Nov 9, 2013

Alan Tudyk: Gay-Positive, Muscular, and Funny

Alan Tudyk plays mostly comedic roles, so you're laughing too hard to notice when his shirt comes -- or all of this clothes come off. But pay attention next time, and you'll see one of the most unexpectedly muscular physiques in Hollywood, with a tight, hirsute chest and impressively ribbed abs.

Born in 1971, the Texas native first drew attention on Broadway, when he starred in Epic Proportions (1998), about two guys in love with the same girl during the filming of a 1920s Biblical epic.  Theater is still his first love; he has appeared in Wonder of the World, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (with a gay Adam and Steve) Spamalot and Prelude to a Kiss.  But he's best known for movies:

Gay German drug addict Gerhardt in 28 Days (2000).

Gay-vague sidekick Wat in the Medieval farce A Knight's Tale (2001).

Simon in the gay-themed farce Death at a Funeral (2007).

Drew, gay business partner of straight Derek (Josh Cook) in Fourplay (2008).

Gay-vague hillbilly harassed by college kids in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010).

And television:

Navigator-sidekick Wash on the sci-fi-Western Firefly (2002-2003).

Sardonic dentist Noah on the suburban sitcom Suburgatory (2011-2014).

Though he's played gay characters several times, Alan is not personally gay.  Or a hillbilly.  Or a dentist.

Fall 1980: The Gay Ghost in the Basement

I didn't like going down to the basement in our house in Rock Island, not by myself, especially at night.  The rec room was ok -- we used to invite our friends over to play pingpong or foosball or watch tv.  But off to the side there was a laundry room, and beyond an artist's studio belonging to Mr. Kint, the previous owner of the house.  He was an engineer, but his hobby was painting.

No one had touched it since the day he died, except to empty the file cabinets.  There was a calendar from 1966 on the wall, jarsful of pens, pencils, and paint brushes, and a slanted desk with a slide rule and a t-square. It looked like he was just upstairs getting a drink of water, and he would be back any minute. Sometimes I imagined his footsteps on the creaking wooden stairs.

One Saturday in early November 1980, my junior year at Augustana,  I invited Haldor from the dating competition to dinner.  I planned to cook roast beef at my parents' house, and then serve it in the dorm kitchen.

I let myself into the house around 2:00 pm.  It was deserted.

After awhile I needed an onion to slice atop the potatoes, and the only onions in the house were in a big bag in the laundry room.  I planned to rush down and up again in less than ten seconds.  But then I heard a noise coming from Mr. Kint’s studio. A chair scraping across a bare concrete floor.

My first thought was that my brother Ken had come home unexpectedly and hid in the basement to scare me.  I said “Ha-ha, big joke!” and walked briskly to the doorway.

Someone was sitting in the old swivel chair, bending over Mr. Kint’s desk, drawing furiously on an oversized pad of art paper. Pale light streamed through the basement window above him.

It must be Ken.  He liked to draw.

“Hey, Bro, what you working on?” I took two or three steps closer to him and peered over his shoulder. It was a drawing of a row of men of various ages and races, facing forward. All were naked. They seemed to be arranged by penis size, from tiny to absurdly enormous.

"Big fan of naked men, huh?  Me, too."  Ken was the family member I was out to.

I saw that the hand was trembling a bit. It was very pale, sprinkled with brown spots. The fingers had long crusty nails. The hand of a monster.

Was it Mr. Kint, returning to complete the drawing he’d been working on when he died?  Suddenly terrified, I screamed.

He swung around. It was Brian!

You remember Brian, the seventh grader who was trying to scrub the mysterious graffiti "Brian gives free LBJs" from the school wall in 1974?  Who I kissed under the mistletoe at Christmastime in 1977, and then asked him to call, but he didn't call?  I hadn't heard anything about him for almost three years.

"Are you from East Moline, Dork?" he said angrily.  "You almost made me ruin my drawing!"

"Well, you scared me to death!  What...what are you doing here?"  His hand was perfectly normal.

“Visiting Ken -- what do you think?  He went out to pick up a half-gallon of ice cream.  He should be back any minute.”

“I mean. . .what are you doing here in Mr. Kint's studio?"

“I have a sketch due Monday for art class, and Ken said I could work down here.  The light is perfect."

 "Why are the men all naked?"

He began to blush.  "Oh...I was just fooling around.  I'll fix it before I turn it in."  He paused.  "So what did you mean by 'me, too'?"

