A friend recently re-tweeted something hilarious, something political with the right amount of snark to make me laugh out loud. The author of the original tweet was Quinn Cummings, a funny girl I knew in elementary school. Quick with a joke, she could match wits with any adult. She was mischievous and got into her share of trouble, but she was so charming that everyone liked her.
I looked up Quinn's social media accounts to verify that it was the same person I thought it was. I hadn't seen her since junior high, but she was unmistakable in her recent photos -- same wry smile, same wise eyes. I discovered that she is prolific on Twitter, writing hilarious, keen commentary on lots of topics. The same sarcastic point-of-view is still there. She "liked" my responses to her tweets and, just like that, these old friends were reconnected.
The above story is ridiculous.
I did not go to school with Quinn Cummings. She was an actor when we were both in elementary school / junior high. The personality I remember is largely from her Academy Award-nominated role in The Goodbye Girl and her role on the television series, Family.
She has no idea who I am.
The "friend" who re-tweeted her was RuPaul, someone else that I do not know personally.
This part is not ridiculous: Quinn is a writer today, a blogger and author of some terrific memoirs. Her tweets are genuinely funny and insightful. It is also true that I felt reconnected to her -- despite the fact that we lack an actual relationship.
As a gay kid, I lived and breathed movies and television to escape from the teasing and bullying in school. I was drawn to characters like the ones Quinn played. They were sassy and authentic and used sarcasm to outwit the harshest opponents.
For fans like me, there is an upside to today's media and celebrity-obsessed culture. We follow the famous on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and it makes us feel as if these people are our friends, that they are part of our lives. It is as if we are one step closer to folks we admire.
But ... what is it like on the other side of fandom?
I decided to find out. I stalked -- um, no -- I contacted Quinn Cummings. I wrote to tell her of my admiration and to inform her that we were friends recently reconnected. Surprisingly, she didn't call the police. She actually responded kindly. My inner 9-year-old was thrilled! Who am I kidding? -- my fully-grown 51-year-old self was happy to have a direct line to this talented artist.
Ms. Cummings agreed to answer some questions and to provide insight into the flipside of our celebrity-obsessed culture. Here, then, are some of her responses to my questions:
DS: Do you encounter others, like me, who feel that they know you because of your work as a child actor? Is it good or, well, creepy that strangers feel this familiarity?
QC: It happens some. Mystifyingly, always when I look my worst. Bangs need trimming? Cat fur all over me? Slightly sweaty? I'll be recognized.
(As if all of that isn't my default setting.)
I'm happy I did something that pleases people. God knows I've done enough in this world which has irritated and alienated the average person. More than once I've had the pleasure of being told some show I was in gave comfort to a family when they were going through a hard time and who doesn't want to think they offered some kind of solace? But when the questions come, I've got virtually nothing. First of all, the part people want to talk about ran about three years. I've spent more time growing out perms. Second, what people end up asking me is some variation of "What was that like, being you?" Well, I have no idea. I was never anyone but me. I usually just end up looking stricken and blathering before lapsing into silence.
(As if all of that isn't my default setting.)
DS: My familiarity with your child actor days led me to discover your current work as a writer. This is the upside of social media for us regular folks. What does social media mean to you, being on the other side of this fan equation?
QC: First of all for me, Twitter is like the best video game ever. I find a Tweet, something in the news, some bit of nonsense spouted by some well-meaning ingénue or a beauty editor at VOGUE, whatever. And then I think "Okay, where's the joke? What's the flaw? Why is this silly?" When I find it, kapow! Won that round of Twitter and like a truffle-hunting pig off I go, rooting for more treasures in the social-media underbrush.
Which may be the least-appealing and least-profitable way anyone ever described social media. I also like cats, which makes my Instagram feed slightly more sightly.
DS: People have a preconception of you and your personality based on your work from the 1970s. How does this affect your current work?
QC: With each year, mercifully, I seem to have more people in my life who see me as a writer, as a comedy writer, as someone who comments on politics and the world at large. A few people have even apologized to me, as in "I had no idea you had been an actor. I'm so sorry!" I thank them repeatedly for not knowing that and encourage them to go back to that state of mind.
DS: Are you still in touch with Richard Dreyfuss? Just kidding -- I would not ask you that question because (a) it's insulting to you and (b) what's the difference? So ... Do you know RuPaul? Because, I assume, all celebrities know each other.
QC: I wouldn't say I KNOW RuPaul, but I did have the absolutely pleasure of being on his podcast. You should never meet people you admire, because it's easy to have your heart broken but I will say this; what I have been told by people who worked with, and for him in the past is that RuPaul is smart, knows exactly what he's doing and is a pleasure to be around. I can attest to all of these things.
DS: Do you find that the queer community (of a certain age) feels particularly connected to you?
QC: I'm honored to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community in any way, shape or form. I grew up in a gay neighborhood, worked in a gay-friendly business, volunteered at APLA at 17, lived in the Castro and then moved back to Los Angeles to Silverlake. In sum, I'm more comfortable around the gay community than I am around most straight people. Maybe that's part of what gay boys sensed in me was someone who already preferred them when everyone else was very clear they weren't necessarily preferred. Also, I got all the best lines, and even the most miserably-closeted boy has to appreciate that. I'm oddly proud of the fact that for more than a few men who saw my work as a kid I was apparently the last heterosexual crush before they realized "Nope. Sorry. Gay." If anyone is supposed to be the bridge to homosexuality, it seems fitting it be me.
I still have a crush -- you're fabulous. My sincere thanks to my one of my oldest "friends," Quinn Cummings.