I never liked Bill Murray. When he first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1977, I was still somewhat homophobic, and I found his flamboyantly feminine manner and Castro Clone outfits disquieting. Though I was out by 1979, my initial disquiet remained, so when my brother recommended Meatballs (1979), I said "No way!" But then he made a cryptic comment: "It's the kind of move you'll like."
Bill Murray played hetero-horny summer camp counselor Tripper Harrison, who leads the boys in his care on panty raids at girl’s camp across the lake, and meanwhile romances female counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch). Heterosexual desire is assumed the goal of every journey and the motivation for every action; an Internet Movie Database reviewer writes that it is about: “teens and young adults living their summer with no concerns other than guys hooking up with girls and girls hooking up with guys.” Even in his pep talk to the track team, Tripper presumes that the only reason boys participate in sports is to get girls:
Even if we win, if we win, hah!. . .It just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk [the rival camp] because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or if we lose. It just doesn’t matter!
Director Ivan Reitman got his start with the sleaze-fests Foxy Ladies (1971) and Cannibal Girls (1973), and went on to produce Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), films that manage to defuse the erotic potential of man-mountains Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone by making them comedy dupes. Could we expect even a moment of love to intrude into Meatballs?
But then there was Rudy.
Chris Makepeace, a fifteen-year old Montreal native with dark blue eyes, pale soft skin, and oddly red lips, plays the shy and feminine Rudy, who falls in love with the boisterous Tripper. In an early scene, Rudy notes that Tripper jogs past his cabin every morning, so he conspires to jog himself and arrange an “accidental” meeting. Though oblivious to the romantic signals -- or pretending to be to avoid having to tell the boy "sorry, not interested" -- Tripper accepts Rudy’s friendship with panache, and even adopts him as a special project, coaching him to become star of the camp track team.
Oddly, Tripper never tries to force heterosexual desire upon Rudy, never asks what girl he would care to sleep with or invites him on a panty raid. Perhaps on some level, everyone concerned with the film knew that it would do violence to the character of Rudy to make him abandon his sweetly romantic attraction to Tripper and fixate on some girl.
Chris Makepeace went on to play many other characters informed by same sex desire; he fell in love with high school bully Adam Baldwin in My Bodyguard (1980), sleaze-teen Lance Kerwin in The Mysterious Stranger (1982), and a young Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters (1982), before settling down to the more heteronormative Captive Hearts (1987) and Aloha Summer (1988).
More recently, in Synapse (1996), he played a man who gets his brain transplanted into a woman’s body, allowing him both gender-bending and nudity. To the best of my knowledge, he has never married.