Disney’s Rich Ross: Hollywood’s first openly gay studio chairman


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Disney has long been the most gay friendly studio in Hollywood, having had a couple of gay production chiefs over the years, most recently Nina Jacobson, now an independent producer after being forced out in a studio purge several years ago. The studio’s theme parks have allowed unofficial Gay Day celebrations for years, prompting a host of venemous attacks from various Christian right anti-gay zealots.

But Disney now has a really big first -- Rich Ross, Hollywood’s first openly gay studio chief. Ross, who had been head of the Disney Channel, hasn’t been giving interviews since he was named studio chief Monday. So I started reading old Ross interviews, eager to discover what his creative tastes were like, figuring it might give me insight into the kind of movies he’d want to make. That led me to a story from this year by one of my colleagues, Dawn Chmielewski, who did an in-depth profile of Ross and his tenure at Disney TV.


I found this: ‘The 47-year-old Ross and his partner of more than 20 years, Adam Sanderson, live in the Hollywood Hills and have no children of their own. However, he maintains a close relationship with the 14- and 10-year-old daughters of his former roommate and best friend from Fordham Law, who serve as an informal focus group.’ After a little more hunting, I found that the Advocate has just posted a small story, titled: ‘Disney Goes Gay with New Top Exec.’

Still, judging from a quick canvas I made of gay filmmakers and executives, the news about Ross was something of a revelation, even in the gay community. That may be because people in the film world don’t always keep track of TV executives, especially ones making children’s programming. One filmmaker was aware that Ross was gay, but others I spoke to knew little about his professional life, much less his private life. As one executive put it: ‘Every day showbiz offers a new surprise.’

But is it a good surprise? ‘Absolutely,’ says producer Howard Rosenman, who’s not only openly gay but played the role of David Goodstein, an early owner of the Advocate, in last year’s Oscar-nominated film ‘Milk.’

‘It’s not just the first time ever, but it’s the greatest thing ever,’ he told me jubilantly. ‘After all these years, what finally matters is -- show me the money! It doesn’t matter what you do with your [penis], just what you do with your job. It’s a new era in Hollywood. Rich Ross will only be judged by how well he makes the product and and how commercial it is, not who he is in his private life. He’s obviously already been a big success at the Disney Channel, so he clearly knows what he’s doing.’

Disney hasn’t exactly been playing up that Ross is gay. But there are two ways of interpreting that. It’s possible that Disney is hoping no one makes a fuss or that none of the business reporters who will eventually interview Ross will make his personal life an issue. But it’s also possible that after all these years, the sexual orientation of a major entertainment executive isn’t big news anymore. That alone would be a huge step forward, especially since previous generations of studio executives have been forced to remain in the closet, or at least believed it prudent, fearing a public outcry.

But I’ll let Rosenman have the last word on this. ‘You know what I really think?’ he said. ‘It’s about time!’


Above: Ross, earlier this year Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times