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood

Nov 8, 2013

Tyler Johnston: Go to Canada for Gay Subtexts

If you want to see gay subtexts in juvenile tv, go to Canada.  And especially look up Canadian actor Tyler Johnston.

Born in 1987, Tyler's first major role was in the juvenile sci-fi series Zixx (2005)  He played "a shapeshifter who works for the Hargokk Empire," friends with Riley but eventually flattened.  He reappears at the Boegarian chess set but is cast out.

I don't know what it means, either, but it sounds interesting.

Next came recurring roles on the gay-themed L-Word (2005-2006) and Godiva's (2006), about young Canadians in the restaurant industry, and guest spots on V, Flashpoint, and Running Wilde.  

And a starring role as Danny Lube on the Canadian teencom Less than Kind (2010-2012), about a dysfunctional Jewish family in Winnipeg.  Danny is a "feral student," a bad boy who becomes the hefty Sheldon's best friend and partner in Cooperstowne.  He also dates Miriam, but, in at least the episodes I've seen, there's a nicely unexpected gay subtext.  When he goes missing, Sheldon becomes a hero, investigating, interrogating, and rescuing his bff.

The Odds (2011) is another gay-subtext movie, about two high school gamblers.  When Desson (Tyler) finds his friend Barry murdered, he must seek out the killer by getting more deeply embroiled in the world of competitive gambling.  Barry (right) is played by the pro-gay actor Calum Worthy, #5 on my list of Unexpected Disney Teen Hunks.

Tyler has also played a hired killer on The Killing, an angel masquerading as a teen working in fast food on Supernatural, and a teenage drug dealer on Saving Hope.

No word on whether he's gay in real life.

Nov 7, 2013

Christian Fortune: the Gay Posse Connection

I haven't been able to find out much about Christian Fortune, the #1 member of Jake T. Austin's Gay Posse.  I know that they were inseparable; they did a commercial (left) and a webseries together; but what else has Christian done?

According to the IMBD, he was born in 1991 in Pasadena, California.  His first film credit was The Perfect Game (2009), with Jake T. Austin, Jansen Panettiere, Moises Arias, and several other young actors who all became friends.  He's done some Disney Channel teencoms, some short films, and some dramas (directed by his father Todd Fortune).

He has three upcoming projects.  The most promising is Youngsville (2013), a sort of Blair Witch Project about three teenagers (Christian, Tyler Steelman, Christopher David) who escape from a juvenile detention facility in rural North Carolina to face a worse danger. Christian is listed as one of the writers, and Todd Fortune, naturally, is the director.

I've checked his twitters and instagrams, and nothing particularly significant presents itself.  He mentions "falling for a girl," but he also describes himself in gender-atypical terms as "beautiful," and seems to imply that he wants to have children with a male friend.

Other than Jake T. Austin, he seems to spend most of his time with homophobic teen idol Christian Beadles.

So I can't decide: gay, heterosexual, or bisexual?  Gay-positive or homophobic?  Jake T. Austin's buddy or boyfriend?

Freddie and Cook: What Happens when Straight Guys Kiss

The British teen soap Skins (2007-2013) was always good for gay content as well as "skin," as in Season 3 (2010), when Freddie (Luke Pasqualino, left) and Cook (Jack O'Connell) end an argument with a kiss.

The two heterosexual characters are arguing over the girl they both like, when suddenly Freddie headbutts Cook.  His mate responds by grabbing and kissing him -- hard.  "You're a prick for hitting me," he says, "But I deserved it, and I still love you."

The characters continue to be written as heterosexual, with lots of girl-crazy exploits.  But the gay-subtext plotlines include Freddie's murder and Cook's devastated attempt to move on.

Luke Pasqualino is currently playing D'Artagnon in the British tv series The Musketeers (2013-), based on the classic novel (his mates are played by Tom Burke, Howard Charles, and Santiago Cabrera).  I haven't seen it, but there must be some gay subtexts in there somewhere.

In an interview with Out magazine, he states that he's heterosexual but affectionate, kissing everyone, men and women -- which occasionally causes guys to "get the wrong idea."  Not a problem for the gay-positive actor.

Jack O'Connell went on to star in Starred Up (2013), about a juvenile sent to adult prison, where he develops a sexually-charged relationship with an older man -- his dad.  He'll also be playing Callisto in 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), an ancient Greek actioner which is bound to have some gay characters.

Nov 6, 2013

Spring 1980: My Boyfriend's Secret Bookshelf

When I first met Fred the Ministerial Student in December 1979, my sophomore year at Augustana College, I tried to determine if he was gay by examining his bookcases for books by gay authors -- I only knew about Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and Samuel Delany.  I didn't find any.

