Jan 9, 2013

Lance Kerwin

Born in 1960, the sandy-haired, scruffy Lance Kerwin was very busy in the early 1970s playing in After School Specials and "problem of the week" tv moves such as The Loneliest Runner (about a teenager who still wets his bed), The Boy Who Drank Too Much (with Scott Baio) and The Death of Richie (with Robby Benson).

But gay kids took notice when his tv movie James at 15 (1977) began with an extended shot of the teenager getting up in the morning, wearing only white briefs (or maybe they were pajamas).

For the intro to the tv series (1977-79), he wore a t-shirt.  Still, James was a swimming champ, so there were ample swimsuit and locker room scenes to ameliorate the teen-angst plotlines.  Though James becomes the first television teen to openly have sex -- he beds a Swedish exchange student on his sixteenth birthday, whereupon the title of the series changes to James at 16 -- most of the plotlines involve buddy-bonding with his jive-talking best friend Sly.

Critics loved the "realistic depiction of modern high school life," a "welcome change from sitcom hijinks," but teenagers tuned in for the shirtless scenes and then switched the channel to Welcome Back, Kotter.  

After James, Lance starred in a few more teen-angst movies, as well as several movies featuring same-sex romance, including Salem's Lot (1979) and The Mysterious Stranger (1982), with Chris Makepeace.

His transition to adulthood was difficult.  After years of drug and alcohol abuse, arrests, and rehab, he became an evangelical Christian minister.  But that didn't end his problems; in 2010 he was placed on probation for falsifying documents to obtain food stamps.