Aug 29, 2015

William Smith: the Bodybuilder of Laredo

Before Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the bodybuilder a human face, there were two kinds of roles available for him: Italian sword-and-sandal, and American beach bunny, an object of ridicule, vain, silly, sexless.  How dare he try to transform his body into a work of art! Women's bodies were made to be looked at, men's to be ignored.  So bodybuilders who weren't playing beach narcissists had to keep their physiques under wraps.

William Smith worked to change all that.

Born in 1933, Smith graduated from UCLA magna cum laude, and was teaching Russian (one of several languages he spoke fluently), when he began modeling for Bob Mizner's Athletic Model Guild, which published  many other posing-strap-clad hunks (Gary Conway, Glen Corbett, Randy Jackson) for a mostly-gay male fanbase.  He was also a regular at Henry Willson's infamous gay-and-gay-friendly parties.

He was also acting intermittently, with roles in projects as diverse as Meet Me in St. Louis, The Boy with Green Hair, Wagon Train, and The Nutty Professor.  

When he signed on for Laredo (1965-67), he was already accustomed to presenting his body as an object of male and female desire.  It would not be one of the stereotypic Westerns of the period.

1. Other Western heroes were loners, or had unattractive, sexually unavailable sidekicks, but Laredo, like Alias Smith and Jones a few years later, was about buddy-bonding.  Two hunky Texas rangers, Chad Cooper (Peter Brown) and Joe Riley (William Smith), worked together, played together, and had eyes only for each other, in spite of Chad's occasional dalliance with the feminine.  The actors remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

2. Other Western heroes were often displayed nude or shirtless in movie magazines, but almost never on screen, especially if they were bodybuilders.  But Joe Riley had his shirt ripped off in practically every episode.  Usually when he was captured by the bad guys, to give him some vulnerability, so his massive physique wouldn't scare the audience.

After Laredo, Smith continued to work in Westerns (Daniel Boone, Death Valley Days, The Virginian) until the genre faded away in the 1970s, and then in cop shows and mysteries.  He had big hits in Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) as the villainous Falconetti, and in Conan the Barbarian (1982) as Conan's father.

His most recent project, Tiger Cage (2012), comes after nearly 300 movie and tv show appearances over a period of 70 years, not to mention producing, directing, bodybuilding, boxing, and even writing poetry.  But few of his accomplishments can match the simple power of demonstrating to the world that the male body can be a thing of beauty.

See also: Peter Brown, the Buddy-Bonding Cowboy.

What Happened to the Black Beefcake?

During the 1960s, there were only a few Black actors working on television, and they never, ever displayed their physiques, not even in teen magazines.

In the 1970s, I liked Mike Evans of The Jeffersons (1975-82) and John Amos of Good Times (1974-79) plus The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Roots -- not the obnoxious stand-out star, Jimmie Walker -- but they were fully clothed in every episode.

Even in the 1980s, The Cosby Show (1984-1992) kept both Malcolm Jamal Warner and Geoffrey Owens (left) under wraps.

What's Happening Now! (1985-88) displayed bodybuilder Haywood Nelson (center) only in a single "accidental male stripper" episode.

The 1990s wasn't much better. Silver Spoons (1982-87) never displayed muscular hunk Alfonso Ribeiro, and  The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990-1996) only twice -- once in a swimsuit, and again in another "accidental male stripper" episode. 

Family Matters (1989-99) gave Darius McCrary and "Urkel" Jaleel White one shirtless episode apiece.

Must be Hollywood racism:
1. The presumption that only white bodies are appropriate objects of desire.
2. Or that Black bodies are by definition undesirable.

Whatever the motive, Black beefcake is still rare on television.  And Asian beefcake, rarer still.

See also: The Top 10 Hunks of The Cosby Show.; The Truth about the Black Penis.

Aug 28, 2015

"I'm a Try Something, OK?": Picked Up by the Boy and His Dog

In Upstate New York, I used to run 4 miles from home to Wilbur Park, then down East Street to Maple, and home again.

One afternoon I was about halfway through the run, when I saw a young kid, a teenager at most, walking a pit bull nearly as big as he was.

I don't like running past dogs -- they sometimes get spooked and start barking.  But the kid was black, and I was afraid to cross the street for fear of being tagged racist.  So I persevered.

I heard growling, then "Janell, heel!  Stop that!"  Then the dog lunged forward and bit me on the butt.

"Janell, Janell, stop that!" the boy yelled, jerking the leash.

Grudgingly, growling, Janell the Pit Bull sat.

"Your monster dog just but me on the butt!" I exclaimed.

"I'm sorry, Mister. Janell's really a sweetheart. She just thought your behind was candy, and she want a taste."  He grinned at me with that unmistakable appreciation that sets off your gaydar.  I was in no mood for cruising, but I did notice that he was a twink, not a kid -- short, light skinned, solidly built, with dark brown eyes, a broad nose, and sensual lips.

  "You can pet her if you want.  My name's Malik."

I leaned down to pet Janell.  She growled softly.  "I'm Jeff.  And sweetheart or not, my butt hurts."

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.