Nov 17, 2016

Li'l Abner, the Musical: Gay Anxiety in the Cold War

You'd expect a lot of beefcake in the musical Li'l Abner (1956), which was made into a movie (1959) starring Peter Palmer.

1. It was based on the popular comic strip which featured a super-muscular, often semi-nude hillbilly from Dogpatch, U.S.A.

2. The plot involves Yokumberry Tonic, invented by Li'l Abner's mother, which the government wants to use for national defense, as it transforms ordinary men into super-muscular bodybuilders.

Unfortunately, it also erases their interest in women, addressing the common 1950s stereotype of the bodybuilder as gay, plus anxieties over gay soldiers, some 40 years before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."


But actually, beefcake is rather limited.

Li'l Abner wears a red flannel shirt that displays nary a bicep.








The movie featured a parade of bodybuilders, formerly scrawny hillbillies (Ken Ackles, Eric Alden, Nick Dimitri, Brad Harris, Gordon Mitchell), ignoring their wives, who in desperation sing  "Turn them back the way they was!"

But stage versions of the song tend to be less generous.






I guess there aren't a lot of bodybuilders to go around in college drama departments and community theaters.

But you should see it anyway, for the Cold War gay symbolism.

Be sure to get the 1959 movie -- the 1940 version doesn't feature any bodybuilders.







See also: Li'l Abner: Backwoods Adonis with no interest in women.