Ellen's Coming Out Party - Saturday 25 April 1998
The whole evening started with a celebrity party which Ellen was guest of honour. She was wearing a black trouser suit.
Interviewer: Hello Ellen, aren't you amazed that a year on you can still cause this sort of fuss for what you did?
Ellen: Yeah, I am. I don't know any of these people and yet a year later I'm invited to another country to celebrate a show that wasn't celebrated in my own country - well there was parties but my network didn't celebrate, so its great I'm honoured.
Interviewer: Well tonight it's a cocoon of love for Ellen, the people here adore you! Interviewer then tells Ellen that there is a major UK TV presenter (female) who wants to meet her so Ellen chats away with her as she is a huge fan.
The documentary "The Real Ellen Story" starts.
Ellen: I'm not trying to change anybodys opinion on it, I'm fine with who I am now, and for a long time I was'nt!
MARCH 1996- Ellen DeGeneres decides to come out.
Ellen: I was in therapy at the time, I got in touch with my feelings of my pain, which I had'nt been in my entire life, I started realising what a huge source of pain that was for me for to constantly worry about, I finally decided to come out and it made sense for the character to come out.
JUNE 6 1996- Ellen meets with the writers of ellen to plan the sitcoms fourth season.
Jonathan Stark, Tracy Newman, Dava Sevo - Ellen writers: the first we heard of this was at a party Ellen threw at her house which was unusual in itself as she was very private and nobody knew were she lived, we all gathered around and she said I want the character to come out, and we were so excited it meant we could actually get to write something, get our teeth into it. Once this was decided it was top secret info, nobody was allowed to mention it, people thought the studio is never gonna go for this.
SUMMER 1996 - Ellen begins a series of meetings with Disney, the owners of ellen and ABC, the network that airs it.
Ellen: The next step was to tell Disney and see if they would go for it, there were secret meetings and none was supposed to know we were talking.
Writer, ellen: the first meeting Ellen had with Disney, she began to tell them what she wanted to do. At first it was joke and then she began to cry.
Ellen: To be 37 years old and be feeling this sense of shame, that nobody would like me if they found out I was gay, its a pretty emotional thing to expose yourself to.
Writer: when she was finished she cried, you wouldn't think she cries easily but she does.
Ellen: I don't think it helped any, these people aren't warm and fuzzy & go ahh she's crying let's let her do it. Dean Valentine, Former President Disney Television: Michael Eisner conditions were it's got to be funny, a really great episode. We weren't simply doing it for the sake of somebody coming out of the closet, and getting press and ABC a number. If she does this then this becomes a show, every episode becomes a show about y'know lesbianism, and that I don't know if the broad american public will want to watch a weekly show about lesbianism, and I said.. no that's not what we want to make the show about, that's not what Ellen has said.
AUGUST 1996- To Preserve secrecy, the planned coming out episode is code named the puppy episode.
Tamara Billick, Casting Director ellen: I walked into a room and I saw this big bulletin board with the whole season laid on it, and there was card saying puppy episode, and I thought that's nice Ellen's getting a puppy. Vance Degeneres: Somebody suggested that maybe Ellen should get a puppy.
Jonathan Stark, Tracy Newman, writers: We have to get Ellen to care about somebody we need to get her a boyfriend, and the people in the room said, well she's gay, well then we'll get her a girlfriend and Michael Ovitz said... don't even think about it, so we said.. get her a puppy.
Vance Degeneres: People like puppies, so maybe they will warm up to the whole lesbian thing more, if they know Ellen has a puppy.
SEPTEMBER 13, 1996- The hollywood reporter reports that Ellen's character on the sitcom will come out.
Ellen: Somebody leaked it, I don't know who, but they did it. When it came out everyone went crazy with it. Writer: Disney accused us of leaking it and got really upset, and it became like a witch hunt.
SEPTEMBER 1996 - MARCH 1997 - ABC and Disney refuse to comment on Ellen's character coming out.
Jill Lessard, former publicist, ABC: The network had a policy not to comment on rumours and speculation, which is a good policy, until the script was written. It would have been foolish to acknowledge, yes this going to happen.
Micheal Di Pasquale, Former Publicist, Disney TV: I was answering the phone and basically saying "hello we don't comment on rumours or speculation. It was maddening, and this went on for months and months.
SEPTEMBER 1996- Evangelists attack Disney.
Micheal Di Pasquale: These letters just kept coming and coming saying you're gonna rot in hell.
Vance Degeneres: As her brother, one of my first reactions was for her safety, its a big cruel world out there and there are lot of people who just don't want to see anybody rock the boat.
Jonathon Stark, Tracy Newman: I got my phone disconnected, there are people out there who, if they new I was envolved in this script they would kill me rather than see the script go on air.
SEPTEMBER 18, 1996- The Fourth season of ellen begins airing on the ABCNetwork, No decision had been made about Ellen coming out.
Ellen: The very first show we did had me going into the shower singing that song " I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and the next word is gay obviously, that was the first show and that was our first clue.
