Dec 21, 2013

Earle C. Liederman: The Grandfather of Modern Bodybuilding

Everyone's heard of bodybuilding entrepreneur, Charles Atlas, who sold thousands of "dynamic tension" resistance-training regiments from the 1930s through the 1960s with the comic strip ad, "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac."

But few people, even bodybuilding aficionados, realize that before Charles Atlas, the mail-order muscle-building market was dominated by Earle E. Liederman (1886-1970), an associate of Eugen Sadow who advertised "Become a giant among men!" to the wimpy office boys of the Jazz Age.

The former physical education teacher, Vaudeville strongman, and professional acrobat began distributing his book, Muscle Development, in 1920, and continued with The Science of Wrestling and Secrets of Strength.  

But where Charles Atlas promised men that muscles would help them get girls, Liederman's ads were usually more inclusive, promising that muscles would make you "a business and social favorite."  And the health benefits of bodybuilding, he noted expansively, would apply to both men and women.

His lessons were typewritten, addressed personally to the student, and tailored to his/her individual needs (actually ghost-written by one of his army of assistants), with practical advice like "don't invest in many collars, as your neck size will increase dramatically."

One of his students, he claimed, was Charles Atlas himself.  Liederman himself provided the illustrations, displaying a massive physique even in his fifties.

During the Depression, he was eclipsed by Charles Atlas's graphic-savvy showmanship, and lost everything.  He hosted a physical-fitness exercise program, and in 1945 moved to Los Angeles to edit Joe Weider's new magazine, Muscle Power.  

His column, "Let's Gossip," with its dish on the sun-and-surf hijinks of the glitterati, is credited with drawing hundreds of young muscle enthusiasts to L.A., where many posed for the gay-vague Physique Pictorial and were discovered by gay casting agent Henry Willson.

After a falling-out with Joe Weider, Liederman went to work for a rival bodybuilding magazine, and died in 1970, the elder statesman of the bodybuilding movement.

I don't know if he was gay.  When you read his columns, he comes across as very fey, a drag queen Auntie, sweetie darling.  But he was married to Miss Alaska for awhile,  so I can't tell.

His course is still available online.

Spring 1976: Marrying Donny Osmond

In grade school, there were lots of tv programs that my friends and I would turn over heaven and earth to watch -- Batman, Lost in Space, Mission: Impossible --, but in high school, not so much. I liked Barney Miller, but if a cute boy invited me out for pizza, I wouldn't think twice about missing it.

But Rita, a sophomore who got saved during the fall revival, never missed the variety show Donny & Marie on Friday night, no matter what was happening at school or what kind of spectacular night out she was offered.  She would go out after 8:00, when the show was over.  If you arrived early, you had to sit down, shut up, and wait.

She had to watch to support teen idol Donny Osmond (starring with his sister Marie, one of several brother-sister acts of the era).

Donny was her future husband.

This was no mere teen idol crush; it was a simple statement of fact.  One night Rita was alone in her room, listening to Donny sing “Go away, little girl. . .I’m dating someone else, I must be true,” and it dawned on her that she could be that “someone else”! So she knelt by her bedside and asked God in Jesus’ name to give her Donny as a husband.

 John 14:13 says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do.” The Bible is God’s Word, isn’t it?  God doesn’t lie, does He? So, as certain as the sunrise, she would someday be Mrs. Donny Osmond.

She left the details of their meeting to God, but most likely Donny would come to Rock Island for a concert, and she would be sitting in the front row, and their eyes would meet. Afterwards, he would invite her to his dressing room and try to brainwash her into the Mormon cult, but she would turn the tables and win him for Christ. He would vow to use his talent henceforth for God, not Satan, and ask her to marry him.

She had to stay faithful to her future husband, so she couldn't possibly date other boys.  But we could be "just friends."

During my sophomore year, Rita and I went out frequently as "just friends," often to Jim's Rib Haven, which was just around the corner from her house.

 Most Saturdays Darry and I took the bus downtown to study at the library, and then visit her.  We sat on the floor in her bedroom, gazing at the many posters of Donny on her walls and listening to his records.  We discussed the relative dreaminess of current teen idols -- omitting Donny, of course, since anyone who questioned his superlative dreaminess was likely to get ejected from the premises.

We talked about Becky’s future as Mrs. Osmond, and, playing along, I talked about my future with Todd, the boy I had a crush on.  I even used God's Infallible Promise to make sure that I would someday "get" him.

And it worked!  In June 1976, I spent the night with Todd at music camp.

During my junior year, Rita and I drifted apart.  We chatted when we ran into each other in the hallway, and sometimes sat together in church, but not much else.

As far as I know, she never lost her conviction that she would one day marry Donny Osmond.

After all, she used God's Infallible Promise.

Todd's story continues here.

Dec 20, 2013

James Marsden: Former Teen Idol Plays Gay, with Kissing and Everything

You don't need a face shot to distinguish James and Jason Masden.  James has a more ripped physique, which he tends to display with constant semi-nude scenes, plus full nudity in Death at a Funeral (2010).  (Jason is cute too, of course).

