Jun 5, 2014

Fall 1977: A Gay Romance on "Barnaby Jones"

October 27, 1977, the cold, windy Thursday night four days before Halloween, during my senior year at Rocky High.

The family has gathered in front of the tv set, as usual: the tv is on every night from dinnertime to bedtime, a backdrop to all of our other activities.

7:00: Welcome Back, Kotter.  I look up briefly to see Horshak (Ron Pallilo) explain, yet again, that his name means "The cattle are dying."

7:30: What's Happening!. I look up briefly to check out Haywood Nelson's butt and bulge.

At 8:00, my parents want to watch Barney Miller, but I'm anxious to see James at Fifteen, starring teen idol Lance Kerwin.  So I watch on my small portable set upstairs.

At 9:00, I turn off the tv and start doing homework.  A few moments later, my brother Ken comes clomping up the stairs.  "You'll never guess what they're watching down there!" he exclaims.  "Barnaby Jones!"

"You're kidding -- Jed Clampett as a private eye?"  The oldster detective is played by the star of the Beverly Hillbillies.

"And Catwoman is his secretary!"  Lee Meriwether, who plays Barnaby's daughter-in-law, was Catwoman on Batman.

"Gross!  Next they'll have Scooby-Doo!"

Ken laughs.  "Don't take my word for it -- you have to watch to see how terrible it is."

"Come on!" I complain.  "Old people tv?"  My friends would rib me unmercifully if they found out I had watched something as lame as Barnaby Jones!

Ignoring me, he flips the tv on, and clicks the dial to CBS.

No Jed Clampett, no Catwoman.  Two cute young guys, one in a muscle shirt that displays baseball-sized biceps, the other in skin-tight jeans that reveal an enormous bulge.  They are standing so close together that they seem about to kiss.

"You're the man for me!" Muscle Shirt says.

"Let's not get carried away!" Tight-Jeans protests.

"This looks good...I mean, awful."  I stammer.

Looking back, I'm surprised that I didn't come out at that moment.  But no, I absolutely did not connect I want to see those guys kiss!  with gay.

"What did I tell you?"  Ken flips the tv set off, flops down on his bed, and opens a math textbook.

The next week I pretend to be immersed in a book in order to watch Barnaby Jones with my parents.  Tight-Jeans is Mark Shera, playing Barnaby's nephew, a law school student.  But he definitely likes girls.

What about Muscle Shirt, with his baseball-sized biceps and the romantic plaint of "You're the man for me?"  He must have been a guest star.

Before the days of the internet, there is no way to track down the episode.  I'll have to wait for summer reruns.

But during the summer, I am working at the Carousel Snack Bar on Thursday nights.  The scene of gay romance is lost forever.


Until three days ago, when I found a photo of the scene on ebay, which led to the entire episode on youtube: "Gang War," starring 31-year old Asher Brauner.  My memory changed the dialogue a bit: he's not in love with Mark Shera, he's about to kidnap him.

Asher Brauner has been in a few movies of gay interest: he  played "Buddy" in Alexander: the Other Side of Dawn (1977), about a teenage runaway who becomes a hustler, and "Ted," in the gay-themed Making Love.  

He played the hero in the Indiana Jones spoof Treasure of the Moon Goddess (1987), and a man-mountain who takes out entire countries in American Eagle (1989) and Merchants of War (1989).

And he was the hero of a gay romance that I misread 30 years ago on Barnaby Jones.