Rick Paul


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Evanston, Illinois

3) City/state where you live currently:

Wilmette, Illinois

4) Education:

Attended Northern Illinois University, never graduated. See question 11.

5) Careers:

I just completed a 40-year career as a scene designer for theater and film. Though I’m continuing my design work in New Orleans, where I’ve worked for 30 years, I’ve stopped in Chicago to concentrate on several of my own projects before I lose my eyesight or arthritis kicks in. I did 451 productions. My work has been seen in every state and on other continents as well. I also produced, acted, wrote and directed for theater.

6) Did you serve in the U.S. military?

I was never in the military. During the Vietnam War, being gay helped in getting draft-deferred status. It was the first time I felt glad to be gay! Hmmm… some advantages I never expected or experienced until then, I thought.

7) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

I think of myself sexually as Gay. I like the word and its possible etymology traced back to the Provencal troubadours and “the courts of love” of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

My mother said I was named after Richard the Lionheart, who had a legendary romance with his troubadour Blondel. The name had a talismanic effect of courage for me when times were rough being an effeminate gay youth. I named my theater company after the good gay king, who is quoted as saying “a faerie made me what I am, on a mountaintop.” Me too.

8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


9) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew”:

I knew I was “different” at about two. Though I could “rough-house” with boys, I was really interested in girl-things; dolls, paint, dress-up, screaming. Neither of my parents discouraged any of this, even gave me storybook dolls and let me play with jewelry. They were both artistic. That I went into theater and am now teaching in the Fashion Department of the school of the Art institute seems if not fateful, at least inevitable.

Why I didn’t end up a “drag queen” is mysterious to me – perhaps because I entered the theater world very early, I equate drag, like Halloween, with amateurs and “civilians.”

My father was a silent movie star, which was as low as burlesque and lower than vaudeville in 1917, so he was around all manner of extravagant and shady types, and maybe saw a little of his childhood resurfacing in me.

My happiest memory was dancing a la Isadora Duncan or Loie Fuller (a lesbian), with a long scarf of my mother’s, for my parents who applauded and laughed uproariously. It was down hill after that.

10) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

I can’t recall who I first came out to. I think it was two girlfriends; we are all still friends. I think it was in college. 1964? Though when I told my mom, there was a long pause; I expected the worst, then she said: “Is Caesar Romero gay?” I said, “How should I know?” (It turns out he was.) I loved that she just went right back to a matinee idol of her youth and assumed, being in show-biz, I’d have the dirt. My being gay didn’t seem to be any sort of surprise. I think sex with girls would have upset her more, as a threat. I was a real “mama’s boy” and adored her.

11) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

Just the usual – insults, attacks, threats, mockery. I countered by high school by being a class clown and excelling in art and theater. I felt several homophobic teachers tried to thwart me, but I prevailed in my intentions.

Later in college at NIU I still wasn’t “out” even to myself, but the theater clique was turned in to the dean by a neurotic queen as being “Queer.” (None of us were in any practicing way that I ever heard about.) I had already been accepted at Goodman Theater School, so I refused to go into the dean’s office to be told not to return as others were. Later I heard they called the Goodman to warn them they had a “Queer” coming. Many of the faculty there were gay or gay-friendly, and they told him in no uncertain terms to “fuck off.”

Ten years later, NIU had me back as an “Alumni of Distinction”! I had the pleasure of mentioning their hypocrisy but also met their gay-lesbian group. The world turned.

12) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

No, but I was in awe of Harry Hay, Lou Harrison, Mark Thompson, Mitch Walker, and Robert Patrick.

13) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Gay American Arts Festival (board member)

Lionheart had no board, but I basically made the decisions. We put ourselves totally as a service to all the organizations of the time, giving 100% of the box office to the groups each of our forty productions was benefiting. Often it was start-up money to groups like the lesbian cancer awareness project or the gay Cuban immigration group (I can’t recall the actual names).

14) When you were coming out, what were your favorite GLBT bars in Chicago?

None. The bars in San Francisco were so open and welcoming and seemed to love all types of gay people. But I do recall the bar The Knight Out and the several blocks on Clark St. that had about five other bars. The Knight Out fascinatingly had a bookstall near the front that had virtually every book in print about the Gay World. Both scientific and fiction. I always felt the owner never got credit for his pioneering work. Harold [Meyers] was his name.

15) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

Recognition and legal protections. Removing the medico-psychiatric definitions.

16) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Complacency not seeing the medico-technological eugenics of the future fast approaching.

17) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

I stopped counting at 100 deaths of friends, acquaintances, and co-workers. We did the world’s first play (and theatrical benefit) about the AIDS health crisis, and the first plays that came to be called “the second wave” of AIDS plays.

Many of the actors who did Jefferson Hagedorns ONE at the Edinburgh Festival and in Manchester U.K. as well as Chicago and New Orleans World’s Fair eventually died of the disease, yet they were out there warning the gay world. I’m eternally proud of all of them. True pioneers.

18) How would you describe the “diversity” within the GLBT community of Chicago?

Well, we’re completely diverse. The young people I’m involved with seem much more “polymorphous” in their sexuality and see labels as limiting, but are also naïve in the trust in authority not to be label-based and using power against them. Theater is so diverse in all ways. It was never a problem.

19) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I try to be an activist now in little things. I went on the first gay march to Washington D.C. and went to Springfield. I never liked political organizational meetings. Too much maneuvers and confrontations and power plays. I did help on Dr. Ron Sable’s campaign years ago.

20) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

I think I truly helped gay and lesbian actors and playwrights come out and present Chicago and Midwest stories, not be dependant on New York, London, or San Francisco to define gay life. Also that everything theatrical can be of direct financial assistance to the community and never to assume it’s out of danger or well set. All the theaters now do gay material, but I think we sped up the process and at the right moment.

21) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

I was a stage manager at a youth arts camp in the mountains above Palm Springs and at a rehearsal for a big camp show I heard this guy doing stand-up with a lot of anti-gay jokes. There were a lot of gay musicians and dancers at the school. So during the performance, every time he approached a punch line, I would turn off the sound system. When he looked over at the booth, I pretended to be frantically trying to solve the problem. I must have ruined a dozen jokes. I felt for the first time like an “activist.” I also realized one can be active without ever joining a political organization. I like being a bit subversive and anarchic.

22) Additional comments and memories.

I’ve always admired all the founders and continuers and the workers at Howard Brown, Gerber/Hart Library, Horizons, Side Track, Pepe, and Arthur Johnson – on and on.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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