Felice Picano is an author whose work includes novels, stories, poetry, non-fiction, memoirs, plays, and film scripts, with international bestsellers and award winners. In Hollywood, he has worked with Cary Grant and director Frank Perry (Mommy Dearest), among others. That story is told in his new novel, Justify My Sins, based on his three decades of experiences as a gay man in The Biz.
Picano was openly gay and was befriended by Hollywood actors and writers, many of them closeted. Researching his 2013 book, 20th Century Unlimited, set in 1930s L.A., Picano discovered many vintage photos and studio promotional images showing how gay Hollywood really was. Those images are the basis for his upcoming presentation, titled “Coming to Hollywood: 1935-2000”—a fun, informative, illuminating look at Hollywood from an LGBT angle. This presentation will take place at Central Library as part of our LA Made program series. Aspiring writers will also want to catch his LA Made series talks on “Developing Your Story for the Screen or Stage.”
We thought we'd ask Felice some questions to get to know him a bit better before his event at the Taper Auditorium in Central Library.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
I read simultaneously. I’m currently reading Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, by Mark Dery. Also Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf. And thirdly, for my Proust Meet-Up group, the opening 80 pages of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re already on volume 4!
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. About a young boy who lives in a very advanced, super sophisticated, future Earth society and is the first child to be born in a millennium. In 1982, I received a fan letter from Clarke and I almost plotzed. He said he’d picked up a copy of my novel The Lure on a book rack in a Singapore airport on his way home to Sri Lanka. He added, “I came out in my novel Imperial Earth, but no one noticed.” We wrote and even phoned back and forth very occasionally. He made me promise that if I knew someone was headed in his general direction, I’d tell them to look him up. I did and everyone was pleased.
What is a book you've faked reading?
Eudora Welty’s novella, The Robber Bridegroom. It was a college seminar titled Faulkner and the South, and we’d read most of her stories and almost all of Faulkner and others and I simply had too much to read. I read it later on, however.
Is there a book that changed your life?
H.P. Lovecraft’s short novel The Shadow Out of Time. It was the summer of my eleventh year, and I was staying with my aunt and uncle at their house on College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island. Lovecraft had lived about six houses away (Poe had lived a block in the other direction) and he was still personally remembered by my aunt’s tea companions. I found the book of HPL’s stories in the Brown University Library. It was my first, quite mind-bending and expansive, a taste of the idea of deep-time. My essay about it was just published in CultureCult Magazine.com
What did your parents want you to be when you grew up?
My parents were pre-World War Two “moderns” and intended to have two children: a boy and a girl and no more. I came along unexpectedly four years later and no one, least of all my parents, knew what to make of me, never mind plotted out any possible future for me. I wanted to be a visual artist and much of my college training was in the visual arts.
What led you to Hollywood and your career here?
My first novel was—unexpectedly—one of four finalists for the first ever PEN/Hemingway Award. So, my second novel, Eyes, was reviewed and talked up, and in paperback became a New York Times bestseller. Someone at Brut Productions decided it would make a good film—or TV movie of the week—it was never clear. So, I was brought out to L.A. at their expense, put up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and for several months worked for the company, which was owned by Cary Grant and his actress wife, Dyan Cannon.
Who was the most surprising/unexpected person you got to know?
The fashionista supreme, Diana Vreeland, in 1968. When I was working for Art Direction magazine, I—who knew zilch about fashion—was given the task of writing a story about 100 Years of Harper’s Bazaar and sent to interview her. She was at Vogue then, and I suppose was intrigued by my naivete and sheer nerve. (Later, I was told, no one interviews Miss Vreeland!) She not only let me interview her, but she took me to La Grenouille for lunch, introduced me to several movers and shakers and some Capote “Swans.” She encouraged me with the article and even helped get me images for the story.
What advice would give you to yourself back in 1977 when you arrived in L.A.?
Well, several people back then at Brut told me to stay in Hollywood and become a screenwriter. They would find my work and wanted me to stay and they predicted an easy and eventually very wealthy career path. Instead, I went back to New York City, went “underground” in the city’s gritty and dangerous late 70s gay bar and after-hours club scene to research my next novel. That led me to my current path. But they were right. It would have been easier and I would have been richer the other way.
What is next for you?
Many readings and lectures in California, on the East Coast, and in Canada. I’ve been writing a fictionalized life of my ancestor, the Old Master sculptor and painter, Giuseppe Picano, 1715-1801. His works are in churches and cathedrals through Italy, Sicily, and Spain. His sculpture, St. Michael Hurling Lucifer Out of Heaven, has been prominently displayed for several years in the European gallery at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Because he was famous, we know a great deal about his art, his studio, and his many commissions, including for the Teatro San Carlo Opera House, but little about his life.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our library patrons?
I have enjoyed every LA Made event I’ve attended. I hope you will too.