Sep 15, 2012


Slow, moody, but beautifully shot in and around a huge white-marble mausoleum, Phantasm (1979) begins on a depressing note: a man having sex  in a graveyard with a sinister Lady in Lavender. After flashing her breasts, the woman flashes a knife and stabs him to death. At his funeral, we meet his friends: Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a chunky nerd, bald with a pony tail, who drives an ice cream truck; and Jody (Bill Thornbury), a hard drinkin’, guitar-playin’ slacker who doesn’t seem to work, but still manages to live in a huge house with guns and stuffed carnivores, and drive a fancy “Triple Black Hemicuda Convertible."

Jody’s kid brother Mike (15-year old A. Michael Baldwin), who follows him around like a forlorn puppy dog, becomes the protagonist, sneaking into the labyrinthine mausoleum and discovering that the mortician, called only the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), has been squashing the newly-deceased into gibbering dwarfs and transporting them to another planet (I don’t know why). When corpses don’t appear quickly enough through natural causes, he is not averse to harvesting the living. For some reason, he is especially interested in Mike; he sends dwarfs, regular-sized henchmen, and flying silver golf balls to fetch him, or goes himself, either in his ordinary costume or in drag as the breast-baring Lady in Lavender. Toward the end of the movie keeps popping up at unsuspected moments to shout “Boy-y-y-y!”

The Tall Man is not the only one with an interest in Mike: the camera loves him, lingering on his face in tight closeups and constantly flashing butt and crotch shots, even though he is soft, androgynous, and amazingly girlish. Director Don Coscarelli makes increasingly desperate attempts to portray Mike as macho, making him shoot guns, cuss, drink beer, and work on cars. Two different teenage girls try to flirt with him, but he staunchly refuses to give them a second glance; when the Lady in Lavender arrives, he whispers “Don’t fear” and rushes away. Finally Coscarelli gives up and lets Mike remain that rarity in the horror genre, an (almost) openly gay protagonist.


Like Leif Garrett, Mike is unable to play a scene with a male actor without imbuing it with a palpably erotic yearning. Maybe the scenes with older brother Jody as the easy intimacy of siblings, but what about scenes with Reggie? Mike is constantly touching him, grabbing him, hugging him. He goes out of his way to hitch rides on the ice cream truck when he is not at all interested in ice cream. When Reggie seems dead, it is Mike, not Jody, who is disconsolate, crying “What are we gonna do without him?”

Reggie is usually oblivious to Mike’s affection, but in one very enigmatic scene near the end of the movie, they are sitting crosslegged on the living room floor, discussing a plan to fight the Tall Man. While Jody is talking in the foreground, Reggie in the background quite blatantly places his hand on Mike’s upper thigh, only an inch or two from his crotch. He squeezes for a long moment. Mike flashes a quick, dreamy smile, and Reggie takes his hand away. 

 Perhaps Reggie was “supposed to” be comforting Mike in the face of a crisis, but surely it would be more appropriate to squeeze his shoulder or arm; the upper thigh is reserved for expressions of erotic interest. Instead, they seem to be acknowledging, briefly and tentatively, a romantic undertow in their relationship. As the movie ends, Jody has died, and Reggie and Mike are planning to go away together. They stay together through three sequels, with rarely a brother or girlfriend to intrude.

A. Michael Baldwin retired from acting to pursue his studies of Eastern mysticism.  Today he teaches acting in Austin, Texas.

Buy it on Amazon

Sep 14, 2012

Randolph Mantooth

Randolph Mantooth has had the honor of being lambasted on both Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Talk Soup, due to his appearances in a few less-than-stellar movies.  I can still hear the fake horror in the voices of Joel and the bots as they yell "It stars Ran-dolph Man-tooth!"

But he has been a good sport, even, on occasion, joining in on the spoofing, because he know the jokes are latching onto the few rough patches in an otherwise stellar career.

Tall but not gawky, earnest without being cloying, Randolph Mantooth was born in 1945, a boomer kid of Seminole Indian ancestry.  He hit Hollywood in 1970, and played lots of earnest, taciturn characters in dramas and Westerns, before his big break.

In 1972 he was cast in the action-medical drama Emergency!, about the adventures of paramedics John Gage (Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe).

