Apr 13, 2013

Toran Caudell, Boy Wizard

Born in 1982, Toran Caudell followed in his father Lane Caudell's footsteps with the gay subtext Max is Missing (1995). On vacation in Peru, Max (Toran) encounters a dying man, who gives him an ancient Incan mask.  It doesn't have magic powers, but  does send him on a wild flight through the wilderness,  chased by the bad guys, accompanied by the Quechua boy Juanito (Victor Rojas).




Nick of time rescues and physical buddy-bonding moments ensue.







Toran's shoulder-length blond hair and feminine pretty-boy features got him cast as a as shy, sensitive, gay-vague boy in Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard (1997): he finds a magic ring that transports him to King Arthur's Camelot (where he fails to get a girlfriend).

Between 1997 and 2001, he had a recurring role on Seventh Heaven, the preachy, heterosexist "family" drama about a minister with a large brood of hetero-horny kids. Goth kid Rod (Toran) enters the series by dating daughter Lucy, naturally, but he ends up running away from home and butting heads with his mother's psychotic boyfriend.



Otherwise Toran did mostly voice work on Nickelodeon cartoons: Recess, Hey Arnold, Rocket Power. 

Today he is a song writer and music producer. He composed music for The Osbournes and My Super Sweet Sixteen.  Still androgynous though no longer blond, he has made no public statements about his sexual identity.



Vince Edwards: from Nude Model to TV Doctor

Speaking of Chad Everett, Boomer kids in the early 1960s could watch another beefcake-heavy medical drama: Ben Casey (1961-66), with Vince Edwards as the original young, idealistic surgeon butting heads with an older establishment figure (Sam Jaffe).   The opening was somewhat heterosexist, with Sam Jaffe saying "man, woman, birth, death, infinity," and the plotlines lacked homoerotic subtexts, but Vince Edwards had a dark, intense face and beefy forearms (accentuated by a large gold watch) that attracted gay boys and their heterosexual gal pals.

The program had quite a large preteen fanbase: there were Casey comic books, trading cards, hospital play sets, board games, and cereal premiums.
Born in 1928, Vince Edwards started out as a physique model (there are many fully nude photos roaming around the internet), and played one of the first bodybuilders in the movies, in Mr. Universe (1951).

Other beefcake movies followed, including Hiawatha (1952) and Island Women (1958), but mostly he played thugs, heavies, cops, and regular guys on the wrong side of the law.  At the same time, he embarked on a brief singing career.
After Ben Casey, Vince paid his respects to the spy genre with Hammerhead (1968), and to the war genre with The Devil's Brigade (1968), but he spent most of his time in tv movies, again playing mostly heavies, escaped convicts and the psychopath next door.

In 1983, he starred as a Han Solo clone in Space Raiders, with 13-year old David Mendenhall taking the place of Luke Skywalker.

The Return of Ben Casey (1988) was the pilot for a potential tv series, but it didn't get picked up.

He also directed episodes of The Hardy Boys, Battlestar Galactica, BJ and the Bear, and The Fall Guy.








Given his past in nude physique modeling, one wonders if Vince Edwards had a connection to the gay subculture of 1950s Hollywood.  He was married four times, so unlikely to be gay in real life, and he had an ongoing feud with fellow tv doctor Richard Chamberlain (who was gay but closeted at the time).

Apr 12, 2013

Fugitive from the Empire: Jonny and Hadji Grown Up

There have been many Europeans or Americans involved with South Asians, on tv (Maya, Jonny Quest, Gunga the Indian Boy), in books (Haji of the Elephants), in comics (Corentin) -but they are nearly always teenagers.  An exception came in 1981, in The Archer, also known as The Archer and the Sorceress, also known as Fugitive from the Empirea tv movie pilot that never became a series





The rather convoluted plot draws on Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian.  In a weird post-apocalyptic world, barbarian Toran (Lane Caudell, left) sees his tribe wiped out by the Evil Empire, and goes off in search of revenge.  He hooks up with a gay-vague South Asian thief named Slant (Kabir Bedi), who at first is in it for the money, but then begins to care for Toran.  The two are quite physical in their interactions and rescue each other several times.  The addition of a third team member, Estra (Belinda Bauer), does not detract from the romantic interaction; in fact, at the end of the movie Estra goes off on her own, leaving Toran and Slant to their own fade-out.




