Apr 12, 2014

Giuliano Gemma: The First Gay Cowboy

Born in Rome in 1938, Giuliano Gemma started out as a circus aerialist and stuntman before breaking into the sword-and-sandal craze of the 1960s, but not the usual deadly serious "bodybuilder saves civilization" type. Satire, with a bit of humor, such as My Son, the Hero (1962), about a mild-mannered Greek god whose power comes from his mother.











And buddy-bonding, as in Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun (1964), which sends an anachronistic Hercules (Mark Forrest) to the land of the Incas, where he helps Prince Maytha (Gemma) regain his throne.

Or Angelique (1965), where he plays the buddy of the guy who gets the girl.






Later, like many peplum stars, Gemma moved into spaghetti Westerns, playing an unusually chipper antihero in A Pistol for Ringo (1965) and The Return of Ringo (1965).

Here, he fondles the arm of a friend.

In Vengeance of the Vikings (1965), Gemma plays a Viking prince who travels to America and finds, of all things, a Greek guy, who teaches him about wine while helping him fight off assassins.

Did you think you were buying a ticket to the Clint Eastwood classic For a Few Dollars More? (1965).  No, sorry, you're seeing For a Few Extra Dollars (1966), with Gemma as Old West savior Gary Diamond.


Interested in a grudging love-hate gay-subtext  bromance?  Gemma starred in lots:

Alive or Preferably Dead (1969), about two brothers (Gemma, Nino Benvenuti) who can't stand each other. Benvenuti is the one on the left, with the bulge.

L'arciere di fuoco (1971), about a bickering Robin Hood (Gemma) and Allen a Dale (bodybuilder Mark Damon)

Amigo, Stay Away (1972), about two sworn enemies in the Old West (Gemma, George Eastman) who keep having to work together.




Even Angels Eat Beans (1973), about a wrestler (Bud Spencer) and an ice cream vendor (Gemma) mistaken for hit men by a gangster who wants to hire them.

He returned to peplums to win an Italian Oscar for Desert of the Tartars (1975). 








Gemma continued working in Westerns, cop series, and costume dramas until his death in an auto accident in 2013 (one of his last roles was in the tv miniseries Pompeii).  Late in life he discovered a new passion for sculpture.  He cast this bronze image of a muscular, naked boxer.

With all of this buddy-bonding, arm-fondling, and nude boxers, one obviously wonders if Gemma was gay or bi in real life?  No idea, but in an interview, he traced the archetype of the gay cowboy back to his buddy-bonding roles of the 1960s.



Jelle Florizoone: Is It Weird to Play Gay?

When Belgian actor Jelle Florizoone starred in the gay-teen-angst North Sea Texas (2011), the media went wild with questions:  "What's it like to play a gay guy?  How weird was it?  How disgusting was it?"

I hate interviews like that.
1. They assume that every other role is easy to play.  You want a secret agent?  A Martian?  A talking frog?  Not a problem.  But gay people are so bizarre that it's almost impossible for an actor to get into their characters, and so disgusting that it's a pain for him to even try.



2. They assume that teenagers must necessarily be heterosexual.  Same old story: no gay juveniles can possibly exist.

I don't know if Florizoone -- now a member of the boy band 5th Avenue -- is gay in real life or not, but he certainly doesn't think that gay roles are "weird" or particularly difficult.

After North Sea Texas, he starred in the short Headlong (2012), about a teenage ballet dancer stuck in a hotel room in a distant city, lost and alone until he falls "headlong" for a boy.


Even his starring role in the Flemish children's program ROX (2011-) doesn't strike me as heterosexist.  It's about three secret agents: the dashing Xavier (Jeremy Vandoorne, left), the glamorous Olivia (Jana Geurts), and the brainy Rick (Jelle).   Plus their magical talking car, ROX.












You can see it on youtube.  I've gone through a few episodes; even without speaking Dutch, it's not hard to follow the plot. And I don't see Rick getting involved in any hetero-romances.

Apr 10, 2014

Kevin Zegers: Teen Idol without a Girlfriend


One of the last of the old-style teen idols, Kevin Zegers was born in Canada in 1984, and did some modeling, tv commercials, and guest roles as "kid" before hitting adolescence.  Then he achieved something amazing: an entire teen idol career with no tongue-lolling, swooning, girl-crazy hetero-horny roles.

