Jul 23, 2016

Absolutely Fabulous

Absolutely Fabulous (1992-1995, and many specials afterwards) was Thelma and Louise on steroids.  And lots of stoli.  It starred Jennifer Saunders as "Eddy" Edina Monsoon, a self-centered, celebrity-obsessed, fad-chasing glamorista who wasn't nearly as hip, chic, or well-connected as she thought she was ("Names, darling!  I need names!").

And Joanna Lumley as her best friend Patsy, a boozing, promiscuous fashion photographer or editor ("He wanted to show me his..er...portfolio").
Reigning the two in were Edina's daughter Saffron, or Saffy (Julia Sawalha, left), a level-headed college student with a dark side of her own, and her mother (June Whitfield), dotty and conniving at the same time.  Patsy and Saffy were each jealous of the other's place in Edina's life, and sniped at each other constantly.

Episodes could go off the deep end, as when Patsy sold Saffron into slavery in Morocco or Edina adopted a child to make Saffron jealous, but mostly they involved relationship issues: Eddy's 40th birthday; a visit by Patsy's older, crueller sister Jackie; Patsy takes a job in New York, thus threatening to break up the duo.

In spite of the occasional mention of heterosexual exploits, Patsy and Edina were most obviously life partners.  They may exploit others, but they never waivered in their commitment to each other.

There were also many quirky supporting characters, such as the butch-femme straight couple, Bo (Mo Gaffney) and Marshall (Christopher Ryan)

But it was the over-the-top camp that made Ab Fab a gay classic.  On Halloween in 1993, half of the drag queens in West Hollywood were dressed as Patsy.






Everyone was casually bisexual.  Patsy revealed that she had undergone a sex-change operation, but "it fell off."

And there were ample gay men and lesbians among the duo's friends and clients.   In the 2003 special "Gay," we discover that Eddy's son Serge (Josh Hamilton, left) ran away to New York because Eddy couldn't accept him as gay-and-boring; he wasn't flamboyant enough to be a chic shopping accessory.

Not a lot of beefcake in this female-oriented show -- just an occasional male model or shirtless boyfriend.  But who cares? Patsy and Edina were absolutely fabulous all by themselves.

David Cassidy: Man Undercover

Teen idol careers are painfully short, 3 or 4 years.  The 12 year olds who discover your picture in Teen Beat and moon over your bubblegum pop will eventually turn into teenagers, start dating boys of their own, and relegate you to childhood memories.  Unless you can reinvent yourself as a adult performer, you've had it.

David Cassidy, whose last charting single was in 1972 in the U.S. (though he was still selling records in Germany and the U.K.), tried to reinvent himself as a serious dramatic actor.  In 1978, he played a cop who goes undercover as a high school student in "A Chance to Live", an episode of Police Story.





He was nominated for an Emmy, and NBC was so impressed that they created a series for his character, giving undercover cop Dan Shay (David) a wife, a daughter, and a superior officer to butt heads with (Simon Oakland as Sgt. Abrams).

Unfortunately, they didn't learn from the example of Bobby Sherman in Getting Together.  They made a lot of mistakes.

Mistake #1: The title.  Everybody thought that David would be playing himself, a sort of teen idol secret agent.

Mistake #2: the wife and kids. Teen idols should be single, so the fans can fantasize about getting them for themselves.

Mistake #3: his costumes. All tight jeans and shirts unbuttoned to the navel.  It was the style in 1978, and it was nice to see a basket, but it didn't mesh with the androgynous shoulder-length hair.



Mistake #4: the middle aged superior officer (Simon Oakland).  Too hippie vs. establishment for the 1978.  Dan should have had a peer partner.

Mistake #5: instead of going undercover in a high school, Dan went undercover as a different ludicrous character every week, to snoop out a different ludicrous crime.  See if you can tell which is which:

He went undercover as a: biker, college student, drifter, high school student, hot rodder, junkie, medical patient, pimp, prisoner, trucker, weapons buyer.

To crack the crime of: baby selling, biker gang, drugs, homicide (several times), and supermarket break-ins.

Mistakes #6 and #7: Premiering it on Thursday nights, opposite the youth-hits Barney Miller and Soap, in November, when everyone is too busy preparing for the holidays to try out new tv shows.

