Dec 31, 2016


We need more disabled actors playing disabled people on tv, but it's hard for non-disabled writers and directors to make the characters authentic, .

Speechless (2016-) seems to be doing it right.

It's a nuclear family sitcom with Mom, Dad, and three kids, one of whom, the teenage JJ (Micah Fowler), is confined to a wheelchair and "speechless" due to cerebral palsy.  He uses a communication board to spell out words and phrases.

18-year old Micah Fowler has cerebral palsy but can speak.  He notes that it's difficult to adapt to a non-speaking role.  There's a lot of eye-rolling and grimacing involved. .

The rest of the family is filled in by a nebbish dad (John Ross Bowie, the bully Kripke on Big Bang Theory), a fiercely protective Mom (Minnie Driver), the conniving little brother Ray (Mason Cook), and a sarcastic sister, whose name I didn't catch (Kyla Kenedy).

Plus Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), JJ's assistant.

The A plot of each episode involves JJ's push for independence (he plays hockey, joins the choir, gets drunk at a party), with Ray's conniving in the B.

Speechless is smartly written, with few moments of gag-inducing smarm.  My only complaint is that heterosexism reigns supreme.  Plotlines involve what boy is interested in what girl.  No gay people exist, unless Kenneth happens to be gay (he hasn't mentioned any romantic interests of any sort).

No beefcake, either.  Although Cedric Yarbrough has a nice physique, it's under wraps.

There are occasionally cute guys in guest roles, like Joseph John Schirle as Ben (one episode).

The only gay connection I could find was Emerson Collins, who plays teacher Mr. Powell.  He played half of a gay couple with Jonathan Slavin (left) in The Boomerang Effect.

Dec 30, 2016

Desi Arnaz, Jr.

Desi Arnaz, Jr. was born on January 19th, 1953, in the middle of a whirlwind of publicity, the child of most famous couple on television, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and also the first baby ever "born" on tv (Lucy's real life pregnancy was incorporated into the plot of I Love Lucy).  He was on the cover of the first issue of TV Guide, on April 3rd, 1953.

Growing up with that kind of publicity, and his parents' connections, he had little choice but to go into show business.  In 1965, he started a boy band with his friends Dean Paul Martin (Dean Martin's son) and Billy Hinsche.

He guest starred on The Lucy Show (1962-65), and became a regular on Here's Lucy (1968-72), as Lucy's teenage son Craig. And he landed roles in lots of movies.

Oddly for the son of a comedy legend, Desi didn't do comedies.  He specialized in tear-jerkers. Many were about the tragic consequences of boys and girls who fall in love (Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, She Lives, Having Babies, Black Market Babies).  

Others were gay-subtext movies about the tragic consequences of boys who fall in love with boys (Billy Two Hats, Joyride, To Kill a Cop).  

In 1983, he starred in a buddy-bonding series, Automan, about a computer whiz (Desi) who creates a computerized superhero (the hunky Chuck Wagner).  Unfortunately, it was promoted as a comedy, and Desi didn't do comedy.  He thought it would be a gritty urban drama.

After 13 episodes he left, and hasn't done a lot of acting since.  He is still involved with his music, and he owns the Boulder Theater in Boulder City, Nevada.

Although he was the subject of many gay rumors during the 1970s (my friend Cesar claimed to have hooked up with him), Desi was linked to several women, including Liza Minnelli, and he was married to Amy Arnaz from 1987 to her death in 2015.

See: Cesar Tells about his Hookup with Desi Arnaz Jr.


Tom Brown's School Days

I saw Tom Brown’s School Days (1940) on Matinee at the Bijou, a 1970s tv series that replayed classic movies.   I had never heard of the original novel by Thomas Hughes (1857), about the agonizing love between two boys in an elite British boarding school, but later I sought it out.  Robert Drake writes that it became “one of the more influential texts for emerging gay writers, or writers with a gay sensibility."  The same can be said for the movie.

A tall, slim seventeen-year old named Jimmy Lydon plays Tom, “the typical American boy” even though he is still scripted as upper-class British.   He expresses his typical American boyhood by being stoic, courageous, and adventurous, by taking off his shirt to reveal a slim physique.  And by ignoring girls.  The daughter of a local shopkeeper plays a pivotal role in the plot, but Tom never gives her a second glance.  Instead, he falls in love with an aristocratic upperclassman.

East (Freddie Bartholomew, previously in Captains Courageous), tall, thin, brittle-looking, and as feminine as a young Quentin Crisp,  takes the initiative in the courtship, approaching Tom the moment he gets off the train, showing him around, taking him by the arm or shoulder, and gazing at him with rapt ardor.  He gives Tom a picture of two ancient Greek warriors shaking hands -- a 19th century beefcake poster -- and marks them as “Brown” and “East."

