Harvey Fierstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a linen manufacturer and a librarian. He got his start in acting at age eleven when he became one of the founding actors in the Gallery Players Community Theater in Brooklyn. In 1973 he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Pratt Institute.
In 1971 Fierstein appeared in Andy Warhol’s play Pork, at La Mama E.T.C. Since then, he has acted in numerous stage productions. He has appeared on television programs such as Murder She Wrote, Miami Vice, Cheers, Daddy’s Girl, and the soap opera Loving and on talk shows such as The Tonight Show, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, and Politically Incorrect. His film credits include Garbo Talks (1984), Mrs. Doubtfire, and Independence Day.
Between 1976 and 1979, he wrote his best-known work, Torch Song Trilogy, which he later adapted for the big screen. The plays were first produced in small theaters. In 1981 Fierstein starred in an Off-Broadway production of the Torch Song Trilogy, which he later took to Broadway. He was the first person to win a Tony Award for both Best Actor and Best Play for the same production. The film appeared, receiving its own awards, in 1988.
In both his public and private life, Fierstein is a gay rights activist. He has characterized himself as having been the first “real live and out-of-the-closet queer on Broadway.” Homosexuality is the source of much of his comedy as well as the source of much of the tragedy of his drama. In 1998 he spoke at the Matthew Shepard Memorial March and Rally of his emotions at hearing of the student’s death, saying “rage tore through my body nearly shredding my heart.” In his plays and in his public appearances, he has demonstrated his hope that the “struggle for freedom” for the gay and lesbian community may be won.