Jul 28, 2012

James MacArthur's Fade Out Kiss



James MacArthur  had already made a cinematic splash in The Young Stranger (1957), in which his character overtly falls in love with a buddy, when Disney hired him as an Adventure Boy, one of the stable of young, muscular, attractive teens who would represent "the epitome of young masculinity" (others included Tommy Kirk, Kurt Russell, Tim Considine, Kevin Corcoran, and Jeff East), MacArthur played Disney Adventure Boys four times: in The Light in the Forest (1958), Third Man on the Mountain (1959), Kidnapped (1960), and Swiss Family Robinson (1960). Unfortunately, the Disney version always required him to kiss a girl, regardless of how alien girl-craziness was to the original story.


In Conrad Richter’s original novel Light in the Forest (1953), the white boy raised by Indians bonds with boys and rejects girls.  In the Disney version, there is only a subtle homoerotic subtext between True Son  (MacArthur) and his mentor Del Hardy (Fess Parker).  But the beefcake was stunning: True Son is shirtless almost every scene, his chest and shoulders embossed with a Technicolor glow. When he is tied to a stake, his face, painted black and white, melts into a stoic mask, but his bare chest remains bright.

All Disney Adventure moves must have a fade-out kiss, so scriptwriter Lawrence Edward Watkin dug through the novel to find a servant girl, mentioned fleetingly, and transformed her into the “love interest” Shenandoe (Carol Lynley). She teaches True Son how to dance, hold hands, and kiss.

He makes mistakes, at first: at a party, he finds a ring hidden in a piece of cake. He is supposed to present it to the one he loves best, so he gives it to Del Hardy. Del corrects him, “You don’t give it to a man. You give it to the girl you love the best.” True Son has learned that modern American adolescents must express heterosexual desire.

The movie concludes with True Son and Shenandoe kissing, as the music swells. The Light in the Forest, the meaning of life, has paradoxically switched from “the wild beloved freedom of the Indian” in the Richter novel into heterosexual love.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960) also combines beefcake and the fade-out kiss.  Both national treasure James MacArthur and nineteen-year-old Tommy Kirk are bare-chested and bronzed in nearly every scene.

But early on, Father and Mother Robinson worry that, if the family is stranded in their desert island Paradise forever, their sons will grow up without girls to ogle. Dad asks, “Don’t you sometimes feel this is the life we were meant to live?” Mom responds, “It’s wonderful now, but what about tomorrow? What about our sons? What future is there for them? They’d never know what it is like to be married. . .what it’s like to have a family”

The dearth of females precipitates the decision of Fritz (MacArthur) and Ernst (Kirk) to explore the other side of the island, where they become not chums but competitors: they encounter a puzzlingly sissy “boy,” Bertie, who turns out to be a girl, Roberta (Janet Munro).

There is a girl in the original novel, an “English cousin” that no one bothers to fall in love with, but in the Disney version Fritz and Ernst spend the rest of the movie posturing, flirting, and fist-fighting over her. Roberta is always talking about how she misses London, with its color and excitement, but at the end of the movie she refuses rescue, deciding to stay with Fritz and found a colony.

“Two people,” Roberta says, “if they have each other, what more could they want?” Fritz replies, “I guess. . .to be alone.” Then they kiss as Ernst grimaces.

Ernst goes off to Europe to be educated: Fritz, Bertie, and their heterosexual desire are necessary to bring American-style civilization to the tropics, and boy-pals are merely a hindrance.

After retiring from Disney, MacArthur became well-known as an adult actor, especially as Dano on the long-running tv series Hawaii Five-O.  But he rarely had any shirtless shots or homoerotic buddy-bonding.  When asked if he would be interested in doing a big-screen version of Hawai Five-O, he said "Not as Dano.  Maybe an old man ogling the girls on the beach."  He died in 2010.