The paramedic was a new profession -- in 1972 there were just 6 paramedic units in the U.S.  Emergency! was instrumental in popularizing its combination of medical drama and fire/police action.  By the time the show ended in 1979, everyone knew what a paramedic was, and thousands of kids had been inspired to study EMS (Emergency Medical Services).

Paramedics Gage and DeSoto performed their first aid so accurately that some viewers were able to save lives based on what they had learned on the show, and real-life hospitals started offering first aid and CPR programs.  Training in CPR is now commonplace for many helping professions.

With such a praiseworthy resume, Randolph Mantooth can probably take the ribbing over his few bad moves.

By the way, he also supports many gay causes.

I Spy a Speedo

Speaking of buddy-bonding tv, during the secret agent craze of the mid-1960s (Wild Wild West, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible), there was an interracial one. I Spy (1965-68) paired Robert Culp as "international tennis star" Kelly Robinson, and Bill Cosby, twenty years before he became America's favorite dad, as Alexander Scott, his "trainer."

They were really spies, of course, but the tennis cover allowed them to explore many glamorous locales in "living color" (a rarity in tv in those days).  They usually spent several episodes in the same locale before moving on -- eight in Hong Kong, five in Japan, five in Mexico.  They were occasionally involved with women, but their strongest emotional bond was with each other.

Unfortunately, Cosby got no beefcake scenes, but Culp did.  The 35 year old was quite muscular for a non-bodybuilder of the era, and also filled out a tight swimsuit admirably (he was not too shy to give us completely nude frontal shots during his movie career).

Even the occasional dalliance with the ladies could be forgiven for the shots of Robert Culp in tight shorts or speedos.

After I Spy, Bill Cosby starred in several series with his name in the title.  Robert Culp starred in the 1969 sex comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, of The Cosby Show, plus lots of other tv shows and movies, including Greatest American Hero. He died in 2010, still fondly remembered by gay boomers as the wisecracking secret agent in speedos.

Get it on

Alias Smith and Jones

The buddy movie is a venerable American institution, about two guys, cops, detectives, or outlaws, who may enjoy the company of the other sex but live only for each other.  But it hasn't transferred to television well.  So obsessed are tv producers with promoting heterosexual romance that only a few examples of buddy tv shows can be found.

Alias Smith and Jones (1971-73) was one.

Betting on the popularity of Butch Cassdy and the Sundance Kid the year before, Alias starred Robert Redford lookalike Ben Murphy, who had been making the rounds of tv dramas, usually in roles that required his shirt to come off.  He played Kid Curry, the muscular one.

Round-faced Pete Duel was cast as Hannibal Heyes.  He had starred as Rod Taylor's buddy-boyfriend in The Hell with Heroes (1968), and he was also been making the rounds of tv dramas, as well as doing a few comedies (such as Gidget).

Outlaws trying to go straight, they criss-cross the Old West, getting involved with people's problems along the way.  Thankfully, few of those problems involved old girlfriends or current flames, and many involved rescuing each other from cliffhanging danger.

But they only filmed 18 episodes together.  On December 31, 1971, Pete Duel, who had been depressed and drinking heavily, committed suicide.

Instead of cancelling the program or giving Kid Curry a new buddy to work with, the network immediately hired Roger Davis, previously Vickie's boyfriend on Dark Shadows as Hannibal #2.  Gay fans were outraged -- how could they replace a boyfriend so cavalierly?

But the program managed to keep going on through the end of the 1971-72 season and halfway through the 1972-73 before being cancelled.

Sep 13, 2012

Tunnel in the Sky

Later in life, Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) was well known as the cranky, conservative, racist, sexist "old man" of science fiction, who wrote weird, turgid, overlong, and heterosexist novels, but between 1948 and 1963, he produced 18 juveniles, about teenage boys involved in interstellar intrigue, with same-sex bonds often intense and intimate, and hardly any heterosexual dating or romance.

Tunnel in the Sky (1955) was my favorite, perhaps because its protagonist, Rod,  never displays the slightest interest in a girl.

