Free-spirited Dan Mathews joined PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as a receptionist at the age of 20. At 48, he’s still on board as their mischievous PR whiz and Senior VP. When he’s not keeping PETA in the headlines, you’ll probably find him thrifting — he collects disturbing clown art — in Portsmith, Virginia where he lives with his boyfriend, Jack. Dan’s a self-proclaimed luddite which means he doesn’t like having internet at home, nor does he watch much TV. According to Dan: ‘If something is worth looking at, it is worth doing.’ I caught up with him in New York where he and Pamela Anderson were meeting the Russian Consul, urging them to keep up their ban on Canadian seal fur.
David: Okay, what is going on with you and Pamela Anderson? You work with her all the time. You call her your weapon of mass distraction. She calls you her gay husband.
Dan: Well, we have slept together many times.
She is like a Barbie doll with really big boobs.
More info, please.
I’ve been the cockblock for guys that were after her, event promoters that were flying her places and wanted to join the mile high club with Pamela Anderson… I would sleep in the bunk, in the middle.
So there were three of you in the bed?
Pam was in the corner, me in the middle, and they were on the outside.
Did you luck out with the promoter?
Not in those situations. Pam wouldn’t mind at all though. She says I’m a tall drink of water in a dirty glass. And she does have a phenomenal body. Shapely, soft…
Okay enough of that, thank you. How did you come to work together?
When she first hit it big on Baywatch, she sent a handwritten note to PETA saying that she would like to get involved with us so the press would cover her animal rights activities rather than just her boobs and her boyfriends. I thought it was nice to hear from her like that. We instantly became great friends and we have had opportunities all over the world because of who she is.
Right now, the strongest animal protection laws in the world are in Austria. We went there to lobby for the bill to introduce those laws twice. When Pam went there and hosted a reception, there was a huge blitz. The media suddenly supported the bill and it passed. Before she came, the press ignored us.
Where did you grow up?
Costa Mesa, California, the most boring bland suburb near the beach about an hour south of L.A. But I didn’t care about the beach or the sunny weather. I’m not a Southern California person at all. I saved up a thousand bucks after high school and moved to Rome where I studied history and worked the streets.
As a male prostitute?
Yes, I did it for about a year and a half. When I moved to Rome, I didn’t have European citizenship and I couldn’t get a regular job. My roommate said, ‘If you walk down a certain street in Rome, cars will stop and you can get in and charge fifty bucks without doing too much.’ Working the streets might sound rough, but it was better than it is today, where people hook up online. Now you have no idea who you are meeting, what they are really going to look like. When you see someone on the street, within ten seconds you can tell if it’s a bad move just from their mannerisms. I was able to support myself and live in Italy. I did not want to live in Ronald Regan’s America.
Who was your best trick?
The best was a very cute, very sweet bodyguard who showed me the sights of Rome. We’d go off to Villa Borghese or the Appia Antica or some place to have it off.
How did you arrange to meet?
The guys would just pick you up at a certain street at a certain time. This was before cell phones, the mid-eighties. People were so closeted. You didn’t exchange numbers.
You had repeat customers?
Well, of course. If I liked them enough I said, ‘If you just want to be friends or go out that would be cool.’
And the bodyguard?
He said, ‘No. This is a secret part of my life…’ I was okay with that. At that age, you don’t care.
Didn’t you do some acting as well?
The hustling led to getting a Fiat commercial… Someone suggested I go on an audition. I did it on a lark and ended up getting it. It paid more than the prostitution so I transitioned from hustler to actor in some stupid TV commercials and music videos. I also did a movie.
One critic described it as the worst movie in the history of Italian cinema…
It was called Arrapaho, which means horny in Italian. It was like a Blazing Saddles Spaghetti Western parody. I played a gay Indian. Latte Macchiato was my name. Spotted Milk… Because I was so white-skinned.
Dan landed a starring role in the 1984 Italian cult fim, Arrapaho. He played the one they call Latte Macchiato, pale-faced gay Indian of the Froceyenne tribe.
