Sep 9, 2015

Douglas Barr: The Gay Casting Couch

During the heyday of the Village People, they even found their way onto prime time: When the Whistle Blows was a sitcom about three hunky construction workers, Buzz (Douglas Barr, left), Randy (future soap hunk Phillip Brown), and Hunk (former pro-football star Tim Rossovich), plus their female coworker.  Like the Village People, they were all gay-coded but "really" heterosexual, spending their time off disco dancing and solving people's personal problems (one of the episodes was even entitled "Macho Man").

Though it was heavily promoted by the network, it aired on Friday nights, when the intended audience was out disco-dancing, so  only nine episodes aired in the spring and summer of 1980.

This was 31-year old former model Douglas Barr's first acting credit -- male models were always assume gay in the 1970s, so he had been the recipient of many casting-couch invitations by gay producers, directors, and casting agents, but he states that he always said "no" (he said "no" to female invitations, too).

He relied only on his talent, charm, handsome face, and obvious beneath-the-belt advantage to land his next role: disingenuous Howie Munson, sidekick to trucker-stuntman-bounty hunter Colt (Lane Majors) on Fall Guy (1981-86).  I've never seen it, but I understand that there was some buddy-bonding, and some shirtless and swimsuit-clad shots.

Along the way, Doug played a trapeze artist in a revealing leotard on Fantasy Island, and was displayed in a speedo on Battle of Network Stars.  Mostly he played men who fall for women, but in the "Rallying Cry" episode of Hotel (1985) he played half of a gay couple involved in a custody battle.

Next came more buddy-bonding: The Wizard (1986-87), about a little-person genius inventor (David Rappaport) who has globe-trotting adventures along with his sidekick-bodyguard-best buddy (Doug).

I met Douglas Barr at a party in 1987, but at the time I hadn't seen him in anything, so I didn't know he was a celebrity.  I knew that he was very nice and had a great physique.

Later he starred in Designing Women (1987-91) as Bill Stillfield, boyfriend and eventual husband of Charlene (Jean Smart), naive receptionist of the interior design company.

Since Designing Women, Doug has been involved with directing, especially tv movies with titles like Perfect Body, Sex, Lies, and Obsession, and Beautiful Girl.  He's written a few such movies himself, including The Cover Girl Murders and Taking a Chance on Love.  Not a lot of gay subtexts.  But he had more than enough early in his career.