Dec 31, 2012

La Gran Aventura: Two Boys, a Boxer, and a Bull

Speaking of Nino del Arco, he was an accomplished child star in Mexico before he starred in Kaliman, but I've seen only one of his movies, La gran aventura (1969), on Telemundo during the 1980s (about the same time that I was watching Santo, Los Beltran, and  Papa soltero).

The plot: the effervescent Jacky (Julian Bravo, left) agrees to help the timid Pepe (Nino) search for his lost dog.

On the way they have many picaresque adventures, including run-ins with a bull and gangsters.  Meanwhile their parents are frantically searching for them.

Unfortunately, I was 15 years too late.  If I had seen it as a preteen in the 1960s, the significant beefcake and bonding would have rivaled that of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, transforming Mexico into a "good place."

1. Beefcake: there are many shirtless shots of rather muscular Jacky, and a skinny-dipping scene involving both boys.

2. Bonding: Jacky meets Pepe as a stranger and displays a remarkable interest in him, aggressively courting him, running head-first into danger to protect him.  In the end they decide to stay together forever.

Julian Bravo remains popular in Mexico, starring in a variety of films, from the religious (First Communion) to the not religious (The Difficult Life of an Easy Woman).  Most recently he was featured as Guillermo on the telenovela Salome.  Nino del Arco retired during his adolescence, and now works as a lawyer in Madrid.

Fall 1979: A Roland for an Oliver: Gay Medieval Lovers

The old expression "A Roland for an Oliver" means that you're equally matched (for instance, these brothers can both bench press exactly 320 pounds each).

It's derived from the Medieval gay lovers that I first read about in The Young Folks' Shelf of Books during my early childhood.

I heard about them again in college, when my French Literature class was assigned a modern version of the 12th century Song of Roland, the national epic of France.

During the siege of Viana, Emperor Charlemagne agreed to let the outcome rest on single combat between two champions.  He sent his nephew, the bold, heavily-muscled Roland, the Prince Valiant of France.  Count Gerard of Viana sent his grandson, the handsome, quick-witted Oliver (or Olivier).  Their talents were complementary; they were perfectly matched.

As they fought, an angel appeared, separated them, and bade them become friends (the same thing happened to Simon and Milo a few generations later).

They spent the rest of their lives together, fighting side by side, and their love, with its divine mandate, was acclaimed in every corner of Charlemagne's Empire.

Then the Saracens began wending their way through Basque country,  If they entered France through the pass at Roncevaux, they would take all of Europe.  Charlemagne and his troops tried to stop them.  In the heat of battle, Oliver was killed, and the distraught Roland cried:

So many days and years gone by
We lived together.
Since thou art dead, to live is pain.

Then he died as well.

I didn't bother to point out the homoromance to my French professor, who no doubt would have insisted that Roland, like Aschenbach in Death in Venice wasn't Wearing a Sign.  He was betrothed to Oliver's sister, after all, and in the Italian epic Orlando Furioso, he falls in love with a woman (and flies to the moon).

The 1978 movie version of La Chanson de Roland gives Roland (Klaus Kinski) an overwhelming hetero-passion.  Oliver (Pierre Clementi, left) looks on with an unacknowledged, unrequited love.

Dec 29, 2012

UFO: the Shirtless SHADO Warriors

Before books like Whitley Strieber's Communion (1985) and Budd Hopkins' Missing Time (1988) popularized the idea of aliens grabbing people from their beds to perform scientific experiments on, the  tv series UFO (1970-71), part of the 1970s British invasion (The Prisoner, The Tomorrow People, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), had a similar premise: in the near future, the worlds' governments become aware that aliens are abducting people to harvest their organs.  They set up the secret organization SHADO to combat them from a fake movie studio, a submarine, and a base on the Moon.

Oddly, everyone at SHADO headquarters, men and women both, wear see-through shirts, so there was a huge amount of beefcake for a science-fiction series.

