The New Roy Cohn Doc Is a Must-Watch (Just Shower After!)

Also: Billy Porter meets Martha Stewart at Moulin Rouge!

Anyone who’s seen a version of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is painfully familiar with the persona of Roy Cohn, portrayed as a corrosively bitter and evil manipulator who’s dying of AIDS though he vehemently denies it, along with even denying being gay. If you want to know more about the real person behind the grisly facade, Matt Tyrnauer’s masterfully done documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn? tells all, though I should warn you that you’ll want to shower immediately afterwards.

The lawyer who became an aide to Commie-baiter Joe McCarthy, a legal defender of the mob, and a mentor to Donald Trump, Cohn is shown in all of his power hungry glory. Under the microscope of Tyrnauer—my former Vanity Fair editor, who’s done docs about Valentino, Studio 54, and gay sex procurer to the stars Scotty Bowers—we see him as a man with utter disdain for the law, no time for empathy, and a hunger to do virtually anything to win a fight.
 

The doc illuminates Cohn’s various doings—like going to exaggerated lengths to get the death penalty for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for spying in 1953, and then continuing to worm his way from one outrageous act to another and getting away with it, always loving a battle because it gave him the chance to recklessly smear his opponent. Cohn might have even murdered a 21-year-old guy for insurance, and also quite possibly posed as a nurse to get a dying man to sign his fortune away to him, though we’ll never know; Cohn got off. Still, in 1986, he was disbarred for a succession of egregious acts that even he couldn’t lie his way out of (though he tried). He died five weeks later.

Described as a “self-hating Jew,” Cohn was also a self-loathing gay, and tried so hard to throw people off the scent that in the 1950s, he was engaged to Barbara Walters for a while. (Walters later revealed that she’d agreed to “beard” for Cohn because he’d helped her adopt her daughter and had managed to get a warrant for her dad’s arrest dismissed.) In the same period, Cohn busied himself with drumming up the Lavender Scare, claiming that gays in the government were a security risk and had to be routed out at all cost. His demented whistle-blowing wound up getting many of those cowering people fired and ruined. (“The lady doth protest too much,” suggests one of the doc’s talking heads.)

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Roy Cohn (L) and Joseph McCarthy (R), 1954.

Later, he developed a mad crush on G. David Schine, a hotelier who was dead set against “Commies,” so he involved Schine in the McCarthy-led witch hunt and also tried to get him special treatment in the armed forces after he was called in for service. When that backfired, it led to the Army-McCarthy hearings, where Cohn was practically outed as being in love with Schine, though in a distasteful, gay-baiting manner that made it hard to root for anyone.

Once Cohn’s hateful mother died in 1967, the sex-crazed, Valium-popping Cohn started surrounding himself with Nordic looking blond guys, who would wake up—after sex—with hundred dollar bills stuffing their pockets. When one boyfriend asked Roy which of them was the boy and which the girl, Cohn blithely replied, “I’m the girl.” But when asked on the record if he was gay, Cohn swore that his aggression and toughness were not compatible with that—thereby not only lying, but smearing gays as ineffectual wusses.

When Cohn came down with AIDS, he claimed it was liver cancer and again denied, denied, denied. Most fascinatingly of all, President Reagan, who isn’t exactly remembered as the hero of the AIDS movement, gave Cohn special treatment by hooking him up in a fancy hospital and constantly checking in on him via concerned messages. After all, Cohn had helped Reagan get elected thanks to some very skeevy manipulations.

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Roy Cohn (L) and Donald Trump (R), 1983.

Cohn died in 1986, but his tattered legacy lives on with Donald Trump, whom the doc says used illegal immigrants for Trump Tower and then didn’t pay them. (Cohn hooked Trump up with mob connections to help him on his mission, we’re told.) “Donald just wants to be the biggest winner of them all,” Cohn is quoted as saying—and the law-breaking lawyer helped him do so, with an ethos based on never apologizing for anything, accusing your opponent of things you yourself are being charged with, and wrapping it up in fake patriotism as you crap all over democratic values.

Are you running to the shower yet?

First, let me add one more thought: At the height of the Commie mania that Cohn helped usher in, the public was pumped with fear-mongering ideas like how Communists want to overthrow democracy and put in a dictator. Think about it.

Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da

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Billy Porter at The Blonds x Moulin Rouge!

And now, on to openly gay people, ones who make the world prettier, not more hideous. The Blonds fashion show slash Moulin Rouge! The Musical cast album launch at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (where Moulin Rouge! plays) was the cross-cultural event of the year so far.

The Blonds are the gay couple (studly David and gorgeous drag queen Phillippe) who design sparkly, sexy celebrity wear, so they were the perfect choice to fuse with the naughty, bawdy opulence of Moulin Rouge! For a crowd that ranged from Martha Stewart, Wendy Williams, and Erika Jayne to some real drag queens, the event served the pre-show ambience they deliver before every performance, then out came the dancing ladies rocking it on “Lady Marmalade,” followed by Phillipe descending on a swing (the way Satine does), stepping off to do some compelling runway in a blindingly hot ensemble. And then, glittery models bursting out of tableaux were interspersed with numbers from the musical, and it was all done as seamlessly as the encrusted outfits.

