Aug 31, 2012

One Life to Live

Gay boys in the 1960s hated soap operas -- there wouldn't be any same-sex plotlines for 30 years, so they were occupied entirely by the heterosexist "true love between a man and a woman" mantra.

And it would be 20 years before the shirts dropped and soap hunks were regularly put on display.

And they always made you feel guilty for wasting your time with opening shots that pointed out how little time we have on Earth:

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives."

Better get busy with something useful.

But in 1968 when my friends and I gathered at 3:00 every afternoon to watch Dark Shadows, we sometimes stayed put for the new soap opera One Life to Live.

I saw it enough to think that Dr. Larry Wolek (Michael Storm) filled out his 1970s hipster uniforms nicely, in spite of his plotline, which was both stupid and disturbing: he found "true love" with town heiress Meredith, though her father disapproved of the match.  Shortly after they married and she gave birth to twins, she was shot and killed by a burglar, and Larry moved on to a new "true love."

And I saw it enough to see Meredith's uptight sister Vicki developed a split personality, becoming the funloving Nikki.  While slumming, she hooked up with muscular truck driver Vinnie (Antony Ponzini), Larry's working-class brother (no class distinctions in Llanview).

But then Vicki was cured and decded to marry Vinnie's best friend, newspaper reporter Joe Riley (gay actor Lee Patterson who starred with Van Williams, left, in the homoerotic Surfside Six).  

How did this incessant, absurdly exaggerated search for heterosexist "true love" fade-out-kiss resonate with gay kids?

1. Every heterosexual relationship played out against a background of  same-sex relationships.  Larry and Vinnie discuss their desires for Meredith and Nikki, respectively.  Vinnie and Joe discuss their desires for Nikki and Vicki, respectively.

2. Heterosexual relationships are doomed.  In a week, or a month, or a couple of years, your "true love" will die or fall in love with someone else.  But same-sex bonds are permanent.

We stopped watching in 1971, when Dark Shadows ended.  But my mother remained a fan until the series ended in 2012, through 30 years of diseases, infidelities, and fade-out-kisses, and, eventually, when Dan Gauthier joined the cast, gay subtexts.