Jun 13, 2013

Gay American Renaissance

During my junior year in college, I took  Modern American Literature, Modern British Literature, Introduction to German Literature, and several other heterosexist courses.  But Dr. Ames, who taught American Renaissance, occasionally hinted that same-sex desire exists.

It was about the first great American literary movement, roughly 1840-1860, when the great books that everyone still reads sprang up out of nowhere: Moby-Dick, Walden, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, The House of the Seven Gables.  There were five main writers.

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Dr. Ames: "He kept ignoring his wife to go on speaking tours."  During his junior year at Harvard, Emerson fell in love with a man named Martin Gay, and spent the rest of his life writing him homoerotic poetry. 

2. Henry David Thoreau.  Dr. Ames: "He was sexually repressed, too shy to talk to women." And he filled his journals with reflections on the strong, noble love between men.

3. Herman Melville.  Dr Ames: "He was a little light in the loafers.  Check out the scene where the two guys are in bed together, and Ishmael grabs Queequeg's tomahawk!"  

Moby-Dick is invariably heterosexualized on screen (such as the version starring Henry Thomas, left), but Billy Budd is too homoerotic to "straighten out."

4. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Dr. Ames: "He was friends with Melville, but then things got a little weird, and they split up."  Nevertheless, Hawthorne wrote about strong same-sex coupling in The Blythedale Romance, and "Young Goodman Brown," about a man discovering that all of his friends and neighbors are Satan-worshippers, can be read as a parable for a homophobe discovering the gay underground.

The Scarlet Letter gets many movie adaptions, including Easy A (2010), with Penn Badgley (top photo) and Dan Byrd as a gay high schooler.

5. Walt Whitman.  Dr. Ames: "He scattered illegitimate children up and down the Eastern seaboard, but he also had a bit of the fruit in him."  Actually, Whitman filled his journals with detailed accounts of his nightly cruising for men.

Dr. Ames didn't mention Edgar Allan Poe at all.

See also: Walt Whitman, The Good Gay Poet.

Jun 12, 2013

Richard Chamberlain: King of the Miniseries

Some Boomers recall gay actor Richard Chamberlain as the young, idealisticvDoctor Kildare (1961-66), or the swashbuckling adventurer of The Three Musketeers (1973), The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1979), but I don't remember seeing him before The Last Wave (1977), where he played an outsider trying to understand an alien culture, with a strong homoromantic subtext.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard became "The King of the Miniseries," starring in vast made-for-tv epics set in exotic locales,  usually as an outsider trying to understand more alien cultures, with more homoromantic subtexts.

The first part of the overlong Centennial (1978-79) involves the homoromantic friendship between a French trapper, Pasquinel (Robert Conrad) and Scotsman Alexander McKeag (Richard), who triangulate their romance by falling in love with the same woman.

In Shogun (1980), Englishman John Blackthorne (Richard) is shipwrecked in 17th century Japan, and becomes involved with the struggle of the warlord Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) to become Shogun (supreme ruler).  The previews emphasized the requisite hetero-romance, but the miniseries was really about the strained attraction between the Japanese warlord and the mysterious outsider.

In The Thornbirds (1983), Irish priest Ralph de Bricassart (Richard) is sent to a remote village in Australia, where he has an affair with central character Meggie.  Years later, Ralph returns and meets his grown-up son (Philip Anglim). Neither is aware of the other's identity, so when they experience an odd emotional connection, it is easy to mistake it for homoromantic desire.

By the way, here's a shirtless shot of Philip Anglim, who also starred in The Elephant Man (1982) and in several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Though Richard was not publicly gay during this period, he was open about his romantic partners, first  Wesley Eure of Land of the Lost, and later Martin Rabbett, who starred with him in Allan Quartermaine and the Lost City of Gold (1986). They were together for 33 years before separating.

Jun 10, 2013

Gays Next Door in 1972: The Doris Day Show

In 1972, we watched a sitcom called The Doris Day Show, mainly because it was squeezed between the beefcake-heavy Here's Lucy and Sonny and Cher.  It was a Mary Tyler Moore clone, a workplace comedy centered on Doris Martin (Doris Day), a hip, sophisticated journalist for Today's World magazine, living in San Francisco and dating a number of cute guys (including Patrick O'Neal and bisexual rat packer Peter Lawford, left).

And, in a television first, there was a gay couple living next door!  Lance and Lester (Alan Dewitt, Lester Fletcher) were often referred to, and appeared in the November 27, 1972 episode, "The Co-Op."  I didn't catch the flamboyant stereotypes, and no one used the word "gay" -- I wouldn't hear the word on tv until 1976 -- but I saw that two men had found a way to live together, escaping the heterosexist mandate .  Could San Francisco be a "good place"?

Doris Day got her start in the light musical comedies of the 1940s, but she made her mark as a liberated woman in a series of Camelot-era sex comedies with suggestive titles: Pillow Talk (1959), It Happened to Jane (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), That Touch of Mink (1962), The Thrill of it All (1963), Move Over Darling (1963).  Her usual costar, gay actor Rock Hudson, helped her tiptoe around the boundary between not knowing that gay people exist and knowing but not saying.

