Aug 3, 2013

Runner for the King: A Dream of Hispanic Freedom


When I was little, I loved Runner for the King (Rowena Bennett 1944), about a boy named Roca who is part of a relay of runners in the Inca Empire of South America.  They deliver messages to and from the king in the form of knotted cords, or quipu.

But as Roca tries to deliver the latest message, things go wrong.  A relay station is abandoned, a rope bridge is cut; he must go through the jungle, where he is attacked by a jaguar.  He rescues his friend Cachi from the savages who are planning an attack, and they run together to deliver the message personally to the Inca.  

Cachi and Roca's perilous run entered my dreams.  My friend Bill and I were racing across a vast sandy desert beneath a midnight sky. In the distance I saw a city of sharp jagged towers, brightly lit with green lights. We ran for countless hours, for all our lives, never tiring, never stopping to rest.  The landscape never changed, the sun never rose, the city grew no closer. Yet we were content.


Sometimes as we ran, I glanced over, caught Bill's eye, and he smiled. It was the same smile that Chekhov and Sulu shared in their room on the Enterprise, and Rich and Sean at the inn in rural Ireland. It was the most important sight in the world




Later I read Temple of the Sun (Evelyn Sibley Lampman, 1964), about a 12-year old boy named Chimal, whose quiet life with his best friend in the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan is disrupted by the arrival of Cortez and his conquistadores.
















And I saw Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), with the Conquistador Pizarro (Robert Shaw) capturing the extraordinarily muscular, semi-nude Atahualpa of the Incas (Christopher Plummer) and holding him for ransom.  But the plan becomes complicated as he develops feelings of respect, affection, and finally love for the god-king.


All I knew about Latin America at the time was Pre-Conquest, about vast empires rising from the jungles, Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas, who wore loincloths and built step-pyramids and worshipped the Feathered Serpent and validated same-sex love.

In the fifth grade, we had a choice of Spanish or French.  I took Spanish, and soon learned about Maximilian, Bolivar, Juarez, Santa Ana, and Zapata.  I soon read Los de Abajo, Don Segundo Sombra, the Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges. I watched Santo, El Blue Demonio, La Gran Aventura, Papa soltero.  I dated Hispanic men. Eventually I learned about gay Latin American writers, like Arenas and Puig.

And I ran. Track in high school, cross-country in college, 5-Ks, 10-Ks, fun runs.  I've been running ever since.







Fire in the Sky: Heterosexism and Alien Abductions

On the evening of November 5, 1975, a 22-year old logger named Travis Walton, his foreman and close friend Mike Rogers, and five other crewmen were heading home from a wood-clearing project at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Heber, Arizona.  Suddenly they saw a bright light, like "fire in the sky," coming from a disc-shaped craft.  They stopped to investigate.

The next thing anyone remembered was driving down the highway at breakneck speed.  Mike was crying uncontrollably.  Travis was missing.

They notified the sheriff, who suspected that they had murdered Travis and concocted a wild story to explain his disappearance.  But five days later, on the evening of November 10th, Travis re-appeared, naked, dehydrated, and disoriented, claiming that he had escaped from an alien spacecraft.

I used to love alien abduction stories, so I grabbed The Travis Walton Experience when it came out in 1978, during my first year of college.  It was great: the abductee was a hot lumberjack whose best friend cried uncontrollably over his disappearance. And who displayed no interest in women (Travis Walton later married Mike's sister Dana, but I didn't see any hetero-romance in the book). Could they be a gay couple?

So the movie version of his adventure, Fire in the Sky (1993), was a must-see.  D.B. Sweeney (top photo), who would play a gay character in The Weekend (1999), starred as Travis Walton, and Robert Patrick (left), then known for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), played Mike Rogers.










There were lots of shots of a  nude D.B. Sweeney, much more buffed than he would be in his later work.

Unfortunately, the producers felt a pressing need to erase the gay subtext.  Travis' friendship with Mike turned into a barely-restrained antagonism, while his romance with Dana took center stage.

