Aug 14, 2015

Parker Lewis Can't Lose

The 1980s was the era of the teen operator, the teenager who works behind the scenes, enraging tyrannical assistant principals and college deans.  He starred in virtually every TGIF sitcom, from Family Ties to Growing Pains; he used his stealth to save the day in Toy Soldiers; he ruled the school in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Parker Lewis Can't Lose (1990-93) was a late entry in the teen operator canon, a Ferris Bueller clone that aired on Fox on Sunday nights.

Parker (Corin Nemec, left) ruled the school with flashy costumes and surreal antics, along with his bud, the uber-cool Mikey Randall (Billy Jayne, previously Billy Jacoby, below), and their  nerdish protege Jerry Steiner (Troy W. Slaten).

They had several allies, including inarticulate man-mountain Kube (Abraham Benrubi) and Nick Comstock (Paul Johannson), manager of their diner hangout.

And several nemeses, including the cartoon-villain principal Grace Musso (Melanie Chartoff), who was obsessed with men with "big hands," and her vampiric crony, Lemmer (Taj Johnson), who could appear and disappear at will.

There was a lot of heterosexism; about half of the episodes involve somebody trying to get with a heterosexual crush.

But Parker and Mikey made a cute couple, with Jerry as their surrogate son, and later Kube found a soulmate in the obese Coach Kohler (John Pinette), in spite of their respective hetero-crushes.

In the third season, hunky bricklayer Brad Penny (Harold Pruett) became interested in Parker, and tried to win his "friendship."  When Parker rejected him, he got revenge by stealing Jerry, who dropped  out of school to join him in the career of bricklaying.

After Parker Lewis, Corin Nemec had a stable career, mostly playing sleazoids: two serial killers, an Adolph Hitler lookalike, and "himself" (in the webseries Star-Ving with buddy David Faustino).

He was the associate producer of the evangelical Christian film Hidden Secrets (2006), and starred as an ex-gay guy who can't accept God's forgiveness for his sinful past.  Yuck.

Billy Jayne had some acting and directing credits, but he's better known now as a commercial producer.

Troy Slaten is now an attorney.

Aug 13, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I missed most of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68).  First it was on past my bedtime, and then there were too many competing choices (The Time Tunnel, Hogan's Heroes) -- so I watched only sporadically, when one of my friends insisted.  But I had more than one friend who thought it was "good beyond hope."

 It was a buddy spy series, like I Spy and Wild Wild West, but with an interesting twist.  In the heart of the Cold War, we heard over and over that "Russkies" were all evil monsters plotting our destruction.   But one of the secret agents was Russian.

The premise: The USSR, the United States, and other countries have set aside their differences and formed U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) to fight the evil THRUSH (acronym unknown), which wants to "subjugate the human race."

The plots were much more extravagant than anything seen on Mission: Impossible, rivaling Batman in campiness:
THRUSH tries to bring Hitler back to life.
THRUSH invents a deadly hiccup-inducing gas.
THRUSH invents an exploding hula-dancing doll.
Pat Harrington, Jr. (later on One Day at a Time) steals a rare book containing THRUSH code.
Sonny and Cher play clothes designers with THRUSH code hidden in one of their dresses.

But the main draw was the "The Man,"  American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn, previously seen shirtless in Teenage Caveman), and his partner, the Russian Illya Kuryakin (Scottish actor David McCallum).  They were not only spy partners: they seemed to live together (and when traveling always took hotel rooms with just one bed).  They expressed their affection with the easy nonchalance of Starsky and Hutch.  And, contrary to James Bond style, they mostly ignored women.

Solo was a no-nonsense man's man (notice the use of his last name).  By contrast, Illya (notice the first name) was soft, quiet, intellectual, "feminine."  As a result, he was captured by the baddies a lot more often: 8 times (Solo was captured alone 4 times, and they were captured together 10 times).

Sometimes the capture was specifically to egg Solo on.  For instance, in "The Deadly Quest Affair," Viktor Karmak (Darren McGavin) tells Solo that Illya has been sequestered somewhere in New York City, and he has 12 hours to find him before Illya is killed by nerve gas.

There were also many shirtless and underwear shots.  David McCallum had the blond, shaggy-haired dreaminess that appealed to preteens, so he received the lion's share of coverage in teen magazines.

There were lots of book tie-ins and miscellaneous toys.

After U.N.C.L.E., the two moved on to other projects, but returned to their characters in The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983). They are called back into service 15 years after they broke up.  Dig their civilian careers: Solo became a computer developer, and Illya. . .um. . .a fashion designer.

Aug 11, 2015

Andy's Gang: Beefcake and Bonding on 1950s Children's TV

The earliest generation of Boomer kids have fond memories of tv programs that, at least to modern sensibilities, seem outlandish and bizarre.  You Can't Do That On Television in the 1980s can't even begin to compete with the weirdness of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, Pinkie Lane, or Howdy Doody.  

