Sep 14, 2012

Ike Eisenmann: Beefcake Summer

Ike Eisenmann has had a long career in acting, production, and voice work, but for gay boys growing up in the 1970s, he was famous for this scene:

Before 1978, he was a child actor, cute if a bit scruffy, doing guest roles on tv (Mannix, Gunsmoke, SWAT) and in tv-movies requiring country boys with Texas accents, mostly airing on After-School Specials.  He didn't quite make it as a Disney Adventure Boy, like Jeff East or Kurt Russell, but he appeared in a few Disney movies.

In Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), the 12 year old played Tony,  a gay-coded "kid with a secret"; he and his sister Tia (Kim Darby) are aliens.  Of the magical power variety: Tony is telekinetic, and Tia can open locked doors (useful if you've lost your key, or if you've been kidnapped).  They are trying to reach Witch Mountain to reunite with their people while an evil industrialist tries to capture them to make money from their powers.

Then came the sequel, Return from Witch Mountan (1978), with scenery-chomping Bette Davis as a new evil industrialist.  Except Tony is now 15, well into adolescence, and his lack of interest in girls is striking in an era of incessant teenage girl-craziness.  And if the gay-coding isn't enough, there is an extensive scene in which the shirtless, hypnotized Tony stands around with his small but firm muscles on display.  During the 1970s, shirtless shots were almost unheard of in Disney movies, but here it was, plain as day, for a good five minutes, with no plot justification whatsoever.

In the era before DVDs, some gay boys saw the movie five or six times, just so they could memorize that scene.

Ike has continued to act and do voice work. He had a memorable role as a racist teen who has a change of heart (and wore extra-tight jeans) on The Jeffersons (watch the complete episode here).   In 2009 he wrote and directed a tv series called The Chefsters, about people with names like Scrub B. Pots and Chefona Kitchens teaching proper nutrition.  But gay men who were children in the 1970s will always remember that bright spring day in March 1978.

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