If style, as Quentin Crisp once said, is being yourself on purpose, then Dominic Hamilton-Little is the embodiment of style. From his eternally arched eyebrows to his exquisitely affected diction (everyone is daahhhling to him) to his proclivity for holding court like Bette Davis in All About Eve, he has spent his entire life creating himself. His every gesture is as studied as though a bank of cameras were trained on him, day in, day out. “This,” he says, referring to himself as an objet d’art, “is no accident, thank you for noticing.”
Hamilton-Little was born in Brussels but went to prep school in England. “I really was unbearable as a youth because I was so precocious,” he coos. “I hated my peers. I always wanted to be an adult. When you’re 13 listening to Dietrich while everyone else is listening to Pink Floyd–well, I was always ‘the other.'”
As an adolescent Hamilton-Little’s fantasy life was rooted in ancient Greek myth and Marlene Dietrich films, “as well as healthy lashings of Regency romances from Jane Austen on down.” In 1981 he moved to the States with his father, actor and writer Anthony F. Hamilton, where he finished high school before speeding away to Zimbabwe for a year and a half. Staying with family friends, Hamilton-Little worked on a tobacco farm and tried to “find himself.” He laughs. “I figured out that I needed to come out of the closet, although everyone always knew I was gay. How could you miss it?”
He came back to America to attend Michigan State University. “To go from Brussels and London and Zimbabwe to suburban Detroit was really horrifying.” He studied creative writing because his father wouldn’t let him major in theater. “Creative writing was the only other major I could find with no math requirements.” After graduating he spent a year driving a taxi in Detroit–an image as incongruous as Audrey Hepburn completing a 500-pound clean and jerk. He also worked delivering singing telegrams as Mr. Wonderful–“a cheap Fred Astaire knockoff,” he says.
In 1991 he moved to Chicago and spent two years doing theater until he got “sick and tired of everything.” In despair he took up his pen, and soon the myth of Dominic Hamilton-Little spread throughout Chicago’s gay communities. He began writing Fey Ways, a weekly column in Nightlines that allowed him to do one of his favorite things: hold forth on anything and everything, doing his best to recast his world as a never-ending Weimar cocktail party. After a year of writing he mounted a staged version of Fey Ways to open the 1994 Pride series at Bailiwick. “It was 19 columns,” he says. “You know, the classic opera recital structure: 17 arias and 2 encores.”
When he moved to New York in 1995, Fey Ways became a monthly column in Outlines. He’s now a contributing editor at Poz magazine, where he wrote a sex column for two years. “A lot of people in New York only know me from Poz,” he says, “so they think of me as some kind of sex activist, which I find too hysterical. I mean, it’s really just the carnal side of the dandy, but when I walk into a room, they surely don’t expect this.”
But his crowning achievement, the thing he says he was “born to do,” lay just ahead.
Not long after moving to New York Hamilton-Little visited his father in Charlottesville, Virginia, and met a neighbor, Susan Winter. He showed her a videotape of his Fey Ways perfor-mance. She was smitten. And she just happened to be an independent filmmaker looking to direct her first feature. Unbeknownst to her, her future star had fallen into her lap.
A few months later she had a dream about Hamilton-Little and his father sipping martinis in a fancy apartment. From this dream was born Pousse Cafe, which will be screened at the Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival on November 10. The film stars Hamilton-Little and his father playing father and son–and sipping endless cocktails. It tells the story of Rex (Hamilton), a stuffy British-American game show mogul and devotee of cocktail culture whose wife has left him for a shrimp boat captain. He lures home his estranged son Gerald (Hamilton-Little), a gay New York performance artist, stokes him with booze, dresses him in yachting outfits, and sends him off as an emissary of goodwill to his errant wife.
For most actors, the chance to appear on the big screen is a chance to become larger than life. But Hamilton-Little is larger than life when he picks a scab; his challenge was to make himself smaller than life. “I think Gerald is much more real than me,” he says. “He has to be, because in some ways the private me is so inaccessible. The main job of people who direct or produce me is to make me more accessible–so people don’t run away screaming.”
Hamilton-Little will also cohost “A Statement for Freedom,” a showcase of gay and lesbian talent presented by the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, this Saturday at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage. Cocktails begin at 7 and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $15 to $100; call 773-296-4141. Pousse Cafe will be shown Monday at 9:15 at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; call 773-384-5533 for tickets and information. –Justin Hayford
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by J.B. Spector.