Apr 21, 2013

Brokeback Mountain for the 1950s: Laramie

Fifty years before Brokeback Mountain and twenty years before Zachariah, the tv Western Laramie gave us a portrait of two cowboys in love.

Shortly after the Civil War, Slim Sherman (played by an actor with the regrettably anonymous name John Smith) and his teenage brother Andy (Bobby Crawford) run a ranch and a stagecoach relay station in Wyoming Territory.  A hunky drifter, Jess Harper (Robert Fuller) comes to town and draws Andy's attention (for obvious reasons).   

Robert Fuller and Bobby Crawford also became friends in real life, and were often seen in Hollywood hotspots together.

But Slim found his own romantic intentions stymied, so after the first season he shipped Andy off to boarding school so he could have Jess to himself.  After that they were blatantly physical, emotionally intense partners. Not even the third-season addition of Spring Byington as single mother Daisy Cooper could detract from their gay subtext.

They were unusual among 1950s cowboys for their occasional shirtless and undewear shots on-screen (as opposed to just in the muscle magazines), thus enhancing the homoerotic gaze.


John Smith was one of talent agent Henry Willson's stable of gay and gay-friendly 1950s hunks (others included Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter), so he may have been gay or bisexual, though of course he never made any public statements.


He had a long career in Westerns and actioners where his shirt had to come off, including The Women of Pitcairn Island (1956), Cimarron City (1958-59), Island of Lost Women (1959), and Hondo (1967). 













Robert Fuller was one of the movie magazine hunks of the 1950s, eagerly photographed when he was seen in public with either men or women (he was married twice).  After Laramie, he had starring roles on Wagon Train, The Big Valley, Emergency!, Guns of Paradise, and Walker: Texas Ranger.