Writer: We wanted to ark the entire season, it has some validity it didn't get just plopped out there, people saw it coming.
Ellen: We had all these ideas that every single time there was a reference made to me being a lesbian we would have some bell going off, whether I'm making cookies or watching TV, and I go "I love golf" "ding"
AUTUMN 1996- While ABC and disney vacilliate about Ellen's character comingout, gay activists take to the internet.
Chastity Bono: We got people sending waffle mix to ABC to stop them waffling wether Ellen would come out or not.
Vance Degeneres: There were moments when it teatered, whether if would happen or not, so she had a rough time with ABC & Disney.
Ellen: We were maybe gonna do six shows and then come out, and that wasn't good because there was a Disney stock holders meeting going on at the time, and they wanted to make sure the stock didn't go down, so we had to wait, nobody would say that but I knew.
Writer: They kept saying maybe we could, and they would not give a firm answer.
Ellen: Nobody even all year long, when all this was going on, nobody gave me the ok.
Dean Valentine, former president, Disney TV: Ellen was a mess, that would be the best way of putting it, and taking a risk that she would never be employable again.
Ellen: Ya know...I think everyone in this business wants to be liked, you depend on other people liking you for your livelihood, that's a pretty risky thing to say "I'm gay and not be scared to death.
SEPTEMBER 24 1996 - Ellen embarks on a publicity tour to promote her CD.
Ellen: If I didn't have a CD coming out I wouldn't have done any press at all, I would have just stayed in my house and not talked to anybody. I came out with some jokes that my character would discover she was lebanese. I kind of did some jokes about how confusing to people, other than that I just went out there and winged it.
Clip:- The Larry Sanders Show- Larry: Would the character of Ellen ever sleep with a man?
Ellen: Well sure if he was feminine enough.
Ellen: and then I started getting attacked, certain people saying "You're doing it for the ratings", how stupid would that be to risk everything. The reason everybody is in the closet, and no one will line up behind me saying me too, me too, was because you lose your career, so I'm gonna risk everything for one show for ratings. I'm a little smarter than that.
JANUARY 1997- Ellen and writers work on the outline for the puppy episode.
Ellen: I think everyone was nervous on how we would do it, the character's gonna come out what does that mean? So we went through a lot of different versions, and I every night would write pages and pages.
Writer: And once that outline was done we waited and waited it was like we got the word, and it was like we're gonna need that script in a week, and we wrote really fast. Everything was put into a safe at night.. all the little diskettes.
Jonathan Stark, Tracey Newman, writers: The first draft we had on maroon paper, special paper you can't photocopy, the stuff was shredded in a shredder. We shredded everything, there was no way any of this was going to leak out.
FEBRUARY 14, 1997- The puppy episode script is delivered to Disney. Writers: We gave it to Disney and they didn't like it, the first draft Dean Valentine said "I hate it" probably in a lot less nice way.
Dean Valentine: I felt Ellen and the writers were dancing around the fundamental issue of a person coming out of the closet, and what its consequences were.
Writer: So we shut down the show for a week and really had a crack at writing a better episode.
Dean Valentine: I was very concerned it would end up being nothing, very low quality and just basic general TV. I was incredibly thrilled when the re-write came in, I thought it spectacular.
MARCH 4, 1997- The draft script of the puppy episode is almost read on the radio.
Jonathan Stark, Tracy Newman writers: I was driving to work, and heard they will be reading the ellen script out and Disney security phoned the station and threatened to sue.
MARCH 5, 1997- ABC ends six months of speculation by announcing Ellen's character will come out - it is 3 days before the taping of the puppy episode.
Tamara Billick, Casting Director: It was 7.00pm, and someone says there is someone on the phone claiming to be Oprah Winfrey. I pick up the phone expecting it to be a hoax, and I hear Tammy?, Oprah!, and we begin to discuss the possibility. This is one of the 25 most influential people in America, so once we got her we knew the potential was gonna be huge.
Writer: As we started casting, it was like a chain reaction thing happening, one person on board and people were coming out of the woodwork.
Ellen: I had met Laura Dern at my Birthday Party. I had never met her before and we just clicked, we had exactly the same sense of humour.
Laura Dern: She and I could not stop laughing together, everyone was saying "you're so funny together.
Ellen: So I called her and asked her to do it.
MARCH 1997- With Laura Dern playing Ellen's love interest, taping of the puppy episode begins.
Gil Junger, Director: I had all these stars, Laura Dern, Demi Moore and it was packed with people, Oprah Winfrey, and I thought great, this is the best day's work, this is so exciting.
Patrick Bristow (Peter), cast member ellen: I thought I was on a different set y'now. There was all these big celebs there and Ellen's eyes were this big (demonstrates big eyes) the entire week, I don't think she could believe this was happening.
Clea Lewis (Audrey): There were all these flashy movie starts walking round the set, who probably thought I was the script supervisor, y'know what I mean!
