May 30, 2015

The Lone Ranger and Tonto: The First Gay Couple

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we were all about astronauts and outer space.  Cowboys were strictly for squares. We had a few cowboy toys, presented by clueless adults, but  we didn't dare bring them out with other kids around, and we would watch a tv Western only if it had science fiction elements, like Wild Wild West.  So, except for a few parodies, we knew nothing about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the most blatant gay couple of the first generation of Boomers.

First appearing on the radio in 1933, the Lone Ranger was a Texas Ranger (a sort of Wild West police officer) who was ambushed along with his squadron and left for dead.  He was nursed back to health by an Indian named Tonto (apparently his creator, Fran Striker, didn't speak Spanish), and the two of them rode off to right wrongs.

The radio series was immensely popular, and led to an endless series of toys, games, cereal give-aways, comic books, Big-Little Books, movie serials, and feature films.

Boomer kids often heard their parents discussing fond memories of huddling over a radio listening to an announcer intone "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!", after which the Lone Ranger would say "Heigh-ho, Silver! Away!"

Did none of them figure out that these were two men living together, never displaying the least interest in women, and one of them said "Heigh-ho"?

The radio series lasted through 1956, but first generation of Boomer kids was most familiar with the tv series (1949-57), starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.  I've never seen it, but apparently there's no heterosexual interest, and Tonto needs rescuing quite a lot.

Clayton Moore (top photo) was a former circus acrobat who broke into Hollywood in 1937 and starred in many Westerns, detective dramas, and even science fiction before and during The Lone Ranger. Afterwards he didn't do much acting; he didn't want to.  He had already become the idol of kids everywhere.  Apparently he was not aware of the gay subtext.

Jay Silverheels (born Harold J. Smith) was a Canadian Mohawk Indian, who got his start in movies as a stuntman.  He, too, had a long career before The Lone Ranger, playing mostly characters named Black Buffalo, Yellow Hawk, and Spotted Bear. Afterwards he continued to work, playing Indians in Laramie, Branded, Daniel Boone, Gentle Ben, and The Brady Bunch, and a non-Indian on Love American Style.  Apparently he was not aware of the gay subtext, either.

But lots of gay kids were aware.  In The Best Little Boy in the World, a classic gay Boomer autobiography, John Reid states that he first figured "it" out through his fantasies of the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding into the sunset together.

The 2013 re-invention starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer effectively heterosexualized both charactersn.

May 29, 2015

Davy Jones and the Monkees

One of my first crushes was on Davy Jones, singer for the pre-fab boy band The Monkees.  In fact, the first album I ever bought (or rather, asked Mom and Dad for) was  The Monkees (1966), because it showed Davy Jones seated in the foreground, dirty from working outdoors, with Peter Tork's arm around him.  I figured they were boyfriends.

Some of the tracks were gender-explicit, with lots of “girls” and “babes," but many were not, including the famous “Last Train to Clarksville", written by the famous duo Boyce and Hart: the singer, talking on the telephone, asks a loved one for a final rendezvous in a train station before he goes away forever.

Quite a change from the girl-crazy Beatles and Herman's Hermits.

More of the Monkees (1967) again had an evocative cover, with the boys in blue shirts and tight jeans gazing down suggestively at the camera. But every track was about desperate longing for some girl or another, with a single exception. In “Laugh,” which didn’t chart as a single, Davy Jones suggests that those boys who are interested in boys should transform their "secret" into humor:

Laugh, when you're keepin' a secret
And it seems to be known by the rest of the world.
Laugh, when you go to a party
And you can't tell the boys from the girls.

The tv series (1966-68, then on Saturday morning 1968-70) seemed to concur. The nonsensical plots, filled with blackout gags, self-referential humor, and spoofs of every movie cliché from superheroes to Westerns, were surprisingly gay-friendly.  And shirtless shots were quite common.

Although Micky Dolenz was ostensibly the leader of the group, Davy Jones, only 5’3”, with dark eyes and a sensual pout, quickly became the standout star. He was prominently displayed on every album cover, and almost every episode required him to wear a swimsuit or revealing prizefighter’s trunks, or get his clothes ripped off by fans, or otherwise display his slight but firm physique. 

Unfortunately, he also got the most girl-chasing plotlines. Of 58 episodes, Davy went ape over a girl in six, Peter Tork in two, Micky in only one, and Mike Nesmith not at all.  

