Mar 28, 2015

Jimmy Baio: Scott's Cuter Cousin

Jimmy Baio never hit the stratospheric heights of admiration enjoyed by his cousin Scott, but he had a solid teen idol career, with two claims to fame that Scott doesn't: he starred in a groundbreaking tv series, and he's a gay ally.

Jimmy and Scott grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood.  Although he was a year and a half younger, Jimmy entered show business first, in Joe and Sons (1975-76), a short-lived sitcom about an Italian-American family.

While Scott was playing a preteen gangster with a lascivious girlfriend in Bugsy Malone (1976), Jimmy was buddy-bonding.  In The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977), former Little League superstar Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) decides to rejoin the team and reconcile with his father, the coach.  He brings a friend from New York, Carmen Ronzonni (Jimmy), who is called both racist and anti-gay slurs by his belligerent teammates, marking the pubescent relationship as potentially gay.  To assuage them, Carmen buys some Playboy magazines to pass around, but significantly doesn't read them himself.

In the fall of 1977, both cousins landed tv series.  Scott was brought aboard Happy Days, to draw a teen demographic to the rapidly aging cast.

Jimmy leaped head-first into a firestorm of controversy on the soap opera spoof Soap.  Even before the first episode aired, it was receiving vociferous protests from religious groups, gay rights activists, tv watchdogs, and even the National Football League.

People calmed down a little (not much) when they discovered that the program was simply a parodic exaggeration of the themes soap operas had been displaying for years, usually involving falling in love with the "wrong" person:

Your tennis coach (when you are married to someone else)
Your priest
The escaped convict who is holding you hostage
A woman (when you are gay)
Someone of another race

Jozin z Bazin: The Czech Swamp Monster and His Boyfriend

The Czechs and the Slovaks were joined into Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1993 because they have similar histories, cultures, and religions.  Their languages are mutually intelligible:

English: My penis is as big as a baseball bat
Czech:  Můj penis je stejně velká jako baseballovou pálkou
Slovak: Môj penis je rovnako veľká ako baseballovou pálkou

They have the same pop culture icons, like model Jozef Mikovčák (left).

Pop singer Miroslav Šmajda (aka Max Jason Mai), a contestant in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.

And Ivan Mládek, the Weird Al Yankovich of Eastern Europe, whose novelty song Jožin z bažin (Joey of the Swamp) has been popular since its tv premiere in 1978.

Like the American Monster Mash parodies monster movies, Jožin z bažin  parodies Czech heroic sagas, in which a swordsman kills a dragon and thereby win "half of my kingdom and my daughter's hand in marriage."

Except instead of a dragon, it's a swamp monster named Jožin (Joey), who lives in Moravia (near Brno) but mostly eats people from Prague.  The mayor of the village of Vizovice  offers the narrator half of the collective farm and his daughter's hand in marriage for capturing the beast.  So he drops sleeping powder from a crop duster, putsJoey to sleep, and sells him to a zoo.

Sounds heterosexist, except it's typically acted out with men playing all the parts.

Sometimes the daughter is never mentioned again.

And sometimes the narrator marries the monster.

Here Jožin is played by a teenager whose dancing oddly involves multiple crotch-grabs.  The narrator looks like he's trying to revive him, not subdue him.

You can see the 1978 Czech version, with English subtitles, on youtube.
And a Lithuanian version.
And a Polish version
And a German version with Hungarian subtitles.

There are versions in many other Eastern European languages.  With the proper tweaking of the lyrics, it can be turned into a political satire.

By the way, the older guy who pops up out of nowhere and makes frenetic dance moves is Ivo Pešák (1944-2011), who performed in Mládek's Banjo Band in the 1970s, and was a familiar face on Czech tv.  Want to see him with his shirt off?

See also: I Escape to the Gay Haven of Slovakia and Monster Mash.

Mar 26, 2015

Fall 1984: My Boyfriend and his Lesbian Grandmother

You're probably wondering about my "boyfriend" Nick who saved me from The Killer one summer (I'm guessing the summer after 3rd grade, when I was eight years old).

The muscular, redheaded law student with freckles on his chest who took me out for an ice cream soda afterwards.

I don't have many more details, no long-ago smiles or glimpses of his shame.  He visited a few more times, that summer and the next -- once he took me and Bill for a ride in his convertible with the top down.

