Sep 12, 2015

Frankie and Erik in the Middle

The heir of dysfunctional family sitcoms like Roseanne and Married...with Children, Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006) was about the middle boy (Frankie Muniz) in a family of miscreants, who happened to be an academic overachiever.

I've already posted on the rather explicit gay subtexts of Malcolm's older brother Reese (Justin Berfield), and the lesser but still substantial subtexts of his oldest brother, Francis (Christopher Masterson).  But how do the other two boys in the family fare?

Not good.  All of the show's heterosexism seems to distill onto them.

Malcolm spends the series hot for one girl after another, with no close male friends except Stevie (Craig Lamar Traylor), who uses a wheelchair and has a lung problem that allows him to say only a few words at a time.  Not a lot of buddy-bonding there.

When Malcolm joins the photography club, his mother believes that he joined only to meet girls -- that's the reason any boy does anything, isn't it?  "What's her name?" she asks, over and over.  Malcolm insists that there's no girl. . .but, in a plot twist, there really is one!  Boys play sports, join clubs, choose classes and careers, for one of two reasons: to meet girls, or to impress The Girl.  Period.

Not a lot of gay interest in Frankie Muniz' later career, either. The hetero-horny Extreme Movie (2008), with Ryan Pinkston.






Pizza Man (2011), who wins The Girl of His Dreams.

















What about the youngest, Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan)?

No better.

When the boys get a hot female babysitter, they try various strategies to win her over, but Dewey has the best: he has a "bad dream."  She promptly invites him into her bed, and he grins with triumph as his brothers watch.

After Malcolm, Erik starred in Mo (2007), about a teen with Marfan Syndrome who "discovers girls."

At least he's rumored to be gay in real life.

See also: The Top 10 Hunks of "Malcolm in the Middle"

Sep 10, 2015

Boy in Darkness: Gay Symbolism and Gothic Horror: The Most Frightening Story Ever Told

When I was an undergraduate at Augustana College, I bought lots of old science fiction novels at the used bookstore.  A surprising number had naked men on the covers.  I picked up The Inner Landscape (1969) for that reason.  But even more surprisingly, it contained the most frightening story ever written, "Boy in Darkness," first published in 1956 by Mervyn Peake (who wrote the fantasy trilogy Gormenghast).










A boy -- identified as Titus, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast -- grows up in a gigantic castle, oppressed by endless rituals, expectations, and obligations.  Everyone tells him that there is no world beyond the castle, no life beyond that which he's being groomed for, but he doesn't believe it.  On his fourteenth birthday, he escapes.

He walks through a nightmare world, an ashen wasteland crowded with translucent shapes and slimy things, until finally he encounters two beings, the Goat and the Hyena -- not animals, exactly, nor yet men.  The husks of men.  They were once lovers -- they call each other "my dear" and "my love," but only in mockery, the affection they once shared bled away long ago through their service to the Lamb.


The Lamb is an ancient, evil being, blind, empty of brain or bone, but beautiful, with long golden curls.  He is dependent on the Goat and the Hyena to provide his victims -- men and boys, who he will first drain dry and then change into monsters. The Boy will be his next victim.

Through a combination of courage, luck,  and sheer innocence, the Boy manages to slay the Lamb and release the Goat and the Hyena.  Then he walks "in kind of a dream" to where the searchers from the Castle can find him.

The gay symbolism was obvious -- the Lamb and his minions who worked to pervert men and boys were nothing more than the "Swishes" of Rocky High, who could destroy you with a whispered word or a touch.   But that wasn't the frightening part -- many, many stories of the Cold War Era -- such as James Purdy's Malcolm, depicted gayness as a brooding malignancy.

The frightening part was the end, when the Boy is found, and taken home to return to his duties and obligations.  There really is nothing out there.  There is no escape.

Mervyn Peake drew the illustrations himself.  For some reason he specialized in male nudes, though I haven't seen anything indicating that he was gay.







Boy in Darkness has been made into a short film (2000) starring Jack Ryder (of the British soap East Enders, top photo), and into a play (2009), starring Gareth Murphy (left).






