Oct 13, 2012

Swinging Bachelor Detectives of the 1960s

The early 1960s was overloaded with tv shows about "swinging bachelors" who dug the ladies but found their deepest emotional bonds with each other: Route 66, Follow the Sun, Bourbon Street Beat, It's a Man's World, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6.  (Sea Hunt was an exception, about a solo scuba diver.)

They usually had a female friend who worked the switchboard or sang at the local bar and provided opportunities for leering, but few if any plots involved them finding heterosexual romance.

The bachelors were often discovered by gay talent agent Henry Willson, so they were often gay, bisexual, or gay friendly.

77 Sunset Strip (1958-64) paired Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (straight) and Roger Smith (straight) as detectives who lived in Los Angeles. Edd Byrnes (rumored to be gay) played Kookie, a hipster who worked at the nightclub next door, and eventually became a business partner. Jacqueline Beer played Suzanne, their telephone operator.

Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) paired Richard Long (rumored to be gay) and Van Williams, left (rumored to be gay), detectives who lived in New Orleans.  Cal Duggan (straight) was their business partner.  Arlene Howell played Melody, their secretary.















Hawaiian Eye (1959-63) paired Anthony Eisley (rumored to be gay) and Robert Conrad (straight) as detectives who lived in Hawaii.  Connie Stevens played Cricket, who sang at the Shell Bar.

















Surfside 6 (1960-62) paired Van Williams (just before he played The Green Hornet),  with Lee Patterson (gay) as detectives who lived on a houseboat docked at Miami Beach.  Troy Donahue, left (rumored to be gay) played their friend, a wealthy playboy who lived on the yacht next door.  Margarita Sierra played a woman with the odd name "Cha Cha," who sang at a bar with the odd name "Boom Boom Room."












Follow the Sun (1961-62) paired Brett Halsey (rumored to be gay) with Barry Coe, left (straight) as writers who solve crimes in Hawaii. Gary Lockwood (bisexual), who appeared shirtless in The Magic Sword, played their assistant.  Gigi Perreau played their secretary.

What are we to make of this abundance of beefcake and buddy-bonding?

An idolization of the unmarried and unattached heterosexual swinger, after years of 1950s Family Men.
A fear of the feminine: women were portrayed as a pleasant distraction from the important things in life. But inadvertently it gave Boomer kids a glimpse of homodomesticity, men who lived together, loved each other, and didn't need a woman to fulfill them.

Oct 12, 2012

Joey Lawrence: from Blossom to Bodybuilder

Joey Lawrence was a child star of the 1980s, appearing in kid-friendly movies (Little Shots, Summer Rental), sitcoms (Silver Spoons, Gimme a Break), and after school specials.  At the age of 14, he landed role as Joey Russo, brother of the unconventional Mayim Bialik in Blossom (1991-1995).

Gay boys  were more interested in Joey and Blossom's older brother, Tony (Michael Stoyanov), or in their hunky Dad (Ted Wass), or in Blossom's hunky boyfriend (David Lascher), and lesbians watched for the buddy-bond between Blossom and her best friend, Six (Jenna Von Oy).  Joey was mostly left on the sidelines, observing the action, uttering an occasional "Whoa!" to denote surprise, all but ignored by teen magazines.  Then, in a 1992 episode, Joey's shirt was "accidentally" ripped off, revealing a tan, slightly hairy, muscular chest that for some reason the teenager had kept hidden.   The studio audience gasped in amazement. Suddenly Joey -- and the producers realized that his chest was a bigger audience-draw than the catchphrase "Whoa!" 


He initiated a teen idol career, filming music videos while shirtless.  He appeared shirtless on the cover of his first album, Joey Lawrence, in 1993 (but not the more serious Soulmates in 1997).

After Blossom, his tv and movie appearances usually required his shirt to be off a lot.  He became more and more buffed as the 1990s progressed.  


Many of his movies involved buddy-bonding, most notably in the boys alone drama Jumping Ship (2001) with his brothers Matthew  and Andrew.  It appeared on the Disney Channel and then vanished, never to be released on DVD.  He also played a gay character in Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber (2005).
Today Joey -- now Joseph -- mostly draws the crowds with his singing, dancing, and acting talent.  Not that he ignores the power of his physique; in June 2012 he stripped with the Chippendales for a special 3-week engagement. Unfortunately, it was heterosexist, for "women only."
Otherwise Joseph is a staunch gay ally. 


