Jul 1, 2015

Paul Anka: The Gay Next Door

Paul Anka was the first teen idol to be known for his physique as well as his music.  Other teen idols of the 1950s -- Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone -- may have been dreamy, but the teen magazines emphasized their cool threads, not their muscular chests. Paul not only had a face and a voice, he had a body, and he knew how to use it to his advantage.

His first single, "Diana," hit the top of the charts in 1957,  pushing hits by Jerry Lane Lewis and Elvis Presley out of the way.  "Puppy Love," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," and "Lonely Boy" followed, all chart toppers, mostly about lost or unrequited love.

In the early 1960s, as the British invasion limited the appeal of the 1950s-era teen idols, Paul re-invented himself as an adult contemporary performer, and continued to enjoy a string of hits: "In the Still of the Night," "You're Having My Baby," "One Man Woman."

And he made movies that required more underwear, swimsuit, and semi-nude shots than any other teen idol of the era.  Look in Any Window (1961) is particularly memorable.

Craig Fowler (Paul), the teenage son of dysfunctional parents, has a paralyzing "sexual abnormality."  He goes to a youth center and ogles the buffed athletes working out.

Then he spies on his hunky neighbor (Jack Cassidy, David Cassidy's dad), kissing his wife in the swimming pool.

Meanwhile rumors of his sexual deviance run through the neighborhood.  Two teenage boys chase him, yelling threats, and the cops are on his trail.  "Let me get my hands on any guy that isn't normal!" one grunts.

Craig tries to pursue a "normal" life by courting girl-next-door Ellen (Gigi Perreau), but eventually even "true love" can't repress his aberrant desires.

Nope, Craig's not gay -- that would have been too controversial for Hollywood in 1961. There are still almost no gay teenagers in mainstream film.  Craig's a Peeping Tom.  But the gay symbolism is obvious.

Assumed gay in real life, Paul was actually heterosexual, though he was friends with gay teen idol Sal Mineo and bisexual Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr..