Nov 4, 2012
I never saw it, but during the early 1970s, I saw copies of the original Erich Segal novel in endless book bags, I heard Andy Williams singing the theme song every five minutes ("Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be?"), and I overheard random teenagers telling each other, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." It was awful.
Like Richard Gere, the New Sensitive Man was not shy about shirtless, underwear, and nude shots, giving us ample views of his smooth, lean chest and smooth, lean backside. But he was more about romance than eroticism.
And he was hard to watch. He set the Gay Rights Movement back twenty years with Partners (1982): to solve a series of murders of gay men, the heterosexual Sergeant Benson (Ryan O'Neal) and the closeted Officer Kerwin (John Hurt) go undercover as a couple. Benson tries to camp it up as much as possible to fit in with the flitty queens, but he keeps being overcome by disgust.
The homophobia doesn't end there. In Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987), Ryan plays a tough guy detective who trounces a gay villain.
Wild Rovers (1971), a buddy Western, pairs Ryan with William Holden for hugs, last minute rescues, and a tragic ending.
Barry Lyndon (1975) gives Barry (Ryan) a buddy-bonding friendship with professional gambler, the Chevalier de Baribari (Patrick Magee), with lots of hugs and French-style kissing (plus he stumbles upon two men having sex in a pond).
Ryan's career began to fade during the 1980s, as models of heterosexual masculinity moved in the direction of the man-mountain. But he's never been out of the public eye, in a life awash with scandals and tragedies. And, in spite of his heterosexism, he's always been a quiet supporter of gay rights.