A popular teen idol of the 1990s, James appearing on teencoms like Saved by the Bell: The New Class and its Canadian clone, Boogie's Diner.  His first starring role came in Second Noah (1996-97), a dramedy about a family (including the Torgerson Twins) who live near Busch Gardens in Florida.

His most famous dramatic role as a teen idol was Disturbing Behavior (1998): the new kid in town (Marsden) teams up with his new buddy (fellow teen idol Nick Stahl) and The Girl to uncover a plot to turn all of the kids into perfect Stepford Teens.

Gossip (2000) is about a college student (Marsden) and his roommates, a boy and a girl, concocting gossip for a class project. But are his roommates really his friends?

As an adult, he is probably most famous for the X-Men series, where he plays Cyclops, but he has also done some serious dramatic roles, such as The Notebook.

The Oklahoma-born actor was "a little uncomfortable" around gay people when he first moved to Los Angeles, but he soon got over it: he hangs out in gay bars, he's been interviewed in The Advocate and Out, and he's played gay characters twice, with kissing and everything.

The 24th Day (2004): Dan (Marsden) and Tom (Scott Speedman) have a one-night stand that goes wrong.

Heights (2005): a Manhattan lawyer (Marsden) about to marry a woman finds his world turned upside down when his photographer ex shows up with an exhibition about the men he's been with "on the downlow."

He also had a noteworthy appearance on Modern Family, as a free spirit who befriends Cam and Mitchell.

Dec 19, 2013

Living Hell: Gay Symbolism, Nudity, and Gore

I don't have much interest in the Japanese "guro" genre, which isn't about scaring you so much as displaying blood spurting out of disembowled people.  But some of them, like Shugo Fujii's Living Hell (2000) and White Panic (2005), have enough male nudity and gay symbolism to make them worthwhile...almost.

Living Hell (Iki-jikogu) stars teenager Yasu (Hirohito Honda), confined to a wheelchair due to "hysterical exhaustion," who lives with his older brother Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) and adopted sister Rumi.  The family is happy and "normal" until his senile grandmother Chiyo and her granddaughter Yuki, survivors of a grisly multiple murder, move in.  Grandma is a dour, expressionless, ghost-like creature who says things like "Children are the root of all evil."  Yuki doesn't speak at all.

Yasu is frightened of the women, but Ken tells him that he must accept family, no matter how odd.  Besides, they were traumatized by the tragedy.  They begin harassing Yasu when everyone else is out, first with minor pranks, then with painful torture, including hours of electroshock on his sex organs.

Ken doesn't believe him, and the women warn that if he tells Rumi, they will kill her.  The audience is led to believe that he may be just hallucinating.  Or maybe Yuki is real, but Grandma Chiyo is a ghost.

He tries to escape, but is captured.

Mitzo (director Shugo Fujii, left) who works with Ken at the newspaper, starts to investigate the original murders, and suspects that Chiyo and Yuki were responsible.  After some stuff involving a failed genetic experiment, he goes to the house, finds Yasu, and tries to rescue him, but then he, too, is captured.

Then Yasu discovers the awful truth: he belongs to a family of cannibals!

Yasu is soft, passive, androgynous, and sexual -- the camera loves his semi-nude body (there is also a brief frontal).  Mitzo is hard, tough, and masculine.  It is interesting that the director makes Yasu the object of the gaze and himself the hero, storming into the house for a homoerotic same-sex rescue from the depraved heterosexual family.

It's too late, of course.  Blood splatters everywhere.  This movie is not for the squeamish.

Dec 17, 2013

The Last Picture Show: Small Town Melodrama with Nudity and Gay Subtexts

I saw The Last Picture Show (1971) when I was trapped in Hell-fer-Sartain State College in far, far north Houston, and found it immeasurably depressing, in spite of the infinite number of gay subtexts.

It's about depressed young people in a dismal, windswept Texas town in the 1950s.  They try to find meaning in their sad little lives through tawdry affairs with people they hate and going to the movies, but they can't perform during the affairs, the movie theater is closing, and they're all leaving or dying.

Sad-eyed high school seniors Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are obviously into each other, no matter how much they try to triangulate their romance with girlfriends whom they can't perform for and affairs with older women whom they hate.  They split up when Sonny goes off to die in the Korean War.

Sonny has an affair with the depressed middle-aged Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman).  Why is she depressed?  Other than being trapped in a horrible small town, I mean. Because her husband, Coach Popper (Bill Thurman), is unable to...well, you know, and likes to smack his student athletes on the butt.  Gay, right?  You couldn't state it openly in 1971, but it's implied.

For that matter, an awful lot of the men in town are unwilling or unable to...well, you know.  It's as if the quiet desperation of their lives has resulted in impotence.  And a lot of gay subtexts.

Rich boy Bobby (Gary Brockette) invites them all to his house for a skinny-dipping party (he has a famous frontal nude scene that got the movie banned as obscene in several places).  He wants a girlfriend, but not if she's a virgin.  He doesn't want to have to worry about any of that icky sex stuff.

