Have you ever read a memoir so intimate, so revealing, so honest, that when you turned the pages, you felt like the writer was sitting next to you, speaking directly to you?
Kudos to multiple Emmy Award-winning actress Sharon Gless for making this part of the experience of reading her new memoir “Apparently There Were Complaints” (Simon & Schuster, 2021). Hailing from Los Angeles with Hollywood running through her veins (her maternal grandfather was a prominent entertainment lawyer), Gless rose to prominence through her portrayal of NYPD Detective Christine Cagney in the popular and groundbreaking 1980s television series “Cagney & Lacey” (alongside Tyne Daly). As if she hadn’t already established an LGBTQ as a result of that show, she played Debbie Novotny, Michael’s smart and sassy mother in Showtime’s equally groundbreaking “Queer As Folk” in the early 2000s. Gless sat down for an interview before the publication of his book.
BLADE: Your new memoir, “Apparently there have been complaints” opens on a serious note with your 2015 diagnosis of pancreatitis. So I would like to start off by saying that from Gemini to Gemini I hope. that you are in good health.
SHARON GLESS: Thank you honey, I am in very good health. Thank you my Gemini friend.
BLADE: Why was it now time to write your memoirs?
GLESS: Well, it took seven years. It’s not like it was yesterday. I never intended to write a memoir, Gregg. I was called to a meeting by CBS for what I thought was a conversation to suggest a new series. We talked for an hour and apparently I was so entertaining that at the end of the hour-long meeting the CBS president said, “You know we own Simon & Schuster.” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She said, “We do, and I think you have a book in you. I said, “I don’t usually write.” She said, “It doesn’t matter. You are a storyteller, Sharon. So I walked out with a book deal [laughs] with Simon & Schuster and not the series I was hoping for. In fact, I haven’t met (with) Simon & Schuster for another year. I kind of let it go. The next day there was a text from the president of Simon & Schuster. I kind of ignored it because I didn’t want to do this. I wanted to act! A year went by, and I wasn’t that busy, and I was in New York, and I said, “What is this! I went to meet him. I read him a chapter, a chapter that I had written in case he asked me anything. He signed me that day [laughs].
BLADE: Were you a journal or a diary or do you rely on your memory for the details?
GLESS: Never. No. My best friend Dawn (LaFreeda), who’s been my lifelong best friend and… I’m a chatterbox, a storyteller, and I used to tell her stories about my life throughout our relationship. She kept them! She said, “You have a book in you. So, there is another person who says it. She kept the stories. When Simon & Schuster made me the offer, Dawn dragged all of my stories. A few times, I organized meetings at my home where I had four people, and I said, “Ask me questions” and put a recorder. I had just started talking. Then as my life came out on the page which is hard to do, I started to remember more and more. It took a form that I had always wanted. I found the title “Apparently there were complaints” very early on. I did the book on all the complaints people have had about me throughout my life. It helped me that Dawn kept records of all the stories I told. Some of the ones I used in the book. Funny, as you write, as you continue, you start to remember more and more because one emotion leads to the next emotion or the next time someone hurts you or the next complaint.
BLADE: I’m glad you mentioned the emotional part, because to write memoirs is to revisit the past, including your complicated relationship with your grandmother, whom you called Grimmy, as well as your parents. Did you find it painful, liberating, or both?
GLESS: Sometimes because certain memories were painful. There were times when I read part of it that I would go back to this place. I just finished recording [the audio book] a few weeks ago. What surprised me was when I got to some places, especially about Grimmy, as you can hear on the recording, my voice breaks. I left it there. They asked me if I wanted to re-record it and I said, “No. Leave it in. She was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. It was because she was hard.
BLADE: One of the things that struck me about “Apparently There Were Complaints” is how not only does it sound like you – I’ve interviewed you before, so reading the book it sounded like you …
GLESS: Thank you! It is very important to me that you hear my voice in there.
BLADE: It totally passes. The other thing that comes through is your sense of humor and your comedic timing.
GLESS: Thank you!
BLADE: How important was it to you to incorporate this aspect of your personality into the book?
GLESS: Very important. I have a sarcastic side, not a mean sarcasm, a funny sarcastic side. Some of the complaints and some of my addictions and some of the things I’m talking about… you have to take them lightly or who will want to read this? Clearly, I survived. It’s not all bad news. When I found the title, [laughs] which was perfect because there were so many complaints about me in my life, sometimes it’s enough to laugh, even the saddest things. I’m still up, Gregg!
BLADE: Yes you are! Memoirs, like television shows such as “Finding Your Roots,” are a way for the subject and the audience to discover fascinating details that might not have been known to the public otherwise. One example is the story of your classmate Gibbie, also known as the late Abigail Folger, in Chapter Seven. Would you consider participating in any of these genealogical research shows?
GLESS: I did not know that a show like this existed. I would never do something like “This is your life”[laughs], you remember it ? I did not know of a program which traces your genealogy. I am always fascinated by my journey. I’m certainly not against someone taking my genealogy back.
BLADE: You write about your interactions with the LGBTQ + people in your life, personally and professionally, and Chapter 43, titled “I’ll Be There,” which deals with your experience playing Debbie Novotny in Showtime’s “Queer As Folk”. made you cry, it was so beautiful. It’s less a question than an expression of gratitude for, well, being there.
GLESS: Thank you! Pleasure, for lack of a better word, is all mine. You have all changed my life. I have become so much more educated. I was like, “Oh, I know everything. All of my best friends are gay. Law? But I learned so much about “Queer As Folk.“ The stories they wrote and the performances. I hadn’t realized the real fate, the behind-the-scenes pain that was happening in the gay community. Because of “Queer As Folk ”I have become quite educated and passionate. I meant it when I said, “I’ll be there.”
BLADE: The Peacock streaming service is doing a “Queer As Folk” reboot. What do you think about that?
GLESS: Yes, I am aware that they are doing a reboot of it. What I think about it is, I’m so sorry they weren’t using the original cast. It will never be better. But good luck to them, and I hope they still get close to where we were. I think the biggest star of this show right now is going to be the city of New Orleans. We will see how the stories unfold.
BLADE: Because the entertainment industry is a central part of your memoir, if “Apparently There Were Complaints” were to be made into a theatrical movie or TV miniseries, who would you like to play as?
GLESS: It would take several actresses because there are many years. If there was someone who could cover it. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence. She also has a hoarse voice. And there is also an irreverence and sensitivity towards her. If anyone wanted to do this I think she would be great.
BLADE: Finally, in addition to being both Gemini, we also share South Florida as a home. What do you like most about life here?
GLESS: Happiness on the face of my husband (TV producer Barney Rosenzweig). When he retired he put us here. I am married to a man who if he is happy everyone is happy [laughs]. He loves Florida. Los Angeles has always been my home. I was born there, I grew up there. I am an Angeleno, through and through. I went to Los Angeles last year and I don’t like what happened to him. Now I am grateful to return to an island as beautiful as the one I live on. Los Angeles needs a total reboot, a rebuild, a whole new thing. It’s a tough time, LA I remember when I lived there. It was a magical city.