For many gay and bisexual men of a certain age, the first inkling that they weren’t like other boys came on Saturday mornings from 1974 to 1976, in the form of a television show called The Land of the Lost. The show, about a father and his two children who were stranded in a mysterious land of dinosaurs, also featured vicious, but curiously slow-moving reptilian humanoids called Sleestak. Now the classic kids’ program by Sid and Marty Krofft, the producers of H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, has even been made into a feature film starring Will Ferrell, opening this Friday.
But it wasn’t just the gloriously campy-even-at-the-time nature of the show itself that appealed to gay boys. It was also the fact that it featured the role of Will, the Marshall’s handsome teenage son, played by an actor billed only as “Wesley,” but whose full name is Wesley Eure.
A major teen idol at the time, Eure eventually found his way out of the time vortex that was the Land of the Lost, appearing as Michael Horton on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives for almost ten years (several of them while simultaneously filming Land of the Lost), and then moving onto to hosting Finders Keepers, a children’s game show on Nickelodeon.
Eure on Days of Our Lives (left) and hosting Finders Keepers
Eure still works in children’s entertainment, having created the animated PBS series Dragon Tales and authored a number of children’s books, including The Red Wings of Christmas, which was almost turned into an animated Disney movie in the 1990s.
And all those gay and bisexual boys who had their first crushes on Will Marshall? It turns out that the actor playing him had something in common with them: he was gay too, something the actor is publicly talking about for the first time in this exclusive AfterElton.com interview.
The story of Eure’s life – being cast to replace David Cassidy on The Partridge Family right before the show was canceled, for example – has always been interesting. But now that he’s opening up about being gay, his story also includes the stuff of even the richest of memoirs: his 70s love affair with Richard Chamberlain, his behind-the-scenes firing from Days of Our Lives, his relationship with some of the most famous closeted gay men in the Hollywood, and his touching thoughts on being a closeted teen heartthrob.
There’s even a “gay” story behind the gold chain he wore under his attractively unbuttoned shirt on Land of the Lost!
Eure attending the Land of the Lost movie premiere (May 30th, 2009)
Photo credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images
AfterElton.com: I’m sure you hear this all the time, but a lot of the guys in our office had crushes on you! Wesley Eure: [laughs] Thank you.
AE: As we understand it, this is the first time you’ve ever spoken to the press about being gay. WE: Yeah, absolutely. I live my life very open. All my life, even when I was on Days of Our Lives and stuff, I had a fairly famous lover, and I never made it a secret. I never talked about it because it never seemed important.
Then during the AIDS crisis, I lost most of my friends. One of my best friends in New York was one of the first to pass away. We took care of John for a year, a bunch of us friends took turns. People thought I was crazy, and John said, “Aren’t you afraid?” And I said, “John, if I’m going to die by taking care of you, it would be my honor.” So when he passed away, I was holding him.
Afterwards, I said the thing I can do is honor my friends and my community, so I’ve been raising money ever since. We do a huge event, LalaPOOLooza, you can go online and check out the videos on YouTube. It’s outrageous. Eighty-five performers, synchronized swim teams, Greg Louganis came this year, Bruce Vilanch, both mayors of Palm Springs the last few years have been there, we had Ann Walker from Sordid Lives, Kaye Ballard. It’s just a lot of fun.
AE: Were you ever in the gossip rags in the 70s? WE: Oh, yeah.
AE: With insinuations? WE: They were pretty good about that. I remember there was a book on gay men in Hollywood back in the 70s, and my name was listed.
AE: I’m sure that must have been terrifying. WE: It was. Richard Chamberlain and I were boyfriends for a year, before he met Martin [Rabbett, his long-term partner]. We lived together, he was at my place. We broke up. He met Martin, who he’s with now for all these years. He’s talked about it, or else I wouldn’t. It’s great for him. It broke my heart. I was destroyed. I was a kid, and he was a much older guy.