Jughead's Girlfriends


Today Archie comics is unique in children's media in featuring an open, out gay teenage character, but during the 1980s and 1990s, it made an attempt to heterosexualize its most famous "woman-hater," Jughead Jones.

In a story prophetically entitled “Genesis. . .the Beginning” (Jughead Digest  36, 1985),  Jughead is up late one night when a beam of light flashes out of his TV set and renders him unconscious.  The next morning he has received a facelift, and there is an odd masculine symbol affixed to his beanie.  “I feel reborn. . .” he exclaims.  “I have strange tingling sensations. . .It’s like I have an inner power.  I have a desire to talk to. . .to touch. . .my gosh! A girl!”


Reggie doesn’t believe that his friend has suddenly been converted to heterosexuality: “That boy is one sickie!”  But Archie comes to his aid: “This is going to make him more normal!  He’s always been an oddball!”

Further stories during the late 1980s and early 1990s indicated that the publisher John Goldwater expected the readers to buy the explanation that Jughead had always liked girls, but was inhibited by lack of self-confidence, that his real self was a “self-confident, girl-loving, prowling wolf."

In a letter to the readers reprinted incessantly during the period, he noted slyly that Jughead had “changed” (but failed to give any details), and invited readers to comment on which version they liked better.

The consensus was overwhelming: readers liked the old Jughead, needed someone to stand apart from the boy and girl-crazed antics of his peers and demonstrate that heterosexual desire was not necessarily an universal of human experience.


Nevertheless, the girl-loving Jughead remained.  During the last 20 years, Jughead has been involved in  passionate affairs, tempestuous love-hate relationships, and casual dates with amateur psychologist Trula Twyst, health food nut Googie, jazz fan Debbie, and long-time admirer Big Ethel.

Paradoxically, the girl-hating Jughead is still around, often in the same issue; in Jughead 130 (2000), Jughead is in love with Trula Twyst in one story, but in another he saves an attractive female movie star from drowning and refuses a kiss as a reward.  For several years, his capsule biography on the Archie comics webpage referred both to his girlfriends and to his “rather abnormal dislike of girls."



Oct 11, 2012

White Water Summer/Stand By Me

Although panned by the critics and ignored by most heterosexuals, White Water Summer (1987) became a hit among gay kids and teenagers, maybe for the same reasons that they ignored the critically acclaimed Stand by Me the year before (1986).

 The plot of Stand: four boys (Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman) brave a suburban wilderness on a weird quest to see a dead body.  En route they confront their anxieties and bond with each other.

The plot of Summer: four boys (Sean Astin, Jonathan Ward, Matt Adler, K.C. Martel) brave a wilderness on a white water rafting expedition, led by the brutal, abusive Vic (Kevin Bacon).  En route the confront their anxieties and bond with each other.
















The differences:

In Stand, the conflicts involve parentage, family, bullying, and heterosexual destiny.  In Summer, the conflicts involve the boys' relationships with each other and their dismay at the brutality of the adult world.









In Stand, the male body is a site of anxiety and despair; a boy is too fat, or has poor eyesight; leeches attack their crotches.  In Summer, the male body is a thing of beauty. The characters compliment each other, gaze at each other, lie prone against each other.







The boys of Stand are aggressively homophobic, throwing around the term "faggot" and challenging each others' "masculinity."  They are also aggressively heterosexual, discussing boobs, girls, having sex with girls, not having sex with girls.  The boys of Summer mention neither "faggots" nor girls.

Stand ends with the boys parting, and the adult narrator telling us what happened to them -- mostly involvng marriage and family, the "inevitable" loss of boyhood bonds.

Summer ends with the boys together, still friends, the same-sex bond intact.




David Soul


David Soul never quite made it as a teen idol.  Maybe because he wasn't visible enough.  He appeared on The Merv Griffin Show in 1966-67 wearing a mask (so people would like him for his music, not his face).


He appeared in a 1967 episode of Star Trek, but in alien makeup that made him unrecognizable.


He appeared on the beefcake-heavy Western Here Come the Brides (1968-70), but his star was almost completely overshadowed by Bobby Sherman.






But he did fine as an adult actor.  In Starsky and Hutch (1975-79), he played the shy, intellectual, gay-coded Detective Hutch to Paul-Michael Glaser's tough, streetwise Detective Starsky.








