It's the night before Gay Pride, so of course Lane and I have a full house: Infinite Chazz, my ex-boyfriend Fred and his boyfriend Matt, Randall the Bear with the Pierced Penis and his date Levi ("like the jeans"), and some other guys. Most of them will spending the night, six in the beds and four in sleeping bags on the floor, so they can march in the parade tomorrow or get a good place to watch (we're a scant three blocks from Santa Monica Boulevard).
The only one I haven't met is Levi, a Long Beach boy in his late 30s or early 40s, slim, very tanned, and just starting to go bald, with gray hairs among the black in his beard and poking up from beneath his white t-shirt. Very nice bulge. I'm hoping to get to "share" later, but chances are he and Randall will invite Will the Bondage Boy into their bed instead.
As usual at West Hollywood parties, we discuss celebrity hookups: Scott Baio, Michael J. Fox, Rob Lowe, Louis Ferrigno.
Randall tells about the time he and Dick Sargent competed over a Disney teen star -- not Tommy Kirk (that's a story for later).
Then Levi stands. "All right, boys and girls, it's time for a guessing game. And to make it more interesting, everyone who guesses correctly wins 10 minutes in the bedroom with me:
On Gay Pride Day in 1978, when I was a 22-year old Cute Young Thing, fresh off the boat from Alamosa, Colorado, I met and had a swooning night of passion with my boyhood crush, a star of The Dick Van Dyke Show. You have to guess which one."
The classic Boomer sitcom (1961-1966), about tv comedy writer Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) balancing his work world with his suburban family! I'm too young to remember first-run episodes, but I've seen a lot of reruns. Not a lot of gay content, no beefcake, but some of the guys were interesting.
"I'm voting for Jerry Paris, who played the next door neighbor," I say. "He was incredibly handsome, nice hair, great hands."
Maybe it was the son," Will the Bondage Boy suggests. "Larry Mathews would be all grown up by 1978."
"Dick Van Dyke himself?" Matt asks. "I always got a little -- je ne peux pas dire -- a vibe from him."
Nine votes are cast, with Randall abstaining: 3 for Jerry Paris, 2 for Dick Van Dyke, and 1 each for Morey Amsterdam, Larry Mathews, Jerry Van Dyke, and Carl Reiner.
"Unfortunately, no one will be getting me in the bedroom" Levi says, "Not until later, anyhow. The famous tv star who set my heart aflutter when I was a boy, and who brought me to my knees that hot day in June 1978, was none other than Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley."
Mel Cooley, the officious busybody, the easily perturbed stick-in-the-mud, the quintessential square, the brunt of a thousand digs and put-downs? How could he set anyone's heart aflutter?
Besides, he was bald, bespectacled, and rather homely, with a W. C. Fields nose, a weak chin, and a nondescript physique, even for the 1960s.
Alamosa, Colorado, 1960s
A small town in the scrub grass at the base of the Rockies, 200 miles from the nearest big city, where the biggest tourist attraction was sand dunes. It was full of cowboys, Mormons, and hobos, with nothing to do on a Saturday night but go to football games and drink beer: painful for a quiet, non-athletic, bookish boy regardless of your sexual identity, but when you're growing up gay in the police-state 1960s, sheer torture.
Looking for survival strategies on tv, Levi hit upon Mel Cooley. Obviously gay -- at least, no wife was ever mentioned. And a master of the passive-aggressive barbs that let you survive and even triumph over bigger, more powerful adversaries. When fisticuffs would get you pummelled, try a slow burn or a disapproving eye-roll. When an open objection would get you killed, try a snarky quip. Genius!
Smitten, Levi watched Richard Deacon in everything he could find: Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, That Darn Cat, The Gnome-Mobile, Blackbeard's Ghost, Get Smart, The Beverly Hillbillies, Here's Lucy, Maude, BJ and the Bear.
He always played gay-vague, passive-aggressive, snarky sticks-in-the-mud aching to ruin the hero's fun. But on the talk and game shows -- Dick Cavett, The Tonight Show, Mike Douglas, The Match Game -- he revealed the sensitive, sweet soul beneath the bristly facade. Levi was intrigued: he wanted more.
A few weeks after he graduated from Adams State College with a degree in agriculture (his parents insisted), Levi was living in California (top photo), working in a department store, and watching his first Gay Pride Parade. Harvey Milk was the grand marshal. There were protests against the Briggs Amendment, which would prohibit teachers from making pro-gay statements.
And -- sitting on the patio of a restaurant facing the street, Levi saw his childhood crush, Richard Deacon! He was with Paul Lynde and Phyllis Diller and a couple of Cute Young Things.
He was 57 years old, graying, and kind of chunky -- Levi later discovered that he didn't like the gym, and followed Miss Piggy's rule about jogging: "One should run only when one is being chased." But he was enormously tall, massive, and vibrant, talking animatedly, waving his hands about.
"Mr. Deacon, I loved you in Dick Van Dyke!" Levi exclaimed, rushing forward. "And in That Darn Cat! You're a genius!"
"I'm not a genius," Richard said, looking up with a cruisy smile. "I'm a craftsman."
Levi instinctively looked around, waiting for an insulting quip like "You mean crap-man." But the others in his party just smiled. Richard -- "Deac" -- invited Levi to join them.
Later they all had dinner at Deac's house off Coldwater Canyon Drive, north of Sunset. He cooked: steak with corn compote and summer squash, asparagus, and a Napa Valley cabernet, with a chocolate torte for dessert.
After dinner, Paul and Phyllis and the Cute Young Things went home, but Levi spent the night. And the next. They didn't become lovers, but they became friends, and shared tricks and recipes and Gay Pride Parades until his death on August 8, 1984.
West Hollywood, June 1995
"During my six years of friendship with Richard Deacon, I learned three important things about him," Levi says.
1. He didn't want to play heroes, or God forbid, romantic leads. No fisticuffs, no kissing ladies. He found what he was good at, and used it to his advantage, crafting a respectable Hollywood career, making enough money to indulge in all of the things he loved: good food, good wine, art, theater, travel.
2. He was the nicest, most approachable, most easy-going guy in Hollywood. He would talk to anyone, from superstars to the counter girl at the deli, and no one had a single bad word to say about him.
"What's third thing?" I ask.
"For some of you, it might be the most important. Not to me -- I couldn't care less. But it was very nice on a hot Hollywood night with a glass of Merlot by the bedside."
"What's the third thing?" I repeat, annoyed.
3. Richard Deacon was hung to his knees.
The uncensored story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.