Nov 3, 2012

Stealing Sinatra


Stealing Sinatra (2003) is a caper movie about the real-life kidnapping of 19-year old Frank Sinatra, Jr., son of the famous singer, in December, 1963.  The kidnappers were down-and-out entrepreneur Barry Keenan and down-and-out fisherman Joe Amsler, both 23, plus Joe's father, Johnny Irwin.  Barry and Joe had attended University High School in Los Angeles, where they knew many celebrity children, and thus got the idea of kidnapping one of them (their first choice was Bob Hope's son, Tony).

Barry Keenan, Joe Amsler, and Frank Sinatra Jr. were all heterosexual.

 So why does the DVD of Stealing Sinatra contain previews for only gay-themed movies, Jack and Manhood, and the gay-themed tv series The L Word?

Because in the Showtime version, Frank (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is plainly gay, with feminine mannerisms and an effeminate pinky ring, singing about girls only because his career requires it, but otherwise spending all of his time with men.  He is kidnapped while he and a buddy, drummer John Foss (Colin Cunningham) are sitting around in their hotel room in their underwear.  

Barry (David Arquette) and Joe (Ryan Browning, left) kidnap Frank  for the money, of course, but also for. . .something else.   Joe big brothers him, and Mr. Irwin (William H. Macy) gives him speeches about self-confidence and being your own man.  Barry keeps staring at him with soul-searching passion.  They are a lot alike, both outsiders, both lonely, both waiting for someone.















Frank uses the kidnapping to open up, seek advice, explore how to establish his own identity in his father's shadow, and start looking for real emotional connections: "I've never loved anybody!" he  moans.  He doesn't actually fall in love with Barry or Joe -- the kidnapping remains a harrowing ordeal -- but now at least he knows where to begin. 



Laverne and Shirley

Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) first appeared on an episode of Happy Days, when Fonzie hooks himself and Richie up with two "loose women" who are sure to "put out."
In 1976 (after Cindy Williams took time off to star in The First Nudie Musical)they spun-off into their own series, Laverne and Shirley (1976-83).  Theirr characters became more stable, friends and roommates who worked as bottle-cappers at Schotz Brewery in Milwaukee while waiting to "make all their dreams come true."  Those dreams involved snaring rich husbands.

It wasn't one of my top 10 programs, but everyone else in the family watched, so I saw it relatively often.  And, in spite of the heterosexist premise and standard 1970s obsession with sex, there was quite a lot of gay content.

1. In 1950s lesbian culture, you had to decide whether you were a butch or a femme, and date only the other type.  It was scandalous for two butches or two femmes to hook up.  Laverne was strong, aggressive, a good fighter and a hard drinker, into sports and home repairs, while Shirley was soft-spoken, polite, retiring, sexually repressed, and into frilly lacy things. I didn't know anything about 1950s lesbian culture in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Laverne and Shirley out.







2. Shirley had a sort-of boyfriend, sort-of big brother in Carmine (Eddie Mekka), an aspiring actor-dancer-singer-boxer.  Carmine's main source of income was an older woman named Lucille, who giave him gifts and money in exchange for unspecified favors. Outside of work and friendship, Carmine didn't seem particularly interested in women. I didn't know much about hustlers in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Carmine out.



3. Carmine was amazingly hot, though rarely if ever shirtless on the show (the photo is from Circus of the Stars).  And lots of other hunky guys paraded through Laverne and Shirley's apartment, as boyfriends or relatives,  including Christopher Guest, Ted Danson, Ed Begley Jr.,  and Ed Marinaro.











4. The annoying upstairs neighbors, Lenny (Michael McKean, middle) and Squiggy (David L. Lander, left), made the usual hand-biting gestures and kissing noises whenever they saw an attractive women (or in this case, an attractive man), but they rarely attempted to actually date anyone. They were  devoted to each other, permanent, exclusive, passionate partners.




In a 1996 episode of The Nanny, David L. Lander, swishing it up as Fran's gay-stereotype landlord, states that he has been with his partner "Leonard" for twenty years (that is, since the show began in 1976).