Two Boys and an Elephant: Jay North on Maya


In the movie Maya (1966), Terry (15-year old Jay North,  formerly Dennis the Menace) travels to India with his father, runs away after an argument, and meets Raji (14-year old Sajid Khan) and his elephant, Maya.  Not for the first time.  The white European or American paired with the Indian jungle boy is commonplace in post-War movies and tv, probably deriving from the work of Sabu in the 1940s.

After many adventures, nude shots, and buddy-bonding moments, including a scene in which the two literally hold hands, Terry and Raji  are reunited with Terry's father and go back to America together.

When the beefcake-heavy Flipper ended in 1966, its Saturday night timeslot was filled by a tv version of Maya  (1967-68).  It was retconned a little: now Terry goes to India in search of his missing father, and though he never displays a bare backside, he apparently forgot to pack any shirts.  He meets the androgynous, gay-coded Raji, who also owns no shirts, and they spend the next 18 episodes caring for each other, rescuing each other from danger, and gazing deeply into each other's eyes.

Gay kids were ecstatic -- it was like Jonny Quest and Hadji come to life, or Andy's Gang in color!  But producers must have found the homoerotic romance a little too overt.  In the next season, the time slot was taken over by the macho cops of Adam-12.

Sajid Khan looked like my friend Bobby in Rock Island: brown and firm-bodied, with soulful black eyes and full lips.  There hadn't been a South Asian in teen culture since Gunga Ram of Andy's Gang (and even he was played by a Caucasian), so Sajid got some play in the teen magazines.


After Maya, he tried his hand at singing, performing on It's Happening in 1968 and releasing a teen idol album in 1969.


He returned to India during the 1970s, starred in a few films there, and then retired from show business.











India is not known for being gay friendly, so Sajid was surprised to discover that there were rumors that he was gay.  In an 2011 interview with The Times of India, he acknowledged the rumors and said "I have not gone out and tried to change people's perceptions.  I have never done things to try to win brownie points in my life."













Jay North, tall, thin, and blond, didn't get much attention from the teen magazines -- they already had Dean Paul Martin, Davy Jones, and the Cowsills.  But gay boys still liked him.

After Maya, he moved into voice work, live theater, and The Teacher (1974), in which he seduces his older teacher (and if you look closely, you can see him getting into the scene).

Today he works with Paul Petersen on A Minor Consideration.  He has been married to women twice, but remains a gay ally.

See also: My Third Grade Boyfriend




Sep 9, 2015

I Fall Asleep in a Sailor's Arms

When I was 10 years old, my Grandma Davis took me on a train trip from the station at Garrett to Washington, DC, and then to Walterboro, South Carolina, to visit my uncle and aunt and cousins.  We didn't get a sleeping car; we just reclined our seats with blankets and pillows.

I was too excited to sleep.  We went through so many interesting cities -- Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, all lit up at night.  And people kept walking through the car -- the conductor, porters, passengers bustling about with suitcases.

About midnight, a cute boy in a sailor suit stumbled into the car and plopped into the seat across the aisle from me.  He was still a teenager, with brown hair and thick hands.  I still remember that he wore a class ring.

He looked over and noticed me staring at him.  "You should be asleep, little man," he said, smiling, in a distinctive Southern accent.  "You know what?  I just saw Santy Claus in the next car, and he told me you should go to sleep or he won't bring you any Christmas presents."

Did he think I was a baby? "I'm ten years old," I said stiffly, offended.  "Too old for Santa Claus."

"Sorry.  Hey, you want to see a magic trick?"

Sure, if it involves you taking your shirt off.  "My Dad was a sailor," I said.  "He went to Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Hawaii."

"That's great!  I just enlisted, so I haven't been anywhere yet.  I never even been on a train before.  My name is Beau.  That's B-E-A-U.  It's spelled funny because it's French."  He reached out his big hand with the class ring.  It enveloped my small hand.  I didn't want to let go.

"My name is Boomer.  I'm visiting South Carolina with my Grandma."

Grandma had roused and was watching us with her weird knowing smile.

"Howdy, Boomer's Grandma.  I'm Beau Reynolds, from Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the Fighting Mountaineers."

"Pleased to meet you," she said politely.

I was briefly distracted by a skyline through the window.

"Hey, why don't you sit over here by me? It's a window seat, so you can look out."

"Can I, Grandma?"

