Mar 25, 2016

It's Garry Shandling's Show

I was saddened to hear of the death of Garry Shandling, the 66-year old comedian best known for The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998), and before that, It's Garry Shandling's Show (1986-1990).

In West Hollywood we watched It's Garry Shandling's Show on Showtime every Wednesday night.

It was a precursor to Seinfeld and a throwback to the old radio sitcoms where the characters were aware that they were characters and commented on their own plotlines.  Garry played "himself" as the star of a sitcom about a comedian.

His George was the nebbish next door neighbor Pete (Michael Tucci), who had a wife and a nebbish teenage son, Grant (Scott Nemes).

His Elaine was "platonic" neighbor Nancy (Molly Cheek), who dated and eventually married Ian McFyfer (Ian Buchanan).

His Kramer was Leonard Smith (Paul Willson), the owner of his condo.

There was a steady stream of other friends and associates, including a lot of Garry's girlfriends, and a lot of celebrities playing themselves: Rob Reiner, Tom Petty, Martin Mull, Red Buttons, Chevy Chase, Norman Fell, Jeff Goldblum, Gilda Radner.

Plots were mostly about "nothing."  Garry babysits.  Garry gets a pet.  Jeff Goldblum visits.

Sometimes they were elaborately self-referential:

Grant wins a trip to Hollywood, where he goes to a taping of the show.

Grant is accused of beating up a kid at school, but the a member of the studio audience saw what really happened, and tells the principal.

Not a lot of beefcake except for an occasional bulge, and no explicit gay content, but lots of subtexts.
1. Garry and Pete had a nice bromance going on.
2. Grant rarely expressed interest in girls, and often came across as a gay kid.  Notice his obvious interest in Garry's basket in this shot.

Besides, it had a great theme song:

This is the theme to Garry's show, the theme to Garry's show. 
Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song. 
I'm almost halfway finished, how do you like it so far?
How do you like the theme to Garry's show?

See also: 10 Things I Love and Hate about Seinfeld.

Mar 24, 2016

Top 12 Public Penises of South America 1: The East

Since I was doing the public penises of Central America and the Caribbean, I thought I would South America as well.  I visited Colombia once, 30 years ago, but otherwise it is completely uncharted territory.

But it looks like most countries in South America match Europe in the size and complexity of their gay communities, and in the legislative response: no sodomy laws, same-sex partnerships, anti-discrimination laws.

And, especially in the countries straddling the equator, ample beefcake.

Here are the top 12 public penises of South America:

1. If you work your way down from the public penises of the Caribbean, the first country you hit is Venezuela, In Maracaibo, a buffed Saint Sebastian is falling out of his clothes as he's pierced by arrows beside a concrete tree.

2. Next come three colonies or recent colonies. Guyana is the only South American state that still has sodomy laws (what do you expect from a former British colony?).

This monument in Georgetown depicts Kuffy, the leader of a slave revolt in 1763.  He's not doing what you think.

3. Suriname is a former Dutch colony, so Dutch is still the official language.  A muscular freed slave named Kwakoe, is the symbol of the city of Parimaribo.  He's regularly dressed by clubs and organizations, and the Surinamian community in the Netherlands holds an annual Kwakoe Festival.

4. Guiana (not to be confused with Guyana) is a department of France.  The capital is Cayenne, but the economy has nothing to do with pepper.

At the entrance to the city, three people holding up a pyramid symbolize the African, European, and Indian races who constitute Guiana.  The Indian apparently has quite an endowment.

5. Also in Cayenne, you can see a statue of French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher freeing a grateful slave in a loincloth.

More after the break.

Mar 22, 2016

Madame's Place: TV's First Drag Queen Sitcom

In 1982, I got my B.A. in English and Modern Languages and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, to study for a M.A. in English.  I wasn't planning on an academic career; I thought the M.A. would assist me in reaching my career goal in publishing.

I was taking courses in Old English, Victorian Literature, Fiction Writing, and for some reason Chinese, working in the dormitory cafeteria, listening for gay subtext songs on the radio, and reading the Gayellow Pages, so I didn't have much time for tv.    In 1982-83, I watched a few old-standby sitcoms: The Boomerersons, One Day at a Time, Alice, Taxi -- plus The Powers of Matthew Star (with Peter Barton, left) and Madame's Place (1982-83).

Gay actor and puppeteer Wayland Flowers (1939-1988) began voicing Madame in the 1970s.  She was a new twist on the drag queen persona, an elderly former movie star who had a potty mouth and told outrageous stories about her exploits with men.

Baby Boomers used to thinking of the older generation as skittish, easily-scandalized, and sexually repressed found Madame's bawdy humor mesmerizing, and soon she became the most famous puppet since Charlie McCarthy.

Wayland and Madame were everywhere in the 1970s and early 1980s, on  Andy Williams, Merv Griffith, The New Laugh-In, The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, Playboy's Roller Disco and Pajama Party, and Solid Gold.  They hosted the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  They were regulars on the Hollywood Squares game show.

