David Ogden Stiers, the Emmy-nominated actor who first found widespread fame playing Major Charles Winchester on the TV series M*A*S*H and who later voiced many characters in animated Disney musicals, has come out in an interview with the gay Oklahoma City blog gossip-boy.com.
“I am [gay],” Ogden Stiers said. “Very proud to be so.”
The interview was published in March, but was missed by many media outlets, including this one.
Ironically, Ogden Stiers said it was his later, very successful career as a voice actor that caused his reluctance to come out any earlier.
“I enjoy working and even though many have this idealistic belief that the entertainment industry and studios like Walt Disney are gay friendly, [they weren’t always],” Ogden Stiers said. “For the most part they are, but that doesn’t mean for them that business does not come first. It’s a matter of economics…A lot of my income has been derived from voicing Disney and family programming. What they might allow in a more known actor, they prefer not having to deal with in minor players.”
Among Ogden Stiers many voice credits are roles in dozens of animated Disney movies, including Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, both Ratcliffe and Wiggins in Pocahontas, and the Archdeacon in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also voiced a character in the English version of Spirited Away, distributed by Disney.
Odgen Stiers said he was repeatedly cautioned to stay in the closet if he wanted to continue getting work as a voice actor for these family films. “From the late 1980’s until about seven or eight years ago, you would find certain individuals coming up to you, me, and advocating the position that since we were doing family fare that it would be best were the actors to maintain a certain palatability to parents,” Ogden Stiers said. “These parties likely had heard rumors or harbored suspicions about me and wanted to make sure no embarrassing incidents were forthcoming.”
That said, Ogden Stiers admitted that, in later years, he wasn’t sure if the threat of homophobic discrimination was still real. “I’ve been working internally on whether they were the problems, or if I just continued using them as an excuse long after the call for conservative private lives passed,” he said.
Ogden Stiers, 66, was born and raised in Illinois, where he co-edited a newspaper with classmate and future film critic Roger Ebert.
Later, he found success on the stage on both coasts, but with his distinguished look and distinctive voice, it was television where he found break-out stardom. In 1977, he replaced Larry Linville’s Frank Burns as a foil for Alan Alda’s Hawkeye on the television hit, M*A*S*H. Odgen Stiers played the role of arrogant, but somehow likable aristocrat Charles Emerson Winchester III for six years, landing two Emmy nominations, until the show was canceled in 1983. He did not appear in the show’s spin-off, AfterMASH.
During his stint on M*A*S*H and after, Ogden Stiers appeared in countless television and movie roles, generally as a supporting player. Most recently, he landed regular roles on the series The Dead Zone and Stargate: Atlantis. He’s also appeared in a number of Woody Allen movies, including one, Another Woman, where he played an eerily accurate-seeming younger version of his former acting mentor, the late John Houseman.
But it was his post-M*A*S*H career as a voice actor where he once again found major success. Ironically, it was the flamboyant nature of some of those roles that he says contributed to his staying closeted.
“Cogsworth, the character I did on Beauty and the Beast, could be a bit flamboyant on screen, because basically he is a cartoon,” he said. “But they didn’t want Cogsworth to become Disney’s gay character, because it got around a gay man was playing him.”
Regarding this signature role in the classic Disney film (which Odgen Stiers also narrates), the actor reportedly ad-libbed the last part of Cogsworth’s famous advice to the Beast on what to give Belle: “Well, there’s the usual things: flowers… chocolates… promises you don’t intend to keep…”
But on the subject of anti-gay discrimination in the animated movie industry, Odgen Stiers is quick to add, “I haven’t witnessed such things occurring in a long, long time.”