Aug 2, 2013

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, everyone was watching Movie Macabre (1981-86), starring Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson).  A throwback to the horror movie hosts of the 1950s and 1960s, Elvira was vampire-like being with a Valley Girl accent ("As if!") and a revealing Morticia Addams outfit.
She showed bad movies like The Fall of the House of Usher (with peplum star Mark Damon not taking his clothes off), Horror Hospital (with Robin Askwith threatened by gay psycho surgeons), and Werewolf of Washington (with Dean Stockwell, werewolves, hippies, and hippie werewolves).





In a tradition that would extend to Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira made snarky comments about the movies.  And in the tradition of drag queen performers, she made lots of self-referential jokes about her sexual escapades and cleavage ("I'm glad to see you're back...and you're glad to see my front!").  

Gay fans loved her, and she returned the affection, appearing at AIDS benefits and Gay Pride parades through the 1980s.


And not only gay fans.  She was everywhere, branding her image to sell everything from beer to Halloween costumes.

The feature film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) sends Elvira to the small town of Falwell (named after Jerry Falwell, the poster boy for 1980s homophobia), where she befriends all of the town's outcasts, butts heads with local bigots and romances an uptight theater manager (professional hunk Danny Greene).

Since Elvira is immortal, she continues to perform, cleavage and all.  In 2010 she began hosting a new version of Elvira's Movie Macabre. 


Aug 1, 2013

Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures: Two Gay Surfer Couples

Nickelodeon is not as good at gay subtexts as the Disney Channel, but every now and then it will air a teencom involving a hot-and-heavy bromance that shines through in spite of the requisite "girl! girls! girls!" obsessions.

Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures (2011-2013) pairs two modern day surfer dudes: "regular guy" Bucket (Taylor Gray, left) and outrageous, gay-vague Skinner (Dillon Lane).


They have an antagonist, the uber-muscular fellow surfer Aloe (Glenn McCuen, #7 on my list of Unexpected Nickelodeon Teen Hunks), who has a boyfriend of his own, Sven (D.C. Cody, far left, with Aloe's arm on his lap).  Bucket and Aloe are competing for the attention of The Girl, so in many ways the show is a throwback to the 1980s movie comedies: nerd tries to wrest The Girl from the obnoxious jock she's dating, with the help of a gay-vague best bud.






Not a lot of surfing goes on; the main sets are the high school and their Surf Shop hangout.  But there are plenty of muscle-shirts, and...um, other ways to display muscular physiques.














In addition to the gay subtext of Bucket and Skinner's bromance, there is some gender-bending.  Bucket and Skinner crash Aloe's party disguised as girls, and Sven hits on Skinner.  They become cheerleaders, and must convince Aloe to join them.

Due to scheduling conflicts and failure to find an audience, Bucket and Skinner was cancelled after 26 episodes; the last few have yet to be aired on TeenNick.




Glen McCuen (early photo) went on to star in the college comedy Dean Slater: Resident Advisor (2013). Dillon Lane will star with Luke Benward in the snowboarding drama Cloud 9 (2014).  Taylor Gray is mostly being photographed in the company of cute guys.


Jul 31, 2013

Barret Oliver's Neverending Story

Born in 1973, Barret Oliver became one of the most beloved child stars of the 1980s.
















After some guest roles in Knight Rider, The Incredible Hulk, and the gay-themed Love, Sidney, he landed the role of Bastian, a bookworm whose alter-ego Atreyu (Noah Hathaway, left) saves a heroic fantasy world in The Neverending Story (1984).






Next came D.A.R.Y.L. (1985), a gay-symbolism movie about a young boy who turns out to be a cyborg (Barret), and the human boy named Turtle (Danny Corkill) who befriends him.

He also starred in Invitation to Hell (1984), as the kid in a suburban family bedeviled by demons, and Cocoon (1985), as the kid among a group of elderly people rejuvenated by aliens.




When he hit adolescence and started hunking up, he became embroiled in a tug-of-war battle with casting agents, who wanted to keep him cute, innocent, and wide-eyed: the boy-and-dog movie Spot Marks the X (1986), a Twilight Zone episode entitled "Gramma," the boy-and-girl story The Secret Garden (1987).

Cocoon: the Return (1988) was the last straw.  After a small but homoerotic role in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (with Ray Sharkey) Barret retired from acting.  He is now a well-known photographer.