Eight episodes aired during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season 1978, and another two were burned off in the summer of 1979, and David Cassidy: Man Undercover went into the records of "worst series ever."

David Cassidy found the experience painful.  After 1979 he concentrated on his music, and limited his tv and film work to occasional guest star spots. Recently he starred in Ruby and the Rockits with his brother Patrick and current teen idol Austin Butler.

See also: David Cassidy's Comic Book Career

Jul 22, 2016

The Pajama Game: 1950s Beefcake

There once was a man who loved a woman
She was the one he slew a dragon for.

The American musical has traditionally been a vehicle for unvarnished heterosexism, two interspliced boy-meets-girl plotlines and as many songs about "love! love! love!" as a Cody Simpson album.  But with so many gay actors, writers, directors, choreographers, and producers, gay subtexts invariably sneak in.

The Pajama Game (1954) ran for 1,063 performances on Broadway, with revivals in 1973 and 2005, and a movie version in 1957 (starring Doris Day).  The title sounds risque, but it's actually about the Sleeptite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Romantic plot #1: Manager Sid and worker Babe, who is petitioning for a 7.5 cent raise.
Romantic plot #2: Boss's assistant Gladys and her jealous boyfriend "Hine-sie" Hines.



Gay subtext #1: Hines seems more interested in Sid than Gladys.
Gay subtext #2: Gladys has many masculine-coded traits, veering close to a stereotypic movie lesbian.
Gay subtext #3: Beefcake.  At the end of the movie, Sid and Babe unveil the new pajama style, Sid shirtless, barechested, and muscular, so risque that it was shocking in 1954.










  John Raitt (left) is the archetypal Sid, appearing in both the original Broadway and the movie versions.  University performers include Chris Ellis (top photo) and Stephen Boyd (above).












The Pajama Game is a favorite of high school and college drama clubs, for both actors and fans who can see their favorite hunk semi-nude.  Sometimes more skittish directors insist that he perform with a t-shirt instead, as Harry Connick Jr. did in the recent Broadway revival.

See also: Annie Get Your Gun.

Jul 21, 2016

Jacob Wrestles the Angel

When I was a kid, our Sunday school classes went over all the great Old Testament stories of skullduggery, betrayal, abandonment, and murder (and those were the heroes).  In junior high, they were gradually phased out in favor of up to date "raps" about the evils of rock music and Roman Catholicism, but for a few years it was a wild ride.

My favorite hero/villain of the Old Testament was Jacob, son of Isaac.  It had deceit, sibling rivalry, and weird paranormal experiences. .

1. Esau, the eldest son, gets the birthright, but when he comes in famished from hunting, the sneaky Jacob tricks him into trading it over in exchange for a "mess of pottage."  Surely that constitutes duress.

2. He sneakily pretends to be Esau to get his father's blessing, too (his conniving Mother puts him up to it).

3. By this point, everyone is mad at him, so he runs away.  On the road, has some weird visions, like a Stairway to Heaven, with angels climbing up and down it.  Weird!


4. And, in the middle of the wilderness, an angel appears and wrestles with him all night.  That's quite a lengthy wrestling bout! The angel wins by wounding Jacob on the thigh.

Wait -- "thigh" is an ancient Hebrew euphemism for "penis." Maybe these guys weren't exactly "wrestling."

Other passages in the Bible state it was a "man" or "God," adding to the mystery of the encounter.

The "Wrestling with an Angel" story has received the most artistic interest, since it allowed artists to depict a homoerotic embrace between two naked men who aren't trying to kill each other.

This nude head-grabbing statue is by Hendrik Christian Andersen (1872-1940), the boyfriend of author Henry James.




A more stylized pair, with their crotches pressed together, was erected on the grounds of the University of Scranton in 1982 by sculptor Arlene Love.

















I don't know what these guys are up to, but Jacob's backside is emphasized.  It's by British artist Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959).
















Painters have gotten into the act, too.  The muscular legs and backsides are emphasized in this painting by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922).
















Eugene Delacroix (1768-1863) clothes the angel, but gives Jacob almost a modern bodybuilder's physique.
















Contemporary painter Paul Gilbert Baswell mysteriously hides the angel's face.



Jul 20, 2016

Little Lulu's Gay Kiss

In 2011, Archie comics made history by introducing Kevin Keller, the first gay character (with the term "gay" used) in children's comics.