At first the protagonist was former American astronaut Edward Straker (Ed Bishop).  In the second episode, lone wolf British test pilot Paul Foster (Michael Billington) witnesses a SHADO operation, and is given the choice of signing up or being killed.  Foster decided to join, and Michael Billington soon became the standout star, and a favorite of teen magazines.

In the third episode, Foster is brainwashed by the aliens into attempting to kill Straker.  Later Foster is captured by the aliens, and Straker has to come to the rescue.  The grudging love-hate relationship continued  through the series, and provided fodder for many slash fiction stories.

Only 26 episodes were aired, but there were two novels, comics, toys, action figures, a board game, and eventually a video game. And from 1975 to 1977, the same universe was used for Space: 1999, in which the Moonbase (and the moon with it) is swept away from the Earth's orbit for interstellar adventure.

Later Michael Billington played two-fisted heroes on many British tv series (The Onedin Line, Spearhead, The Collectors) and attended innumerable fan conventions.  He never married. He died in 2005, five days before his UFO costar Ed Bishop.

Dec 28, 2012

Spring 1980: Blood Brothers in German Class: Bravo Magazine

In college, my Second Year German class (1979-80) didn't offer the wealth of adventure boys with boyfriends (Tintin, Spirou, Corentin), nor the buffed Kaliman or the teen pop sensation of Menudo, but Dr. Kraus had a stash of back issues of the  teen magazine Bravo.  It was more risque than its American counterparts, with articles on sex (only heterosexual sex) and nude photos of teen models (both male and female).  She assured us that nudity was commonplace in Deutschland.

 The cover stories were mostly the expected Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, and John Travolta, but there were some surprises.Who was this Tashunke, the young, buffed, shirtless friend of the Indian Winnetou? Some digging (and careful translation) revealed a miniseries, Mein Freund Winnetou (1980), and a series of novels by Karl May about homoerotic "blood brothers" in the Old West.

Muscles for Siegfried!  The blond muscleman Uwe Beyer became completely nude to play the Medieval hero Siegfried fighting the dragon (we watched the 1966 movie in German class).

Roy Black was a schlager singer, specializing in soft, sentimental ballads, like Heintje.   He also starred in some lighthearted anti-establishment comedies, such as Always Trouble with the Teachers (1968) and Our Doctor is the Best (1970).

Hans Jurgen Baumler was an Olympic silver-medalist in figure skating.  He also recorded some schlager songs and appeared on tv, notably on the bulge-heavy Salto Mortale (1969-72), about a family of trapeze artists.

In my junior year, I got Death in Venice

Dec 26, 2012

Fall 1979: The Northern Thing: German Gods, Heroes, and Dragons

During my sophomore year at Augustana College, I spent a quarter abroad in Regensburg, Germany, and registered for a class in German Myths and Legends, mainly because my other choices were  The Political Economy of Modern Germany and German History since 1945.  I was skeptical. Ancient Greece, India, and the Pacific were tropical, tailor-made for revealing togas or loincloths, but surely there would be minimal beefcake and even less bonding among the Medieval Germans.

In fact, there was a lot of beefcake.  When Siegfried sets out to slay the dragon Fafnir in The Nibelungenlied, he traditionally strips down to his bare skin, as Uwe Beyer does in this 1966 version that we watched in German class (bodybuilder Samson Burke does not strip down).

In 2011, Charles S. Stewart crafted this nude figurine based on an old art deco design.

But no bonding, unless you count triangulations:

The Nibelungenlied feature soap-opera love triangles between Siegfried, his wife Gudrun, and his true love Brunhilde.  Meanwhile, Alberich the Dwarf tries to woo the Rhine Maids, but they reject him,so he steals their gold.

Tristan und Isolde is about the love triangle between the Knight Tristan, King Marke, and Isolde.