But the weirdest of all was Andy's Gang (1955-60), hosted by long-time Western sidekick Andy Devine (previously a radio and tv series hosted by Ed McConnell, and called Smilin' Ed's Gang)

1. A scary kid with blond page boy curls and one eye perpetually closed announced "I'm Buster Brown...I live in a shoe.  Here's my dog Tige...he lives in there,too."  Whereupon the studio audience went wild with laughter (actually, it was the same clip of a hysterical kid, over and over again).

2. The anarchic Froggy the Gremlin kept popping in to skewer human pretensions and stir things up.  Cue the same clip of a studio audience going into hysterics.

3. A cat named Midnight could talk. But she said only one word: "Nice," and it sounded more like a meow.  Cue the hysterical laughter.

But gay kids in the audience were waiting for the "Story Time" segment about Gunga, an Indian boy (surprisingly buff college student Nino Marcel).  He was supposed to be Indian, but he looked sort of like Jay North on the similarly-Indian themed Maya, or an older version of  Jonny Quest.  I'll bet he had blond hair under that turban.

Although they lived in India, Gunga and his boyfriend, Rama (a surprisingly buff Vito Scotti) got into Bomba the Jungle Boy-style adventures with animal poachers, lost cities, and savage cannibal tribes.

But unlike Bomba, they had no interest in girls.  Rama was the one who usually needed rescuing.

They were amazingly physical in their interactions, always hugging, clinging together, touching arms and shoulders.

Afterwards, Andy would end the program by underscoring the buddy-bonding:  "We're pals, and pals stick together!"  Then, to keep Christian fundamentalists happy, "Remember, Sunday school or church tomorrow!"  (No Hindus in the audience, apparently.)

Nino Marcel also played his Gunga Ram character, but with a different premise, in the feature film Sabaka (1954): he is a young elephant trainer who vows revenge against the evil cult that killed his family. His costar was none other than the famous Boris Karloff.

You can watch the full movie here.

See also: Burr Tillstrom, the gay puppeteer behind Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.

Aug 10, 2015

Mackenzie Astin: Bisexual-Inclusive

In 2011, Mackenzie Astin starred in Caught at the Zephyr Theater in Los Angeles.  He played a gay man blissfully planning a wedding with his partner (Will Beinbrink), when suddenly his Bible-thumping sister arrives for some screeching.

I hadn't heard much about Mackenzie, son of John Astin and Patty Duke, younger brother of Sean Astin, since the 1980s.  His biggest claim to fame then was a starring role on The Facts of Life (1985-88), about four girls in a private boarding school.

By the time he hit the series, the girls had graduated and were working in a boutique, Over Our Heads.  He played Andy Moffett, an orphan adopted by end-of-series lead Beverly (Cloris Leachman).

Teen magazines gave Mackenzie some attention, but not a lot.  Maybe because he wasn't very muscular.  He was soft, pretty, and feminine, a tween version of Kurt from Glee.

During the 1990s, he grew hard, hairy, and rather gaunt, as he tried to distance himself from his gay-coded teen years with macho hetero-roles: Iron Will (1994), about a dogsled competition; the Western Wyatt Earp (1994); Ernest Hemingway's wartime buddy in In Love and War (1996).

But Mackenzie played a lot of gay characters, too. In Stranger Than Fiction (2000), he plays a gay man named Jared who kills someone and asks his straight friends to help him hide the body.  In the short-lived tv series First Years (2001), he played a gay lawyer living in San Francisco.

Out as bisexual, Mackenzie is married to a woman, and a gay ally.

See also: The Patty Duke Show.

Aug 9, 2015

10,000 Naked Men, Part 3: Punks to Urinals

During my first 30 years, there were no photos of naked men available anywhere, or you could get them only occasionally, in expensive, hard-to-find magazines.  Then suddenly, around 1995, internet bulletin boards made hundreds of photos available. Then, with guys posting smartphone selfies, thousands.  So I started collecting them.  During the last 20 years, 've accumulated about 10,000.  Here are some of the highlights of my collection:

Punks and Chavs.  Emos, scene kids, beatnicks, gang bangers, mods and rockers, various bad boys with beards, blue hair, mohawks, pierced tongues, tats, and enormous beneath-the-belt gifts.

Rednecks and Cowboys.  Farm boys, country boys. anyone wearing a feed store cap,  standing next to a tractor, listening to country-western music, or asking "Y'all wanna climb up to the barn loft?"

Richie Rich.  Yes, I have a full collection of comic book scans from that brief period in the 1970s when Richie Rich, the previously nondescript rich kid of Harvey Comics, joined a gym (or, I suppose, had a gym constructed in his mansion, lifting bags of money and giant diamonds).  It only took a few lines to suggest pecs and biceps, but what a difference it made!

Sleeping.  You're asleep, having an erotic dream, and the covers start to tent.  Or you kick the covers off, giving your buddy a full view.  He thoughtfully takes a picture and posts it on the internet for thousands of strangers to admire.  If only he included your telephone number, your date requests would skyrocket.

