Steve Ralls

The Trials of Sharon Gless

Filed By Steve Ralls | January 15, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Ambiente Magazine, Cagney & Lacey, PFLAG, Queer as Folk, Sharon Gless, television, The Trials of Rosie O'Neill

No one can play strong women quite like Sharon Gless. From television's original strong woman on Cagney & Lacey to a tough-as-nails attorney on The Trials of Rosie O'Neill - and even a defiant PFLAG mom on the Showtime series Queer as Folk - Gless.jpgGless has left more than a few million cracks in the glass ceiling hovering just above the entertainment world. And after interviewing the Emmy-winning actress from the set of her latest film, it was apparent that her on-screen persona is not just a role. Gless is, herself, a strong (and strongly opinionated) woman making waves in projects that change the way Americans see things outside their living room windows.

Gless first arrived, in a very big way, in America's homes through Cagney & Lacey, the iconic television police series she co-starred in with Tyne Daley. The two leading roles - tough, no-nonsense female detectives - immediately changed the landscape of what was possible for women on television... and endeared both Gless and Daley to an entire generation of women, and lesbian women in particular.

"I realized from Cagney & Lacey [that] women and minorities had never been taken seriously," Gless told me. "They were always comedic: Lucy and Ethel; Laverne and Shirley. It wasn't until Cagney & Lacey that there was a drama dedicated to women. I learned feminism from [the show]."

The series made Gless a bona fide star, and she met her husband, producer Barney Rosenzweig, on the set, too. It also opened doors to other barrier-shattering roles, such as that of the iconic PFLAG mom, Debbie, on the hit series Queer as Folk. The role, which Gless said was "an honor" to play, catapulted her into the homes of an entirely new generation of viewers, and left its mark on more than a few gay men.

"I heard from a lot of young gay men because of Queer as Folk," she told Ambiente. "Some were hesitating in coming out, because their best friend had killed himself. But I also have letters from young men who told me that their parents watched the show to see Debbie, and they wanted their mothers to be like Debbie. I think the show saved a lot of lives."

If Cagney taught her about feminism, Gless says, "I learned about the gay
community from Queer as Folk." The actress is no new-comer to LGBT causes, however. Gless is a long-time ally of the community, and says she is "very honored that I get picked to bring [gay issues] to the forefront," noting that, "in television, I have been very blessed to play the parts that will hopefully open people's eyes. "Recently, those parts include two roles eerily similar to each other. Gless recently finished shooting an Ed Harris movie, where she plays a wheelchair-bound lesbian. And she spoke to us while taking a break on the set of Hannah Free, an upcoming film about, yes, another wheelchair-bound lesbian.

"It was never planned," Gless said of the two roles, but added that, "I'm not complaining; I love it."

To continue reading Ambiente's interview with Gless, click here.


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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 15, 2009 3:30 PM

Wow, I always thought Gagney & Lacey was a groundbreaking show, but I didn't know its star was such an ally to the LGBT community.

I didn't like her role all that much in QAF, but she's a decent actress.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 16, 2009 12:41 AM

A small factoid. Gless was originally cast on "Cagney and Lacey" as a replacement for a different woman. In the mentality of that time a cool aggressive female pair were considered too dykeish for producers and advertisers.

You may recall that Tyne Daley was much more family oriented.

Check out Ms. Gless on "Burn Notice". Marvelous!

I loved your Ambiente article, Steve. While this is a good beginning to your interview with Gless, you have to read the other one to get the full flavor.