Dec 25, 2012

Tales of Boys and Men: Robert Louis Stevenson

Strangely, I always associate Christmas Day with boredom.  Opening and playing with your presents takes about an hour, Christmas dinner takes another hour, leaving fourteen hours to sit around the house, with no school, friends incommunicado, bad weather outside, and nothing on tv.

Time to break out your stash of Robert Louis Stevenson books. 

The Scottish novelist (1850-1894) is  relegated to the junior high classroom nowadays, probably because his works aren't usually heterosexist.

His two main subtext novels both involve bonds between teenage boys and adult men:

Treasure Island (1883), an adventure with pirates and buried treasure in the South Seas, originally serialized in the magazine Young Folks, deliberately written with "no women in it."  No heterosexual imaginings, but young Jim Hawkins develops a grudging friendship with Long John Silver.

My favorite version was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

 In every generation, the current Hollywood It-boy seems to get a chance to play Jim Hawkins: Jackie Cooper (1934), Bobby Driscoll (1950, left), Kim Burfield (1972), Christian Bale (1990, above), and Kevin Zegers (1999).

Kidnapped (1886): David Balfour, tricked out of his inheritance by a villainous uncle, travels the rough Scottish Highlands, where he is rescued by and buddy-bonds with the rogueish Alan Breck. Again, "no women in it." 

David has been played by Freddie Bartholomew (1938), James MacArthur (1960), Lawrence Douglas (1971), Brian McCardie (1995), and Anthony Pearson (2005).  Some versions give him a girlfriend.

This photo is actually from The Light in the Forest, but I couldn't resist including a shirtless shot of James MacArthur.

A statue commemorating David and Alan Breck has been erected in Edinburgh.

Some scholars also find a subtext in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), but I didn't see one.

The Black Arrow (1888) was a heterosexual romance, but The Master of Ballantrae (1889) is about two brothers, James Durie and his brother Harry, on opposite sites of the Jacobite Rebellion.  There's some heterosexual romance, but the emphasis is on the enmity between the two brothers melting into love. They die the same hour, and are buried under the same stone.

Bisexual Errol Flynn (left) starred in a famous 1953 version.

So, was Robert Louis Stevenson gay? According to his biography, Myself and the Other Fellow, by Claire Harmon, no, but he appreciated homoerotic desire, and he enjoyed the attention of the many gay men who were drawn to him.    

Dec 24, 2012

The Gay South Pacific

I identified India and Australia as "good places" from tv, but the Pacific came from books, which imagined a vast ocean studded by islands, some uninhabited, some inhabited by cannibals and headhunters, some inhabited by muscular men who wore only loincloths and fell in love with each other.

Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe, about a a man who is shipwrecked (actually off the coast of Brazil) and lives for many years with his native companion, Friday.  The subtext is obvious.

I had three or four juvenile versions.  My favorite was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.  The only movie versions during my childhood were Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which transports them into space, and Robby (1968), which makes them about ten years old.  And nude.

Call it Courage (1940), by Armstrong Sperry, about a boy named Mafatu (played by Evan Temarii in the 1973 movie), who is afraid of the sea, so he sets out on his own in an outrigger canoe, get shipwrecked, fights cannibals, and returns home a man.

No gay subtext, but the boy was bronze and hard-bodied, a perfect fantasy boyfriend for a preteen.

Kon-Tiki and The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl.

Island Boy, by Robert R. Harry (1957), about another bronze, hard-bodied boy who grows up to be king, without falling in love with any girls along the way.

There were some tv shows and movies, too: Gilligan's Island, where Gilligan and the Skipper share hammocks; Danger Island, where Jan-Michael Vincent met his first boyfriends; Jules Verne's Mysterious Island; South Pacific where beefy men hang all over each other while ironically singing "There's nothing like a dame."

Not a lot of toys, but I did manage to find this hula boy bobbler that sat by my bedside.  He didn't look Hawaiian, but he had six-pack abs and a nice chest.

