Apr 20, 2013

L'il Romeo, Big Romeo

Born in 1989, L'il Romeo was a preteen rapper, releasing singles and albums beginning in 2001.  His lyrics were similar to those of big rappers, except G-rated: bragging about his bling, evaluating girlies, representing his hood.  But without the foul language we see in rappers like the New Boyz.

He broke into acting at the same time, in Max Keeble's Big Move (2001).  After several more movie and tv roles, he got his own tv series on Nickelodeon, Romeo! (2003-2006), about an aspiring rapper whose family  is in his band.   Louis Testaverde (Noel Callahan) was his adopted brother and best friend.

By 2006, the 17-year old was no longer little, so he began going by Romeo or Romeo Miller. He starred in some low-budget videos along with his father, rapper Master P, which inadvertently produced some older-younger gay subtexts.

Don't Be Scared (2006): a serial killer targets college students.
Uncle P (2007): a boy discovers that his estranged uncle is a famous rap artist.
The Pig People (2009), about college students seeking elusive monsters in the woods.






Surprising for a rap artist who sings frequently about women, Romeo's characters often express minimal heterosexual interest. In "Royal Angel," a 2011 episode of Charlie's Angels, he plays the son of an assassinated African king who is too busy adjusting to his new responsibilities to think much about girls.

 In Madea's Witness Protection Program (2012), Jake (Romeo) works with Madea (Tyler Perry) and George (Eugene Levy) to recover funds lost in a Ponzi scheme, but doesn't get a girl.

Frat Brothers
(2013), about two brothers who pledge different fraternities, and One Heart (2013), about a juvenile delinquent basketball team, both pair Romeo with Darrin DeWitt Henson.  They look like them might have some some gay subtexts.

In keeping with the general media refusal to display black beefcake, there's not a lot of beefcake in Romeo's on-screen performances, but he makes up for it with many shirtless and semi-nude bicep and bulge photos available elsewhere.  A full-frontal nude photo is reputedly making the rounds of the internet.

Most rap artists, including the other former pre-teen rapper Bow Wow, are notoriously homophobic, but in 2007, after an outburst by Ja Rule, Romeo gave a pro-gay statement: "I’m not gonna hate on peeps for who they are. I have a few friends who are gay and why not? They alright with me."


Apr 19, 2013

Austin Butler and His Boyfriends

This  amiable, grinning face -- and this well-defined chest -- are familiar to millions of gay and straight teens. They belong to Austin Butler, an Orange County boy who was discovered by a talent agent in 2005, when he was 13 (apparently such things still happen).

Soon he was appearing all over the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, on Hannah Montana, ICarly, Zeke and Luther, The Wizards of Waverly Place, Zoey 101and Jonas, usually as the boy that Hannah or Carly or Alex has a crush on.








And not just the Disney Channel. In Rudy and the Rockits (2009-2010), Austin played Jordan Gallagher, son of former teen idol Patrick Gallagher (Patrick Cassidy), who has a crush on his cousin Ruby (daughter of David Cassidy's character).

 In 2011, he starred in the High School Musical spin-off Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure, as the boy Sharpay hooks up with.









He's currently starring in the tv series The Carrie Diaries (2013-), a prequel to Sex in the City about Carrie's high school years, as one of the boys Carrie hooks up with.

You'd think that with so many roles as the object of a girl's crush, Austin would have little time for buddy-bonding. Incorrect.









In Aliens in the Attic (2009), the nerdish Tom (Carter Jenkins of Unfabulous and Struck by Lightningand his hunky cousin Jake (Austin) must work together to save the world from the aliens in the attic.  When Jack is captured, Tom must lead a daring rescue, along with his sister (Ashley Tisdale) and her boyfriend Ricky (Robert Hoffman).  Jake doesn' display any heterosexual interest, but seems to like Tom quite a lot





In Switched at Birth (2011), his character Wilke has a passionate, quasi-romantic friendship with the gay-vague Toby (Lucas Grabeel).

You get the idea -- when girls crush on him, there's lots of semi-nude scenes.  When boys crush on him, the shirt stays on.

In The Intercept (2012), four college students solve crimes.  I haven't seen it, but it looks promising.

He hasn't made any public statements about his gay fans, but his girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens kissed a girl and liked it.




