by Brandon Wolf • Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo
“I’ve never been to Houston,” Madison Hildebrand, Houston’s 2012 Celebrity Pride Marshal, admits in a recent interview with OutSmart. Asked what he expects to find here, he offers: “Open space, thunderstorms, beautiful women, big hair?”
He inquires about Houston’s weather in late June. Told that it will be hot, he remarks, “Well, I guess I won’t have to bring many clothes.”
Indeed, the less clothing he’s wearing during the Pride Parade, the happier gay men along the route will be. At 31 years of age, Hildebrand seems to have it all—he’s a self-made millionaire, a television star, a published author, a former Playgirl cover boy, and probably the most desired gay bachelor in the country.
By 2005, Hildebrand was already known as Malibu’s most successful real-estate agent. After the first season of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, he was invited to join the cast. The television hit, a reality show that follows the ins and outs of selling multi-million-dollar homes in Malibu, California, begins its fifth season this month.
As a young boy, Hildebrand moved a lot due to his father’s job. The middle of three boys, he was a good student, made good grades, and had a good relationship with his parents.
Among the cities he lived in were Austin and Plano, Texas. He was five years old when the family began a two-year stay in Austin. He remembers the city as “beautiful,” and he was fond of Lake Travis. He lived in Plano from the eighth grade through the tenth grade.
Hildebrand describes his parents as “outgoing, very social, and extremely energetic.” It’s no surprise that this description pretty well sums up his personality, too.
In high school, Hildebrand was both academic and athletic. He was a member of the swimming, tennis, and wrestling teams. In the tenth grade, he was a Golden Gloves boxer. “I was full of pent-up energy,” he says.
Moving to Malibu
Hildebrand graduated from high school in New Canaan, Connecticut, and chose Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “I loved the perfect weather in Malibu, and Pepperdine offered a degree program in advertising, which was unusual. Most colleges only offer degrees in marketing or public relations.”
After graduation from Pepperdine in 2003, Hildebrand joined the Coldwell Banker real-estate firm and has skyrocketed in Malibu’s fiercely competitive housing market by selling over $120 million in property before reaching the age of 30.
Despite his phenomenal success, Hildebrand says that selling his first house was his proudest moment. “Along with the money came freedom,” he remembers.
In Love with Architecture
Hildebrand had a passion for architecture from an early age. Whenever his family moved, he would fly with his father to check out the available homes.
Currently, Hildebrand lives in a house facing the beach. He describes it as “beach-shack Bohemian.”
But his concept of a dream house would be to build on Paradise Cove, the 21-mile Malibu coastline with lots of beautiful beaches on the Pacific Coast Highway. “I’d landscape a two-acre area and build single-story architecture that is bold and earthy,” he says.
Hildebrand admires the work of architect Frank Gehry, a Canadian transplant to Los Angeles. Around the globe, Gehry’s buildings have transformed human expectations of the designed space.
Gehry uses cutting-edge computer technology to realize shapes and forms of hitherto unimaginable complexity, such as the startling irregularities of his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the whimsical Dancing House in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Hildebrand is also a fan of Los Angeles-based architect Richard Landry, who has built huge, award-winning “Ultimate Home” residences throughout the world, using both contemporary and classical designs. Most notably, Landry designed the castle-like home in which pop singer Michael Jackson died.
From a historical perspective, Hildebrand appreciates the work of the late Dan Saxon Palmer, who designed Modernist tract homes in Palm Springs with his architectural partner William Krisel. Their designs provided the building blocks for Southern California’s suburban housing boom in the 1950s.
Living in New Canaan, Hildebrand developed a love for the work of architect Philip Johnson. Numerous Johnson houses are located in the area, including the iconic Glass House. Hildebrand says he is pleased to know that Houston also has numerous Johnson structures.
Philosophically, Hildebrand believes that architectural beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He also feels that it is only people who can make a house a home.
Coming Out in the Public Eye
The biggest challenge Hildebrand faced in life was resolving his sexuality. His career was easier in comparison.
“I knew that I could proceed and that effort would get me to my goal,” he says. But it took a lot of exploration, reading, and therapy to finally recognize and accept that he is gay. And while he was dealing with this, the Bravo cameras were rolling.
The first year he was on Million Dollar Listing, during its second season, the focus was entirely on his real-estate skills. By season three, the subject of his sexuality was making its way into the episodes. Moving past the line of being straight, he described himself as “polyamorous.”
The gay press immediately took Hilde-brand to task, accusing him of copping out for not using the word “bisexual.” He fired back that he was the one who would define his sexuality, not the gay media.
But becoming involved in the “No on Proposition 8” campaign, California’s
antigay marriage referendum in 2008, had a profound effect on Hildebrand and brought him to the point of tears. He had explored sexuality from both sides, and now he was finally content with his identity as a gay man.
“The amount of e-mails I received was incredible,” Hildebrand recalls. “I was very touched by the support I was given, and it helped reinforce that I had made the right decision.”
Being successful and famous didn’t make Hildebrand immune to heartbreak. He was hurt when his last relationship failed, but he gained wisdom from it. His advice to others who are facing deep emotional pain: “Realize that nothing lasts forever, not even this. Ride out your feelings. Learn not to make the same mistakes again.”
Regarding his current status, Hildebrand says, “Technically, I’m single. But recently I’ve met someone who I think is special.” He says the most important quality in a partner is trust.
The Private Side of a Public Person
Hildebrand stopped going to church at the age of 13. But he does follow the “mai pen rai” philosophy that is popular in Thailand. The phrase translates literally as “it’s nothing,” but in practice means “bend like bamboo in the wind, and move on.”
The greatest role models for Hildebrand have been his maternal grandparents. “They have been married for 65 years, and they are still in love,” he says with a sense of marvel.
Being a television star is enjoyable to Hildebrand because his fans are kind and loving. “People want to hug me,” he says. “I love people and it’s easy for me to interact with them. If they can relate to me, and really connect, I can get to know them fast.”
Hildebrand gives his time and money to a wide variety of causes. But children and education are the two that he feels most passionately about. “Ignorance is the cause of most of the world’s problems, so well-educated societies are important.”
Being a celebrity affords Hildebrand countless opportunities to help others. On his 30th birthday, he hosted a Feather and Leather Fantasy Ball. “The guests were asked to bring toys, and we filled up a bedroom with nearly 1,000 gifts for children.”
As a gay man, Hildebrand says that the most important community issue in 2012 is “the T in GLBT.” “They are still emerging, and deserve our support.”
Looking back on 31 years of living, Hildebrand feels that the signature
quality of his personality is spontaneity. “I’m very open-minded and enjoy having a good time. Ultimately, it’s my inner voice that guides me.”
Hildebrand says that the best thing about his fast pace and colorful life is that it isn’t boring. This was especially apparent to him recently, while attending a large public event. “There I was—with Chaz Bono seated on one side and Monica Lewinsky on the other.”
Brandon Wolf also writes about the other Pride marshals in this issue of OutSmart magazine.