Sep 8, 2012

Roger Mobley: A Macho Life

In spite of a few bright spots, such as Boyne Castle, Disney movies in the 1960s were overwhelmingly heterosexist. Disney Adventure Boys -- and there was a stable of them -- offered an aggressive conflation of muscles and heterosexual ravings.

Roger Mobley had been playing boys who bond with other boys for years, notably in Fury with Bobby Diamond, when Disney hired him to become Richard Davis’s Gilded Age newspaper copyboy Gallagher in four movies: The Adventures of Gallagher (1965), The Further Adventures of Gallagher (1965), Gallagher Goes West (1966), and The Mystery of Edward Sims (1968).

The first installment stays close to the original Gilded Age Horatio Alger-style stories, granting Gallagher a homoromantic bond with Jimmy the Bootblack (Bryan Russell) and no perceptible interest in girls.

But the second eliminates the buddy-bonding and asks Gallagher to puppy-dog grin at liberated newspaperwoman Adeline Jones (Anne Francis). Adeline is eight years older than Gallagher, so nothing comes of the infatuation; Disney just wanted us to know that the infatuation exists, that the Gallagher has successfully acquired girl-craziness and abandoned “unhealthy” associations with other boys.

In Gallagher Goes West, the newsboy heads out to the archetypal Western town of Brimstone, where shootouts punctuate the sizzling afternoons and horses neigh on dirt streets.  All Western heroes need horses, so Gallagher approaches a rancher’s son, Phinn Carlson (the very cute Tim McIntire, left), to see if Dad has any for sale. Phinn agrees to show Gallagher the merchandise the next day.

Tim McIntire would soon shift from Westerns to more suggestive fare, The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) and A Boy and his Dog (1975), with Don Johnson, so we might anticipate a few smoldering looks and some suggestive grabbing as Phinn shows the greenhorn Gallagher how to tame a wild stallion.

But no: when Gallagher arrives at the Carlson ranch, Phinn has inexplicably vanished, and his teenage sister Laurie (Darlene Carr) offers to train and “tame” Gallagher. The two fall in love precisely on schedule.

Gallagher also excites the interest of the villainous Sundown Kid (Davis Weaver). As the episode begins, the two have just shared a lengthy stagecoach ride. As they say goodbye, the Kid gazes at Gallagher with lip-licking predatory lust and says“I like your style” in a hoarse voice that seems to imply rather an appreciation of physical attractiveness.

Later, after kidnapping Gallagher, the Kid cups his face in his hands, draws him close, and threatens to shoot him, but looks as if he really plans a kiss instead.

Weaver seems to have deliberately added hints of homoerotic desire to his portrayal of the Kid to underscore his aura of menace – no Disney villain of the 1960s could be really murderous, but they could be creepy, and what better way to induce shudders than to display a desire for something beyond the limits of imagination? Same-sex relationships are presented as threatening, to be spurned or abandoned. The only true, valid, and safe relationships must be with girls.

After he finished his stint for Disney, Mobley went to Viet Nam as a Green Beret. He returned to marry his high school sweetheart and become a police officer in Orange County, Texas. He recently retired after thirty years on the force. Few more macho lives exist.

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