 His first fame came in the Disney fantasy Air Bud (1997), about a oddball outsider boy whose dog plays basketball. There were sequels in 1998, 2001, and 2002, with the dog playing football, soccer, and baseball, respectively. Not a lot of heterosexual machinations, even in the 2002 version with Josh (Kevin) away in college and his little sister taking over.


After that, Kevin was the toast of the town, but he continued to play "queer" oddball outsider roles with little or no interest in girls, as in Shadow Builder (1998), about a boy who may be a saint or may portend the end of the world.

Nico the Unicorn (1998) is not a heroic fantasy, as the title suggests, but about a oddball outsider boy, crippled when his leg was shattered by a drunk driver, whose horse gives birth to a unicorn.

Treasure Island (1999) is, of course, famous for having no women; it's a testosterone-laced buddy-bonding pirate adventure.

Not until Komodo (1999) does one of Kevin's characters get a girlfriend.


Even Four Days (1999) is more about buddy-bonding than hetero-romance, as The Kid becomes the unwitting pawn in his father's bank heist.


As Kevin bulked up, his shirtless and underwear scenes became more common.  His phyique was plastered all over teen magazines.  Fan websites gushed "Do you know how strong Kevin is???  He can lift 200 pounds right over his head!!!" and offered separate series of photos of his biceps, shoulders, chest, abs, and legs.  Maybe this obsessive display of his muscles was a counterbalance to the lack of displayed heterosexual interest in his movies and tv guest spots.




Time Share (2000) gives Kevin's character a girlfriend, but in MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000), he just has a younger sister.

Fear of the Dark (2003) is about an older brother and younger brother.

In adulthood, Kevin went on to play many gay-vague and "gay turned to straight" roles.

See: Kevin Zegers, Former Teen Idol

Apr 9, 2014

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils: A Boy and His Goose

Remember Leda in Greek mythology and the Yeats poem, who had a thing for swans?

14-year old Nils Holgersson had a thing for geese.

The star of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906) and The Further Adventures of Nils (1907) by gay Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof, Nils is a bad boy who torments animals, until he shrinks down to their size.  He and a domestic goose named Morton join a pack of wild geese and fly off to Lapland.



The other geese, especially cranky matriarch Akka, disapprove of the two outsiders, but Nils and Akka prove to be valuable allies during the dangerous and difficult journey.

Finally Nils matures enough to return to human form.  He is now a man, but he no longer understands the language of the geese, and he must abandon his friends (picture by Taya Strizhakova).

There's a lot of gay symbolism in the "queer" boy trying to fit in.

The books were envisioned as school texts: Nils visits every province of Sweden, and hears about their geography and economic output.  But kids -- and adults -- loved them.  They are still best-sellers in Sweden.


Nils has been immortalized in a dozen statues, on a postage stamp, and on the back of the 20 krona bill.  There have been five film versions of his adventures, in Russian, Swedish, Japanese, and German.














The 2011 German tv version starring Justus Kammerer unfortunately gives Nils a heterosexist reason for wanting to become a "real boy" again: he's got a girlfriend back home.

Otherwise Nils is wonderfully free of the girl-craziness that besets most other adolescents in children's literature.


Apr 8, 2014

Richard Halliburton: A Gay Adventurer of the Jazz Age

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I was constantly looking for "a good place," where I could be free from the "what girl do you like?" interrogations.  One such "good place" was a book in the Denkmann Elementary School Library, Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels (1941).

I didn't know much about Richard Halliburton, except for his amazing adventures:
Crossing the Alps on an elephant, like Hannibal.
Swimming naked in a pool outside the Taj Mahal at midnight.
Swimming across the Panama Canal.
Exploring a secret room beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Receiving a gift of shrunken heads from a Dayak chief


Sort of like Donald Duck and his nephews jetting off with their Uncle Scrooge to find King Solomon's Mines or explore a lost city in the Himalayas!

Except Donald always had to return to Duckburg, where Daisy was waiting to "civilize" him with afternoon teas and shopping trips, and marriage and children and despair.

How did Richard Halliburton manage to have all of those adventures, and avoid the mind-control drone of "what girl do you like?"