In the open, anyway.

One day in the spring of 1980, long after we began dating, Fred asked me to get something from his bedroom closet, and I found a secret bookshelf, facing away from view, so even if the door was ajar, you wouldn't know what was there.

Curious, I pulled a book out.  Familiar Faces: Hidden Lives: The Story of Homosexual Men in America Today, by Howard Brown.

I had never seen a book about gay people, except for Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.

"There are a few others," Fred told me.  "I have almost all of the nonfiction, I think.  Of course, it has to be hidden."

"I've never seen a gay book in a bookstore."

"Not likely.  They wouldn't stock any -- it's illegal to put them out on the shelves -- and besides, who would walk up to the counter and try to buy one?"  (I would be doing it in just a few months).   "It's all by mail.  You don't have to give them your name, just a money order and post office box."

With Fred's permission, I spent the afternoon going through the seven gay books in existence.
1. Familiar Faces, Hidden Lives.
2. Greek Homosexuality
3. The Homosexual Matrix
4. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?: Another Christian View
5. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times
6. Iolaus, An Anthology of Friendship, by early gay activist Edward Carpenter
7. A slim hardback, On Being Different: What it Means to be a Homosexual, by Merle Miller.

(He was actually off by a little; there were about 30 nonfiction books about gay people in print in 1980.)

The only author I recognized was Merle Miller.  My English and journalism teachers were always priasing him:

Born right next door, in Marshalltown, Iowa,  a graduate of the University of Iowa, and now look at him!  A famous journalist, novelist, and historian, biographer of presidents!

Read Something Happened (1962), or Only You, Dick Darling! (1965), or Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1973), for a model of clear, vigorous writing!

They didn't mention, or they didn't know, that in in January 1971, Merle Miller came out in an article in The New York Times: "What It Means to Be Homosexual."

The article received 2000 letters, and was reprinted, with an afterward, in the slim hardbound volume that I found on Fred's hidden bookshelf.

What does it mean to be gay?

It doesn't mean that you're crazy, sick, sinful, or evil.  It doesn't mean that you're plotting to seduce kids or overthrow civilization. It means that you are invisible, and heterosexuals will try anything and everything to keep you that way.

Merle Miler stayed invisible.  When he died in 1986, the New York Times refused to mention his partner of 22 years, David W. Elliott (who, paradoxically, wrote a novel entitled Listen to the Silence).

But  I mourned the writer who grew up right next door, who nobody knew was gay, who wrote one of the only gay books in existence.

See also: I Visit an Adult Bookstore.

Steve Grand: First Gay Male Country-Western Singer

I hate country-western music (although I learned quite a lot about it in 1991, in order to impress someone I thought was a country-western singer).

But I like Steve Grand.  And not just because of his underwear-clad and nude photos.

Because he's the first gay male country-western singer to be out.  Ever.

Dropping out of college in 2011 to concentrate on his music, Steve worked as a waiter, a beefcake model, and a music leader at Chicago-area Catholic churches while performing under the name Steve Starchild.  He mostly covered pop hits ("You and I," by Lady Gaga; "It Will Rain," by Bruno Mars).

Then in July 2013, renamed Steve Grand, he drew on his true love, country-western music, with a music video called "All-American Boy." It was on a usual country-western topic, unrequited love.  Except this was a gay All-American Boy interested in a straight guy.

Ripped jeans, only drinks whiskey
I find him by the fire while his girl was getting frisky, ohh
I say we go this road tonight
He smiles, his arms around her
but his eyes are holding me, just a captive to his wonder, ohh
I say we go this road tonight

The video went viral, with 2 million views in just a few days.  You can see it on his personal website.

Evidently Steve touched a nerve: there were gay country-western fans, lots of them, who had never seen their lives reflected in their music before.  And heterosexuals who had never seen this new twist on the enduring country-western themes of love, loss, and hardship.

He suddenly became a gay icon, interviewed by every media venue from Boy Culture to CNN, performing at Orlando Pride and at the Marriage Rally at the Illinois State Capitol.  Steve Sala declares that he has "rebranded country-western music," breaking into what was previously an exclusive good-old-boys club.

Steve has released a second single, "Stay," and plans to release an EP soon.

Nov 5, 2013

Santo: Luchador, Vampire Hunter, and Domestic Partner

In Mexico,  lucha libre, or free-style wrestling,  is the national pastime, with roots going all the way back to Aztec rituals.  The wrestlers wear masks to hide their identities and give them cosmic significance.