There isn't much beefcake, so the gay subtext is the only reason to watch The Archer; the plot is nonsensical, the special effects laughable, and the dialogue purple prose at best.  But on a Sunday night in April 1981, watching grown-up versions of Corentin and Kim or Jonny and Hadji was enough.

28-year old North Carolina native Lane Caudell had been playing Southern athletes, rednecks, and musicians for several years, mostly in tv movies like Hanging on a Star (1978) and Good Ol' Boys (1979).  He didn't do much of gay interest afterwards: a starring gig on Days of Our Lives and two country-western albums, including one entitled I Need a Good Woman Bad.  Oh, and he liked his character so much that he named his son Toran Caudell.

35 year old Kabir Bedi, however, was already well-known in India, Italy, and the U.S., with credits in several buddy-bonding movies, including Sandokan (1976), The Black Corsair (1976), and The Thief of Bagdad (1978).  In 2010 he starred in the Hindi movie Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun (Don't Know Why), an entry in India's first gay film festival.

Young Rebels: Hippie Spies of the American Revolution

In the wake of Woodstock, ABC wanted to capitalize on the hippie counterculture, and someone noticed that the key players of the American Revolution were young, too: in 1776, Alexander Hamilton was 21, James Madison 25, and Thomas Jefferson 33.  But somebody asked for spies, too, to capitalize on the Cold War spy craze.  The result was The Young Rebels (1970-71), about a trio of young-adult spies working to undermine the evil Redcoats.

1. Jeremy (Rick Ely, right), son of the local pro-British mayor.  (No relation to Ron Ely, the first tv Tarzan).

2. Isaak (Louis Gossett, Jr., bottom), a former slave and Civil Rights advocate.
3. Elizabeth (Hilary Johnson), a Women's Rights advocate.

Their mentor, Henry, was an elderly Ben Franklin clone (though played by 28-year old Alex Henteloff, left).







Most of the buddy-bonding occurred between Jeremy and Isak, who went on most of the missions together (and Isak required lots of rescuing).  But I liked the interaction between Jeremy and the Marquis de Lafayette (Philippe Forquet), a real historical figure who came to the U.S. to fight in the Revolutionary War.

The network had high hopes for the program, and heavily invested in tie-in novels, lunch boxes, and comics.  Rick Ely and Philippe Forquet got significant teen idol treatment, sharing the teen magazines with David Cassidy and Davey Jones (Rick Ely even released a teen idol album). My social studies teacher even discussed the series, the first time I had ever heard any teacher talk about tv except in a sneering dismissal of "Brain-rotting junk!"

But there was a problem: Sunday night was already crowded with kid-friendly series, Lassie on CBS and The Wonderful World of Disney on NBC.  Besides, if you wanted a trio of hippies, you could watch Mod Squad. 14 episodes aired in the fall of 1970, and a 15th in January 1971, and that was all.


Afterwards Rick Ely had guest spots on Marcus Welby, MASH, and Gunsmoke, did some soaps, and played a gay prisoner on I Escaped from Devil's Island (1973).  His IMDB filmography ends in the early 1980s. I heard some rumors that he is still alive, still living in Los Angeles, and gay.

Philippe Forquet, who was a French aristocrat in real life, was heralded as the most handsome man in France, and had been busily playing sultry boyfriends to sexually-liberated women: In the French Style (1963), Three Nights of Love (1967), Camille 2000 (1969), and so on.  Afterwards he worked on several tv series before retiring to oversee the family estate and businesses.

Louis Gossett Jr. and Alex Henteloff have both had long careers before the camera. 

Tom Avni: Israeli Teen Idol




Adaptations of Kipling's Jungle Book are becoming increasingly heterosexist.  An Israeli stage musical version from 1996, directed by Hanoch Rosen, was about as heterosexist as you can get, transforming the theme from "savagery and civilization" to "young love." But it did win some awards and transform 10-year old Tom Avni (Mowgli) into a major child star.


