Feb 28, 2015

Ronnie Burns: Gay Teen of the 1950s

The comedy team George Burns and Gracie Allen spent years on Vaudeville and in movies about George being exasperated by Gracie's daffiness, but anxious to date her anyway.  They moved into radio in 1932, and onto television in 1950, playing "themselves" in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.  They were technically famous comedians who had celebrity friends and occasionally had to go down to the studio to film something, but otherwise they had "ordinary" problems like a burnt roast or a late car payment.

Attuned to growing numbers of teenagers in the potential audience, the duo added their real-life son Ronnie to the cast in October 1955, and made him gay.

Ronnie was soft, sweet, and sensitive, studying to become a serious actor at the Actor's Studio (with alumni including the gay couple  Paul Newman and James Dean). He expressed a haughty disdain for his parents' lowbrow comedy, and briefly changed his name to Cobb Cochran, a parody of the macho name changes that casting agent Henry Willson mandated for his stable of gay, bi, or gay-friendly clients (Rock Hudson, Ty Hardin, and so on).

He had an ongoing "friend," fellow actor Jim Boardman (Hart Sprager), with whom he took an apartment in the bohemian Greenwich Village.

Several plotlines involved people being shocked when they stumbled upon Ronnie kissing a girl or discussing marriage with a girl -- what's Ronnie doing with her?  He's not...you know....

It was always a misunderstanding: the two were rehearsing a play, or the girl was confiding in Ronnie about her boyfriend problems.

The gay Ronnie lasted for only about a season and a half.  In the spring of 1957, for unknown reasons, he suddenly became an ordinary college student, with a new best friend, Ralph (the very bulge-worthy Robert Ellis, also seen on Meet Cloris Archer).  Both were obsessively girl-crazy.

Maybe the network couldn't handle such a strong gay subtext.

 Trying to quash the gay rumors, George arranged for his son to become a "heterosexual" teen heart-throb like Ricky Nelson, but he only recorded one song, "She's Kinda Cute" (1958), which didn't chart.  He got little exposure in teen magazines, just this article that insists that he is a "real regular guy," not. . .um. . .you know, gay.

When the series ended, Ronnie starred in Happy (1960-61) and Anatomy of a Psycho (1961), and a few other projects.  So closely aligned were tv personalities with their characters that he was the subject of gay rumors throughout his life.  He never made any public statements, but he wasn't part of the 1950s gay Hollywood scene, and he had two long-term marriages.

See also: Robert Ellis.

Feb 26, 2015

15 More Beefcake Stars of "Fringe"

I'm still being forced to watch the paranormal sci-fi series Fringe, set in a world -- actually, two worlds -- where gay people absolutely do not exist, and the mantra of "my wife! my wife! my wife!" motivates every mad scientist.

But at least there's substantial beefcake, a never-ending parade of musclemen in guest roles.  We're up to Season 4.

1. Episode 1: Neither Here Nor There: FBI Agent Peter (read: Mulder) has saved the two parallel universes from imploding, but he's been erased from history, leaving his father, Walter, and True Love, Olivia (read: Scully), with inexplicable gaps in their lives. Meanwhile swishy gay-stereotype agent Lincoln Lane (Seth Gabel) is distraught over the death of his partner, played by the hunky Joe Flanagan.

2. Episode 2: One Night in October: Lincoln Lane joins the Fringe Team to investigate paranormal phenomena, and gets a crush on Olivia.  Not gay -- no surprise there.  They try to stop a serial killer.  Underwear model Daniel Arnold (left) plays Agent Perez.

3. Episode 3: Alone in the World.  The Fringe Team investigates yet another case of a serial killer making people die in grotesque, visually disgusting ways. Hot bear Gary Sekhon plays one of the medical technicians who is horrified by the bodies.

4. Episode 4: Subject 9 is the muscular Cameron James (Chadwick Boseman, left), who can manipulate electromagnetic energy.  Once on a date he pulled a girl's fillings out of her teeth.

5. Episode 5: Novation. Peter returns. Clayton Chitty (left) plays a police officer.

6. Episode 6: And Those We Left Behind. The mystery involves Raymond, an electrical engineer, and his wife. (Remember the "My wife! My wife! My wife!" mantra?).  But look for the muscular Chad Riley as an FBI Agent.

7, Episode 7: Wallflower. Someone is killing albinos, with Justin Breault as yet another beefcake actor hired to play an FBI Agent.

I don't have time to cover all of the underwear models and bodybuilders on the series, so let's fast forward.

8. Episode 10: Forced Perspective.  A girl can predict people's deaths, quite a useful talent in the Fringe universe. Toby Levins plays a bomb technician.

More after the break.

9. Episode 11: Making Angels. Peter and Olivia track a killer who is using a poison that hasn't been invented yet. Chin Han, a superstar in East Asia, plays Neil Chung.

10. Episode 13: A Better Human Being.  Peter and Olivia investigate a mental patient who appears to be orchestrating murders. Stuntman and caveman Colby Chatard (left) plays Silbiger.

11. Episode 15: A Short Story About Love. A killer is targeting couples, dehydrating the husband and smothering the wife (all couples in this world consist of a husband and a wife). Hunky actor and director Paul Andrich gets a role as Man in Park.

12. Episode 16: Nothing As It Seems.  Lincoln (remember him?) is infected with a mysterious virus. At least this one doesn't make your head explode. Daniel Cudmore (left) plays Daniel Hicks.

13-14. Episode 17: Everything in its Place.  A Lincoln-centric excellent adventure, with Zahl Paroo (left) as Bill and Biski Gugushe as Ted.

15. Episode 19: I haven't gotten that far, but IMDB says that "in the future, Observers rule, and the humans that survived the Purge serve them."  Weird turn of events. Bradley Stryker (left) plays Rick.

It almost makes the disgusting head-explosions of the Serial Killer of the Week worthwhile.

But not the incessant chant of "aren't you glad gay people don't exist?"

See also: 12 Beefcake Stars of "Fringe"; Comparing "Fringe" and "How I Met Your Mother"; and Prime-Time Dramas Think You Don't Exist.

Fall 2008: The Rapper and The Grabby Male Nurse

In the fall of 2008, I was living in Upstate New York, dating guys from the Gang of Twelve, who had all known each other for years and talked to each other about everything.  Especially their hookups, dates, and boyfriends.

The Rich Kid set me up with the Truck Driver, and then, without telling me, his ex-boyfriend, the Rapper. Days after they broke up.

Date #3: The Rapper.   The photos he sent with his introductory email were amazing.  He was in his 20s, African-American, short, muscular but tending to fat, and super-sized beneath the belt.  Exactly my type!

He grew up in the City, and came Upstate to study music management at SUNY Oneonta.  Now he was working in an insurance agency, but hoped to launch a rap career.

On our date, the Rapper took me to a program of African dance and music at the university, and then back to his apartment, where he performed one of his rap numbers

.I hate rap, but I politely said "You're very talented.  You should have no trouble getting a record contract."

Of course, I spent the night.  In the morning, over breakfast, I told him about my dates with the Rich Kid and the Truck Driver.

"The Truck Driver!" he exclaimed.  "That's my ex!  Figures that the Rich Kid would fix you up with both of us, and wait to see the fireworks!"

I stared, feeling stupid.  How could I have gone through dates with both of them and not noticed?  

"He was exactly my type, " the Rapper continued.  "I'm into tall white dudes with muscles and an extra-big package. Man, he had everything!"

"Well, I don't like to brag, but..."

He grinned.  "Don't get jealous on me, man. You have everything, too."

"Do you think the Truck Driver will mind us dating?" I asked.

"Well, it's kind of soon after the breakup, so don't tell him, ok?  Or the Rich Kid.  Not for awhile, anyway."

But there were only a small number of gay-friendly venues Upstate, and the guys in the Gang of Twelve. all talked to each other.

For our second date, the Rapper and I drove into Cooperstown to the Fenimore Museum and dinner at Alex and Ika's -- where one of the Gang of 12 saw us and made some phone calls.

The next morning we were getting ready to go to breakfast, when the Truck Driver banged on the door.

"You don't waste any time, do you?" he yelled in his cute British accent.  "How long did you wait before cruising the New Kid?  Twenty minutes?"

