Oct 14, 2012

From Blueboy to Holyoke


This is one of the iconic photos of the 1960s, nearly as famous as Graham Faulkner's bare bum in Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It displays the handsome, muscular 22-year old Michael Burns nude, barely hiding behind a towel.  It's from That Cold Day in the Park (1969): Michael's character is an innocent, possibly mute,  somewhat addled Boy taken in by the middle-aged, repressed Frances (Sandy Davis).  She provides food, shelter, nice clothes, whatever he needs, and he provides a coy eroticism.

When Frances' flirtation becomes too aggressive, the Boy leaves, returns to his hippie commune, and we discover that the innocent-addled bit was all an act. He often defrauds the establishment that way, acquiring free food and favors in return for displaying his body and feigning a willingness to have sex.









The Boy represented the desire and dread with which the adults approached the youth counterculture, but he also served as a metaphor for the game gay male teens must play: pretend to be interested in women, let them desire you, but pull back at the last moment. Always remember that your real desires, your real emotions, your real life lies elsewhere.



Born in 1947, Michael Burns was a very busy child actor, with starring roles as an orphan kid on Wagon Train (1960-65) and the kid brother on the overtly homoerotic It's a Man's World (1962-63), plus guest spots on about 30 Westerns, dramas, and comedies.













But other than That Cold Day in the Park, he was most famous for a 1967 episode of Dragnet, in which the deadpan detectives investigate a houseful of hippies who are using the "new drug menace, LSD," and going crazy.  Michael plays Blueboy, who has half of his face painted blue and screeches in paranoia before dying. Again, the desire and dread of the youth counterculture.











Michael retired from acting in 1977 to pursue an academic career.  He became a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, a specialist on the Dreyfuss Affair of 1890s France.