With his unmistakable presence -- characterized by an obese figure, oversized red glasses, a shaggy blonde mane, and a scruffy, unkempt beard -- Bruce Vilanch checked in as one of Hollywood's most colorful characters for decades. His effeminate presence and apparel (both of which played up Vilanch's open homosexuality) only heightened this. Though known to many as an onscreen character player and comedian, Vilanch scored his most resounding successes as a gag writer for stand-up comics such as Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Lily Tomlin, and Roseanne; in fact, a point arrived where many considered him the go-to comic for stand-up sets and a first-choice writer for events such as the perennial Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony telecasts. A native of Paterson, NJ, Vilanch attended Ohio State University as a theater and journalism major. After graduation, Vilanch moved into show business professionally, with comic roles in features such as the 1975 Mahogany (as a fashion designer), the 1984 Ice Pirates, the 1986 thriller The Morning After, and the 2008 Adam Sandler comedy You Don't Mess with the Zohan. On the side, Vilanch did frequent uncredited rewrites of Hollywood features and enjoyed a lengthy and productive tenure as a writer of features for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Vilanch's professional mainstay, however, remained comedy writing. He was the subject of the all-star 1999 documentary Get Bruce! and played Edna Turnblad during an extensive run of the Broadway musical Hairspray.
Biography by Nathan Southern
- As a child, did modeling for the Charming Chub division of Lane Bryant.
- Has written for more than 20 Academy Awards telecasts.
- Penned Bette Midler's "You Made Me Watch You" takeoff on "You Made Me Love You," which she sang as a send-off to Johnny Carson on May 21, 1992.
- Wrote comedy material for Midler's 1974 Broadway show, Clams on the Half Shell, 1980's Divine Madness, 1997's Bette Midler: Diva Las Vegas and 2008's The Showgirl Must Go On.
- Is the subject of the 1999 documentary Get Bruce!
- In 2000, starred in the one-man off-Broadway show Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous.
- A collection of his writings, Bruce!: My Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Essays, was released in 2000.
- In the early 1980s, played Edna Turnblad in a national touring company of Hairspray, and made it to Broadway in 2005.
- Is involved with a number of AIDS-related charities.
- Has a collection of more than 1000 T-shirts.