Aug 1, 2012

Savage Sam: Disney Adventure Kid

The Disney Adventure Boy was usually a teenager (Tommy Kirk, left, James MacArthur, Roger MobleyKurt Russell,Jeff East)    who demonstrated his all-American masculinity by taking off his shirt (as Jimmy Lydon also did inTom Brown's School Days)  and by falling in love with a girl.  By the end of the 1950s, heterosexual desire as as emblematic of "young manhood" as a hard chest and bulging biceps. 

Only a few of the Adventure Boys were preteens, or cast as preteens (Bryan Russell, Kevin Corcoran Ike Eisenmann).  Then the requirements changed: they weren't expected to like girls at all -- the mythic "discovery" was still in the future.  But they still had to take their shirts off, displaying their physiques as blatantly as the teenage musclemen.  And the conflation of semi-nudity and lack of heterosexual interest allowed a space for the recognition of same-sex desire among the preteens in the audience.



Kevin Corcoran was born in 1949 into a family of actors (with six siblings in the business).  By the age of 7, he was starring on The Mickey Mouse Club as one of the singing, dancing, ear-wearing Mouseketeers

In The New Adventures of Spin and Marty (1957), Kevin played Moochie, the tagalong annoyance to the gay-coded couple (Tim Considine, David Stollery).  The name (and the personality) stuck, and soon he was playing tagalong annoyances named Moochie in several Disney productions, often as the little brother of Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur, or both.


But not merely annoyances. The boy exceeds the teenager in masculine bravado, his masculinity becoming even more enhanced by the absence of heterosexual desire. His semi-nudity itself becomes queer, signifying maleness without a feminine gaze. 


In the boy-and-dog Western, Savage Sam (1963), for instance, 14-year old Kevin plays Arliss Coates, his Old Yeller character, now living alone with his big brother Travis (Tommy Kirk). 





Mom and Dad are breezily dismissed, but adult guardian Uncle Beck (Brian Keith, who always wears pink) looks in on the boys from time to time, occasionally bringing along his gay-coded life partner, Lester White (Dewey Martin, who always wears lavender) and daring us to draw conclusions.

Travis does the wimmen’s work, cookin’ and cleanin’ and bein’ purty (the adult men constantly comment on how handsome he is), while Arliss, a scrappin’, ornery cuss, does the man’s chores.

Girl next door Lisbeth (Marta Kristen), responsible for demonstrating that Travis is heterosexual, overdoes it, eyeing him hungrily and bandying about barely-cloaked sexual innuendos. When they ride together, she places her hands not around his stomach, like most back-seat equestrians, but around his belt, a posture that might allow her intimate access to his privates. We can find few more risqué gestures in the Disney opus.

A band of Apaches, unregenerate savages of the old school, abduct Travis, Arliss, and Lisbeth, rip off the boys’ shirts to give the audience what they bought their tickets for, and force them on a cross-country journey back to their village. Butch Arliss squawks and fights, but shy, feminine Travis suggests that they bide their time until they can escape.


As a consequence, the Apaches pretty much leave Lisbeth and Travis alone, but they decide to make a brave out of Arliss. They grab and grope him exhaustively, including hands placed directly in his most intimate areas, suggesting a link between homoerotic desire and savagery, as juxtaposed with the “civilized” heterosexual romance of Travis and Lisbeth











Tommy Kirk was outed a few years later, and fired from Disney.  

Kevin played "the man of the house," his masculinity undiluted by a feminine desire for the feminine, in The Shaggy Dog (1959), Toby Tyler (1960), Swiss Family Robinson (1961), and The Mooncussers (1962).  In adolescence he retired from acting, but continues to work behind the camera, directing episodes of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Quantum Leap, Baywatch, and Murder She Wrote.