Feb 15, 2014

Giovanni Ribisi: Not Cute Anymore

I first saw Giovanni Ribisi on Friends, where he had a recurring role as Phoebe's cute, naive younger brother Frank (1995-2003).  He has a relationship with his much older female teacher, and later asks Phoebe to be the surrogate mother for his children.

But the 21-year old actor was a busy child star under the name Vonnie Ribisi, with recurring roles in The New Leave It to Beaver, My Two Dads, The Wonder Years, and Family Album; below he stars in the nuclear family sitcom Davis Rules (1991-92), along with Luke Edwards and Nathan Watt.

As a young adult, his lean, rugged frame and handsome but quirky face did not gain him a lot of mainstream blockbuster roles, but he made a splash in independent films:

SubUrbia (1996): a group of teens in small-town Austin, Texas (of all places) experience angst and want to escape.  Notable for Giovanni's first nude scene.

Lost Highway (1997): I have no idea what it's about.

First Love, Last Rites (1997): Two Generation X-ers have sex and are bored.  Another nude scene.

Scotch and Milk (1998): Notable for starring both Giovanni Ribisi and his lookalike Adam Goldberg.

And his resume goes on like that, movie after movie that few people outside the art house circuit have seen, with an occasional mainstream title: Gone in Sixty Seconds, Avatar.

And pitiably few tv roles. Chiefly My Name is Earl (2005-2008), where he played Ralph Mariano, an old buddy of Earl's who reappears and asks him to resume his life of crime. They have a combative relationship with the implication of previous homoerotic activity.  (And he appears in his underwear).

Still a nice physique, but he's not aging well, getting more and more craggy.

In 2013-2014 he starred in the execrable Dads (2013-14), which I saw only half an episode of.  That was enough.

I get such a strong gay vibe from Giovanni that I expected a lot of gay characters or subtexts in his work.  It is astonishing that there really isn't much, just the obnoxious gay soldier Levi Kendall in Basic (2003) and creepy Donny who kidnaps the talking teddy bear in the execrable Ted (2012).  

But he's apparently heterosexual in real life.  And he may even be a homophobe of the Seth Green  "No way am I gay!!!!" school.

Feb 13, 2014

Sid Caesar's Gay Connection

Sid Caesar died a few days ago, at age 91.   I knew him as a mugging, elderly guy in some 1970s comedies, such as Silent Movie, The Cheap Detective, and Grease, but he was one of the pioneers of the television industry.

In February 1950, the former Borscht Belt comedian and stage actor became the headliner in Your Show of Shows, an anthology of music and comedy that presaged Saturday Night Live 25 years later.  I'm not sure if Show of Shows meant that it was superior to every other program, or that it included a variety of "shows."

Other performers included Imogene Coca (later to star in It's About Time), Carl Reiner (creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show), Mel Brooks (left),  future voice artist Howard Morris, and a huge selection of current and future celebrities, including Charlton Heston, Jackie Cooper, Eva Gabor, June Lockhart, Wally Cox, Eddie Albert, and Bob Cummings.

It lasted until 1954, and hasn't been rerun (many episodes are lost), but there are videos of many of the sketches.

Caesar and Coca play the Hickenloopers, a bickering couple.

A German-accented Professor (Caesar), an expert on everything, is interviewed by a reporter (Reiner), a precursor of the Two-Thousand Year Old Man albums.

There are parodies of movies, tv commercials, game shows, even ballets and operas (Die Grosste Shau in der Welt).  

A lot of heterosexual yearning, and not a lot of gay content, just some jokes about gender-transgressions: a woman with muscles and a moustache, a man named Sheila.

And substantial beefcake; Caesar had an impressive physique for the 1950s, and stripped down for such parodies as the beach scene in From Here to Eternity ("From Here to Obscurity") or the "Stella!" shout in A Streetcar named Desire ("A Trollycar Named Desire").

In 1954, Sid Caesar moved on to dozens of guest shots in movies and tv programs, frequently playing "himself" and racking up Emmy nominations.

Knowing him only from the homophobic movies of the 1970s, I naturally assumed that he was as homophobic as other men of his generation.

But then, researching this post, I stumbled onto a blog post, "My Seder with Sid Caesar," about a Passover Seder at the Friar's Club with a number of comedians, including Estelle Harris, John Byner...and Sid Caesar.  Theo Bikel, officiating, announced that “A religious man was once overheard saying that gays and lesbians have an much of a place in the Jewish tradition as an orange does on a Seder plate."  So he put an orange on the Seder plate.

