Not Exactly Another Celebrity Story – Benny Vargas


This post, while not really a celebrity story, does mention three of the greats I worked with in my first professional job; The Los Angeles Civic Light Opera production of South Pacific in 1957. Mary Martin was the star, Georgio Tozzi her co-star but for me the real star was Myron McCormick as “Luther Billis”. I watched this master like a hawk at every performance even when I was not on stage with him.

Himself as Stewpot 1960

Author Ben Bryant as Stewpot in South Pacific: Sacramento 1960

But this is not about the famous folks but about the transformation of my ideas about gay men. I recently posted a tale about the gay guys at the Cabaret Symposium from book three, Waiting for Elizabeth. By that time I’d been in the biz for forty years so I was a close friend with many gay men. This story is excerpted from book one, Three Stages when I was way more naive.

“The men in the cast were, strangely, all but two, straight. … One of the gay guys hit on me and it shook me up. I was such an innocent then. I was a fast learner though and before long I fit right in with the pros. I loved every minute of the four weeks we rehearsed. Watching Myron was an education in comedy acting and Mary Martin was warm, friendly and wonderful as was Georgio. Everyone was having a great time and I was in heaven.

“And speaking of gay guys: the other one [who didn’t hit on me] was a dancer named Benny Vargas who was a short, stocky combat Marine veteran of the Korean war with bullet scars all over his left side. He was truly one of the toughest men I ever met. One night after the show in San Francisco several of us, including Benny, were having a drink in the bar next door to the theatre. Benny was being his flamboyant self and a couple of big longshoreman types were looking him over. Then one of them made the mistake of saying something derogatory about ‘fairies’. Before anyone knew it Benny had the guy by the throat up against the wall, his feet slightly off the floor. I don’t recall what Benny said to the guy but it was good advice about nasty cracks. When Benny let him go he and his friend made a prompt departure. I never again thought of homosexuals as sissies.”

So there you have it, no more homophobia for me. Many more adventures in the life of a working actor – including lots of celebrity stories – will be found when you click here and get Three Stages.

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