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eztv and the aids pandemic

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EZTV and the aids pandemic

John Dorr reciting his poems during  an AIDS benefit event, 1991

There is no way to discuss the early days of EZTV without putting it in context with the emerging community of openly LGBTQ persons in West Hollywood, California, in the late 1970′s and throughout the 1980′s. And there is no way to discuss the history of LGBTQ communities in the 1980′s without the overlay of the impact of HIV.

EZTV Founder John Dorr’s openly gay status, at a time when this would still adversely affect a career in Hollywood, was one of the many courageous and inspiring commitments he and other EZTV members made to the larger context of human rights, both gay and straight. By the time Dorr died of AIDS complications in 1993, the pandemic had changed forever the socio-political climate of not just West Hollywood, but the world at large.

aids Poems, 1991

Introduced by actor Bruce Davison, EZTV Founder John Dorr reads some of his AIDS related poems during a live poetry event to raise HIV awareness, held at EZTV in April 1991. This was about a year after his HIV+ diagnosis and over a year before his succumbing to the complications of AIDS.

Camera by Michael J. Masucci.

Michael Kearns, mainstream Hollywood’s first openly gay actor (now a highly respected writer/director/performer and educator), was an early participant in many of Dorr and his fellow EZTV artists’ works, and has over time, continued to participate in various ways in the EZTV story. Kearns is an AIDS survivor, having lived as an HIV+ man for decades.
Kearns poignantly pointed out that because of their commitment to preserving EZTV’s early LGBTQ legacy, EZTV’s Michael J. Masucci and Kate Johnson, two HIV- straight artists, were AIDS survivors themselves.
Many of EZTV earliest participants succumbed to the complications of AIDS. Among these (but in no way a comprehensive list) were Benedict Falvo, Earl Miller, James “Dillinger” Baker, Mark Addy, Wallace Potts, and Victor Davis.
During the height of the AIDS pandemic, the mid-1980′s, EZTV served the West Hollywood community as a place where the friends of those who had died of AIDS could hold memorial services and gatherings in their honor. For several years, it was commonplace for a Saturday afternoon at EZTV to be dedicated to the remembrance of someone who could not afford a service any other way. It was common for at least one such memorials to occur each week. Most of these services were for persons who were strangers to the EZTV team. All these services were donated, free of charge, to the community. Sadly, the need for these free services was great, for it was still commonplace for relatives of gay persons stricken with AIDS to be abandoned or rejected due to the family’s homophobia.
A number of groups focusing on the AIDS crisis used EZTV as a gathering place for meetings, screenings, and lectures as well as donated production services. This included Queer Nation, ACT Up/LA, AIDS Project/Los Angeles, Louise Hays Foundation, Being Alive!, and a number of individual AIDS related events, both political and non-political.

AIDS poetry benefit at EZTV, 1991 

Misconceptions, biases, and misplaced fears about AIDS persisted well into the early 1990′s. When John Dorr was diagnosed with HIV in 1990, one straight EZTV employee, paranoid that AIDS could be contracted through sitting on the same toilet seat as someone with HIV, refused to use EZTV’s bathrooms and would walk several blocks to a nearby IHOP to relieve himself. Masucci, upon hearing this, fired the man. Two years later, Kate Johnson would also fire someone for insensitive homophobia.

The devastation to an entire generation of artists, through AIDS, changed forever the direction and history of EZTV. The talent that was lost is incalculable. Those who continued the space fully recognize that if the pandemic had never occurred, EZTV would have followed its natural course, and would have then gone in a very different way than what it ultimately became.