East carefully dismisses or outwits Tom’s other suitors.  When they go out for “murphys” (baked potatoes sold as a snack), he protects Tom from a groping, leering boy named Tadpole.
Tadpole: Is this the new fellow? Nice looking, isn’t he?
Tom: How do you do?
Tadpole: (Looks him up and down.) Hungry, thank you.

A more violent threat comes from Sixth Formers (high school seniors), led by the bestial Flashman (Billy Halop of Dead End, shown here playing Humphrey Bogart's gunsel).  He offers several shirtless and semi-nude scenes, with a more muscular physique.

Flashman bullies Tom, and forces him to endure dangerous hazing.  Their fight, oddly, serves as the subject for the lion's share of lobby cards and posters.

When Tom is accused of “telling tales,” the worst crime in the boys’ honor code, East breaks up with him, tearing up the picture and sending him his half.  Even after Tom is found innocent, East refuses to take him back, using oddly romantic rhetoric: “I’m not interested in you or anything about you!  I never want to see you again!”

Adult women in movies of the era rely on the phrase “I never want to see you again” to angrily break up with their boyfriends, but this is nearly the only example of its use among "buddies."  The implication, of course, is that Tom and east are not buddies, but homoromantic partners: their relationship is emotionally intense, physically intimate, and exclusive, and but for their breakup, it would be permanent.

The movie ends years later, when Tom and East encounter each other by accident at the tomb of their beloved headmaster.  Tom asks “Can’t we be friends?” and East grudgingly shakes his hand, thus giving closure to their romance.  In the original story, Tom stands at the tomb alone. Only in the 1940 are Tom and East homoromantic partners, so only in 1940 do they require closure.

Bartholomew and Lydon were paired again in Cadets on Parade (1942). Rich kid Austin Shannon (Freddie Bartholomew), an eighteen-year old military cadet, is bad at sports and reviled as a “sissy” by his self-made-man father, so he runs away and encounters street tough  Joe Novak (Jimmy Lydon).  The two set up housekeeping together (in a flat with only one bed).  Joe never mocks his partner's sissiness, but he does gently suggest that success at school may depend on an increased manliness.  Austin’s salvation, his return to middle-class society, comes through learning to box and play football, not through heterosexual experience: no girls appear or are mentioned in he movie.  But Austin draws Joen into civilization through the same rubric that girls use with jungle boys, through teaching him to read and use proper table manners.  In the end they both enroll in the military academy.  The tagline is: “The Story of Two American Boys…On the Road to Being Men!”

 The last of the Jimmy Lydon - Freddie Bartholomew pairings was The Town Went Wild (1944):  gangly sophisticate David (Freddie) and blue collar Bob  (Jimmy) are best friends, but they do not share a homoromantic bond.  David is dating Bob’s sister, but there is no hint at triangulation: he really does spend all of his time with her, while Bob is relegated to the status of third wheel.  It is interesting that the sissy gets engaged, while the he-man never expresses any interest in girls, but still, one must wonder why the scripted homoromances between Freddie and Jimmy ended so abruptly.  Perhaps the subtext was becoming too obvious, veering too close to conscious thought.

Dec 29, 2016

Bedtime Story Boyfriends: The Wind in the Willows

One of the favorite books of my childhood, The Wind in the Willows, was about two animal boyfriends in Edwardian England.  In the first chapter, the Water Rat is single, "messing around in boats" on the banks of a wide river (played by Lee Ingleby, in the 2006 Canadian movie).

But then he meets the timid Water Rat (gay actor Mark Gatiss), and invites him to move in. With no fanfare, they become a couple.

There are a few challenges to their relationship: Mole misses his old life underground, and Rat longs to explore the world beyond the River -- but the crises are quickly resolved, and the two men always return to the life they have built together, their romantic bond blatantly, painfully obvious.

The rest of the book involves the problems of their friends. The pompous Toad (gay actor Mark Lucas) steals a motor-car.

The reclusive Badger (Bob Hoskins) must defend his home from an invasion by juvenile-delinquent weasels (led by Radu Micu).

I knew that the gay subtext was strong and noble, but I figured it was accidental until, in graduate school at the University of Southern California (1985-1989), I read up on the life of Kenneth Grahame.  I even tried to include him in my doctoral dissertation.