In 1997 he starred in the Hanukah play Pestigal, and in 1998 Super Boy, about a boy who gets super powers, fights crime, and gets the girl. In 2003, another Hanukah play, Tom Sawyer. The Jerusalem Post quipped "You know it's Hanukah time when Tom Avri's name is posted on billboards."

Tom moved into Israeli television in 2002, becoming the host of Channel 6, the Israeli Children's Network.  By this time he was 16 years old, and muscling up, and his bare chest and abs were being displayed all over Israeli teen magazines and tv guides.


After the requisite military service, Tom moved into tv with a starring role as teenage millionaire Daniel Harris in the children's sci-fi series HaShminiya ("The Eight") (2006-2007).  He also starred in the series Tom Avni 24/7 (2007), about his "real life" as the host of Channel 6, with a weird agent, crazy friends, and unlikely complications (here's a clip on youtube) .   He continued to display his six-pack abs upon request.











Bubot ("Dolls") (2007-08) was about a group of models, some of whom were gay (Tom's character was apparently bisexual). Some episodes are available on youtube, if you speak Hebrew.

Today Tom is starring in the comedy Sabri Maranan (2011-2012), about an extended family that meets every week for a traditional Shabbat dinner ("Sabri maranan" is the beginning of a blessing.)  It is being adapted for broadcast in the U.S. as Tribes.  

Apr 11, 2013

Amir Shervan: King of 1980s Bad Movies

Born in Tehran in 1929, Amir Shervan moved to the U.S. to study theater. He returned to Iran in 1968 to direct several movies. The Iranian Revolution forced him to relocate to the U.S., where he wrote, directed, and produced five actioners which head the list of "world's worst movies" for their laughable dialogue, amateurish acting, and convoluted plots.  But they featured some of the biggest man-mountains ever seen outside of extreme bodybuilding, not to mention a leering pansexual sort of homoerotic subtext.

Hollywood Cop (1987): The Hollywood Cop (David Goss) tries to help a woman recover her kidnapped child, and meanwhile gazes lustfully at everyone in sight, male and female, including Aldo Ray, Cameron Mitchell, Troy Donohue, and a gay stereotyped waiter.  Then he goes home and parades around in his underwear. While makeing racist and sexist comments and blowing people up.

Samurai Cop (1989):  The Samurai Cop (inarticulate man-mountain Matt Hannon, who was in one other movie) glances lustfully at everyone in sight, male and female, but gives special attention to discussions of the penis of his partner Frank (Mark Frazer). Then he goes home and parades around in his underwear. While making racist and sexist comments and blowing people up.





And there's three that nobody can find. Maybe they were never released: Killing American Style (1990), with Blacksploitation legend Jim Brown as someone named Sunset; Gypsy (1991); and Young Rebels (1992), which has a tagline in French and stars "Johnny Greene," whom no one has ever heard of.



Chad Everett

Chad Everett, who died in 2012, had a nicely toned physique and amazingly tight pants that became familiar to Boomer kids through beefcake appearances on many 1960s Westerns and swinging detective tv series: 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6, Maverick, Branded.  









He also starred in movies such as Made in Paris (1966) with 1960s standby Ann-Margret; Johnny Tiger (1966), as a Seminole boy trying to survive in the Anglo world;  and The Impossible Years  (1968), as the anti-establishment boy who dates the daughter of a stuffy college professor.












But he became most famous as a new Ben Casey, the young, idealistic Dr. Joe Gannon, who clashed with establishment Dr. Paul Lochner (James Daly) on Medical Center (1969-76).  No beefcake, but his square jaw and blue eyes, and tight pants caused him to become the first crush of lots of Boomer kids, and apparently there were several gay-themed episodes: a gay research scientists is blackmailed (1970); a "sexually confused" girl is assured that she's not a lesbian (1973); a transsexual doctor (played by Robert Reed) decides to have sex reassignment surgery (1975).