The duo was explicitly a romantic couple, not shy about displays of physical affection, openly stating that they loved each other.  Producer Aaron Spelling called it "tv's first heterosexual love affair."  And although they investigated the usual 1970s crimes involving strippers, call girls, and various women with large breasts, there were very few girlfriends introduced to distract them from their buddy-bonding.  
Of course, there was also lots of homophobia.  Gay-themed episodes of 1970s sitcoms usually involved a visiting high school buddy announcing that he's gay, but drama series always had a gay murder victim, and in order to investigate, the detectives had to enter  his sleazy underworld, full of pomaded misfits who simper and leer at each other.

During Starsky and Hutch, David found his singing career taking off.  His "Don't Give Up on Us" hit #1 on the charts in the U.S. and in Britain.  Unfortunately, his songs tended to be heterosexist.    In "Silver Lady," which hit #1 in Britain, he's a drifter until he finds salvation in the lady's arms.

He also found time to fall in love with Lance Kerwin in Salem's Lot (1979).

Currently a British citizen, David  does a lot of acting on stage and in film.  He is careful to point out that he is not gay in real life; however, he is a strong supporter of gay rights.






American Werewolf in London

There have been many gay-coded werewolves  on tv and in comics, but not a lot in movies.  David Kessler (David Naughton) in An American Werewolf in London  (1981) is the most famous, and the most evocative.

Born in 1951, David Naughton became famous in the late 1970s for dancing, singing, and bulging in a series of energetic, well-choreographed tv commercials for the soft drink Dr. Pepper.  In the spring of 1979, he starred in Makin' It, an adaption of the hit Saturday Night Fever (1977).  Although the sitcom aired for only 8 weeks, David's rendition of the theme song became a Top 40 hit, and resulted in a teen idol album.







In American Werewolf,  American college students David and Jack (Griffin Dunne, son of Hollywood novelist Dominic Dunne) are hiking through the moors of Britain, when they're attacked by a wolf. Jack is killed, and David turns into a werewolf, destined to kill innocent people at every full moon.  Furthermore, Jack -- along with every werewolf victim --  is trapped in a limbo state, unable to go on to the afterlife until the last werewolf, David dies.  "Kill yourself, David!"  Jack pleads.

David is hesitant -- he has fallen in love with a girl, Alex (Jenny Agutter), so according to the myth of the "fade out kiss," his life now has meaning.  Besides, he reasons, maybe her love can tame the beast with in.  But after a killing spree, he is cornered by the police, shot, and killed.  He dies as Alex murmurs "I love you."

Sounds enormously heterosexist so far.  The same-sex bond represents death, and the heterosexual bond, life.  David himself is homophobic: trying to get arrested, he stands in Trafalgar Square and yells insults, like "Prince Charles is a faggot!"

So why was it so evocative for gay teenagers in 1981?

1. An enormous amount of beefcake.  Everyone in the movie is obsessed with David's body.  He's fully nude for an extended sequence, with both frontal and rear shots.

There's a graphic werewolf transformation scene, with David rolling around nude.

He's naked in a hospital bed, where the nurses all gawk at him, and one states "He's Jewish -- I've had a look."





The last scene zeros in on David's body, tastefully posed like a Medieval martyr, with the bullet wounds carefully placed to not detract from his beauty.







2. Jack is rather obviously in love with David.  He is jealous of "the girl"; he wants David to kill himself so that they can "be together."  In one scene, he berates David: "We had a good thing going, and you ruined it." David wasn't responsible for his death, so Jack must be referring to something else, like David abandoning their same-sex bond to go chasing after some girl.


After American Werewolf, David Naughton found himself famous for appearing fully nude on film.  He worked primarily in horror (Amityville: A New Generation, Body Bags, The Ice Cream Man).  Griffin Dunne went on to star in After Hours (1985).

There was a sequel, American Werewolf in Paris, 16 years later.





Oct 9, 2012

Archie and Jughead


Though there are lots of hints and signals about same-sex desire in Archie Comics, Archie himself is ludicrously girl-crazy. He is failing French until Veronica helps him “study” by seductively reciting French words  – and then he gets an “A.”  He is an expert artist, but only when he paints girls.  Advised to chose a future career, he selects fashion photography because then he can be surrounded by girls all day.

Archie’s girl craziness rarely receives any criticism from parents or peers, and when someone does complain that he's "too" girl-crazy, he retorts that chasing girls is the only thing worth doing in life.  In “The Andrews Family Tree” (Archie Digest 108) , teenage brain Dilton discovers that all of Archie’s ancestors just missed brilliant scientific discoveries because of their girl-craziness  – they didn’t notice the apple falling because they were busy flirting, for instance. “I feel sorry for your ancestors,” Dilton says, “They were a bunch of losers.”  Archie responds  “And I feel sorry for poor Dilton!  He can’t tell us winners from the losers!”

