Feb 13, 2016

Oh, Calcutta!: The First Nudie Musical

The sexual liberation of the hippie generation led to a number of plays with momentary nudity and casual references to sex, but Oh! Calcutta! was all-sex, all-nude.  It debuted off-Broadway in 1969 and ran for 1,314 performances, with an additional 5,959 performances in the 1976 revival.  There was also a 1972 movie version, plus references in tv shows such as All in the Family and One Day at a Time, making it one of the iconic musicals of the era.

In case you are wondering, the title comes from the French phrase "O quel cul t'as!", "What a nice butt you have!"

It's a series of not-very-funny comedy sketches, written by such high-brow luminaries as Sam Shepherd, Jules Feifer, and Samuel Beckett.   A boy tries to rape a girl; a girl learns to become less inhibited; a young couple investigate wife-swapping; a boy learns to masturbate.

Notice what's missing?

Right -- no gay people, no reference to same-sex desire or behavior of any sort.

Author and producer Kenneth Tynan was an old-school libertine, into many different heterosexual activities with multiple partners, but tremendously homophobic -- he invented the term "gay Mafia," which he called "the homosexual Mafia," in 1967.  He insisted that there be no crossdressing or "perversion," by which he meant gay people.

In the end, for its pretense of controversy, Oh! Calcutta! preaches the heteronormative message of boys and girls gazing into each other's eyes.

Still, it's an interesting study of mainstream resistance to changing sexual mores, with an amazing amount of full-frontal male nudity.

The most hunky of the cast was the muscular and gifted-beneath-the-belt George Welbes (top photo), who appeared in only three movies before he died in 1974.

But the most famous was certainly Bill Macy, who played the husband of the "uncompromisin', enterprisin', anything but tranquilizin'" Maude (future Golden Girl Bea Arthur) from 1972 to 1978.   When I was in high school, we whispered that he had been a "porn star" and watched hoping to get a glimpse of his superheroic endowment.  Unfortunately, we never saw anything.

In 1976, The First Nudie Musical appeared, with lots more 1970s tv stars.

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