Nov 2, 2013

Nicholas Cortland: Model/Actor/Gay Icon of the 1970s

Here's how I found a forgotten gay icon of my past.

1.  On February 15, 1972, the spring of sixth grade, I saw the "Wild Weekend" episode of Mod Squad, about three hippies working as undercover cops.  Pete (Michael Cole) gets kidnapped, tied up, and presented as a party gift to his ex-girlfriend.

The other guests seem to like Pete, too; he's aggressively groped and manhandled, especially by the hunky prettyboy Doug.  But later Doug helps Pete escape.  Surely they liked each other, I thought!

2. A few years later, I saw the cult horror classic Frogs (1972) on Chuck Acri's Creature Feature. I thought the character of Kenneth Martindale was cute but creepy.  I was more interested in the homoromantic buddy bonding between Pickett and Clint (Sam Elliott, Adam Roarke).

 3. Recently I was reminded of the "Wild Weekend" episode, and hunky prettyboy Doug, so I looked him up in the IMDB.  Nicholas Cortland.  He lived from 1940 to 1988.  My AIDS radar went off.

His screen credits were nondescript: 2 soap operas, 7 guest spots on tv series, and 5 movies, the first in 1965, the last in 1985, nothing I had seen except for the Mod Squad episode and Frogs.  Two gay subtext vehicles -- he must be gay!

4. I found two obituaries, in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.  Sure enough, he was gay, and died of AIDS.  He was survived by his "long time companion," Peter R. Kruzan.

In 1976, Nicholas performed the lead in three productions of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco:  Edward Albee's Tiny Alice, Michael McClure's General Gorgeous, and Tennessee Williams' This is (an Entertainment), the latter written especially for him.  Two gay playwrights.

5. I checked Google Images for pictures, and found lots of beefcake shots, but they all seem to be of Nicky Cortland, a contemporary porn star.

6. Time to check my archive of nude photography.  Jackpot!  Nicholas Cortland appeared shirtless or fully nude in After Dark (March 1972), Playgirl (November 1973), and the gay magazine In Touch (Spring 1976).  Now there was a face, and a physique, to go with my long-ago memory of the guy who liked Pete.

Hundreds of gay actors, writers, directors, and other performers were lost to AIDS during the 1980s. You may think of Nicholas Cortland as a lesser light, not as famous as Rock Hudson, Liberace, or Brad Davis.

But none of them were visible in a small town in the Midwest on a cold winter day in 1972, when the word "gay" had not yet been spoken, and the possibility of men loving men not yet dreamed of, except in hints and signals.

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