It seems odd that this acme of girl-craziness has a best friend who "hates" girls. Or at least "hated," from the 1940s through the 1980s, until the character was retconned.  Jughead actually liked girls as friends, but he did not want to date. kiss, or cuddle them.  He was not attracted to women.

Archie and the gang generally accepted this "quirk," but on those rare instances where Jughead seemed to be interested in a girl, they were beside themselves with joy.  In “There’s This Girl, See” (Archie Annual Digest 74) Jughead says that he needs money because “There’s this girl,” and his friends joyfully hug each other and take a collection to finance his date.  When it turns out that the girl merely owes him money, which he needs for a date with a boy, his friends spend a spread panel banging their heads together and kicking themselves in frustration.

Jughead’s most passionate relationship was with his “best pal” Archie, a fact recognized as natural and inevitable by almost all of the other characters. In Archie Double Digest 9, Jughead is so closely attached to Archie that he even tags along on his date with Veronica.  She banishes him, but the softhearted Mr. Lodge intervenes and reunites them

In Archie Andrews Where Are You Digest 66, Archie is dumped by a girl, and his father cheers him up not by introducing him to another girl, but by sending him out on the town with Jughead.

In “Best Friends” (Archie Andrews, Where Are You? 43), Jughead invites Archie to a dance, explaining that “you know I don’t go with girls.” Archie agrees, but at the last minute Jughead receives an invitation to a pizza cook-off that he would rather attend, and gives the tickets to Betty.

When Betty presents herself as a substitute date, Archie is nonplussed.  “[Jughead] stood me up!” he exclaims, treating the snub exactly as if he were expecting a romantic date.  There is no hint that anyone perceives the event as “buddies hanging out”; if we knew nothing about the characters but this single story, we would certainly conclude that Archie considers both Jughead and Betty appropriate romantic partners.

Jughead was also frequently paired with Betty or Veronica, or both,  as a competitor for Archie’s affection. When all three successively try to lure Archie to fates unknown, he balks.  “How much can a man take!” he exclaims.  “Is it my fault I’m so desirable?”  Although this is a satirical story that ended with all of them characters rejecting Archie, the implication is clearly that Jughead, like the girls, has a romantic interest in Archie.

Gradually becoming aware of the existence of gay people, Archie Comics tried -- not always successfully -- to heterosexualize the character of Jughead during the 1990s.  But not to worry, in 2011 they made up for it by introducing a "real" gay character.

Most recently, Jughead has been retconned as asexual, adding to the sexual diversity of Riverdale High.

Robert Conrad Dares You


We're used to thinking of Robert Conrad as a two-fisted action hero, but he originally wanted to be a singer.  During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the former professional boxer released a number of teen idol-style crooner records, but the market was overcrowded with Paul Anka, Fabian, Elvis, Frankie Avalon, Pat Boone, and nearly everyone else who could hold a tune.

Bob's records didn't sell, not even with the color shots of his impressive physique.






In 1959, Bob landed a role as Tom Lopaka, the half-Hawaiian partner of detective Tracey Steele (Anthony Eisley) on Hawaiian Eye.  Many of the cases took place on the beach, allowing Bob to strip down to a swimsuit or short-cut jeans.  The buddy-bonding was intense, and there weren't a huge number of episodes in which Tom meets a girl.


When Hawaiian Eye ended in 1963, Bob's singing career was forgotten; after starring against type in the beach movie Palm Springs Weekend (1963), he moved almost into the program that Boomers remember fondly: Wild Wild West (1965-69), a combination of the classic Western with the 1960s spy craze (other examples include Get Smart, The Secret of Boyne Castle, I Spy, and Mission: Impossible.



In the 1870s, special agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) travel through the Old West on the orders of President Grant. They use disguises and weird science fiction gadgets to foil spies, mad scentists, enemy agents, rebels, and miscellaneous high-tech scalawags.

West is tied up shirtless in nearly every episode.  He usually frees himself, but sometimes Gordeon storms to the rescue.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much buddy-bonding. West and Gordon were coworkers, not buddies, and they both leered at women nearly as often as they fell in love.









Bob had found his niche: tongue-in-cheek adventure.  During the next two decades, he was never very far from a tv series: The D.A. (1971-72), Assignment Vienna (1972-73), Black Sheep Squadron (1976-78), A Man Called Sloane (1979).  Although he had time for two buddy-bonding movies with Don Stroud.