A tv series was inevitable, a throwback to the old "celebrity home life" sitcoms of the 1950s, with Madame as a talk show host asking inappropriate questions of real celebrities like William Shatner and Peewee Herman.  At home, she interacted with her butler (Johnny Haymer), uptight assistant (Susan Tolsky), dumb-blond niece (Judy Lander), and kid next door (Corey Feldman, left).

There were no references to gay people, but it was easy to imagine Madame as an aging drag queen.  In fact, it was expected.

 It's not on DVD, but you can see clips on youtube.

Wayland never actually came out, for fear that a public statement would end his career.

He died in 1988, but Madame has recently begun a new act with drag entertainer and Liza-specialist Rick Skye (who is out).

Mar 21, 2016

Greatest American Hero

None of the science fiction comedies that filled the airwaves in the 1970s and 1980s (Automan, My Secret Identity, The Powers of Matthew StarMisfits of Sciencewere entirely heterosexist; the bumbling hero is usually "allergic to girls" or "shy around girls."  But The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983) went even farther, portraying not only a lack of heterosexual interest but intense homoerotic buddy bonding.

It starred curly-haired blond William Katt, who had previously displayed ample buddy-bonding (and a pleasantly muscular physique) in Big Wednesday (1979) and the Broadway musical Pippin (1981).

He played mild-mannered teacher Ralph Hinkley.  The show premiered on March 18, 1981, and on March 30th, a man named John Hinkley tried to assassinate President Reagan. Skittish producers fudged on his name for the rest of the season, and finally gave up and changed it to Hunkley.

While driving in the desert, Ralph and FBI Agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp of I Spy) encounter a UFO.  Its occupants assign them the task of fighting evil, and give Ralph a special flying suit.  Unfortunately, he loses the instruction book.

Plots veered between the realistic and the ridiculous.  The kids in Ralph's class get a piece of the action, as does attorney Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca), who eventually marries Ralph.  But in spite of the "fade out kiss," Ralph's main emotional connection is with Bill.  And since Bill doesn't have any superpowers, he gets captured by the bad guys quite often, prompting a daring rescue and a "my hero!" moment.

Since Ralph was always putting his uniform on and taking it off, there were many shirtless scenes, revealing a physique quite a bit more muscular than one would expect for any mild-mannered schoolteacher.  Katt appeared fully nude in Playgirl magazine in 1982.

In its second season, Greatest American Hero was put in a Friday night time slot -- when teenagers were usually out -- and opposite the mega-hit Dallas -- so ratings declined, and it was cancelled.

Robert Culp was not dismayed -- he had already been on tv for many years.  William Katt went on to star in the buddy-bonding horror movie House (1986), plus several  Perry Mason movies (his mother, Barbara Hale, played the attorney's secretary in the original series).  He's still working constantly, with eight projects in 2010 alone.

Quentin Crisp: Homophobic Gay Pioneer

This elegantly-attired, feminine person, who looks a lot like my Grandmother Davis,  is Quentin Crisp (1908-1999), who spent his life saying and doing exactly what he wanted.

He didn't like doing housework, so he didn't do any: "after four years, it doesn't get any worse."

He liked to wear makeup and feminine clothing, so he did, on the streets of London in the 1930s, even though he was constantly accosted, screamed at, and beat up.  Asked "Who do you think you are?", he replied, "I don't think I'm anyone but myself."

Like Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima, he grew up in an era where gay people were expected to hate themselves and each other.  And he never got over it.  He denigrated "homosexuals," even to gay audiences.  They usually laughed, thinking that he was joking.

He wasn't.

For most of his life, Quentin Crisp lived in poverty, working mostly as an artist's model, thought he had a wide circle of affluent friends charmed by his nonconformity and acerbic wit.

Then in 1968, he published The Naked Civil Servant, arguably the first gay autobiography -- at least the first I ever read -- a trenchant, witty account of of being completely true to yourself as gay and feminine in homophobic London. (The title comes from his job, posing naked for art students, for which he was paid by the government.)

In 1975, The Naked Civil Servant was made into a movie starring John Hurt, probably the first gay biography ever broadcast on American and British tv.  And suddenly the 67-year old Quentin Crisp was a celebrity.  He moved to a one-room apartment in New York, where he didn't do any housework.

He wrote more books -- How to Have a Life Style, How to Go to the Movies, The New York Diaries.  He appeared in movies -- Hamlet, Orlando, Homo Heights.  He went out to dinner, said witty, trenchant things -- actually, whatever he wanted -- and was taken to events, including Gay Pride events.

He was uncomfortable with his new role as a gay icon. The Gay Rights Movement was ridiculous.  "Homosexuality" was a disease, an affliction, and a curse.  Mothers who discovered that they were carrying a gay child should get an abortion.  And why hold AIDS benefits?  AIDS was just "a fad."

He went to his grave believing explicitly that every heterosexual, however vile, was superior to every gay person, however noble.

That didn't stop him from accepting invitations to appear at Gay Pride events.


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