Dec 31, 2012

La Gran Aventura: Two Boys, a Boxer, and a Bull

Speaking of Nino del Arco, he was an accomplished child star in Mexico before he starred in Kaliman, but I've seen only one of his movies, La gran aventura (1969), on Telemundo during the 1980s (about the same time that I was watching Santo, Los Beltran, and  Papa soltero).

The plot: the effervescent Jacky (Julian Bravo, left) agrees to help the timid Pepe (Nino) search for his lost dog.

On the way they have many picaresque adventures, including run-ins with a bull and gangsters.  Meanwhile their parents are frantically searching for them.

Unfortunately, I was 15 years too late.  If I had seen it as a preteen in the 1960s, the significant beefcake and bonding would have rivaled that of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, transforming Mexico into a "good place."

1. Beefcake: there are many shirtless shots of rather muscular Jacky, and a skinny-dipping scene involving both boys.

2. Bonding: Jacky meets Pepe as a stranger and displays a remarkable interest in him, aggressively courting him, running head-first into danger to protect him.  In the end they decide to stay together forever.

Julian Bravo remains popular in Mexico, starring in a variety of films, from the religious (First Communion) to the not religious (The Difficult Life of an Easy Woman).  Most recently he was featured as Guillermo on the telenovela Salome.  Nino del Arco retired during his adolescence, and now works as a lawyer in Madrid.

Dec 28, 2012

Spring 1980: Blood Brothers in German Class: Bravo Magazine

In college, my Second Year German class (1979-80) didn't offer the wealth of adventure boys with boyfriends (Tintin, Spirou, Corentin), nor the buffed Kaliman or the teen pop sensation of Menudo, but Dr. Kraus had a stash of back issues of the  teen magazine Bravo.  It was more risque than its American counterparts, with articles on sex (only heterosexual sex) and nude photos of teen models (both male and female).  She assured us that nudity was commonplace in Deutschland.

 The cover stories were mostly the expected Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, and John Travolta, but there were some surprises.Who was this Tashunke, the young, buffed, shirtless friend of the Indian Winnetou? Some digging (and careful translation) revealed a miniseries, Mein Freund Winnetou (1980), and a series of novels by Karl May about homoerotic "blood brothers" in the Old West.

Muscles for Siegfried!  The blond muscleman Uwe Beyer became completely nude to play the Medieval hero Siegfried fighting the dragon (we watched the 1966 movie in German class).

Roy Black was a schlager singer, specializing in soft, sentimental ballads, like Heintje.   He also starred in some lighthearted anti-establishment comedies, such as Always Trouble with the Teachers (1968) and Our Doctor is the Best (1970).

Hans Jurgen Baumler was an Olympic silver-medalist in figure skating.  He also recorded some schlager songs and appeared on tv, notably on the bulge-heavy Salto Mortale (1969-72), about a family of trapeze artists.

In my junior year, I got Death in Venice

Dec 26, 2012

Fall 1979: The Northern Thing: German Gods, Heroes, and Dragons

During my sophomore year at Augustana College, I spent a quarter abroad in Regensburg, Germany, and registered for a class in German Myths and Legends, mainly because my other choices were  The Political Economy of Modern Germany and German History since 1945.  I was skeptical. Ancient Greece, India, and the Pacific were tropical, tailor-made for revealing togas or loincloths, but surely there would be minimal beefcake and even less bonding among the Medieval Germans.

In fact, there was a lot of beefcake.  When Siegfried sets out to slay the dragon Fafnir in The Nibelungenlied, he traditionally strips down to his bare skin, as Uwe Beyer does in this 1966 version that we watched in German class (bodybuilder Samson Burke does not strip down).

In 2011, Charles S. Stewart crafted this nude figurine based on an old art deco design.

But no bonding, unless you count triangulations:

The Nibelungenlied feature soap-opera love triangles between Siegfried, his wife Gudrun, and his true love Brunhilde.  Meanwhile, Alberich the Dwarf tries to woo the Rhine Maids, but they reject him,so he steals their gold.

Tristan und Isolde is about the love triangle between the Knight Tristan, King Marke, and Isolde.

Dec 24, 2012

The Gay South Pacific

I identified India and Australia as "good places" from tv, but the Pacific came from books, which imagined a vast ocean studded by islands, some uninhabited, some inhabited by cannibals and headhunters, some inhabited by muscular men who wore only loincloths and fell in love with each other.

Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe, about a a man who is shipwrecked (actually off the coast of Brazil) and lives for many years with his native companion, Friday.  The subtext is obvious.

I had three or four juvenile versions.  My favorite was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.  The only movie versions during my childhood were Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which transports them into space, and Robby (1968), which makes them about ten years old.  And nude.

Call it Courage (1940), by Armstrong Sperry, about a boy named Mafatu (played by Evan Temarii in the 1973 movie), who is afraid of the sea, so he sets out on his own in an outrigger canoe, get shipwrecked, fights cannibals, and returns home a man.

No gay subtext, but the boy was bronze and hard-bodied, a perfect fantasy boyfriend for a preteen.

Kon-Tiki and The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl.

Island Boy, by Robert R. Harry (1957), about another bronze, hard-bodied boy who grows up to be king, without falling in love with any girls along the way.

There were some tv shows and movies, too: Gilligan's Island, where Gilligan and the Skipper share hammocks; Danger Island, where Jan-Michael Vincent met his first boyfriends; Jules Verne's Mysterious Island; South Pacific where beefy men hang all over each other while ironically singing "There's nothing like a dame."

Not a lot of toys, but I did manage to find this hula boy bobbler that sat by my bedside.  He didn't look Hawaiian, but he had six-pack abs and a nice chest.

In college I read Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851), about an American whaler named Ishmael who finds a bond deeper than marriage  with the gigantic, muscular  "savage" Polynesian, Queequeg.  The professor neglected to mention the gay subtext, but I found it.

And after I moved to Los Angeles, I found this edition of Cruising the South Seas (1987), a collection originally published by gay author Charles Warren Stoddard in 1905. They were remarkably open for 1905, and even for 1987, touching expressions of love between Europeans and Polynesians.

Dec 23, 2012

Axl in Underwear: Raising Hope/The Middle

I hate to be one of those guys who complain that "things were much better in my day."  But just look at muscle on network television 30 years ago, in 1982-83:

Programs to watch for the beefcake: Voyagers (Jon-Erik Hexum), Chips (Erik Estrada), Trapper John MD (Gregory Harrison), Taxi (Tony Danza), The Dukes of Hazard (John Schneider and Tom Wopat), Fame (lots)

Programs to watch for the teen idols: Alice (Philip McKeon), Family Ties (Michael J. Fox), Happy Days (Billy Warlock), One Day at a Time (lots).

And in 2012-13, just three.

1. Suburgatory.

2. Raising Hope, about the buffed but nerdy Jimmy (Lucas Neff) raising his infant daughter in an unspecified Southern city. He lives with his working-class parents and senile great-grandmother (played by comedy legend Cloris Leachman).

Although buffed, Jimmy rarely appears shirtless on screen, lest his muscles detract from his nerdiness.

Cousin Mike (Skyler Stone), who my friend David claimed to have hooked up with, appeared in four episodes, usually in his undewear.

His dad, Burt (Garret Dillahunt), works as a pool cleaner and landscaper.  He offers more shirtless and underwear shots.

3. The Middle, about a working-class family in Middle America, whose teenage son Axl (Charlie McDermott) somehow manages to make surly and self-possessed endearing.  Though his preference for lounging around in his underwear is presented as slovenly rather than hot, his physique has garnered him a huge fanbase among gay boys and straight girls.

Hollywood believes that all gay people are affluent lawyers living in New York or Los Angeles, so of course there are no gay people in either of these programs, but they appear in allusions:

On Raising Hope, Jimmy's boss mentions that he grew up with two moms.

On The Middle, Axl's sister Sue has a flamboyantly feminine "boyfriend" that has her parents exchanging worried looks (but no one ever says the word, and Sue remains oblivious).

However, the knowing subtexts are frequent.

On Raising Hope, Burt shows off his physique to get tips from both male and female customers.

On The Middle, Axl's friends, played by John Gammon and Beau Wirrick, are muscular jocks, and rather obviously into each other.  They even dance together at a wedding.

See also: Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of "The Middle" and  Why No Gay People in "The Middle"?

Dec 21, 2012

Spotting Celebrities: Merritt Butrick

Someone asked for a complete list of all the celebrities I met in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1990.

It depends on who counts as a celebrity.  A lot of my friends in L.A. had done something, Teen #2 on Family Ties or Party Guest #1 in The Coca Cola Kid. 

