Dec 10, 2016

Peter Koch, Forgotten Muscleman of the 1980s

The other night I was watching A Different World on Netflix, a "very special episode" where Dwayne rehabilitates two juvenile gang-bangers (played by preteen rap duo Kriss Kross).  The police officer who brings them in for mentoring was striking -- tall, blond, buffed.  He had only one line, but maybe he was in other things....

I found Peter Koch, a forgotten muscleman of the 1980s.

Born in 1962, he played professional football for five seasons while doing modeling and some acting.  His first tv role was "Harry the Bodyguard" on a 1986 episode of Dallas.

He showed some chest as Swede Johanson in the war movie Hearbreak Ridge (1986)

Why do musclemen never get to be romantic leads?  If they're not rescuing POWs from behind enemy lines, they're grunting and flexing to threaten the lead -- here Peter's character roughs up Patrick Dempsey in Loverboy (1988).

It's as if Hollywood thinks of muscles and by definition violent rather than sexy.

He was very busy in the 1990s, playing football players, cops, bodyguards, soldiers, and miscellaneous hunks.  No starring roles, but he played himself in the thriller Sweet Evil (1996), and he had a substantial part as the Fire Captain in Conspiracy Theory (1997), starring Mel Gibson.

Not a lot of roles in the 2000s, but he kept busy as a fitness trainer.

According to his facebook page, he lives in Santa Monica, he's single, and this photo is prominently posted.

My gaydar was triggered until I read more: it's not the boyfriend, it's Toby Maguire.

And Pete's Facebook likes: Brett Easton Ellis, George W. Bush, and Mike Pence.

Ok, not gay, not gay friendly, but still a hunk.

Dec 9, 2016

Beetle Bailey's Boyfriend

In 1950 Mort Walker started the newspaper comic strip Beetle Bailey, about a lazy, inept student at Rockview University.  The large cast of characters included students, faculty, and Beetle's longsuffering family (his sister eventually married and spun off into her own strip, Hi and Lois).

College humor didn't attract many reader, so on March 13, 1951, Walker had Beetle join the army.  He was stationed at Camp Swampy in South Carolina, where he has stayed ever since, still lazy and inept, still surrounded by a colorful characters: girl-crazy Killer, intellectual Plato, dimwitted Zero.

And Sarge -- Sergeant Orville P. Snorkle, Beetle's platoon leader.

Their relationship was antagonistic -- Sarge often yelled at Beetle and pounded him into a pulp -- but affectionate.  They were often shown hanging out together as friends.

Or more than friends.

As the years passed, and especially after Mort Walker's sons, Neal, Brian, and Greg, took over the writing in the 1980s, the homoromantic subtext became increasingly important to the plotlines.

Many gags involved Sarge's total lack of interest in women.

Beetle dated girls, but less and less frequently, as strips hinted that his main interest lay in the masculine as well.

Beetle exhibited a freedom of speech and action that no other soldier had, relishing his special place in Sarge's life.

They used blatantly romantic vocabulary and themes.

A number of strips hinted that Beetle regularly shared Sarge's room, or his bed.

Other characters treated them as a couple.

Their fights became the standard squabbles of comic-strip couples, where physical violence demonstrates affection rather than hatred.

The question is, were Mort Walker and his sons aware of the subtexts?

Doubtful -- bickering buddies are a comic strip staple.

Still, we have to wonder about the August 19, 2013 strip, with Beetle looking for the blue skies over the rainbow.  Sounds like he's coming out.

Dec 6, 2016

Slapsie Maxie and Mad Max: Boxers with a Hint of Lavender

I've heard the phrase Slapsie Maxie many times, usually applied in derision to a guy who fights with open-hand slaps rather than closed-fist punches.   It's supposed to suggest that you're a sissy, potentially gay. But only recently did I discover that the phrase originated with a potential landsman.

Born in 1907, Jewish boxer Maxie Rosenbloom (left) had a weak, open-glove punching style that earned him the nickname "Slapsie Maxie."

It was effective: he won 222 of his 298 fights.  But he was hit in the head so often that he lost some motor functioning and reasoning skills, becoming what they called "punch drunk."  

Forced into retirement in 1937, Slapsie Maxie began a new career in the movies, playing "himself" or other big, tough,  slow-witted, "punch drunk" characters.

He also capitalized on the association of "slapping" with effeminancy, playing characters with "a touch of lavender," such as a powder puff salesman in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942),  a gangster named "Trixie Belle" in Here Comes Kelly (1943), or a Hopalong Cassidy parody named Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951).  

The humor came from seeing someone big and tough who might be gay, or who was too "stupid" to realize that his acts were gender-transgressive.

 In real life, he was married for a few years (1937-45), but he seemed to prefer the company of men, such as trainer and manager Frank Bachmann (left).  And he was not averse to gender-transgressions: apparently a young Davis Hopper saw him in drag at the premiere of Dodge City (1939).

