Mar 8, 2013

Johnny Dangerously

 I spent 1984-85 teaching at Lone Star College, aka Hell-fer-Sartain State
College.  A student took off his clothes in my class, I got some nice visits from Bruce and Viju, but otherwise it was miserable.

I read a lot of science fiction and went to a lot of movies.  The one I remember most was not based on a novel by a gay writer, like The Razor's Edge and A Passage to India; it didn't have extensive beefcake or bonding, like  Terminator, The Falcon and the Snowman, and Nightmare on Elm Street; it didn't even have an extraordinary amount of homophobia, like Dune and The Breakfast Club.

The movie I remember most clearly from my year in Texas is Johnny Dangerously.

It's a spoof of those 1930s crime dramas like Dead Endwith two men on opposite sides of the law: Johnny (Michael Keaton)  and his brother Tommy (Griffin Dunne of American Werewolf in London).  Originally a good kid, circumstances force Johnny to go to "the dark side," where he becomes a successful gangster, even paying for Tommy's law school tuition. 

Meanwhile rival gang leader, the flamboyantly gay-vague Danny Vermin (Steve Piscopo), exhibits a love-hate attraction for the dashing young gangster. 

Later, Tommy disapproves of Johnny's gang activities, so Johnny agrees to "go straight."  He's framed for murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair.  Then Tommy is captured by Danny Vermin, so Johnny escapes and mounts a daring nick-of-time rescue. 

There isn't a lot of beefcake, though Joe Piscopo (top) and Michael Keaton (left) have displayed their muscles elsewhere.  There are some of the standard 1980s homophobic slurs. Johnny and Tommy get girls -- Johnny's is played by Marilu Henner of Taxi.  Not a lot of gay connections in the actors' other works.

But sometimes a classic gay subtext, complete with a same-sex rescue, is enough, especially on a bleak January afternoon when you're playing hookey from your job at Hell-fer-Sartain State College.

Flipper Toys

When I was a kid in the 1960s, the Saturday or Sunday night tv series Flipper (1964-67) was a great source of beefcake, about two boys, their Dad, and a dolphin in the Florida Everglades. I thought Sandy (Luke Halpin) was too skinny, but Bud (Tommy Norden) had a bodybuilder's physique, and Dad (Brian Kelly) was nicely built, with a hairy chest.

Unfortunately, the Flipper toys usually emphasized the dolphin rather than the beefcake, and the figures at the edge of the picture were bizarrely drawn.

For example, this Flipper lunch box: what is that liquid shimmering on the two boys who look nothing like Bud and Sandy?  They look like contestants in  a greased pig contest.

 And this tie-in novel: why are both the redhead and the blond, who are drawn as several years older than Bud and Sandy, facing away from the viewer?  So we can't tell that they're stand-ins?

This puzzle depicts Bud as somewhat less muscular than on tv, and with the face of an elderly grandmother.

The Flipper comic book series lasted for only three issues.  They all had nice photo covers, but even as a kid, I thought the artwork inside inept.

f you wanted to see the real Bud, Sandy, and Porter Ricks, not a crazy artist's rendition, you had to wait for the show to be rerun.

See also: Sandy Ricks in Trouble

Mar 6, 2013

Travis Turner: A Prince for Christmas

Kids who are keeping track of the live-action versions of The Fairly Oddparents probably noticed Travis Turner as a surly elf in Nickelodeon's Fairly Odd Christmas.  And he looks so much like teen idol Chace Crawford (left) that even Nickelodeon can't tell them apart, misidentifying him on its "Teen Nick" website.

They may not know that the diminuitive, elfish 23-year old has a large following in his native Vancouver as a rapper and dj.  He has released an album under the name Little T: Back to Basics.

Travis is an accomplished actor, performing in Midsummer Night's Dream and Lord of the Flies on stage, and in a number of tv series and movies in the comedy, drama, and teen gore genres.  Often as threatened kids:

Chased by a serial killer dressed as the Easter Bunny in Easter Bunny Bloodbath (2010)

A boy imprisoned in a basement in Confined (2010).

Or gay-vague threatening kids:

A boy who turns an entire town into demons (with a little help from his brother) on Supernatural (2011).