The Boxer of Bilko

If you happened to watch the military comedy Sergeant Bilko (aka The Phil Silvers Show) from 1955 to 1959, or today on the Me TV network, you may have been surprised by the beefcake -- lots of hunky guys in t-shirts or underwear, quite unusual for the 1950s.

And you may have wondered about the gentle, gay-vague botanist Sergeant Dillingham, played by Walter Cartier.  You may have wondered what sort of fellow changes his name from the masculine Carter to Cartier, which sounds like diamonds.


It turns out that Walter's grandfather, a violinist, made the name change from McCarthy to avoid anti-Irish prejudice.  Walter had a paradoxical career: a macho-coded professional boxer (46 wins, 13 losses), and a feminine-coded dancer.

After a couple of movie roles as a dancer, he was the subject of a feature article in Look magazine.  That drew the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who was looking for a "young, handsome, well-built fighter."  He used Walter in his first film, Day of the Fight (1951).

Kubrick would go on to direct the homoerotic subtext-heavy Spartacus (1960) and 2001: A Space Oddysey (1968).








The Phil Silvers Show was another paradoxical role for Walter Cartier, a gentle muscleman.

Afterwards Walter had a few more minor roles, as a dancer on The Benny Hill Show and Fiddler on the Roof, and a heavy on the tv series Doomwatch.  












I don't know who the girl in the "frolicking with girl" pictures in Life Magazine is.  None of his bios mention a wife. Maybe he didn't have one.

Apr 18, 2013

Lemon Popsicle: Three Boys, Three Sticks

The teen sex comedy, about a group of high school boys trying to get laid, is not an American invention.  Back in 1978, before Porky's was ever thought of, there was Eskimo Lemon (Lemon Popsicle), about three horny teenage friends in 1950s Israel: the nerd Benzi (Yftach Katzur), the jock Momo (Jonathan Sagall), and the obese Yudale (Zachi Noy)

They're called Benji, Bobbie, and Huey in the English subtitles.







They try various strategies to get laid, and Momo and Yudale always succeed, but Benzi is stymied.  He ends up still a virgin, but having to pay for the abortion of the Girl of His Dreams, who had sex with Momo instead of him (the same plot was used in The Last American Virgin, with Steve Antin)






A quarter of the population of Israel watched Lemon Popsicle.  The three actors soon became international stars.  Over the next decade (1979-1988), they starred in seven sequels, known as Lemon Popsicle or in Germany, Eis am Stiel.  Every sequel placed the boys in a different situation: in the army, on vacation in America, trying to revive a dying nightclub.  "Getting laid" and ogling nude girls remained an important theme, but as the boys grew older, wacky comedy predominated.



The series was not nearly as homophobic as American teen sex comedies. In Sapiches (Private Popsicle, 1983), army privates Benzi and Yudale pretend to be gay in order to get a weekend pass from their doctor -- they claim that Yudale is so sexually voracious that they need time apart -- but the plan backfires when the doctor strips, revealing ladies' underwear, and proclaims that he wants Yudale for himself.

Each installment featured many shirtless, underwear, and swimsuit shots, occasional rear nudity, and at least one scene of frontal nudity, not to mention endless discussions of male sex organs and tests to see which one is bigger.



And there's something to be said for same-sex bonds that last forever, while the girls come and go.

Of the three, Jonathan Sagall (or Sagalle) has the strongest gay connection.  He wrote and directed Drifting (1982), about a gay teen who wants to become a playwright, and Baba-It (1987), about two gay playwrights in love.  In 1999, he wrote, directed, and starred in Kesher Ir (Urban Feel), about an estranged male-female couple who become involved with a hunky drifter (Shmil Ben Ari).

Josh Blake



Josh Blake may be best known as Cousin Josh on the 1980s "my secret" sitcom Alf, about a sarcastic space alien hiding out with a nuclear family, but he was a child star pro, appearing in both movies and tv programs beginning at age 10.  Usually he played kids who idolized older men:

His first starring role came in the short-lived sci-fi tv series Once a Hero  (1987), about a newspaper comic superhero, Captain Justice (Jeff Lester), who breaks into the real world.  Josh played a kid who discovers his secret.

After his year bonding with the alien (1988-89), Josh starred in The Famous Teddy Z (1989-90), as Ari, the younger brother who idolizes talent agent Teddy Z (John Cryer).