Chad was quite conservative in real life.  He caused a bit of a scandal in 1972, during a talk show appearance, by referring to his wife as "his property." The host laughed, but Lily Tomlin became so outraged that she stormed off the set.

But he still managed to play a gay cop on a 2006 episode of Cold Case, about re-investigation of old murder cases.  In 1968, Jimmy Bruno (Brian Hallisay) was seeing his partner, Coop Cooper (Shane Johnson).  Then Coop was shot and killed in a gay-bashing incident that the precinct covered up. 40 years later, Jimmy Bruno (Chad Everett) still remembers his lost love.

Jonathan Ke Quan: The Goonies Grow Up

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) gives the whip-wielding archaeologist-adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) a modern-day English-mangling Sabu, the equivalent of the teenage-sidekick in the 1930’s serials.  But instead of a young adult playing a teenager, the gay subtext is minimized by making Indy's sidekick the prepubescent waif Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan, nearly 14 years old but looking around 10).

 Indy and Short Round display a great deal of affection, but always of the parent-child variety: Indy sleeps with the boy in his arms, and holds his hand while they are walking, but he is continually presented as a small boy, lest anyone think that when he says “Indy, I love you” anyone think he means something besides substitute father.  There is no rejection of the homoerotic other, except in a passage in the novelization about the “disreputable careers” that might befall a 13-year old boy on the streets of Shanghai; that is, if it were not for Indy’s intervention, Short Round might have become a boy prostitute.





Jonathan Ke Quan went on to star in The Goonies (1985) as the Asian nerd Data, who buddy-bonds in a rather aggressively physical way with fellow Goonie Mikey (Sean Astin).







And on two tv series: Together We Stand (1986-87), as a Vietnamese orphan adopted by an American family (his brother was played by the gay-friendly Scott Grimes); and the last season of Head of the Class (1990-1991), as Asian nerd Jasper Kwong.












Are you starting to see a pattern here?  Asians stereotyped as mathematical, nerdish, and asexual, so no romantic leads, no beefcake -- but, on the bright side, ample room for gay subtexts.

After playing adolescents with no heterosexual interest and intense buddy-bonding in the martial arts drama Breathing Fire (1991) and the comedy Encino Man (1992) with Sean Astin, Jonathan studied martial arts and went to USC Film School.

Since graduating, his only acting role has been in the Hong Kong movie Second Time Around (2002), which involves Las Vegas, time traveling, romance, and apparently gay characters.

He has also worked behind the scenes, as a stunt coordinator, fight choreographer, and cinematographer. No idea if he's gay in real life or not.







Apr 10, 2013

10 Things I Like about "Modern Family"

Ok, my post on "10 Things I Dislike about Modern Family" didn't go over well.  There are gay characters, and one of them is played by a real, life gay person, and it's been nominated for GLAAD Media Awards twice.  It even won once.

But the things I like about Modern Family have nothing to do with the gay characters.

1. Senior citizen Jay and his younger wife Gloria (a fiery Latina): some humorous interactions.

2. Their gender-transgressive but heterosexual son Manny, who is obsessed with fashion, hair-grooming products, and the culture of the 1940s.

3. Benjamin Bratt (left) as Gloria's ex, a irresponsible bad boy who still tries to be a good father for Manny.










4. Jay's daughter Claire, her husband Phil, and their kids (Haley, Alex, Luke): a conventional sitcom family: extremely affluent professional dad, stay at home mom, wisecracking kids.  But it turns out that driven, Type A personality Claire is in charge, and laconic Phil is merely going along for the ride.

5. The many times that Phil  (Ty Burrell, left) embarrasses himself publicly with comments or images that imply that he's a voyeur, into group sex, a pimp, or a pedophile.

6. Nolan Gould as Luke, the beset-upon youngest child of Claire and Phil, whose twitter bio begins "I'm not a dummy, I just play one on tv."  He graduated from high school at age 13, and is taking college courses.  And learning to play the sitar.  (See him in the 2012 gay-subtext horror movie Ghoul).




7. Reid Ewing as Dylan, the dimwitted but amiable boyfriend to teenage Haley, and his Reid-ing web series, which includes gay-themed episodes.