Born in 1859, his parents forced him to become a banker; but he looked from afar at the glittering homoeroticism of the aesthetic and decadent movement.  He read Arnold Bennett, Max Beerbohm, and Karl Huysmans. He contributed to The Yellow Book.  He corresponded with Oscar Wilde.

In an 1895 story, "The Roman Road," a mysterious young man tells Kenneth about a distant, perhaps mythical city, where the only inhabitants are "friends."  No husbands and wives, no boyfriends and girlfriends, just "the princes in fairy tales who don't get the princess."  Kenneth eagerly makes plans to go to the "City of Friends," but then the young man vanishes, and no one else whom he asks has ever heard of it.

But Oscar Wilde's conviction for sodomy in 1895 scared Kenneth, and he distanced himself from the movement, and sublimated his same-sex desire.  He married in 1899, and had a son, Alastair, who heard bedtime stories about a Mole and a Water Rat who loved each other. They were published as  The Wind in the Willows in 1908.

See also: Saki (H.H. Monro).

Dec 28, 2016

I Love Lucy

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I found I Love Lucy a gay favorite. Though it had been off the air for nearly 30 years, drag queens recreated Lucy routines.  You could buy Lucy gifts at Dorothy's Surrender in West Hollywood, like Lucy and Ricky dolls, or a photo of Desi Arnaz in the pool.  Ricky's Cuban-accented "Lucy, I'm home" was a common catchphrase.

What was the gay connection?

The premise of the venerable sitcom (1951-57) was aggressively heterosexist, with no hint of satire or critique.  Nightclub performer Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz, left) and his wife Lucy (Lucille Ball) were lovebirds, neighbors Fred and Ethel (William Frawley, Vivian Vance) grumpy but affectionate.

No beefcake.  Granted, Desi Arnaz was handsome, and occasionally a cute friend showed up, but they were always fully clothed, usually in one of those 1950s business suits that hid everything.  Even the Ricky doll was somewhat lacking in musculature.

No gay characters, not even by implication.

No gay connections in the actors' other roles, though Desi Arnaz was bisexual, and his son Desi Arnaz Jr. starred in some gay-subtext movies.

And no hint of homoromance.  Though Lucy and Ethel were buddies, they displayed no passion, hanging out mostly to complain about their husbands and scheme to get more power in the relationship.

Maybe that was the gay connection.  As a 1950s housewife, Lucy was powerless, treated as a child (she got an allowance, and Ricky threatened to spank her if she misbehaved).  Her domain was the home, serving coffee to Ricky as he read his morning newspaper.   To get what she wanted, she had to resort to subterfuge.

The wild schemes that we enjoy watching all resulted from "Ricky won't let me do X" or "Ricky won't let me have X."  Groups with no power, like gay people and 1950s housewives, always have to work behind the scenes, appropriate what is meant for someone else.  And, in spite of her mishaps, Lucy was often triumphant.

See Cesar Hooks up with the Entire Male Cast of "I Love Lucy"

Dec 26, 2016

Joel and Jody McCrea: The Bisexual Cowboy and His Beach-Movie Son

Speaking of showbiz families, Joel McCrea (1905-1990) was a tall, lanky, and muscular, perfect for roles as white-hat cowboys.  And he played a lot of them during his 50-year movie career.

But you're probably more interested in his movies with gay subtexts, such as The Silver Cord (1933), where he plays a young doctor with a domineering mother, or Ride the High Country (1962), where he and Randolph Scott play a pair of long-term cowboy partners.

Or at least the ones where he disrobes, such as the European-in-Polynesia romance Bird of Paradise (1932).

Bisexual in real life, he was married to actress Frances Dee from 1933 until his death, but also had male lovers, including Montgomery Clift.

Joel's oldest son Jody (born 1934) was tall and athletic, and a dead ringer for his father.  He started out playing cowboys, too.

But he is best known for his comedic roles, playing dopey sidekicks named Deadhead, Bonehead, and Big Lunk in six Frankie and Annette beach movies of the 1960s.  He still got to display his bulge in a swimsuit, when he wasn't self-consciously trying to hide it.

Typecast as boneheads, he retired from acting in the early 1970s, and became a rancher in New Mexico.

Of Jody's five children, only Wyatt is interested in show biz.  He has appeared in a few tv series, and produced Gen's Guiltless Gourmet (2009).  He also manages his grandfather's ranch, a tourist attraction in Thousand Oaks, CA

See also: Beach Movies 1: The Beefcake

Dec 25, 2016

Gay Surfers Down Under: Xavier Samuel

Speaking of the Twilight saga, Xavier Samuel, who plays muscular college-age vampire Riley Biers, has starred in many gay-positive movies and tv series back home in Australia.