In college I read Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851), about an American whaler named Ishmael who finds a bond deeper than marriage  with the gigantic, muscular  "savage" Polynesian, Queequeg.  The professor neglected to mention the gay subtext, but I found it.

And after I moved to Los Angeles, I found this edition of Cruising the South Seas (1987), a collection originally published by gay author Charles Warren Stoddard in 1905. They were remarkably open for 1905, and even for 1987, touching expressions of love between Europeans and Polynesians.

Dec 23, 2012

Axl in Underwear: Raising Hope/The Middle

I hate to be one of those guys who complain that "things were much better in my day."  But just look at muscle on network television 30 years ago, in 1982-83:

Programs to watch for the beefcake: Voyagers (Jon-Erik Hexum), Chips (Erik Estrada), Trapper John MD (Gregory Harrison), Taxi (Tony Danza), The Dukes of Hazard (John Schneider and Tom Wopat), Fame (lots)

Programs to watch for the teen idols: Alice (Philip McKeon), Family Ties (Michael J. Fox), Happy Days (Billy Warlock), One Day at a Time (lots).

And in 2012-13, just three.

1. Suburgatory.

2. Raising Hope, about the buffed but nerdy Jimmy (Lucas Neff) raising his infant daughter in an unspecified Southern city. He lives with his working-class parents and senile great-grandmother (played by comedy legend Cloris Leachman).

Although buffed, Jimmy rarely appears shirtless on screen, lest his muscles detract from his nerdiness.

Cousin Mike (Skyler Stone), who my friend David claimed to have hooked up with, appeared in four episodes, usually in his undewear.

His dad, Burt (Garret Dillahunt), works as a pool cleaner and landscaper.  He offers more shirtless and underwear shots.

3. The Middle, about a working-class family in Middle America, whose teenage son Axl (Charlie McDermott) somehow manages to make surly and self-possessed endearing.  Though his preference for lounging around in his underwear is presented as slovenly rather than hot, his physique has garnered him a huge fanbase among gay boys and straight girls.

Hollywood believes that all gay people are affluent lawyers living in New York or Los Angeles, so of course there are no gay people in either of these programs, but they appear in allusions:

On Raising Hope, Jimmy's boss mentions that he grew up with two moms.

On The Middle, Axl's sister Sue has a flamboyantly feminine "boyfriend" that has her parents exchanging worried looks (but no one ever says the word, and Sue remains oblivious).

However, the knowing subtexts are frequent.

On Raising Hope, Burt shows off his physique to get tips from both male and female customers.

On The Middle, Axl's friends, played by John Gammon and Beau Wirrick, are muscular jocks, and rather obviously into each other.  They even dance together at a wedding.

See also: Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of "The Middle" and  Why No Gay People in "The Middle"?

Dec 22, 2012

Gay Teens in Deep Space: Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid in the 1960s, juvenile science fiction was great, all about boys falling in love as they fled from the tripods or zapped through the solar system.  But then I became a teenager and started reading science fiction for grown ups, which was -- and still is -- heterosexist, mostly about men and women falling in love:

A. E. Van Vogt, Two Hundred Million A.D. (1943): L Onee was waiting. Together they closed and sealed the door. Together, they went up out of the darkness into the light.

Raymond Jones, Man of Two Worlds (1951): "I want to marry you] more than anything else in the world,” Elta said. She drew close and laid her head against his shoulder.

Michael Moorcock, The Wrecks of Time (1966): She winked at him. He grinned and winked back. They walked into the house.

John Brunner, Interstellar Empire (1976): She came down the steps to Ordovic, and put her arm around his waist, smiling.

R. M. Meluch, Wind Dancers (1981): “ Shall we go to bed together, get drunk, or start a fight in a bar?"  Roxanne hooked his arms. "One of those.‟”

But then at a garage sale in the mid-1970s, I stumbled upon two books about muscular boys bonding as they explored the Indian Ocean.  By Arthur C. Clarke, whom I knew as the inspiration for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Surely his science fiction would not be obsessed with feminine smiles.