I remember, they were going to out him. I was starring in a play, and somebody said, “There’s a magazine guy who wants to talk to you.” And I said, “Great. Bring him to the dressing room after the show.” It was this smarmy looking guy and a friend of his, they come in and he says, “What do you know about Richard Chamberlain being gay?” It took the wind out of me, and I was like, “What are you talking about?” And he goes, “Well, he came out in a Paris magazine.”
And I said, “Well, if Richard is gay, then I wish him a great deal of happiness.” And he said, “Well, we heard you were very close to Richard.” So I said, “Richard and I are very good friends and I wish him a lot of luck, and my God, if he is and he’s talking about it, that’s terrific.” I wouldn’t answer their questions. I remember when they left my heart was beating so fast and I was terrified.
The next week, it was all over the tabloids. The Enquirer, The Globe, everyone’s cover was Richard. I called a friend of mine who worked with the National Enquirer, I was panicked, “Please, what can I do? Am I going to get outed?” It was like the end of my life, I thought. He said, “I’ll make some calls,” and he squelched it. I remember that weekend, when the gossip papers came out in the grocery stores, I went to the store in Florida and I was shaking, and I grabbed one, and sure enough, on every couple was, “Richard Chamberlain is gay.” I bought all three of them and read through the articles and didn’t see my name, but I was shaking.
It was that kind of fear. It’s immobilizing. It was a horrible experience, and I’m certainly very, very proud of Richard with his book and what he wrote, and he’s had a great life with Martin, and he’s a terrific guy, an amazing man. But that’s the kind of fear that existed, and still exists today. As much as we can come out, as much as we say it’s okay. Neil Patrick Harris came out and it didn’t hurt him, but that was a choice he made.
AE: Exactly. WE: It should be a choice. It should not be forced on anybody. It’s like being a doctor and getting your license and all going through all the finances, and then somebody going, “Nope, I don’t think you should have license, give it back.” It’s exactly that feeling.
AE: When you were together with Richard Chamberlain, did you ever talk about the possibility of coming out? WE: No. It wasn’t an option. But again, we’d go out with my friends from Days of Our Lives, we’d double date with the girl who was playing my girlfriend and her husband. We’d go to Art Laboe’s club on Sunset and be dancing, but it was always boy/girl. I lived a very open life, and I’m sure that threatened a lot of people, my producers and stuff. Richard and I had a great time together. I stayed with his parents at the beach and took my mom. You know? We had a really wonderful time.
When it was over, it was enormously sad. I was broken hearted. I remember we broke up and I was on Days of Our Lives, I couldn’t stop shaking. I was crying so hard. I was a kid, comparatively. I went to the studio that day, and I was sobbing in the dressing room. They were all friends of mine, they all knew about Richard, that I was with him.
The makeup girl came in, and Patty Weaver who played my girlfriend, she’s on The Young and the Restless now, she came in, and I told them what happened. The good news is, the character on Days of Our Lives was in a very traumatic situation in the script, so it required being depressed, down, crying, all that stuff. So it fortunately timed out great. God bless the makeup artists, they came in did my makeup in the room. I was not ready to cope with it, but I moved on.
Wesley in a ’70’s Tiger Beat spread
AE: Do you think being gay hurt your career? WE: Absolutely. It was a horrible time in Hollywood, being gay. It was horrible. I was on the cover of Tiger Beat and all those a lot, and they’d do those “Win A Date With Wesley” and “Who’s Wesley Dating?” It was so disingenuous. I had a full life. I’ve had a lot of friends and some pretty high profile partners, and it was an odd thing. I got fired from Days of Our Lives for being gay.
AE: Is that right? WE: That’s what I was told. I mean, they told me a lot of different reasons. After nine years, my contract was up, but I was hosting the number one show for Nickelodeon, Finders Keepers. It was on cable, but this was before everybody had Nickelodeon. Mark Summers was doing Double Dare. I was getting bigger ratings than Mark. I became the number one host for kids for two seasons, and then we heard the show was being sold to Fox. Everybody else was celebrating and I went, “Oh, no. I’m out of a job.” Sure enough. I waited, I kept calling, “Am I hosting the show?” They wouldn’t answer the question, and then I got the call they went with somebody younger.
I knew Fox and NBC were run by gay men at the time, but what was odd about the industry at the time, it was amazing how the gay men were perpetuating the damage. I remember Earl Greenburg — who was a big philanthropist here in Palm Springs, and had the Desert AIDS Project, he did some wonderful work, he’s passed away now this last year — but the first time I saw him in Palm Springs, he said, “Didn’t I fire you?” He was head of NBC Daytime at the time.
AE: And what did you say when he said that? WE: [laughs] I said, “You’re an ass.”
AE: Was the issue that you were too public on your private life? WE: No one would ever say because that would be a lawsuit. It was all kept under the table, but through the makeup artists who worked on Days of Our Lives, I’m still in touch with a lot of the people from the show, the real reason was because I was gay.
AE: Looking back, does it feel to you like things are getting better in Hollywood? WE: What’s amazing to me is that when I was in Hollywood, I knew some of the major movie stars of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the gay people. I knew Rock Hudson, I knew a whole bunch of others. I’d go to parties at private homes when they couldn’t go anywhere. I remember Jacques Mapes and Ross Hunter, the famous movie producer. Their story was unbelievable.
They told me one night, Jacques Mapes was his boyfriend for forty-plus years. They were at a private party in Hollywood. One was Tyrone Powers’ lover, and the other was Errol Flynn’s lover. They were at one of those big Hollywood parties back in, I assume, the 30s or 40s, and they were the two prettiest boys in town on the arms of these celebrities, and he said, “I remember, I was at the top of the stairs, and there was Jacques. Our eyes met, and we left the party, dumped our famous boyfriends, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Jacques Mapes was a famous set designer, he did Singing in the Rain. They were together for many years, but there was this whole subculture, a hidden culture. I used to go, and the most famous people you can imagine were there. Then I had my generation that was sort of coming out of that as the gay rights movement started in the 70s. I was terrified of it. I wouldn’t be caught dead at a parade or a bar. Unfortunately, if you wanted to be with another guy, it forced you to dark places, which was the shame of it all.
Then I had to lie, and not tell the truth for so long. It did affect my career. I did lose jobs. I was a victim of homophobia and all the sadness that came with that. Then the AIDS crisis came, and God bless this community. It was one of the most, not only energizing, but mobilizing forces that brought this community together. We have to thank the lesbians so much, because they were the forefront, they took over.
Now, I look at Neil Patrick, and Lance Bass, and all these things begin to unfold. And I think, “Jeez, if only my celebrity had been during this time when I could have been more who I was instead of having to hide.” It takes so much energy to lie. It was exhausting. I’m telling you, so exhausting. Everything you do, you watch everything you say, every interview. Oh, I hated it. I think about what could have been, but I’m very proud of our community and all the people who have stood up and have opened the door for what’s going on now.
AE: It’s all part of a process. I think every generation is a little more visible than the one before. You have to judge the person’s actions according to the era in which they lived. WE: Exactly. I know some very famous gay men who are still in the closet, and if they came out, they wouldn’t work.
AE: Yeah, I think people are a little glib about, “Oh, just come out. Look, Neil Patrick Harris came out and it didn’t affect his career.” And that’s great. I think we all acknowledge that he’s changed, and is changing, everything, but it’s not that simple. WE: It’s not. There was a guy I knew named Rob Eichberg. Rob started Experience Weekend and Coming Out Day. I knew Rob in grad school, and we were very close for a while. Then Rob started Experience Weekend, and he was like, “You’ve got to come.” And I said, “Rob, I can’t let people know who I am!”
Then he started outing people. He was one of the first people to start outing everybody. I was furious, and I said, “How dare you do you this to people!” And he said, “No. Everybody needs to see that there are gay people around, that they know gay people.” And I said, “You have no idea what you’re doing. These poor guys that have spent their lives in hiding to get to this point where they have some success and they’re earning a living, and gone through all these obstacles, and in one statement, you’re jeopardizing their ability to ever work again. If you out a plumber, he can move to another city and fix pipes. If you’re a public figure and you out them…” And he looked at me and said, “You’re right. I won’t do it again.”
AE: I hear you had a cameo in the new Land of the Lost movie that got cut. WE: We did. We did a cameo with Will [Ferrell] at La Brea Tar Pits, Kathy [Coleman], who played Holly, and I.
Danny McBride, Will Ferrell and Anna Friel take over the roles of Will, Rick and Holly in the movie remake of Land of the Lost
AE: Why was it cut? WE: They changed the entire ending. They spent weeks and weeks and millions of dollars filming at the La Brea Tar Pits, then they cut it all. It just wasn’t working. They cut all of that. I was part of the ending. Then they reshot a scene with Matt Lauer, which is great. That scene is really funny. Matt Lauer is just terrific in this movie.
AE: Were you disappointed your scene was cut out? WE: I was furious! [laughs] It was like, “How could you do that?” Put us in the credits or something! Do something silly, you know?
AE: You could always say you were one of the Sleestaks. WE: That was exactly the original intention. During the credits they were going to have people taking Sleestak heads off and they were going to have the biggest stars in Hollywood, from Mel Gibson to Tom Cruise to whoever they could get. I was going to be one of the Sleestaks. But they had to reshoot the movie, so they spent so much money doing that, I think they ran out of time and money to do it.
The Sleestaks in the original series
I was very disappointed that we’re not in it. It was very odd. It was odd being on the red carpet the other night at Grauman’s Chinese. To do all that with them was sort of an odd feeling because it was like being at the party but not being part of the party. [laughs] I had to give my photo ID to get my ticket.
AE: Did they fly you out? WE: No, no. We drove down.
AE: You drove down? Good lord! WE: We drove in, we go to show my photo ID, then I had to go to the red carpet and tell them who I was, and then at the end of the evening I had to pay my $6 self parking fee. How the mighty have fallen! [laughs]
AE: Did you have a reserved seat at least? WE: All the seats were reserved so it wasn’t special. Everybody’s seats were reserved.
AE: All right, I’m so not okay with this. WE: [laughs] I must say it was an odd feeling. We did the TV Land Awards. They honored Sid and Marty Krofft, and they asked us to come. They called me, “Please, will you come. We know you don’t do a lot of appearances.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll come.” And they said, “Thank God, because Kathy is going to be there, and Phillip Paley who played Cha-Ka.”
When we get to the red carpet, there’s actually two red carpets. One goes in front of all the cameras and the paparazzi and the fans, then there’s another red carpet that goes behind the set. They’re trying to push me behind the set. And I was going, “Wait a minute! Something’s weird here.” I was with my friend Deanne Anders, I’ve known her from Days of Our Lives for years. She said, “Come on, we’re doing the red carpet!” So she pulls me to the red carpet, and they go who are you? And I say, “We’re from the original Land of the Lost.” And they go, “Okay. Who are you?” [laughs]
Wesley and friend Deanne Anders (left) attend the TV Land Awards
We start walking down the red carpet, and they ask one of my friends, “Who was that?” He says, “Wesley Eure.” So they announce, “Wesley Eure,” and people are applauding and taking photos and thinking, “Who the heck are these people?” They’re looking at me strangely.
This red carpet takes you to the green room at Universal Amphitheater, and they’re looking at me in the green room like, “Who are you guys?” And we’re like, “Wesley Eure.” And they go, “Oh, okay. We’ll be right back.” My friend says, “We’re getting kicked out of here.” And sure enough, they come back, “I think we’ll take you to your seats now.” We go, “You’re kicking us out, aren’t you?” And he goes, “Oh, no!” I said, “You’re kicking us out.” He said, “We’re kicking you out.”