"You had a date with him before I did!" the Rapper exclaimed.

"But nothing happened!  We just talked. But not you -- you sent him X-rated pictures before you even met!"

"How did you find out about that?"  He glared at me.  "Not much for keeping secrets, are you, New Kid?"

"I didn't say anything!"

No third date.  But other members of the Gang of Twelve were waiting for their turn.

Date #4: The Grabby Male Nurse.  In his 40s, formerly muscular but now a little paunchy.  On our date, we went shopping at some of the antique shops in town.

For all his interest in secrecy, the Rapper gossiped as much as everyone else in the Gang of Twelve. He gave the Nurse notes: "can't keep a secret"; plus moment-by-moment accounts of our two nights together.

So the Grabby Male Nurse was expecting a porn star.

He acted like one of those obnoxious guys in the clubs who keep leering and groping regardless of how much Attitude you display.  Of course, in public, he had to leer and grope subtly, when no one was looking.  Which made it all the more annoying.

Plus he turned everything I said into a sexual reference.

"I taught in Dayton for three years."
Wow, hot college boys!  How many of them did you offer a little...um....extra credit in your office?  Laner, leer.

"I grew up in Illinois."
Ooh, Chicago!  I bet you got a lot of action there!   Laner, leer.

"My grandmother studied art."
I see -- Grandma liked painting those nude male models, did she?" Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!

We had dinner at the Neptune Cafe, one of those East Coast diners with a 30-page menu, everything from moussaka to tacos. The owner was gay-friendly, so lots of the Gang of Twelve hung out there.  But it was still a straight place.

Yet the Nurse acted like he was in a cruise bar, trying to grope me, leering at the male patrons.  He knew the waiter -- an Asian guy named Chad -- and openly flirted with him, even asking him an inappropriate question about the size of the Asian penis. I gave him an extra big tip to make up for the embarrassment.

Then the Nurse suggested that we go back to his apartment.

I was done.  "Sorry...my favorite tv show is on."

"You can watch it at my place."  He grabbed my crotch. "Or we can watch porn.  Your choice."

I disentangled myself and ran home and hid.

The Nurse sent notes to the rest of the Gang of Twelve: Nice guy, but all he can think about is sex.

I saw Chad again during Date #5: The Satyr and his Boy Toy.

Feb 25, 2015

Dark Shadows: Barnabas and Willie

In the spring of 1969, my friends and I began running home from school as fast as we could (my house was the closest) to catch the last ten or fifteen minutes of Dark Shadows (1966-71), a soap opera about the brooding, guilt-wracked vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and his immensely wealthy, occult-obsessed family.

He enters the story when the slim, stuttering ne’er-do-well Willie Loomis (John Karlen, left), prowling around the Collins estate on the stormy coast of Maine, discovers a secret room in the old mausoleum, and inside it a chained coffin.  At this point, most people would flag down the next bus to Boston, but the none-too-bright Willie decides to open the coffin.  A bejeweled hand shoots up and grabs him by the neck.

The next day Barnabas Collins presents himself as a long-lost “cousin from England” and talks his way into possession of the ancient, decrepit Old House.

Willie inexplicably moves in with him, telling his friends that he has taken a job as Barnabas’ servant; yet he is obviously more than a servant.  The two spend an inordinate amount of time together, and are on an altogether chummy first-name basis, a liberty taken by no other servant on the estate.

The truth, of course, is that Barnabas bit him, and now they are co-conspirators if not secret lovers.  What is a vampire’s bite, after all, but a form of sexual congress?

Gossip about the early years of the series reveals that the producers were so skittish about potential homoerotic readings of the relationship that they gave Willie a heterosexual crush, and mandated that same-sex neck-biting must always occur off-camera.

Eventually the strain of living with a vampire is too much for Willie; he has a nervous breakdown, and is confined to Windcliff Sanitarium. Later, Barnabas misses Willie, and asks him to return.  Willie eagerly agrees.  Later that evening, their friend Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) is sitting alone in the drawing room of the Old House, evidently keeping guard, when someone comes to the door.  “Barnabas isn’t here  – he’s with Willie,” she says with a diffident glance upstairs – to the bedrooms. Exactly what is Barnabas doing up there to welcome Willie home?  

When Barnabas announces his plans to cure his vampirism by transferring his spiritual essence into a different body, Willie worries that the new Barnabas will not be attracted to him (or, perhaps, that he will not be attracted to the new Barnabas):
Willie: Suppose he don’t like me?
Barnabas:         He will be exactly toward you as I am.
Willie: You don’t know that!  You might come out of this all different. . .It won’t be the same.

Although Barnabas barely acknowledges his affection, Willie obviously cares deeply for him, with an unstated and perhaps unconscious homoerotic desire.

As Barnabas zapped back and forth between time periods and parallel worlds, he encountered different characters played by the same cast members, and John Karlen managed to infuse all of his characters with a sometimes frivolous, sometimes dark and passionate attraction to the vampire hero.

When Barnabas visits Collinwood in the year 1897, he meets Karlen as Carl Collins, a fop only slightly toned down from Oscar Wilde’s green carnation crowd.  Carl grabs his shoulder,  touches his hand, takes his arm, and whispers softly in his ear “You look so nice!  We’re going to be close friends, aren’t we?  We’re going to be buddies!”  And thereafter, whenever he has a problem (usually involving ghosts or werewolves), he throws himself into Barnabas’s arms, overtly presenting himself as a lover.

Many of the cast members were gay, including Joel Crothers, left (who played Maggie Evans' boyfriend and remained her best friend in real life) and Louis Edmonds (patriarch Roger Collins).

When Don Briscoe (werewolf Chris Jennings) took time off to appear in the gay-themed Boys in the Band (1969), he brought Chris Bernau and Keith Prentice back with him.

Most of the others were gay friendly, including Grayson Hall (who was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a repressed lesbian in Night of the Iguana), Katherine Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans), Roger Davis (who went on to star in Alias Smith and Jones),  and the vampire himself, Jonathan Frid.

Most soap operas, like One Life to Live, were unremittingly heterosexist, requiring us to seek out subtexts, but Dark Shadows had ample male characters who were immune to the charms of eyelash-fluttering governesses and sought out each other: David Collins, heir to the family fortune; the fey Noah Gifford (Craig Slocum), who has an unspecified and “sinister” relationship with the golddigging Lieutenant Forbes (Joel Crothers); Aristede (Michael Stroka), a brooding, androgynous “manservant”; the nerdish mad scientist Cyrus Longworthy (Christopher Pennock); and the darkly sensuous Gerald Stiles (Jim Storm) who was not shy about expressing his devotion to werewolf/man-about-town Quentin Collins (David Selby).

No wonder we ran home from school as fast as we could to watch.

Feb 23, 2015

The Rich Kid and The Crying Truck Driver

In 2008, my "visiting" position in Dayton was coming to an end, and I had to find a new job.  I only applied to colleges in Blue States.  First just in gay neighborhoods.

As January and February passed and the best jobs were taken, I expanded to an hour away from gay neighborhoods.

Then three hours.

Just as I was about to start searching in Red States, I was offered a job in New York!

Well, Upstate New York, about six hours by car from the gay neighborhoods of Manhattan, Boston, and Montreal.

I figured I would be driving to one or the other every weekend.  Maybe even renting a second apartment there.

But snow, car wear and tear, the expense, and being busy limited my weekend jaunts to once every couple of months.

So 98% of my life happened in the Straight World, in a small town Upstate with no gay bars, just one gay-friendly church, and no gay organizations except PFLAG.

Just like in Dayton, most adult gay men had fled to gay neighborhoods elsewhere,  Most of the others were living aggressively heterosexual public lives: they escorted women to events; they had no gay friends; they took their same-sex dates into the next town over to avoid being spotted at home.

But there was a coterie of gay men, a Gang of Twelve, who were out and open.

They were mostly in their 40s and 50s, one or two older or younger.  Most had lived their whole lives Upstate, so they knew the towns and the people: the restaurants where they could be served without a fuss, the stores where they could shop without rude stares, the clubs where no women would hit on them.

So, except for a few basic precautions like not holding hands on the street, they were not closeted.

The New Guy in Town is always popular, but Upstate, my social calendar filled up astonishingly fast.  All I had to do was meet one of the Twelve, and he told his friends, who told their friends. Phone calls were made, emails sent, meetings arranged.  By Christmas, I had been out on dates with five of the twelve.  By summer, nine (the others were involved or not interested).

Date #1: The Rich Kid (top photo) got "dibs": he was first in line for everything in the county.  He and his sister and parents owned most of the county, sat on every board of directors, donated to every charity.

I was impressed by his physique: short, compact, and quite buffed for someone in his 40s.

He took me to Alex and Ika's, a very expensive restaurant in Cooperstown, for sesame-encrusted wild salmon and a plantain and goat cheese salad.  Then back to his family's summer home -- a gigantic wood-lodge on Lake Otesaga, decorated in a weirdly incongruous Southwestern motif.

The Rich Kid was a bit on the domineering side, but he had two of the five traits I find attractive, and he was well-educated, articulate, and generous.  I would have gone on a second date, except before we got around to it, he ordered me to attend the Glimmerglass Opera Festival next Tuesday night  He was on the board of directors, and they needed ushers.

Drive 30 miles to be an usher at a production of Madame Butterfly? No, thanks.

One simple didn't say "no" to the Rich Kid.  He cancelled our second date, and sent out memos to the other 11 that I was "cute but stubborn."

Date #2: The Crying Truck Driver.  A tall, thin white guy with ruddy skin, expressive hands and a cute British accent.  He invited me to his apartment for a "traditional Zambian dinner": a chicken breast, some kind of corn gruel, and mushrooms in peanut sauce.  I was still hungry afterwards.

Then he suggested that we watch a DVD from his collection of every British sitcom ever made.  I selected Are You Being Served.  But when I invited him to sit down next to me on the couch, Truck Driver hesitated and then yelled: "But I don't want to have sex with you!"

"Um...since when does sitting on the couch count as sex?  I've sat next to my brother lots of times!"

He ran into the bedroom, collapsed onto the bed, and started crying.

"I'm sorry," he sobbed.  'I just broke up with the Love of my Life.  My friends thought I should start dating again, but I'm not ready...I'm just not ready..."

He then told me all about the Love of His Life.  The relationship, from start to finish.  His faults, fetishes, faux-pas, and favorite foods.  What he should have said that time.  What happened at the Rich Kid's Christmas party.  Did I think there was any chance of them getting back together?

This turned out to be commonplace: most of the Gang of Twelve had dated most of the others, so on most dates, I got an earful of the others' problems with jobs and relatives, triumphs and defeats in cruising, and scandals from a decade ago.

And, since they all talked to each other, my size, shape, pecadillos, and preferences were soon common knowledge.

But this breakup was new, raw, and still painful.

I didn't realize at the time that the Truck Driver was describing the next guy on my social calendar!  Apparently the ex-boyfriend was also being advised to start dating again, and the Rich Kid gave him my email address.  We had a date tomorrow night!

Next: The Truck Driver's ex-boyfriend and the Grabby Male Nurse

March 24, 1975: Mitzi and a Hundred Guys

March 24, 1975.  The Monday before Easter.  I check the TV Guide and find a special, Mitzi and a Hundred Guys.  

I don't know who Mitzi is, but anything with a hundred guys is going on my DVR List.

Just kidding -- in those days you watched it in real time or not at all.  So I plop myself in front of the tv.  My parents are surprised that I want to see something with "singing and dancing" in it; usually I hate variety shows.

There's a lot of singing and dancing, interspliced with comedy skits like Carol Burnett.   But the hundred guys make up for the tedium.

They include  included practically every male tv star,  plus some movie and radio stars.  I divide them into:

 Hot guys that I know.

Hot guys that I don't (such as Rich Little, left).

 Ugly guys that I know.

Ugly guys that I don't.

But the highlight is Mitzi crooning the Irving Berlin torch song "Always" while bodybuilders in jock straps surround her.

At least, I remember jock straps.  But, thanks to the internet, I see that they were wearing white pants.  And I can identify them.