8. Phil's blatant homoerotic interest in Dylan.











9. I don't like much at Cameron and Mitchell's house, but I did like James Marsden as their new "neighbor," who turns out to be a kook living in their daughter's dollhouse.

10. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, previously starred in The Class (2006-2007), a pleasant sitcom about a group of grade-school friends who reconnect as adults (Sean Maguire played the gay one).

11. Hot guest stars like James Marsden and Adam DeVine as Andy the Male Nanny, the most muscular male nanny this side of Muscle Beach.

Jackanapes: Boyfriends in a Victorian Children's Story


When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were only a few books in the house, so I spent many hours leafing through the nine volume Junior Classics (1956), an anthology of antiquated stories that someone born before horseless carriages were invented thought that modern kids should read, such as Alice in Wonderland and King of the Golden River.

As a nine or ten-year old, I often found the words too hard, the references obscure, and the plots disturbing. Julia Horatia Ewing's Jackanapes (1883), from the ironically entitled Volume 5, Stories that Never Grow Old, certainly qualifies: it starts with villagers who live on the Green talking about a sexton "who would be ninety-nine come Martinmas, and whose father remembered a man who had carried arrows, as a boy, for the battle of Flodden Field."

Ok: I didn't know what a Green was, or a sexton, or Martinmas, or Flodden Field.

And when I skipped ahead to the end, Jackanapes, whoever that was, had died.  Depressing.

Years later, in my college Shakespeare class, I heard the word again: Jackanapes was the nickname of Sir William de la Pole, who appears in Henry VI.  So I returned to the story, and found a Victorian model of same-sex love: a Bart Simpson troublemaker and his friend Tony, weaker, more cautious, and described as "beautiful."  The two smoke cigars, get sick on a merry-go-round, and concoct schemes to get money to buy horses.

Fast forward twenty years, and they are British calvary officers (and not married).  In the heat of battle, Tony falls off his horse and breaks his leg.  The enemy is approaching fast, but Jackanapes rushes over and prepares to lift Tony onto his own horse.

"Jackanapes! It won't do. You must go on. Tell the fellows I gave you back to them, with all my heart. Jackanapes, if you love me, leave me!"

There was a daffodil light over the evening sky in front of them, and it shone strangely on Jackanapes' hair and face. He turned with an odd look in his eyes that a vainer man than Tony Johnson might have taken for brotherly pride. Then he shook his mop and laughed at him.

"Leave you? To save my skin? No, Tony, not to save my soul!"

Jackanapes then rescues Tony, though it means that he will die.

The rest of the novella involves the folk back home gossipping about Jackanapes' sacrifice, and the author moralizing about God and country.  But the gay subtext is strong, and clear, and survives the obscurity of the text.

Later I discovered that Victorian literature is filled with gay writers.  Julia Horatia Ewing was not among them.

Apr 9, 2013

I'm Dickens...He's Fenster: Early 1960s Bonding

When I was a kid,  I knew John Astin as the mustached, googly-eyed Gomez Addams on The Addams Family (1964-66), as the Riddler on Batman (a replacement for Frank Gorshin), and as various kooky characters thereafter, such as Professor Gangreen in Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988).  Funny, but not really swoon-worthy -- I was more interested in his teen idol sons, Sean and Mackenzie.

And Marty Ingels as a voice on Cattanooga Cats and Grape Ape on Saturday morning tv, married to Shirley Jones and the stepfather of David, Shaun, and Patrick Cassidy.  Again, not really swoon-worthy.

Then a Boomer of the older generation suggested the sitcom I'm Dickens -- He's Fenster (1962-63), which appeared after The Flintstones on Friday nights.   I looked up some episodes on youtube.

John Astin (age 32) and Marty Ingels (age 26) play bumbling carpenters Harry Dickens and Arch Fenster.  Dickens is married, and trying to be stable and respectable.

Arch is a swinger (with a Little Black Book full of women's phone numbers), and keeps trying to drag his partner into crazy adventures.