The most famous of the luchadores, El Santo (Rodolpho Guzman Huerta, 1917-1984), became a movie icon.  He always wore a mask and a bulgeworthy wrestling singlet.  Wrestling exploits were interspliced with superheroic fights against evil, usually supernatural powers.

Between 1958 and 1982, Santo made over 80 films, fighting Dracula, Frankenstein, Zombies, lady vampires, Satanists, Baron Brakola, La Llorona (the famous "crying woman" of Mexican folklore), mad scientists, ghosts, aliens, Nazis, a killer who uses television, and resurrected Aztec demigods.

Sometimes he had the help of his ring opponents, El Blue Demonio (shouldn't that be El Demonio Azul?) and Mil Mascaras, or other sidekicks (here the comedian Capulina).

He sometimes had a girlfriend, Virginia, or rescued a scientist's daughter, or fought a sexy female adversary, but there were often gay subtexts as well.

Most of the movies are available with English subtitles. I recommend:

1. Santo v. The Martian Invasion (1967). Santo wrestles with Martian invaders who threaten to destroy the Earth unless everyone starts speaking the same language.

2. Operation 67 (1967). Santo becomes a James Bond-style secret agent out to thwart counterfeiters, paired up with bodybuilder Jorge Rivero (right).

3. The Treasure of Montezuma (1968). Secret agents Santo and Jorge Rivero battle thieves who want to steal the treasure of Montezuma, but only Santo has the magic ring that can translate ancient Aztec writing.

4. Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolfman (1970): Not only the two wrestlers domestic partners, they have to fight a whole army of werewolves.

5. Santo and Blue Demon in Atlantis (1970).  Lost Atlantis, Nazis, a nuclear bomb, a drug that makes you evil.  Plus Santo keeps saving Blue Demon's life, and they walk off into the sunset together.

6. Santo and the Blue Demon in the Land of the Dead (1970). The Dynamic Duo square off against a witch with a grudge against Santo's ancestor.

Charlie Williams: Happily Bisexual on Broadway

Charlie Williams (right) is a actor/dancer who has strutted his stuff in Pajama Game, South Pacific, Joseph, anything requiring him to take his shirt off.

He has appeared in two Broadway shows:

1.Memphis, about forbidden love in the dance clubs of 1950s Memphis.  It's interracial heterosexual love.  No gay content.

2. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, about a conniving junior exec who gets ahead with the help of The Girl.  Not a lot of gay content, though the show-stopping "Brotherhood of Man" has potential.

So why does Charlie Williams deserve a post?

1. His coworkers call him "Charity Charlie" for all of his work on gay and AIDS causes, like the AIDS Walk and the Equality March.

2. He was named "Mr. Broadway" at the Broadway Beauty Pageant, a benefit for homeless LGBT youth.

3. He took it all off at Broadway Bares XX, a fully-nude review to benefit Broadway Cares, one of the biggest AIDS charities in the world.

4. He's happily, unapologetically bisexual.  And single.

Nov 4, 2013

It Happened in Athens: The End of 1950s Gay Hollywood

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a fad of movies set in modern Greece, where people (reputedly) spent their time dancing, drinking ouzo, breaking plates, and having colorful sexual adventures: Zorba the Greek, The Island of Love, Boy on a Dolphin, The Moon Spinners.  And with the summer Olympics coming up, the executives at 20th Century Fox got an idea for a sure-fire hit: a movie set during the first modern Olympics, in Athens in 1896!

It was titled It Happened in Athens to sound like a sequel to It Happened in Rome (1957).

They got the Hungarian Laszlo Vadnay to write a script about the poor shepherd Spiridon, who falls in love with the famous actress Eleni while competing in the 26-mile marathon.  Script tweaking added Christina, a poor girl for Spiridon to choose in the end, and Lt. Vinardos, a wealthy competitor in both the race and the love affair.  It was all very convoluted -- audiences would love it!

Greek hunk Nico Minardos would play Vinardos (get it?), and Eleni would be played by Jayne Mansfield, a big box office draw due primarily to her cleavage.  For the star, Spiridon, they cast Trax Colton, a new contract player discovered by Henry Willson.

Henry Willson discovered and nurtured dozens of beefcake stars during the 1950s, everyone from Rock Hudson to John Saxon.  But he fell on hard times after being outed -- he was gay, so his discoveries must be gay, too, anathema in 1950s Hollywood!  Old clients abandoned him, and he had a hard time getting new clients -- even those who were gay or bisexual didn't want the negative association.  He had to make do with the most eager or the most clueless -- like 30-year old used car salesman Louis Morelli.

