Jerry’s kid

Posted on 18 Jun 2010 at 6:57pm

Jon Paul Buchmeyer grew up with a hero of the gay rights movement. But all he ever wanted was to turn the world on with a smile

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Buchmeyer

IT’S YOU GIRL AND YOU SHOULD KNOW IT | Buchmeyer moved to the big city just like his hero Mary Richards — and escaped the shadow of his father, the Texas judge who was a hero to the gay rights movement. Photo courtesy of Jamie Beck)

Everyone occasionally feels as if his life is playing out like a soap opera, but it took an act of will for Jon Paul Buchmeyer to turn his into a sitcom.

“I filter everything through a sitcom,” Buchmeyer proudly asserts. “I used Mary Tyler Moore to base my life on.”

He’s not joking. Not one little bit.

But to hear the whole story, it starts off like an Afterschool Special.

Buchmeyer grew up in the shadow of a famous dad, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer whose 1982 ruling in Baker v. Wade first overturned Texas’ anti-gay sodomy law. Although the case was overturned on appeal, Judge Buchmeyer remained an icon for the gay community.

Less so for his gay son.

Jon Paul was thrust into the spotlight early. “I was 12 or 13 when he has me in the courtroom for Baker v. Wade,” he recalls of his dad. “I knew I was gay by then, and Baker was a big influence on me — the first role model like that. It was a huge gift dad had given me” to introduce him to that. His coming out should have been easy, and in some ways it was.

“Given Dad’s history it didn’t seem that much of an issue at the time,” he says. “I came out in high school while we were watching Cheers. My father was known for his decision on gay rights — intellectually and publicly he was supportive of gay rights. But privately we had issues.”

Buchmeyer had a turbulent adolescence, partly because of the gay issue, partly because of typical father-son dynamics.

“I like to say that my dad lived his own primetime legal drama — Courtside Manor. He was undeniably the star; the rest of us were bit players,” Buchmeyer recounts. “So I was a pretty messed up teenaged kid: Drugs, alcohol, sex, I stole credit cards — all to get attention.”

Buchmeyer cleaned up his act, but the situation continued to spiral with his father. Judge Buchmeyer “cut me off in college. He worried I would turn my little brother gay. That’s when I was written out of Courtside Manor.

“I don’t say it to be salacious or detract from the wonderful things he did for the gay community, but he was much more complicated than people assume” on this issue. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Your dad was instrumental in my life.’ That’s wonderful for their experience. But my father was a workaholic. I was jealous of his law clerks for spending time with him.”

That’s when Buchmeyer decided he needed to be Mary Tyler Moore.

In Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life, Buchmeyer chronicles how everything about his real life seemed to mirror plots from ’70s-era situation comedies, from the guest stars to the life lessons to the humorous but self-contained story arcs. And it’s not because he can turn the world on with a smile. Though he’d kill for that.

“I think like Mary Tyler Moore,” he says. “She left behind a mess of a life before she moved to the big city. My partner left me right before the filming of Gay TV [a Dallas-shot movie written and directed by Buchmeyer]. Distribution was going nowhere, so I said, ‘You’ve gotta start over.’”

You might say he had spunk.

In 1996, he moved to New York, “where ‘summer’ is used as a verb,” he says. Although in Texas, he was a two-step away from white trash, in the Big Apple he thrived.

“I landed a job as a celebrity publicist — a job for which I had no experience or training,” he admits with a laugh. He and his friends soon began comparing experiences and saw something familiar.

“It was at the height of Friends and Seinfeld. We’d get together and say, ‘You won’t believe my life in Alphabet City.’ It was like a Tuesday night lineup with crossover episodes.” He launched a blog to test it with readers and it was an instant hit.

“They loved my voice and celebrity stories,” he says.

The book followed earlier this year, written as episodes rather than chapters with appearances by Whoopi Goldberg and other stars.

“It’s not a snarky tell-all — it’s a sitcom where celebs come over like guest stars and teach me about myself,” he explains.

Buchmeyer is still learning. His father died last year and never saw the book, though Jon Paul’s sister served as copy editor and his mother planted the seed money to get it published. He’s still dealing with issues from his past, but has a promising future, too: He met his partner — ironically, a Mexican with the same name as him (Juan Pablo) and they recently bought a brownstone in Washington Heights.

“It’s like my sitcom canceled and moved to a new network,” he says.

There are second chances, it seems. You might even say it sounds like he’s gonna make it after all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

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