During the 1990s and early 2000s, Josh guest starred on several soaps, plus Beauty and the Beast, Full House, The Wonder Years, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  

He could be seen in several gay positive projects, such as the MTV soap opera Spyder Games (2001).











His last starring role was in Going Down (2003), about a college boy (Josh) and his pal (Jay Michael Ferguson) who throw a wild party, and the next day discovers two dead bodies in the house.  Except one of the bodies isn't dead, just wasted.  And his boyfriend shows up.


Retired from acting, Josh is currently a real estate agent in Los Angeles, and rumored to be gay.

Apr 16, 2013

Fabian Forte at the Beach


Born in 1943, Fabian (he didn't need a last name) was a superstar by age 16.  He was a competent singer, but in a market flooded by teen singers, it was his curly hair, heavy-lidded gaze, and buffed physique that sold his records.  He practically created the teen magazine market, with beefcake pinups boosting the sales of Teen Magazine, Teen Live, Teen Illustrated, and many others.  He even got his own magazine, Fabian: Boy of Mystery.  

After his film debut in Hound Dog Man (1959), buddy bonding with Stuart Whitman, Fabian played androgynous, gay-vague, girl-crazy teens against any number of men's men: Robert Mitchum, Bing Crosby, Stewart Granger, John Wayne.




Surrounding a fey teen idol with all that brawn created a problem: the boy simply did not seem straight, in spite of his girl-ogling, especially when he sang.  So, when Henry Koester directed Fabian, he simply gave up.  

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) has Fabian on stage for about five minutes, long enough to dance with Jimmy Stewart's daughter and sing "Cream Puff."








He gets slightly more screen time in Dear Brigitte (1965), but no songs, and though he buddies around with Jimmy Stewart's next daughter, he is never identified as her boyfriend and never gets physical with her.  Instead, his part of the plot involves exploiting math prodigy Erasmus Leaf (Billy Mumy) for capitalist gain.










Ride the Wild Surf (1964) capitalizes on the star's androgyny.  College student Jody (Fabian) hits Hawaii's North Shore with his buddies Steamer (Tab Hunter) and Chase (Peter Brown), to surf amid crowds of male surfers and spectators (only a few girls). Surfing becomes intensely homoerotic spectacle: they stand, their power distilled into a sharp thrust of surfboard, and explode toward the shore, all bronze chests and thick biceps, war-whooping a triumph over the elements that has nothing to do with heterosexist civilization.




Should Jody stay in Hawaii forever, luxuriating in the male beauty, living as a beach bum, or get a girl, go back to college, and settle for the staid heterosexist future of wife, kids, job, and house?  You know how it will end -- he picks the girl. Yet there is no fade out boy-girl kiss: Jody wins a surfing contest and is enveloped by his jubilant buddies, all hugging and hollering, a solid mass of men as the camera pans out to a wide-angle shot of surf and sky.

Fabian continued to act through the 1960s and 1970s, starring in Fireball 500  and Thunder Alley with Frankie Avalon, in an adaption of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, in a cautionary tale about the dangers of marijuana.  And he continued to display his physique, including nude shots in Playgirl.  

Today he is still performing, based out of Branson, Missouri.

See also: Peter Brown, Buddy-Bonding Cowboy.

Chris Young's Book of Love

I saw Chris Young in a performance of the musical Pippin when I was an undergraduate in 1978.  Of course, I had no idea who the 7-year old playing Theo was, or that we would arrive in Los Angeles at about the same time.  I first noticed him on Max Headroom (1987-88), the sci-fi series about the cyber-journalist rebelling against a future dystopia. Chris played Bryce Lynch, Max's agoraphobic computer-whiz sidekick who expressed no interest in girls.

But that was the end of his gay-vague roles.

In Dance Til Dawn (1988), he's a high schooler who spends prom night with it-girl Alyssa Milano.

On Falcon Crest (1989), he's a rich vintner's son who has an affair with a married woman, and is killed by her husband.\


Book of Love (1990) was one of the many, many "nerd wrests the it-girl from her jock boyfriend" movies of the 1980s. But at least it had the cute Danny Nucci.

Then Chris played a newlywed in Married People (1990-91).











I was about ready to give up on Chris completely.  But then he was photographed surrounded by boy-girl couples, but standing next to a boy himself -- coincidence or not, he deserved another chance.

Besides, he took off his shirt a lot.

