Jul 29, 2013

The Nanny and the Naked Man

After I left my doctoral program at USC in 1989 (due to doctoral committees insisting that "you can't say gay"), I bounced around West Hollywood for a few years, trying out new careers: minister, human resources assistant, juvenile probation officer.  Nothing seemed right.  In 1995, my partner and I moved to San Francisco, where I took some courses at San Francisco City college, and tried even more careers.  I published a book, about 30 articles, and a dozen or so short stories, but the royalties weren't enough to pay my half the rent (at least I could impress people by saying "I'm a writer.").

My 36th birthday was coming up.  What did I want to do for the rest of my life?

The answer came from, of all places, The Nanny.  

One of the most popular of sitcoms about servants who revitalize a dying family (others include Nanny and the Professor, Charles in Charge, Who's the Boss, and Mr. Belvedere), The Nanny (1993-1999) starred  Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, a working-class Jewish girl from Flushing, Queens, Long Island.  Visiting Manhattan to sell makeup door-to-door, Fran accidentally encounters the depressed, morbid, dreary family of Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield, injects them with joie de vivre, and lands a job as the Nanny (eventually, of course, The Wife).

There wasn't a lot of gay content.  For a Broadway producer, Maxwell doesn't encounter any gay performers.  Fran has a gay hairdresser; David L. Lander plays a gay Squiggy; Maxwell dates a woman who turns out to be gay.  The butler Niles was fey, persnickety, gay-vague, but he turned out to be straight, and eventually married Maxwell's business partner C.C. Babcock.

Nor was there a lot of beefcake.  Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy, top photo) was handsome, and eventually Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury, left) developed a degree of teen-idol cuteness for the younger gay kids.

Nevertheless it was a Castro Street must-see due to the never-ending parade of famous guest stars, the snappy banter, and gay symbolism of an underdog taking charge and "moving on up."

Fran Drescher is a strong gay ally, besties with her gay ex-husband Marc Jacobson.  She turned the experience of living with him into a sitcom, Happily Divorced (2011-).  To promote the series, she held a contest called "Love is Love Gay Marriage Contest," and, using her ministerial certificate from the Universal Life Church, performed the weddings of the winning couples.

And the naked man on the horse: on May 6, 1996, Brighton gets a French tutor, and, bucking tradition, instead of a hot girl, it's a hot guy, Philippe (Paolo Seganti, left, in a photo from an Italian magazine).

It was a silly episode, mostly about people confusing "Je t'adore" and "Shut the door."  But it started a train of reasoning:

Of all the things I had done, interviewing bodybuilders, counseling juvenile delinquents, researching housing trends, writing job ads, what I liked the most was standing in front of a classroom.  Teaching.  The main job of college professors.

When the episode ended and we switched the tv to the last half of Melrose Place, I turned to my partner and said "I think I want to go back to school, and try for a Ph.D. again"

See also: My 12 Careers