Nov 2, 2012

The Lord of the Rings


I had a friend in high school who claimed to have read J.R.R. Tolkien's  Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through 38 times (for a fast reader, that would take 2 hours per day, every day, for 5 years). I barely made it through once, but I returned to certain passages over and over again.  They were "good beyond hope."

A company of men.  Working together, fighting, rescuing each other, hugging, saving the world.













Heterosexual desire almost absent: Tom Bombadil is devoted to Goldberry, the Ents pine away for the Entwives, Aragorn pines for Arwen (though not as much as in the movie series), and a few poems and songs say things like "Little Princess Mee -- Lovely was she," but nobody read them anyway.

And lots of same-sex romance.


1.  Everyone today sees a romance between Frodo and Sam, especially as portrayed by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in the movie series.  But I didn't see it.  Tolkien was highly class conscious, and Frodo and Sam are master and devoted servant.  At the end of the story, Frodo goes to the Undying Lands by himself, and Sam goes home to his wife.

But I did notice that Frodo is gay.  He surrounds himself with men and never once mentions a woman.  (He reveres Galadriel, but as a goddess to be worshipped, not as an object of desire). 











2. Merry and Pippin (played by Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd in the movie) are devoted to each other.  They go through deadly danger for each other, and when they are split up, each pines for the other.  After the War of the Ring, they go to work for Aragorn, so they can stay together forever.






3. The Elf Legolas and the Dwarf Gimli (played by Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies in the movie) are sworn enemies, working together only to fight a greater evil.  But as the novels progress, they develop a grudging admiration, then a friendship, then a romance.  Neither seeks out a wife.








After the War of the Rings, when Legolas goes to the Undying Lands, Gimli comes with him. Tolkien comments:

It is strange that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle Earth for any love, or that the Eldar (Elvish Gods) should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. . .More cannot be said about this matter.

This is a curious way to end the discussion, suggesting not that Tolkien has no more information on the subject (of course he does, he wrote the books and he could invent any information he wanted), but that he is forbidden from saying more.  What is forbidding him?  It seems that, in attempting to understand Legolas and Gimli, their love for each other, and their motive for forsaking Middle Earth together, Tolkien is drawing dangerously close to acknowledging a love that he dare not acknowledge, and he abruptly forbids himself from considering the matter further.

 Tolkien was no doubt quite as homophobic as others of his generation, or moreso, a conservative Roman Catholic who eschewed the modern era.  But his subject matter  -- Medieval epics like Beowulf and The Nibelungenlied -- traditionally minimize heterosexual exploits to concentrate on the manly love of comrades.  Tolkien couldn't help but acknowledge it, on some level, whether he wanted to or not.

Prince Valiant

During the 1960s, the Rock Island Argus printed mostly depressing 50-year old comic strips with jokes about husbands hating their wives or friends betraying each other, with little bonding (Out Our Way was an exception) and very little beefcake. Alley Oop and Prince Valiant were exceptions -- 50 years old, but muscle-heavy.

Prince Valiant was a color strip that appeared only on weekends.  Like Gasoline Alley, it featured characters aging in real life, but it was unique in having no speech balloons; text appeared at the bottom of each panel, making the strip seem more like an illustrated novel than a comic.







When it first appeared in 1938, Val was a young prince from Thule (modern day Norway) who traveled to Britain to become one of King Arthur's knights. Later he returned to Thule to help his father regain his throne, then traveled across Europe and Asia, fighting Goths and Huns, visiting the Holy Land (long before the Crusades).  By the 1960s, the middle-aged Val had settled in North America.

Generally Medieval fantasies (and real epics like The Song of Roland) offer little beefcake; knights wear shining armor, and their northern climate doesn't permit much skinny-dipping.







Sigfried in The Nibelungenlied gets naked, and Sir George in The Magic Sword (1962),  and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) in Excalibur (1981) take their shirts off, and that's about it.  But in Prince Valiant,  Val was shirtless more often than not.  His muscular physique was drawn in full color and in loving detail.