Jul 27, 2012

The Clouds in "Little Miss Sunshine"



The comedy Little Miss Sunshine (2006) netted $100 million at the box office and was nominated for innumerable awards, including a Best Picture Oscar and a GLAAD Media Award.  

I found it creepy (little girls in a beauty pageant?  A dead body in the trunk?).  And heterosexist.

1. The gay character, Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), is witty and sophisticated, like "all gay men."  He is also depressed and suicidal, a throwback to the pre-Stonewall gay characters who always killed themselves.  He is a literary scholar who researches Proust, naturally.

2. Everybody believes that being gay is "too personal" to talk about openly.  In an early scene, Uncle Frank is sitting at the dinner table, discussing how he was dumped by his boyfriend. His sister and her husband keep interrupting, gesturing wildly, trying to get him to shut up, because his young niece, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is present! Though the family is apparently very close, Frank has never brought boyfriends over for dinner, never mentioned being gay in front of Olive. He is only alluding to gayness now because he is too morose to care. Otherwise he would no doubt agree that children must grow up thinking that everyone on Earth is avidly, obsessively, irreparably heterosexual.  

3. Everybody agrees that being gay is far inferior to being heterosexual.  When Olive finally discovers that Uncle Frank was in love with a boy, not a girl, she exclaims "That's silly!"  He agrees that it is.  Everyone should be heterosexual.

Jul 22, 2012

Donny Osmond

Another performer who made gay teenagers swoon was Donny Osmond.  Originally the rascally "cute kid" in the Osmond group, he began his solo career in 1971, while still a 13-year old soprano, with "Sweet and Innocent." A string of hit singles and albums followed, mostly covers of pop classics from the 1950s -- with a twist.  Donny -- or his managers -- eliminated pronouns and the refrain of "girl!" to ensure that the object of his devotion could be male or female, thus doubling the potential audience.

For instance, in his cover of the Four Preps’ “Big Man,” Donny tells a former lover that he once he felt like “a big man,” but now that they have broken up, he feels small -- “boy, you oughta see me now.”

 “Boy” can be an intensifier regardless of the person being addressed, but after hearing 10,000 songs with “girl!” as every other word, it called attention to itself, making it seem to me that Donny was actually addressing a boy.

Similarly, in “Sweet and Innocent,” Donny either gender-bends himself into a girl or openly alludes to a same-sex love:

Lots of boys are gracious, and lots of boys are true,
 But they can’t make me feel the way I do when I’m with you.

In other words, he has had many previous relationships with boys. They were “true,” they didn’t seek out other partners. But his current boyfriend is far superior.

The most evocate of Donny's  albums, A Time for Us (1973), omits heterosexual desire almost completely. In the titular “A Time for Us" (penned by gay-friendly Johnny Mathis), Donny asks his beloved to imagine a future when “dreams so long denied can flourish, as we unveil the love we now must hide.” Fifteen-year old boys and girls rarely hide their loves; they are busy hiring limos for the junior prom, while parents snap photos to place on the mantle, friends pat them on the back, and teachers beam with satisfaction. But a boy's love for a boy may well be a “dream denied.”

At least, that's how I understood it in 1973.

Donny never did any shirtless shots for the teen magazines, but he was dreamy, with thick hair, brown eyes, and a bright smile, and as he grew into adolescence and then adulthood, he filled out his sequined jumpsuits well.

During my sophomore year in high school, my friend Rita used God's Infallible Promise to "get" Donny as her future husband.

An expert at reinventing himself, he transitioned seamlessly to an adult performer who still packs in the crowds.  He's guest-starred on countless television programs, showcased in Vegas, and performed on Broadway. His Broadway show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which became a 1999 movie, gave audiences something they'd been dreaming of for 30 years: extensive views of Donny's physique.



Donny Osmond is a devout Mormon and staunch advocate of “family values”; but, unlike his younger brother Jimmy, he's not complicit with his church's condemnation of gay people.  He happily acknowledges that about half his fans are straight women and the other half gay men.