So I began reading.  And kept reading.

The Sands of Mars (1951), A Fall of Moondust (1961), Imperial Earth (1975): no heterosexual romance.

Against the Fall of Night (1948): Alvin is a teenager living in the distant future city of Diaspar.  He becomes the first person to leave the city in countless milennia, explores the savage world outside, and buddy-bonds with a boy named Theoron.  At the end he decides to take a spaceship and explore the stars, and Theoron goes with him.

When Clarke revised the novel into The City and the Stars (1956), he gave Alvin a girlfriend in Diaspar, like the Hardy Boys have girlfriends in regular time, but she is completely forgotten once he begins the adventure.

Childhood's End (1953): Galactic overlords land on Earth and transform all of the children into a new, advanced species, another entry into the "threatening gay kid" genre.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): a homoromantic idyll with two astronauts, Dave and Francis (played by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in the movie) jetting out toward Jupiter in the Discovery One, until the computer Hal gets jealous.

Arthur C. Clarke was well known in the science fiction community as gay, although he never came out publicly (when asked by a reporter, he always gave a coy response like "Why? What have you heard?").

In 1956 he moved to Sri Lanka, which being gay was legal  (Britain didn't decriminalize homosexuality until 1957).  He stayed there until his death in 2008.

Dec 21, 2012

Spotting Celebrities: Merritt Butrick

Someone asked for a complete list of all the celebrities I met in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1990.

It depends on who counts as a celebrity.  A lot of my friends in L.A. had done something, Teen #2 on Family Ties or Party Guest #1 in The Coca Cola Kid. 

And what counts as "met."  I saw Don Grady at Gay Pride, became a "bookstore friend" of Richard Dreyfuss, bought a love seat from Cesar Romero, worked out in the same gym as Max Gail, had lunch with Michael J. Fox, and talked to Nate Richert at the Gold Coast without realizing who he was.   Does that count?

But several celebrities made a lasting impression.  We dated, or they dated my friends, or we ran into each other a lot, or maybe we just walked together for a mile or so at an AIDS Walk.  We found points of common interest.  They became people, not just images on a screen.

I met Merritt Butrick in 1988, when he was playing a muscular hustler who wreaks havoc on an older man's life in the theatrical play Kingfish.

I didn't know at the time that Merritt was famous as gay-vague slacker Johnny Slash on the high school sitcom Square Pegs (1982-83).

And as Captain Kirk's son David in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1986). Or that he had a vast range of tv and movie roles, from cowboy to vampire.

I had  never seen any of them (I still haven't).  But I knew that Merritt was quiet, intelligent, driven, serious about his craft.  And that he wouldn't have time to reach his star potential.

He died on March 17th, 1989, of AIDS-related pneumonia.

Dec 20, 2012

River Phoenix: Running on Empty

River Phoenix died on Halloween night, 1993, at the Viper Room, a Sunset Boulevard hotspot a few blocks north of my apartment in West Hollywood.  19 years have passed, but he remains a gay icon.

Though he had been performing for several years, including a starring role in a tv version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982), he first drew the attention of gay fans at the age of 14, in Explorers (1985), as the buddy of a boy (Ethan Hawke) who finds an alien spaceship.

After the heterosexist "coming of age" movie Stand by Me (1986), River starred in The Mosquito Coast (1986), as the son of an eccentric inventor (Harrison Ford of Star Wars).  There he moved perceptibly from child star to teen idol, revealing a smooth muscular chest and abs.

Most teen idol vehicles are fluffy, lightweight, feel-good concoctions, but aside from the teen sex comedy A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988), River's movies were serious, even dark.  His characters in Little Nikita (1988), Running on Empty (1988), and I Love You to Death (1988) rarely smiled; they were in pain; they were searching, exhausted from searching, "running on empty."

