Aug 10, 2012

Richie Rich Joins a Gym

Richie Rich, an impossibly wealthy kid about twelve years old, was a mainstay of Harvey Comics from his first introduction in 1953 until the company folded in 1982.   By the 1970s, he was starring in over fifty titles, far more than all of the other Harvey characters put together, in stories ranging from humor to romance to paranormal mystery to James Bond-style espionage  So many thousands of stories required a huge supporting cast, so Richie quickly got a girlfriend, some boy pals from the wrong side of the tracks, a mischievous cousin, a debutante with a crush on him, and so on.

I never cared much for Richie Rich, preferring the more magical adventures of Casper the Friendly Ghost , Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, and Hot Stuff the Little Devil.  But I did notice two things that happened to Richie during the mid-1970s, when I was in high school.

1. Richie gets a new boy pal, a young comedian named Jackie Jokers, who likes him.  A lot.  Holding hands during the crisis, hugging when the crisis is averted, stammering "If anything were to happen to you....".  In one story, he makes his romantic intentions very clear: "If you weren't always wearing that silly red bowtie, I'd marry you."

2. Previously Richie had been drawn as a pudgy kid in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit.  When depicted in swimsuit or shirtless shots, his body was nondescript:

But, just as the homoromantic subtext began, Richie grew some biceps, pecs, and abs.  He had almost as many preteen muscles as Tommy Norden on Flipper.

Coincidence?  Or a way to draw the avid interest of pubescent gay boys, some thirty years before Kevin Keller became the first official gay character in kids' comics?

Aug 9, 2012

That Girl: Will and Grace for the 1960s

Why did That Girl (1966-71) made my childhood list of tv programs “good beyond hope"? The tale of Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas), madcap wannabe actress on the loose in a bright, effervescent New York City, had  some beefcake -- hunky guest stars and Don Hollinger (Ted Bessell) in extra-revealing 1960s pants.  But there were no same-sex plotlines, no same-sex romances. It's about a boy and a girl.

But still, Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell were both gay allies.  Ted previously costarred with gay actor Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle and bisexual Glenn Corbett on  It's a Man's World.  Today Marlo Thomas writes a column on gay and women's history for The Huffington Post.

And they do not portray Don and Ann as in love. Indeed, they rarely even kiss. Instead, depictions of their evenings together often fade out with Don wisecracking and Ann laughing, like warm and caring friends enjoying each other’s company (in the third season, ABC helpfully added a kissing scene to the closing credits, to remind us that they were to be taken as a romantic couple).

Instead, they often treated the romantic reading of their relationship as a joke: in “The Good Skate” (September 1967), when Don presents Ann with a small jewelry box, she concludes that it contains an engagement ring and gapes in horror: she doesn’t want to get married. But it really contains a skate key. Surely most lovers would consider such a joke rather cruel, but Ann laughs it off as mischievous fun.

ABC wanted the couple to marry in the last episode, but they refused. The series ended with Ann and Don trapped in an elevator en route to a Women’s Liberation meeting. Two decades later, when Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell discussed a reunion movie, they agreed that Ann and Don had remained close friends, but never married.

They wanted fans to be free to explore their own feelings, instead of believing that their destiny necessarily lay in a cookie-cutter, assembly-line heterosexual romance. She and Bessell took pains, therefore, to ensure that their characters could be read in any of the many ways that women and men might approach each other as equals: perhaps as romantic partners, but perhaps as friends. In that last category it is easy to read Don as a gay man.

Aug 8, 2012

Run, Buddy, Run

There were a few tv programs in the 1960s that I couldn't bear to miss, that I thought were "good beyond hope": That Girl, Maya, Dark Shadows.   Revisiting them after 40 years, it's sometimes hard to figure out why.  But the appeal of Run, Buddy, Run (1966-67) is obvious.

The plot was ok: mild-mannered nebbish learns a terrible secret about organized crime, and must run from the baddies who want him dead.

But said nebbish, Buddy Overstreet, played by Jack Sheldon, was very cute, hirsute, and muscular, and couldn't keep his clothes on.  In every episode, the writers found some reason show him shirtless or in his underwear.  He's in a steam room, in bed, at the beach. His shirt gets ripped off when he tries to flee. Or there is no reason; he's just shirtless.

Head gangster Mr. D, played by Bruce Gordon, had a passion for shirtless muscle-bear shots also.

This is an extremely rare phenomenon in 1960's sitcoms.  You never saw Donald Hollinger, Darren Stevens, or Major Healey in their underwear.