And what counts as "met."  I saw Don Grady at Gay Pride, became a "bookstore friend" of Richard Dreyfuss, bought a love seat from Cesar Romero, worked out in the same gym as Max Gail, had lunch with Michael J. Fox, and talked to Nate Richert at the Gold Coast without realizing who he was.   Does that count?

But several celebrities made a lasting impression.  We dated, or they dated my friends, or we ran into each other a lot, or maybe we just walked together for a mile or so at an AIDS Walk.  We found points of common interest.  They became people, not just images on a screen.

I met Merritt Butrick in 1988, when he was playing a muscular hustler who wreaks havoc on an older man's life in the theatrical play Kingfish.

I didn't know at the time that Merritt was famous as gay-vague slacker Johnny Slash on the high school sitcom Square Pegs (1982-83).

And as Captain Kirk's son David in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1986). Or that he had a vast range of tv and movie roles, from cowboy to vampire.

I had  never seen any of them (I still haven't).  But I knew that Merritt was quiet, intelligent, driven, serious about his craft.  And that he wouldn't have time to reach his star potential.

He died on March 17th, 1989, of AIDS-related pneumonia.

Dec 19, 2012

Jonny Quest Gets a Girlfriend

An adventure series with distinctively realistic animation,Jonny Quest first appeared on prime time in 1965-65, and then on Saturday morning through the 1970s. Renowned scientist Dr. Benton Quest (Don Messick), with a reddish-brown beard and a white lab coat, and his white-haired, hard-muscled boyfriend Race Bannon, investigate weird mysteries in the Andes, the Artic, the Sargasso Sea, or most commonly in steamy jungles full of dragon-like lizards and headhunters.

 Tagging along, either to figure out the mystery or get abducted by bad guys, are Dr. Quest’s 11-year old son, Jonny (Tim Matheson) and his companion Hadji (Danny Bravo), who met them in Calcutta and then tagged along for no logical reason except that he rather liked Jonny.

Dr. Quest and Race Bannon were quite obviously gay partners, as modern "parodies" on the Cartoon Network have recognized. Neither displayed the slightest interest in women.

 Race was often drawn in a swimsuit so his massive muscles were visible.  Here he stains himself with purple berry juice to convince the savage Po-Po Indians that he is a god.

But I was more interested in Jonny and Hadji. Jonny, blond in a tough guy’s black turtleneck, rushes double-fisted into danger, while Hadji, slim and brown with petite hands, wearing a turban with a ruby in it all the time (even when swimming), is skittish and emotional, shouting “Be careful!” from the sidelines as he waits for an opportunity to assist with his mystical arts.

Hadji, by the way, was just one in a line of South Asian boy-adventurers such as Sabu, Kim in the Corentin series, Gunga Andy's Gangand Raji on  Maya .We see in him the feminization of the Colonial Other as dark, mysterious, intuitive, and sensual, and a none-too-subtle masculine-feminine dynamic in his interaction with Jonny. The intensity, physicality, and sheer heat of their interactions make them seem more lovers than foster brothers.  At playtime nobody wanted to be Hadji, but everyone wanted to rescue him from bad guys and carry him off in their arms. 

The comic book series wasn't successful, but there were novelizations, toys, and games, including a record, a version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In 1996, a new series appeared, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.  Jonny and Hadji were now teenagers, considerably more buffed than in the original series.  Unfortunately, to address the strong homoerotic subtext of the original, they were heterosexualized.  Dr. Quest got a wife.  Race Bannon got a daughter, Jessie, who became Jonny's girlfriend.

No word on whether Hadji resented being replaced.

See also: The Venture Brothers.

Dec 18, 2012

Joe Mazzello and Friend

Joe Mazzello made a career out of playing lonely, abused, oddball, or outcast boys, or the boy who bonds with them.

In 1992, at the age of eight, he won critical acclaim in Radio Flier, about a boy (Elijah Wood) who discovers that his stepfather is abusing his younger brother (Joe), and develops an imaginative escape plan: they'll transform his toy wagon, a Radio Flier, into an airplane.

In The Cure (1995), jock Erik (Brad Renfro) befriends Dexter (Joe), who has AIDS.  His mother forbids the friendship, and the bigots at school call them homophobic names, but their bond transcends all obstacles.   When they discover that a doctor in New Orleans has discovered a cure, they raft down the Mississippi like Huck and Jim.

