Jul 22, 2012

Donny Osmond

Another performer who made gay teenagers swoon was Donny Osmond.  Originally the rascally "cute kid" in the Osmond group, he began his solo career in 1971, while still a 13-year old soprano, with "Sweet and Innocent." A string of hit singles and albums followed, mostly covers of pop classics from the 1950s -- with a twist.  Donny -- or his managers -- eliminated pronouns and the refrain of "girl!" to ensure that the object of his devotion could be male or female, thus doubling the potential audience.

For instance, in his cover of the Four Preps’ “Big Man,” Donny tells a former lover that he once he felt like “a big man,” but now that they have broken up, he feels small -- “boy, you oughta see me now.”

 “Boy” can be an intensifier regardless of the person being addressed, but after hearing 10,000 songs with “girl!” as every other word, it called attention to itself, making it seem to me that Donny was actually addressing a boy.

Similarly, in “Sweet and Innocent,” Donny either gender-bends himself into a girl or openly alludes to a same-sex love:

Lots of boys are gracious, and lots of boys are true,
 But they can’t make me feel the way I do when I’m with you.

In other words, he has had many previous relationships with boys. They were “true,” they didn’t seek out other partners. But his current boyfriend is far superior.

The most evocate of Donny's  albums, A Time for Us (1973), omits heterosexual desire almost completely. In the titular “A Time for Us" (penned by gay-friendly Johnny Mathis), Donny asks his beloved to imagine a future when “dreams so long denied can flourish, as we unveil the love we now must hide.” Fifteen-year old boys and girls rarely hide their loves; they are busy hiring limos for the junior prom, while parents snap photos to place on the mantle, friends pat them on the back, and teachers beam with satisfaction. But a boy's love for a boy may well be a “dream denied.”

At least, that's how I understood it in 1973.

Donny never did any shirtless shots for the teen magazines, but he was dreamy, with thick hair, brown eyes, and a bright smile, and as he grew into adolescence and then adulthood, he filled out his sequined jumpsuits well.

During my sophomore year in high school, my friend Rita used God's Infallible Promise to "get" Donny as her future husband.

An expert at reinventing himself, he transitioned seamlessly to an adult performer who still packs in the crowds.  He's guest-starred on countless television programs, showcased in Vegas, and performed on Broadway. His Broadway show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which became a 1999 movie, gave audiences something they'd been dreaming of for 30 years: extensive views of Donny's physique.

Donny Osmond is a devout Mormon and staunch advocate of “family values”; but, unlike his younger brother Jimmy, he's not complicit with his church's condemnation of gay people.  He happily acknowledges that about half his fans are straight women and the other half gay men.

1 comment:

  1. Donny Osmond was, without doubt, my first love. He, along with David Cassidy, where my twin obsessions, the reasons I knew I was "liked" boys, not girls, when I was eight years old. I remember spending my whole Spring Break in 1971, glued to my transistor radio waiting for "Sweet and Innocent" to come on. (In the process I also fell in love with the Carly Simon song "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be", which is a about how awful same sex marriage is, and that people only marry because it is what is expected of them by a heterosexist society.) I am particularly fond of Donny's #1 hit "Go Away Little Girl", in which he asks a girl to leave him alone. "I know that your lips are sweet", he sings, "But our lips must never meet. I'm dating somebody else. I must be true." Notice that no gender is ever assigned to the "somebody else", but the person he is rejecting is definitely a girl. He does say that she's "hard to resist", but I took that to be just because she is so insistent. One last thing: Donny did do a few bathing suit pin-ups in the early part of his career, when he was a very skinny teenager, but by the time of The Donny and Marie Show they were a thing of the past.


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