The blog has only one entry, and it's not signed, but still -- Sid Caesar was participating in a pro-gay Passover Seder.

Cliff Diving in Denver

Academics go to a lot of conferences, two or three per year, and they always seem to be held in Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, or Washington DC.  Rarely the South or the West (too far away), and never New York City (too costly).

I've visited all of those cities at least once, often three or four times, often enough to know some of the good museums, art galleries, bookstores, jogging paths, and gay bars.  But I'm only in town for a few days, so I never get the innate "feel" that a resident has.

I'm bound to get misled.  In Atlanta, I was directed to a "great restaurant" that turned out to have a semi-naked lady swinging on a trapeze overhead.  Rather a disgusting thing to watch while eating your cheeseburger.

Or to miss things.  After visiting Denver several times, I still hadn't heard of La Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant in the suburb of Lakewood that's been a local tradition for nearly 40 years.

It's geared toward the kid crowd, like Chuck E Cheese.  Thousands of residents and former residents have fond memories of coming to La Casa Bonita at age nine or ten for birthday parties, Christmas parties, and ordinary evenings.  There was even a South Park  episode about it.

The food is somewhat over priced, and by most accounts not very good, but the kids can play in a video arcade, a tropical jungle with a thirty-foot waterfall, and a maze of caverns to explore, and see nightly shows involving gorillas, gunfights, and pirates.

And cliff diving.

You don't have to go to Mexico to find muscular, half-naked men diving off high cliff and performing acrobatic stunts on the way down.  The team at Casa Bonita does it 18 times a day.

There are male and female cliff divers, but most of them are boys, high school or college age, like Caleb Thayer (above) or Tyler Harding (left), the perfect age for gay kids to look up to.   Literally.

They're interviewed on the website, in case their fans want to know more about them.

The Beefcake Empire of Ancient Crete

When I was a kid in the Midwest, I thought of Greece as a "good place," where same-sex desire was open and free, based on the My Village books of Sonia and Tim Gidal, books on Greek mythology, some movies set in modern Greece.

And a small paperback book, The Bull of Minos, by Leonard Cottrell.

 It told me about the Minoan Empire of Crete and the Aegean Sea, that predated the Greeks and was completely forgotten until Arthur Evans excavated the Palace at Knossos in 1900.

Their language is unknown.  They had two alphabets, one partially translated, the other still a mystery.

What kid wouldn't find that fascinating?

But the illustrations (and the illustrations I found in other books) were even more fascinating, displaying an exuberant interest in the male form.

There were some naked ladies, including a topless snake goddess, but many more naked or loincloth-clad men serving beverages, leaping over bulls, farming, fishing, hugging each other as if they are lovers, and just standing, waiting to be objects of desire after 3300 years.

That's right, leaping over bulls.  Apparently bullfighting originated in an ancient Minoan ceremony where semi-nude young athletes grabbed bulls by the horns and leaped over them, a spectacle of man and muscle without the blood.

Remember Theseus in Greek mythology, who had to enter the labyrinth and fight the monstrous minotaur?  This is most likely a memory of a homoerotic ritual, in which a naked warrior fights a man in a bull costume to signify the triumph of civilization over barbarism.

Others have noticed the masculine energy of the ancient Minoans.

The Minoan Brotherhood, founded by Edmund Buczynski in 1977, draws from the Minoan mysteries to enact neopagan rituals for gay and bisexual men.

In 2008 British composer Harrison Birtwhistle transformed the story into an opera, The Minotaur.  The Minotaur (John Tomlinson) gains the power of speech and despairs of his violent existence, while Theseus (beefy Johan Reuer, right) looks to him for meaning.

Flights from Athens to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, take about an hour, but it's more fun to go by boat.  You can stop off at the gay resort of Mykonos on the way.  (Also stop at the Penis Festival in Tyrnavos.)

Feb 12, 2014

Matthew James Thomas and Company: The Bulging Biceps of Spider-Man

Mathew James Thomas is best known for playing the alternate lead in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark on Broadway (2011-2012).  I didn't go as a matter of principle -- I hate Peter Parker in any incarnation.  But I understand that his costume was the most bulgeworthy since Burt Ward's tights on the old Batman tv series (scroll down to see it).