The plot: for a high school class in this rip-roaring frontier future. Rod and hundreds of other students are zapped through a space-portal to an alien planet for survival training: "any climate, any terrain.”
They find themselves in a tropical paradise, plagued only by bloodthirsty carnivorous rabbits.

The ten days of the test pass, and then twenty, and thirty, and no time-space portal opens to zap them home. But the castaways don't devolve into Lord of the Flies savagery; they build a no-nonsense libertarian community, Cowperstown, with farming and metallurgy and square dances every weekend. Rod is elected mayor.

Not much of gay interest so far: in fact, the first thing on everyone’s mind is marriage and children.  A former pre-law student even puts out a shingle as a divorce lawyer.

But, oddly, Rod fails to marry, or date, or even flirt. When challenged, he protests that he does indeed like girls, but heterosexual romance would compromise his effectiveness as a political leader.

Such an argument makes little sense, and is based on no real life model; in fact, few men are ever elected to high political office without sporting a wife on their arm. Perhaps Rod comes up with this lame excuse to hide his actual lack of interest in girls.

Early in the survival test, Rod briefly teams up with Jack, a student from another school. They hunt, cook, and seek shelter together, and develop a chummy friendship until Rod discovers that Jack is really Jacqueline, a girl!

It is unclear why she would need to hide her gender, since girls and boys both participate in the test. But the girl pretending to be a boy is a standard plot device.  A male friend finds “him” attractive and has a bout of homophobic panic. Then he discovers that “he” is really a “she,” that is instincts were right all along, thereby “proving” that heterosexual desire is innate and natural, foolproof even when the object is disguised.

Rod, however, does not feel confused or conflicted about his feelings for Jack. When he discovers that Jack is a girl, he is surprised but not relieved, and the two do not subsequently begin a romance. Instead, he has to defend himself from the jeers of his friends, who claim that they are so competent at their heterosexuality that they realized right away that Jack was a girl. 

Eventually the rescue portal opens, but even then, Rod does not return home to a heteronormative future.  Cowperstown is home, and he is staying put.
Heinlein no doubt omitted hetero-romance from his novels because he believed his target audience of teenage boys would not be interested.  But the gay boys who stumbled upon them twenty years later found a strong validation of the legitimacy of "not liking girls."

Sep 12, 2012

Why do we still have the H-word?

Every semester I tell my students "The proper terms are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQQA, and queer.  The proper terms for same-sex desire or behavior are same-sex, homoerotic, or homoromantic. The H-word is offensive, and may not be used."

Every semester they are shocked.  "Wait...that's offense?  I thought it was what them people liked to be called.  I thought 'gay' was the bad word."

So I ask them:
1. How many gay organizations have "gay" in their title?  Answer: About 5000
2. How many gay organizations have the h-word?  Answer: None.
3. How many festivals and parades are called "Gay Pride."  Answer: Over 300.

4. How many festivals and parades are called h-pride?  Answer: None.

5. In a 2003 survey, The Advocate asked "What should we be called?"  How many said gay, lesbian, LGBT, or queer?  Answer: Over 90%

6. How many suggested the h-word?  Answer: None.

The H word brings a history of oppression.  It was used to label LGBT people criminal psychopaths.  It was used to justify why they should go to prison for 20 years to life.  It was used to justify placing them in mental institutions, where they were subjected to lobotomies, electroshock, castration, and forced sterilization.  It was used to justify the belief that they were not human beings at all, but demons and monsters plotting to destroy civilization.

It's still used that way.  Check  The books with the H word in their titles are mostly written by homophobes to justify a continuing policy of oppression.

In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance said "Enough!  That word will no longer be used!  The proper term is Gay!"  The Mattachine Society and E.M. Forster disapproved, but their objections were quickly silenced.

My question is, why don't heterosexuals know it?

In 1966, the Civil Rights Movement said "The word 'Negro' is offensive.  Do not use it.  The proper term is 'Black.'"  Within two years, all books, magazine articles, and tv broadcasts were saying "Black."

Why did it take a sit-in protest to get the "New York Times" to say "gay"?

Why did it take the American Psychological Association until 2003 to say that the proper term was "gay"?

Why do students still walk into my class every semester thinking that "gay" is bad and the H-word, the word denigrated by gay rights groups since before their parents were born, is ok?

