Pat Loud says she had one big wish as she was putting together her new book, Lance Out Loud, a tribute to her late son, Lance Loud. “I wanted the book to be about how proud I am of Lance, about all the aspects of his life, not some sort of obituary. There’s enough sadness in the world.”
The coffee-table book, full of recollections about Loud from friends, peers and family, also features photographs of the playful Lance as he posed with members of his rock band The Mumps and hobnobbed with various celebrities (including Julie Newmar, Debbie Harry and Gus van Sant). It’s a vibrant, colourful book, but it also touches on the pain Loud suffered as a gay man who came of age in the ’70s; he would go on to grapple with addiction and ultimately die of AIDS-related causes in 2001.
The Lance Family’s rise to fame is now media legend. In 1971, they were approached by TV producer Craig Gilbert who asked them to be the subjects of his documentary program. A crew captured the family in everyday situations, over 300 hours of footage edited down to 12 episodes of a show titled An American Family, which aired on PBS in 1973, attracting strong ratings. Over time, it also showed the marriage of parents Pat and Bill begin to crumble, ending in divorce. This set off a huge debate over whether or not the family had been manipulated, and what exactly constituted a mediated reality. Had Gilbert been fair to the Loud Family?
The other unforeseen fallout was the eldest Loud child, Lance’s, coming out on the show. Not only is An American Family seen as the granddaddy of all Reality TV (it is cited as the inspiration for MTV’s The Real World), but Lance is thought to be the first out gay character on an American TV show.
Pat says that when that episode aired it was “a dreadful experience. We were thrown under the bus.” But she also says it actually made her family much closer. They banded together and did their own media tour, appearing on The Mike Douglas Show and Dick Cavett, claiming the series had misrepresented them, only focussing on the darker part of their existence.
Pat says now that Lance was thrust out, very publicly, as a gay man, in the early stages of gay liberation. This was a huge pressure on him. “Lance was so castigated by many in the press. One critic referred to him as ‘the evil flower.’ If I sound bitter, I guess I am. That critic was cruel, mean and not very discerning. It was a terrible burden for him to be so publicly gay, at such a young age.”
Pat says she wants people to see the spirit in which Lance approached life. “I hope people get a sense of all the different things he did, and the joy with which he tackled everything. There was an episode in An American Family where he’s riding his bike along and singing at the top of his lungs. That was him—he took great pleasure in life.”
Lance struggled with the burden of his celebrity. “It was too much for him, too soon. He often acted like it was easy, but I know it wasn’t.” Lance would go on to write about celebrity culture, penning articles for Details and The Advocate. Included in the book is his typewritten interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a hilarious conversation in which Lance gets the bodybuilder-cum-movie-star to discuss how he related to his make-up artists.
Pat says the onset of AIDS was especially harsh for a mother to watch. “In 1987, I remember going into a hospital with him here in L.A., and it was devastating to see all the gay men who were so ill. So many great talents died. I’m glad he lived the life he did—I think he knew he wasn’t going to be here long, so he packed a lot in. I think his philosophy was to jump in and do something and worry about whether or not it was the right thing to do later.”
But, she adds, “It’s always painful to think about losing Lance. It’s the worst thing that can happen to a parent. I’ve kept so many of his things. I’m very proud that he was my son.”
Ultimately, Lance had one wish for his parents: that they would reconcile. They did in his final years of life, and are still living together in L.A.
Sure enough, Pat did watch the 2011 HBO made-for-TV movie Cinema Verité, which told the story of the Loud Family and the show that claimed to capture their reality. “They got Diane Lane to play me, which was amazing,” Pat says. But while the movie purports to show the real story behind the mythology, Pat says its central conceit—that filmmaker Gilbert used his power as filmmaker to push Pat and Bill towards a divorce—is just that: a conceit. “In the film, I have an affair with Craig Gilbert. That never happened. They got a little poetic. I guess they had to make it interesting.”
Lance Out Loud, By Pat Loud, Glitterati Books