“Better Davis and Other Stories” by Philip Dean Walker— Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Walker, Philip Dean. “Better Davis and Other Stories”, Squares and Rebels, 2021.

Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Amos Lassen

Philip Dean Walker’s “Better Davis and Other Stories” looks at gay culture and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic during the late seventies and mid-eighties by taking us into the personal worlds of celebrities, artists, playboys, and female pals. The stories present  the lives of minor American icons who are not so remembered today. Drag queens, sitcom stars, Broadway impresarios, movie divas were beginning to come out as AIDS played havoc with their lives. Art, sex and death are the major themes.

With his vivid imagination and fine prose, characters come to life. Walker imagines his characters’ inner lives so realistically that every things seems very authentic. We see how both they and the communities to which they belong faced the epidemic even before it was known as AIDS. It was a time filled with problems and a time of rebellion as well as a look at loss and understanding. Humor and tragedy are brought together to give us a look at a community about to face devastation.

Jim J. Bullock thinks about his past relationships and his own HIV diagnosis, Natalie Wood fights with husband Robert Wagner on the night of her death, Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton go to a drag club after performing on Broadway, a drag queen impersonates Bette Davis, an airline steward continues to have wild sexual exploits while hiding his Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions; and Michael Bennett, director of the musical “A Chorus Line” is replacing a cast member who has AIDS only to die himself from it a few years later. We see that in the entertainment industry, gay life is symbiotic as the characters use each other.

I am not much of a reader of short stories but Walker has opened new doors for me and I am now quite a fan. 

Leave a Reply