Nov 4, 2013

It Happened in Athens: The End of 1950s Gay Hollywood

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a fad of movies set in modern Greece, where people (reputedly) spent their time dancing, drinking ouzo, breaking plates, and having colorful sexual adventures: Zorba the Greek, The Island of Love, Boy on a Dolphin, The Moon Spinners.  And with the summer Olympics coming up, the executives at 20th Century Fox got an idea for a sure-fire hit: a movie set during the first modern Olympics, in Athens in 1896!

It was titled It Happened in Athens to sound like a sequel to It Happened in Rome (1957).

They got the Hungarian Laszlo Vadnay to write a script about the poor shepherd Spiridon, who falls in love with the famous actress Eleni while competing in the 26-mile marathon.  Script tweaking added Christina, a poor girl for Spiridon to choose in the end, and Lt. Vinardos, a wealthy competitor in both the race and the love affair.  It was all very convoluted -- audiences would love it!

Greek hunk Nico Minardos would play Vinardos (get it?), and Eleni would be played by Jayne Mansfield, a big box office draw due primarily to her cleavage.  For the star, Spiridon, they cast Trax Colton, a new contract player discovered by Henry Willson.

Henry Willson discovered and nurtured dozens of beefcake stars during the 1950s, everyone from Rock Hudson to John Saxon.  But he fell on hard times after being outed -- he was gay, so his discoveries must be gay, too, anathema in 1950s Hollywood!  Old clients abandoned him, and he had a hard time getting new clients -- even those who were gay or bisexual didn't want the negative association.  He had to make do with the most eager or the most clueless -- like 30-year old used car salesman Louis Morelli.

Trax had no previous film credits, but studio execs felt that his good looks were enough to make the movie a success and catapult him to stardom as the next Rock Hudson.

Then someone made the Henry Willson connection.  The last thing they needed was another decade of paying off tabloids and arranging fake dates to keep a gay star in the closet.

Besides, he couldn't act.  And the film: overblown, convoluted, with a significant gay subtext between the two competitors.

 It sat on the shelf for two years and was finally released in 1962.  Trax Colton played a small part in the sex comedy The Marriage Go Round (1961) before being released from his contract and disappearing from Hollywood.

Ironically, he was probably heterosexual in real life -- he and Jayne Mansfield had an affair during the filming.  And probably too out-of-the-loop to be aware that signing on with Henry Willson would label him gay.

By the way, he has the smallest personal website I've ever seen, consisting of 6 photos and a 1-paragraph bio.

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