"Sure, if you want to. But you should try to get some sleep.  It's late."

"Don't worry, ma'am.  Putting boys to bed is my specialty.  I'll get out my guitar if I have to."

I leapt across the aisle, squeezed past Beau's legs, and climbed into the seat next to him.   I pulled up the armrest so I could cuddle against him.  Our arms touched.

"I...um...I...have a little brother about your age.  He plays football on his junior high team, and he likes hunting and fishing. I bet you'd like him."

"Is he cute?" I said without thinking -- I was too tired to guard myself.

Beau gave me a quizzical stare.  "Well, he's big and tough.  You like hunting?"

"No."

"Fishing?"

"No."

"Playing football?"

"No."

"Um..watching football?"

"No.  I like to watch The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.  Do you like Peter or Greg best?  Everybody says they like Greg, but I think Peter is way cuter."

"Yeah, The Brady Bunch, real cool show," he said in a weird hesitant voice.  "Hey, want to hear a dirty joke?"

"Ok," I said with a grin, feeling very grown-up.

Beau said something like this:
Dick Butkiss walks into a bar.  He's like a big, muscular football player, so all the girls think he's cute.  And there's a sissy at the other end of the bar.  So Dick Butkiss sits down, and he's like, got his shirt off and everything, and the sissy can't take his eyes off him.  So Dick Butkiss says, he says, "I'm so lonely I could kiss a cow."  And the sissy, the sissy chirps right up.  "Moo!  I say, Moo!"

He laughed and slapped my knee.

I didn't know that Dick Butkus was a real person -- later I discovered that he was a football player, for the Chicago Bears.  

But I liked the part about the "sissy" wanting to kiss him.  I didn't know that there were grownup men who wanted to kiss men.

I was getting sleepy.  I nestled against Beau.  His chest was pleasantly firm.  He smelled of some kind of sweet cologne.

He reclined the seat, and put his arm around me, then wrapped his blanket around us both.  "You got to be careful of them sissies.  Don't make friends with them, or sooner or later they'll try to kiss you."

"Did a sissy ever try to kiss you, Beau?"

He pressed me close.  "Don't worry about me -- I'm all man.  If any sissy tried anything with me, I'd knock his block off!"

Soon after, I fell asleep in Beau's arms.  He got off the train at Norfolk, never knowing that he had spent the night with a "sissy."

I've been trying to understand this memory from my vantage point of 44 years.  A lonely sailor, away from home for the first time, tries to bond with a boy who reminds him of his little brother.  But the boy doesn't like any "manly" activities, just girly stuff like The Brady Bunch.  So he tells him a cautionary tale about sissies trying to kiss you.

But the cautionary tale is about a lonely guy -- like Beau -- meeting a "sissy" -- like me.  Was the Beau trying to remind himself to avoid letting guys get too close, because they might stir uncomfortable desires?

The tale doesn't have an unhappy ending.  We aren't told Dick Butkus's response to the "moo" request.   Maybe he was, indeed, perfectly willing to kiss a man.

I like to think that, when Beau got to his naval base in Norfolk, he was perfectly willing to kiss men, too.

See also: Cousin George: Only Fools Wear Pajamas

Douglas Barr: The Gay Casting Couch

During the heyday of the Village People, they even found their way onto prime time: When the Whistle Blows was a sitcom about three hunky construction workers, Buzz (Douglas Barr, left), Randy (future soap hunk Phillip Brown), and Hunk (former pro-football star Tim Rossovich), plus their female coworker.  Like the Village People, they were all gay-coded but "really" heterosexual, spending their time off disco dancing and solving people's personal problems (one of the episodes was even entitled "Macho Man").

Though it was heavily promoted by the network, it aired on Friday nights, when the intended audience was out disco-dancing, so  only nine episodes aired in the spring and summer of 1980.





This was 31-year old former model Douglas Barr's first acting credit -- male models were always assume gay in the 1970s, so he had been the recipient of many casting-couch invitations by gay producers, directors, and casting agents, but he states that he always said "no" (he said "no" to female invitations, too).












He relied only on his talent, charm, handsome face, and obvious beneath-the-belt advantage to land his next role: disingenuous Howie Munson, sidekick to trucker-stuntman-bounty hunter Colt (Lane Majors) on Fall Guy (1981-86).  I've never seen it, but I understand that there was some buddy-bonding, and some shirtless and swimsuit-clad shots.









