Aug 17, 2016

Dom Deluise and Sons: Gay Stereotypes Were a Step Forward

The most flamboyantly feminine actor in the 1970s was not Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly: it was Dom Deluise (below), who played gay-coded roles in many of his buddy Burt Reynold's movies (Smokey and the Bandits II, Canonball Run, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), and many of his buddy Mel Brooks' movies (Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, The World's Greatest Lover).   It seemed that you couldn't go to any comedy where Dom wasn't camping it up.

His characters were all gay stereotypes -- in fact, they were rather homophobic -- but you never saw positive portrayals of gay men anywhere.  Just depicting them as vivacious, fun-loving, and not monsters was a step forward in 1976.

Dom continued to work steadily during the 1980s and 1990s, moving into voice work, appearing as himself everywhere on tv, and publishing some best-selling cookbooks.  No movies with "real" gay characters, except for Girl Play (2004), in which a director casts two women to play lesbian lovers, and they end up falling for each other.

With all his flamboyance and camp, and his close friendships with closeted gay performers like Liberace and Jim Nabors, most people assumed that Dom was gay.  Maybe he was, but that didn't stop him from being married to Carol Arthur from 1965 to his death in 2009.

His three sons are all actors, but they have resisted the family tradition of flamboyant, gay-coded characters, playing mostly cops and other macho types:

1. Peter (left), born in 1966, is best known as Officer Doug Penhall on 21 Jump Street. 

2. Michael, born 1969, had a recurring role on The Gilmore Girls.

3. David (top photo), born in 1971, is best known as the father of a family of wizards in the Disney Channel's gay subtext Wizards of Waverly Place.