Jack Sheldon has appeared in some other tv series, including a starring role in The Girl with Something Extra. He was the voice of "The Bill" on Schoolhouse Rock (1975), a bit which has been parodied on both The Simpsons and Family Guy.  But he is primarily a a jazz musician -- trumpeter and vocalist -- who has worked with every great in the business, from Dizzy Gillespie to Lena Horne. He is apparently heterosexual, with a wife and four kids, but he was certainly a gay icon in 1966.

Big Jim's Pool Party

For Christmas in 1972, Mattel offered gay boys their own male stripper doll:

Big Jim was supposedly a secret agent of some kind -- he had various spy outfits -- but it was a lot more fun to pose him in his pink underwear and watch his biceps bulge.   If you were lucky enough to get his friends, Big Jack (black), Big Josh (bear), and Big Jeff (twink), you could host a pool party, or else have the evil Dr. Steel tie them up in pairs and force them to kiss.

I don't know what the straight boys were supposed to do with them

Aug 7, 2012

Stephen Parr and the Robot

During the fall of 1977, Saturday morning tv featured several live-action programs, including Skatebirds, an anthology series that ripped off The Banana Splits from a decade before.  It didn't last long, but one of its live-action segments, Mystery Island (note: not Mysterious Island) was noteworthy for two reasons.

1. It recycled the famous Lost in Space robot.

2. The mega-muscular Stephen Parr spent most episodes with his shirt off.

There's not much else to find out about Stephen Parr. He worked as a model (naturally). Beginning in 1975, he had guest shots on lots of tv series, from Barnaby Jones to Cheers, and had a brief starring role on All My Children.  According to the Internet Movie Database, he last worked in television in 1993. I don't know what he's doing now. But he certainly brightened a lot of Saturday mornings in 1977.

Chris Lowe and Patrick Flueger: The Stars of "Spin" Get Romantic

The movie Spin (2007) is an indie multi-timeline, multi-viewpoint story about six hardbodies getting into trouble in a heterosexual L.A. nightclub, their lives all intertwined by dj Ryan (Patrick Flueger).  Chris Lowell plays a crystal meth user.

Chris went on to star in Veronica Mars and Private Practice, and in the movies Graduation (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and Love and Honor (2013).  As far as I can tell, he's never played a gay character.

Patrick Flueger, most famous as Jeremiah Hart in The Princess Diaries (2001), has guest starred in many tv series, and had starring roles in The 4400 and Scoundrels.  He has appeared in the secluded-cabin-horror Kill Theory (2008), the workplace comedy The Job (2009), Footloose (2011), and The Hatfields and the McCoys (2013).  As far as I can tell without seeing any of them, as heterosexual characters.

So I'm wondering about these photos.

Is there a gay romance going on here, or an unself-conscious bromance between straight guys?

Aug 6, 2012

Denny Miller

Another iconic memory from my childhood -- an episode of Gilligan's Island, the sitcom about shipwreck survivors stranded on an island in the South Pacific. Gilligan (Bob Denver) was cute, and he obviously shared a romantic relationship with the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.), but there was no beefcake.  Except for that one episode, "Big Man on Little Stick," when muscular surfer Duke (Denny Williams) surfed all the way from Hawaii on a tsunami.

Born in 1934, Denny Miller starred in a beach-boy version of Tarzan in 1959, and did some other movies and tv series (you can see him jump into bed with Peter Sellers in The Party, 1968).  In the 1990s he was the rugged fisherman character on Gorton's commercials.  But even today, on his official website, the most popular signed photo is of Duke Williams bringing a moment of muscular joy to millions of people trapped in cold Midwestern winters.

Nael Marandin: The Gay Tribe of Montmartre

In a series of seven novels beginning with Les allumettes suedoises (The Swedish Matches, 1969), translated as The Safety Matches), Robert Sabatier tells us of Olivier, an orphan boy in the 1930s, who forges a "kingdom" in the Paris neighborhood of Montmartre: "We become a village, we become a tribe, with participants from all over the world."

He encounters colorful characters, boys and girls, men and women, prostitutes and beggars -- the entire "human comedy," as in the novels of Zola. but his tribe consists of LouLou, Capdeverre, and Jack.

 No gay characters, but a classic boys' adventure novel homoromance with David.

In the 1996 tv miniseries, Olivier was played by 15-year old Nael Marandin, who went on to La ville dont le prince est un enfant (The City Where the Prince is a Child), released in the U.S. as The Fire that Burns (1997).  Two boarding school boys, Sevrais (Nael) and Souplier (Clement van der Bergh),  fall in love, to the consternation of the Abbot who is obsessed with Souplier.


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