Oct 18, 2012

Detective Adventurers of the 1980s

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a fad for sly, antiheroic, self-referential adventurers.  We saw them on BJ and the Bear, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I., Vegas, and even in science fiction like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Man-mountains like Stallone and Schwartzeneggar were not yet in style, so they had lean, muscular bodies, hairy chests, thick wind-blown 1970s hair, 1970s gold chains, and sometimes a moustache.  They mostly looked alike; I dare you to distinguish between Gil Gerard and Robert Ulrich at a distance.

They lived in glamorous locations like Hawaii and Las Vegas, had unlimited incomes, and solved crimes.  But unlike the suave gay couples of the early 1960s, they didn't come in pairs.  Indeed, the premises seemed deliberately designed to eliminate homoerotic buddy-bonding.    


Buck (Gil Gerard) of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-81) hung out with a woman, Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and a robot (who began every sentence with "Bleep..bleep..bleep").











Private detective Dan Tanna (Robert Ulrich) of Vega$ (1979-81) had a female assistant, Beatrice (Phyllis Davis).  His main client was casino owner Slick (Tony Curtis), but Slick was older and slightly seedy, and they never buddy-bonded.

Trucker BJ (Greg Evigan) of BJ and the Bear (1979-81) hung out with a chimpanzee.



Private detective Magnum (Tom Selleck) of Magnum, PI (1980-88) lived on an estate in Hawaii with the prissy, gay-coded  Higgins (John Hillerman).  But no subtext -- they hated each other.  He also had two buddies, TC (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick (Larry Manetti), but never expressed any particular fondness for either.

Jim Rockford (James Garner) was an exception, an antihero who lived in a ramshackle trailer.













 
Stunt man/bounty hunter Colt Seavers (Lee Majors) of The Fall Guy (1981-86) had an apprentice, Howie (former beefcake model Douglas Barr).  But the homoerotic potential was minimized by making Howie a comic relief character, and adding a stunt woman buddy, Jody (Heather Thomas), to the mix.

There was some beefcake, of course, but it was overwhelmed by the endless scenes of women with enormous breasts.

A couple of episodes involving homicidal drag queens (one tries to kill the British Prime Minister on Magnum, and on Vega$, she tries to kill her own "male side," however that would work).  Otherwise no gay characters.

It's no wonder that most gay teens watched Laverne and Shirley instead of Buck Rogers, Barney Miller instead of Magnum, and ran whenever Lee Majors came on the screen.

The actors have a spotty record concerning gay people.  Tom Selleck has been denouncing gay rumors, loudly and angrily, for 30 years.  Gil Gerard came out in support of Chick-Fil-A's homophobia. Lee Majors has been mostly silent, although he did play Grace's Dad on Will and Grace.