May 14, 2016

Grit: Beefcake and Bonding in an Attic in Rural Indiana

Every summer, and sometimes at Christmas, we visited my Grandma Davis in Indiana.  She had an attic full of old magazines, and my brother and I used to spend rainy afternoons there, leafing through half a century worth of browning ephemera.

Today I get the impression of someone who longed for an urbane, sophisticated life as an artist in Jazz Age New York, but somehow found herself in a farmhouse in rural Indiana, with a husband who was gone weeks at a time, and spent her life lapsing between attempts to rebel and attempts to adapt:

Rebellion: The Smart Set, Nash's, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post

Adaption: Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, The Farmer's Wife, Grit


Who would name a newspaper after that gross stuff that gets in your eye after you sleep?

Maybe it was grits, the gross Southern food made out of boiled corn.

It was like a tabloid newspaper, with lots of human interest stories: a blind guy who works as a postal carrier, a woman who found her lost wedding ring in an egg laid by her chicken, a traffic accident that reunited a father and his long-lost son.

Nothing that took place anything near a city: in the world of Grit, no settlement with a population over 2,000 existed in the U.S.

No foreign countries existed, either.  Or black people.  Or Jews.  Or women who weren't housewives.  Or gay men and lesbians.

But -- there were a lot of cute 4-H Boys holding up prize sheep, providing a hint of beefcake on rainy rural afternoons.

Here's a shirtless boy in a bunkhouse at the Millstone 4-H Camp in Ellerbee, North Carolina, 1961.

There were also pages of comic strips, some the old-fashioned dinosaur strips familiar from the Rock Island Argus -- Blondie Prince Valiant, Out Our Way -- and some even older.

Beefcake titles like  Jungle Jim, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon.

Very nice physique, for a guy from the 1930s with his head wrapped in a plastic bag.

Here's an ad from Grit about selling Grit.  

$6 in 1956 is the equivalent of $50 today.  Not a bad source of income.

Grit was founded in 1885 by German immigrant Dietrich Lamade.  It was especially popular in the 1930s and 1940s, with over 400,000 weekly subscribers.  It was competing favorably with newspapers that wouldn't deliver to rural areas.

The decline of the rural population after World War II, and competition from radio and television, led to a nosedive in subscriptions.  By 2000, there were less than 10,000 subscribers, mostly elderly.

Under new management, Grit has rebranded itself  as a bimonthly blog and print magazine for food and gardening enthusiasts, with articles on free range chickens, hybrid tomatoes, and lawn mower maintenance.

The new Grit is more inclusive, with racial and religious minorities, urban dwellers, and gay men and lesbians:

"Who do you call when you have an animal in trouble?  The ladies next door are at work, and I can no longer phone the gay guys down the street because they have me blocked since we had a shouting match about being invited to a Pampered Chef party, so I call the SPCA."

 It has over 150,000 subscribers.

See also: Borden's Elsie and Elmer

Sean and the World of Gay Leathermen

During the 1960s and 1970s, gay men carved niches for themselves, separate neighborhoods where they could be free from homophobic harassment, separate social institutions to replace those they were excluded from in the "straight" world.  And one of the institutions they devised was Leather, aka S&M.

The look: muscles, hairy chests, and clothing based on the motorcycle gangs of the 1950s: chaps, vests, boots, jackets.  Black, sleek, rigid, gleaming.  No fluffy sweaters, no chinos, no designer shoes, no perfumes, nothing but raw masculinity

The acts: erotic "scenes" involving dominance and submission, power and pain.

Leathermen were excoriated by the heterosexual press, which kept squealing: "Look!  Look!  We told you that gays were all perverts!"

In Cruising (1980), the subculture was savagely derided as a bunch of masochists and murderers.

Even the mainstream gay movement was leery, thinking that they would scare the heterosexuals and forestall the quest for tolerance.

But they survived.  During the 1980s, even people not into the culture started experimenting, since S&M activities don't transmit HIV.

It became commonplace for men hitting their mid-30s to shift their allegiance from twink bars to leather bars like the Spike, the Eagle, the Gold Coast, the Faultline, and Bill's Filling Station.