Micky is the one that I figured liked boys, not girls.  My evidence: the voice-over introduction to “Monkees on the Wheel” (December 1967) notes that Las Vegas is the

Pleasure capital of the world, where each man seeks the things he loves most. [Shot of Peter following a girl.]
The things he loves most. [Shot of Mike following a girl.]
The things he loves most.[Shot of Davy following a girl.]

And then the story begins. Why is Micky omitted? Because the joke has run its course, or because girls are not the things he loves most?

Also, in “Monkees Mind their Manors” (February 1968), the group travels to England. At the airport, the boys realize that the customs agent is being portrayed by Jack Williams, the show’s prop master, but Williams protests that he is actually a famous singer.  Then he sings the Dean Martin standby “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, and Micky, overcome with passion, leaps into his arms.

Many minor characters were gay-vague, such as the flamboyant Sir Twiggly Toppin Middle Bottom (Bernard Fox) and beach movie star Frankie Catalina (Bobby Sherman), who hates the beach and is “allergic to girls” (i.e., gay). 

And the Monkees themselves obviously preferred buddy-bonding over girl-chasing.  I couldn't wait to see their constant caressing of faces, hands, and chests, their cuddling together, their panicked hugging in moments of danger.  Regardless of what the actors thought they were conveying, for gay kids they produced a powerful evocation of same-sex love.    

See also my review of Head, the Monkees' swan song.

May 28, 2015

Guy Madison: the Strong Silent Type

Hollywood hunks of the 1950s were often gay or gay-friendly; whole cadres hung out at talent agent Henry Willson's infamous all-male parties in the Hollywood Hills.  In a studio attempt to quell gay rumors, Willson gave them "manly" names consisting of  a single-syllable (Van, Rock, Tab, Nick, Guy) followed by a recognizable Anglo sirname  (Williams, Hudson, Hunter, Adams, Madison).

Born in 1922, former physique model Guy Madison (second from left) stood out from the crowd of Hollywood hunks by displaying his physique whenever possible.  He had no qualms about shirtless and swimsuit shots and even full frontal nudity.  In fact, he was the inspiration for the term "beefcake," first introduced in 1949.

As an actor, Guy played the strong, silent type in many Westerns of the 1950s, but he is best remembered by the first Boomer generation for The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-58).  There was a real Wild Bill, a morally ambiguous lawman and gunfighter who died in 1876, but Guy's Wild Bill was a strictly white-hat proponent of law and order.
Andy Devine, who played his hefty, braying sidekick, went on to star in Andy's Gang on 1950s children's tv.

Hickok was immensely popular among the Ovaltine set.  There were feature films (spliced from the tv series), a radio program, toys, games, and lots of advertising tie-ins.  I haven't seen it, but apparently Wild Bill did a bit of 1950s Western buddy-bonding and wasn't particularly interested in girls.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Guy starred in some Italian sword-and-sandal movies, such as Slave of Rome (1961) and Blood of the Executioner (1963), plus some Westerns and actioners.  He played James Bond-style secret agent Rex Miller in the anti-counterculture LSD: Flesh of the Devil (1967).  But mostly he appeared as himself, a Western icon fondly remembered by millions of Boomer kids.

Although rumored to be gay, Guy was married and divorced twice.  He died in 1996.

May 26, 2015

Beefcake and Bonding in Old Photographs

I've never been interested in taking photos, not even now, when I have a telephone in my pocket that can take all the photos I want.  Who needs a moment frozen in time, so that 20 or 30 or 40 years later you can look at it and think ou sont les neiges d'antan?

This blog is all about past moments, but I'm reliving and re-invigorating them. They're not frozen.

My parents took lots of photos, and my Grandma Davis even more, and inherited others from who-knows-which dead relative.

They're not placed carefully into albums but stacked in boxes along with other mementos of yesteryear.  They like going through them and remembering.

You can't identify everyone, even when the back of the photo gives a name.  Sometimes you recognize the name of a distant cousin or grand-uncle, or someone else listed in the geneologies.  But often there are others.  Non-relatives.  Strangers intruding into the frame.

These are the ones I wonder about.

They aren't random selfies.  Someone had to buy flash bulbs and film, take the picture, then send the film to a lab to be developed and pay for the finished product.

They were deliberate.  They were important.  And someone was there.

Someone was there, at the moment in time that my grand-uncle or second cousin decided to freeze in time forever.  Someone was participating in their lives. A neighbor who happened to stop by?  A friend, met, photographed, and then abandoned. A close friend, a soul mate?

