Do you remember a time before people knew Ellen DeGeneres was a lesbian? Or the days when Rosie O’Donnell was always babbling about her crush on Tom Cruise? Well, I do. I even remember a time when teenage girls thought Elton John was dreamy. But at least I’m not old enough to remember when people thought Liberace was straight.
When Ellen debuted in 1994, it was called These Friends of Mine, and I thought, “Oh, this show is trying to be Seinfeld.” I thought the same thing about a show called Friends that premiered around the same time. But as it turns out, both shows carved out their own identities.
Today, Ellen is remembered mostly for its history-making “Puppy Episode,” in which the lead character, Ellen Morgan, realizes she’s gay—coinciding with DeGeneres’s own public coming out.
In the months preceding “The Puppy Episode,” there were leaks and hints about it. In the clip below, Ellen teases the episode on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, saying that the Ellen Morgan character will reveal she’s Lebanese. “Maybe I’m Lebanese,” Rosie says coyly. “That’s odd, because I pick up sometimes that you might be Lebanese,” says Ellen. Neither DeGeneres nor O’Donnell was publicly out of the closet at the time; DeGeneres came out along with her character seven months later in 1997, and O’Donnell’s public coming out followed in 2002.
Ellen DeGeneres on The Rosie O’Donnell Show (Sept. 25, 1996) teases that she might be “Lebanese.” O’Donnell provides commentary.
In “The Puppy Episode,” Ellen meets Susan (Laura Dern), and the two hit it off immediately. Susan, it turns out, is gay, and has assumed Ellen is too. Ellen is startled by this and denies it. Later, talking to her therapist (Oprah Winfrey), Ellen realizes she has had same-sex attractions for years but has repressed them. She races to the airport to find Susan and tell her that she had been correct—and inadvertently announces she’s gay over the microphone at the airport gate.
Ellen speaks the words “I’m gay” over the microphone at the airport, on Ellen, “The Puppy Episode” (April 30, 1997)
There’s a lot more to the episode, and I’ve glosssed over all the funny parts, so watch it yourself on YouTube. Don’t expect me do all the work.
Happy LGBT Pride! If you’re going to a parade, remember to bring sunscreen.