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 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

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

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.


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