Surely some of them were gay.  This moment is but one of thousands of days, thousands of nights, thousands of memories.

No one can ever know for sure.  The relationship is lost forever, along with the names.   Only the smiles remain, the moments frozen in time.

See also: Finding the Gay Men in Old Photographs

Jules Verne: The Disney Version

During the 1960s, every boy I knew loved Jules Verne -- journeys to distant corners of the world, weird dangers, lost civilizations, monsters, volcanoes, maelstroms, and nick-of-time escapes, all in an environment so masculine you could practically taste the homoerotic tension.

I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Mysterious Island, and A Journey to the Center of the Earth in elementary school, in abridged Scholastic Book Club editions.  In high school, I read the originals, and collected some of the Ace paperbacks of Verne's lesser-known works: Michael StrogoffThe Begum's Fortune, The Carpathian Castle, Master of the World, The Village in the Tree-Tops.  

During the 1950s and early 1960s, "Disney" versions of these Verne classics appeared, with two important changes:
1. To draw the all-important Boomer audience, a teenager.
2. To ensure a Hollywood fade-out-kiss, heterosexual obsessions were added.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the French scientist Pierre Aronnax, his assistant Conseil, and his Canadian friend Ned Land are captured by Captain Nemo, who holds them prisoner in his electronic submarine.  Nemo became an outcast after his wife died, but no other women are mentioned or longed for.

In the 1954 movie (the only one actually from Disney), Ned (Kirk Douglas, not a teenager) sings about "the girls I've loved on nights like this," whose kisses make him "bubble up like molten lava."

In A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Lindenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their Icelandic guide Hans journey alone, although Axel does have a girlfriend waiting back home.  In the 1959 Disney version (actually from 20th Century Fox), the Professor meets a lady, and the girlfriend gets a more substantial role.  But at least there are substantial shirtless shots of teen idol Pat Boone as Alec (Axel).  And in the last scene he's completely nude except for a sheep.

In The Mysterious Island , five Civil War POWs escape in a hot-air balloon and end up on the mysterious island, where they fight giant bees and pirates, encounter Captain Nemo (Omar Sharif), and flee a volcano eruption. In the 1961 Disney version (actually from Columbia), there are women on the island for the men to fall in love with.

But at least they are shirtless or semi-nude most of the time, especially Herbert Brown (Michael Callan).  The scene where he and the girl hide from a giant bee in a honeycomb is still scary today.

In Five Weeks in a Balloon, three men explore Africa in a hot air balloon. Again, no women are mentioned or longed for.

The 1962 Disney version (actually from 20th Century Fox) changes the cast, adding pilot Jacques (teen idol Fabian Forte) and newspaper report O'Shay (Red Buttons).  Each falls in love with a woman en route; the movie ends with two couples enthusiastically kissing. And there's no beefcake (although Fabian, right, often appeared shirtless and nude in other productions).

This was also the era of the Disney Adventure Boys -- like Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur, and Kurt Russell -- hired to display Cold War masculinity, which meant two things: muscular physiques and heterosexual obsession.

May 25, 2015

Richard Dean Anderson

Born in 1950, Richard Dean Anderson got rather a late start: he didn't start acting professionally until 1976, when he landed the role of young doctor Boomer Webber on General Hospital. But after that, he was never far from a tv camera. After his soap job ended in 1981, he starred in the short-lived Western Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982-83) and the short-lived military soap Emerald Pointe NAS (1983-84), plus the usual round of movies and tv guest spots.

 He was a little too old to interest teen magazines, but beefcake shots frequently surfaced elsewhere, especially in TV Guide and People. 


 His biggest hit was MacGyver (1985-92), about a rather cerebral secret agent who specialized in kitchen-sink improvisations ("we can get out of this predicament with a paper clip, the bolt from the back of this desk, and a 3-day old donut).  He worked for the nonpartisan Phoenix Foundation, which usually sent him out on cases involving rescuing kidnapped scientists, reporters, politicians, archaeologists, or teenage computer whizzes, sometimes male, sometimes female, resulting in many "my hero" moments.  And though he had an occasional girlfriend or old flame during his series, MacGyver's primary emotional commitment was to his friend Pete (Dana Elcar).

 After MacGyver, Anderson got swept up into the world of Stargate, an interplanetary portal, which spawned three series: Stargate SG 1 (1997-2007), Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2006), and Stargate Universe (2009-2010).  I haven't seen any of them, but I understand that the 2009 series had a lesbian character, Camille (Ming-Na).


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