Jan 23, 2019

Shawn Stevens: The Teen Idol that Failed

In the 1970s, Shawn Stevens had the soft, cuddly, puppy-dog cute, aggressively feminine presence that pushed Shawn Cassidy, Leif Garrett,  Scott Baio, and many others into teen idol heaven.  Why did he not make it to the heights of fame, with millions of middle schoolers kissing his poster and writing "Shawn Stevens" surrounded by little hearts in their chemistry notebooks?

It could be that the field was a little over crowded, with a dozen soft, cuddly, puppy-dog cute, aggressively feminine teens and post-teens strutting their stuff. You can only fantasize about kissing so many boys in a single week.

It could be that he lacked the talent, or the connections.

But I suspect that it was his strong religious beliefs, which kept him from moving to the next level: taking off his shirt, shoving lead pipes down his pants, shifting from dreamy to sexy as his target audience grew up.

According to his very detailed biography on IMDB, Shawn was born in Morristown, New Jersey into a fundamentalist Church of Christ family (his great-grandfather was a prominent Church of Christ minister who founded several Christian summer camps for inner-city youth).  His parents were also besties with fundamentalist ex-teen idol Pat Boone.

His family moved to California when he was 13, and he became deeply involved with musical theater, starring in youth productions and singing with the upbeat group The Young Americans.

When he was 19, a small role filmed in Utah led him to a lifelong devotion to the Latter-Day Saints (aka the Mormons).

Then he got his big break: the shortlived tv drama The MacKenzies of Paradise Cove (1978), about five orphans who adopt a grizzly fisherman (think Punky Brewster times five), shot Shawn into stardom.

Suddenly Shawn was in the spotlight:

He became the National Spokesman for the March of Dimes.

He hosted the Miss Teen America contest.

The mayor of his home town proclaimed "Shawn Stevens Day."

He got Tiger Beat fave rave articles.

He got a record contract.  No actual records, but he did get to perform "New York State of Mind" on an episode of Fame, and he became buddy-buddy with androgynous superstar Leif Garrett.

1981 was a banner year: guest spots on Too Close for Comfort, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Facts of Life, and Captain Kangaroo, a recurring role on a soap opera, the teenage son on Savage Harvest (about a family attacked by lions while on safari in Africa).

And then it fizzled out.  During the next few years, a smattering of guest spots, another soap opera gig, and after 1985, nothing.  Shawn began working on promotional videos for the LDS.  According to Deseret News, they resulted in 600,000 conversions, which is probably a lot more than he would have drawn to the church as a guest star on Sheriff Lobo.

Still, one wonders, did Shawn deliberately end his Hollywood career for the higher calling of Mormon proselytization, or was it unavoidable, as time and again he said "I'll do anything for my art, but I won't take my shirt off."

"Or show a basket."

Religious zeal comes with a price.

Shawn's imdb bio paints everything as joyous, bounteous, and God-directed, of course, but reading between the lines, you can see hints of failures and disappointments, and a flight into the arms of the Church.

The good news: after 30 years, Shawn is back on the big screen, mostly in Mormon or otherwise Christian productions:
The Cokeville Miracle (the aftermath of a hostage crisis with a miraculous resolution)
Sacred Vow (marital infidelity is forgiven)
Drop Off (a drunk gets redeemed)
Love Everlasting (two high school outcasts find love with each other and with the LDS)
In Emma's Footsteps (the wife of Joseph Smith carries on the Mormon work)

Plus three episodes of the post-Apocalyptic Day Zero.

So if you can handle the beaming certainty of religious zeal and an utter lack of gay characters or subtexts of any kind, you have a chance to see Shawn again.

I imagine he still refuses to take his shirt off, though.

Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball has a sleazy, heterosexist reputation, all about girls in bikinis jiggling while men leer.  But actually it's a legitimate sport, more difficult than regular volleyball because the sand is so soft. 

It began in the 1920s on the beaches of California as a "family fun" sport.  Tournaments began in the 1940s, spreading out from California to Hawaii, Florida, Europe, and eventually around the world.

Beach Volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996.  In 1997, world tours began, with prizes up to $400,000.

It's a big deal.

 Beach volleyball is offered by many colleges and high schools in Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Kentucky (yes, there are beaches in Kentucky),  and other states.

The Georgia State Panthers

But of course California is the mainstay.

San Marcos High School.   I don't know why red trunks are so appealing.  Maybe they stand out against the sand better.

Santa Monica High School.

Even Catholic schools get into the act.  Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.

Private clubs have their own teams.

The uniforms aren't quite as evocative as swimsuits, but you can't beat the beefcake.

Star Trek

Star Trek (1966-69) represents the beginning of a franchise that eventually encompassed 6 tv series, 12 movies, and an infinite number of tie-in novels, comic books, games, and toys. But at the time I didn't notice.   Either my parents watched something else, or it aired past my bedtime, so I only watched when I slept over with a friend who was a fan.

And I didn't have a lot of friends who were fans.  I didn't see most episodes until reruns started appearing in the 1980s.

I only remember one moment of joy: in the 1966 episode "Naked Time," the space explorers contract a virus that makes them act irrationally. Navigator Sulu (George Takai), imagining that he is D'Artagnon of the Three Musketeers, rushes down the corridor, sword in hand, his chest hard and bronze and gleaming.  

And later, cured, he returns to the room he shares with Ensign Chekhov (Walter Koenig).  Chekhov, already in bed, rises on one elbow.  "Are you ok?" he asks.  "I was worried."  "I'm ok now," Sulu says, sitting next to him.  They smile.

Like the smile shared by Rich and Sean in The Secret of Boyne Castle, it became an iconic memory of my childhood.  I wanted that smile more than anything.

Except the scene never happened.  Chekhov wasn't even in the episode, and he and Sulu were never shown sharing a room.  I invented the memory.

So, what are we left with:

1. A universe where heterosexual desire is a constant.  Remember when they meet early explorer Zephram Cochrane (Glen Corbett), trapped on a planet with an alien energy cloud.  It's female, and in love with him.  

2. An endless supply of alien babes for Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to smash his face against: "Kiss?  What is kiss?"

3. Some beefcake: Kirk got his shirt ripped off in many episodes, occasionally Kirk or another character (such as Frank Gorshin) bulged, and occasionally an alien dude, such as David Soul or Michael Forest,  wear a revealing outfit.  

4. No significant buddy-bonding.  Some people see a spark of homoerotic desire between Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), but I don't see it.

5.  No gay characters, ever.  Ok, we can forgive the 1960s series, but what about The Next Generation, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine?  Obviously this is a world where gay people are unknown and unwelcome. No wonder my friends and I spent our time watching something else, or listening to The Monkees.  

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