Or sometimes just gay vague:

In Marley and Me: The Puppy Years (2011), Travis plays Bodi Grogan, the owner of a talking dog who causes mayhem at a dog show, but apparently breaks with "family movie" tradition by not getting a girlfriend.

In A Princess for Christmas (2011), Travis plays Milo Huntington, a teenage orphan who travels to Europe with his legal guardian, the 20-ish Jules.  They meet the Duke's son, Ashton (Sam Heughan, right, seen here getting ready for action in the gay-themed A Plague over England).  Ashton falls in love with Jules, but also buddy-bonds with Travis and draws him out of his depression, making him smile for the first time since his parents died.

He is currently starring as the gay-coded Astor in the Canadian teencom Some Assembly Required.

The Lucy Show

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were no reruns of I Love Lucy; I knew only The Lucy Show (1962-68).

Apparently there were two versions.  The first (1962-65) was an early Kate and Allie: Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) and her friend Viv (Vivian Vance) live in Danville, New York, with their children (Jimmy Garrett, Candy Moore, Ralph Hart).  Before my time.

But I remember the second version (1965-68), with Lucy Carmichael living in Los Angeles, where she worked for blustering bank president Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) and got into crazy predicaments.   I first watched in November 1966, when my birthday changed from 8:00 to 8:30.

It wasn't as evocative as my "good beyond hope" programs of 1966: Run Buddy Run, The Time Tunnel, Flipper, That Girl.  Maybe because there was no beefcake, and at the age of six I was all about muscles.  But it did have four points of interest:

1. Lots of cute guest stars, like Frankie Avalon, Ken Berry, and Clint Walker (left). Not her son, Desi Arnaz Jr., though.

2. Years later, when I began watching classic movies and tv shows, I realized that many of the stars were familiar from guest appearances on The Lucy Show: Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, George Burns, Paul Winchell, John Wayne, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar.

3. The hip, sprightly Mary Jane (Mary Jane Croft, right), who seemed to "like" Lucy, and continued to hang around in spite of the constant scrapes and catastrophes.

4. Lucy and Mr. Mooney were two grown-ups, a man and a woman, but not married to each other.  In fact, they weren't married to anyone, nor did they express any interest in getting married.   Maybe Los Angeles offered an escape from the endless man-woman couples that I saw in real life, that the adults insisted was my destiny.

Maybe Los Angeles was a "good place."

Roadside Beefcake

Every year during Dad's vacation, we spent a week in a cabin on a lake somewhere in the northwoods, usually Minnesota, occasionally Wisconsin or Michigan, once Manitoba.  It was awful -- no tv, no movies, no museums or art galleries, just a lot of swimming, boating, and fishing (though once we visited Alexandria, Minnesota, site of the Kensington Runestone).  I might as well have stayed in the cub scouts.

But if you knew where to look, you could find beefcake anywhere, and not just in the shirtless man-mountains wandering the country roads, who could sometimes be persuaded to flex for you.

Many of the small towns we passed featured statues honoring local Native Americans, like Big Chief Germain in St. Germain, Wisconsin. There actually wasn't such a person; the bulging biceps came from the sculptor's imagination.

The descendants of Scandinavian immigrants have erected many statues that celebrate their Viking heritage (or to promote the theory that Vikings explored the region during the 13th century).  This one in Gimli, Manitoba, near Winnipeg, was constructed by George Barone in 1967. At the time I thought the Viking was bare-chested, but maybe he's just really, really muscular.

State and provincial capitol buildings were always good for beefcake based on Greek or Roman mythology.  When I was a kid, the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul was capped with this statue, "The Progress of the State," by Daniel Chester French and Edward Clark Potter.  The muscleman represents prosperity.  In 1995 it was moved to the southern entrance.

But the Holy Grail of Roadside Beefcake was the Golden Boy (real name: Eternal Youth), sculpted by Georges Gardet and perched atop the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg: amazingly muscular, golden, and naked.

I couldn't get close enough to see him this clearly, but as a symbol of Manitoba, his image adorned decorative plates, spoons, key chains, pin-backs, postcards, and toys.  When I spent my allowance on a few, Mom and Dad seemed happy that I was taking such an interest in my Canadian heritage.