Kevin is now a regular part of the gang, but his sexual identity is definitely in the background.  He is rarely shown dating, and he never kisses boys.  For that, we had to wait for Little Lulu.













Luzinha Teen e sua Terma  (Teenage Little Lulu and Her Gang) was a Brazilian comic reboot (2009-2015) of the classic comic book series, drawn in manga style.

Luluzinha is 15 years old, intelligent, resourceful, with a passion for dots (um, that's another character altogether).  She has a number of boyfriends, including Zico, Patrick, Ball, and the vampire Vincinius.

Ball (Tubby) is a slim, athletic aspiring rock musician, lead guitarist for the band Loki.  He is in love with Luluzinha, although he dates a number of girls.

Glorinha (Gloria) is into shopping and fashion.  She has several boyfriends.

Annie is a video game and computer geek.  She is dating Icarus.

Alvinho (Alvin) is a rebellious preteen who aspires to become a surfer.  He is dating Lila.

So far so heteronormative. But in 2013, Edgar arrives, a member of Ball's band.  He soon announces to the gang that he was gay, and started dating Fabio.  In issue 57, they kiss.

The gang is nonchalant, but Edgar's homophobic father is horrified, and assaults him.  Vicente, the school director, steps in.

On the whole, it's a "coming out" episode like what we saw on tv frequently during the 1980s, but in 2013 in a Brazilian children's comic.

It's a start.

See also: Little Lulu

Jul 19, 2016

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

I disliked He-Man  and the Masters of the Universe (1983-85), the cartoon based on the Mattel toys.

First of all, the term "he-man" roiled me.  Whether you measure it by chromosomes, hormones, a penis, or external affect, a man is a man.  There's no degrees, there's no "he does this, so he's more of a man than you."  Everything men do is what men do, which is everything except give birth.

This particular He-Man is just a run-of-the-mill 1980s sword-and-sorcery hunk, except he has the rather Biblical title Prince Adam of Eternia (Holy Garden of Eden, Batman!).






The Elders of Eternia, who live in Castle Greyskull, decided that they needed a hero, so they chose Prince Adam.  To become a superhero, he raises his penis...um, I mean his sword...and yells "By the Power of Grayskull, I am the Power!"

He then transforms, Shazam-like, into...well, exactly the same person.  He just takes his clothes off and puts a Christian cross on his chest.  









His main nemesis is Skeletor, a hyperbolic skull-faced guy with purple muscles and a bone-cross, who wants to..well, you know.

His main allies are:
1. Battle Cat
2. The Girl, aka Teela the "Warrior Goddess"
3. The Sorceress, who may be Teela, too.  All women are the same woman, the Eternal Feminine.
4. Orko, a weird ghost-thing who acts as comic relief.  If you need any.

But he also fights with the Masters of the Universe -- rather a hyperbolic title, since they really defend only Planet Eternia.  They include characters with bizarre names like Man-E-Faces, Buzz Off, Snout Spout, Sir Laser-Lot, Wun-Dar, and Sy-Klone (I'm not making this up).

Every episode is a morality play, with the moral helpfully provided at the end.

Ileena is drugged by the evil wizard Jarvon.  Moral: Drugs are bad.

He-Man and Skeletor must team up to defeat the evil plant-monster Evilseed.  Moral: Cooperation is good.

A villain named Darkdream blots out Eternia's sun.  Moral: Nightmares can't hurt you.

Often the moral had only a very loose relationship to the story:

Skeletor steals Castle Greyskull.  Moral: Overeating is bad.

He-Man is forced to fight as a gladiator.  Moral: Books are better than tv.

Adam and Teela explore an old castle and awaken its residents from an enchanted sleep.  Moral: You should go to bed at the same time each day.

Seriously, who was watching this?

Somebody was.  In 1985, a spin-off series introduced Prince Adam's twin sister Adora, who was kidnapped as a baby and raised on Etheria.  She becomes She-Ra, Princess of Power (What, no She-Woman?), with comrades named Cowl, Bow, Frosta, Perfuma, Castaspella (really?), and enemies named Catra, Mantenna (I'd like to see his man-tenna), Scorpia, and Entrapta.

In 1990, a new line of toys required a new series: .He-Man moves from Eternia to Primus, where struggles against Skeletor and his army of mutants.