Along the way, Doug played a trapeze artist in a revealing leotard on Fantasy Island, and was displayed in a speedo on Battle of Network Stars.  Mostly he played men who fall for women, but in the "Rallying Cry" episode of Hotel (1985) he played half of a gay couple involved in a custody battle.


Next came more buddy-bonding: The Wizard (1986-87), about a little-person genius inventor (David Rappaport) who has globe-trotting adventures along with his sidekick-bodyguard-best buddy (Doug).

I met Douglas Barr at a party in 1987, but at the time I hadn't seen him in anything, so I didn't know he was a celebrity.  I knew that he was very nice and had a great physique.

Later he starred in Designing Women (1987-91) as Bill Stillfield, boyfriend and eventual husband of Charlene (Jean Smart), naive receptionist of the interior design company.

Since Designing Women, Doug has been involved with directing, especially tv movies with titles like Perfect Body, Sex, Lies, and Obsession, and Beautiful Girl.  He's written a few such movies himself, including The Cover Girl Murders and Taking a Chance on Love.  Not a lot of gay subtexts.  But he had more than enough early in his career.

Sep 8, 2015

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

When I first moved to L.A. in 1985, I met 40-year old David Cameron, a lawyer involved with historic preservation and gay politics -- and a connection to my earliest childhood.

When he was nine years old, he asked his mother to write a story for him and his best friend, Chuck Fabian, about a "little planet just their size."

The result was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (1954), one of the first books I read on my own (another was The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree), a fascinating evocation of the world of a gay child whose gayness is known but not yet consciously acknowledged.

David becomes David Topman, "tall and quick, with freckles and sun-bleached brown hair that flopped over his eyebrows."  Chuck became Chuck Masterson (the gay S&M references obviously unintentional), "shorter and squarer with brown skin and dark hair."

Their call to adventure is a newspaper ad for boys to build a space ship.  They build one, and deliver it to an odd little man named Mr. Bass, who lives in an observatory on the outskirts of town. Soon all three are en route to his home planet, Basidium, which orbits the Earth at a distance of 50,000 miles (a lot closer than the Moon), for some clever critiques of modern bureaucracy and a crisis to resolve.

When I was very young, I found in Mushroom Planet "a good place," a precursor to Earthfasts,  The Tripods, or The Lord of the Rings.




1. Everyone insisted on misunderstanding the boys I liked, calling them "buddies" rather than boyfriends.  But in Mushroom Planet, no one mistakes David and Chuck for buddies.  They are most obviously partners, with a bond that is unstated but as strong as any true love. There is no question but that they will be together forever.

2. Everyone insisted on misunderstanding my friendships with girls, calling them "girlfriends" rather than buddies.  But in Mushroom Planet, no girls are gazed at, thought of, or even mentioned, except for the boys' mothers.  The planet Basidium is occupied entirely by little men (later we discover that they reproduce through spores, like mushrooms).

I didn't realize at the time that there were sequels: Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Mr. Bass's Planetoid, A Mystery for Mr. Bass, Time and Mr. Bass.  The boys grow older, and the plotlines more elaborate and mature.  But through it all, Basidium remains a good place.




Sep 7, 2015

Sharing Derek's Date with the Teenage Cowboy

When Alan moved to Thailand in the fall of 1987, I moved in with a fitness model-turned-realtor named Derek, a tall, muscular, hairy guy in his 40s, and his lover Chazz, a slim, androgynous twink.

They lived in a small but very nice house on Hilldale, just off Sunset.

Derek and I turned out to be Just Roommates: We scheduled different hours for cooking and eating meals.  We were invited to each other's parties by default, and on Saturday afternoons we went to the Bodhi Tree on Melrose to browse for New Age books, but otherwise we rarely socialized. We had different social circles.

And he never invited me to "share."

It was rather frustrating listening to the activity on the other side of the wall, and never being asked to join in.

Did I mention that Derek's physique was spectacular even by West Hollywood standards?  And that I saw his beneath-the-belt gifts in one of his old layouts in Mandate?

The rest of the story is too risque for this G-rated blog. You can read it on Tales of West Hollywood.


