Actor/activist Jim J. Bullock, pulling himself up by his own ‘Kinky’ bootstraps
SCOTT HUFFMAN | Contributing Writer
“One of the things that has been a huge gift to me is my resilience,” out actor (and former Texan) Jim J. Bullock, 60, says. “I am a resilient person in life. A good thing about this — and a bad thing — is that when something hits you, you don’t let it stop you. You just keep moving.”
Bullock has experienced his share of career ups and downs. During the 1980s, he appeared in the abruptly-canceled ABC sitcom Too Close for Comfort following the death of its star. The show was subsequently revived as one of the first TV series for first-run syndication. During the ’90s, Bullock co-hosted The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show, a television talk show with former televangelist and gay icon Tammy Faye Messner. The program — one which Bullock calls “before its time” — was short-lived.
“Some [actors] have a long run,” Bullock says. “Some tend never to be out of work. For most, though, you hit it and it falls off. You are lucky if you ricochet around. I’ve been lucky to ricochet. I’m still ricocheting, I guess.”
Bullock, an actor known largely for his comedic talent, has been very candid about the serious topic of his HIV status. In 1985, Bullock received a positive HIV diagnosis. Fortunately, he bucked the odds, maintaining an undetectable viral load without the help of medication — a fact that made it easier for him to move forward.
“When I found out [I was positive] in 1985, it was a death sentence,” Bullock says. “There was really no hope that anyone could give you. It was completely the worst news that you could get. I am so blessed. And I hate that word a lot. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve never had to deal with it. In whatever way one looks at that word, I feel extremely blessed with my health.”
In high school, Bullock, a church choir soloist, knew that he loved performing. During his sophomore year at Oklahoma Baptist University, the young actor was cast in a student production of the musical Godspell. The small but powerful production enjoyed a much longer run than anyone anticipated and soon took on a life of its own. The engagement eventually became the actor’s first professional theater job and confirmed his budding desire for an entertainment career.
“This musical was crazy how it started off as this Christian school production,” Bullock says. “It actually went to the nationals and won festivals. It got bought and produced by a dinner theater in Dallas in the summer of 1976. It was very instrumental for me in deciding that this is what I am here for. After my sophomore year, I decided I wasn’t going to go back [to college]. I was going to study at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in L.A.”
In the national tour of Kinky Boots, which opens this week at Bass Hall, Bullock plays George, the manager of a failing shoe factory. Charley, the company’s owner, has a chance encounter with a drag queen and decides to begin manufacturing women’s high-heeled boots in men’s sizes. In more ways than one, Charley’s strategy to meet the needs of this underserved niche market reverses the fortunes of both the company and its employes.
“The whole theme of the show is about forgiveness and accepting people for who they are,” Bullock explains. “As a gay person, it speaks volumes to me. I love everything that this show is about. It’s so exciting to get to do something like this. And when you get to couple it with something that you love and believe in, it’s the icing on the cake.”
Another one of the show’s themes is the relationship between fathers and sons, especially their differences, which also resonates strongly with Bullock.
“My relationship with my father was not bad at all,” Bullock says, “but with any son, straight or gay, there is a chord that is struck with your father. At the end of the musical, they touch back on that. It’s just this beautiful moment that I wasn’t expecting. It’s a moment when goosebumps set in and you get a lump in your throat.”
As a child of the ’60s, Bullock grew up without openly gay role models on television. The closest he had were the minimally-closeted comedian Paul Lynde and fussy Lost in Space character Dr. Zachary Smith. For this reason, the actor is especially touched when gay fans tell him that they were able to connect with his flamboyant character or affirm that he, as an openly gay television actor, made an impact on them.
“I do think I was among the first,” Bullock says of being a gay television personality. “I don’t think, though, I can say that I was the first, like the Neil Armstrong of the gays. I just know I have had a lot of people come up to me over the years and say to me that I was hope for them.”
And, as for regrets, Bullock has few.
“I don’t have a lot of regrets, because I think we go down the road we need to go down,” he says. “My life could have been so much easier if I had done things differently. But I’ve needed to learn what I’ve needed to learn. From career and finances to being gay and positive, everything is there for a reason. They are all different links in this chain that make up our lives.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2015.