Dec 7, 2017

Peter McEnery: The First Gay Teenager

In Victim (1961), 21-year old Peter McEnery played the first explicitly identified gay teenager in film, a working class boy named Boy who commits suicide in prison.  His affluent, middle-aged lover, Melville Farr (gay actor Dirk Bogarde), tries to uncover the blackmail ring responsible for his death.  Portraying gay men as victims rather than monsters was revolutionary, and paved the way for the decriminalization of same-sex acts in Britain in 1967.

Peter moved directly from an amazingly courageous role to Disney, becoming an Adventure Boy with the two usual attributes: a muscular physique and heterosexual obsession.

In 1964, he starred in The Moon-Spinners as Mark Camford, a young banker who gets involved with spies in Crete, and in the process falls for vacationing British girl Nikki (regular Disney star Hayley Mills).  No buddy-bonding, but quite a lot of shirtless scenes, and more suspense than one usually gets from Disney.

In 1966, he played the titular role in The Fighting Prince of Donegal: Red Hugh, the 16th century Irish prince who started a rebellion against the oppressive English.  Hugh falls for a girl (Susan Hampshire), but also buddy-bonds with an older man.

Maybe the parallels with Victim were too great, or maybe Disney was being extra-cautious after the accidental outing of Tommy Kirk.  For whatever reason, Peter never worked for Disney again.  Instead, he continued his career of gay-vague and not-so-gay vague characters.

In I Killed Rasputin (1967), Peter played Prince Felix Yusopov, who was bisexual in real life, the lover of Grand Prince Dmitri Pavlovich (and enjoyed dressing in drag).  The movie tries to closet him, and all but eliminates Dmitri, but still Peter manages to imbue his character with a homoerotic passion (and he dances with a man).

Other sexually adventurous movies followed, but the most famous is Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970), based on the play by gay writer Joe Orton.  Mr. Sloane (Peter) is a male prostitute who moves in with a closeted gay man (Harry Andrews) and ends up the unwilling boy-toy of both him and his sister.

I haven't seen any of Peter's later works, mostly British television and tv movies, but some of them look interesting, and with ample buddy-bonding potential: The Cat and the Canary (which has a "gay" keyword on the Internet Movie Database); a version of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream; and Clayhanger, from a series of novels by reputedly gay author Arnold Bennett.

I have not been able to discover his real-life sexual identity, only that he was married to Julie Peasgood for a time, and has a daughter.  But with all of his gay-vague and gay roles, who cares?

See also: Fighting Prince of Donegal.

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