When tongue-in-cheek adventure went out of style during the early 1980s, Bob switched to comedy (Wrong is Right, Moving Violations) or drama (Assassin, Charley Hannah).  But he rarely forgot to include a shirtless scene or two.

He parodied himself in a series of commercials for Ever-Ready Batteries in the 1980s, daring the viewer to knock a battery off his shoulder (traditionally one starts fights by daring someone to knock a chip off one's shoulder).







The rumor mill suggested that he was bisexual, and during the 1950s had liaisons with some of the great closeted actors in Hollywood, such as Tab Hunter, Wally Cox, and Rock Hudson.  Bob denied the rumors, stating to the press "I'm not gay" several times, perhaps not as graciously as he might have, but with nothing like the homophobic outrage of John Travolta or Tom Cruise.

Oct 8, 2012

Johnny Weissmuller's Last Boyfriend



During the 1970s, my brother and I liked to watch Chuck Acri's Creature Feature on Friday nights at midnight (when we could get away with it).  It sprinkled the monsters liberally sword-and-sandal and jungle hero epics, and one night it showed Cannibal Attack (1954), with a 50-year old Johnny Weismuller, long retired from his MGM Tarzan movie, oddly playing a fully clothed version of himself: Johnny Weismuller.

The governor of an unnamed African colony hires him to find out who is stealing valuable shipments of cobalt. Only sinister foreign powers would be interested in so much cobalt, so he is looking for both a thief and a traitor. Johnny suspects everyone, but especially the governor’s ne’er-do-well brother, Arnold King ( David Bruce, left, from another movie). 


The governor is forcing Arnold to work in the mines in order to “make a man out of him” (e.g., make him heterosexual). Who better than a shady, sexually ambiguous middle-aged man to consort with the enemy?






But writer Carroll Young specialized in buddy-bonding jungle flicks and director Lee Scholem evoked the homoerotic male gaze constantly in such television programs as The Adventures of Superman, Maverick, Colt 45, Sugarfoot, and 77 Sunset Strip: neither would be content to let the two movie hunks remain antagonists. 

 So early in the film, Arnold saves Johnny from drowning. 

 A few scenes later, Johnny saves Arnold from a leopard. 

Arnold apparently enjoyed the rescue, so he splashes about in the river until a crocodile investigates, then calls out for help. Johnny comes running, but he trips and falls, knocking himself unconscious (he is fifty years old, after all). When Arnold realizes that he’s not going to be enveloped in the hunk’s arms, he pulls out a knife and dutifully saves himself.

Scholem believed that audiences could never tire of men holding each other and saying “Are you all right?." so he had the two rescue each other many, many times.  

They spend the rest of the movie with one’s hand pressed firmly on the other’s shoulder, sometimes for two full minutes (try this at home; it’s impossible: within sixty seconds, your partner will either break contact or want to kiss). 

Meanwhile Luora (Judy Walsh), the governor’s “half-breed” ward and secret girlfriend, falls all over Johnny, cooing and batting her eyes, but Johnny ignores her. She invites him on a midnight swim; when he refuses, she snips “are you that anxious to get rid of me?” He is. 

 When she sees the two men enter a cave together to do something that is none of her business, she pretends to be attacked by a crocodile, so Johnny will pry his hand from Arnold’s shoulder (or wherever it is at this point) long enough to rescue her. But after the faux rescue, Johnny rushes right back to Arnold again.

Luora turns out to be the culprit, conspiring with her handsome lover Rovak (Bruce Cowling) to sell the cobalt to the enemy and pin the blame on Arnold. She also happens to be the queen of a savage tribe, which she orders to feed Johnny and Arnold to a crocodile (the title is misleading: no cannibals threaten to eat anyone). 

They escape at the last moment (with the requisite hand-on-shoulder “Are you all right?”), and in the ensuing gunplay, the governor, Luora, and Rovak are all killed. To tie up all of the loose ends, Arnold is named the new governor.

In the last scene, his hand still superglued to Arnold’s shoulder, Johnny says “I guess it’s time to move on,” softly and hesitantly, as if he wants to be talked out of it. Arnold has no time to respond – there’s a crash in the office. It’s the chimp, Kimba, messing up the place. Fade out to laughter, and we never hear Arnold’s response to the question of Johnny leaving. This was his last movie – maybe he stayed.