Many years later, I discovered that Richard Halliburton (1900-1938) was the last of the old-style adventurers, thrilling the Jazz Age with his exploits through speaking engagements, radio broadcasts, a syndicated column, magazine articles, and a dozen books: The Royal Road to Romance, The Glorious Adventure, New Worlds to Conquer, Seven League Boots

 And he was gay. He knew gay rights pioneer Harry Hay, he was romantically linked to silent film star Ramon Novarro, and he had a long-term domestic relationship with journalist Paul Mooney.  In 1937 they had an idiosyncratic house built in Laguna Beach, called Hangover House because it was hanging off a cliff.

There is no hint of Halliburton's same-sex romances in any of his writings, and evidently he kept them secret from almost everyone in his private life, including his parents.

Following the footsteps of Richard Halliburton, I've lived in five countries (including the U.S.) and visited 26. It's not exactly swimming across the Panama Canal, but it's a start.

See also: The Disappearance of Sean Flynn; The Disappearance of Michael Rockefeller.

Apr 7, 2014

Top 10 Beefcake Horror Movies: The 1970s

Horror movies in the 1970s upped the blood, guts, and overall grossness content to compete with tv, but unfortunately backed away from the nonstop nudity of the swinging 1960s.  Still, there were plenty of muscular guys around, taking showers, climbing into bed, or being strapped to tables for weird experiments.  You just had to know where to look.  Here are the Top 10 Beefcake Horror Movies:

1. Daughters of Darkness (1971): John Karlen, the gay-vague Willie Loomis of Dark Shadows, plays a hip artist who stumbles upon a couple of female vampires.  You get a lot of butt shots, and a glimpse of Willie's willy in a shower-sex scene.

2. Malpertuis, aka The Legend of Doom House (1971): A Belgian movie about an androgynous sailor (Matthieu Carrier), who is abducted and brought to a creepy house populated by Greek gods, all of whom have sexual designs on him.


3. Frogs (1972). About homicidal frogs.  Sam Elliot (left) doesn't seem to own a shirt, and beefcake model Nicholas Cortland gets frogged to death in the shower.

4. Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973): Baron Von Frankenstein tries to build a sex-machine monster out of Srdjan Zelenovic (top photo), while his nude boyfriend, Andy Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro, tries to save him.  But be careful -- there are an awful lot of bare breasts on display.

5. Devil Times Five (1974). Five crazy kids, including future teen idol Leif Garrett, invade a winter resort and cause mayhem.  But guest Taylor Lacher still has time to strip down and make out with his wife.  There's also a seduction of a mentally-challenged handyman.


6. The Devil's Rain (1975).  If you didn't get enough of a shirtless William Shatner in his early teen idol days or on Star Trek, you can see him here as a guy battling small-town Satanists.  Look for the film debut of John Travolta as "Danny."

7. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975): Michael Sarrazin, who took off his clothes frequently in 1970s dramas, here hangs out in the swimming pool a lot while figuring out that he's the reincarnation of his girlfriend's murdered Dad.




8. Track of the Moon Beast (1976).  If ever a movie was tailor-made for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffs....College student Chase Cordell gets hit by a meteor fragment and goes on a rampage.  He also took off his shirt in the grindhouse Sins of Rachel (1972).












9. Eaten Alive (1977).  A hotelier in the South handles unhappy guests by feeding them to a giant crocodile.  Robert Englund, who would go on to play Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, displays rather a nice physique as a victim named Buck.

10. Coma (1978).  Half-naked musclemen (and women) are being kept in comas to harvest for organs. Among them is Tom Selleck, a few years before he became Magnum, P.I.










Mickey Rooney: Gay-Vague Teen Hunk of the 1940s

Mickey Rooney, who just died at age 93, played elderly men for so long that it's hard to remember that once upon a time he was the biggest teen hunk  in Hollywood.

Born Joe Yule in 1920, Mickey got his start as "Mickey McGuire," a preteen rapscallion in a popular series of silent movie shorts. In the mid-1930s, he moved on to teenage dramas, many with the strong gay subtext common in the era.

In  Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), his rough street kid Dick falls in love -- quite literally -- with the upper-crust Ceddie (Freddie Barthlomew).

In The Devil is a Sissy (1936), his rough street kid Gig is torn between regular guy Buck (Jackie Cooper) and upper-crust Claude (Freddie Bartholomew).
In Captains Courageous (1937), his rough ship mate Dan falls in love wih upper crust Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew).