Jul 30, 2013

Ray Sharkey: Everybody's Boyfriend

I chanced upon the name "Ray Sharkey" by accident, and did a cursory search on ebay.  Surprise -- he was in about a dozen movies in the 1980s that show him with his hands all over a guy. I've never seen any of them, but they look like they're prime material for seeking out gay subtexts. One even goes all the way into text.

Willie and Phil (1980): two bohemians, a jazz musician and a fashion photographer (Sharkey and Michael Ontkean, who played the gay guy in Making Love),  triangulate their romance through a girl.

The Idolmaker (1980): a songwriter (Sharkey) falls for. . .um, I mean offers to manage Paul Land (left), and later Peter Gallagher. Even the reviews talk about an intense gay subtext.

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989): Chauffeur (Sharkey) and houseboy (Robert Beltran) wager on who can seduce the other's employer first, and end up having sex with each other.  There's also a brief homoerotic scene with Barret Oliver as the teenage son.











Wired (1989): An angelic messenger (Sharkey) takes the deceased John Belushi (Michael Chiklis) to various moments in his life.

The Neon Empire (1989): Jewish mafioso Junior Molof (Sharkey) and his boyfried Vic (Dylan McDermott) build a casino in Las Vegas.

How is it that I never heard of this guy before?

In real life he had two wives and lots of female partners.  Of course, he may have had male partners also.  When he was diagnosed with AIDS, he kept it a secret at first, and later claimed that he was exposed through intravenous drug use.


Jul 29, 2013

The Nanny and the Naked Man

After I left my doctoral program at USC in 1989 (due to doctoral committees insisting that "you can't say gay"), I bounced around West Hollywood for a few years, trying out new careers: minister, human resources assistant, juvenile probation officer.  Nothing seemed right.  In 1995, my partner and I moved to San Francisco, where I took some courses at San Francisco City college, and tried even more careers.  I published a book, about 30 articles, and a dozen or so short stories, but the royalties weren't enough to pay my half the rent (at least I could impress people by saying "I'm a writer.").

My 36th birthday was coming up.  What did I want to do for the rest of my life?

The answer came from, of all places, The Nanny.  

One of the most popular of sitcoms about servants who revitalize a dying family (others include Nanny and the Professor, Charles in Charge, Who's the Boss, and Mr. Belvedere), The Nanny (1993-1999) starred  Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, a working-class Jewish girl from Flushing, Queens, Long Island.  Visiting Manhattan to sell makeup door-to-door, Fran accidentally encounters the depressed, morbid, dreary family of Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield, injects them with joie de vivre, and lands a job as the Nanny (eventually, of course, The Wife).



There wasn't a lot of gay content.  For a Broadway producer, Maxwell doesn't encounter any gay performers.  Fran has a gay hairdresser; David L. Lander plays a gay Squiggy; Maxwell dates a woman who turns out to be gay.  The butler Niles was fey, persnickety, gay-vague, but he turned out to be straight, and eventually married Maxwell's business partner C.C. Babcock.

Nor was there a lot of beefcake.  Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy, top photo) was handsome, and eventually Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury, left) developed a degree of teen-idol cuteness for the younger gay kids.

Nevertheless it was a Castro Street must-see due to the never-ending parade of famous guest stars, the snappy banter, and gay symbolism of an underdog taking charge and "moving on up."

Fran Drescher is a strong gay ally, besties with her gay ex-husband Marc Jacobson.  She turned the experience of living with him into a sitcom, Happily Divorced (2011-).  To promote the series, she held a contest called "Love is Love Gay Marriage Contest," and, using her ministerial certificate from the Universal Life Church, performed the weddings of the winning couples.

And the naked man on the horse: on May 6, 1996, Brighton gets a French tutor, and, bucking tradition, instead of a hot girl, it's a hot guy, Philippe (Paolo Seganti, left, in a photo from an Italian magazine).

It was a silly episode, mostly about people confusing "Je t'adore" and "Shut the door."  But it started a train of reasoning:

Of all the things I had done, interviewing bodybuilders, counseling juvenile delinquents, researching housing trends, writing job ads, what I liked the most was standing in front of a classroom.  Teaching.  The main job of college professors.