Joe took a break from the gravitas in Star Kid (1997), where he plays a kid who finds an alien warrior cybersuit, but in Simon Birch (1998), he takes on the jock role; his Joe Wentworth befriends Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith), who is small and frail due to a hormonal condition.  Simon believes that God has a special purpose for him, and the two embark on a journey of self-discovery (I haven't actually seen this one).

Movies about intense friendships are harder to do with adults, since muscular physiques and the promise of sexual potency make it harder to ignore the homoerotic.  So as a young adult, Joe did some tv series (CSI, Without a Trace, Providence) and some independent movies, and had a starring role in The Pacific (2010), a miniseries about World War II (where his character has a homoromantic bond with James Badge Dale, right).

 In 2010, he starred in The Social Network as Dustin Moskovitz, who helped Mark Zuckerberg start the Facebook social network site.

No word on whether he's gay or a gay ally.

Dec 17, 2012

Sword and Sandal

Steve Reeves didn't invent the genre of Italian peplum ("toga")  or sword-and-sandal, about a toga-clad demigod fighting oppression in a vaguely ancient Greek or Roman setting.  But he introduced it to the world.  Between 1957 and 1967, peplum was the most popular Italian movie export, even more popular than the artistic masterworks of Fellini and Antonioni.  

The hero was always a legendary muscleman: Goliath and Samson from the Bible, Hercules from Greek myth; Maciste from ancient Rome; Ursus from the movie Quo Vadis (1951).  Alan Steel (right) played both Samson and Hercules. Samson Burke was a rare bodybuilder who played mostly villains.

  But the plots didn't worry about historical accuracy.  Hercules fought the Mongols; Maciste found his way to the 16th century Aztec Empire; another Hercules (Giuliano Gemma) visited the Incas; an Arabian Nights setting involved Samson, who was born 1500 years before Mohammed.  There were even science fiction and horror movies; the hero fought vampires and moon men.

Many Mr. Universes (such as Ed Fury, right) were hired to play the mythic hero, giving bodybuilders their first roles other than self-absorbed beach-bunnies, and giving millions of gay boys their first crushes.

Kirk Morris (left), discovered while working as a gondalier in Venice, played Hercules, Maciste, and Anthar.  His villains included headhunters and the Tzar of Russia.

The peplum hero was a man-mountain, able to destroy entire enemy armies by flexing his superheroic biceps.  He was usually tied up and tortured two or three times, so he could struggle, his muscles glistening in the firelight of the Tzar's dungeon.  Sometimes other parts were clearly visible, as when Gordon Scott, a future Tarzan, played Maciste.

But buddy-bonding was conspicuously absent.  Men were sometimes comrades, but more usually competitors and back-stabbers.  Plots rarely involved rescuing men or sailing into the sunset with men.  Instead, there were always two women: an evil brunette (whom the hero spurned) and a virtuous blonde (whom he fell in love with).

The heroes were nice to look at, but they offered no glimpse of a "good place."

The very informative Peplum blog gives a rundown of many of the movies.

Dec 16, 2012

Bless the Beasts and Children

When I was a kid, our church forbade going to movies, but a combination of factors (a babysitting uncle, an adventurous friend, increased freedom) led to me seeing a lot during the summer and fall of 1971: The Million Dollar Duck, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Omega Man, The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight, and Bless the Beasts and Children, an early example of the "shirtless teens working together" genre (others include Toy Soldiers, White Water Summer, and White Squall). But I found it painful to watch, and I haven't seen it since.

It stars a group of misfit teens at a summer camp, bullied by the others, ostracized as "The Bedwetters." They all have problems with distant, abusive, over-achieving, or absent parents (another of the establishment vs. youth plotlines of the hippie generation).
Counselor Cotton (Barry Robins, center)
Violent juvenile delinquent Teft (Billy Mumy of The Twilight Zone and Lost in Space).
Overweight Shecker (Miles Chapin, right)

The antisocial brothers Lally 1 (Marc Vahanian, right) and Lally 2 (Bob Kramer)
Shy, introverted Goodenow (Darel Glaser)

When they discover that a herd of buffalo at a nearby preserve will be hunted and killed, the Bedwetters decide to take action.  In 1971, during the heart of the Vietnam War, we couldn't miss the parallel between hunting buffalo and the parents' attempts to destroy the boys.

There is some buddy-bonding between Cotton and Teft, but usually the boys act as a group.

They even sleep together in a mass of entwined bodies.

The boys in Bless the Beasts and Children are not nearly as muscular as those in White Squall or Toy Soldiers; they are children, soft and vulnerable, in need of protection and nurturing, not objects of desire.