Antonio Banderas in Love

The White River Kid (1999) was advertised with lots of beefcake shots of Wes Bentley, who played the goofy spree killer.

But it also contained a gay romance.  Two amiable con artists visit the Weed family of rural Arkansas, and Morales (Antonio Banderas) takes up with the teenage hayseed Reggie (Chad Lindberg).

Soon the two are inseparable – sitting together at dinner, talking walks together, plotting cons together – and effusive, with arms around waists, a kiss on the forehead, a lascivious hand on the knee.

They even visit a bathhouse, where Reggie lustfully peeks inside the private rooms, and Morales gets a chance to ogle Reggie’s nude butt. But they do not merely desire each other, they develop a deep emotional intimacy. When the gangsters begin shooting, Morales tries to shield Reggie with his own body.

Finally they abandon rural Arkansas and go away together – Morales exclaims, “It’s just you and me now!”  In the last scene, we see them working a con in Las Vegas.  Reggie is stylishly dressed, with an effeminate pinkie ring. Obviously several years have passed, and they are still together, a long-term gay couple.

In the original novel, The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer (1991), author John Fergus Ryan identifies the pair more openly than the movie – he explicitly states that Reggie is gay, and that Morales has tried everything during his long career as a grifter, but prefers men.  However, in the novel they are minor characters, meeting, enjoying a night of passion, and running away together all in a single paragraph, then disappearing from the story.

Why did the movie emphasize the gay romance, when usually the opposite happens?  Antonio Banderas has played gay characters several times (and favored audiences with many nude scenes).  Chad Lindberg, who generally plays losers and outcasts, is bisexual (according to his myspace page).  Maybe they worked together to ensure that their characters' voices were heard.

Get it on Amazon

Corentin and Kim

Like Alix and Enak, Jonny Quest and Hadji, and a dozen others, Corentin and Kim were a teenage European-Indian homoromantic pair. Belgian cartoonist Paul Cuvelier began painting the androgynous, muscular teenager in 1943.

Herge, creator of Tintin, saw them and suggested a comic strip, which appeared in  Tintin magazine beginning in 1946.

The comic story begins with Corentin at age 14, a Breton boy in the 18th century who runs away from his abusive uncle, stows away aboard a ship, and is shipwrecked on a desert island.  Soon he teams up with an Indian boy named Kim.  They also add a gorilla named Belzebuth and a tiger named Moloch to their entourage.

Corentin was aimed at somewhat younger children than Alix, so his adventures were less complex, but the backgrounds were just as spectacular, and there was nearly as much nudity (especially as the two boys aged into muscular late adolescence).


Seven comic albums appeared between 1950 and 1974, rather a paltry number compared to Alix, sending Corentin and Kim to India, China, Italy, Egypt, and back to Brittany (Corentin's grandson also appeared in the 1800's Wild West).  There were also novels, an animated cartoon series (1987),  and an original comic strip, translated into German, Spanish, and Dutch.

Nevertheless, Corentin was never as successful as Alix, and Paul Cuvelier less concerned with homoromance; eventually Corentin gets a girlfriend, and many of Cuvelier's other works featured female nudity.

Sep 11, 2012

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Remember the cave where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher got lost in the classic Tom Sawyer?  In yet another 1960s rendition of the "boys trapped far from home" genre (others included H.R. Pufnstuf,   Land of the Lost, and Journey to the Beginning of Time), that cave led to a time-space warp that zapped  Tom  (Kevin Schultz), Becky Thatcher (LuAnn Haslam), and Huckleberry Finn (Michael Shea) into various worlds based on fiction, legends, and history.

After battling or befriending Aztecs, ancient Egyptians, mad scientists, Don Quixote, Indian thuggees, Captain Ahab, a medieval Caliph, cavemen, and wizards, it was another zap and another adventure.

Huck, who was only marginally literate, narrated the story, and made humorous malapropisms and mispronunciations.

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aired on Sunday nights in the fall of 1968, where it faced stiff competition from Land of the Giants.  Twenty episodes aired before it was cancelled.  I saw them as reruns during the summer of 1969.  Later they were syndicated in The Banana Splits and Friends.  