The Gay Rat Pack

Between 1960 and 1965, when all-American beefcake was giving way to suave, sophisticated, and cool, The Rat Pack ruled Las Vegas.  They were five actors and singers, performing regularly at casinos like the Sands.  They were famous for living the Cool Life, drinking, gambling, sporting, chasing dames, and having fun. They were famous for their connections to the mob and the Kennedys.  But mostly they were famous for being friends. When one appeared, he was asked about the others.  Their spats and reconciliations made front page news.

The homoerotic subtext of the Rat Pack bond is obvious -- today, anyhow.  They were all about male bonding, with the intensity and physicality of romance.  And audiences cheered them for it.

Some of them were bisexual in real life.  Others were homophobic -- even more than what one expects in the homophobic 1960s.  In order, from least to most gay-friendly, they were:





5. Frank Sinatra, age 45 in 1960 (top photo), The Chairman of the Board, a teen sensation of the 1940s, still releasing old standbys and finding a whole new generation of fans. Although he starred in the gay symbolism-heavy On the Town, he also starred in one of the more homophobic movies of the 1960s, The Detective (1968), and was reputedly so homophobic in real life that he threatened reputedly-gay Johnny Mathis.

4.Joey Bishop, 42-year old comedian, sitcom star, later talk show host. Married during the days of the Rat Pack womanizing, kept to himself a lot.  Bff of future talk show host Regis Philbin.

3. Dean Martin (left), age 43, whose comedy act with Jerry Lewis in the 1950s had distinctive, perhaps intended homoerotic undertones.  In the 1960s he released some popular songs, had a comedy-variety show and starred in the detective-spoof Matt Helm series. His son, Dean Paul Martin, was bisexual.


2. Peter Lawford, 37 year old former child actor, later a tv star (he was on The Doris Day Show).  Everyone thought he was gay; Louis B. Mayer went as far as to order testosterone injections as a "cure." Got married to Pat Kennedy, the future President's sister, over the objections of her father -- he didn't want his daughter married to a gay guy. Reputedly had relationships with Tarzan Gordon Scott, Rock Hudson, and Merv Griffith.











1. Sammy Davis Jr., age 35, "Mr. Show Business," dancer, singer, actor.  Converted to Judaism.  Kissed Archie Bunker on a famous episode of All in the Family.  Bisexual, tended toward men, preferred clean-cut all-American types.  Closeted to the other Brat Packers (except maybe Peter Lawford), but opened up to teen idol Paul Anka, whom he thought was gay (everyone did at the time).  Mentioned being bisexual in print as early as 1978. Died in 1990.

See also: Dean Paul Martin

Sep 6, 2015

The Cowboy of Sunset Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, fall 1988.  A small town of tree-lined streets.  Small shops, restaurants, and bars where gay men and lesbians gathered in search of freedom.

The Sunset Strip, only five blocks north, still technically West Hollywood, but big, blaring, glaring, crowded with cars and the clubs where hetero glitterati snorted cocaine.

Five blocks, actually only two blocks up the hill from the house that I shared with Derek, but we never went there.  It was as if there was an invisible force field keeping gay people away.

The Strip was relatively uncrowded during the daytime, the easiest way to get to Hollywood, Silverlake, and sometimes Downtown.  But I didn't even like to drive through: I always felt like an interloper, passing through a wild, alien territory.

Eight years ago, on a visit to Los Angeles long before I moved here, my friend Tom and I drove down Sunset, and stopped at Book Soup, where I bought my first gay-themed book.  Now I passed it with a little frisson of dread.

But one Friday afternoon I thought, "What's the big deal?  It's just a street.  I'm going to Book Soup."

There was a cowboy by the front door, drinking the free coffee.  Mid-20s, my height, muscular, maybe a little chunky.  He had a bright, open, very handsome face.  He was wearing a cowboy hat and a lumberjack shirt unbuttoned to reveal a smooth chest, and very tight jeans with a silver belt buckle.

"Jim Morrison!  Excellent!" he exclaimed.

"Are you a fan?"

"My band covers the Doors sometimes.  We do mostly country, as you can see, but we do some rock, too."  He paused, an unmistakable gleam in his eye.  "So, you live around here?"

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.