Sep 25, 2012

Kilroy Was Here



In the 1965 Disney miniseries Kilroy, 27-year old Warren Berlinger (who won acclaim for his role in Blue Denim with Brandon DeWilde) plays a  bright-eyed, square-jawed young man named Oscar Kilroy, fresh from the War (the producers are never sure whether it should be Vietnam, Korea, or World War II).  

By the way, if you google the movie, the first hit is a review from a white supremacist website, but ignore them; Kilroy is not at all racist.   

Oscar drops on on the Fuller family of small-town Wilton Junction, and explains that he is a close friend of their son Greg – close friends, inseparable, comrades de foxhole, sharing chocolate bars and letters from home and who knows what else?  Impressed by his fervor, the Fullers allow him to move into Greg’s old room, so he can await his buddy’s return with open arms.


Oscar swaggers down the street like a movie star, bigger, brighter, more colorful, more alive than anyone else, expecting attention, used to being an object of desire.  He sits with his legs spread wide in the John Wayne style, taking up as much space as possible; one expects him to rip his shirt off at any moment to demonstrate the bulge of his biceps. 

Soon a young blonde woman walks up the Fullers’ front steps: Gladys, a previously unmentioned daughter, returning from a long trip.  One expects malt shops, shy walks in the dark, and a Reason for Oscar to stay in Wilton Junction.  But upon meeting Gladys, Oscar manages no stunned attraction,.  He looks positively disgusted as he recites his line: “Hello. Greg told me a lot about you.”  The other actors look surprised and uncomfortable, as if wondering how they should play the scene.  They were evidently expecting something like: “Hel-loo!  Greg told me a lot about you!”  

When Gladys’ fiancĂ©, nerdish but cute Harvey (23-year old Tom Lowell), arrives, he stares awestricken, eyes wide with desire – at Oscar!  The two shake hands for so long that the camera pans away, while Harvey stammers nervously until he musters the courage to ask Oscar out on a date!  
When Gladys, whom he has not seen in months, descends the staircase, Harvey busses her cheek as if she is a favorite aunt, all the time still gazing longingly at Oscar.  




Miffed but not surprised – evidently Harvey flirts with men quite often – Gladys drags him out the front door.  He calls a final invitation at Oscar: “I hope you come over later . . . .”

We discover that, like many closeted gay men of the 1960’s, Harvey is living a double life.  In the dull daylight world, he works as a bank teller, saving up money so he can marry Gladys and “settle down.”  But after hours he descends to an underground workshop full of odd mechanical devices, flashing lights, and deep secrets. When Harvey comes over for dinner and ignores Gladys for Oscar, she has had enough; she breaks off the engagement.  Now we assume that, like a “good queer,” Oscar will help Harvey reconcile with Gladys, promoting heterosexual responsibility over the dark and dangerous possibilities of the nightworld.  But Harvey and Gladys stay broken up. 

 Oscar does not engineer a reconciliation. Instead, Oscar and Harvey form a new couple, meeting secretly in Harvey’s lab – to share what desires, we can only speculate.   Harvey quits his job at the bank to become a professional inventor, and Oscar decides to stay in town. The two go down to City Hall, not precisely to acquire a mtwo arriage certificate, but by this point who is quibbling?  A homoerotic bond has definitively triumphed over the strictures of heterosexual narration.

But the last episodes got a new director, Norman Tokar.  Harvey, Greg, and Gladys no longer exist; the Fullers appear for only a moment; and Wilton Junction is populated almost entirely by balding, paunchy, unattractive men, seemingly cast because they are unlikely targets for Oscar’s dazzling smile.  Oscar remains, but no longer as the cocky, self-confident, screen-filling con artist. 

 Now he is a bumbler, a Dagwood Bumstead who has traded in his dreams for a newspaper and couch, a George Jetson who is tyrannized by his boss and outwitted by his wife and kids.  Except Oscar has no wife, no kids, just a big, scruffy dog.   

Deferring same-sex desire into a safely non-sexual passion for animals is a standard film tactic, especially for Disney, but here it is abrupt and jarring.  Who mandated the deletion of any possibility of same-sex desire, the absence of Harvey, the exchange of a brilliant, potentially subversive supporting cast for a stable of conventionally heterosexist B-movie actors?  These are changes too abrupt to represent merely a new director’s take.  Someone noticed the same-sex desire intruding into the first two episodes, and decided to take no chances in removing it from the last two.  Disney himself, perhaps?