He's also displayed his very tight, hard physique elsewhere, in Pippin (both on Broadway and at the A.R.T. in Boston), Fame, Romeo and Juliet, and Dorian Gray, a musical version of the gay-subtext Oscar Wilde classic.

He hasn't done a lot of movies, but you can see him in Billy Elliott (as a gay kid that Billy beats up) and About a Boy.

And on tv in Bad Girls, Trevor's World of Sports, Doctors, Genie in the House, and Midsomer Murders.

He starred in the Fame clone Brittania High (2008) as Jez, a rich kid who befriends street dancer BB, with the gay subtexts usual in such teen soaps.

Ok, ready for the Spider-Man costume?

 Explain how that got past the censors.

Of course, the other two guys who played Spider-Man, Matt Caplan and Reeve Carney (below), are equally bulgeworthy.  Maybe it'st the costumes.

Feb 11, 2014

Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers

September 1974: My friends and I are in ninth grade at Washington Junior High, 13 or 14 years old, aspiring to be cool, hip, and intellectual.  So we watch all of the hip sitcoms that would later be lauded as part of the Golden Age of Television.

Like Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers.

Never heard of it?

It was famous in the fall of 1974.

MTM Enterprises was changing the face of television, making it hip, modern, and "real," set in real places like Cincinnati and Minneapolis, starring people with real home and work lives (they even had sex).  It already had two hits, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart, and Paul Sand looked like a third.

Especially when CBS put it into the fall schedule between its #1 show,  All in the Family and the Mary Tyler Moore/Bob Newhart block

I wanted to like it:

1. Cute, dour-faced comedian Paul Sand starred.
2. He was a bass player with the Boston Philharmonic (I was in the orchestra!).
3. Friends and Lovers sounded dirty.
4. There was a hot athletic older brother (Michael Pataki, left).  Maybe there'd be some beefcake.
5. And a workplace friend (Steve Landesberg, later of Barney Miller). Maybe there'd be some buddy-bonding.

I was only home to see a few episodes, and they weren't very good.

1. Paul Sand was not at all likeable -- his self-deprecating humor was...well, deprecating
2. The brother never took his shirt off, although Max Gail (later of Barney Miller) flexed in one episode.
3. And everyone was obsessed with heterosexual sex.  It was like Three's Company, a few years later.

It actually became the #25 most watched show of the season, doing better than its competition, Emergency! and The New Land, but by January it was cancelled, replaced by the mega-hit The Boomerersons.

Which also suffered from a lack of beefcake.

Feb 10, 2014

Jordan Dean: a Buffed, Shirtless, Homoerotic Robin Hood

If you are anywhere around Boston, check out the A.R.T., the American Repertory Theater, in Cambridge.  They have a full season of traditional dramas (such as Matthew James Thomas in Pippin), plus creative, eclectic performances, like The Donkey Show every Saturday night and Acoustica Electronica on occasional Fridays.

Buffed redhead Jordan Dean (right)  just finished up the starring role in The Heart of Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend that makes Robin and his Merry Men a street gang (wearing leather vests and no shirts) until Martin arrives (Maid Marion in drag) to transform them into freedom-fighters.  Robin and Martin fight together, and share a mutual attraction.

When a guy is attracted to a guy who turns out to be a girl, does it count as heterosexual?

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Jordan has performed all over the Northeast, in a buffed Shakespearean As You Like It, Cymbeline, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Demetrius, the one falling out of his underwear).

Plus three Broadway plays that require not only him but most of the cast to be buffed and shirtless: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Mamma Mia! (as a replacement for the original Sky, reclining).

And The New Century, a collection of short plays by Paul Rudnick, about gay life in contemporary Manhattan, including a woman with three gay sons, an older gay man condemned for being too flamboyant, and a cable tv series called "Too Gay."

He has done a few movies, such as Not Fade Away (2012), about a New Jersey rock band in the 1960s, and Burning Blue (2013), about two gay Navy pilots.

Feb 9, 2014

The Best Place to Buy Testicles

My ex-boyfriend Fred grew up on a farm, where every summer the hogs born that spring would be castrated, and the testicles -- aka Rocky Mountain Oysters -- were breaded, fried, and served for breakfast, along with pancakes and syrup.  You could also eat them with ketchup, hot sauce, or cocktail sauce.