Then he vanished without explanation (or maybe he just happened to visit when I wasn't around.  I was busy every summer with Nazarene Bible camp and vacation and summer enrichment classes).

He left me with one connection: his grandmother.

Her name was really Mrs. Lindquist, and her companion was Miss Deverr or Devere, but everyone called them the Old Lady Schoolteachers because they had taught at Denkmann Elementary School for many years, beginning when it first opened in 1934.

I never knew their first names.

When I was growing up, Mom knew them from the PTA or the Safe House Program or something (Safe Houses had brown stars in the window, signifying that you could run there if a stranger tried to abduct you).  She used to go over and visit them -- maybe they reminded her of her own mother, who died in 1965.  Occasionally they sent banana bread or cookies back with her.

They always made popcorn balls for Halloween.

Sometimes my brother and I went over to shovel their sidewalks or mow their lawns.  We were supposed to do it for free, but they always tipped us a quarter each anyway.  They invited us inside once, while they fumbled about in their purses.  I remember dark, ponderous furniture, General Hospital on tv, and dozens of framed pictures of relatives. Nick was smiling in a graduation gown.

Miss Devere died when I was in high school, leaving Mrs. Lindquist alone in the house.

In college, I brought my first real boyfriend, Fred, over to meet her.  She gave us Swedish cookies and asked what we were studying in school.

Mrs. Lindquist died in 1984, during my year in Hell-fer-Sartain, Texas.  Since I was 1000 miles away, I didn't go to the funeral, but Mom and Dad were there.  They talked to Nick briefly: he was a lawyer, living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a wife and two kids. No doubt he was still buffed, with freckles on his chest.

The obituary they sent filled in the details in the life of Mrs. Lindquist: born in Galesburg in 1896, graduated from Augustana College, married Axel Lindquist, had two children.  She taught at several Rock Island schools, and at Denkmann from 1934 to 1961, when she retired. Her husband and her son Jonah preceded her in death.  She had four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Miss Devere was not mentioned.

At the time I didn't think that they might be a lesbian couple.   After all, they lived on the next block!  They made banana bread!

But now I wonder: were they just heterosexual roommates, sharing the bills, describing the penises of their male lovers, on Friday nights gazing lustfully at aging sleuth Barnaby Jones on tv?

Or were they "together"?  Back in the 1930s, did they wear cravats and smoke cigarettes and read to each other from The Well of Loneliness?  Did they teach together, and then stroll across the grassy field to their house, a lesbian couple living freely and openly during the 1940s and police-state 1950s?

I might be able to find Nick on the internet, reunite with him, and ask for more details.  But I'm not sure I want to.  Living in Cedar Rapids, he's probably conservative, and might not amenable to the suggestion that his grandmother may have been a lesbian.

Besides, he's about 70 now.  I would rather remember the muscular redheaded teenager with freckles on his chest who rescued me on that hot summer day a thousand years ago.

See also: The Face of Pure Evil

Mar 25, 2015

The Bizarro Jerry: Tim DeKay's Gay Work

I like Seinfeld -- I own DVD sets of the entire series -- but the characters are constantly making heterosexist comments, and often they are downright homophobic.  It seems strange, therefore, to find cast members acting in gay roles or supporting gay rights.

Maybe not Tim DeKay.  In one of his first tv gigs (1996), the Ithaca, New York boy with a MFA in Theater played Kevin, the "Bizarro Jerry," Jerry's complete opposite -- considerate, caring, literate, and no doubt gay-positive.

In real life, Tim has done a ton of gay-positive work:

1. Five Houses (1998): A gay couple from Oklahoma moves into a big-city cul-de-sac.  He played one of the partners.

2. Big Eden (2000), about a gay New York artist (Arye Gross of Ellen) who returns to his home town in rural Montana where everybody is amazingly pro-gay.  He tries to hook up with the jock he had a crush on in high school (Tim), but is gently rejected.

3. Randy and the Mob (2007): Randy (Ray McKinnon), a Southern redneck, flees the mob and seeks refuge with his gay identical twin brother Cecil (Ray McKinnon in a double role). Tim plays Cecil's partner, Bill.

4. The gay-subtext buddy-drama White Collar (2009-): a con artist (Matt Bomer) teamed up with an FBI agent (Tim, the one wearing pink).