But her sitcom began as a hayseed comedy!

In its first season (1968-69), The Doris Day Show was Green Acres: City girl Doris, a new widow, moves to her father's ranch with her two sons, Toby (Todd Starke) and Billy (Philip Brown, below, who would go on to a successful career as a soap hunk), plus a ranch hand (James Hampton, right) and a housekeeper.  It aired on Tuesday nights, just after another relic of the 1950s, The Red Skelton Show.

Doris hated hayseed -- she didn't even know that her husband Martin Melcher had signed her up for it.  So in the second season (1969-70), she made some changes: the program became Tammy, without the beefcake. Although still living on the ranch, Doris commuted into San Francisco, where she worked as a secretary for Today's World magazine.  She got two quintessentially urban coworkers, McLean Stevenson and Rose Marie.

In the third season (1970-71): Doris and her sons lived in an apartment over an Italian restaurant in San Francisco (Ranch?  What ranch?), where she got a gay-vague next door neighbor (Billy DeWolf).

By the time my family and I started watching, the transition was complete: Doris was a sophisticated career woman, Ms. instead of Mrs., who had always been single (Kids?  What kids?).  And she managed to finagle some gay neighbors out of the network, something Mary Tyler Moore was never able to do.

All in the Family's Gay Episode

Speaking of firsts, the first specifically identified gay character on tv appeared on an episode of All in the Family on February 9, 1971, only 1 1/2 years after Stonewall.  I didn't see it at the time: the church forbade All in the Family because Archie Bunker's daughter and son-in-law were atheists.  I was probably watching Boy from Dead Man's Bayou, starring Mike Lookinland.

Lovable bigot Archie (Carroll O'Connor) gets upset when Mike and Gloria's hippie friend Roger (Anthony Geary) behaves in a flamboyant fashion.  He must be a fruit!  They insist that he's not, but Archie is not convinced.

Meanwhile, at the bar where Archie hangs out, bartender Barney (Billy Halop, another of the original Dead End Kids) points out tough ex-footballer Steve (Philip Carey).  "I don't care if he comes in for a beer, but I don't want his. . .friends. . . turning this place into a hangout."

What?  Steve's a fruit?  But he's so. . .big!

Archie confronts Steve, who admits that he is, indeed, gay.  Archie refuses to believe it, and as proof, challenges him to an arm wrestling contest.  Steve wins, but he's still gay.

It's not exactly a gay pride moment.  The moral is: appearances can be deceiving, so don't judge until you have all the facts.  Being gay is still reprehensible, something heterosexuals "judge."

But it's a lot better than the cadres of lisping, limp-wristed fashion designers and psycho-killers who would populate television for the next twenty years.

Philip Carey was a long-term Hollywood tough guy with starring roles in The 77th Bengal Lancers, Lancer, and Tonka, with Sal Mineo (top photo). He went on to play Asa Buchanan on One Life to Live (1987-2008).

Coincidentally, Anthony Geary is bisexual in real life.  He would go on to General Hospital (1978-2013) playing rapist-turned-romantic hero Luke Spencer in the most famous soap opera story arc of all time (30,000,000 people watched him marry Laura Webber on November 17, 1981).

Jun 9, 2013

Grease 2: The Gay Connection

Grease (1978) played into the 1950s nostalgia craze, united two of the biggest stars of the era, and featured songs that wowed audiences on Broadway.

The sequel, Grease 2 (1981), did none of those things.

Everyone expected another mega hit which would make the careers of stars Maxwell Caulfield (left), Michelle Pfeiffer, and Adrian Zmed.

The plot was a reverse of the original, in which the innocent Australian transplant Sandy (Olivia Newton John) adopts a cool facade to attract the attention of Danny (John Travolta) and wrest him from his greaser buddies.

This time innocent British transplant Michael (Caulfield) adopts a cool facade (as the mysterious Cool Rider) to attract the attention of Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and, not coincidentally, her boyfriend Johnny (Adrian Zmed).  He manages to snare them both, sort of: Stephanie becomes his girlfriend, and Johnny offers him a membership in the T-Bird gang (left).

By the way, the bulge on the far right belongs to Leif Green (comic relief character Danny Jaworski), who went on to organize the first AIDS Walk in Los Angeles in 1985, and many other AIDS Walks and Dance-a-Thons over the next 25 years.

The gay subtext is helped along by Caulfield and Zmed, who were widely rumored to be gay at the time, like John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John before them.  Both posed in the gay-vague After Dark magazine.

The movie didn't exactly bomb at the box office, but it was by no means a hit.

Maybe because the nostalgia craze was over.  Audiences wanted heroic fantasy like Clash of the Titansor epic adventures like Raiders of the Lost Ark. or werewolves.

Maybe because the actors were unknowns.

Maybe because the songs were terrible.  Instead of "You're the One that I Want," "Rock-a-Hula Luau."

Still, the cast went on to respectable careers.

Maxwell Caulfield went on to some homophobic movies and soap operas, including starring roles on Dynasty, The Colbys, and Emmerdale.

Adrian Zmed (left) starred in T.J. Hooker and any number of Circus of the Stars tv specials.

Both were not at all shy about posing for semi-nude and Speedo pics.


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