Ready for the list of crazy names?  Quakke, Slush Head, Gross, Butthead, Gleep, and Karatti.

In 2002, yet another series appeared, with another toyline. Back on Eternia, He-Man fights Skeletor and his Snake-People,

There was a live action movie, Masters of the Universe, in 1987.  Dolph Lundgren (top photo) played a He-Man who somehow ends up on Earth and befriends two 1980s teens, Kevin and Julie (Robert Duncan McNeill, later of Star Trek: Voyager, Courtney Cox, later of Friends).  Critics jeered.

A new movie version has been announced several times over the years.  Professional surfer Laird Hamilton and more recently Kellan Lutz have been mentioned as potential future He-Men.





Jul 18, 2016

Eli's Dispatches from Amsterdam, Mostly About Arab, Pakistani, Greek, and Iranian Men

Plains, July 2013

My email to my friend Eli in Amsterdam contained only one word: "WTF????"

He had just told me that he was taking a job in Oman.

That's right, Oman, the sultanate just south of Saudi Arabia, on the Indian Ocean.

I called.  "But...but...but it's the Arabian Peninsula!  I wouldn't set foot in any country where being gay brings the death penalty."

"No, that is Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  In Oman the penalty is only three years in prison."

"Only three years in prison?"

"Most of the states in the U.S. had worse penalties.  Besides, it is only if you are discovered."

"But...you live in Amsterdam, where everything is open.  Gay life in Oman must be incredibly closeted.  No bars, no bathhouses, no organizations."

"They have Grindr.   And it is a very good job, and it will last only one year."

"Whatever.  If you want to be scared, closeted, and celibate, go for it."

Eli's Dispatches from Oman (modified slightly for grammar).

September 2013

"You were thinking mud streets and minarets, yes?  Oman is modern!  The Food Court in the Muscat Grand Mall has Charley's Grilled Subs, Curry in a Hurry, Hungry Bunny, KFC, Papa John's, Mr. Pretzels, and Wok and Roll."

"Half the people here are guest workers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  Last night I met a very cute boy from Bangladesh on Grindr.  He never met a black guy before.

The full story, with nude photos and sexual content, is on Tales of West Hollywood

Jul 17, 2016

Uncle Tom Award #8: Chris Colfer's Land of Stories

You probably remember Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel, the gay kid on Glee.  He is still acting (in 2015 he played the young Noel Coward), and producing, but arguably his main claim to fame today is the juvenile fantasy series Land of Stories.  The first, Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, appeared in 2012, and shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, probably because of the name recognition.

Other books in the series, Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns (2013), Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning (2014), and Land of Stories: Beyond the Kingdoms (2015), have also done well.

A gay author who played a gay person on tv and supports innumerable gay charities, from It Gets Better to the Trevor Project to Uprising of Love (for LGBT Russians)?  Obviously he would make gay people an unremarkable part of his fictional world.

Obviously.

Right?

Um...



The premise is well known from such properties as The 10th Kingdom and Once Upon a Time: fairy tales are real, historically accurate depictions of events that occurred in a parallel reality.  Teenage twins Alex and Connor (a boy and a girl) find themselves in Fairy World, and change the course of both fairy and human history.   Let's go through a run-down of the major characters;

Alex dates a boy named Rook, and Connor dates a girl named Bree.  Next!


Their mother, Charlotte, gets a new boyfriend.  Next!

Jack, the grown-up Beanstalk Climber, marries Goldilocks of Three Bears fame.

The Evil Queen of Sleeping Beauty fame had a boyfriend.  Sleeping Beauty herself is married to Prince Charming.

Froggy, aka Charlie Charming, aka the Frog Prince, is dating the grown-up Red Riding Hood.

That leaves a couple of very minor characters who don't mention any specifically heterosexual interests.

There isn't even any room for a Dumbledore to be gay and closeted and come out after the fact.

There aren't even any potential gay subtexts, as every major relationship is carefully organized into a boy-girl pattern.

Let's review:

A gay author who played a gay person on tv and supports innumerable gay charities has written a series of juvenile fantasy novels in which every single character of consequence is firmly and undeniably identified as heterosexual.

Hey, Uncle Tom...um, I mean Chris, I thought you supported gay kids' right to exist?

L

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