2:37 (2006), a high school angst ensemble, with a gay dopehead facing homophobia (and getting a boyfriend).

Newcastle (2008), about surfing brothers Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) and Fergus (Xavier).  Fergus has a boyfriend, Andy (Kirk Jenkins).  They frolick naked in the surf.


Best friend to a gay guy (Miles Szanto) in Drowning (2009).

And even when there's no explicit gay content, there's plenty of homoromantic buddy-bonding.  And nudity

September (2007), about two teenagers, the white Ed (Xavier, left) and the black Paddy (Clarence John Ryan, right), trying to hold their friendship together during the turbulent 1960s.

A Few Best Men (2011), about a bridegroom (Xavier) who can't choose one best man from among his three mates.

Two Mothers (2013), about two women who fall in love with each other's sons (Xavier, Ben Mendehlson), who happen to be best friends.  Haven't seen it, but apparently there's some beach frolicking.

Dec 24, 2016

The Surprising Gay Origin of Pogo's "Deck Us All"

Every Christmas from 1949 to 1975, and then again in the 1980s and 1990s, the comic strip Pogo had the hayseed denizens of Okefenokee Swamp singing a mangled version of "Deck the Halls":

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
 Lullaby, Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou.
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola Boola Pensacoola Hullabaloo!

Cartoonist Walt Kelly said that he chose that particular song because it was easily recognizable but not religious.  His Pogo version became extremely popular, with a life outside the comic strip, broadcast on the radio, recorded by pop artists during the Golden Age of Novelty Songs.

But what about the lyrics?  Fans clamored to know what they meant.

At first Kelly claimed that they were pure nonsense.  But fans persevered, and in 1963 Kelly published a book listing several possible explanations.

None of them the right one.

Ten years after his death, his close friend, CIA Agent Wilbur Crane Eveland, was interviewed in a Pogo-phile fan magazine, and revealed the secret:

Prison slang.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Hang the prison guards up on the wall, so they won't bother us.

Walla Walla, Wash, and Kalamazoo
Names of prisons

Nora's freezin' on the trolley
Nora, the subordinate partner in a same-sex prison romance, is "freezin'", in solitary confinement, according to "the trolley," the prison grapevine.

Swaller dollar cauliflower, Alleygaroo!

Don't we know archaic barrel
Homemade prison booze

Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou.
Has facilitated the romance between Lilla Boy (another subordinate partner) and Louisville Lou.

Trolley Molly don't love Harold
But not Molly, according to the prison grapevine.

Boola, Boola, Pensacola, Hullaballoo!

I wonder how mild-mannered cartoonist Walt Kelly, who was never even arrested, knew all of this prison slang.  He was a language aficionado, so maybe he had reference books.

But why load-up his mangled Christmas carol with prison slang, including references to three same-sex prison romance?

In the 1940s, many prisoners were "prisoners of conscience," war objectors, political dissidents, gay men.  According to Eveland, this was the liberal, gay-positive Kelly's shout-out to them.

Kelly included same-sex desire all the time in Pogo.  Since his players were animals, it always slipped below the censorship radar.

In a long 1955 continuity, a male flea falls in love with Beauregard Hound Dog, and proposes marriage.  Five years later, in a commentary, Kelly wrote "I guess it would have to be a female flea.  That never occurred to me until now."

Way to cover your tracks!  But Kelly kept making the same "mistake" over and over until the day he died.

See also: Pogo, the Gay Possum of Okefenokee Swamp

Dec 21, 2016

The Real Bulges of "The Real O'Neals"

Last night I watched the December 6th episode of The Real O'Neals: Kenny, the gay kid (Noah Galvin), goes out for wrestling, and turns out to be good at it, due to his expertise in the dance numbers from West Side Story.

He wins the adulation of his conservative Catholic high school, receiving cheers, gifts, and an invitation to sit at the jock table, but infringes upon the territory of his brother, Jimmy (Matt Shively).

At first I found it only mildly entertaining.  I was waiting for some beefcake shots of Matt Shively and his teammates.

But I never expected to see anything like this on a prime time comedy.

He's an extra; I don't have his name.  I wish I did.

Ok, time for Kenny's match.  He drops his gym trunks, revealing a singlet of his own.

Doesn't he notice that his singlet is a  Doesn't the director notice?

Noah Galvin is 22 years old, by the way, so it's ok to look.

It's impossible not to look.

It gets better.

And better.

Suddenly I'm a real fan of The Real O'Neals.

