Now Reading
Grammy-winning folk singer: Bill Cosby tried to have me barred from TV for being a lesbian

Grammy-winning folk singer: Bill Cosby tried to have me barred from TV for being a lesbian

Janis Ian

American folk singer Janis Ian has posted a lengthy Facebook posting recounting an experience that she had with the actor and comedian Bill Cosby in the late 1960s.

In the posting, she says that she heard that Cosby had told acquaintances in the TV world that they should not book her for their shows because she was ‘probably a lesbian’ and ‘unsuitable family entertainment’.

Cosby has been dogged by accusations in recent years that he drugged and sexually assaulted a number of women whilst at the height of his fame.

He has strenuously denied the accusations. No charges have been pressed against him for these historical accusations, and the US has a statute of limitations meaning that any future charges are unlikely unless evidence emerges of any recent crimes.

In mid-July, a court recording agency released details of a deposition given by Cosby in 2005. In it, he admitted pursuing sex with young women with the aid of Quaaludes – anti-anxiety drugs that can render someone functionally immobile.

Born in 1951, Ian had her first hit when still a teenager with the song ‘Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’. This was followed by her worldwide hit, ‘At Seventeen’, in the mid-70s.

She came out as gay in 1993 and married her wife, Patricia Snyder, in 2003.

Ian’s Facebook posting recounts the time she was in the same TV studio as Cosby while a teenager experiencing her first taste of success in the music world.

Referring to a recent feature in the New York magazine, in which 35 women who claim to have been assaulted by Cosby spoke out about their experiences, Ian says:

‘Do I have a stake in this issue? Yes. Of course. Outside of being female, outside of knowing women aren’t “heard” as loudly as men are heard, outside of firmly believing that if women were treated equally around the world, many if not all of the world’s problems would no longer exist – outside of all that… I have a personal stake.

‘No, I was not sexually bothered by Bill Cosby. We met because he was curious about me.

‘My song “Society’s Child” was climbing the charts and creating a great deal of controversy. The Smothers Brothers took a huge gamble and had me on their hit television show.

‘I was just sixteen years old when we taped it. I’d been on the road for months, doing press and one-nighters. My chaperone/tour manager, a family friend six or seven years older than me, was doing everything in her power to make sure I was protected and getting as much rest as possible.

Thank you all for the response to my “Cosby memory”. Someone pointed out that by starting it with the New York Magazine…

Posted by Janis Ian on Tuesday, 28 July 2015

‘Remember. I was sixteen. Still in high school. Fairly naive, including about my own sexuality. For months on the road, my chaperone was the only consistent face I saw.

‘Everyone else was a complete stranger – radio personalities, newspaper reporters, magazine photographers, audiences, promoters, disc jockeys, all strangers. So I clung to my chaperone.

‘We’d never been to a big-time TV taping. We had no idea we’d have to be inside from early early morning until whenever they called for me.

‘There were only a couple of chairs for us on the set – I was pretty low on the totem pole, way lower than Jimmy Durante or Pat Paulsen or Mason Williams (all of whom were wonderful to us).

‘And I was exhausted. I’d been having nightmares for weeks, the result of the controversy surrounding “Society’s Child” and the death threats I was receiving daily. I needed to sleep. So I fell asleep in my chaperone’s lap. She was earth motherly, I was scared. It was good to rest.

‘We taped the show. I had a ball. (You can see it on Youtube, in fact. That’s me, looking scared, in the green dress. My friend Buffy from East Orange, where I’d started high school, made it for me. I treasured it.) Then we went back to New York, and I went back to school.

‘A while later, my manager called me into her office. “What happened at the Smothers Brothers show?!” I had no idea what she was talking about, and said so. “Well, no one else on TV is willing to have you on. Not out there, anyway.”

‘Why? I wondered. And was told that Cosby, seeing me asleep in the chaperone’s lap, had made it his business to “warn” other shows that I wasn’t “suitable family entertainment”, was probably a lesbian, and shouldn’t be on television.

‘Again, a reminder. I was 16. I’d never slept with a man, I’d never slept with a woman. Hell, I barely been kissed, and that in the middle of the summer camp sports area, next to the ping pong table.

‘Banned from TV. Unbelievable. Bless Johnny Carson and his producer Freddy de Cordova, one of the nicest men I’ve ever worked with, because they didn’t listen. Or maybe they didn’t give a damn. I don’t know. I do know that they broke the barrier Cosby tried to create.

‘There’s a lot to bother a sensible person about this. The years these women were ignored. The years they were derided. That the story finally really “broke” because a male comedian named Hannibal Buress kept bringing it up, kept calling Cosby a “rapist”. Not because woman after woman after woman went to the police, to the press, to anyone who’d listen, with horribly similar stories.’

Ian went on to criticize Cosby’s wife for standing by him, and those who have criticized the women who have spoken out about their experiences with Crosby.

‘Cosby was right in one thing. I am gay. Or bi, if you prefer, since I dearly loved the two men I lived with over the years. My tilt is toward women, though, and he was right about that.

‘But what an odd thing, that a black man who slept with so very many white women chose to take my possible lesbianism away from our one meeting, rather than the message I tried to get across with “Society’s Child.” How pathetic. How truly, truly pathetic.’

Lawyers acting for Mr Crosby have been approached for comment on Ian’s claims.

In a separate development, it emerged this week that the women who first accused Cosby of sexual assault is gay.

The 2005 deposition made by Cosby related to a sexual battery and defamation case raised against him by Andrea Constand, who got to know him in the early 2000s. Cosby said their sexual encounter was consensual.

Constand eventually settled out of court, but has recently sought to release herself from the confidentiality agreement that she signed as part of that settlement

This week, her lawyer questioned claims made by Cosby in his deposition that he regarded himself; ‘a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things.’

Lawyer Dolores Troiani pointed to the fact that if Cosby was really such a good ‘reader’ of people, he perhaps should have realized that his client, Constand, was a lesbian.

‘Despite his talent for interpreting female reactions to him, he did not realize plaintiff was gay until the police told him,’ said Troiani in a motion on Tuesday challenging the secrecy clause that was part of the 2006 settlement Cosby reached with Constand.