Lily Tomlin was offered the cover of Time Magazine in 1975 if she would come out of the closet. She turned it down. She later earned the cover in 1977 with no strings attached for her first show on Broadway. She has been on television since 1969 and has a new series with Jane Fonda in production on Netflix. Don’t miss Lily Tomlin Live in Seattle this weekend at 5th Avenue Theatre!
What were your feelings about Time Magazine offering you the cover in 1975 if you would come out of the closet?
It was a dilemma. It would have been really beyond courageous if I had done it at that time. They just wanted a gay person. They didn’t care who it was. They ended up with Leonard Matlovich. I think it was September of ‘75. I wanted it to be for my work. I didn’t want to trade my private life just for the cover of a magazine. I was so torn at the time because I wanted to do it politically but I can’t say that I even had the courage at that time. At the same time, I was a little insulted. Jane and I were actually in the studio at that time doing my album, ‘Modern Scream’. So we put a piece on there about being interviewed for a fan magazine. I called it ‘The Heterosexual Interview’ where I played the interviewer; well I am playing everyone of course. We modeled the entire thing after the Cliff Gorman interviews at the time. He was one of the only straight men in ‘The Boys in the Band’ and it was pretty treacherous for him at the time. Every time he was interviewed he tried to make sure they knew he was straight. I understand why he would do it. As one of the questions, I asked “What was it like to see yourself on the big screen making love to a man?” So, we just took most of his interviews and flipped them. So my answer in the interview on the album was something like, “I have seen these women all my life. I know how they walk, how they talk. It was relatively easy.” Some people think I went too far and of course others thought I didn’t go far enough. I just thought that this would be my way of answering Time. I ended up getting the cover of Time in 1977 for my first show on Broadway.
Can you tell us a little about your new series ‘Grace & Frankie’?
The concept of it is that Jane Fonda and I are two women of our age. We have been married to law partners for 40 years. She and I don’t particularly care for each other. We are total opposites. She is very conservative and went to good schools and things like that. I am much more liberal, Bohemian and just more playful. I am not quite as serious and uptight as she is. Our husbands have been great friends all these years and are law partners. Well we are going to have a big dinner and we think they are going to announce their retirement and we will finally be rid of each other. Instead, they announce that they have been in a love relationship for about 20 years. Now that they can get married they want to divorce us so they can marry each other. It is on Netflix so it is expected to be a little naughty. We are excited. Jane Fonda and I are old friends so that will be fun for us.
What are your thoughts on being a LGBT Icon?
I am glad largely because I think gay people are hipper (laughing). I love having a gay audience. I just love that faction. I relate to the sensibility because gay people are hipper. I think they are more empathetic. As for being an icon, I can’t speak to that. Unless you are sort of delusional, I don’t think you can think of yourself as an icon. You can read about it or hear about it. I just don’t think in your heart that you can really relate to the idea that you are an icon. I mean I know I am useful to the community. Jane and I are involved in the Gay & Lesbian Center here in LA. In fact we just had a press conference about some incredible projects they have coming up. You know it is the biggest in the world really.
Do you have a message for LGBT youth?
Stay determined! I am so impressed that each generation gets more determined to be recognized, to be acknowledged and to be treated like anyone else.
Don’t miss Lily Tomlin Live this weekend June 6 & 7 at 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Click here for tickets.
Don’t miss the previous segments of our interview with Tomlin