Slapsie Maxie also opened a popular nightclub, Slapsie Maxie's, and made a dent in radio and on tv, playing "himself" in an ongoing role on The Fred Allen Show, and appearing on episodes of The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Donna Reed Show.

In 1950, he teamed up with his lifelong friend, another boxer-turned-actor, Max Baer (known as Mad Max, top photo and left), playing the "stooge" who bedevils "straight man" Baer.  They starred "as themselves" in four comedy shorts and toured as the comedy team "The Two Maxies."

They remained close friends until Baer's death in 1959.  Slapsie Maxie died in 1976.

Max Baer's son, Max Baer Jr. (born in 1937) made his own splash in Hollywood as Jethro Bodine, dimwitted backwood Adonis on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71).  Later he contributed to gay history by producing Ode to Billy Joe (1976), starring Robby Benson as a gay teenager who commits suicide.

The Nutcracker: Men in Tights

When I was a kid, our church forbade movies, theater, carnivals, circuses -- basically anything that had a plot.  And my working-class parents disapproved of anything "long hair."  So ballet and opera were completely alien.

Except at Christmastime, when we would go to see "The Nutcracker" at Centennial Hall on the Augustana College campus, or at Rock Island High School, or both.  One year the Youth Symphony participated, so I got to be in the orchestra pit for eight full performances.

The plot is heterosexist -- Elsa receives a nutcracker shaped like a toy soldier for Christmas.  He comes to life, fights an army of mice, and reveals that he is actually a prince.  They return to his kingdom, the Land of Sweets, where he makes Elsa his queen.

But who pays attention to the plot?  No matter what people tell you, they go to ballets for one reason, and one reason only: to celebrate male or female beauty.  Dances in form-fitting tights, swaying and twisting, making every curve and muscle visible.

No other art, not even bodybuilding, displays the male physique so openly and extensively.  You don't just get a glimpse or a hint -- everything is out there, through the entire performance.

No wonder every gay kid in town, even those who were otherwise obsessed with sports, couldn't wait for Christmas.

 The only ballet dancer I knew by name was Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), who danced in a tv version of The Nutcracker in 1968.  I also saw him on The Muppet Show in 1977, and in Romeo and Juliet in 1982 (which also has a heterosexist plot, but who cares?)

I didn't know at the time that he was gay in real life, and dated a number of celebrities, including Raymundo de Larrain and Tab Hunter (left), plus his long-time lover Erik Bruhn.  I responded to his passion, his obvious joy at being an object of desire, and his superlative physique.

He was even able to invest The Nutcracker with gay symbolism, transforming the Prince into an outcast, a wooden soldier who longs to be a "real boy."

I discovered Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948-) in a 1977 tv version of The Nutcracker, and later in Carmen (1980) and Don Quixote (1984).  He was more muscular than Nureyev, and an accomplished actor, but his aggressively heterosexual stance bothered me, as if he wanted to "redeem" ballet from its gay reputation.

Good luck.  Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950), the first ballet superstar, was gay, and caused a scandal with his erotic movements (the audience rioted at the premiere of The Rites of Spring).

So was Tchaikovsky, who scored The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

See also: Erik Bruhn, Closeted Ballet Great.; Ten Nutcracker Beefcake Boys

Dec 5, 2016

Amazing Man

Amazing Man was published by Centaur Comics, one of the many comic book companies that sprang up during World War II to capitalize on the popularity of Superman.  26 issues appeared from 1939 to 1942.

Amazing Man has a teen sidekick named Tommy, and a coterie of equally muscled heroes who often need rescue.

This very busy cover shows some of his coterie about to be blasted off into space, while Amazing Man tangles with the hooded baddie's pet panther.

I don't know what he's doing here.  Overturning a wheelbarrow of coal onto the baddies?

His origin story is similar to that of several other mystical superheroes: born John Amman, he was raised in Tibet by the Council of Seven, each of whom endowed him with a superheroic power.  The oddest was an ability to turn into a green mist.

That should strike terror in the hearts of criminals.

The benefit of Amazing Man was that he was bare-chested and rather muscular, in an era when even Conan the Barbarian was portrayed as rather skinny.

He's now public domain, so he has appeared in several modern comic book universes, including Gallant Comics, Marvel (where he's known as the Prince of Orphans) and Malibu Comics (where he has joined the superhero team The Protectors).

A Ginger Boy for Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 1986:

I'm 26 years old. living in West Hollywood, but back in Rock Island for the holidays, staying in my old room.  At 6:00 pm my brother and his family and my sister's boyfriend arrive for our traditional Christmas Eve pizza and present unwrapping.

At 9:00 Fred picks me up.  He's 34, tall, athletic, with a stern, rugged face, a smooth chest, and impressive beneath-the-belt gifts.

