May 26, 2013

Clay O'Brien: No Girls Allowed

Clay O'Brien (no relation to Western star Hugh O'Brian) probably wins the award for the most tv and movie appearances without any displays of heterosexual interest.  His characters display none at all.

Born in 1961, he first appeared , along with his older brother Sam and a dozen other child stars, in The Cowboys (1972), about a cowboy (John Wayne) who hires a group of preteens to drive his cattle to market. I haven't seen it, but it sounds like a "boys alone" buddy-bonding adventure.

The Duke took a special liking to Clay, and mentored him in the art and craft of being an on-screen cowboy.  They played father and son in Cahill, US Marshall (1973), and he used his influence to get Clay some roles as the son or surrogate son of some other big name cowboys: Fess Parker (Daniel Boone) in Climb an Angry Mountain (1972), James Garner (Maverick) in One Little Indian (1973), and Roy Rogers in Mackintosh and T.J. (1975).  Plus gay-vague "confirmed bachelor" Bill Bixby in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975).

For some reason, he was asked to appear semi-nude a lot.

With all of that older-younger buddy-bonding going on, you'd think that Clay would have little time for gay subtexts with boys his own age.  But he had a starring role in The Cowboys (1974), about a group of boys who run a cattle ranch.

Meanwhile Disney, which was still reeling from the stigma of the Tommy Kirk's outing, tried to revive the "teen genius" genre with preteens.  In The Whiz Kid and the Mystery at Riverton (1974), based on the Alvin Fernald books by Clifford Hicks, Magnificent Brain Alvin ( Christopher Shea, the original voice of Linus in the Peanuts animated specials) solves the mystery with the help of his best friend Shooie (Clay), the Greatest Athlete in the World.  The characters returned in The Whiz Kid and the Carnival Caper (1976).

Clay retired from acting during adolescence.  He became a cowboy in real life, a respected rodeo performer who has won seven world titles in team roping.  He is married with children.

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