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Paris Hilton.

Aaron Tveit, who plays Christian, performed “Your Song” for a rare tender moment, but mostly, it was full-on show biz, whether it be “Diamonds Are Forever,” celebrity models like Paris Hilton and Gigi Gorgeous working an Eiffel Tower bit, or trans beauties voguing up a storm as Billy Porter emerged in a gold-studded white bodysuit, festooned robe, and clever crown to belt it out.

Moulin Rouge! coproducer Jordan Roth even managed to do some supermodel strutting of his own. This fascinating fusion kept becoming more and more giddily entertaining, and by the end, I was convinced that a mere fashion show—or cast album launch—would not be worth leaving my boudoir for ever again. Maybe.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

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Meanwhile, I’m addicted to Molly after seeing the cabaret show Molly Pope, a Gay Man and a Piano at The Duplex. The endearingly talented Pope—doing what she called an “in town tryout” of a show headed to Provincetown—was accompanied by the very game Drew Wutke as she applied her prodigious pipes to chestnuts like “Town Without Pity,” “Break My Stride,” and “Goodbye Cruel World,” while keeping her vibrato, and the female pronouns, flawlessly intact.

The crowd of giddy gays was enraptured as Pope unflaggingly served up not only great musicality, but deadpan stories (like how, as a kid, she once hit an unruly boy with a Care Bears lunchbox and has been looking for her metaphorical Care Bears lunchbox ever since), a surreal monologue from The Fantasticks, and a confession about how two dead animals (a baby mouse found in her house and a deer stuck in political traffic) happened to touch her soul.

Inviting us to view her next song as a reflection of her crippling ambivalence about performing, Pope did Macy Gray’s “I Try” and certainly never choked or stumbled. And then she admitted that she’s being audited and needs to raise some cash for that process, so she auctioned off posters and a t-shirt. That Care Bears lunchbox would have netted millions!

All About Eva

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Another powerhouse singer, Tony nominee Eva Noblezada (Hadestown, Miss Saigon), dazzled with her Amy Winehouse tribute at The Green Room 42 at Yotel, which she performed while wearing a sort of modified I Dream of Jeannie outfit (sans turban). The half-Filipino, half-Mexican performer put a Broadway polish on Amy’s jazzy ballads about bad romances and other fuckery, while also infusing them with passion, angst, and a whole lot of soul, losing herself in the music as the crowd became similarly transfixed.

Dotting the evening with snippets of interviews with Winehouse, Noblezada soared on “Valerie” (a plea to a friend in trouble) and “The Girl From Ipanema” (the bossa nova classic that Winehouse covered with some scatting), in between entertainingly neurotic chitchat and honest patter about her own travails. She talked about the time she starred in Miss Saigon in London at age 17 and the first thing she heard was the hateful costume lady telling her she was “too fat,” as she hid Noblezada’s cookies. Perhaps more amusingly, there was the time the boy playing Noblezada’s little son was squirming onstage as if he had to pee, so, when she held him, she whispered “Go ahead,” which unleashed a torrent that suddenly turned Miss Saigon into Urinetown.
 

“If you’re going through a hard time,” she told The Green Room 42 crowd, “I recommend you not to watch that show. Take it from someone who did it for three-and-a-half years.”

But Hadestown is recommended for all, and as Noblezada noted, “It was nominated for a lot of Tonys. It should have been nominated for one more.” She was referring to the male lead, Reeve Carney, whom she’s dating and who was sitting there and even participated in the drinking game she carried out with the crowd at one point. Don’t worry, Noblezada won’t have to be dragged away while yelling “No, no, no.” She kept guzzling water. A toast to this woman, who truly has range.

Libs Being Glib

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Speaking of pissers: Unlike Republicans, liberals can actually be intentionally funny, as proven by the standup revue Laughing Liberally: Make America Laugh Again (with John Fugelsang and Friends) at The Theater at St. Clements. The cast has been rotating, but the night I saw it, campy queen Keith Price was priceless; Canadian comic/NPR host Ophira Eisenberg was droll in detailing how Americans seem a lot more interested in learning about what it’s like living in her native country these days; and the highly observant Angelo Lozada commented on Felicity Huffman’s short sentence by remarking, “What better way to fight white privilege than with white privilege?”

Fugelsang was incisively funny, describing Jesus as a dark-skinned, homeless Palestinian Jew who never mentioned abortion, didn’t advocate torture, never slut-shamed women, and cared for the poor—“He was the anti-Trump.” Standup legend Elayne Boosler, the night’s big draw, also commented on the son of God. She observed that many right-wingers have decreed that surrogate mothers are a no-no, “and it’s lucky they didn’t make that decision before Christ was born.” Brava. I laughed liberally at every joke. In fact, these comics were all way funnier than Roy Cohn.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto