May 23, 2014

The Music Man: Gay Trouble in River City

You might expect that The Music Man (1962), with its first number "Rock Island," would be a mega-hit in Rock Island, Illinois.


Actually, the musical is set in River City, probably Davenport, our rival across the Mississippi, portrayed in small-town stereotypic fashion as tiny, close-knit, backwards, and absurdly prudish.

So we loved it.

Besides, there's a lot of gay subtexts going on.

Into River City comes con-artist Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston, who is most famous today for the gay-positive Victor/Victoria (1982).  He intends to con the townsfolk by pretending to start a boys' band, and then absconding with the money he's collected for the band instruments and uniforms.

He incites the townsfolk's interest in the band by claiming that it will be a remedy against the pernicious influence of pool halls and other "sinful" activities, like "Libertine men" (a backhanded reference to gay people), penny dreadfuls, ragtime music, and smoking.

Everything goes fine, until Hill's former partner, Marcellus, who is now "legit," shows up.  They have an unspecified previous history; perhaps they were romantic partners.  At any rate, Marcellus doesn't express any heterosexual interest, except for the novelty song "Shipoopi."


The prim, prissy Marian the Librarian is also a problem, but Hill brings her over to his side by pretending to romance her.  They, of course, fall in love.  When the con is revealed, Marian argues that Harold Hill accomplished what he promised: he brought the town together.

Oh, he also cured her little brother Winthrop of his speech impediment, surely with some gay symbolism along the lines of "don't be afraid to be who you are."



Big city types have been transforming bigoted, depressing small towns for a generation of movies -- and even curing speech impediments.  There's a reflection in To Wong Foo (1995), with three drag queens.

The top photo is of Josh Walden in something else.  You're not going to see a lot of beefcake in the men decked out in early 20th century costumes, unless you drop in on a rehearsal.

May 21, 2014

Fall 1993: Naked with Church Treasurer

When I was a kid, the adults all told me that I would grow up, go to work in the factory, then "find a nice girl" and get married.  Abandoning boyhood "pals" for a heterosexual destiny was a fact of life, as inevitable as the sunrise.  I kept looking for someone -- anyone -- who managed to escape, and spent their life with a same-sex partner, or failing that, alone.

But it was fruitless.  Occasionally I thought I found someone, but no:

The "old lady schoolteachers" down the street?  Widows living together to save on rent.
My judo instructor -- married to a woman.
My 6th grade science teacher?  Had a girlfriend, and hoped to marry soon.

I never even noticed Brother Byron (not his real name or photo).  He was my Uncle Paul's age, about 12 years older than me, tall and thin, with a sandy hair, a long solemn face, and glasses that gave him a somewhat sinister look.  One imagined that he had lots of secrets at home.


He was a member of the Carlson Clan, three brothers who ran the church, along with their wives and in-laws.  They sat in the best pews, served on all the boards and committees, sang every solo, and could make or break preachers at will.

I didn't see Brother Byron much: he didn't teach Sunday school or lead a youth group.  As church treasurer, he sometimes lectured us in a slow, precise tone on the importance of tithing: 10% of your allowance into the offering plate, and another 10% in your Alabaster Box.

 And he was head usher, so I remember him running around during services, finding hymnals, collecting offerings, rarely sitting still to listen to a sermon.

I assumed that he was married, like the other Carlsons, like everyone else in church.  His wife must be off somewhere preparing for choir practice or Missionary Society.

I dropped out of the Nazarene church during college, and then I moved to West Hollywood, and forgot about Brother Byron.  But at Christmastime in 1993, I was back in Rock Island, and for some reason I was glancing through the church directory, and there was Brother Byron, a single Mr. amid the endless Mr. and Mrs. listings.  He lived alone!

"Is Brother Byron widowed?"  I asked my mother.

"No, no...he never married."

Never married?  I wondered: was he gay?  And how could I find out?

"Do you give him anything for Christmas? A card, or a fruitcake, or something?"

"Well, we didn't until just recently," Mom said.  "But since your father started working as an usher, Brother Byron is like his boss, so every year I bake him some cookies."

"Um...this year could I deliver them?"

She didn't know what I was planning.

It was a warm winter, and Brother Byron's house was only about 2 miles away, so I put on a sweatshirt and sweatpants and jogged over.  A very nice neighborhood, near the John Deere Mansion.  Nazarenes were usually working class or poor, but he was obviously quite well off.

He answered the door in a t-shirt and shorts, a mop in his hand -- he had been cleaning.  First gay test: neat and tidy. The shorts displayed an impressive bulge, and without his glasses, he looked rather handsome.

"Hi, remember me?  Boomer, from church -- Frank Davis' son."

He stared suspiciously.  "Um...yes, of course.  How are you?  Living in California, I hear."

"Yep.  Summer time, 365 days a year!  My Mom sent you some Christmas cookies."  I passed the bag over.  Our hands touched briefly.

"Tell your mother Thank you."

He was about to slam the door!  "Um...it was a nice day, so I jogged over, and now I'm about to die of thirst.  Could I trouble you for a glass of water?"

Staring doubtfully, Brother Byron held the door open.

I made a fuss over his living room full of Shaker furniture, quilted rugs, and photographs of dour Carlson ancestors. Second gay test: good taste in home decor!

 He led me into the kitchen and poured my glass of water from the sink.  I reached out for the glass -- and "clumsily" spilled it all over my sweatshirt.

"God...bless it!" I exclaimed.  "Look at this -- I'm soaked!  can't go out in the cold this way!"

"No big deal.  I'll pop it in the drier for 20 minutes, and it will be good as new."

"Well -- if it's no trouble."  I ripped off my sweatshirt, flexing as much as possible.  His eyes widened.

Third gay test: gets turned on by muscles. 

Definitely gay!  But did he know it?

He disappeared into the laundry room.  When he returned, I said "Well, we've got 20 minutes to kill.  Maybe I could see more of your house?  I love the Shaker decor."

"You know about Shaker furniture?  I'm impressed."  He smiled for the first time.  "Ok, the grand tour will start with the parlor..."

"Apr├Ęs vous, monsieur."  I took his arm and squeezed his bicep.

He immediately swung around.  "What are you..."

Uh-oh, I blew it!  I thought.  Now the whole church will hear that Frank Davis's son goes around trying to pick up Carlsons!  

But instead of yelling, he lay his flat palm against my chest.

He was gay, and knew it.

But how did he stand the Nazarene church?

Right after high school, you were placed in the College and Career Sunday school class, where you stayed until you got married.  If you never married, you stayed there, year after year, listening to the same lessons on "starting out in life" over and over again.

And the sermons!  Preachers often screamed about how God put us on this "terrible old world" for two reasons only: to win souls, and to marry and produce children.  If you weren't married, you needed to stop shirking your duty and obey the Will of God!  Who could stand listening to that three times a week?

Turns out that the church treasurer was excused from Sunday school class to do financial things, and the head usher had to rush around during the services instead of listening to the sermon.  Very clever!

But why did Brother Byron stay in a church that hated him?

His reply was simple: "They don't hate me.  They hate who they think I am."

As far as I know, he's still in the church.  I changed some details, just in case.

See also: Trevor the Bibliophile

Skip Homeier: Gay-Vague Villain and his Nude Model Son



On February 21, 1969, Star Trek encounters the counterculture when a group of groovy, extremely muscular space hippies take over the Enterprise to fly to the legendary  planet of Eden.  Unfortunately, the plant life turns out to be poisonous.  Moral: don't be a hippie.










The gang is led by the long-eared Dr. Severin, played by Skip Homeier (left, with Charles Napier).
The kids watching probably didn't realize that Skip Homeier got his start as a prettyboy child star.  In 1944, the 14-year old debuted in Tomorrow, the World!, a tour de force about an American family who adopt a boy from Nazi Germany, only to find that he is spouting Nazi propaganda and bullying his classmates from "inferior" races.

During the 1930s, there was a fad for homoromantic dramas, starring Mickey Rooney, Jackie Moran, Jackie Cooper, Freddie Bartholomew, Frankie Darro, and a dozen other teen actors.  But by the 1940s, the fad was over.  There is no particular gay subtext in Tomorrow, the World! or in most of Skip's later teen roles, except for some buddy-bonding vestiges in Boys Ranch (1946).

As an adult, Skip worked steadily in war movies, science fiction, Westerns, and many tv dramas, usually playing gay-vague villains or good kids who go bad.

I've seen him in The Burning Hills (1956),  as the gay-vague Jack Sutton, who sends his hired muscle to kill Trace Jordan (Tab Hunter).  Isn't it ironic that the heterosexual guy plays gay-vague, and the gay guy plays heterosexual?


And in Day of the Badman (1958), as the snively gay-vague son of the villain.

In 1982, at the age of 52, Skip retired from acting and moved back home to Chicago.  I'm pretty sure that Christian Homeier (top photo), who posed for Playgirl in 1992 and now manages a smoothie bar in Springfield, Illinois, is his son.  Or maybe his nephew.

May 20, 2014

Ezra Miller: Ugly Face, Beautiful Movies

I usually stay away from film festivals: long, dull, ponderous movies about people with problems.  And usually heterosexist to boot.

But if you find yourself trapped at a film festival, look for the features starring 21-year old Ezra Miller.

This isn't him, it's Zach Roerig from Vampire Diaries.






This isn't him, either, it's Brenton Thwaites of Maleficent.

Ok, I'm stalling.  Ezra is not exactly a heartthrob.

Actually, he's one of the ugliest guys I've ever seen on a movie screen.

But you don't watch movies just for the beefcake.

He is gay and androgynous in real life, and he brings a refreshing queerness to his roles, even when he's ostensibly playing heterosexuals.

You can see him after the break.








May 19, 2014

Joe DiMaggio's Nude Frolick

I first heard of Joe DiMaggio through the Simon & Garfunkel song "Mrs. Robinson," from The Graduate (1968):

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation's turned its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Jumpin' Joe has left and gone away.

So who was this Joe DiMaggio whose passing represented the disillusionment of modern life?

