Jun 30, 2016

Jimmy McNichol and the Gay Coach

Many gay teenagers in the late 1970s and early 1980s were more familiar with Jimmy McNichol's body than the bodies of their real-life friends.  They saw it more often, tanned and pleasantly muscular, splashed over dozens of pin-ups and photo spreads in teen magazines, and during his dozens of tv and movie appearances.

Born in 1961, Jimmy began acting as a child along with his sister Kristy.  But he didn't hit teen idol mania until the Eight is Enough clone The Fitzpatricks (1977-78).  It only lasted for 13 episodes, but teen magazines were ecstatic about his taciturn Irish Catholic teenager and his buddy bonds with Clark Brandon.  They got even more ecstatic over California Fever (1979), which lasted for only 10 episodes, but showed Jimmy and costar Lorenzo Lamas in swimsuits.

Jimmy may have had bad luck on tv series, but he gave well-received performances in Champions: A Love Story (1979), in which he falls in love with a girl and figure-skates in a revealing leotard, and in Blinded by the Light (1980), in which he is brainwashed by an evil cult and rescued by his sister.

In Night Warning (1982), he plays a shy, sensitive heterosexual teenager who is subjected to homophobic harassment by the evil sheriff  (in addition to being nearly smothered to death by his crazy aunt). And there is a positive portrayal of a gay person, the high school gym coach who is trying to help (and gets killed by the crazy aunt).

Then there was Escape from El Diablo (1983), also released as California Cowboys, which gave Jimmy a buddy-bond with Vincent Van Patten and a truckload of hot male friends, including John Wayne's son Ethan, trying to break him out of a Mexican prison. An added attraction for gay fans: Patricia Quinn, Magenta of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has a small role as Rosa.

Jimmy's teen idol star faded by the mid-1980s, in spite of his friendships with Hollywood hunks like Michael Damian and Byron Cherry.  I haven't been able to discover much about what he's doing today, except that he lives in Colorado and is involved with environmental activism.

See also: Peter MacNicol