So we walk to the Universal Amphitheater, and in the middle and to the right going down to the stage there’s all these tables with white tablecloths and flowers and food and everything, and on the left hand side at the top are the seats for the general audience that will fill up the place. And we go to go to our table, and they say, “Oh, you’re on the other side.” So we go to the other side and they go, “Nooo, you’re at the top of the amphitheater.”
AE: Oh, you’re kidding! WE: [I’m thinking] there’s got to be some mistake, but sure enough, we’re up there.
AE: Why’d they even invite you? WE: That’s the whole point. I’m like, “Why am I here?” And sure enough, there was a section with a lot of the people who’d had their time in the sun. They sort of filtered in: Johnny Whitaker, Butch Patrick, that gang. So we’re all sitting up there and I’m fuming. I’m thinking, “Why did I drive all the way in from Palm Springs and wear black tie? Why are we here?”
So they drag the producer up from the red carpet, all the way up to the nosebleed seats, and he’s apologizing, saying, “I’m so sorry.” And I say, “Why did you invite me? What’s the point?” He says, “There’s a tribute to the Kroffts, and wait till you see the montage and the dance!” And I said, “Yeah, that’s all great, but I can watch that on TV.”
We made the best of it. We had a ball. There were a lot of old friends, we were taking pictures.
Sid & Marty Krofft accepting their TV Land Award
Photo credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
AE: Did you know that crowd? Butch Patrick and all those… WE: Oh sure! Johnny Provost, the original Timmy from Lassie. It’s that whole gang of people. Even Sid and Marty’s third brother Harry Krofft and his daughter Patty were sitting behind us.
AE: Incredible. WE: The show was great. Neil Patrick Harris, unbelievable. So it comes to the Kroffts, and they open the montage with me singing. I sang the theme song and the closing song for Land of the Lost.
AE: I didn’t know that! WE: Yeah. So they open with the closing song, and there I am sitting in the very back of the place with my voice being piped in, and I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” So they did this great montage, and then there’s this big production number with fifty dancers, and Clint Black is singing the theme song from Land of the Lost, and Cyndi Lauper comes out.
Barry Williams comes out, which I used to do concerts with Barry, and he did something. And then they had a guy playing me, there were people playing everybody. There was a cute little dancer with curly red hair playing Johnny Whitaker from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. I poke Johnny and go, “How does this make you feel?” [laughs] We were laughing. It was just the oddest night.
AE: I’m just curious, and you don’t have to answer this, but do you get royalties from the show? WE: No, not at all. Back then, in the 70s on the morning kids’ shows, there was no royalties, at least for the first two seasons. By the third season, I think the royalties clicked in, so the Krofft’s never aired the third season until the marathon started.
AE: Uh! Well, what are you gonna do? When you were filming Land of the Lost, did you have any idea it would last as long as it has? WE: No. I don’t think anybody really knew. It was just such a great job. I was doing Days of Our Lives, which I did for nine years, at the same time. In the morning, I’d be on Days of Our Lives crying that my wife was dying of leukemia, and then in the afternoon, I’d be running from dinosaurs. I had this very schizophrenic life for a few years. [laughs]
AE: Whose decision was it to have Will unbutton the third button of his shirt? That sure got my attention! WE: [laughs] I think that was the 1970’s decision.
AE: Well, I don’t think your TV dad did. Somebody had made the decision to present you as a hunk, and that’s how it came across. WE: I appreciate that. I’m flattered. The gold chain I wore was my partner’s at the time. He gave me the gold chain, and I wore it the first two days of shooting. When Marty Krofft saw it for the first time, he came running over and said, “Wesley, you’ve got to take that chain off. What is that chain?” And I said, “Marty, it’s been there for two days. Do you want to reshoot the first two days?” And he goes, “All right, you can keep it in.”
