On This Gay Day: ‘Fame’ celebrates its 40th anniversary

On this day in 1980 the movie Fame was released into cinemas across America. The film would go on to inspire a television series that ran for six seasons and a 2009 remake that didn’t have the same impact of the original.

Fame focuses on the lives of students at the New York School of Performing Arts, and presents some memorable characters among both the student body and the faculty.

Based on a real life school, which today has been renamed the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, the movie is filled with ambition, struggle and challenges in the world of acting, song and dance.

The gritty take on life in NYC in thew late 1970’s has a lot to say about class, sexuality, ethnicity and the good old American Dream. The film featured actor Paul McCrane as Montgomery MacNeil, a drama student who is struggling with his homosexuality.

McCrane would go on to appearing in the long running television series E.R. as Dr Robert ‘Rocket’ Romano, and he’s currently appearing in TV drama All Rise. When the TV series Fame was launched in 1982 P.R. Paul took over the role of Montgomery, but the character’s homosexuality was erased.

The film also make a star out dancer Gene Anthony Ray who played Leroy Johnson. Ray reprises the role in the subsequent TV series.

Ray was fired from his role in the TV series in 1984 after he had missed work more than a hundred times, and his mother was arrested for being part of a drug ring. Previously Ray’s mother was allegedly caught selling drugs on the set of the film back in 1980.

Aside from his most famous role in Fame, Ray also appeared in the Weather Girls’ video for their mega-hit It’s Raining Men and appeared as Man Friday in a Robinson Crusoe film opposite Michael York.

Later in life there were time that Ray was reported as living on the streets. He was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1995 and in 2003 suffered a stroke, passing away a few months later. Ray never discussed his sexuality and in his obituary it was described that ‘he always flamboyantly brushed aside any questions’.

Irene Cara who played singer Coco Hernandez scored a massive hit singing the now iconic theme song which saw the students rushing out of school to dance on the streets. Erica Gimpel to over the role for the TV series, while Cara went on to have further chart success.

Just a few years later Cara scored a second iconic tune when she sang What a Feeling! the lead song from the movie Flashdance. The song won her an Oscar for Best Original Song and a Grammy award. She scored more hits with Why Me and Breakdance. 

Director Alan Parker, who prior to Fame had found success with Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express, went on to direct more musical orientate projects including The Commitments, Evita and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. As well as dramas including Angela’s Ashes, The Life of David Gale and Mississippi Burning. 

The TV version of Fame was not so successful in the USA but was very popular in other territories including Australia and the United Kingdom. A teenage Janet Jackson joined the cast for the show’s fourth season.

Fame is available to stream or rent from YouTube.

OIP Staff

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