See also: The Top 10 Public Penises of Minnesota; the Big Men of American Tall Tales.

Mar 4, 2013

Revisiting Brideshead Revisited

January 18th, 1982, a Monday night, the second week of classes in the spring semester of my senior year.  I'm lying on the bed in the attic room my brother and I once shared -- he's married and gone -- reading Ciro Alegria's El mundo es ancho y ajeno (Broad and Alien is the World) and watching tv on our small portable set. Nothing on network but two boring tv movies and MASH, so I turn it to PBS.

And I find Brideshead Revisited, an adaption of the Evelyn Waugh novel about 1920s Oxford undergrad Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) falling in love with the flamboyant, teddy bear-toting, alcoholic Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews).

They run away to Venice together; they go slumming in Soho, along with Sebastian's sister Julia.  Then Ryder begins a romantic entanglement with Julia, and the outraged Sebastian dumps him and runs off to Morocco.  Later he hooks up with a sleazy German named Kurt, and later still he dies.  Ryder can't marry Julia because she's Catholic and he's an atheist, so they just live together.  Later he becomes Catholic.

I'm mesmerized.  Sure, no one Says the Word, but it's obvious to everyone around them, even Sebastian's mother, Lady Marchmain.  And in 1981, surrounded by the hetero-horniness of workplace sitcoms and the murderous drag queens of dramas, just seeing two men involved in a romance was a triumph.  And they walked arm in arm, cuddled, kissed, even went nude sunbathing.

Thirty years have passed.  I've studied a lot of LGBT history and literature, and watched a lot of gay movies, and I've found that you can't go home again. Today I strongly dislike Brideshead.  Sebastian is certainly gay, but a decadent wastrel who ends up dead.  Ryder may fall in love with him, but then he moves on to Julia.  Evelyn Waugh, who wrote the original novel, believed that gayness is a phase -- adolescents, newly potent but forbidden access to the opposite sex, naturally turn to each other.  Their brief period of quasi-romance ends when they move on to "mature" heterosexual love.

In 2008, the BBC aired a new version of Brideshead, with Matthew Goode (left) as Charles Ryder and Ben Wishaw (right) as Sebastian.  This time there's no subtext: Sebastian is gay.  But there's also no romance: Ryder is heterosexual but pretending to be interested in Sebastian to gain access to his vast wealth.

 It's more honest -- and there's a lot more nudity -- but nothing can match the joy of seeing overt same-sex romance on tv for the very first time.

See The Death of Peter Pan, about another doomed love in 1920s Oxford.

Blackpool: Gay Musical Comedy Murder Mystery

Blackpool is a resort town in the industrial north of England with a tawdry reputation, sort of like Atlantic City in the U.S.  The British tv miniseries Blackpool is a musical/comedy/drama about a run-down arcade in Blackpool where a young man is found murdered.  Detective Peter Carlisle (David Tennant, right) is sent to investigate.

He finds himself immediately at loggerheads with Ripley Holden (David Morrissey, left), the arcade's somewhat seedy owner -- and prime suspect; eventually he falls in love with Ripley's depressed, neglected wife.

A major plot twist comes when Ripley's awkward teenage son, Danny (Thomas Morrison), confesses to the murder.  But of course he's not really the murderer.  And in a big reveal, he turns out to be gay.

I could do without the big reveal -- why not have everyone know he is gay throughout, rather than having us endure another long, boring "I'm tired of hiding" speech? But  I like Danny being a rather dim working-class lout rather than a Hollywood gay stereotype.  And I liked Ripley's reaction. He gains a new insight into his son, the two become closer than before, and in the end -- after the murder is solved -- he gives Danny the arcade.

David Tennant, named "Sexiest Man in the Universe" by the British gay magazine The Pink Paper, has been a familiar face on tv and the British stage for years. He played Doctor Who as probably bisexual, along with John Barrowman as the bisexual Jack Harkness.  David Morrissey, also a former Doctor Who, currently plays the sinister Governor on the post-Apocalyptic series The Walking Dead.  They've both appeared nude in other projets.