They have about the consistency of scallops, without much taste of their own.  Not really a big deal, except for guys who get queasy over the thought of chomping down on something that used to be part of a hog's genitals.

That seems to be the point of the testicle festivals, or Testy Festys, that have popped up all over the United States, in Montana, Missouri,  Michigan, California, Texas, and Illinois, devoted to the consumption of fried, grilled, chocolate-covered, and raw testicles of hogs, bulls, and even turkeys (yes, birds have testicles).

Generally they are advertised by horrific puns, like "Come and have a ball.  If you miss it, you're nuts."  The one in Texas has an evangelical Christian focus, so it tells you to "Come and have a ball with Jesus."

I've been to the "original" Testicle Festival, held every summer for the last 32 years at Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, Montana (there are daily shuttles from Missoula, if that helps).

You'd expect a festival dedicated to male sex organs to have some gay interest.

Not a lot.

Hard-bitten redneck women in cowboy hats pretending to be surprised at the size of their partners' penises.

Hard-bitten redneck men in cowboy hats who aren't having nearly as much fun as the women, and don't flash their penises very much at all.  There's a little male nudity, but mostly of scary guys.

There's a wet t-shirt contest so you can see ladies' breasts, but many of them go topless anyway.

The website advertises "The Hottest Bartenders."  Lady bartenders, that is.

Even the Big Ball Contest is exceptionally heterosexist: guys stand up, drop their drawers, and get their size, shape, smell, and touch evaluated -- by a panel of women.

There is no indication anywhere in the festival that any man might want to look at another man's "big balls."

You'd be better off buying some of your own from the Exotic Meat Market.  They sell USDA-approved testicles by the pound: bull/bison/veal ($20), wild boar/lamb/goat/elk ($25), duck/yak ($30), ostrich ($50).  Get several kinds and have a buffet.

Humphrey Bogart Comes Out of the Closet

I just watched Casablanca (1942) again, about a suave American exile in World War II Morocco who helps his ex-girlfriend and her husband escape the Nazis, and was impressed by:
1. The war intrigue.  It's as important as the hetero-romance.
2. The gay subtexts.  Every man in Casablanca is in love with Rick, and the fade-out scene shows Captain Renault offering to go away with him, as he quips "This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
3. The humor.  Humphrey Bogart tosses out sardonic one-liners with the ease of a Woody Allen.  He could easily have been a comedian.

Bogie was the most famous actor of his generation, winning five Oscars for 86 film roles, mostly as suave, sophisticated guys with troubled pasts and passionate hetero-romances.  Also strong gay subtexts, at least in the movies I've seen:

Dead End (1937): Baby-faced gangster (Bogie) and architect (Joel McCrea) compete for the body and soul of a teenage hood.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938): Same plot, only baby-faced gangster (James Cagney) and priest (Pat O'Brien).

The Maltese Falcon (1941): Detective Sam Spade (Bogie) wrests the mysterious statue from the hands of a gay criminal.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948):  Gold prospectors (Bogie, Tim Holt) get more than they bargained for.

Knock on Any Door (1949): Attorney Bogie is in love with his hunky young protege (John Derek, below).

I really should see Key Largo, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina, The Barefoot Contessa, and We're No Angels.

There is also, apparently, a gay connection in real life.  Due to his lisp, sophistication, and feminine mannerisms, Bogie was often assumed gay.  Even if he wasn't, any male Hollywood star was bound to get lots of offers.  He rejected them with good-natured aplomb -- or, according to rumor, sometimes not.  After all, he had a prodigious sexual appetite, and even the most wealthy, talented, and attractive of heterosexual men sometimes has trouble finding enough women.  

The occasional guy amid his thousand or so women made Bogie wonder about his sexual identity, especially when he found himself impotent with second wife Mary Philips (1928-37).  Was he gay?  The thought filled him with self-loathing; he considered suicide.

Wait -- he had no problem with gay people, yet grew suicidal over the thought that he might personally be gay.  Something doesn't add up here.

This all comes from Darwin Porter's obviously fictionalized biography.  One doesn't find any references to Bogie being bisexual in earlier accounts of Hollywood "scandals."

But it's undeniable that Bogie was a gay ally -- or as allied as you could get in that era.  He frequented gay bars and had close friendships with gay men throughout his life, including Charles Farrell, Spencer Tracey, William Haines, Noel Coward, and even a young Truman Capote (who beat him at arm wrestling).

A life full of beautiful friendships.


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