Sep 6, 2016

Green Acres: Gay Siblings on 1960s TV

One of the hayseed comedies of the 1960s, Green Acres (1965-71) was nearly as bereft of beefcake and bonding as Petticoat JunctionIt was a fish-out-of-water sitcom about a big city lawyer, Oliver Douglas (Eddie Arnold, center), who had a naively romantic view of rural life --  and so moved with his Hungarian heiress wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) to Hooterville.

Little did he know!  Although it was set in the same town as Petticoat Junction, with some of the same characters, Green Acres was played for surreal, absurdist humor.  Most of the townspeople were manipulative and greedy, but even those who were well-meaning looked askance at the pretensions of this blustering city feller and his pleasant but incompetent wife.

Little beefcake or bonding.  Oliver took his shirt off in one episode (not this photo), but he was too grandfatherly to be a fantasy boyfriend.

There was a long list of male characters: Mr. Drucker, who ran the general store; Mr. Haney, the local con artist entrepreneur; Hank Kimball, county agricultural agent; Eb, the lanky farm hand.  But none of them were particularly attractive; they were played as goofballs, not as heartthrobs. And there was nary a tender glance between them.

It's even hard to find a gay connection in their other roles.  The male actors were mostly from rural areas, and married to women for fifty years.  Tom Lester (Eb) is a Baptist minister, which leads me to conclude (perhaps unfairly) that he is homophobic.  Eva Gabor dated Merv Griffith, who was gay.


But all of that pales before a unique queer image: the Monroe Brothers, incompetent carpenters who were forever working on Oliver's house, consisted of Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield).  A woman with a man's name, who wears men's clothing and takes on a stereotypically male occupation: Ralph was coded as lesbian in spite of her long-term courtship of Hank Kimball.

Born in 1924, Mary Grace Canfield is an accomplished comic actress with roles as diverse as Mrs. Grundy in a tv adaption of Archie Comics, Gladys Kravitz's sister Harriet on Bewitched, and Goody Cloyse in Young Goodman Brown.  She has never married.

Alf, who never expressed any heterosexual interest, was played by Sid Melton.  The diminuitive, wise-cracking actor married only briefly, in the 1940s, and his huge number of tv and movie credits include several gay-subtext vehicles, such as Knock on Any Door (1949), about attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) in love with dashing young Nick Romano (John Derek).  He also played Sophia's dearly departed husband Sal on The Golden Girls.