When Matt Bomer came out in 2012, Tim was all praise: "I love him, and I am so proud of him.  He's just a fantastic individual, and I think he did it in a very classy, elegant, and eloquent way."

Mar 24, 2015

The Naked Man at the Crossroads

Mary Shepherd was only 16 when her parents announced that they had arranged for her to be married to 33-year old Ell Hicks.

She didn't mind: he was a good catch.  He had a nice farm near Pyramid, Kentucky, about 14 miles south of Prestonburg.  And he was handsome, athletic, and "well-knit."  Girls had been trying unsuccessfully to land him for years.

Ell turned out to be a good provider.  He bought Mary the latest fashions, and took her to moving picture shows, and in 1904 they became one of the first families in the hills to own a new horseless carriage.

He was always kind to her and the children.  He never raised his hand in anger.

There was only one problem, something that Mary couldn't tell anyone about except her mother.  And many years later, her favorite daughter, Gracie.

Ell wasn' on his...on doing his duty as a husband.

The full story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood

Adventures of Pete and Pete

Juvenile tv programs of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and Andy's Gang,  were dedicated to socializing kids into the norms of adult society.  The rules may seem odd, the hosts seemed to say, but they were established by wise, sensible adults, and if you conform, this will be the best of all possible worlds.

Then came the 1980s and 1990s, and tv juvenile tv programs like You Can't Do That on Television, Animaniacs, and Eerie Indiana, said something quite different.  Adults are crazy. Their rules make no sense.  Don't even try to conform society: rebel, resist, be yourself.

The benchmark of this new anarchic juvenile tv was Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1993-96), about two brothers, teenage Pete (Mike Maronna) and preteen Pete (Danny Tamberelli) living with their parents in the town of Wellsville, New York.

If the two brothers with the same name don't clue in that something is askew in Wellsville, what about the opening song:

Hey, Smilin' Strange, you're looking happily deranged
I could've settled if you shoot me, or have you picked your target yet?

Or the characters:
Mom, who has a steel plate in her head that can pick up radio.
Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, who can move a house a whole inch!
Mr. Slurm, the high school shop teacher with a claw for a hand.
Pit Stain Jones, a super-villain whose powers are obvious

Big Pete is drawing close to adulthood, so he is the most conformist, with part-time jobs and career plans and crushes on girls.

But Little Pete resists the International Adult Conspiracy on bedtimes and dodgeball, and investigates such mysteries as the "Inspector" tag in clothing, the "time warp" of Daylight Savings Time, and a telephone that has been ringing for 27 years.

Heterosexual romance is a constant among the adult and teen characters, but Little Pete resists the International Adult Conspiracy on hetero-romance, too.  He is mostly successful, reserving his affection for Big Pete and for his "hero," Artie the Strongest Man in the World.

The bizarre adult world provides some gay symbolism, and Little Pete's resistance to hetero-romance marks him as gay-vague.  But there is even more of gay interest.  Although Big Pete has an ongoing hetero-romance and occasional side crushes, boys often fall in love with him: not only his friends Bill (Rick Barbarette) and Teddy (Dave Martell), but even his friendly enemy, Endless Mike (Rick Gomez, top photo and left).  I always wondered why he was called "Endless."

After Pete and Pete, Michael C. Maronna starred in some young-adult-slacker comedies before moving behind the scenes as a studio electrician.  Danny Tamberelli starred in Igby Goes Down (2002), with Kieran Culkin.

Mar 22, 2015

Summer 1969: The Face of Pure Evil

This is the Face of Pure Evil.  And the House Where Evil Dwells.

When I was a kid, it was painted grey, and that attic window had bars on it.

I lived on the the north side of Denkmann Elementary School, on 41st Street.  My boyfriend Bill lived two blocks north.

East past 42nd Street was Darry's house and eventually Country Style Ice Cream.

South, on the other side of 22nd Avenue, was Dewey's Candy Store, Gary's house, and eventually the Nazarene church.

West past 40th Street was Greg's house, and eventually Schneider's Drug Store, where you could buy comic books.

But we never went that way.  We walked all the way up to 18th Avenue and around to the back, to avoid The Killer and his house.

There were lots of Mean Boys at Denkmann who would steal your lunch money, call you names, or pound you for infractions of the rules of grade school behavior. Like Dick, who hung out by Dewey's Candy Store and pounded you for being a "girl."  But The Killer was by far the worst.