There were motorcycle clubs, leather clubs, S&M clubs, bear clubs, fetish fairs like Dore Alley, contests like International Mr. Leather, magazines like Drummer, Mandate, and Bound and Gagged.

All illustrated by a cadre of gay artists: Tom of Finland, Etienne, the Hun, Cavello...and their undisputed leader, Sean.

Sean, aka John Klamik (1935-2005), who was a fixture in West Hollywood from the 1950s, painting murals for leather bars,  publishing cartoons in leather and mainstream gay magazines, illustrating the novels of leather greats such as Larry Townsend, and publishing his own graphic novels.

He and his partner, Jim Newberry, were also well-known in West Hollywood politics, instrumental in planning each of the Gay Pride Marches and Festivals from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Sean drew his inspiration from the impossibly buffed, impossibly endowed Tom of Finland men, but he put them into much more graphic situations.

So graphic that it's hard to find one to illustrate.

And his themes and situations veer far from the jubilant eroticism of Tom's men. There are acts of torture, punishment, and revenge.    

For instance, the famous Biff Bound (1982), which I found at the adult bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana, is a pantomime comic book about a super-muscular, super-endowed blond who hitch-hikes in search of willing partners.  But instead, he is grabbed, tied up, and sexually assaulted by three toughs, who then steal his clothes and his suitcase.

He is rescued by a group of gay leathermen, who give him a new leather outfit, then help him capture the toughs.  They tie them up, have sex with them, force them to have sex with each other, and finally retrieve Biff's suitcase.  

Heavy stuff.  Is it promoting sexual assault?

Certainly not, Sean said in an interview.  "It's a fantasy."

It was about empowerment.  Gay men in the mainstream press of the day were portrayed as perpetual victims, of homophobic assaults, of discrimination, of AIDS, of their own "uncontrollable urges."  But they didn't have to be. They could be strong, powerful, in charge of the situation.  They could save the day.  They could triumph.

See also: Tom of Finland;  The Mystery of Cavelo; and The Bear with the Sweeney Todd Fetish.

What Kind of Flower are You: Queer Boys of the 1920s

Before World War II, teenage boys were not expected to like girls.  At Everett High School in Washington, most of the boys in the graduating class in 1925 are memorialized in their yearbook with manly "woman-hating mottos": "Tall, dashing, quick and fair, spurns all girls with vigilant care!"

In movies and literature, the teenage boy who liked girls was labeled gay, an effeminate contrast to the real, red-blooded, masculine boy who “spurned all girls with vigilant care.”   He was jeered, blackmailed, and ostracized. He was asked “What kind of flower are you?” and “Can I borrow your lipstick, dearie?”  His peers called him “honey-boy,” “panty-waist,” “mollycoddle,” and “Percy,” and the adults, “sensitive,” “gentle,” “artistic,” and “sweet.”

Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922), though hetero-horny himself, worries when his son Ted, “a decorative boy of seventeen,” offers to give two girls from his high school rides to a chorus rehearsal.  “I hope they're decent girls,” he muses. “I wouldn't want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything.”  (Ted was played by Raymond McKee in 1924 and Glen Boles in the 1934 movie version.)

His wife suggests that he take Ted aside and give him a little talk about “Things,” but he rejects the proposal: “no sense suggesting a lot of Things to a boy’s mind.”  He assumes that no seventeen-year old boy could possibly experience heterosexual desire unless he is manipulated from outside.

The next summer, Babbit discovers Ted kissing a girl, but he blames her for "enticing him," refusing to believe that any eighteen-year old could want to kiss girls of his own accord.

Richard, a boy just short of his seventeenth birthday, falls for a girl in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! (1933), but he is coded as gay.  There is “something of extreme sensitiveness. . .a restless, apprehensive, defiant, shy, dreamy, self-conscious intelligence about him.”  He reads too much poetry, especially sexual anarchist Swinburne and gay icon Oscar Wilde, whose trial and incarceration for “the love that dare not speak its name” was still freshly scandalous in 1904 (the date of the plot).