Before activist, hustler and actor, you were a flipper…
Yep. I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s at fifteen. I had to forge my work certificate to pretend to be sixteen to get the job.
Were you a vegan then?
I was in the process of becoming a vegatarian. I didn’t eat meat at McDonald’s, but I had the french fries. I didn’t realize they were fried in beef tallow. They tasted okay. All that fast food stuff is so gross and greasy. I have always been dismayed by people’s diets, the shit people eat… It was an okay job. After a few months, I got fired.
For dyeing my hair green.
Was it easy to find another job?
I got a job as a Christmas tree in the Disneyland Very Merry Christmas Parade. I was one of eight Christmas trees that swirled around. I was a teenage Christmas tree! It was much better than McDonald’s. Disneyland was full of gays. I did have some odd jobs…
Do you think you have been a success?
Well, I don’t know. I’m not rich. I don’t have the normal things that people measure success by. I live from hand to mouth. I couch surf most of the places I go, or stay with friends.
What do you earn?
That’s not great…
PETA is a very spartan organization. When we first started in the eighties, PETA was based in Washington D.C., but then property prices just got too high. In 1996, we moved to Norfolk, Virginia, a smaller town with cheaper office buildings. It is only three hours from D.C.
It also has the biggest navy base in the world.
Yes, it has a peculiar gay life. It is very blue collar. It was very closeted until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Ever slept with a sailor?
Yes, I’ve been back on the base a few times. It used to be easier, before 9/11. They’d say I was their brother. Even with the bunkmate out, it was a squeeze.
What have some of your key successes been at PETA?
Lobbying to stop the Canadian seal hunt. With Pamela’s help, were able to pressure them. The US banned seal imports from Canada first, then, about two years ago, the EU did. The big holdout was Russia. They imported about ninety per cent of Canadian seal skins. Pamela lead this public appeal to Vladimir Putin urging him to ban seal fur from her native Canada. It turns out that Putin happens to have a place in his heart for marine mammals.
Yes exactly… In Italy, I’ve done a lot of public blitzes, runway shows and things like that. The trick is getting in. For a Roberto Cavalli show, I got a ticket off a guy at a gym who started chatting me up. I said I was there to protest fashion week and was looking for tickets and one of the tickets I was looking for was Cavalli. He said, ‘I have tickets for that show. You want to come over to my place, I’d be happy to part with it…’ Italians will say anything to get at it. The next day, I crashed the show and took over the runway with a sign that said ‘Cavalli = Cruelty’. It made front-page news.
Did he realize what you planned to do with the ticket?
He was mortified. I wanted to take him out for dinner to thank him, but he wouldn’t be seen with me.
Is there anything you won’t do for animal welfare?
No, I’m proud of it. He got what he wanted. I got what I wanted.
Did you feel let down by Cindy and Naomi when they wore fur on the catwalk after having participated in PETA’s ‘I’d Rather Go Naked…’ campaign?
It’s great we did it. At least we got them when they were in their supermodel era and not in their rehab era. We started working more with rock stars and TV stars, like Pamela and Morrissey. Designers… We got a few of them: Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger…
All three still don’t use fur?
You gatecrashed Klein’s offices and wrote ‘Calvin Klein Kills Animals’ on the wall…
Yes, and he agreed to meet after that because he was so mortified, and agreed to stop using fur after nineteen years. We became friends.
Do you have any pets?
No pets, I travel too much. My mother had one cat Daisy, a rescue cat. We always brought in cats even though our apartment didn’t allow animals. Kids can be so cruel to animals.
Were you bullied at school?
I was terrorized for being gay. Kids would pass me by in the hallway and punch me in the stomach. During P.E. class, they took the bag that was used to collect the balls and put it over my head, tied it around my knees and kicked me around.
Did you ever fight back?
After years of being beaten up, I did. One day, some kid threw a sprinkler head at me and I threw it back. It hit this kid and gave him a gushing bloody wound on his head. He ended up in the hospital. I was the one suspended from school for a week. A friend called me at home and said, ‘You won’t believe what is spray-painted at the entrance of the school… Dan Mathews We Will Kill You.’ All of a sudden, I was this outlaw.