Next came the "boys-alone" December (1991), as a prep-school boy in December 1941, when the U.S. enters World War II.  His classmates include just about every young adult hunk in the business, including Balthazar Getty, Jason London, and the main homoromantic couple, Wil Wheaton and Brian Krause.

And Breaking the Silence (1992), which is not actually about homophobic silence, but about a kindly lawyer (Gregory Harrison) dredging up memories of sexual abuse as he defends a teen (Chris) accused of murdering his father.



And PCU (1994), about a duo (Chris, Jeremy Piven) battling "political correctness" at their college, is not as homophobic as it sounds, and even has some buddy-bonding.

Chris was still playing high schoolers in Killing Mr. Griffin (1997), about a high school prank that goes wrong.  His character, a basketball star, has a crush on sociopath Mark Kinney (Scott Bairstow). His girlfriend wants them both.





So we see the opposite of the usual pattern of adolescent buddy-bonding followed by a New Sensitive Man adulthood: Chris Young's Book of Love starts out heterosexist, and then moves into gay subtexts.


Apr 15, 2013

Fury: a Boy, his Buddy, and a Horse

Propriety kept most teen stars of the 1950s under wraps; you were supposed to find them dreamy, but not gaze longingly at biceps and bulges. But prudery never stopped Bobby Diamond from displaying his gifts to the world.

Born in 1943, he was discovered by a talent scout and put to work in 1952.  In 1955, with a string of small parts on his resume, Bobby was cast as the lead in the boy-and-horse melodrama Fury (1955-60).



It was set in the modern Wild West: orphaned Joey is adopted by rancher Jim Newton (Peter Graves) and given a horse named Fury, who performs a function similar to Lassie, rescuing Joey when he gets into scrapes or, if stymied by the lack of opposable thumbs, running for help.

Though Bobby was an adolescent during the course of the series, he was generally excused from expressing heterosexual interest (he gets a crush on a girl in one episode).
  











The producers did give Joey a series of best friends to get into scrapes with, notably Packy (Roger Mobley),  Pee Wee (Jimmy Baird), and Buzz (Stuffy Singer), but they didn't express any heterosexual interest, either.  The episode "Pee Wee Grows Up" would today mean getting a girlfriend, but in 1956 it meant signing up for a bodybuilding course.


In an attempt to keep Joey a "kid," the producers had to  constantly hide his increasing height, deepening voice, and hardening muscles. Only a few episodes apparently allowed the teen idol to drop his shirt or appear in a swimsuit. 

After Fury, Bobby was offered My Three Sons, but instead he decided to become the only son of Nannette Fabray in her one-season flop.  Then he starred in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1962-63) as Dobie's innocent cousin Dunky, and guest starred on Wagon Train, The FBI, Mr. Ed, and Lassie.  





 His most significant buddy-bonding movie role was in Billie (1965), starring Patty Duke as a girl who likes boys in spite of her masculine-coded traits; Bobby played her boyfriend's buddy.

Bobby earned a law degree in 1970, specializing in personal injury and medical malpractice, and retired from acting, though he has occasionally done some voice work (center, with Lassie stars Tommy Rettig and Joey Viera).

Fantastic Planet


Fantastic Planet (La Planete savage) first appeared in 1973, a cut-out stop-motion animated movie (based on a  novel by Stefan Wul).  It has been a standby of film festivals and film classes ever since, praised for its weird, surreal imagery and "can't we all just get along" message.

The plot: humans, or Oms ("hommes"), live on a weird, surreal planet where the dominant species are the gigantic but serene Traags.  Not realizing that the Oms are sentient, the Traags keep them as pets, dress them in weird costumes and force them to do tricks.

Others are "wild."  Planet leaders often complain about the Om infestation, and suggest extermination.


An Om boy named Terr ("Earth") becomes the pet of a young Traag girl, who gives him access to her mechanical-learning device.  Eventually he grows into a young man.  He manages to steal the device, run away, and live with a tribe of wild Oms.  Under his leadership, they become guerilla warriors, sabotaging the Traags' spiritual migration to another planet, disrupting the civilization so effectively that they call for a truce.

In the coda, centuries have passed, and the two species are living in harmony.

The gay connection:

1. Lots of male nudity. Terr become particularly attractive as a young man.

2. I can't recall Terr getting a girlfriend or expressing any heterosexual interest whatever.

3. The gay symbolism of being trapped in a world where the rules don't make sense and the slightest misstep could mean disaster.