When we met, he was student clergy.  When he got a church assignment, he talked me into moving to Omaha with him.  I lasted for a miserable month.  Now he's working as a mental health counselor in Kansas City. He's  home for the holidays, staying in his old room at his parents' farmhouse, about 30 miles south of Rock Island.

We're going to spend the night together, and then have the traditional Christmas morning breakfast and present-unwrapping at his house.

"I told my parents you might have a friend with you," Fred tells me.  "I didn't know if you were bringing Raul home from West Hollywood."

"We broke up a couple of weeks ago, so I'm single again.  I just met [My Celebrity Boyfriend], but we haven't arranged a date yet."

"Who knows?  You might make a friend tonight!"

"I'd rather have you to myself.  We haven't seen each other since last Christmas."  We may be broken up, but Fred is enormously attractive, and I'm feeling especially vulnerable after my breakup.

"So we'll share.  That's all the rage in West Hollywood, right?"

The rest of the story contains nude photos and explicit sexual situations.  You can read it on Tales of West Hollywood

Dec 4, 2016

The World According to Mork

The second celebrity I met after I moved to L.A. in 1985 was Robin Williams, at a party in the Hollywood Hills.  He wasn't nearly as nice as Michael J. Fox.  I did manage to land his date, though.

I first saw the recent Juliard graduate in Mork and Mindy (1978-82) an "I've got a secret" sitcom about the alien Mork from Ork, returning to the role Robin first played on Happy Days. Here he was sent to observe present-day Earth, specifically Boulder, Colorado.  He moved in with Mindy (Pam Dauber), who worked in a music store with her suspicious father.She initially found Mork annoying, but of course they inevitably fell in love, got married, and had a baby.

Heterosexist story arc aside, the first season featured Mork's reasonably humorous misunderstandings of Earth customs.  But plotlines soon emphasized treacly lessons of the week which Mork delivered to his commander, Orson, in an annoying "report" at the end of each episode: "I learned that Earthlings sometimes have trouble expressing their feelings."

The only redeeming feature was the beefcake.  Mork was relatively attractive, though rarely shirtless, and Remo DaVinci (Jay Thomas, later seen on Cheers), who ran their deli-hangout, had massive biceps.

Robin broke into movies with Popeye (1980), which I likedfor the gay symbolism.  Sweethaven was a fascinating, self-contained world, drawn from Depression-Era culture and the original comic strips, where everyone was as trapped as in the Village of The Prisoner. As the "National Anthem" stated:  "Sweet Sweethaven -- God must love us.  Why else would He have stranded us here?"

But then came The World According to Garp (1982).  When I was in college, all of the English majors were hoarse from shouting the praises of John Irving's original novel  so I may have been a bit prejudiced when I sat down for the  movie version.  It was slow, artsy, morbid, and disgusting, but when you cut trhogh the pretention and disquiet, you got heterosexual sex -- a lot of it. And castration -- a lot of it.

1. Jenny Fields (Glenn Close) wants a baby, so she sexually assaults a brain-dead GI to get the sperm.  She calls her son Garp.

2. Growing up, Garp has lots of sex before marrying Helen (Mary Beth Hurt).  Unfortunately, she is unfaithful. He crashes his car into a car where she is having sex with her boyfriend, simultaneously killing and castrating him.

3. Meanwhile, Jenny runs a home for abused women, most of whom have cut off their tongues in solidarity for a rape victim (symbolic castration).  Garp hangs out there, and meets transsexual Roberta Muldoon (John Lithgow). This movie has the mistaken impression that a transsexual is a castrated man.

4. Jenny is killed by a rabid anti-feminist, and her memorial service is open to women only.  So Garp puts on a dress to sneak in (symbolic castration).  But he is discovered and goes into hiding.  Eventually he is killed -- I can't stand movies where the central character dies, but at least it put an end to the castration anxiety.  
 Since 1985, I've seen five or six more of Robin's movies -- not the earnest, heartfelt ones where people die -- and I'm still not sure about him:

Heterosexism (Hook), anti-gay slurs, ad-lib channeling of some of the most offensively lisping, mincing hairdressers (in Aladdin and every comedy monologue), gay couples divided into "the man" and  "the woman" (in The Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire), immensely heteronormative plotlines -- but then there's The Night Listener (2006), where he plays a gay man mourning his lost love.

Was he a homophobic gay ally, a gay-friendly homophobe, or what?

By the way, the story of my date with Robin and his "boyfriend" is on Tales of West Hollywood..

15 Reasons to Skip Christmas

I'm not a big fan of Christmas.  I dread seeing the first Christmas ads of the year, in August or September.  The decorations going up in stores in October.  And the day after Thanksgiving, when the onslaught begins in earnest, a full month of gaudy decorations and tinny music and exhortations to be merry.