1, Don Peters (1931-2001), a five-time Mr. America winner who also posed for the gay-porn photos of Bruce of L.A.

2. Kent Kuehn, a three-time Mr. America who appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry (1975), the film that popularized bodybuilding.

3. Bob Birdsong (b. 1948), who appeared in two gay porn films, California Supermen (1972) and Loadstar (1973) before winning the 1975 Mr. Universe title. He later "found Jesus," got a "beautiful wife" and started a ministry.

4. Ric Drasin (b. 1944, recent photp), a bodybuilder, professional wrestler, and actor, with credits ranging from Ben (1972) and Sextette (1978) to The Shield (2004).  He is also a spokesman for Gold's Gym and a wrestling instructor.

The Coca Cola Kid

I don't drink anything alcoholic,  I hate tea, lemon-lime sodas make me gag, and orange juice is for sick people. My only beverages are water and Diet Coke.

Two or three 12-ounce cans or one 20-ounce bottle per day.

That doesn't strike me as much.  But:

1. Every time I am invited to dinner at someone's house, I have to bring my own.  Nobody else that I know drinks it.

2. Every person I have ever met, without exception, has informed me that I shouldn't drink it because aspertame causes cancer in lab rats. Usually they say this the first time they see me with a can.  I always say "Really?  I had no idea!  This is the first time I've ever been told this -- today!"

By the way, that's an urban legend.  Aspertame does nothing to lab rats, or to humans.  Your stomach breaks it down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol, which we consume all the time in organic foods such as meat and milk.

Those friends who are a little less intolerant concerning my vice think that Coca-Cola memorabilia would make a good birthday or Christmas present.

The problem is, Coke advertising overwhelmingly features attractive young ladies, trying to draw in straight men with the promise that "If you drink Coke, you'll get laid."

The only time you see guys alone are in humorous ads.  Or creepy ones.  The psychotic Sprite Boy was introduced in 1941 to force people to use the four-syllable "Coca-Cola" instead of their preferred "Coke."

Or in some of the bonding ads of the 1970s, with people of various races holding hands on hilltops and singing "I'd like to buy the world a Coke."  Here they're alternating black and white to demonstrate that Coke is "the real thing."

But their knees are touching, anyway.

This ad from the 1940s shows a father and his wife and son, or maybe his daughter and son (who has a target on his muscle shirt).  As they raise bottles to their frozen plastic faces, we are told that Coke is "a family affair."

Even this series of tv commercials from the 1990s, featuring Lucky Vanous ripping off his shirt to chug Diet Coke, puts him in the sight of the lustful ladies gazing from the office next door.

But during the Super Bowl, Coke broadcast a new commercial showing people of various races and religions engaging in wholesome activities while drinking Coke.  Among them were gay dads teaching their daughter to bowl.

See also: Lucky Vanous, the Diet Coke Guy.

The Mystery of Cavelo

When I was in grad school at Indiana University, the only place you could get gay books and magazines was in the adult bookstore.  Of course, they had porn, too.

I was particularly drawn to two albums from Zeus Studios featuring wordless comics drawn by someone named Cavelo:

The Cavelo Portfolio (1979).
Hercules (1981).

He drew buffed, fully nude men in mild bondage and S&M situations, usually in the historic past: ancient Rome, the old West, the French foreign legion.

The models had amazingly ripped physiques, drawn darker and with much more contrast than the characters around them.

There was no sex, no activity of any sort.  Cavelo always depicted the men in the moment before.

He published three albums, plus cartoons and illustrations in six issues of Drummer magazine, all between 1978 and 1985.  A limited repertoire, compared to his contemporaries, Sean and Tom of Finland.

Then his work ended, leaving fans to wonder: where did this spectacular beefcake artist come from?  Where did he go?

Thirty years later, they are still wondering.

Recently many of the great gay artists who published anonymously during the 1970s and 1980s have been identified, their stories told, their contributions lauded.  But Cavelo remains a mystery.

We know only that he lived in Los Angeles, and his real name was Leon Carvalho.

There's a Leon Carvalho living in Los Angeles today, a marine recruiter.  Probably not the same one.

See also: Tom of Finland; Sean and the World of Gay Leathermen


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