When the episode ended and we switched the tv to the last half of Melrose Place, I turned to my partner and said "I think I want to go back to school, and try for a Ph.D. again"

See also: My 12 Careers


Jul 28, 2013

The Chippendale Dancers

Speaking of gay erasure, the art of exotic dance, where performer begins fully clothed, removes article after article, and ends up nude, was once assumed to be solely the domain of women performing for men.  There are still 4,000 or so Gentlemen's Clubs in the U.S., where "gentlemen" (that is, heterosexual men) can go to see breasts and other parts.

Men were stripping for men in gay clubs, but the first mainstream producers of male exotic dance, Somen Banerjee, Paul Snider, and Bruce Nahin, were not aware of the fact.   In 1979 they opened the "first" male exotic dance club, Chippendales, and specified that the audience must be solely female.  Not because they wanted to exclude gay men -- they were apparently not aware that gay men existed -- but because they thought that boyfriends and husbands would prohibit the women from letting loose and enjoying themselves.

Gay men noticed, however.  By 1983 Bullwinkle's, the gay bar in Bloomington, Indiana, was hosting a Chippendales Night fundraiser with guys shirtless except for their massive pecs and those little bow ties (Thad the ex-homophobe  participated).

The "no boyfriends or husbands" policy remained intact as the Chippendales took off, with clubs in New York, Los Angeles, Hamburg, and London, and touring groups across the world.  Lately buffed celebrities have been taking their turn as Chippendale dancers: Cristian LetelierJoey Lawrence (below), Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210, top photo), Jeremy Jackson (of Baywatch, left), Jake Pavelka (of The Bachelor), Brett Baxter Clark (of Bachelor Party).






There were a number of lawsuits in the 1980s from men alleging discrimination because they were denied entrance, including one argued by Gloria Allred in 1987.  In 1988 Chippendales quietly dropped its policy, and later Banerjee claimed that they had "never denied men admission," they just didn't care to attend, because why would a man want to watch another man stripping?




He still hadn't heard that gay people exist.

The literature still pretends that only women are interested in seeing men strip, and still advises them to "leave the boyfriend or husband at home." Some individual clubs and Chippendales knockoffs still deny men admission, so men who want to go might have to dress in drag, like two friends of mine did in Las Vegas in the 1980s.

American Werewolf in Paris

We didn't really need a sequel to American Werewolf in London, but in 1997 we got one, American Werewolf in Paris.

This time we got three buddies on vacation in Paris: Andy (Tom Everett Scott), Brad (Vince Vieluf), and Chris (Phil Buckman, left), who want to bungee jump off the Eiffel Tower.






Andy falls in love with Serafine, a werewolf-girl (daughter of the David Naughton character from the original, but not to worry, she's older than 16).  She invites them to a werewolf-victim nightclub.  Andy is bitten, Brad is eaten, and Chris escapes.

As in the original, Brad's decaying corpse shows up and tells Andy that he is destined to kill and eat people for the rest of eternity.  But this time Serafine has a cure.

Head werewolf Claude orders Andy to kill Chris. He is torn, but in the end rescues him instead. They all kill the bad werewolves.  Andy and Serafine get married, and invite Chris to join them in bungee jumping off the Statue of Liberty.


Terrible, convoluted stuff, except for the lack of homophobic slurs; the blatant gay subtext between Andy and Chris, in spite of The Girl (Chris doesn't get a girl, anyway); and the fact that Chris gets his shirt ripped off, giving us some beefcake.

Tom Everett Scott has played several gay characters, notably in the play The Little Dog Laughed, where both he and costar Johnny Galecki display frontal nudity.






Phil Buckman played several buddies with little interest in girls during the 1990s: Slash, on Drexel's Class (1991-92); Scar on the short-lived Daddy's Girls (1994), with Harvey Fierstein; Chet's buddy Roger on Weird Science (1994-96).  He's been in several bands, including Tribal Sex Cult, Texture, Kill the Complex, and Filter.

He seems to have muscled up even more, if that's possible.