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‘Allan Carr’ proves dreams come true in Hollywood

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“The Fabulous Allan Carr,” screening at Frameline 41, details the life of the flamboyant showman who brought “Grease” and “La Cage aux Folles” to the world. (Courtesy Ronnie Kaufman)
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It may be debatable whether there is no business like show business, but there’s been no showman quite like the openly gay film and theater promoter and producer whose life is chronicled in the documentary “The Fabulous Allan Carr.”

The film, screening Sunday at the Castro, is one of nearly 150 offerings from 19 countries in Frameline41, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, which runs Thursday through June 25 in The City and East Bay.

Ambitious, flamboyant and willing to take risks, Carr — who broke into show business in Chicago’s theater district — found success in Hollywood and on Broadway with “Tommy,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Grease” and “La Cage aux Folles.” His flops included “Can’t Stop the Music” and the 1989 Academy Awards presentation.

“When he came to Hollywood he needed to make an impression and he had no connection there, but he knew what he wanted to do — to be a player in the town, says the film’s Emmy Award-winning producer-director Jeffrey Schwarz. “Part of that was making himself noticed, so he bought a house in Beverly Hills, and, in order to attract people, he built a disco in the basement.” (He also was known for hosting lavish parties, often dressed in caftans).

Schwarz, who also made the warmly received Frameline39 documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential,” says though Carr was openly gay in his private life, he was a shrewd businessman who didn’t let his private life come into the boardroom.

And while homophobia in Hollywood ebbed from Hunter’s time to Carr’s later years (until death in 1999 and after), it has remained a factor.

“I think that Hollywood is run on fear, and maybe it is homophobia keeping a leading man in the closet,” Schwarz says. “But a lot of it has to do with economics — a star makes a lot of money for a lot of people — and people who handle that star might not want to risk alienating the audience.”

Carr carried risk taking to a new level when he produced “La Cage aux Folles,” a Broadway hit that won six 1984 Tony Awards, including best musical, score and book.

“Culturally, that was such a significant moment because it was a very risky thing to present a musical where the two leads were both men, and to go explicitly with a gay love story on Broadway was something that had never been done and a major gamble at the height of the AIDS epidemic when things were really dark, especially in New York City,” Schwarz says. “It was revolutionary and Carr deserves a lot of credit for that.”

If there is a lesson to be learned from Carr’s life, Schwarz says, it’s to be tenacious and not let go of a dream: “No matter what anyone says, you have to be convinced that you’re right. In a way, that was Allan’s downfall, because he wouldn’t really listen to anyone else — but at the same time a lot of people didn’t want to make ‘Grease’ into a movie, and he knew he was right.”

IF YOU GO
Frameline41
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F.
When: June 15-25
Tickets: $14 to $18 most films (except special events)
Contact: (415) 703-8655, www.frameline.org
Note: Screenings also are June 18-25 at the Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley and Landmark Piedmont in Oakland.

OPENING NIGHT

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin: The documentary profiles the famed “Tales of the City” creator; 7 p.m. June 15 at the Castro. $30
After Party: Terra, 511 Harrison St., S.F., $75-$90.

SELECT HIGHLIGHTS

Alabama Bound: The documentary by Carolyn Sherer and Lara Embry describes how gay couples are fighting for their rights in Alabama, where there are no legal protections for LGBTQ citizens from losing their job, housing or access to public accommodations. 11 a.m. June 17 at the Victoria, $14.


The Fabulous Allan Carr
: The documentary profiles the bold producer and promoter behind “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever.” 4 p.m. June 18 at the Castro, $14.

Chavela: The documentary in Spanish and English tells the story of Chavela Vargas, a macha lesbian who played by her own rules, and was a favorite of filmmaker Pedto Almodovar. 6:30 p.m. June 19 at the Castro; 7 p.m. June 22 at the Piedmont, $18.

I Dream in Another Language: The Sundance award-winning feature in Spanish is about a 50-year-old feud between the two last speakers of a dying indigenous language in Mexico. 6:30 p.m., June 20 at the Castro, $18.

Becks: Lena Hall (of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) plays a singer-songwriter, who, after her girlfriend dumps her, returns home to live with her ex-nun mom. 6:30 p.m., June 21 at the Castro, $18.

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