When I checked in at Island House, Key West's fabulous clothing optional gay guesthouse, on December 17th, owner Jon Allen supplied a ticket to see Tom Judson perform that evening on stage at the Tropic Cinema. Jon, who is on the Tropic's board and is working to get more live gay entertainment in Key West, was also hosting singer/composer/author/Broadway performer Judson - aka ex-porn star Gus Mattox - at Island House which made the prospect of lounging poolside even more attractive.
His cabaret-style performance that night was a delightful surprise that unleashed the talent and charming personality of a man known to many of us only by the sweat of his brow in the course of his successful two-year gay porn career. Next morning, at poolside breakfast, I had a chance to get acquainted with Judson who, at a boyish 51 years of age, is attractive, happy, energetic and enjoying a "fourth act" that is really a return to his prepornular musical career. (There was also a stint as a house renovator/flipper.)
When I asked him to describe "The Tom Judson Show" in terms of his experience and collaborative decisions about what elements of his past to include or emphasize, he said, "It feels like I've done just about everything in showbiz that one can do. I've sung and danced on Broadway, acted in straight plays, written music for film and television, served as musical director/arranger for other performers. You name it. But one genre that had somehow escaped me was 'cabaret artiste,' so I thought the time was ripe."
"Michael Schiralli who directs many of the top cabaret performers in NYC agreed to work with me on the show and we put it together last spring. I tried it out one night at a downtown NYC venue I'm associated with and then I spent the summer in Provincetown doing double-duty with my own show and playing for Varla Jean Merman. Since the summer, I've had a few gigs with the show and tried out new material in each of them."
The show includes a Hoagie Carmichael-style "Guess who wrote this" song that is arrestingly beautiful. I suspected Cole Porter and was amazed to learn it was one of Judson's compositions. While he sang it at the piano, my memory of the naked harnassed muscular Gus Mattox in a writhing erotic tableau was entirely replaced by the tuxedoed entertainer with a wistful voice and skillful hands at the keyboard.
I still had to ask him about his decision to strip down to his underwear in the course of the show. He laughed and said, "Hah! I suppose 'pandering' would be a fair description. The stripping down was merely a nod to the Provincetown audiences and their expectations. There was more of it there, in fact. I'm happy to say quite a few people told me they thought it wasn't necessary. It's a very brief (sorry!) moment in the show now and that's stayed in mostly for my own amusement."
Not knowing many 51-year olds who look as good as Judson in their skivvies, I asked him how he maintains his physique. He said, "Flatterer. Thank you. I wish I could say I have a trick but it's nothing more than diet and exercise. When I have shows scheduled I try to stick to a 2000 calorie per day diet and a 3-4 days per week exercise routine and 7 days a week cardio program. B-O-R-I-N-G, I'm afraid. But as I say in the show, knowing I'll be on stage in my underwear is the best incentive in the world."
Without specifically mentioning his sojourn in porn, I asked Judson if he had any regrets about his past. He said, "Not a regret in my body. Niente! Nada! Yes, I had a great tragedy in life when I lost my husband, Bruce."
"But even taking that into account I have had the most wonderful, interesting fulfilling life I can imagine. And I'm just getting started! It seems my life has undergone a major change every 10 years, and since I was born in 1960 those usually coincide with the new decade. In my 20s I considered myself principally a composer/lyricist. In my 30s I added performing to the mix. My 40s broke that trend when I ended up on Broadway, and then
became quite successful in gay porn as Gus Mattox, along the way becoming a published writer and trying my hand at renovating and flipping houses in the real estate market. Now in my early 50s I seem to be back to performing. I guess I fit the definition of a true dilettante because I seem to enjoy most whatever I'm doing at the moment. Right now it feels like cabaret is the most natural thing in the world for me to be doing. I'm having a ball at it."
While I managed to get into his head, I am sorry to report that I did not get into his underwear. I was eager to know who currently might be enjoying that honor. He tells me he is newly single and not in love. Having recently ended a two-year relationship, he is wondering if he is better off solo. Legion are the fans of Tom Judson who will want the chance to challenge that thought.
Get his book Laid Bare (which is a collection of his fine essays) on Amazon.com and check out his site at www.tomjudson.com.
(A version of this report is the centerfold of the new national gay magazine, The Mirror)