See also: The Real Gay Characters of "The Real O'Neals"

The First Bad Kid: Barry Gordon

In 1954, the six-year old Barry Gordon made the scene with a hit single, "I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas (because I've been nuttin' but bad)":

I broke my bat on Johnny's head;
I hid a frog in sister's bed;
I spilled some ink on Mommy's rug;
Bought some gum with a penny slug;
Somebody snitched on me.

Far more mischievous than Dennis the Menace or Peck's Bad Boy of the 1920s, he was a humorous precursor to the threatened and threatening kids whom the adults would fear through the 1960s.

You couldn't have a kid miss out on Christmas forever, so they made him record "I Like Christmas" in 1955.  He recorded several other singles and albums, with songs like "Rock Around Mother Goose" and "I Can't Whistle."

In the 1960s he made the rounds of tv guest spots: Leave It to Beaver, Davis the Menace, Make Room for Daddy, Jack Benny, and Love American Style (in the episode "Love and the High School Flop-Out").  Why is he sitting with his hands like that?

He made many movies, including Hands of a Stranger, Pressure Point, The Spirit is Willing, and Out of It (1969), in which a high school brain (Barry) buddy-bonds with a jock (John Voight).

He was nominated for a Tony for his performance in the Broadway play A Thousand Clowns (adapted for film in 1965), as a gay-vague teenager crushed when his free-spirit guardian (Jason Robards) caves to the establishment.

Barry never got to play romantic leads, but he played a lot of nebbishes, homoromantic best friends, and next-door neighbors in comedy and sci-fi. In voice work, he played Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Nestles Quick Bunny, and the Honeynut Cheerios Bee.

More recently he has played an impressive line of lawyers, doctors, rabbis, and sundry authority figures.

After serving as the longest-running president of the Screen Actors Guild in history and running for Congress twice, Barry settled down as a radio commentator (From Left Field,  Left Talk with Barry Gordon) where he gives his progressive viewpoint on everything from healthcare reform to gay marriage.

Dec 20, 2016

The Eagle: When Gay Subtexts Aren't Enough

The Eagle (2011) is a gay-subtext romance set in Roman Britain in 140 AD.

The plot is rather convoluted, but it seems to be about a young Roman soldier, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), whose father disappeared on an expedition north of Hadrian's Wall many years ago, along with his entire Legion, plus the bronze eagle that represents "the honor of Rome."

Marcus hears a rumor that the Eagle has survived, so he sets out in search of it.  He brings along his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), who is from northern Britain and can speak the Pictish language (Gaelic is used as a stand-in).

After many scenes of the two riding through desolate wilderness, they are captured by the Seal People, the most barbaric of the Pictish tribes.  Esca buddy-bonds with their Prince (Tahar Rahim) and settles among them, explaining that Marcus is his slave.

Marcus believes that he has been tricked.

But at the proper moment, Esca reveals that he has tricked the Sea People.  They retrieve the Eagle and head back to Roman territory.  They even find the lost Ninth Legion in the process.

All of the classic gay-subtext elements are here:
1. Minimal or no heterosexual interest.
2. Men who rescue each other from danger.
3. And who walk off into the final fade-out side by side.

I still didn't like it.  It was dull and plodding, with scenes of gore juxtaposed with scenes of...well, talking.  And no attempt to provide a standard English to stand in for Latin.  Hearing Roman soldiers speark colloquial American really grates on the ears, particularly after hearing the superbly done Latinate English of Spartacus.

Plus there's no chemistry between Marcus and Esca.  They're supposed to be in love with each other.  There should be glances, gestures.  But I don't even see much of a friendship.  Esca accompanies Marcus to the north because he has no choice, he's a slave; and Marcus uses Esca for his language skills.

At the end of the movie, as they're walking off together, Esca asks "What now?"  Marcus says "You decide."

It's a cute line, but it doesn't seem deserved.  Based on what we've seen, we expect them to say "Well, thanks for your help" and part.

There's actually more chemistry between Esca and the Seal People prince (Tahur Rahim).

The director and actors insist that the movie has no gay subtexts.  Channing Tatum states that there's love in the relationship, like in any relationship, but that doesn't mean that Marcus and Esca are a couple (even though, he jokes, he and Jamie Bell have been having sex for years).

Except in 2011, writers and directors usually take pains to ensure that their characters must be read as heterosexual by adding hetero-romance or at least some longing glances here and there.  If they weren't intending gay subtexts, why not add hetero-romance?

Maybe because the movie is based on a children's novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, published by Rosemary Sutclif in 1954, the glory era of gay subtexts, where men without women was an accepted literary convention, especially in juvenile fiction.

Sutclif wrote over 100 children's novels, many about two boys or two men together.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...