May 19, 2013

They Had Faces Then: TV Hunks Before Beefcake

On a February 6, 1969 episode of That Girl, Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) helps out a nun, and then asks a passing priest for directions out of the convent.  He points the way, and she says "Thank you, Father."  He responds, "That's all right, my daughter."  The studio audience goes  into hysterics.

At the time I didn't get the joke -- the priest was played by Danny Thomas, star of the long-running sitcom Make Room for Daddy (1953-64), and Marlo's real life father.  I was eight years old, and all I could think of was that this guy was cute, and it would be nice to see him with his shirt off.  Turns out he looks better with his shirt on.

During the 1950s, male tv stars rarely took their shirts off, even in Westerns and adventure series (Ty Hardin, top photos, was never displayed nude or semi nude on Bronco).  And when they did, there was usually little of interest underneath except chest hair. So gay kids of the first Boomer generation couldn't depend on pecs and abs.  They had to concentrate on the faces.

Take Richard Greene, who starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-59).  Which photo would you prefer to tape to your bedroom wall?

Or Eddie Fisher, popular crooner who hosted Coke Time with Eddie Fisher (1953-57), and along the way married Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, and Connie Stevens.  Which photo is dreamiest?

There's something to be said for leaving your clothes on (well, maybe not if you're Robert Goulet).  With the raw erotic energy of the naked body obscured, the star looks suave, sophisticated, ready for romance, leading you to fantasies about holding hands and kissing on the doorstep rather than what might happen in the bedroom.  And at age eight, who cares about what happens in the bedroom?

See also: Beefcake Dads of 1950s Sitcoms

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