It's the most heterosexist time of the year.

Here are 15 reasons to just skip it and spend December hiding out in yurt in Mongolia.

1. The Animated Specials: Unrelenting in their zeal in pairing up Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman with their female counterparts, while Burl Ives sings "Somebody waits for you -- kiss her once for me."

2. The TV Movies.  Christmas Magic, A Christmas Kiss, A Bride for Christmas, Undercover Christmas.  A lonely woman finds love with an unexpected man in a "Holiday Miracle."  Over and over and over again.

3. The Nutcracker Ballet.  Ok, so there are ample bulges and biceps to be seen, but it's a hetero-romance composed by a gay man.

4The Commercials.  15,000 tv commercials show young heterosexual couples in expensive bathrobes giving each other elegant gifts and then kissing.  15,000 more show kids ecstatically upwrapping the gift du jour, while their heterosexual parents hug each other fondly.  No same-sex couples, not even pairs of friends.

5. The Songs.  Men and women endlessly meeting each other under the mistletoe.  Kids getting gender-polarized presents.   And "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the most depressing song ever written, part of the repertoire of Judy Garland, who believed -- with many gay people of her era -- that to be gay was to be constantly sad.

Did you know that the song was originally much more depressing?  I'm not sure how that's possible, but the maven of depressing songs refused to sing it until it was cheered up from "throw yourself in front of a bus" to a mere "sob uncontrollably."

6. "Don we now our gay apparel."  A reminder that the word "gay" previously meant something like "happy, giddy."  Except today it's regularly censored, lest anyone's holiday celebrations be ruined by the recognition that gay people exist.

7. The Visit.  You are required to wait at a crowded airport, sit in a packed airplane made even more cramped by bulky coats and packages, and go "home" to visit your birth family in the Straight World.  But your heterosexual brother and sister are excused.  The message is clear: they have their own home, but you don't.  No matter how long they have lived in a place, no matter what social and emotional connections they have made, gay people have no "home."

8. The Dinner. Christmas Dinner back "home" involves endless discussions of heterosexual husbands and wives, boyfriend and girlfriends, but you are cautioned not to tell Aunt June about your boyfriend, lest her holiday be ruined.

9. The Breakup.  There are an extraordinary number of breakups just after Christmas.  People who don't like their boyfriends or girlfriends always think things like "I can't ruin their Christmas by dumping them.  But the day after..."

My problem has always been going "home" for 10 days and leaving the boyfriend back in West Hollywood or New York or Florida.  The vultures start circling immediately, bulging and flexing and cruising, and when I get back, I'm welcomed by "I didn't plan on it -- it just happened."

10. The Parties.  They never end.  Various offices, departments, schools, organizations, miscellaneous groups of friends.  10 or more before the season is over -- if you're lucky.

Roomsful of people who don't know you're gay, forcing you to come out endlessly and get surprised reactions, or else endure heterosexist small talk and flirting from every heterosexual Cougar  in sight.

And endless supplies of cookies, candy, cakes, bars, and whatever other high-fat, high-sugar horrors that can be decorated in gaudy colors.

11. The Fashions.  After all the parties, no wonder people dress in bulky sweaters and coats.  Primary colors, gaudy designs, knit fabrics.  It's the worst time of the year for showing off your muscles, or getting a glimpse of a Cute Young Thing's biceps and bulge.

12. Santa Claus.  Fat, elderly, married, and wearing red.  The antithesis of a gay icon.

13. The Salvation Army, which teaches that gay people should be stoned to death, is out in numbers ringing those little bells, and people are tossing money in gladly, emphasizing how thin the veneer of tolerance is -- at any moment, "I don't have any problem with you people" could change to screaming.

14. "A Perfect Holiday Gift."   TV commercials and ads call it "the holidays," but they mean Christmas only, showing only Christmas traditions and ending summarily on December 26th, even though there is still New Year's Eve, Kwanzaa, and sometimes Ramadan and Hanukah left.

Gay people hear quite enough of this "universal" means "only us" claptrap:

She's every man's fantasy.
Every woman wants him; every man wants to be him.
There's not a man alive who wouldn't want to get with her.
Every boy "discovers" girls during adolescence.

15. "Cheer up, it's Christmas."  You are required to feel ecstatic all the time.  Even the most upbeat person can't be up all day, every day, but if you experience even a moment of melancholy, there are 3000 people waiting to tell you that there's something wrong with you, you're a Scrooge or a Grinch.

Gay people hear quite enough of this "You must feel a certain way" claptrap:

You're not really gay.  You just haven't met the right person yet.
How do you know you're gay if you haven't tried it with a woman?
Ok, so you're gay, but don't tell me you would kick her out of bed!

But at least there are Pantomimes in England, and the Santa Speedo Run in Boston.

See also: Are the Pantos Gay; and My 12 Christmas Boyfriends


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