“He’s a queer boy,” his mother muses. “Sometimes I can’t make head or tail of him.”

Richard has been played in movies by Eric Linden (1935), Simon Lack (1938), and Lee Kinsolving (1959), and in the theater by many actors, including Luke Halpin (of Flipper), left and T.R. Knight (of Grey's Anatomy), top photo.

In the first movies of his series (1937-1939), Andy Hardy (played by Mickey Rooney, left) had an effeminate girl-craziness and was  psychoanalyzed as "queer," suffering from a “unconscious fixation on youth.”

Henry Aldrich, gay girl-crazy star of his own movie series (1939-1944) (played by Jimmy Lydon of Tom Brown's School Dayswas subject to pummeling by bullies and tense heart-to-hearts with his parents.  His buddy Dizzy usually tolerated his eccentricity,  but sometimes even he couldn’t take it anymore, and yelled “What the heck’s the matter with you, anyway?”

May 13, 2016

Teen Hunks and Teen Angst in the New Riverdale TV Series

Archie Andrews and his pals and gals at Riverdale High have been entertaining kids since 1942, mostly in comics, but there have been scattered tv series, movies, books, and songs ("Sugar, Sugar," by the Archies, hit the top of the pop charts in 1969).

There have even been some serious versions.

The Afterlife with Archie series (2013) brings a zombie apocalypse to Riverdale.

In a 2014 comic, an adult Archie is killed while heroically trying to save his buddy from an assassin's bullet.

The latest angst offering is Riverdale, an upcoming teen drama on the CW Network.

New Zealand actor K. J. Apa has signed on to play Archie Andrews, "an intense, conflicted teen" who is torn between romantic involvements, worried over his career goals, and head-butting with his father (former teen angst star Luke Perry) and football coach.

Former Disney Channel teen Cole Sprouse (left) plays Jughead, a "philosophically bent hearthrob" who has ended a long-term friendship with Archie.  A heartthrob?  Jughead?

At least they're upping the beefcake opportunities.

Lili Reinhart plays Betty, a wholesome girl-next-door who clashes with her mother (former teen angst start Madchen Amick) and is seduced by the glamour of her new best friend Veronica.

Corey Cott, star of Newsies on Broadway, plays "Openly Gay" Kevin Keller.

I don't know which one he is.  I hope they all show up in guest roles.

Camila Mendes plays Veronica, a sophisticated fashion plate recovering from a scandal involving her father.

Ashleigh Murray, Irie Hayleau, and Ashanti Bromfield play Josie and the Pussycats, a pop group that never interacted with Archie in the comics.

Madelaine Petsch plays Cheryl Blossom, a poor little rich girl who recently lost her twin brother in a mysterious accident.  The angst thickens.

Former Disney Channel teen Ross Butler (left) plays Reggie, Archie's long-time nemesis.

Daniel Yang plays class brain Dilton Doiley.

Looks like they're adding Asian representation.  But they've omitted the only black guy in the comics, aspiring cartoonist Chuck Clayton.

Cody Kearsley plays jock Moose Mason.

Most of the characters are in place, if tweaked a bit to add more drama.   But I'm wondering, would anyone notice the difference if we changed their names to Dawson, Joey, Jen, and Pacey, or Dylan, Brandon, Donna, and Kelly?

What makes this series about our Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Moose, and Dilton, the amiable, fun-loving teens that we all grew up with?

See also: Dylan and Cole Sprouse; Luke Perry; Veronica and Betty are Going Steady

May 11, 2016

David Macklin: The Boy with Something Extra

I don't remember much from 1965, when we were living in Racine, Wisconsin, but I remember my dismal, depressing 5th birthday on November 19th.  My mother and I were both sick.

I got a Tell-the-Time Clock with a smiley face and gloves on its hands, but I was too sick to play with it.  There wasn't any cake.  I sat on the couch, sipping 7-Up and watching tv.  First The Flintstones, and then Tammy, with a sugary mawdlin song that's still etched into my brain.

