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Joel Grey, now unburdened and emboldened, tells his story

At a cafe the other day, Joel Grey was drawn to an item on the menu that was both confusing and intriguing.

He called over a waiter and asked: “What is this thing? The herbed goat cheese with chili flakes and pomegranate syrup?” The waiter was stumped. “OK, I’m going to take a chance,” said the Tony-and Oscar-winning actor.

Grey, 83, was in high spirits this day, which marked the publication of his memoir, “Master of Ceremonies.” For a performer who hid who he was for decades, Grey is now unburdened and emboldened.  

“Let’s put it this way: I really feel good. But I have been feeling good for a long time. I don’t think I could have written this book if I’d had axes to grind,” he said. “I don’t like that in a book.”

The memoir traces his childhood in Cleveland, his rise as a nightclub performer and his breakthrough both on stage and film as the Emcee with rouged cheeks and cupid’s-bow lips in “Cabaret.”

It also examines his 24-year marriage to actress Jo Wilder and a long internal struggle with his attraction to men, which triggered feelings of self-loathing and proved his mother’s love was not unconditional.

Grey, who loved men and women, tentatively calls himself a “closeted bisexual” but language comes up short: “I never really thought that any of the names were exactly right for me,” he said.

A complex portrait emerges of Grey in black and white. He reveals he’s had a nose job, slept with a stripper, fought with legendary director Bob Fosse and once lugged his dirty laundry on a plane.

“I’m not that good. I’m just like the rest of you,” he said. “Maybe worse.”

Colin Dickerman, the editorial director of the Macmillan division Flatiron Books, which published the 230-page book, said it’s not a tell-all or a collection of funny stories, but an attempt to explore the roots of the man behind some beloved characters.

“He wanted to be as honest as he could be and I think the book really reflects that,” said Dickerman. “It really goes into some personal places and I think does so remaining incredibly respectful to everyone in his life.”

Grey’s story also mirrors the evolution of American entertainment, from vaudeville to nightclubs to Broadway and Hollywood, weaving both his personal and professional lives. It reaches a peak in 1985 when Grey started thinking about coming out while starring in the AIDS play “The Normal Heart.”

The book was written over 2 1/2 years with the help of Rebecca Paley and Grey consulted with his brother and his daughter — “Dirty Dancing” star Jennifer Grey — on parts of the manuscript. He said he was inspired, in part, by reading Andre Agassi’s very honest 2010 memoir “Open: An Autobiography.”

“I didn’t see that I could tell the story of my career and not my life because they were so intertwined. And I also saw myself as maybe an example and maybe, in some small way, helping one person,” he said. “I like that idea.”

Grey writes that he was attracted to boys as early as 8 — one of his first crushes was a 16-year-old bellboy — but being openly gay wasn’t an option. Physical violence and closed doors would have been his life.

“The price was very high,” he said. “There would be no career. Look how long it’s even taken for there to be a few out gay people. In the last 10 years, maybe. The last five, maybe.”

His embrace of his sexuality was also complicated by the fact that he desperately wanted to be a father. “It was something I was meant to do along with acting. However, it was a strange time,” he said. “Now gay people are having babies all over the place.”

Grey has since forgiven his mother, restored cordial relations with his ex-wife and is next focusing on his fifth book of photographs. The parts of his life that were volatile and complicated have gone.

“It seems to have all very much quieted down,” he said with a wry smile. 

At 82, Joel Grey publicly comes out as gay

Joel Grey has publicly announced at age 82 that he is gay.

The Oscar- and Tony-winning actor tells People magazine, “I don’t like labels, but if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man.”

Grey was married to actress Jo Wilder for 24 years and they have two children together: actress Jennifer Grey and son James, a chef. He says, “It took time to embrace that other part of who I always was.”

Grey’s show-stopping performance as the devilish master of ceremonies in “Cabaret” won him an Academy Award and a Tony.

After “Cabaret,” Grey went on to star on Broadway in “George M!,” the title role in “Goodtime Charley,” Amos Hart in the revival of “Chicago,” and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in “Wicked.”

‘Cabaret’ celebrates 41st birthday with a party

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome – to middle age.

