashed when I noticed that one of the boy dancers on Hullabaloo had bleached bangs. This was before even the Beach Boys had bleached bangs, and I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I talked my friend Charlie into helping me achieve my new look. We took hydrogen peroxide and combed it through my bangs, which promptly turned bright orange. When confronted by my daddy at the dinner table, I swore right over the Chef Boyardee ravioli that I didn’t know what had happened. I just woke up that morning and there it was. Orange bangs. Can you believe it?

He did not believe it.

I got a good whipping for that. Not because I bleached my hair but because I lied. The whipping apparently did not do a lick of good, since when I was growing up I could lie with the greatest of ease. I have been in therapy about this, too.

Anyway, it was so disheartening. If I couldn’t even get away with bleached bangs, how on earth was I ever, ever going to get away with high-heeled, pointy-toed Italian boots and skintight, striped pencil pants?

So I gave up my dream of becoming a go-go dancer and replaced it with dreams of becoming a majorette. My mother had been a majorette in high school (aren’t they all in Tennessee?). I pulled out her baton one sweltering summer afternoon and begged her to show me a routine. I had always been fascinated with batons. My daddy had once taken me to a football game and tried patiently to explain all the ins and outs of football.

“Now, son, that is the offense and that is the defense.”

I tugged on his sleeve and asked impatiently, “Daddy, when do the majorettes come out?”

“Oh, son . . .”

Excerpted from My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, by Leslie Jordan, published by Simon & Schuster. Reprinted by permission.
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SEE LESLIE RUN

Leslie Jordan performs My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, produced by Reaction Productions, on June 11, 8 p.m., at Cullen Theater in Wortham Theater Center. $45–$60. Tickets: 866/55-TICKETS, www.inticketing.com.

Earlier that day, Jordan discusses his memoir and signs copies at 5 p.m. at Barnes & Noble-Town & Country Village (12850 Memorial Dr.).

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