Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Birthday to 'Almost Famous' Hollywood Square Bruce Vilanch

Bruce Vilanch was born today, November 23, in 1948. He is a comedy writer, songwriter and actor. He is a six-time Emmy Award-winner. Vilanch is best known to the public for his 4-year stint on The Hollywood Squares, as a celebrity participant; behind the scenes he was head writer for the show. In 2000, he performed off-Broadway in his self-penned one-man show, Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous.

Since 2000, Vilanch has been the head writer for the Oscars, after being an Oscar program co-writer for the previous 10 years. He is a featured writer for the Tonys, Grammys, and Emmys.

Vilanch was born in New York City and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. When he was 4 days old, he was adopted by Jonas Vilanch, an optometrist, and his wife Henne, a housewife. Having her own theatrical aspirations, Vilanch's mother helped launch her son's show business career by getting him signed on with Lane Bryant's Charming Chub division as a chubby child model.

Vilanch's career in the entertainment industry began with writing features for The Chicago Tribune. As an entertainment writer, he began spending time with as many celebrities as would let him. It was how he met then-struggling nightclub singer Bette Midler. Becoming friends, Vilanch later wrote comedy material for Midler's 1974 Broadway show Clams on the Half Shell and co-wrote Divine Madness for her in 1980.

Following a move to Los Angeles, Vilanch was a co-writer for The Donny & Marie Show, 1978's negatively received Star Wars Holiday Special, and the short-lived Brady Bunch Variety Hour. After cancellation of the Brady Bunch show, he went on to write jokes for Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Paul Reiser, Elizabeth Taylor, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and Robin Williams.

The night before the final broadcast of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, Bette Midler serenaded Carson with "You Made Me Watch You," to the tune of "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)", with lyrics written by Vilanch, the farewell song later winning an Emmy award. For 4 years, Vilanch was head writer and celebrity square on Hollywood Squares, next to friend and client Whoopi Goldberg. Since 1980, Vilanch has been a reporter and columnist for The Advocate, writing both humorous and serious pieces. Bruce!: My Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Essays, a 2000 collection of his writings, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.

In 1975, Vilanch made his feature film début playing a dress manufacturer in the film Mahogany, starring Diana Ross. His professional relationship with Ross continued by writing material for her stage act.

In 2005, Vilanch starred on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in the long-running 2002 musical Hairspray after playing the role for 2 years in the show's first national stage tour of 2003–2006.

Vilanch appeared in the third season of Celebrity Fit Club in 2006, losing 21 pounds over the course of the show.

On RuPaul's Drag Race 3, Vilanch appeared as a guest judge dressed as Santa Claus. On RuPaul's Drag Race 5, he appeared as a coach helping the contestants in a comedy roast of RuPaul.

Vilanch was the subject of Andrew J. Kuehn's 1999 documentary Get Bruce! The film included interviews with Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg. Vilanch's mother, whom he credits with developing his sense of humor, also appeared in the documentary.

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