James Gallagher, 61, Downtown actor turned therapist

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  James Gallagher, who attracted a legion of devoted friends during his years as an actor in the Theatre of the Ridiculous in the 1970s and later as a psychotherapist, was finally laid to rest Thurs., Nov. 21, a year after he was found dead at the age of 61 in his Perry St. apartment.

He had been buried in a potter’s field in New Jersey until childhood friends were able to establish his right to a family plot, and had him reburied along with his father and mother in Mount St. Mary Cemetery in Flushing.

“Jamie was a brilliant, charming, multifaceted and very talented guy,” said Gary LeGault, an artist and filmmaker in Los Angeles with whom Gallagher often visited. “He was a darling to the gods of Off Off Broadway — Jackie Curtis, Charles Ludlam, Holly Woodlawn, Harry Koutoukas, Jimmy Camicia and Elaine Stewart,” LeGault said.

David Kaufman, a Perry St. writer who, along with Justine Pippett, another neighbor, discovered Gallagher’s body, recalled that Gallagher had had a hip replacement a few years before he died.

“He lived on the top floor of the walk-up, no place for someone with a hip that gave him pain,” Kaufman said. “But he loved his apartment.

“When I first moved here in 1986, we had problems with the building, and Jamie had the kind of street smarts that enabled us to deal with it,” Kaufman added.

Holly Woodlawn, who attended Gallagher’s formal introduction to the world of transvestite theater at a celebration of his 21st birthday in 1973, recalled him as “a lovely, sweet guy,” who always took everyone seriously.

“He led a straight life during the day and partied and played with us at night,” she said.

Gallagher never mentioned that he was in pain when Woodlawn would see him later on her trips back to New York from Hollywood.

“He was beyond brave,” she said.

“Jamie had a booming, resonant voice that could have filled the Metropolitan Opera,” LeGault said. He recalled that Gallagher was a close friend of Jackie Curtis, acted in some of his plays at La MaMa and co-wrote a Curtis play. Gallagher was also a friend of Marsha P. Johnson, a transvestite Village character, and appears in a documentary about her, “Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson,” which can be seen on YouTube.

As a teenager, Gallagher got a job backstage at the Winter Garden during the 1965 run of “Funny Girl,” walking Barbra Streisand’s dog, Le Gault said. It was there that he first met Curtis, who was working at the Winter Garden’s candy counter, LeGault added.

Joey Miller, who grew up with Gallagher in Astoria, recalled that they used to come to Manhattan as teenagers to “second act” Broadway shows by joining the crowds re-entering after intermission.

“We were about 15 when we lied about our ages and got jobs as pages in Rockefeller Center,” Miller said. “Jamie didn’t last long because he really wanted to be on the stage.”

When Gallagher was working with Curtis at La MaMa, they used to hang out at Slugger Ann’s bar on E. Third St. near Avenue C.

“Jackie Curtis lived in an apartment above the bar,” Miller said. “Slugger Ann was Curtis’s grandmother. It was her bar.”

Jamie Gallagher was born in 1951 to James Sr., a page copy editor at The New York Times, and Beatrice Quinn Gallagher, a former Ziegfeld Girl in the Ziegfield Follies. He went to Immaculate Conception parish school in Astoria and then to Rice, a Catholic high school in Manhattan, Miller said. Later, Jamie attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He met Joan Crawford many times as an adolescent when his sister worked as a receptionist for Pepsi Cola, where Crawford had become an executive after she retired from film, LeGault recalled.

“He cherished a cigarette lighter that Crawford gave him,” LeGault noted.

“Jamie had a huge collection of Greta Garbo memorabilia,” Pippett recalled. “He also had stuff relating to Marlene Dietrich, whom he loved.”

Gallagher’s career took a new turn when he went back to school after a recurring struggle with alcohol. He went first to John Jay and then to New York University, where he earned a master’s of social work and became a therapist. His first job after graduate school was managing the psychology department at Gracie Square Hospital, according to LeGault. Until shortly before he died he also had a private practice in an office on W. 14th St. at Eighth Ave.

“He helped a lot of people stay sober,” said Yvonne T, a friend from Alcoholics Anonymous. “He was a very funny guy and could provoke sidesplitting laughter,” Yvonne said.

Diane Greenspan, a Charles St. resident who met Gallagher in 1990, recalled that he had an alcohol relapse in 1998.

“Still, he was a great friend,” Greenspan said. “He could engage people on the street in conversation. When Hillary Clinton was campaigning for the Senate in the Village in 2000, he got her to pose with him for a photo,” Greenspan recalled.

“He was loved and respected by all who knew him,” said LeGault.

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2 Responses to James Gallagher, 61, Downtown actor turned therapist

  1. Jamie was not hired to walk Barbra Streisand's dog outside the Winter Garden Theater; he volunteered to do it for the stage manager. Also, he was well-liked by Ellen Stewart of LaMama ETC, and not Elaine, unless you mean Elaine Stritch, who knew and liked him equally as well. Additionally, Mr. LeGault is not the only person he stayed with in southern California; he also stayed with Danny McDermott, who is a scenic designer in Los Angeles. In northern California, he sometimes stayed with Eugene Huss (a.k.a. Sister Tui) of San Francisco, up until the time of Tui's death in 1994. Tui was a brilliant comedian whose comical, nun character has been oft-imitated, but never equalled by admirers of his bold and daring wit.

  2. Not surprisingly, I understand that Myra Carter thinks much of this article is unfounded. With all due respect, Jamie kept common associates in separate compartments of his life, and it would take a master sleuth to link all the pieces together. He was also a close confidante of the late Margo Howard Howard. Her autobiography, I Was a White Slave in Harlem, is a wake up call for readers everywhere, and her chapter regarding the Russian Countess is a masterpiece of short story writing. Jamie surrounded himself with brilliantly creative minds, some of which may never be recognized, but he was indeed the Gertrude Stein of his day. Let's not forget that he also was a dear friend of Orlando, the Shakespearian-attired actor and painter, who travelled Greenwich Village, performing with a piano on the back of his truck. He was also "chums" with Rollerina. The list goes on and on. And at the peak of his youthful prowess, Jamie's romantic conquests comprise a more distinguished list than that contained in the Michigan Social Register. Weep for his loss. The most fascinating figure of the late 20th Century has passed. GLG – WeHo

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