As Pat Loud talks about her son Lance, it is easy to forget that she is now 86 years old. Her voice has not changed, and despite the silver hair and some acquiescence to gravity, she is still the slender, mod and cool Santa Barbara housewife with the long dark coif, frosted lips, tinted Jackie O glasses and constant cigarette, who was introduced to us in 1973 as the matriarch of the landmark PBS television series An American Family, the first-ever reality TV show.
Loud has produced a book, Lance Out Loud, honoring her son Lance who shocked American television audiences of 1973 when he came out of the closet in the course of the filming of the documentary about his family. In 2001, Lance Loud died at the age of 50 from complications related to his HIV and Hepatitis C. As his life drew to a close, he asked Alan and Susan Raymond, the documentarians who had made the original series, to turn their cameras on him again for what became PBS’s A Death In An American Family.
Loud has kept the remembrance of her son and the artifacts of his life privately with a careful and sorrowful heart. Overcoming grief, she is now able to celebrate her remarkable son in the form of a book that is a fascinating collection of photographs, memorabilia and recollections by his friends.
Loud describes becoming reacquainted with her son at the end of his life.
“Lance and I lived together for quite a while after he became ill, so I got an opportunity to know him as an adult. In the book, we don’t try to whitewash him. He loved pop culture and had an almost intrinsic knowledge of it. I was always excited to see it through his eyes,” she said. “I had always encouraged my kids to be what they want. Never said ‘I want a doctor.’ Maybe I should have. I sure didn’t get one! All my kids are fine. Kevin is an investment banker. Grant is on the production team of Jeopardy. Delilah is a senior VP at Sony television. Michelle is working for a clothing designer. My husband is still kicking.”
One of Lance’s last wishes was that his parents who had divorced might reconcile, and that has transpired.
Asked about a comparison she once made between her relationship with Lance and the relationship of Violet and Sebastian, the mother and son in the Tennessee Williams play Suddenly Last Summer, she said, “Violet was a very possessive woman. I didn’t mean to refer to that. I meant to refer to the rage of loss that she felt. That is what we have in common.”
Asked about what she might do differently about the way she raised Lance, she said, “One thing I realized from the time he was small, you could never control Lance. He was his own boss from a very early age. I allowed it. Sometimes I tried to curb it but that didn’t work. You’ll read in the book that when Lance wanted to go to LA he would sneak out of our house by climbing out his window. He never hurt anyone by doing what he did. He loved his family and we all loved him. When he became ill in 1987, I came back from England to take care of him. I kept coming back and forth till in 1992 I sold my flat in England and I was with him full time. I didn’t try to live his life, but we did fight his illness together. When you fight together, you form a bond. That bond doesn’t die.”
Loud spoke about how she felt about the 1973 Dick Cavett interview with Lance. That fascinating program, also featuring some others of her family, is viewable on Youtube and is exquisite and painful to watch despite Cavett’s kindness to a nervous naïve Lance who tries not to let his guard down having learned well how television can savage lives.
Pat responded, “I haven’t seen it since we did it. Lance was a twenty-year old. From a small town. On that stage alone. By himself. He was brilliant. We were all defensive and angry. I don’t know if it showed.”
Loud was the literary agent who first set eyes on the manuscript of Andrew Holleran’s beautiful 1978 novel Dancer From The Dance and and who realized its greatness.
“In those days, manuscripts used to come to us in identical gray boxes. When I took home that gray box and opened it in bed that night, I just knew from the first sentence—it grabbed me,” she said. “It was so beautiful, and at the same time, it was about Lance’s New York world in many ways. That world is gone. So many dead. I can’t even tell you how many men should have been here today who aren’t.”
Today, in our post-Paris Hilton/Kardashian/Honey Boo Boo era, we forget that in 1973, neither Pat nor Lance were armed with the dialect of reality television. Having been victimized by what they allowed into their home, the Louds managed to survive.
“I am 86 years old and I am a Depression baby. My father was an engineer and had no work, having come back from Brazil where he worked on a project. Hard times for us, but I grew up with a sense of optimism. When Lance died, I already knew the stages of grief. I allowed myself to feel those things,” Loud said. “Time doesn’t heal, but it gives you distance and perspective from the horrible pain. As time goes by, you kind of grow a little callus over it. You protect yourself from it. Sometimes I think of something that I should tell Lance, and I do tell him. I still speak with him.”