Early Frost: AIDS Groundbreaking Movie, Starring Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara

The DVD edition of this groundbreaking TV film, the first work on AIDS, includes a commentary track by actor Aidan Quinn and writers Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman (creators of Showtimes “Queer As Folk”), and Tina DiFeliciantonios 1987 Emmy-winning short documentary, “Living With Aids,” which looks at the life of Todd Coleman, a San Francisco man living with AIDS.

Airing in 1985, “An Early Frost” is the first major film to deal with the AIDS crisis. Written by Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman, who won an Emmy for their work (before creating Showtime’s “Queer as Folk”), the film stars Aidan Quinn, then a newcomer thespian who had just wowed audiences with his role opposite Madonna in Seidelman’s indie comedy, “Desperately Seeking Susan.”

The stellar ensemble includes veterans Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, and many young actors who have since attained great success, such as Terry O’Quinn, Bill Paxton, and John Glover.

It has been 25 years since the first diagnosis of AIDS as a medical condition, and “Early Frost” was the first film to deal with the crisis four years later. If the film still holds up well, it’s because it was created with love and conviction

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

Set in 1985, the story centers on Michael Pierson (Quinn), a successful young lawyer in Chicago who has just been made a partner at his law firm. Like many gay men at the time, Michael lives a double life, keeping his boyfriend a secret from both family and co-workers.

Everything changes, however, when he gets sick with pneumonia and is diagnosed with AIDS, forcing him for the first time to be open about the disease and his homosexuality. At first, Michael’s macho father (Gazzara) refuses to acknowledge his son’s orientation, though his mom (Rowlands) proves to be more sensitive and open-minded right away.

Tensions mount and after a series of (too theatrical) confrontations, the whole family learns how to adjust to a son they never really knew, realizing before it’s too late that, gay or straight, healthy or ill, they love Michael just the same.

The TV broadcast of “Early Frost” on NBC on November 11, 1985 was a landmark event as the first major filmon television or Hollywoodto deal with the realities of the AIDS crisis. That night, the airing was the top-rated program, even beating out Monday Night Football in the ratings. “Early Frost” met with widespread acclaim, landing on several Top Ten lists, and winning four of the fourteen Emmys that it was nominated for.

The director must have had a good eye for casting for all the actors went on to have illustrious careers: Aidan Quinn (“Legends Of The Fall,” “Songcatcher,” HBOs “Empire Falls”), Terry OQuinn (“The Stepfather,” ABCs “Lost”), out actor John Glover (“Love! Valour!Compassion!” WBs TV series “Smallville”), and Bill Paxton (“Aliens,” “Titanic,” HBOs “Big Love”).

End note

GLAAD presented present Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman with the Davidson/Valentini Award at the 17th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco, June 10, 2006. The Davidson/Valentini Award is named after Craig Davidson, GLAAD’s first executive director, and his partner Michael Valentini. The award is presented to an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for our community.