Bruce Vilanch

Bruce Vilanch (Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Bruce Vilanch (born November 23, 1948) is an American comedy writer, songwriter and actor. He is a six-time Emmy Award-winner. Vilanch is best known to the public for his four-year stint on Hollywood Squares, as a celebrity participant; in the entertainment industry he is best known as head writer for the show. In 2000, he performed off-Broadway in his self-written one-man show, Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous.

Since 2000, Vilanch has been the head writer for the Oscars, after being an Oscar program co-writer for the previous ten years. He is a featured writer for the Tonys, Grammys and Emmys.

Early life and education

Vilanch was born in New York City and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. When he was four days old, he was adopted by Dr. Jonas Vilanch, an optometrist, and his wife Henne, a homemaker. Having her own theater aspirations, Vilanch's mother helped launch her son's show business career by getting him signed on with Lane Bryant's "Charming Chub" division as a chubby child model. Upon graduating from high school, he attended The Ohio State University as a theater and journalism student. While at Ohio State, Vilanch appeared in student theater productions and wrote reviews, hoping it would be the beginning of a career as a playwright. In 1999 Vilanch stated, "I was going to be Neil Simon, batting out one Broadway show after another." He graduated from Ohio State in 1970 with a BFA in theater.

While well known in the entertainment industry as a writer for television award shows, Vilanch is less known to the public for his writing. His self-written stand-up comedy act is titled "Almost Famous" as a response to his lack of public notoriety.


Vilanch refers to his trademark hairstyle as "a platinum version of Alfred Hitchcock; 'Fried blonde'." and is known for his collection of double entendres-themed T-shirts.

Vilanch's career in the entertainment industry began with writing features for The Chicago Tribune. As an entertainment writer, he began spending time with as many celebrities or semi-celebrities as possible. It was through this type of contact that he met then-struggling nightclub singer Bette Midler. Having become friends, Vilanch later wrote comedy material for Midler's 1974 Broadway show Clams on the Half Shell and later co-wrote Divine Madness for her in 1980.

Following a move to Los Angeles, Vilanch was a co-writer for The Donny & Marie Show, 1978's negatively received Star Wars Holiday Special, and the short-lived Brady Bunch Variety Hour. After cancellation of The Brady Bunch Variety Show, he went on to write jokes for Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Paul Reiser, Elizabeth Taylor, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and Robin Williams. About Williams, Vilanch states, "It's more accurate to say he's written comedy 'at' Williams than 'for' him."

In 1975, Vilanch made his feature film debut playing a dress manufacturer in the film Mahogany, starring Diana Ross. His professional relationship with Ross continued by writing material for her stage act.

In the 1980s, Vilanch had a few acting appearances, including a bit part in an episode of Bosom Buddies. In 1984, he had a role in the comedy/science-fiction film The Ice Pirates. His first television appearance as himself was in 1988, when he was interviewed by Chris Aable, the host and producer of the cable show Hollywood Today. In the 1990s, Vilanch appeared on TV again in Law & Order. The night before the final broadcast of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, Bette Midler serenaded Carson with "You Made Me Watch You". Both the song and tribute were written by Vilanch, the farewell song later winning an Emmy award. For four years, Vilanch was head writer and celebrity square on Hollywood Squares, next to friend and client Whoopi Goldberg. Since 1980, Vilanch has been a reporter and columnist for The Advocate, writing both humorous and serious pieces. Bruce!: My Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Essays, a 2000 collection of his writings, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.

Vilanch has been called upon to improve scripts for films such as Die Hard 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark. When asking him to write material for one of her concert tours, Barbra Streisand offered what Vilanch felt was a "ridiculously low" wage. Vilanch declined her offer. She later asked him to write for one of her upcoming Las Vegas appearances.

Vilanch co-wrote the book for Platinum, a stage show previously produced as a Tony-nominated musical in 1978 and presented recently as part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival. He has also contributed to concert shows starring Michael Feinstein, Bette Midler and Diana Ross. In 2005, Vilanch starred on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in the musical Hairspray after originating the role in the show's first national stage tour.