For one thing, he hadn't passed,  He lived until 1999.

He was a baseball player, a center fielder for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951, and a major cultural icon for the next 40 years.


He was painted by Pierre Belloq and Harvey Dinnerstein.  He appeared in stories by Hemingway and Joyce Carol Oates, and in songs by Billy Joel and Demi Lovato.  He -- or a character he inspired -- was played by Lloyd Bridges, Gary Busey, Frank Converse, and Bill Murray.

Why was he so popular?  And more importantly, did he have a gay connection?

It's impossible to search the internet. The keyword "gay" is overwhelmed by references to an article, "The Silent Season of a Hero" (1966), by a man named Gay Talese.



Plus about a thousand commentators drooling over DiMaggio's second wife, actress Marilyn Monroe:
"There's not a man alive, straight or gay, who wouldn't want to have sex with her!"
"Every man, straight or gay, is looking for a woman like her!"

 Back to the gay connection. Maybe it's in Madonna's Vogue (1990), where DiMaggio is included in a list of film greats who were gay or bisexual:

Greta Garbo, and Monroe
Dietrich and DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine

Why was he included with the others?


Maybe it's his superheroic attractiveness.  I don't see it, personally -- I think his brother Dom got the looks in the family (left, with two guys' hands on his naked body).

But other people think Joe was hot.  On a 1998 episode of Seinfeld, Kramer mentions that he saw Joe DiMaggio at a doughnut shop.  The homophobic George, who has spent the episode worrying that he is gay because "it moved" during a massage, nevertheless concedes that DiMaggio is "a handsome man."


So the gay connection is the universality of his appeal:
"There's not a man alive, straight or gay, who wouldn't want to have sex with him!"
"Every man, straight or gay, is looking for a man like him!"

Oh, and also Joltin' Joe's many close same-sex friendships, and the photos that recently appeared of  him frolicking naked in the shower with his teammates.

See also: Not Liking Sports; and The Gay Connection of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

May 18, 2014

Frank Gorshin: The Bulging Nemesis of Robin the Boy Wonder




Of all the villains who befuddled the Dynamic Duo on the 1960's Batman series, Frank Gorshin's Riddler was easily the most memorable -- for his giggly, frenetic energy, for his rather clever riddles, and for his obvious crush on Robin.  He preferred capturing Robin alone, with no Batman interfering, so he could caress the Boy Wonder's chest and shoulders, touch his hand, draw his face close, and look for all the world as if he wanted to kiss rather than kill him.



And for his physique.  Most Batman villains were dumpy at best, but the Riddler was hot, lean and toned, and his green jumpsuit was even more revealing than Robin's (after a few episodes, the censors forced him to wear a silly green business suit to hide his obvious gifts beneath the belt).












Frank Gorshin was a bulging fixture in 1960s tv.  In a famous 1969 episode of Star Trek, he plays Bele, the crazed survivor of a race of black-white aliens who all died trying to kill a race of white-black aliens. Lou Antonio, right, who played his white-black nemesis, was equally bulgeworthy).

But Frank Gorshin was more than revealing tights and frenetic energy.  He began his career playing juvenile delinquents in the 1950s, and starred in dozens of movies, playing mostly villains and tough guys.  A skilled impressionist, he won a Tony for playing comedy legend George Burns in the one-man show Say Goodnight, Gracie.  And, although he was married for 50 years, he was reputedly gay in real life.  He died in 2005.

The Flowers of Evil: A Place Where Hercules and Christ are One

Back before there were shelves labeled "gay literature" in bookstores, when library card catalogs contained two books labeled "homosexuality," if that, you found gay books through key words in the title: something dark, dangerous, sinister was likely to be gay.

So one day when I was an undergrad at Augustana College, I found a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).

A series of poems about a man who is an alien in his own society, searching for a beauty that the people around him cannot understand.  He remembers countless past lives of Arabian Nights opulence, living only for the pleasures of sight, sound, taste, and touch, surrounded by "nude, perfumed slaves."



He longs for a "good place," the distant country portrayed by Michelangelo, where "Hercules and Christ are one."

He tells the story of four boys charting out their futures. The first longs for the theater, the second, for God, the third, for women...and the fourth, for gypsy men "with enormous black eyes" who live together and make "astonishing music."

The fourth boy is obviously gay.

Turns out that no scholars agree with my undergrad reading of Les Fleurs du Mal.  Baudelaire was a precursor of the Symbolist Movement, whose main voice, Paul Verlaine, was indeed gay.  And he was a dandy, one of one of those flamboyantly feminine men who scandalized polite society in Paris and London.


But Baudelaire was apparently heterosexual.  He has a prurient, sordid interest in women's bodies, especially lesbian bodies -- his first title for Les Fleurs du Mal was The Lesbians.  But barely a glimmer of interest in male beauty.

No do we see any significant same-sex loves in his life.  He smoked and drank heavily, wrote in taverns, patronized prostitutes, and had a series of mistresses.

Apparently my estimation of the book as a gay story was a misreading.

But that doesn't detract from its power.

See also: The Dandy and the Gay Cult; A Season in Hell