But in spite of the blatant girl-leering, there's a blatant homoromantic subtext.  The two behave as if they were romantic partners, in that unself-conscious way that performers had before they were aware that gay readings were possible: an amazing physicality, a devotion to each other, and even a domesticity, as Fenster practically lives with Dickens.








And they are swoonworthy.  No nudity, but 32-year old John Astin displays a respectable chest and nicely-toned biceps in a tight black  t-shirt, and 26-year old Marty Ingels has a beefy, promising physique.

Producer Leonard Stern was also responsible for the beefcake-heavy Run, Buddy, Run and the buddy comedy The Good Guys.


Apr 8, 2013

Michael Lembeck

Speaking of One Day at a Time (1975-84),  the biggest hunk who entered the lives of the single mom Ann Romano and her two daughters (Barbara and Julie) was not William Kirby Cullen or Scott Colomby, but Michael Lembeck as the smiling, bearded, hairy-chested, tight-jeans wearing Max Horvath.

He first appears on October 14th, 1979, as the best man at Julie's wedding -- who falls in love with Julie himself.   Eventually they marry and have a child.  By the last season, Julie has run away, leaving Max a single dad. In an interesting triangulation, he is sharing a house with Barbara and her husband Mark (Boyd Gaines).

Born in 1948, Michael Lembeck was the son of Harvey Lembeck, famous as the juvenile delinquent foil in the Frankie-and-Annette beach movies.  He was visible through the 1970s, with guest spots on The Partridge Family, Happy Days, Love American Style, and Room 222, and a recurring role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976), plus several important movie appearances.

In Blood Sport (1973), mooning over high-school football star Gary Busey.

In the war drama The Boys in Company C (1978), as the wise-guy Vinnie Fazio, who buddy-bonds with Billy Ray (Andrew Pike).

In Gorp (1980), a spoof of summer-camp sex comedies, as muscular camp waiter Kavell, who buddy-bonds with the nerdish Bergman (Philip Casnoff, right) as they try to get laid and befuddle the authorities.



But he was most familiar to Boomer kids as Kaptain Kool, androgynous glam-rock lead singer for Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, the Saturday morning tv rock group that appeared on The Krofft Supershow and its various spinoffs in the late 1970s.

After One Day at a Time, Michael worked primarily as a director, with episodes of Coach, Major Dad, Ellen, Jesse, Veronica's Closet, Friends, Hot in Cleveland, and Baby Daddy (a sitcom with a queer theme, about two brothers raising a child together).  He hasn't played any gay characters, but he directed Connie and Carla (2004), about two women who hide out disguised as drag queens, and a 2012 episode of Baby Daddy in which the brothers' Dad turns out to be gay.

Rent: 8 Friends, 3 Romances

Not one for musicals, I've never seen Rent, the Tony-winning 1995 Broadway musical, about a group of friends living in the artistic Bohemia of southern Manhattan during the heart of the AIDS crisis, in 1989 and 1990.  But I just saw the 2005 movie version.  A couple of problems with it:

#1: The convoluted, hystrionic melodrama.
Most musicals have four people falling in and out of love. Rent has eight:

The Lesbians. Performance artist Maureen breaks up with struggling filmmaker Mark and falls for Joanne, an Ivy-League African-American attorney.  But she has trouble staying faithful, so they break up.

The Heterosexuals. Struggling, HIV-positive musician Roger, who lost his girlfriend to AIDS, falls for heroin-addict prostitute Mimi, but can't bring himself to commit, so she begins seeing the wealthy, married Benjamin Coffin (Taye Diggs, left), who also happens to be Mark and Roger's landlord.

The Gays. NYU Professor Tom Collins falls for HIV-positive drag queen Angel, who dies.
Got all of that?


#2: How do these people know each other?
In what world do impoverished drag queens and heroin-addicted prostitutes hang out with Ivy-League attorneys and NYU professors?  Wouldn't class distinctions be a problem?  And if they do happen to all be close friends, why does the immensely wealthy Ivy-League attorney let the struggling filmmaker and musician nearly starve to death and get evicted due to non-payment of rent?

