Sep 28, 2014

Once Upon a Mattress


December 12, 1972.  I'm in seventh grade at Washington Junior High.  After our usual Tuesday night dinner of tuna casserole, we gather in the living room and light up the Christmas tree-- we just set it up last night -- to watch tv.  But Maude and Hawaii Five-O are pre-empted by a musical called Once Upon a Mattress.  

A musical!  Gross!  "Can I be excused?" I ask.

"Don't be antisocial!" my father exclaims.  "Whatever you got to do, you can do it in here with the family."

I'm used to playing, reading, and doing homework in front of the tv  -- when I try to spend some time alone in my room, my father always yells at me to "Don't be antisocial!" and "Get out here with the family!"

What do they think I'm doing down there, anyway?

 But I have to get out of this stupid musical somehow!

"Um...I have to practice my violin."  I just joined the orchestra.

"Hey, if Boomer doesn't have to watch this junk, then I don't either!" my brother Ken complains.

So we get permission to hide in our  basement room.  But eventually I have to go to the bathroom, which means passing right in front of the tv set where that...ugh!...musical is playing.  I brace myself to rush through quickly, but I can't help glancing at the tv set.

It's Ken Berry from The Carol Burnett Show, who has nice muscles and a rackish smile.  He's singing "I'm in love with a girl named Fred."

Wait -- Fred is a boy's name.  Could he be...in love with a boy?

No, "Fred" is played by Carol Burnett.  But Ken goes on to explain why he loves her:


She is very strong.
She can fight.
She can wrestle.

These are the reasons that boys like boys!

I sit down to watch the last half.  It's a version of the "Princess and the Pea" fairy tale, about Queen Agrivain, who doesn't want her sissy son, Prince Dauntless, to get married, so she forces every potential bride to take impossible tests.

 But Winnifred, nicknamed Fred, is so tough and strong that she passes every test, so the wedding can take place.

(In 2005, Carol Burnett returned to the production as Queen Agrivain, with gay actor Denis O'Hare, below with his husband Hugo Redwood.)








I don't realize that,  when the original musical appeared in 1959, "clinging mothers" were assumed the cause of gay identity, so Prince Dauntless would be assumed gay.   I don't catch the sexual symbolism of the mute King who suddenly finds his voice.  And of course I have no idea  that director Ron Field is gay in real life.

But I know all about liking people who are tough and strong,  liking biceps and pecs instead of the soft curves that boys are supposed to long for.

And I know all about doing things on mattresses.

See also: Looking for Muscles on The Carol Burnett Show