Close hopes that film about gay Army officer 'will get people talking' Sounding off on 'Silence' TURNED ON IN L.A.

January 11, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story" will likely be one of the most controversial made-for-TV movies of the year when it airs in February. Glenn Close, the film's star, says that's just fine.

"I hope this film will get people talking. I hope it will change opinions. I hope it will be very controversial," Close said yesterday during a press conference to promote the NBC film about about a highly decorated Army officer who was driven from the military for being a lesbian.

"I think television may be the most powerful force in our society today. And I want to reach as many people as possible and to reach them in their homes, among their loved ones," said Close, a five-time Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner who is currently appearing on Broadway in "Sunset Boulevard."

"I personally feel there is danger of great intolerance in this country right now," she said via satellite from New York, "and I seek out the kinds of stories that will educate people."

The controversy over "Serving in Silence," which will air Feb. 6, is already under way. So far, most of the talk centers on a lesbian kiss between Close, who plays Cammermeyer, and Judy Davis, who plays Cammermeyer's companion, Diane Divelbess.

The Family Defense Council, a conservative New York group, has demanded that NBC censor the kiss. NBC yesterday said that the kiss will stay in the film, which was produced by Barbra Streisand, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron and Close.

The general reaction of critics who were shown the film here was that the kiss is an integral part of a powerful and important film. The screenplay is written by Alison Cross, who won an Emmy for NBC's "Roe vs. Wade," a celebrated work of social conscience to which "Serving in Silence" can be favorably compared as a docudrama.

Cammermeyer, 51, was present yesterday to testify on behalf of the "docu" part of the docudrama. Some of the facts of her life include: being the divorced mother of four, winning a Bronze Star, earning a B.S. in nursing from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Washington, and achieving the rank of colonel and chief nurse of the Washington State National Guard.

In 1992, Cammermeyer was discharged from the Army after 26 years of service because she admitted to being a lesbian.

"At the time when I was asked the question, there was not much talk about gays in the military," said Cammermeyer. "I never thought I'd have to choose between being honest and serving my country. I didn't think I'd lose my military career because of prejudice and hate."

She said she decided to fight her discharge because of the irrational fears surrounding gays in general and in the military specifically. Last summer, a federal judge reinstated her in the Guard, where she serves pending an appeal by the military.

Cammermeyer's journey from Norwegian immigrant to distinguished Army nurse to equal rights activist is detailed in her book "Serving in Silence" (Viking, $22.95).

Of the NBC film, she said: "This is an adaptation of my life. It's not totally my life, but there were parts of it where I both saw the actual shooting [on location in Vancouver] . . . and there were times where I had to leave. I could not tolerate to look at it the second time through because it is like any horrible experience -- when you see it again, it re-creates those same emotions."

Born in Oslo in 1942, she said she was "a bit offended" that Close was able to so accurately capture her emotions. "It was as if she were actually walking in my shoes when those emotions happened -- she portrayed it all so saliently."

Cammermeyer seemed genuinely shy during a private conversation at an NBC social Monday, and said she feels uncomfortable about publicly displaying her life in the movie.

Then why allow it to be made? "I came to understand that there really is a message that can be portrayed through media," she said. "When I was thrown out of the military, I tried to find some meaning in why that should have happened. And, perhaps, this is what I should be doing right now. I sort of decided that I don't have a right not to speak out."

Cammermeyer was dismissed from the Army under a regulation that stated a person will be removed from the military if "the member has stated that he/she is homosexual or bisexual." This occurred before President Clinton implemented a don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

Neither Cammermeyer nor Close was reluctant yesterday to speak out about the issues connected with "Serving in Silence."

Asked her opinion of the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, Cammermeyer said, "Well, it's pretty stupid. Why should one group of people [homosexuals] have to continue to serve in silence to be able to serve their country?"

Close was equally blunt when asked why she thinks there is still so much intolerance toward homosexuals in the military and society.

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