I hear the cottonwoods whisperin' above.
Tammy--Tammy-Tammy's in love.

It was a hayseed sitcom (1965-66) about a bayou gal who becomes the secretary for a powerful industrialist and sets her sights on his fey son.

An earlier movie series (1957, 1961, 1963) had the bayou gal (Debbie Reynolds, Sandra Dee) bringing joie de vivre to effete city folk, and meanwhile falling in love with a different rich boy in each installment (Leslie Nielsen, John Gavin, Peter Fonda).  The theme song peaked at #1 on the pop charts in 1957.

My parents liked it so much that they named my sister "Tammy."

I hated the song (maybe because my father sang it at random moments for the next twenty years), but I liked the tv show, because Tammy was courting a boy (David Macklin) who didn't really like girls.  He was just playing along.

And he obviously had something extra beneath the belt.

David Macklin popped up again and again during my childhood.  A teen surfer on Gidget (1966).  A fratboy on The Munsters (1966).  A hippie on Ironside (1968). An abused rich kid on Cannon (1973). A boy who hosts his visiting aunt without realizing that she's dead on The Twilight Zone (1960, but I saw it around 1974).

His characters never liked girls, unless they were forced to, and he had a thin, haughty face and haunted eyes that made him look like he knew about the Tripods.

You never saw David nude, or even shirtless, but if you looked closely, you could tell that he belonged to the Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, and Ken Clark club of beneath-the-belt hugeness.

He had only a few significant movie roles.  In The Young Animals (1968), new kid in town Tony (Tom Nardino, who would go on to star in the gay-themed Siege) tries to make peace between warring gangs, especially the white gang led by Bruce (David).  The Mexican was led by Paco (Zooey Hall, who would go on to star in the gay-themed Fortune and Men's Eyes with Sal Mineo).  I haven't seen it, but apparently there's some substantial gay subtexts.

Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974) is about a brother and sister who eat people.  David plays a hospital orderly who stumbles onto their nefarious plot.

David disappeared from the screen in the 1980s.  Today he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he makes ceramics, collects Sherlock Holmes memorability (especially involving Basil Rathbone), and teaches acting.  He also runs a yahoo group for movie fans, where he often publicizes issues of gay and lesbian interest.

Maybe he's gay.  His characters were gay enough for a 5 year old.

See also: My First Bulge

May 9, 2016

Lucky Vanous: The Diet Coke Guy

Like Scott Madsen, the Soloflex Guy , and Clara Pelter, who asked "Where's the beef?", Lucky Vanous became famous in an instant.  Though the Nebraska native had been modeling and studying acting for several years, he became the talk of the town through a series of heterosexist commercials for Diet Coke: some female office workers gaze through the window at the construction site next door, where lean, muscular Lucky goes on his break, rips his shirt off, and opens a can of Diet Coke.  They become more and more aroused as he drinks.

He was not a bodybuilder, but he was lean, muscular, and hirsute, a perfect New Sensitive Man even without saying "I know how you feel."

Lucky's exercise book and video, aimed at a female audience (The Ultimate Fat-Burning Workout) appeared in a few months.  In May 1994 he took off his shirt on tv sitcom Wings.  He was a presenter at the Clio Awards (for excellence in advertising).  In December was profiled in Playgirl.

A couple of movie roles followed, plus some tv: the evening soap opera Pacific Palisades (1997), guest spots on Pensacola: Wings of Gold and Will and Grace, and finally 18 Wheels of Justice (2000-2001), about a federal agent turned trucker who helps people with their problems.

Although in real life Lucky was always gracious to his gay fans, his stage persona maintained the heterosexist "every woman's fantasy" myth, insisting that all women but no men wanted to see him with his shirt off.  So the shirt came off when the audience was mostly women, but stayed on when it was mostly men.  This promo for 18 Wheels of Justice gives you the general idea.

Today Lucky owns the Lucky Devil's Tavern on Hollywood Boulevard, near Highland, which offers healthy choices in addition to the usual deep-fried bar cuisine.

See also: The Coca-Cola Kid.

