The world was different in 1996, when The Rosie O’Donnell Show began. The famous Ellen DeGeneres coming out episode hadn’t aired yet, Will & Grace was still years away, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was only a few years old. As much as the internet loves to act like 2016 is a trash-lined sewer and the ’90s were a hip, inclusive wonderland, things have gotten a lot better in the past two decades. We were different in 1996, too: we were 10 years old. We knew that gay people existed, but in that era we both tended to assume people were straight unless given evidence to the contrary. A LOT of evidence to the contrary. Rosie’s presence as an affable, cool lesbian paved the way for today’s suburban mom fav, Ellen, and her wide-open closet door was probably really inspiring to a lot of kids in the 90s and 2000s… the kids who weren’t too dense to notice all of these clues, anyway.
Exhibit A: Tom Cruise, Lawnboy
- Throughout the course of her show, Rosie talked a lot about her giddy crush on Tom Cruise.
- She called him “My Tommy.”
- A specialized soundboard played The Who’s “Tommy Can You Hear Me”
- The whole thing read less like a legitimate infatuation, and more as a fun running gag
- To that end, Rosie even TOLD everybody that she had no adult desire for Tom Cruise:
My crush on him has nothing to do with anything that is adult. It’s a prepubescent girl desire to have his picture thumb-tacked to my bedroom wall. It doesn’t have to do with a thirty-five-year-old woman’s adult desire.
- On Tom’s first appearance, he brought flowers and didn’t respond like someone at the receiving end of a real and genuine crush. Rosie commented “it’s not like I want the marriage to break up. I just want you to, like, live in my house and mow my lawn. That’s all I want. I want you to do yard work around my house.” As a single lady who hates lawn mowing, I feel that.
- Rosie, referring to Nicole Kidman, lightheartedly commented “isn’t her husband beautiful”
- The Rosie O’Donnell Show ended with Tom mowing Rosie’s lawn and offering her a lemonade.
Can you blame us?: I mean. As adults of 2016 we realize that having an opposite-sex crush doesn’t make you straight any more than having a favorite Orange Is The New Black inmate makes you gay. However, this one is less about the cultural milieu of the 90s and more about what it was like to be ten years old. If you told somebody you had a crush in fifth grade, it was SERIOUS BUSINESS. It’s more that we couldn’t understand flippant celebrity crushes, which are now the mainstay of our internet presence.
Exhibit B: And They Called It Puppy Love
- Donny Osmond’s poster was on her bedroom wall “for eight years” when she was a tot
- Rosie was a member of the Donny Osmond Fan Club. Like the kind where you pay a fee and you get a sticker with his face on it.
- She owned a Donny Osmond doll. Her brothers wanted to play GI Joe, she wanted to play Donny and Marie.
Rosie: Me and my brother Danny would do Donny & Marie in my backyard with wooden spoons. My mother would be screaming…
Donny: Ok, but hopefully, you were Marie.
Rosie: Most times. But ya know, hell, I’ll be you if you let me.
Can you blame us?: Like Tom Cruise, we kind of just expected that because Rosie had googly eyes and a laminated Donny Osmond Fan Club membership card in her wallet, it meant she was keen on the gentlemen type.
I remember one time around this era I was talking to an older male family friend who was at the time probably in high school, and while a group of us were watching TV, Rosie came on the screen and he said, “You know she’s gay, right?” and being a staunch fan and a 12 year old who believed “gay” was an insult, I came to her defense. “No way. She loves Tom Cruise and Donny Osmond! How do you explain that??” But again, that was just a sign of the times. Obviously as a tween in the mid-90s, I couldn’t delineate between celebrity crush to real life romantic feelings crush, so my points sounded valid at the moment.
But this is kind of all a moot point since Ro and Donny got into a brief feud after he suggested she was fat by saying a helicopter “couldn’t take that much weight.” She turned that Donny doll into more of a Donny voodoo doll, and made him apologize by singing Puppy Love in a puppy get up. Don’t all great straight relationships work like this?
Exhibit C: Lebanese-American
- For a period of time in 1996, there was a long lead-up to Ellen DeGeneres’s character, Ellen Morgan, coming out on the sitcom Ellen. I still remember thinking it was cool, but also consistently thinking it had happened already because it had been in the media for so long. That’s how big a deal it was.
- Before the episode aired, Ellen appeared on Rosie. Later on, Rosie said that she didn’t want Ellen to be completely alone on this new TV frontier, so they came up with the Lebanese bit and “the people that got it, got it.”
- We didn’t get it.
- Watch it and let Rosie explain here:
- “I pick up sometimes that you might be Lebanese”
Can you blame us? This is the kind of joke that would be hard to understand if you were new to the English language. Lebanese and Lesbian sound sort of similar, Ellen’s quip about dropping hints that character was “Lebanese” (baba ganoush, Casey Kasem, etc) is an analogy to Ellen winking at her character’s orientation, but the punchline was implied. And implied punch lines are one of the last things you understand when you learn a new language, right? Except… we were NOT new to the English language when this aired, we were natives like 10 years deep in it. Even as kids, we should have picked up what Rosie was putting down here.