Unfortunately, through the 1960s, Val retained a 1930s page boy haircut, red lips, rosy cheeks, and long lashes, giving him a rather feminine appearance that didn't lend itself to romantic fantasies.  The name "Val" didn't help much.

And there was little buddy-bonding.  During the 1930s, Val sparred with rival prince Arn of Ord, but they became little more than grudging friends.  In fact, the main plotlines involved the fade out kiss.  First Val and Arn competed for the hand of the fair maid Ilene.  Then she died in a shipwreck, Arn was dropped from the strip, and Val turned his attentions to the fair maid Aleta.

They married, and in 1947 their son Arn was born (the first European baby born in North America).   Eventually they had three more children. When I started reading the strip in the 1960s, Arn was a mischievous teenager, but soon he, too, married.

 Hal Foster, the original cartoonist, also drew Tarzan for many years.   He died in 1982, but the strip is still going strong.


Nov 1, 2012

Classics Illustrated

A decade after the Seduction of the Innocent scandal that blamed comic books for single-handedly causing the downfall of society, teachers still thought they were cesspools of corruption.  Archie, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Lulu -- it didn't matter.  The only comics we could read with impunity at recess or summer camp were Classics Illustrated, the long-running series of comic adaption of adventure classics: Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans, Around the World in 80 Days.  

The publishers quickly ran out of adventure classics and began presenting adaptions of obscure works that no one except literary scholars ever read, like Eugene Sue's Mysteries of Paris, Emile Zola's The Downfall, Jules Verne's Michael Strogoffand Charles Nordhoff & James Hall's The Hurricane. 











But regardless of the "classic," you could always depend on shirtless and semi-nude muscle shots to draw the eye to the cover art.  Who knew that Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court had such a buffed physique?











There was also a Classics Junior series, with fairy tales and mythology.  The Magic Pitcher was about the muscular Hermes of Greek mythology dishing out a cornucopia, with disastrous consequences.


Oct 29, 2012

Mark Harmon

Former footballer Mark Harmon moved into modeling and then into acting during the 1970s, with roles in the usual suspects: Emergency, Adam-12, Police Woman, Love Boat.  He starred in three tv series: Sam (1977-78), 240-Robert (1979-80), Flamingo Road (1980-82), and St. Elsewhere (1983-86).











But I didn't watch any of those programs: I knew him from Battle of the Network Stars, which shoved hunks into Speedos and paraded them around for us: he appeared in 1981, 1982, and twice in 1984.














And for Let's Get Harry (1986), a rehash of the man-mountain genre, in which a regular guy named Harry (Mark Harmon) is taken hostage in Colombia, and a group of regular guys, including his brother (Michael Schoeffling, not to be confused with John F. Kennedy Jr., left) and best friend (Gary Busey, who previously appeared in Big Wednesday) come to the rescue.  Buddy-bonding, beefcake, and minimal heterosexual interest.












And for Summer School (1987), in which a slacker substitute teacher takes his class to the beach.  There's a heterosexist boy-meets-girl plot, but a huge amount of male nudity, especially Kevin (Patrick Labyorteaux) (Matthew's brother) and Larry (Ken Olandt), who takes a summer job as a stripper.  Plus a nicely-realized crush between slackers Dave (Gary Foley) and Chainsaw (Dean Cameron), a precursor to Orange County's Arlo and Chad.




While I wasn't looking, Mark Harmon was stacking up Golden Globes, Emmies, and up lots of "most beautiful people" award;, appearing nude in Playgirl;  and playing a doctor who contracts AIDS (through unprotected sex with a woman) on St. Elsewhere.  He's currently the central character on NCIS, which has had several gay-themed episodes.


Darkover


In Marion Zimmer Bradley's  Star of Danger (1965), which I first read in 1978, a sixteen year old Terran named Larry visits Darkover, a melange of feudal kingdoms where telepathy is common.   with his father.  Although cautioned not to leave the Terran sector, he does anyway, and meets the native boy Kennard. They quickly develop a Jonny Quest-Hadji sort of friendship, but their parents are suspicious and hostile, and forbid them from seeing each other.