Audiences never tired of two teenage boys gazing into each other's eyes.

But Mickey -- and MGM -- hit paydirt with the Andy Hardy series, 16 movies (1937-1946) about a rambunctious small town teenager.  Who was girl-crazy, a new and bizarre characteristic for teens in mass media of the day (boys were expected to become interested in girls at the end of adolescence, not at the beginning).










At first parents and peers -- and audiences -- disapproved of Andy's interest in girls, thinking it made him effeminate (see my post What Kind of Flower Are You?)  The producers countered by displaying Andy's muscles as much as possible.  He strips down for bed; he bounces down the stairs shirtless; he goes swimming, even in winter, and in a revealing Speedo-style swimsuit.  As much as 30% of each movie is devoted to beefcake shots of Mickey Rooney's body and bulge (visible here).



Here Jackie Cooper (left) is a little more obviously bulgeworthy.

The ploy worked.  The Andy Hardy movies hit the top of the box office, and Mickey Rooney was named the most popular star in Hollywood three years in a row.

He also starred with Judy Garland in three popular movie musicals about kids winning or saving things by putting on a show, and continued the male-bonding romances in Huckleberry Finn, Boystown, A Yank at Oxford and Men of Boystown.






Mickey Rooney was always nonchalant about gay people, even in the 1940s, perhaps because his own heterosexual interests were so very obvious, with nine wives and innumerable affairs.  In the 1950s, when gay beefcake hunk Rock Hudson hit on him, he was bemused but not offended: "I like girls," he said.  "I thought everybody knew that."



Mickey Rooney kept working into his 90s, with starring roles in such movies as Wreck the Halls (2008) and The Empire State Building Murders (2008), and small but memorable roles in The Muppets (2011), Driving Me Crazy (2012), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2014).





Apr 6, 2014

The 8 Dead Gay Guys of Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was one of the most popular playwrights of the 1950s.  He won two Pulitzer Prizes and was nominated for four Tony Awards.  Film versions of his plays topped the charts at the box office. Though his main characters were usually emotionally-fragile Southern belles with dark sexual yearnings, he introduced gay- or gay-coded characters everywhere.  Unfortunately, they were usually off-camera, just discussed by the other characters.  And they were usually dead or dying.

1. Tom in The Glass Menagerie (1944), the brother of fragile Southern belle Laura.  He isn't actually dead, but he's sensitive, artistic, and poetic (1950s code for "gay").

2. Allan (off-camera) in A  Streetcar Named Desire (1945).  Why is faded Southern belle Blanche so crazy?  Long ago she married Allan without realizing that he was gay.  When she found out, she confronted him, and he ran outside and killed himself.  In the movie version, she just calls him a "poet," and doesn't explain why he got so upset.

3. Rosario in The Rose Tattoo (1951).  Three years after he dies, his ex-lover Alfaro shows up and begins an affair with his widow, the emotionally-fragile Serafina. He gets a rose tattoo on his chest in Rosario's memory, and the disgusted Serafina throws him out.  They reconcile. (Shown: William Vaughan as Alvaro in a 2012 production at the University of South Carolina.)

 4. Kilroy in Camino Real (1953). A gay American G.I. arrives in the backwater town of Camino Real, gets sick, and meets various historical and literary characters, most of whom try to seduce him, before he dies (but not to worry, his spirit goes off with Don Quixote as his new squire).






5. Skipper (off camera) in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), who had an affair with Brick (left: played by Paul Newman in the 1958 movie).  When Brick's wife Maggie found out, she confronted Skipper, who rushed out and killed himself  (in the movie, she just calls him "weak.").

6.Sebastian (off camera) in  Suddenly, Last Summer (1959): the emotionally-fragile Catherine acted as a procurer for his affairs.  But then the young men he had sex with turned on him, and ate him. (In the 1959 movie, no face is shown.)

7. Christopher in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963).  Gay wannabe actor is taken by an emotionally-fragile elderly woman. This time she's the one who dies. (Shown: Darren Pettie on Broadway.)

8. Mark in In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969).  A gay, depressed artist, he rolls around naked on his canvas and has a nervous breakdown, while his emotionally-fragile wife hangs out at a Tokyo hotel, trying to pick him men.  Finally he dies.