May 8, 2016

Veronica and Betty are Going Steady

The very funny blog Archie Out of Context reproduces panels from Archie comic books that, out of context, look sexually explicit or homoerotic, or both.

But you don't need to take panels out of context.  Long before Kevin Keller, the first openly gay student at Riverdale High, Archie comics  hinted about the existence of same-sex desire.

For instance, Betty finds a little black book in Betty’s Diary 34 (1990), believes it is a boy’s date book, and is surprised to find that her name is not in it. “There’s no accounting for tastes,” she muses. “I’m a much better date than Tom Cameron or Ron Cook.” This is a curious comment for an Archie strip, implying not only that sometimes boys date other boys, but that it is an everyday occurrence, of only minimal interest. A moment later, she realizes that it is actually Veronica’s book. But for a moment, it belonged to a boy who dated boys; for a moment, there were gay students at Riverdale High. 

It's even easier to find explicit references to female same-sex desire. In “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (2000), the boys abandon the girls for the basketball playoffs, so the girls plan a series of “all girl nights.” Afterwards, when the boys are available for dates again, they refuse, explaining that “We discovered how much fun it was to hang out with just the girls.”

 Veronica agrees to star with Betty in a stage version of Beauty and the Beast, not realizing that she is to play the Beast (Betty and Veronica Digest 94, 1998), but of course either way the girls would play lovers.

In Archie’s Double Digest 48 (1990), Veronica is livid: “Betty, you’re over an hour late for our date!” Teens in 1990 did not use “date” in reference to a non-romantic interaction.

Betty and Veronica are the archetypal butch-femme couple. Betty is an athletic and a “tomboy,” at ease in auto garages and workshops, frequently advised that her heterosexual loves is stymied because she is too much like “one of the guys.” Although obsessed with Archie and dating many boys, she rarely exhibits a giddiness about the male form. Indeed, she demonstrates a “guy’s” obsession with the feminine form. She spends her day at the beach exclaiming, “Look, Archie! Isn’t that a pretty girl? Doesn’t she have a gorgeous body?” (“Run for your life,” Archie's Digest 79, 1986).

Veronica is the debutante who luxuriates in bubble baths and wears Paris evening gowns to school. Although she is much more likely than Betty to go ape over the handsome new teacher, lifeguard, or medic, she often seems less interested in boys than in the social status that boys can provide, or as a means of competing with Betty. That is, she doesn’t necessarily want Archie to take her to the big dance; she merely wants to make sure that he doesn’t take Betty.

 Indeed,  in “Ladies Man” (Laugh 1, 1974), Betty asks Veronica, “What do you find most attractive about Archie,” and she responds immediately “You!”

In “The Reject” (Archie and Me 55, 1988), Archie expresses his love for Veronica, who rejects him. Jughead sneers “You’re trying to get love out of Veronica? How about Betty?” Archie responds: “She’s not gonna get any more love out of Veronica than I do!”

The two are obviously inseparable, and many stories involve non-boy-related threats to their relationship.

A postmodern twist in Betty and Veronica Double Digest 66 (1997) has the girls aware that they are comic book characters.

 Veronica objects to their stories constantly being titled “Betty and Veronica”: she wants to be first. She argues that Betty would be better in last place, because so many words rhyme with Betty and they could therefore create poems. “Ready with the confetti!,” she recites, “Veronica and Betty are going steady!”

“Watch it!” Betty snarls.

“. . .with Freddy and Teddy,” Veronica concludes, her look not one of embarrassment over the misunderstanding, but one of sophisticated smugness.  She is unfazed by the romantic  implication of her rhyme – it may even have been deliberate – and looks down on Betty for being so upset.

Betty wheezes “Whew!” She is drenched with sweat and near collapse. 

 While Veronica accepts and even invited the implication that they might be lovers, Betty is in a veritable panic. Understandably, since she is a stereotypic “dyke,” active, aggressive, athletic. All she has to do is acknowledge that her friendship with Veronica is romantic, and come out as lesbian or bisexual.

All that subtext, and I haven't even started on Jughead.


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