They take the young street sweeper Billy (Sam Bottoms) to a prostitute to lose his virginity, but it doesn't work out, probably because he's not into girls.  He is into Duane, however.  At the end of the movie, he's killed as he sweeps the streets, thus convincing Duane to return to the girlfriend he hates.  Is it because the only two eligible guys in town are gone?

Several of the performers, including Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, and Cybil Shepherd (Jacey, who dates both Sonny and Duane), have become strong gay allies. Boomer Bridges went on to play in several gay-subtext dramas.

See also: The Fabulous Bottoms Boys.

Dec 16, 2013

Danny Pintauro: Gay Child Star Comes Out, Gets Engaged

We can roughly divide actors coming out into B.E. and A.E., before and after Ellen Degeneres said "Yep, I'm gay" in big red letters on the cover of Time Magazine (April 14, 1997).

B.E.: You may be out to family and friends, but you always pretended to be heterosexual in public.  If you were "accused" of being gay, you would issue an angry denial.  If you were outed by the media, your career was over.

A.E.: You would casually mention being gay in an interview, and continue to work, although you would never again be cast as action-adventure heroes or romantic leads.

Danny Pintauro came just at the end of the B.E. era.

Born in 1976, he was a popular child star of the 1980s, with a three-year run as Paul Ryan on the soap As the World Turns (1982-85), and starring roles in several movies, including the Stephen King thriller Cujo (1983), The Beniker Gang (1985), about five orphans on the run, and Timestalkers (1987), about time travel.

But he became famous for Who's the Boss (1984-92), starring Tony Danza as Tony Micelli, a housekeeper who brings joie de vivre to his uptight employer Angela Bower (Judith Light) and her horny mother (Katherine Helmond). 

Danny played Jonathan, a preteen who exhibits wide-eyed incomprehension to the sexual tension and double-entendre jokes.  As he entered adolescence, Danny's flamboyant femininity made it rather obvious that he was gay, but nevertheless he gamely followed the scripts and made Jonathan girl-crazy.

When Who's the Boss ended, Danny took time off from acting to finish high school and go to college, studying drama at Stanford.  He fully intended to resume his career.  

Then in 1997, the gossip magazine National Enquirer obtained pictures of Danny frolicking with a male friend, and threatened to out him.  Instead, he gave an interview: "I want Enquirer readers to be among the first to know I've 'come out' and am proud to say I'm gay."

Danny has had only three acting roles since, although he has appeared on Tony Danza's talk show and in a number of documentaries.  Former child stars often have trouble finding adult roles, and in 1997 coming out still made homophobic casting directors queasy. 

But on the bright side, Danny is living happily out of the limelight, managing a restaurant in Las Vegas, and engaged to travel agent Wil Tabares.

Who, by the way, is quite a hunk. 

Dec 15, 2013

Bob Newhart, Homophobia, and a Gay Childhood

   I was upset to hear that soft-spoken comedian Bob Newhart signed on as the headliner at a conference sponsored by the ultra-homophobic Legatus organization (he later cancelled). He wasn't exactly a gay ally, but he was responsible for some of the iconic gay moments of my childhood.              When I was a kid in the 1960s, teenagers like my boyfriend's big brother Mike would giggle hysterically over comedy records like The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart and The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back.    Bob would have one-sided telephone conversations that got more and more frustrating, until he yelled "Same to you, fella!" and hung up.         When I was in junior high and high school (1974-78), the in-crowd all watched a group of "hip sitcoms," about liberal, young, single or recently divorced adults living in big cities: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, One Day at a Time, Alice... and The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78).   Bob Hartley wasn't single, and he was well over 40, but he had a cool job as a psychologist and an apartment in an upscale Chicago high-rise.  Plus a hunky ladies-man coworker (Peter Bonerz) and a gay-vague next door neighbor (Bill Daily, who played Leif Garrett's lover on an episode of CHIPS).  In "Some of My Best Friends" (October 9, 1976), Bob's therapy group gets a new member -- gay!  The other patients want to lynch him, of course, but Bob preaches tolerance.  It was the first time I ever heard the word "gay" on tv, and instrumental in my high school discovery of gay people.    When I was in grad school in Indiana, and on through Hell-fer-Sartain State College and finally West Hollywood, I watched Newhart (1982-1990), with another Bob as a city boy relocated to a rural Vermont inn, beset-upon by wacky townsfolk.  No particular gay content, but some beefcake, such as Kirk (Steve Kampmann, left), owner of the cafe next door; and then yuppie tv producer Michael (a buffed Peter Scolari, top photo).  And you had to love hayseed Larry and his brothers, both named Darryl.   I haven't seen a lot of Bob Newhart since 1990.  He has starred in two more series that didn't last long, plus a lot of guest spots on tv.  In In and Out (1997), he plays a homophobic principal who fires outed teacher Kevin Kline.  In 2013, he appeared on The Big Bang Theory twice, as a former tv science-program host who was one of Sheldon's childhood heroes (Sheldon was played by Jim Parsons, who is gay in real life).  


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