Why fill his stages with dead and dying gay guys?  Though gay himself, Williams was a product of his era, and thought of same-sex desire as dark, disturbing, and dangerous.  Something to be repressed or hidden away.  Something that would lead inevitably to death.

Spring 1998: Yuri and I Cruise in Estonia

At my birthday party in 1997, my friend Yuri, the Russian meteorology major who claimed to be heterosexual, introduced me to Jaan, the Estonian mountain climber.  Jaan didn't even know what gay people were until he found out the hard way during our "date" on November 29nd.

 He learned fast.

Two weeks later, on December 13th, I took Yuri to a Christmas party, and gave him the choice of dancing with me or sharing my bed later.

He chose my bed.

Then it was Christmas break, and we scattered, me to Rock Island, Yuri to visit friends in Montreal, and Jaan to a skiing vacation in Vermont.

When I returned, Yuri was out. And interested in Jaan.

 I couldn't figure out why; they were nothing alike.

Jaan was quiet, shy, conservative, and monogamous: he wanted romance, "one special guy."

Yuri was loud, flamboyant, liberal, and not monogamous; he wanted to do everything and everyone. He went through my copy of The Joy of Gay Sex and circled fifty acts that he wanted to try.

It must have been their shared heritage: Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and Jaan spoke fluent Russian.

But most likely it was Jaan's obvious gifts beneath the belt; Yuri liked them big, the bigger the better (in 1999 he would drag me to the Basque country of Spain in search of the World's Biggest Penis).

So we spent the spring 1998 semester competing over Jaan.  Every week we orchestrated bigger and better dates.  If I took Jaan to the Mr. New York Leather contest at the Manhattan Eagle, Yuri would come up with a weekend at Fire Island.  If Yuri invited Jaan to a campus production of Angels in America, the next weekend I would score tickets to Chicago on Broadway.

Dinner at The Curry Club?  Dinner at Mirabelle.
A free concert in Central Park?  The New York Philharmonic.
Hiking on Shelter Island?  Rock climbing in the Adirondacks

In New York's gay culture of the 1990s, there was no such thing as having multiple boyfriends.  You dated one guy at a time. Yet Jaan kept accepting dates with both of us.

It was excruciating.  Something had to give.

Then Jaan announced that he was flying back to Estonia for a visit.


Yuri and I braced ourselves; whoever he invited to go with him was obviously the One.

He invited us both.

"Great!" I said.  "I'd love to meet your family.  But could we spend a few days in Helsinki first?  I've been dying to see Finland ever since I was a little kid."

"Great!" Yuri said.  "I'd love to meet your family. But could we spend a few days in St. Petersburg first? I'm homesick for my friends at the university."

We waited anxiously for his answer; whoever he agreed to a side trip with was obviously the One.

He agreed to both.

We flew out of New York, changed planes in London, and arrived in Helsinki about 4:00 pm on June 14th, 1998.  After dinner and a brief city tour, we checked into our hotel.  Our room had a double bed and a single rollaway.

Yuri and I looked at each other with surprise and elation. Whoever Jaan invited to share his bed was obviously the One.  

We stalled while Jaan undressed to his underwear.  Then, without a word, he climbed into the rollaway and fell asleep.

We kept the same bedroom arrangements for three days of sightseeing in Helsinki.  In St. Petersburg, we all shared the same double bed, with Jaan in the middle (yes, things happened).  Then we took the two-hour train trip to Johvi, Estonia, a small town near the Baltic Sea known chiefly for St. Michael's Church and an annual Ballet Festival (which we missed.)

We were met at the train station by a middle-aged man and woman and a tall black-haired muscle god.  After hugging them effusively, Jaan introduced us in Estonian.

"Minu sober Boomer, minu sober Yuri."

Then he switched to Russian.  "Moya mat, Katria; Moy otets, Peeter.  Moy druzhok, Arvi.

They hugged us so effusively that he forgot to translate into English.  Then they bundled us off to a loud, raucous lunch at a little cafe on the second floor of the Concert Hall. They chattered mostly in Estonian, with occasional phrases translated into Russian or English for our benefit.

I'd been learning Russian with Yuri all year, so I knew mat, "mother" and otets, "father."  But what was druzhok?  When I had a moment alone, I checked my Russian dictionary.

Good friend, bosom buddy, boyfriend!

Jaan had made his choice.

Next: Yuri and I cruise a Swedish businessman/serial killer in Tallinn.