Mar 31, 2013

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

A decade before Escape from New York transformed him into action hero beefcake, Kurt Russell played a hunky, fresh-faced teenager in eight Disney movies, from The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968) to The Strongest Man in the World (1975).  Only The Secret of Boyne Castle (1968) was an adventure, designed to demonstrate the masculinity of American youth during the Cold War.

The others were comedies with a far different goal, to mollify adult fears of hippies during the era of Woodstock and Kent State by presenting a harmless, good-natured youth rebellion (and one limited to white, middle class, hetero kids).

So there are plenty of muscular male actors, but no beefcake shots, and lots of buddies, but not a lot of gay subtexts.

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is the first of Kurt's three forays as Dexter Riley, a mild-mannered misfit vaguely studying science at Medfield College -- essentially the same role that Tommy Kirk played as "scrambled egghead" Merlin Jones a few years before.  Tommy, recently out and outed, was obviously miserable and struggling, and his co-stars hysterically overacted to keep him in line. Kurt and his costars are relaxed and confident, having fun with the goofy plot (something about Dexter being struck by lightning, turning into a human computer, and thus helping his friends win an all-important academic competition).

Dexter's friends are played by former teen idol John Provost (top photo); Frank Webb, who enjoyed a few years of teen idol stardom but died tragically at age 26 (center photo); and cute redheaded Michael McGreevey, who specialized in goofball characters.  There's also a girl, but she doesn't have much to do besides say "Be careful!"

Gay actor Caesar Romero played the mob boss who kidnaps Dexter so his friends can mount a daring rescue.


  1. Frank Webb had actually retired from acting and become a minister and school bus driver in Slayton, Minnesota, when he died in a multi-car accident.

  2. Frank Webb's character was also seen sleeping shirtless in the bunk bed above Dexter Reilly (sic), no pecs visible but definitely bare shoulders.

  3. I guess people in the 60s knew nothing about computers. AI was non-existent back then, and modern AIs can still be tripped up with randomness or infinite choices.

    There are still people who still live in 1969, though. Tom Friedman.

    1. They knew what computers were, but they had never seen one except on tv, where they were portrayed as gigantic walls full of blinking lights.


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