And they ached with desire.  Like fellow teen idol Brad Renfro, like Leif Garrett a decade before, River Phoenix imbued every relationship with a unstated but intensely erotic desire.  Unvariegated, sometimes for women, sometimes for men, usually older men. Twice for Dermot Mulroney (in Silent Tongue and This Thing Called Love). 

Even his frequent shirtless and semi-nude scenes presented him more as someone aching with loneliness rather than as an object of desire.  He gazes at the camera, confused, wondering who is out there looking at him, asking, with Allen Ginsberg, "Are you my angel?"

Twenty years ago, the only gay teenagers in the movies were bisexual hustlers who abandoned their "gay lifestyle" for a girl (such as Jonathan Taylor Thomas in Speedway Junkie and Lukas Haas in Johns), but in My Own Private Idaho (1991), Mike (River) is gay, going with women only when necessary for his job, and he falls in love with an unresponsive straight hustler (Keanu Reeves). 

River enjoyed being an object of desire for both men and women, and he desired both men and women.  He had girlfriends and boyfriends throughout his life.  The rumor mill paired him with nearly every actor rumored to be gay at the time, including Keanu Reeves, Leonardo DiCaprio, and talk show host Merv Griffin.  Many of the twinks I knew claimed to have been with him.  Maybe some of them were telling the truth.

 But it wasn't his male partners that made River Phoenix a gay icon.  It was his combination of sexual knowledge and vulnerability, his neverending search not only for sex but for love.

See also: I Was Betrayed by Keanu Reeves.

Dec 19, 2012

Jonny Quest Gets a Girlfriend

An adventure series with distinctively realistic animation,Jonny Quest first appeared on prime time in 1965-65, and then on Saturday morning through the 1970s. Renowned scientist Dr. Benton Quest (Don Messick), with a reddish-brown beard and a white lab coat, and his white-haired, hard-muscled boyfriend Race Bannon, investigate weird mysteries in the Andes, the Artic, the Sargasso Sea, or most commonly in steamy jungles full of dragon-like lizards and headhunters.

 Tagging along, either to figure out the mystery or get abducted by bad guys, are Dr. Quest’s 11-year old son, Jonny (Tim Matheson) and his companion Hadji (Danny Bravo), who met them in Calcutta and then tagged along for no logical reason except that he rather liked Jonny.

Dr. Quest and Race Bannon were quite obviously gay partners, as modern "parodies" on the Cartoon Network have recognized. Neither displayed the slightest interest in women.

 Race was often drawn in a swimsuit so his massive muscles were visible.  Here he stains himself with purple berry juice to convince the savage Po-Po Indians that he is a god.

But I was more interested in Jonny and Hadji. Jonny, blond in a tough guy’s black turtleneck, rushes double-fisted into danger, while Hadji, slim and brown with petite hands, wearing a turban with a ruby in it all the time (even when swimming), is skittish and emotional, shouting “Be careful!” from the sidelines as he waits for an opportunity to assist with his mystical arts.

Hadji, by the way, was just one in a line of South Asian boy-adventurers such as Sabu, Kim in the Corentin series, Gunga Andy's Gangand Raji on  Maya .We see in him the feminization of the Colonial Other as dark, mysterious, intuitive, and sensual, and a none-too-subtle masculine-feminine dynamic in his interaction with Jonny. The intensity, physicality, and sheer heat of their interactions make them seem more lovers than foster brothers.  At playtime nobody wanted to be Hadji, but everyone wanted to rescue him from bad guys and carry him off in their arms. 

The comic book series wasn't successful, but there were novelizations, toys, and games, including a record, a version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In 1996, a new series appeared, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.  Jonny and Hadji were now teenagers, considerably more buffed than in the original series.  Unfortunately, to address the strong homoerotic subtext of the original, they were heterosexualized.  Dr. Quest got a wife.  Race Bannon got a daughter, Jessie, who became Jonny's girlfriend.

No word on whether Hadji resented being replaced.

See also: The Venture Brothers.


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