AE: Do you still have the gold chain? WE: It was stolen from my house. I used to throw a lot of big parties. Everyone would be there. I had a ranch and stuff and the Pointer Sisters, Travolta, everybody would be out at the house. We’d have huge barbeques. But anyway, somebody walked into my bedroom one day and stole it.
AE: No! Do you at least still have the shirt? Or I guess there must have been fifty identical shirts. WE: [laughs] No, I don’t. I’ve got the backpack, and the knife, and I think the maps someplace that we used for two of the seasons, they’re on rawhide, and a couple of the old lunch boxes. Of course, they’ve re-pressed the lunch boxes, and they’re releasing them with the DVD set. That’s kind of cool, and odd to see.
AE: I don’t suppose you get a piece of that either. WE: Well, on the DVD’s, we did some behind-the-scenes stuff, so that’s covered. I get a little piece, like $1.75. [laughs]
AE: Did you know at the time that you were being cast as a teen idol? Was that part of it? WE: No. Listen. The truth of that is that I was billed as just Wesley at first.
AE: Oh, yeah! No last name, just “Wesley”! What was that about? WE: Hello! It was managers and people going, “Oh, you’re a teen idol. You’re going to be a teen idol.” My first series I got was actually with Kaye Ballard, and it was called The Organic Vegetables. I was cast as the leader, the drummer and singer, of a rock group called The Organic Vegetables, and it was produced by the people who made The Monkeys. It was right after The Monkees ended, and I went to an open call and got it.
It was an organic restaurant, Kaye Ballard ran it. They sold it [the show], it was scheduled, and then there was a writers’ strike before we started filming this thing. Then I got Days of Our Lives, and Tiger Beat and Teen Beat were all over me. And they said, “Oh, you should just be Wesley.” And I was like, “Uh, okay. I’ll be Wesley.” Of course, I look at it now, and I just bow my head and cringe.
AE: Are you single now? WE: I have a partner, for two and half years.
Wesley’s partner, Richard
AE: Is he in the industry? WE: He was a baseball player. He played for the Yankees.
AE: When you met, did he recognize you? WE: No.
AE: I must say, you’ve had a fascinating life. I hope it feels that way to you, because just reading about you earlier and talking to you now, you’ve done it all. You must be pretty proud. WE: You know what’s been amazing? I got the website up, and you can reach me from the website, and I’ve answered every email I’ve gotten. During the [recent Sci-Fi Channel’s] Land of the Lost marathon, I had not intended to watch it at all. I don’t watch myself. There isn’t one picture in my house of me, no posters from movie I’ve done, or concerts I’ve done. But people started emailing me, so it became this very interactive day, which was neat.
Most of the emails I got were from guys. I have some emails that would just break your heart, they’re so beautiful. Emails about guys coming out and understanding watching me, crushes, one guy said it changed his life. His email is so detailed, he’s a very successful, professional guy now. I’ve just been honored. I’m so thrilled that people have been courageous enough to email me. You know, on the website I didn’t even talk about my sexuality. I go to my computer and find more emails every day.
Photo credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images
AE: I find that fascinating, that gay and bisexual men were relating to you on some level, that’s there was something about your presence that was reassuring or comforting enough that they trust you with telling you about their same-sex crushes. WE: I’m telling you, it’s truly a disproportionate number of gay men emailing me. Billy Mann, the author of Where the Boys Are. He’s one of the top gay authors in the world. He has a house out in Ptown, and also he has a house out here. We became friends. The city of Palm Springs gave me a star out on the boulevard, there’s a walk of stars, [laughs] and Billy was one of the speakers. There were a lot of people who came to talk, a lot of stars, and Billy said, “As a kid, I used to fantasize about Wesley. I had his poster above my bed when I was a kid.”
AE: Just between you and me, me too.
You can visit Wesley online here. For more about his experiences on Land of the Lost (including his Sleestak stories!), see the rest of my interview with Wesley here. Thanks to AfterElton.com reader Tony for the tip!