Tom and Becky are friends only, with no romantic inclinations.  But Tom and Huck have ample buddy-bonding, particularly when one or the other requires rescue.  And they require rescue a lot.

And though there were few shirtless shots, both of the boys, aged 15, were on display enough to attract the interest of teen magazines -- and of gay kids.  Michael Shea, the "hunk," wore a white shirt unbuttoned to his navel and a red vest, and was frequently tied up, so his muscles could strain against the ropes. Kevin Schultz, the "brain," wore a white shirt with a thin red tie and tight slacks.

The New Adventures turned out to be the summit of their acting careers.  In adulthood, Michael became a police officer.  Kevin and his identical twin Keith started a musical group in 1970, chummed around with fellow teen idol Jon Provost (below), and later became professional photographers.

Sep 10, 2012

The Blue Hawk

What gay boy could resist buying Peter Dickinson's The Blue Hawk (1976): the cover displayed a gorgeous young man with olive skin and black curly hair, his muscles visible beneath his a blue robe.

The British edition was almost as good.

He is Tron, a teenager of humble parentage in a nameless Egypt-like kingdom, who has been raised to become a priest.  In the midst of a turgid plot involving palace intrigues and invasions from without, Tron meets the young King, who is quite obviously taken with him, inviting him to dinner and to go hawking, and asking “where will you sleep tonight?”

Neither the King nor Tron has ever been in a non-coercive relationship, so they grope their way toward love with many hesitations and missteps.  Tron vows to “serve” the King, who obligingly sends him off on a secret mission.  He gets lost, and everyone thinks that he is dead.

When he returns, the King  comes “striding forth with outstretched arms, his whole being seeming to pulse with pleasure in the living instant,” but instead of telling Tron how much he loves him, he hides (barely) behind metaphor: he whispers that losing Tron was like “the emptiness when you lose a favorite hawk, but worse, far worse.”  His master’s pet: close, but not close enough.

When they are back in the palace, the King insists that Tron not leave his side; their arms are linked or his hand is on Tron’s shoulder or he is stroking Tron’s hair even at the most important of council meetings.  But if Tron is merely a favored pet, why does the King constantly seek his advice on complex matters of state?  On a second secret assignment, Tron is wounded, and the King rushes to his side.  But again, neither overtly declares his love:

The King came in.  He looked very tired. . .but the air around around him seemed to tingle with excitement and happiness.  He stretched his arm down in a gesture that would have become a hug of joy in their meeting if Tron had not been wounded; life and warmth seemed to flow from his fingertips.

One can admire and respect a subordinate, but one can only love an equal.  At the end of the novel, he is on his way to ask the King if they can become – not master and servant or king and faithful subject, but something else that Dickinsen does not and perhaps cannot describe, not in 1976, a same-sex love that is exclusive and permanent.

The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple (1970-75) seems like an odd addition to the teen-friendly Friday night lineup that also included The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, and Room 222.  No teens, no teen idol songs, just two middle aged men, the slovenly Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) and the fastidious Felix Ungar (Tony Randall) as bickering heterosexual roommates in a New York apartment.

Ostensibly they are thrust together out of necessity after failed heterosexual unions: Felix is kicked out of his house because his wife, Gloria, finds him too fastidious, so he takes refuge with his divorced friend.  But surely being a “neat freak” is insufficient cause for divorce.  Nor does the sudden disruption of his life explain why Felix continues to live with Oscar for five years; a middle-aged heterosexual man with a sizeable business income (Felix is a professional photographer) may move in with a buddy for a few weeks in an emergency, but he would certainly want his own apartment as soon as possible.  If Felix is understood as “gay,” however, it makes perfect sense.

Tony Randall would most likely favor a gay reading of his character: in the 1950’s and 1960’s he specialized in gay-stereotyped roles, sensitive, effete, artistic, snobbish, persnickety, and doting on macho best friends; in Send Me No Flowers (1964), his character all but jumps into bed with the hunky Rock Hudson.   After The Odd Couple, he planned to make television history by playing the first openly gay character with a starring role in prime time, but network censors insisted on closeting Love, Sidney.

