By Steven Foster
Entertainment editor Blase DiStefano (pronounced Blaze Duh-STEF-uh-no) has been on this planet for 70 years and has walked within the pages of this magazine for over a third of that span.
To honor all of that time logged, we’ve decided to log some time with one of the masthead’s veterans. DiStefano has been integral to this magazine since its inception, handling everything from many of the celebrity interviews to the layout of almost every page (and a few of OutSmart’s most iconic covers). It was DiStefano’s 2002 interview with actor Tony Curtis that went national for inquiring minds to savor. And it was in his 2005 interview with Kathy Griffin that she divulged her “complete militant atheist” status, which threw the Catholic League into a tizzy and earned OutSmart a mention on CNN. DiStefano is also responsible for the magazine’s wildly popular “Queer Quotes” column, a monthly rundown of choice utterances about the LGBT world from figures in entertainment, culture, and politics.
DiStefano began working for OutSmart in 1994 after a frustrating stint at a Sears department store doing ad layouts and pasteups (yes, he’s that old-school), and a much more rewarding time at the groundbreaking This Week in Texas, aka TWT (affectionately known as “Twit”), where he designed the iconic logo that was widely used as a coded gay decal, much like the HRC equal-sign logo is used today.
That artistic spirit is still very much at work today, and not solely within the pages of this magazine. An accomplished artist in his own right, DiStefano continues to work in mixed media (his medium of choice), creating photos and designs for his own extensive personal collection that he catalogues and places into stunning coffee-table books he modestly (and, in this writer’s humble opinion, foolishly) decides not to display on his damn coffee table. To right that wrong, examples can be seen here. Appropriately enough, we sat down to talk about the art of publishing at Bistro Menil, in the shadow of The Menil Collection’s grand Renzo Piano-designed space.
Steven Foster: What attracted you to OutSmart magazine?
Blase DiStefano: It was a local gay magazine that wasn’t all about sex. Back then, it seemed the three-letter words “gay” and “sex” were interchangeable.
What’s been the most rewarding part of working at OutSmart?
I have to preface my answer. When I was a kid, I was in constant fear that someone would find out that I was gay. There was no one to let me know I was okay. What I would have given for a magazine like OutSmart to have been there! So, the reward here is that there might be a queer kid or adult who sees the magazine and realizes they’re not alone. I really mean that … that sentence is not accompanied by violin music. And then, of course, there’s the selfish motive: getting to interview celebrities!
What have you noticed that’s changed the most about the publishing business?
Computers. When I first started at TWT, we did almost everything by hand. That was so long ago—I don’t even remember how we got the typesetting in order to do the pasteup for layouts. All that stuff is so antiquated that I’ve let it slip out of my mind.
Why do you think OutSmart has survived and even thrived, when other publications—most notably veterans like the Houston Post—have tanked?
I’m not sure I’m the one to ask. My guess is that we have loyal readers and advertisers, and we have a wide variety of editorial topics.
Who was your most enjoyable interview with?
Lily Tomlin, hands down. She’s been my idol since Laugh-In, so I was pretty knowledgeable about her career. Because I had recorded almost every show she was in on TV (on videotapes in the ’70s and ’80s), she asked if I wouldn’t mind sending them to her. She had them transferred to DVDs, and then she not only sent back my original videotapes, she also sent me a set of the DVDs. We talked about 45 minutes, then stopped only because she had an appointment. I asked if we could talk more, and she called me back that night, and we talked for another hour!
Who was your most difficult interview?
Honestly, there weren’t any. Maybe Joe Dallesandro, but he’s just not very talkative anyway.
If you could interview anyone that you haven’t yet had the chance to, who would that be?
Maggie Smith. That’s not gonna happen, because she does very few interviews. Next in line: Jane Fonda. That could still happen. I love her almost as much as Lily Tomlin! From my answers, can you tell I’m gay?
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.