#3: Major continuity problems
On Christmas Eve, 1989, Mark is starving and destitute, Roger (Adam Pascal, left) meets Mimi, and Angel meets Tom. There's a "everybody hanging out and getting to know each other" montage, and then suddenly it's New Year's Eve, Mark is affluent, with a documentary tv series, and Roger/Mimi and Angel/Tom are long-term couples. You think a year has passed, but no, only a week.

Maureen asks Joanne to marry her. Cut to the most lavish wedding I have ever seen in the most ornate hotel, with both of their parents beaming and saying things like "I'm so happy that my daughter has chosen such a wonderful partner."  You think it's a fantasy sequence.  Nope, they put the whole thing together in a couple of days.



#4: Unrealistic HIV

Roger and Mimi are both HIV positive, but other than taking medication, they have no problems.  Angel has the sort of AIDS where you're completely healthy and energetic up until your final dying montage.

#5: I Love/Hate New York

First they sing about how much they hate New York, with its cold, dirty streets and horrible crime; they want to run away to Santa Fe and open a restaurant.  Then they sing about how much they love New York, with its freedom and happiness and universal friendship. So is New York a horrifying hellhole where everyone wants to kill you, or a pastoral Utopia where everyone is eager to be your friend?

But there were a few things I liked about it:

#1. A homoromantic subtext between Mark and Roger, who leaves, spends time living on the street in Santa Fe, then returns, to a big reconciliation.

#2.Mark is played by Anthony Rapp (left), a former teen star (Adventures in Babysitting) who is gay in real life.

#3.Angel (played by Wilson Jermaine Heredia) had an infectious good humor and a series of fabulous outfits (that she apparently made for herself out of scraps).

#4. Joanne (played by Tracey Thoms) had an excellent singing voice.







#5. "La Vie Boheme," a paeon to everything unconventional:

Bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogens, hallucinogens, Pee Wee Herman,
German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein
Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa, Carmina Burana
Apathy, entropy, empathy, ecstasy
Vaclav Havel, The Sex Pistols, 8BC
Sontag, Sondheim, anything taboo

Apr 7, 2013

Fall 1980: Billy Budd: Gay Sailor Romance

In the fall of my junior year in college, just after I cruised the Miracle Mile and bought my first gay book, I took a class in "The American Renaissance," the burst of creative energy in the mid-1800s: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville.

Our professor (not the one who taught the execrable class in Modern American Literature) admitted that Melville was "a little light in the loafers," but he tried to heterosexualize the texts as much as possible, so he merely claimed that Billy Budd (1888) was about a Christ figure destroyed by the world's evil.









The book cover tried to heterosexualize Billy Budd, too, conveniently placing a woman in the background.  But how could you miss the same-sex desire?  During the Napoleonic Wars, a young cabin boy, described over and over as stunningly handsome, draws the wordless longing of Captain Vere ("Truth") -- and the homophobic ire of Claggart, who falsely accuses him of conspiring to mutiny. While being interrogated, Billy accidentally strikes and kills Claggart, so under British naval law he must be hanged.

Billy forgives the Captain; his last words are "God bless Captain Vere."  But carrying out the sentence destroys Vere; his dying words are "Billy Budd."  I couldn't help but think of Aschenbach, destroyed by his obsession for the beautiful Tadzio in Death in Venice. 





TV adaptions of the novella have appeared twice, in 1955 (with William Shatner) and in 1959 (with Don Murray).


 There's also a 1962 feature film, with Billy played by Terence Stamp (later in Meetings with Remarkable Men and Priscilla Queen of the Desert). 










In 1951, gay composer Benjamin Britten produced an opera version, with libretto by gay novelist E.M. Forster.  It  has Vere survive to old age, when he reflects that once he knew what true beauty was.  It has been filmed in 1988 (with Thomas Allen) and 1998 (with Dwayne Croft), and remains a staple of the theater.  

Recent productions feature a shirtless, muscular Billy, such as those performed by Nathan Gunn (above) and Simon Keenlyside (left).

Also see his gay-subtext filled Benito Cereno.