A stage version appeared in 2010 at the Transmodern Festival in Baltimore, with actors in weird masks playing the Traags and Tim Paggi (top photo) in a revealing green-and-yellow jumpsuit as Terr.

Apr 14, 2013

The Mickey Mouse Club

When Annette Funicello died on April 8, 2013, the world mourned one of the iconic figures of the Boomer generation.  She was the first crush for many heterosexual boys and gay girls who watched her every week on The Mickey Mouse Club, and later in the beach movies with Frankie Avalon

If you are too young to remember, The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-59) was the first children's television program that starred real children, "the Mouseketeers."  They wore wore mouse ear-shaped caps and white sweaters emblazoned with their first names, and performed song-and-dance numbers interspliced with Disney cartoons, amateur talent contests, and dramatic serials.







24 kids were hired in 1955, but only nine made it to the Red Team, the starting lineup.  Four were boys. In the hyper-masculine 1950s, singing and dancing were widely labeled "sissy" pursuits, so they were all gay-coded, though none are apparently gay.

1. Bobby Burgess (born 1941), who was very tall, well-scrubbed, and always smiling.  He went on to dance on The Lawrence Welk Show.

Here's a shirtless shot of Bobby in middle age.















2. The short, sandy-haired Lonnie Burr (born 1943) was the intellectual of the group (his website commemorates Annette Funicello's death with the Latin phrase "ave atque vale"). He is a poet and playwright as well as an actor.


3. Tommy Cole (born 1941) was hired primarily for his singing ability, though had a handsome face and the hunkiest physique among the Mousketeers (left). After MMC, he had a stint in the air force and then became a makeup artist.

4. Cubby O'Brien (born 1946), the kid of the show, became a professional drummer.





Many Boomer kids also remember the boys who stayed for a year, or less, including : Don Agranti  (Don Grady), Johnny Crawford (right, with his older brother Bobby), Dickie Dodd,  Larry Larsen, Mike Smith, Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show), Jay-Jay Solari, Ronnie Steiner, and Don Underhill.

Davis Day, the only original Mousketeer who has come out as gay willingly (Tommy Kirk was outed), stayed for two years










The dramatic series (Spin and Marty, The Hardy Boys, Clint and Mac, Annette) typically offered cute boys in shirtless and semi-nude swimming pool shots:  Jonathan Bailey, Tim Considine (left), Kevin Corcorran, Tommy Kirk (right), Larry Larsen, B.J. Norman (top photo), Sammy Ogg, Steve Stevens, David Stollery.

And some even offered some strong buddy-bonding subtexts, counterpoints to the heterosexism of the main song-and-dance numbers.


David Mendenhall and the Older Man

Born in 1971, David Mendenhall spent his adolescence doing voices for cartoons (The Berenstain Bears, Rainbow Brite) and starring in movies in which his characters are mentored, nurtured, and rescued by a series of bicep-bulging older men; all fathers or father-figures, but still, they allowed many gay boys to fantasize about riding off into the sunset with a hunky older boyfriend.

 Space Raiders (1983): Space pirate Hawk (Vince Edwards) bonds with 12-year old stowaway Peter (David), and rescues the boy when he is captured by evil bounty hunters. But in the end the two part company.







Over the Top (1987): Truck driver/arm wrestling champion Hawk (Sylvester Stallone) reunites with Mike (David), the 15-year old son whom he hasn't seen in many years, and rescues him when he is kidnapped by thugs hired by his evil grandfather.  In the end, they start a trucking business together.

They Still Call Me Bruce (1987): Korean martial artist Bruce (Johnny Yune) mentors the orphan Billy (David), who gets assaulted by a gang and goes into a coma. But he wakes up in time to inspire Bruce to win an important karate contest.

In Going Bananas (1988), David is nearly 17, but still small and slim, with a boyish face that makes him look like a child rather than a teenager, especially when paired with plus-sized actors (Dom Deluise and Jimmie Walker) in a plot about a talking chimp.
But his small starture facilitates gay subtexts: in the tv drama Our House (1986-88): he played J.R. Dutton, best friend to the teenage David (gay actor Chad Allen), but he actually seems more interested in the feminine-coded friend Mark (Thomas Wilson Brown).

In 1990 David retired from acting to go to college, getting a law degree in 2003.  But recently he has returned to show biz to guest star in some tv series and produce the game show Take it All.