As a songwriter, Vilanch co-wrote "Where Is My Man" with musicians Fred Zarr and Jacques Morali. The song was popularized by singer/actress Eartha Kitt in 1983.

In 2000, Vilanch performed his off-Broadway one-man show Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous at the Westbeth Theatre Center.

In 2008, Vilanch co-wrote The Showgirl Must Go On with Midler. The show opened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, receiving positive reviews. Stage and screen veteran Florence Henderson and Vilanch teamed for An Evening with Friends in 2010. The show featured Henderson sharing songs and stories from her career on stage, screen, and television. Vilanch has had a longstanding friendship with Henderson, writing for her one-woman show as well as several of the The Brady Bunch Variety Hour episodes in the early 1980s.

Academy Awards writer

Vilanch has been writing for the Academy Awards since 1989, providing topical joke material for the show's hosts. Before becoming head writer for the event in 2000, Vilanch previously collaborated with hosts Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman and Billy Crystal. Vilanch became head writer for the annual program in 2000. It was Vilanch who suggested 73-year-old Jack Palance do one-armed push-ups at the Oscars in 1992. In a 2010 Vanity Fair interview, Vilanch was asked for whom he wrote the Oscars show jokes, replying: "I write across the board. Every year it breaks down differently, depending on the host, but as we get closer to the date, all of the writers tend to be writing over each other. Everyone's contributing to everybody else's work. There are four of us writing the actual show, and you end up writing and rewriting so many things at the same time. So I do a little of everything. There's a lot of mileage involved in writing for the Academy Awards, you go through a lot of hoops." When asked if he could see himself doing the job for another 21 years, he replied: "Absolutely. It's the greatest show on Earth. It's like asking somebody, 'Hey, would you like to play in the Super Bowl next year?' Did anybody get into football not to play in the Super Bowl? Does anybody get into show business not to do the biggest show in the world?"


Vilanch was the subject of Andrew J. Kuehn's 1999 documentary Get Bruce!. The film included interviews with Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg and grossed $43,155 in the domestic market. Vilanch's mother, whom he credits with developing his sense of humor, also appeared in the documentary.

The documentary Laughing Matters...The Men, was also released as Laughing Matters: Gay Comedy in America (2007), where Vilanch appeared alongside Alec Mapa, Bob Smith, Scott Kennedy, Andre Kelley and Eddie Sarfaty.

He appears as a commentator in the 2010 Christopher Hines gay body image documentary The Adonis Factor.

Recent credits

Vilanch appeared in the third season of Celebrity Fit Club in 2006, losing 21 pounds over the course of the show.

Vilanch has been a special guest on The Simpsons and has had cameo roles in the 2008 films Tru Loved and You Don't Mess with the Zohan. In the South Park episodes "The Coon," "Coon vs. Coon and Friends," and "A Nightmare on Face Time," Eric Cartman is misidentified as Vilanch in costume. On RuPaul's Drag Race 3, Vilanch appeared as a guest judge dressed as Santa Claus.

In April 2008, Vilanch filmed a commercial that spoofs Kobe Bryant's jump over an Aston Martin. In his video, Vilanch is distracted, does not jump, and is run over by a semi truck.

Charity work

As well as performing in non-profit benefits, Vilanch's charitable work includes serving on the honorary board of Aid For AIDS and once serving as master of ceremonies for the Los Angeles organization's largest annual fundraiser, "Quest for the Crown" (later changed to "Best In Drag Show").

Vilanch emceed the event "Dancers Responding to AIDS", a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, in 2009 and 2010. In October 2010, Vilanch co-wrote and hosted the Los Angeles PAWS fundraiser, "An Evening with Tab Hunter".


Vilanch has won two consecutive Emmy Awards for his writing of the Academy Award telecasts as well as an additional four Emmys for Outstanding Variety Show. Vilanch has also been the recipient of a number of awards for his work in support of AIDS charities and GLBTQ rights charities:

  • Los Angeles Shanti Foundation's Daniel P. Warner Service Award (1990)
  • GLAAD Media's Stephen F. Kolzak Award (1997)
  • Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award (1998)
  • Outfest Honors Award for contributions to gay and lesbian visibility (2002)
  • AIDS Project Los Angeles Hero Award (2003).

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