Trax had no previous film credits, but studio execs felt that his good looks were enough to make the movie a success and catapult him to stardom as the next Rock Hudson.

Then someone made the Henry Willson connection.  The last thing they needed was another decade of paying off tabloids and arranging fake dates to keep a gay star in the closet.

Besides, he couldn't act.  And the film: overblown, convoluted, with a significant gay subtext between the two competitors.

 It sat on the shelf for two years and was finally released in 1962.  Trax Colton played a small part in the sex comedy The Marriage Go Round (1961) before being released from his contract and disappearing from Hollywood.

Ironically, he was probably heterosexual in real life -- he and Jayne Mansfield had an affair during the filming.  And probably too out-of-the-loop to be aware that signing on with Henry Willson would label him gay.

By the way, he has the smallest personal website I've ever seen, consisting of 6 photos and a 1-paragraph bio.

Pidgin to da Max: Breaking the Silence in 1980

See Tales of West Hollywood

Nov 3, 2013

A Glimpse of My Cousin Joe's Shame

Cousin Joe
When I was 7 1/2 years old, shortly after the Vacation Bible School incident, we moved from Racine, Wisconsin to Rock Island, Illinois.  My parents didn't want my brother and me in the way during the move, so on July 18th, 1968, we left a fully-furnished house in Racine, and on July 28th, we returned to a fully-furnished house in Rock Island.

We spent the ten days in Rome City, Indiana, with my Aunt Nora, who took me to see the President two years ago.  She was a big, jolly woman who baked pies for a living -- we got pie every night for dessert! -- and who let us watch all the tv we wanted.  She and Uncle Henry (who died a long time ago) liked tv so much that they named her kids after popular tv stars:

1. Ed (left), 18 years old, after the star of The Ed Sullivan Show.
2. Eva Marie, 16 years old, after Eva Marie Saint, star of the The Phillco Television Showcase
3. Joe (top photo left), 14 years old, after the star of The Joey Bishop Show (she was fibbing about this: The Joey Bishop Show didn't premiere until 1961 and Cousin Joe was born in 1954.)

Aunt Nora's house had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and three bedrooms downstairs (for Aunt Nora, Joe, and Eva Marie).  Upstairs there was one bedroom for Grandma Davis whenever she came for a visit (Kenny and I slept there), and an attic "pad" for Ed.

One night I woke up late and had to go to the bathroom, so I climbed out of bed and pieced my way gingerly downstairs and through the unfamiliar hallway. The bathroom door was ajar.  I shoved it open.

Cousin Joe was standing in front of the sink.

The rest of the story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Gay World of Dr. Seuss

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I hated fairy tales, but I liked Dr. Seuss.  No heterosexist boy-girl plotlines, no boy-girl romances of any sort, just pleas for tolerance of diversity, ambiguity, nonconformity.  Lots of alternative families.  Lots of gay subtexts.

Horton Hatches the Egg (1940): Gay man takes over for a neglectful mom, and proves to be a wonderful father.

Horton Hears a Who (1954): Nobody will believe that a community exists until they all shout "We are here!"  Sounds like the Gay Rights Movement.

The Cat in the Hat (1957):  An emissary of chaos, accompanied by the gay couple, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957): a gay outsider is accepted by the community.

Green Eggs and Ham (1960): People are into all sorts of different things.  Deal with it.

The Sneetches (1961): Insignificant personal characteristics, like whether you are attracted to men, women, or both, can create crazy prejudices.

But Seussical, the 2000 musical, is a disappointment.  It amalgamates a huge number of books, including some that I never heard of, into two confusing plots -- one for adults, one for kids.

Wait -- those books have no continuity.  They take place in different universes, some populated by humans, some by animals, some by other beings.

And there's a hetero-romantic primary plot, between Horton the Elephant and Gertrude McFuzz (a bird in Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories who thinks her tail isn't fancy enough).

The secondary plot is promising: Oddball outsider JoJo (here played by teen idol Aaron Carter) is ridiculed for "thinking thinks" and finally sent to military school.  He helps save the day without getting a girlfriend.

He buddy-bonds with Horton, but there's not much of a gay subtext between the little boy and the adult elephant.

Except in some local productions where the two actors are the same age, and Horton's elephantness is conveyed through pin-on ears, not an elephant costume.