Blackpool was 21-year old Thomas Morrison's professional acting job.  Afterwards he had guest spots on Holby City, The Doctors, Casualty, and Any Human Head, and played Hooper (Ryder's platoon commander)  in the 2008 adaption of the gay classic Brideshead Revisited.  

In 2011-2012 he starred in the medical drama Monroe as an unconventional hospital porter.  He hasn't appeared nude elsewhere.

Jason Dolley in the House

22-year old Jason Dolley has spent most of his career at the Disney Channel, where heterosexist boy-obsessed-with-girl is the order of the day, so he hasn't had many opportunities for gay projects.  But he's had his share of gay subtexts.  And shirtless, semi-nude and underwear shots.

Saving Shiloh (2006): Teenage Marty (Jason) and his dog Shiloh must team up to save Shiloh's evil ex-owner, Judd (Scott Wilson), when he is accused of killing a man.  They both end up befriending the reformed nogoodnik, because, "When you open your heart, anything is possible."

Minutemen (2008): Virgil (Jason) and the nerdish genius Charlie (Luke Benward) have an intense, passionate buddy-bond that leaks through in spite of the scripted girl-craziness.

Cory in the House (2007-2008).  Cory Baxter (Kyle Massey), the son of the head chef at the White House, goes to an exclusive private school, where he crushes on an ambassador's daughter and becomes best friends with Newt (Jason), son of a Supreme Court Justice. Jake Thomas played their snippy antagonist.

Though both boys were scripted as standard Disney girl-crazy, subtexts abounded.  Cory thinks that another boy is asking him out, and says "Sorry, you're not my type."  Newt sees Cory at the mall with another boy, and accuses him of "cheating.

Even Cory's Dad, Victor, gets into the act.  After a comedy of errors, he ends up in bed in the Lincoln Bedroom with the President, just as a tour group approaches.  "We can't let them see us!" Victor cries.  "They'll think we're...." Long pause while the studio audience howls at the awareness of what two men in bed signifies.  "They'll think we're. . .lazy, sleeping during the day!"

Good Luck, Charlie (2010-): A rare Disney Channel nuclear comedy sitcom. Jason plays the oldest son, PJ, who has another black best friend, the nerdish Emmett (Micah Williams).

Bradley Steven Perry (right) plays his younger brother, the preteen operator Gabe.

Lots of rumors about Jason being gay in real life, but so far in print and video interviews he's only talked about girls.

Mar 3, 2013

Spring 1983: The Other Victorians

When I was in high school, no teacher would ever Say the Word.  In college, my professors would Say the Word only to "prove" that no author in the history of the world had ever been gay.  But when I started grad school in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1982, one of my professors, Dr. Harcourt, a tall, thin, sprightly lady with a trilling voice, would Say the Word with zestful abandon.

It was in my seminar in Victorian Literature, roughly 1830 to 1900.  In her attempt to "epater la bourgeoisie," Dr. Harcourt would chirp about every scandal and debauchery of every writer we covered-- and she believed being gay to be the most scandalous and debauched, so she always put it at the end, with a little twitter.

A.E. Housman, who wrote lushly romantic descriptions of young athletes: "He liked going to brothels and getting spanked, and he was (twitter) a homosexual!"

Walter Pater, who wrote the scholarly study The Renaissance, as well as more lushly romantic descriptions of young athletes: "He was a pederast and (twitter) a homosexual!"

Richard Burton, who translated The Arabian Nights: "He was an opium-addict, and (twitter) a homosexual!"

Algernon Charles Swinburne, who wrote poems in praise of Sappho: "He was an alcoholic, an atheist, and "(twitter) a homosexual!"

And so on through James M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan), Saki, illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, Edward Fitzgerald, John Stuart Mill (author of On Liberty), Gerard Manley Hopkins, half of the famous operetta team Gilbert and Sullivan, and of course Oscar Wilde.

Strangely, she didn't mention the gay couple in Julia Horatia Ewing's Jackanapes, perhaps because the author was heterosexual. And poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson didn't rate a twitter and a "He was a homosexual!", even though he wrote the long eulogy In Memoriam A.H.H. to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died young.  It is famous today for the lines "'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."  Maybe because Tennyson liked ladies, too?


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