The landmark film “Cabaret” – starring Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York – has turned 41, but that’s not going to stop a party: All three actors will be attending an anniversary celebration screening planned Thursday at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where the movie premiered in 1972.

“I can’t wait to see them all again,” says Minnelli, 66, who won an Academy Award playing Sally Bowles, the fishnet-and-bowler hat wearing chanteuse. “Everybody who worked on it was just wonderful.”

The Bob Fosse-directed film, adapted and reworked from the Broadway musical, has also been painstakingly remastered – a facelift of sorts – by Warner Home Video and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 5.

“Cabaret,” which won eight Academy Awards – in a year that also featured competition from a little film called “The Godfather” – hasn’t seemed to gather mold over time, remaining a crucial cultural touchstone.

Grey, who won an Oscar as the menacing, white-faced master of ceremony, recalls attending a screening of the new blockbuster “Les Miserables” and immediately being asked questions.

“Some of the people involved in the production were very, very anxious to get my response because of ‘Cabaret,’” said Grey, 80. “It turned out to be the thing that you compare everything after that.”

The film opened Feb. 13, 1972, to strong reviews, with Roger Ebert calling it an “unforgettable cry of despair” and Variety saying it was “literate, bawdy, sophisticated, sensual, cynical, heart-warming, and disturbingly thought-provoking.”

The American Film Institute placed it fifth on its list of greatest movie musicals, and “Cabaret” was deemed significant enough to be earmarked for preservation by the Library of Congress.  

“Cabaret,” both the Broadway show and film, are based on the 1951 Broadway play “I Am a Camera,” which, in turn, was based on Christopher Isherwood’s book “Goodbye to Berlin.”

Set in 1931 Berlin, “Cabaret” centers on the world of the indulgent Kit Kat Klub as it becomes intertwined with the world outside, which gets more precarious on the brink of World War II.

John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the songs for the Broadway show, removed some for the film and added others, including “Mein Herr,” “Maybe This Time” and “Money, Money.” The soundtrack retains the classic “Willkommen” and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”

“Cabaret” hasn’t been shown in a decade because one of the film reels had a vertical scratch. Restorers recently went frame by frame through the entire film – all 1.4 million of them.

The work was so time-consuming that the 40th anniversary last year was missed. But fans will now get a high-def print six times as clear and sharp as the previous DVD release, as well as plenty of goodies, including new photos and a new documentary, “Cabaret: The Musical That Changed Musicals.” 

Fosse got the job directing the film because Hal Prince, the stage director, was too busy. Fosse, raised in the theater, was a risk since his only other film, “Sweet Charity,” had bombed.

“He still managed to be phenomenal and make a groundbreaking, historic movie musical by rethinking it and changing musical movies forever,” said Grey, who reprised the role he played onstage. “It was oddly much darker on-screen than it was onstage.”

Dark is an understatement. Musical movies on the whole were saccharine in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Fosse’s film was a stab of something more realistic – all but one song was sung in the confines of the cabaret itself – and also more frightening.

The film dealt with Nazism, anti-Semitism and homosexuality. In one song, a German folk dance is juxtaposed with another scene of someone being beaten by Nazis. The movie also reinserted the often-omitted final line in “If You Could See Her,” a love song between the MC and a woman in a gorilla suit: “If you could see her through my eyes/She wouldn’t look Jewish at all!”

Filming took place in Munich in the spring with Minnelli as Sally, a role she had lost out on for Broadway because the part had been written originally for an Englishwoman. Minnelli created the look – bowl-cut hair and huge eyelashes that would become iconic.

York, Minnelli and Grey recall a tough working environment. The perfectionist Fosse, who died in 1987, made the actors do take after take after take. They recall enormous amounts of smoke and harsh lighting – but also the lifelong bonds that were created.

“It looks great and it was worth it,” said York, 70. “For me, it was one of the most enjoyable film shoots I ever experienced. I’m not just saying that because it’s the appropriate thing to say. But it really was.”

The three will be reunited at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where they sat 41 years ago and were stunned to hear people applauding after every song.

“I can only hope that happens again,” said Grey.

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