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behind the scenes

THE OUTSIDER

Interview by Amy Rennert from San Francisco Focus Magazine October 1992

"Let me tell you a story," Armistead Maupin says as we sit down to begin our conversation. "I met this extraordinary woman on a Bay cruise many years ago. I was in the middle of this very crowded party and I moved just a little bit and I heard someone say, `Watch it, Buster!' I looked around, then down, and here was this tiny, thirty-one-inch-high woman speaking brusquely. She came off as a condensed Bette Midler. Well, her name was Tamara De Treaux, and we hung out together for the rest of the cruise and became instant fast friends.

Tammy and Armistead.

"I'm gay. She wasn't, but she usually preferred gay and lesbian company because we understood the sense of outsiderdom that she had to deal with all the time. Her experience was so similar to mine in many ways, and yet it put mine to shame in terms of the very real challenges she faced every time she left the house. She couldn't turn off the stares of ignorant people, so she learned to convert their curiosity into a sort of fame for herself. Anyone who met her discovered that after an hour or two, not only were they at ease around her, but they also felt privileged to be in her presence. "She changed my life and I guess I changed hers. She was living in San Leandro and I introduced her to Bud Cort, the actor. He asked her to be in his singing group, Bud Cort and the Medflies. Later, she was performing with Cort at some night spot on the Sunset Strip in LA when one of Steven Spielberg's producers came in and discovered her. He saw that she was just short enough to fit the suit for the extraterrestrial creature in E. T. Tammy couldn't give me any story-line details at the time because there was such secrecy surrounding production.

"So there she was starring in one of the biggest Hollywood hits in history, yet she was invisible. Being inside the creature with all the circuitry surrounding her head made Tammy feel like she was living inside a pinball machine. In the credits she was one of a dozen or so people listed under the headline `E.T. Special Movement.' It's not the most fulfilling role for an actress. In fact her invisibility was the single thing required of her.

Tammy in costuming

"It occurred to me that there was a very strong parallel between her and gay and lesbian actors who are required to stay invisible, to remain in the closet. Spielberg was explicit about not wanting Tammy to go public. His attitude was, the less the public knew, the greater the fantasy. So when she broke that restriction and granted interviews with Entertainment Tonight and several of the tabloids, Spielberg was extremely upset. Tammy's response was, `I'm an actress, not a little person into rubber. I have a right to say who I am and what I'm doing.' >>next page

 

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