The two are as disconsolate as any star-crossed lovers.  “I don’t like to say goodbye, Larry,” Kennard stammers. “I like you. . .I wish. . .” He takes Larry’s hand between both of his, and Bradley informs us that “Larry didn’t know for years how rare the gesture was.”

In spite of Dad’s admonition, Larry sneaks out again, and he and Kennard reunite, only to be captured by evil mercenaries.  They escape, but must cross the dangerous planet together,  facing more mercenaries, monsters, brigands, savages, and other dangers, dangers, always risking their lives for each other.  At one point they realize that they have a psychic link, and share a moment of intimacy rare in science fiction: “Kennard reached silently for Larry’s hand. . .the clasp slid up Larry’s elbow until their arms were enlaced as well as their hands.  It was a sign not alone of friendship but of affection and tenderness.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the novel Larry goes back to Earth for high school, and Kennard remains on Darkover.  Alone.

Hungry for more same-sex romance, I read all of the Marion Zimmer Bradley novels I could find.  And I found Heritage of Hastur (1975), in which Regis Hastur, attending private school on Darkover, desires his roommate, Dani: “he literally ached to slip across the brief space between their beds, slip into bed beside him, share with him this incredible dual experience of grief and tremendous joy.”   But Dani is a cristoforo, or Darkoverian Christian, so “of course” he condemns same-sex relations as evil, and Regis must keep his passion to himself.

As  Regis and Dani cross Darkover, rescuing each other from various evil fates, including the noisome pederast who seems to simper about in many science fiction novels, they recognize that they are in love.  Dani admits that he was always been in love with Regis, but was cowered by his internalized homophobia: “I was so ashamed. . .I wanted to die for  you, it would have been easier."





But when I first read the novel, I did not even realize that Regis and Dani were lovers , so squeamishly does Bradley tiptoe through the subsequent climax and denouement. The social forces of the 1970’s conspired to keep her inarticulate, me inobservant, and Regis and Danilo trapped by a heteronormativity that made their relationship trivial, expendable, and in the end shameful.  Nevertheless, there is none of the homophobia one finds in Ursula K. Leguin, and The Heritage of Hastur is the first novel I ever read in which men identify themselves, however tentatively, as “lovers of men.”

Shane Sinutko

During the late 1970s, I was way too old for Shane Sinutko (born 1965), but Brad, the kid I babysat for, was like totally in love with him.  He didn't actually say so, but every time Shane was on tv, we had to watch, and he collected Tiger Beat pinups of Shane as eagerly as I collected Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett.










And he was on tv a lot, reaching nearly the exposure of Moosie Drier.  A starring role on Code R (1977), guest shots on Quincy, Family, Baretta, The White Shadow.  A ton of movies, including The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Lassie: A New Beginning (1978), Samurai (1979).

And nearly as many after school specials, weekend specials, and schoolbreak specials.  Except Shane's tended to involve ample buddy-bonding and minimize or eliminate heterosexual interest:

Soup and Me (1978) and Soup for President (1978), an adaptation of the children's book series about the irascible Soup (Christian Berrigan), who keeps dragging his best friend Rob (Shane Sinutko) into mischief.













The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1978), about two buddies (Shane Sinutko, Eric Tazlitz) who try to get rid of a mischievous ghost.

My Mom's Having a Baby (1977) and Where do Teenagers Come From? (1980), about sex education.

 During the 1980s, Shane studied martial arts and played a couple of musclemen, such as Theseus in Minotaur (1982), but then the acting roles dried up.  The transition to adulthood was difficult: Shane didn't act for over a decade.  During his late teens, he was literally stabbed in the back.  He was homeless for awhile, and had to live under a house.


But then Shane re-invented himself with stunt work (he is Matt Damon's stunt double), and has returned to acting, playing cops on The X-Files and America's Most Wanted and a jarhead on The Bourne Supremacy (2004).