Patrick (Peter): We all had to wear these wrist bands to get onto the stage which we had never had to do for regular rehearsals, the security was so high, and it didn't feel like the home core group anymore.
Clea Lewis: I think a lot of the people maybe had never even seen the show, but they were friends of Ellen, or they wanted to be part of this big moment.
Patrick: I think we were maybe a little bit selfish and wanted it to be our episode with her coming out, but it was what it was and had to be that because it wasn't ours, it was the worlds.
Gill Junger, Director: I think emotionally the most difficult scene to rehearse was when Ellen said she was gay, because literally every time we'd do that scene she would burst into tears.
Ellen: It was pretty exciting to finally do it, and also say the words I'm Gay.
Laura Dern: I was looking into her eyes, and I was like trying to hold onto her, and she was starting to shake, and I could feel this in her body this need to just let something go that had been in her for years.
Casting Director: We expected the audience to erupt, but they went very quiet and she said I'm gay and all of a sudden BOOM! Laura Dern: The audience went insane I mean 2 minutes or 3 minutes of them screaming.
Ellen: People around said it looked like something lifted off you, it was an amazing feeling.
Vance Degeneres:I mean literally as soon as we finished taping the last scene they ran everyone out of the studio, there had been a bomb threat called in.
Lyn McCracken 1st assistant director: My VPM came up to me and said after this you have to clear the stage the bomb squad are coming.
Vance Degeneres: Everybody was just really pissed, I was probably more so out of the staff, since it was my show and my sister someone had made a bomb threat against.
MARCH 14 1997- The Taping Of The Puppy Episodes Resumes
Melissa Etheridge: One of the things Ellen had asked me to do was to do the opening song, they had written new lyrics for it this whole thing. Ellen I'm so proud of you coming out. It was a really sweet moment, we filmed it, it was funny. In the end I got a call saying they were cutting out the opening song because it gave to much away, like no one in the whole country doesn't know what this is about.
MARCH 14 1997- Oprah Winfrey arrives to tape her role as Ellen's therapist. Writer: The scenes with Oprah we were terrified about because she flew in at the last minute and had very little time, it was unlike anything I've ever seen... she's just a force of nature.
Writer: We took her into the room and sat her down and made her watch the stuff we had already taped, and she was just crying. She said I can't believe what you guys are doing here, this is so wonderful and thank you so much for letting me be a part of this, and then she brought out the cake that said "good for you you're gay".
Ellen: Everyone who was there that night, we all knew something huge had just happened. I walked around like someone born again, just trying to preach to everyone you just don't understand. if you actually follow your own truth what the rewards are.
MARCH 25 1997- While the puppy episode is being edited, Ellen meets Anne Heche.
Ellen: It was Oscar night. I looked across the room and saw an angel and literally everything in the room disappeared when I saw her.
Anne: My whole body went like air and the whole room went dim apart from this bright light of Ellen.
Ellen: And the next thing I knew she was standing in front of me.
Anne Heche: And I had my hands on her thighs, and y'know I'd just met her. As I was trying to write her number down on a napkin on her breast, she was like looking down at me going ummmm, there's a reporter standing there, and I'm like yeh so!
Betty Degeneres: They came home together and so I heard the limo come up. I went outside with the dogs thinking its just Ellen coming home and I'm outside in the yard and I look up and there they are in the window. Ellen and this person that I didn't know, so they came outside and I met Anne right then.
Anne Heche: After we went home, met mum, made love for 17 hours and then opened our eyes afterwards and she said what are you thinking. I said I'm thinking I love you and she joked well why don't you marry me then.
Betty Degeneres: So I got them some mugs and some glasses cos you know a lot of people give them gifts, they might as well register and get what they want. Other couples are able to register. We call them the twins because they look so alike, and she's wonderful.
Ellen: By me being honest with myself and just really being completely happy with myself.. not needing it from somebody else I get perfection, I got an angel.
In The Weeks before the puppy episode airs, Ellen and Anne begin to appear together in public.
Anne: I never realised the media frenzy was going to be as big as it was. One of the first times I realised that it was going to be an issue at all was when I was asked not to go to the premier of Volcano with Ellen. People who supposedly knew me were saying could you just be a little less of who you are for a couple of days, could you just not show up at the premier of your movie with you're new girlfriend or whatever you want to call it and just sign the deal for your next movie before you are really open about it. Ellen: I had never been affectionate ever in public with my any previous girlfriends, and Anne went to grab my hand, we're walking down the street, she wanted to hold my hand and it made me feel really uncomfortable, even though I'm about to make this huge announcement to the world that I'm gay. I didn't want to hold hands because people would look at me and it would make them uncomfortable it would make me uncomfortable and I realised I still have a sense of shame who I am. If I can't hold my girlfriend's hand how am I supposed to say its ok that I'm gay, but yet I still don't deserve the right to show affection in public the same way other people show affection.
Anne: I think that's when we thought this is crazy, let's tell the world truth here, I'm not gonna hide this anymore. It's even crazy I let them usher me out of the theatre of my own f***ing movie, what is the matter with me.