He interpreted the most innocent statement or gesture, even standing too close to him, even looking at him, as an insult that must be redressed: "Now we have to fight!"

If you refused, he attacked on the spot, or if you were in school, ambushed you on the way home.

If you agreed, you met your doom later, on the west side of the school yard, a desolate space of dead trees and yellow grass across the street from his house.

Snarling like a rabid dog, The Killer fought by punching and kicking you everywhere, in the face, the chest, the belly, the balls.  When you collapsed, bloody and sobbing, he poured dirt on you, spat in your face, and moved on.

Teachers simply said "No one likes a tattle-tale."

Parents simply said "You have to learn to fight your own battles."

The only escape was to avoid the Killer: don't sit near him in the cafeteria, don't stand near him at recess, and at all costs stay away from the House of Evil.

But one day during the summer after third grade,  I was stupid.  Mom asked me to return a cake-decorating kit that she borrowed from the Old Lady Schoolteachers, who lived two houses south of the House of Evil.  I should have walked all the way around Denkmann School, but it was hot, Cartoon Showboat was coming on soon, and besides, the Killer might not even be home.  So I cut diagonally across the parking lot and the schoolyard and came to 40th Street exactly parallel to the Old Lady Schoolteachers' house.

I peered at the House of Evil -- it looked deserted -- took a deep breath, and crossed the street.  I was in the yard -- almost up to the screen porch.  Almost safe.

"Hey, Fairy!"

The Killer!  He must have been lurking in the shadows, waiting for a victim to appear!  And now he was standing right next to me, fists clenched, a snake ready to strike....

My heart was racing.  "I'm not by your house!  The Old Lady Schoolteachers..."

"You sissy, making girly cakes!"  He knocked the cake decorating kit out of my hand.  "Now we have to fight!"

"No, it's my Mom's...." I began, before he punched me hard in the face.  Moaning, I dropped to my knees.  He kicked me in the stomach.

Then I heard someone yelling from a long distance: "Hey, what are you doing to that kid!"

I looked up to see a husky, muscular guy with shaggy red hair and freckles on his chest, wearing only short pants and tennis shoes with no socks.  He was holding the Killer's arm. "You apologize!"  he snarled.  "Now!"

Glaring, the Killer muttered "Yeah, sorry, fairy...I mean, Boomer."

The Redhead drew me to my feet and put his arm around my shoulders.   "Now listen up: if I ever hear about you touching this kid again, or calling him names, or even looking at him the wrong way, I will personally see to it that you spend the rest of your life at Joliet State Penitentiary.  I'm in law school -- I know how!"

The Killer paled, but managed one more act of defiance.  "You don't even live here!"

"My Grandma does.  She sees everything you do from that porch.  She'll call me, and I can be here in 45 minutes.  Got it?"

The Killer nodded and scurried off, and the Redhead helped me pick up the cake decorating kit and walked me to the house.

"I'm Nick," he said.  "If that bully bothers you again, just tell my Grandma, and I'll come running.  Ok?"

"The Old Lady Schoolteachers are your Grandmas?" I asked in surprise.

Nick ruffled my hair.  "You know what -- I was just about to go down to Country Style for a malted.  You get your Mom and Dad's permission, you can come with."

I grinned.  It was almost worth getting pummelled to be asked out on a date by a cute guy!

After that I loved hanging out on the West Side.  The Killer never came near me, and every few weeks my "boyfriend" Nick came to visit.

See also: My Grade School Bully Grows Up; My Boyfriend's Lesbian Grandmother.

Damn Yankees

When I was a kid, I kept away from the movie Damn Yankees (1958) and its various live versions.

It was about baseball -- yawn -- there was a lady in her underwear on the poster -- and the word damn hurt my ears -- Nazarenes thought that even saying the watered-down darn was a sin.

Turns out I was mistaken: baseball is discussed, but there's also a  lot of beefcake, and a nice gay subtext.

The plot: middle-aged Joe Boyd is obsessed with baseball, and wants his team, the Senators, to beat the New York Yankees.  He makes a deal with the devil, aka Mr. Applegate (Ray Walston), to become an expert player for the Senators.  He can back out of the deal anytime before they win the pennant.

Transformed into the young, virile "Shoeless Joe" Hardy (gay actor Tab Hunter), Joe takes the team into a winning streak, but he misses his wife back home.  Applegate has to find some way to keep him distracted long enough to win the pennant and lose his soul permanently.

So he sends one of his previous clients, Lola (Gwen Verdon), to seduce Joe.

But it doesn't work.  Lola confronts Joe in the locker room, gyrating suggestively and singing  "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and little man, little Lola wants you."

He completely ignores her.  Ostensibly because he's being faithful to his wife, but you can also read him as gay.

He ignores every other woman who approaches him during his superstardom.  Same reason.  Or is it?

Meanwhile,there's lots of shirtless athletes singing and dancing.

On stage, gay-coded Mr. Applegate has been played by a number of actors who specialize in gay-coded roles, such as Tony Randall, Bill Kerr, and Sean Hayes.

Shoeless Joe has been portrayed by Cheyenne Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Christopher Charles Wood, Matt Bogart, and Jarrod Emick.

The Gay Enchanted Forest of Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my favorite comics by far were the Harvey supernatural titles: ghosts, witches, and devils roaming an oddly-Medieval Enchanted Forest where same-sex desire was commonplace.

I preferred Casper, but in a pinch, I would read about Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, a ghost boy with a Brooklyn accent, freckles, and a derby (or, as he pronounced it,  “doiby”).  (Not to be confused with Charlton's far inferior Timmy the Timid Ghost).

But while Casper was a 1960s nonconformist with a gay-coded softness and sensitivity, the hawkish Spooky had no aversion to booing.

 In Spooky’s wild region of the Enchanted Forest, ravenous bears, ogres, monsters, and evil wizards leapt out from behind every boulder, so booing was an essential form of self defense.  But for Spooky, it was an all-consuming passion.  He specialized in complex, artistic boos, creating statements similar to the happenings and guerilla theater of the 1960’s art scene: he might boo a horse and rider into trading places, so that the rider runs off with the horse on his back, or he might boo a lake out of its bed so precisely that the fish remain, swimming in mid-air.

In “Once upon a Scaresday," Spooky explains how he took up booing in the first place.  As a child, he was a coward and a sissy, always running away from danger.  One day he was walking in the hills beyond Spooktown with some friends, when cannibalistic monsters called Ghostcatchers attacked.  Spooky managed to run away, but his best friend Googy was captured and dragged off to be cooked and eaten.  Distraught with guilt and mourning his loss, Spooky asked his grandfather for advice, and the elderly ghost taught him how to defend himself by booing.  He proved to have a great gift for this ghostly martial art, and soon he was able to seek out the monsters and rescue his friend just as the cooking-fire was being lit.

A same-sex relationship originally motivated Spooky to boo, and a heterosexual relationship now compels him to stop.  Spooky and Poil (his pronunciation of Pearl) are quite an adult couple, dating, dining at each other’s homes, and even kissing on couches.  Pearl forbids him from booing.  She claims that it is immoral, but her real reason is class-based snobbery: she considers booing boorish and vulgar, a working-class pastime likely to offend her high-society ghost friends (but they usually turn out to be closet booing fans).

Spooky is constantly promising to refrain from booing, to keep Poil from brow-beating or even leaving him.  Many stories involved his frantic but quite clever schemes to continue booing after such a pledge, either for self defense or to assuage his addiction: he throws his voice, writes “boo” in the sand, spells it out with smoke signals.  But why would Spooky even agree to cease a useful, artistic, socially-praised, and strategically necessary activity, just because Poil disapproves?  Obviously she offers something more valuable than any of these things, more valuable than any love, but what?  I was mystified; I could imagine giving up a bad habit or even an innocuous hobby at the admonition of a friend, but a career, a passion, a veritable calling?

I knew it had something to do with the girls who jumped their ropes and played their singsong games in the shadow of the school.  At recess, we boys were herded far away to fields to play baseball and dodge ball, and if ever once we tried to play jump rope, or merely sit on the steps nearby to avoid the midday sun, a teacher would scream wildly at us to stay put.  What danger lurked there, against the cool bricks?  What threat did girls pose that could force Tommy Kirk to forsake his buddies at Midvale College, or Alec to forsake the wonders of the Earth’s Core, or Spooky to forsake his booing?