Because I am becoming my own grandmother, I always read the obituaries in the New York Times. That is where I read with great dismay that Charles Nelson Reilly died on Friday at the age of 76. A Tony-winning actor and Tony-nominated director, he was of course best known for his campy persona on the 1970's game show "Match Game."
Charles Nelson Reilly is one of those seventies television personalities that fascinates me so much, the openly flamboyant (if not officially openly gay) comic. It was an interesting stance to take in a time when there really was not mainstream acceptance for homosexuality. And yet it certainly led to popularity, as actors like C.N.R., Paul Lynde and Wayland Flowers were all among the most popular on their respective shows.
As the Times wrote:
Mr. Reilly’s openly gay persona was many years ahead of its time on television, and it had its risks. He recalled being dismissed early in his career by a network executive, who told him that “they don’t let queers on television.” Paul Linke, who directed the one-man show [Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly, 2002], said Mr. Reilly later had the last laugh when he would page through TV Guide and count how many times he was on the air that week.
And he certainly played a role in popular culture over the past 40 years, popping up in shows as disparate as Nanny & the Professor, Charles in Charge, The Drew Carey Show, Love, American Style, the X-Files, as a regular guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, and even on Sid & Marty Krofft's trippy kids' show Lidsville.
The campy game show personality can seem like such a cliche now, but in context it was a bold move for any actor to be so open about his sexuality. It was a glimpse into a bit of gay culture America never really saw on television, and it helped pave the way for the greater acceptance the gay community would experience down the road.
And just catch any rerun of Match Game and you'll see - it could be outrageous and hilarious. He was cunty when cunty wasn't cool. R.I.P. C.N.R.