The many shirtless and semi-nude shots -- underwear so revealing that you literally see everything -- have been criticized as inappropriately erotic, but actually they add to the sadness of the movie. We see not only who the boys are now, but who they could become -- strong, powerful, potent -- endless human potential destroyed.

Only Bill Mumy and Marc Vahanian are still active in show business (Bill primarily as a singer). Barry Robins, who was gay in real life, died in 1986.  Miles Chapin is now an environmental activist and writer.

Sherlock Holmes, Gay Icon

As a kid I liked science fiction, fantasy, and jungle adventures, but not detective fiction, except for Michel (because he was cute, and in French), The Hardy Boys (because they were in love), and Sherlock Holmes: "The Red-Headed League", "The Five Orange Pips," "The Musgrave Ritual," and many other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

They were short enough to read quickly, exciting but not scary, mysterious but always realistic (no ghosts or monsters).  Sherlock Holmes' power of logical deduction was appealing to a boy just starting to tease out the patterns, conventions, and constraints of adult life.

And he was gay.

The original stories, published between 1881 and 1927, give Holmes a rather sexist disapproval of women's "weakness," and a dislike of heterosexual romance: "he never spoke of the softer passions, except for a gibe and a sneer."  He admires Irene Adler, the heroine of "A Scandal in Bohemia," but has no romantic interest in her.  However, he quite enjoys the company of men, especially his roommate, assistant, and life partner, Dr. Watson.

Watson did express heterosexual interest; in The Sign of Four (1890), he falls in love and marries.  But marriage always puts a damper on adventure, so soon Mrs. Watson was written out with a brief reference to her death, and Holmes and Watson were together again.

Many movie versions of Holmes appeared during my childhood and adolescence:
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)
Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)
The Seven Percent Solution (1976)
Murder by Decree (1979)

But none offered any beefcake -- Sherlock started displaying a bare chest only in the 2000s.

And only The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) openly alluded to the homoromantic relationship between Holmes and Watson, and then only as a joke.  Some kept the buddy-bonding, but most presented Holmes as avidly heterosexual, leering at women, dancing with them, falling in love with Irene Adler.

Another Hollywood attempt to erase the existence of gay people from the world.

Not to worry -- Jeremy Brett played him as rather more gay-vague in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Dec 13, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons

When I was in college in the early 1980s, every boy was expected to spend the early part of every week screwing up his courage to ask out The Girl, the one who walked in slow motion across the quad, her hair blowing in the wind.  If she agreed, he would spend Friday or Saturday night with her, dancing to Depeche Mode, watching Cannonball Run, and having sex.  This was his goal in life, all he could ever want or hope for or dream of.

If she refused, he would be forced to endure the humiliation of hanging out with other boys, eating take-out pizza and playing Dungeons and Dragons and waiting to try again iwith a new girl.

No one understood that many boys liked to eat pizza and play Dungeons and Dragons.  Especially those whose goal in life was to spend time with boys, not girls.

Gary Gygax invented the fantasy role-playing game in 1974, and by 1978 it was a phenomenon, being played in high school and college dorm rooms all over the world.  You developed a character (Elf, Dwarf, Wizard, Barbarian, and so on), endowed him with abilities (Strength, Charisma, Intelligence) and trekked with other characters through a heroic fantasy world, solving dilemmas and fighting enemies as you searched for a fabulous treasure.  

My character was usually a titan.

Six hours in a dim room with that cute chemistry major on one side and that hunky fratboy on the other, sitting so close that your legs sometimes brushed together and an occasional smooth bare chest was visible through buttons that had come undone.  Channeling the worlds of Conan the Barbarian or The Lord of the Rings. Pretending to be Boris Vallejo musclemen, without the nude ladies.  Plus you got pizza.  What's not to like?

The adults disapproved, of course, thinking D&D players were abandoning the real world, turning psychotic, or worshipping the Devil.  Several movies in the early 1980s featured teenagers turned catatonic or suicidal by the insidious board game.  For instance, in Mazes and Monsters (1982), some college kids (including Tom Hanks and Chris Makepeace) play in creepy caverns, and Robbie (Tom) gets so lost in the game that attacks his friends with a sword.

But we were just engaging in a little male bonding.  And sometimes Dungeons and Dragons games developed into something involving unzipping, nudity, and sausage sightings.

See also: 6 Naked Men in a Dorm Room
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