Randall notes that they did attempt to mention gay people a few times in The Odd Couple.  Felix finds an article that Oscar is writing about gay liberation, assumes that he is gay, and muses, “If it was going to be anyone,  you’d think it would be me.” Oscar and Felix accidentally book themselves onto a gay airplane flight, and fit right in with the other couples.   But all such references were summarily nixed by the network censors. The producers got so fed up that they filmed clips of Oscar and Felix kissing, and sent them in just to get the censors mad.

The network was so squeamish about potential “misinterpretations” of the couple that in the first season they made the middle-aged men, one still aching from a breakup, flirt with women as aggressively as college fratboys.  In the first episode, “The Laundry Orgy” (September 1970), Felix and Oscar scheme to end their weekly poker game early so they can go out on a date with the giggling British-mod Pigeon Sisters, who seem to have popped in directly from a stag film.  Aside from the best-buddy dynamic, the fact that they can only conceive of a date with women when both of them go together, the plot is remarkably heterosexist, with poker-playing buddies mere hindrances on the road to heterosexual toddy.

As the show progressed, the poker pals and the Pigeon Sisters were dropped, and the tension about the duo’s conflicting personal habits faded into the background.  Eventually their definition as an “odd couple” depended less upon the neat/sloppy interaction than upon appearance together in all public and private events, so obviously romantic partners that their occasional heterosexual dates and separate bedrooms seemed irrelevant.  In “The Princess” (September 1972), Felix is hired to photograph the Princess of Luxembourg (Jean Simmons).  Oscar and the Princess share a mutual attraction, but the walls of royal security make him despair of ever seeing her again.  Then Felix receives an invitation to attend a royal ball, and gets an idea: “It says here that I can bring a guest.  Oscar – you’ll be my date!”  So Oscar and Felix, resplendent in tuxedos, mingle among the palace elite as same-sex partners without the least embarrassment.  The Princess seems taken aback by this demonstration that the two are lovers, but only because she is herself interested in Oscar.

After the initial giggling Pigeon Sister phase, Oscar and Felix develop an extraordinary interest in children.  They tutor a teenage jock, act as big brothers to a reform school boy, adopt a homeless boy,  restore a lost infant to its mother, help Oscar’s homeless niece deliver her baby, and coach pee wee football. This domesticity helped The Odd Couple move beyond the sophomoric humor of Neil Simon’s hetero-sex farce, and sealed the duo’s popularity among adolescents.

Of 114 episodes, only fourteen concern Oscar or Felix seeking heterosexual romance, and eleven involve nurturing children or adolescents.  Most of the remaining episodes show the couple acting as domestic partners: going on cruises and retreats together, relating anecdotes about how they first met, or helping friends sort through their romances.  The romantic implication of their relationship is never far from the surface.  For instance,  in “Being Divorced Means Never Having to Say I Do” (December 1971), Oscar’s ex-wife Blanche announces that she is getting remarried.  Oscar is delighted at the prospective liberation from alimony payments, but Felix objects (literally, during the ceremony!).  He protests that Blanche is obviously not in love with her fiancĂ©.

Oscar: [Sarcastically.]  What is love, Dear Abby?

Felix: Love is that feeling between two people, a man and a woman. [Pause.] It doesn’t have to be a man and a woman. [Pause.] It could be a man and a dog, or a dog and a cat, or a. . .a bunny. [Pause]. Love is that intense, vital, passionate feeling one person has for another.

As Felix attempts to describe the romantic love that would justify a permanent monogamous commitment rather than a simple friendship, it is curious that he doesn’t make love exclusively heterosexual, as so many people still do today.  His pause after “it doesn’t have to be a man and a woman” followed by an incoherent ramble about pets suggests that he has thought of another form of romantic love, one that he dares not speak aloud.  Oscar agrees that he has a “intense, vital, passionate” feeling for Felix, but it is certainly not hate, and it is too passionate to be simple friendship.

The theme song had lyrics, never aired, that emphasize what gay viewers knew all along, that the two were literally in love, sharing a passion deep enough to withstand their conflicting personalities, their trivial pursuit of women, and the stares of passersby:

No matter where they go, they are known as the couple.
They’re never seen alone, so they’re known as the couple.
Their habits, I confess, none can guess with the couple. . .
Don’t you find, when love is blind, it’s kind of odd?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...