It was only May of last year when Shane Bitney Crone posted a YouTube video called “It Could Happen To You,” a very sad and moving 10-minute clip about his love Tom Bridegroom, who died after falling from a roof while taking pictures with friends. Bridegroom’s family never accepted their son’s gayness and they forbade Crone from attending his funeral, threatening him with violence if he tried.
Now Crone’s harrowing story has moved off of YouTube and into the documentary circuit. Bridegroom (which is out on DVD Nov. 19 and available on Netflix Instant now) aired on OWN in early November and inspired rave reviews from OWN heroine Oprah Winfrey and scores of celebrity admirers, including President Bill Clinton.
Perhaps that’s not terribly surprising considering Bridegroom‘s director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who created Designing Women and Evening Shade as well as several episodes of M*A*S*H*, is a close friend of the Clinton family who produced several short-subject political promotional films for their campaigns, including The Man From Hope, the introductory piece at the 1992 Democratic National Conventional.
We caught up with Bloodworth-Thomason to discuss making Bridegroom, the inspiring things Shane and Tom’s friends had to say, and the legacy of TV’s proudest speechifier Julia Sugarbaker.
The Backlot: I’m not even a part of this movie, and I feel like the positive response Bridegroom has gotten is personally gratifying.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason: I’m actually just kind of agog. I figured it’d be well-received in the gay community, but I’ve been so encouraged by the massive heterosexual support. I know things are changing really fast, but I didn’t realize how big the tide was. It’s been gratifying.
TB: You’ve gotten some great props from some real luminaaries. I just read Oprah’s tweet about how moved she was.
LBT: The first was from President Clinton, of course. He just immediately grasped the potential of it, the power it could have to change hearts and minds. He just got on board from the get-go and couldn’t have done more for us. He gave me notes! He was so supportive and kind of fascinated with it. He certainly helped us in the early stages when we were trying to raise money to finish the film. We initially used Kickstarter, but we still needed money to finish the film. There was so much support and so many stories similiar to the one in our film. I was shocked that there were so many that many people out there who had lived the same experience. They don’t know where their loved ones are buried. They’re treated abysmally by family. On the negative side that shocked me, and on the positive side it’s been so heartwarming to see the numbers of people who want to stand up to this. I even heard from Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, a personal note. That meant so much. I’ve always admired him as a journalist. I figure that’s not something he does a lot.
TB: I remember watching Clinton on a special episode of Roger Ebert’s show, and they talked about his great love of movies. You would know this better than anyone. Could you anticipate Clinton’s response to your work?
LBT: Since I’ve done all the Democratic films and Hillary’s film for when she was in the presidential race in 2008, he’s given me very few notes over the years. I’ve been so lucky, because what he’s done as I’ve made films for him is protect me from focus groups. In a world where you have to live in the middle of focus groups and survive 50 chefs in the kitchen, that’s never happened between me and him. He’s always said, “Leave Linda alone. She knows me. She’s making it.” I think that’s the reason those films turned out. On this, I knew how he felt about the issue personally. Politically these were things in his heart. I knew he’d like this film, but I didn’t know how much. But he does!
From Bridegroom, Shane Bitney Crone (l) and Tom Bridegroom in love in Paris.
TB: I’m thankful this movie is a documentary, but have you considered its potential as a feature?
LBT: Well, someone asked me if I wanted to do this as a feature, and I said, “No. Somebody might, but not me.” I feel like we had told this love story in exactly the way it should be told. There’s nothing more powerful than that, than what really happened. I like the documentary version of this; it doesn’t need to be enhanced. We didn’t need to demonize Tom’s parents because we just shined a light on them, and they just are who they are. They made the decisions they made. Nothing about this has been enhanced. It’s been about letting it be and letting people see what happens when you don’t love your children in the right way, when you cling to ignorance. This is what can happen. I think this is a gay love story that’s important because it shows heterosexuals there’s no difference. I don’t think gays have really had — and when I say “gays,” I mean the gay community, I don’t mean to be flippant; I sound like Donald Trump saying “the blacks” — but I do think the gay community was lacking in having this love story that heterosexuals could envy. So many people have come up to me and said, “That’s what I’m looking for! What they have.” We’ve always had our Leo and Kate Winslet. My generation had Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. We never saw that gay couple you’d want to be. Now I think they have. Nothing changes hearts and minds like people saying, “I wish I had that.” That means you relate to them and you want to be like them. It’s really hard to hate or fear what you want to be like. So that was kind of the quest and I hope we accomplished that.
TB: One of the most intriguing things about this movie is the fact that you met Tom once at a wedding before he died. As you made the film, got all these interviews, and put together this composite portrait of who he was, how much of your work was based in your own personal perception of him? How much were you basing your vision of Tom in your personal experience with him, however limited it was?
LBT: That’s an interesting question. I think everything that artists do is personal. I was absolutely driven by the light that was within Tom. Without even knowing him well, it would be impossible to be in his presence for an evening and not be able to find that light very memorable. He was a young man who just shined. I just remember being on the way home afterward and thinking he was so charming, and that they were one of the most charming couples I’d ever met — I didn’t even have to say “gay.” I was talking about how I hoped they get married someday. When I heard he died, it was very upsetting. Then when I heard how Shane was treated, that was really the catalyst. I couldn’t believe he was standing outside a church within a block of where his casket was, and he wasn’t allowed to be near it. That was just heartbreaking to me.