S/M.  Guys tied up, struggling against the ropes, gagged, blindfolded, like Tarzan and Bomba the Jungle Boy in the old movies of my childhood.  Except here they're naked.

Snow.  I never take my shirt off outside when the temperature is under 70, and rarely until it reaches 80.  There's something sexy about a guy who walks around in the buff when it's cold enough to be snowy.  And exhibits no discomfort.  Or shrinkage.

Sports.  Guys in sports uniforms, or preferably out of them.  Unless they're wearing wrestling singlets that show off their packages.  A surprising number of wrestlers become aroused during the match.

Suits.  Nazarenes required men to wear suits to church, three times a week, but since leaving the Nazarenes, I've worn suits maybe once or twice a year.  Guys who wear them all the time are extremely sexy.  Especially when they show you their equipment while still wearing the suit.

Teams.  Preferably swim teams or wrestling teams with bulges displayed, but groups of guys are fine, too.  Here a frat displays its underwear and ties.

Urinals.  Guys whose friends snap their picture just as they are pulling it out at the urinal.  I also have some of guys doing more than that.

Vintage.  Old black and white photos, some Victorian porn, but mostly guys from my parents' and grandparents' generation hanging around nude.

Such photos are very rare.  In those days photo developing services usually rejected male nudity, so if you took a nude selfie, a camera-buff friend had to develop it for you. And you'd be too embarrassed to let it survive for your heirs to scan and put on the internet.

See also:
10,000 Naked Men, Part 1: Asian to Hung
10,000 Naked Men, Part 2: Kilts to Pairs

Heterosexual Centaurs, Demons, and Ogres

I have been reading Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, on and off, ever since the first, A Spell for Chameleon in 1979.  They are set in a fantasy land that bears a striking resemblance to the mundane Florida. Magic works, but not in the expected way.  Every human has just one power, and some of them are silly or useless. There are also unicorns, centaurs, ogres, fairies, demons, dragons, gargoyles, and golems -- the fanciful list goes on and on.

Anthony draws you in with his cleverly convoluted plots and endlessly creative puns.  Even the titles are punny: Centaur Aisle, Roc and a Hard Place, Currant Events, Stork Naked.

And the covers often involve beautifully realized beefcake (drawn by Darrell K. Sweet): utterly naked young men, beefy knights, muscular centaurs and demons.  You expect lots of homoerotic buddy-bonding inside.

But you'll be wrong.  All significant relationships are heterosexual.  Same-sex friends always betray you in the end.  And there are no gay people, anywhere.

Stork Naked proposes that in Xanth, the old tale of babies coming from storks is true; prospective parents simply send the proper forms to the stork headquarters, and wait nine months for delivery. Since no straight intercourse is required, one would expect same-sex partners to apply for babies quite often; but only male-female couples are mentioned.

Every reference to desire, love, or romantic relationships in the book, and in all Xanth books, carefully specifies that it is straight.

When a fairy tells the adventurers about a strange lake filled with “love water,” they ask: “Standard love elixir? Male loves nearest female, and vice versa?”

“Yes. I have seen creatures there. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were doing, but always male and female.”

Piers Anthony could easily let his “standard love elixirs” target the nearest person, and have the fairy say “they were usually male and female.” But he is doggedly deter-mined to keep Xanth gay-free.

In his newsletter, Piers Anthony offered three responses to a fan’s criticism of the ongoing erasure.

First, as someone who is “110% straight,” whatever that means, he could never create believable gay characters (yet he is easily able to create ogres, demons, centaurs, mermaids, and talking storks).

Second, he is afraid that his publisher will not permit such a “controversial” move (but Avon Books has published many books with gay characters).

Third, he is afraid that including a gay character will ruin sales.

Straight science fiction and fantasy fans do seem to be more homophobic than usual. On an online forum, a fan asked why so many gay men like the genre, and was told that it gives them hope: “since sf has new inventions and discoveries, there would be a great possibility for a cure for it.”

A guide to Science Fiction Conventions advised straights who are subject to a same-sex advance to “refuse politely and clearly” instead of physically attacking their “assailant.”

Since the “new wave” of sociological speculation in the 1970s, many science fiction stories have depicted some form of “alternative sexuality.” There are species with three or more sexes or none at all, species whose sex organs change every season or at random, societies where technology makes changing one’s sex as easy as changing one’s shoes. Nevertheless, every sexual encounter, every romance involves a being who is male (right now) and one who is female (right now). The message is clear: one can be attracted only to beings with complementary sex organs; same-sex desire does not exist.

Some stories are set in future or magical societies in which bisexuality is “accepted,” but not people drawn exclusively to the same sex, not gay people, especially not gay men, and any characters who happen to mention in passing that they are bisexual experience only straight passion during the course of this particular story.

The vast majority of science fiction and fantasy stories  do't  bother with "alternative” sexualities at all, or even with offhand references to bisexuality being “accepted”: there are straight men and women, period.

So why do I keep reading it?

Because occasionally I will find an Earthfasts, a Something Wicked This Way Comes, or a Lord of the Rings.

See also: Michael Moorcock.


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