To many, Linda Gerard needs no introduction. She has a cult following of devoted fans who journey to sunny Ace in Palm Springs to catch a glimpse and an earful of this self-described — Older, Wiser Lesbian. She’s everyone’s femme idol, the apple of our eye and one of our favorite human beings. She’s also a ridiculously talented woman with many an industry notch on her belt. That she’s decided to settle down with us in the desert, hosting Sissy Bingo every week and otherwise wowing those in the know as well as virgin ears and eyes, makes us incredibly blessed. Linda’s voice carries the oceanic vibrations of every great Broadway star before her, and she lets it ricochet ‘gainst the walls of King’s Highway when the mood is right. Her penchant for show-stopping eyewear and envy-inducing collection of let-your-light-shine sweaters and blazers leave us swooning.
We recently released a vinyl-only limited edition of Linda’s greatest hits, Fabulous Selections on our shop, and for our mutual dear friend DJ Day — another Palm Spring legend — we also present his first album, Land of 1000 Chances, on the shop. Day and Linda sat down recently to thumb through a bit of Linda’s life story — the stuff of big dreams, massive love, brave independence and a woman from whom we all have a lot to learn — entrusted to a confidante half her age but who’s definitely dancing to a similar drummer.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1938, to a very orthodox Jewish family. Kept kosher, did the whole bit. I was always a performer. I always got up in front of people and sang. So, when I was old enough to get on the train my parents would let me go by myself to study in New York. I studied singing, dancing, acting, elocution and all that stuff. My parents wanted me to go to private school, but I said, “No, no, no. I don’t want to go to private school.”
I went to Trenton High School and I was in all the plays and the musicals and that was fun. Then when it was time to go to college and my parents wanted me to go I said, “I want to be in show business, but I’ll go to college if I can go to New York City.” There was a college in New York City called Finch, and it was on 78th Street between Park and Madison. I knew that if I got in I could sing on the weekends because that’s what I wanted to do. I got into Finch and on weekends I sang at 1 Fifth Avenue. I was always singing. I didn’t get great grades but I didn’t care. My parents cared, but I didn’t care. So the following year I didn’t want to go back. I said to parents, “Let me audition for the American Theatre Wing,” which was a very good school, for musical comedy.
I auditioned for that and got that and so I went to the American Theatre Wing and studied musical comedy and directing and orchestra. It was fabulous, site reading and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, this was 1957, I signed with William Morris. They started sending me out on auditions and every time they would send me out I got the job and it was amazing because I didn’t even have that much experience, but I was good and I was young and they knew they could mold me. I also was also was in love with a guy from Trenton, New Jersey. His name was Jerry and I wanted to get married to him because I knew that was another way to get away from my parents. So I married him and knew immediately that wasn’t for me, but for the time being it was just fine.
I stayed married to him for awhile and had twin daughters in 1962, but knew that this was…
Not the one?
Not going to last, but I waited till the kids were three, because I figured, okay that’s a good time to leave.
I picked up and l left. Moved to New York because I was living in Trenton and I was commuting back and forth to New York to do all my jobs, but I just took an apartment in New York and left Jerry, took the kids with me. In ‘67 he went to Mexico and got a divorce, so that was fine, but we didn’t live together from ‘65 till we got the divorce.
This is about when you started making records.
Oh, yeah. And some of them, the 45s, are really good. Those are with big orchestras.
Like ‘See the Cheetah’. Now that is a good cover. It had been covered a few times, right?
Yes, I had a full orchestra for ‘See the Cheetah,’ ‘My Funny Valentine,’ ‘How Did He Look’ and ‘Clown Town’ — those are the 45s. I also had full orchestra on the albums but I only have one because I have no idea what happened to the other one.
Live with a band, that’s a whole different energy.
It’s a whole other thing.
The horns and everything on ‘Cheetah’ were great.
Yeah, it was really great. The song was a little high for me, but they liked the way I did it.
It’s like there’s an eerie side to it…
Yes, it’s weird.
That was recorded around ‘60?
That was before Funny Girl, so that would be like ‘64.
Really? That’s pretty advanced as far as the music that they were doing, blending in R&B and…
Then the album…
The album I did a little later, had to be ‘71 or ‘72. Some people backed it, paid me and then I bought all the music. The guy that wrote the music wrote all the songs for me. They were all about me.
I was going to say it seems like it.
It’s my life.
If you listen to some of the lyrics it seems like that was the transitional period after moving from New York.
That’s right. There’s a reference to my kids. There’s a reference to being gay in ‘Reach Out, Take My Hand’. Yeah and that was … he wrote all those songs for me, and a lot of them I open the show with. ‘Without a Song I Can Sing’ — that used to my opening number in a lot of my stuff that I did, so that had to be ‘72 or ‘73, it all kind of blends together.
Then you recorded another album?
I recorded another album and I have no idea what ever happened to it. It was in New York and it was for Spiral Records. The great composer Gladys Shelley owned Spiral but she put it on a label called Prince Albert. Then we did stuff that she just did under Spiral. One was called ‘New York City, I Love You.’ She did another album for me, and I don’t even remember, but she chose all the songs … she loved me. ‘How Did He Look’ was her claim to fame. When her husband died, she inherited all this money and she wanted to record. She thought I had great potential and so she did.
Bringing it full circle back to your life, was it hard or awkward in that timeframe to be a young lady coming out into the world and everything like that?
What happened was, I was so excited that I found out I was gay that I called everybody and said, “Guess what? I’m gay,” because I had no… I fell in love with a woman. I was so excited about it, and everybody is going, “Shush, you don’t know that, you don’t.” I said, “Why? I think it’s kind of exciting, I mean, it’s a whole new life for me.”
So I fell in love with this woman. We stayed together seven years and then she started seeing other women, and I’m like, “Oh my god, this is just like straight life, so I think I’ll go back to straight life, because I don’t need this crap.”
I start dating men again till I met another woman, and I went, “Maybe there’s something to this, maybe I really do prefer women. This woman was a singer, and we traveled all over as a gay couple singing love songs, and it was the first time that had happened.
That’s amazing. What timeframe was this?
I met her in ‘81 and I was with her till ‘87, so it was in the early ’80s. We traveled all over and made wonderful money in gay clubs because they had never seen two women sing love songs to each other.
Then one day she came to me and she said, “I don’t love you. I’ve never loved you, and I’m leaving you.” What do I do now? That was August 7 of 1987, not that I remember the day…and I’ve been with no one since then. No man, no woman, no nothing. I can’t be hurt again. I can’t do it again. Can’t do it again, so it’s okay, I’m happy. I love my animals.
Although at 71 it’s probably time that I met someone too, at least to go into old age with. My brother who is 75 just got married. A new phase of my life may just be beginning again. Life begins at 71.
I was gay from … [Laughter] I keep changing. I was gay from 1976 to 1987, and from ‘87 to now I’m in limbo. I don’t know what I am… and it doesn’t matter.
I have a good time with everybody. I just don’t want to have a relationship with anybody because I don’t want to get hurt again. It was just too painful.
The way that it went down sounds like it was.
Now you get everything about me. That’s all right, I’ve told the story a hundred times.