Aug 17, 2012

Fonzie Before Happy Days

Lords of Flatbush (1974) was a precursor of next year’s Happy Days, about four Brooklyn greasers (about 30 years old but still in high school) whose same-sex relationships are doomed by the “discovery” of girls. Chico (Perry King) courts a rich girl, and Stanley (Sylvester Stallone, pre-Rocky, never shirtless but filling out his t-shirts beautifully) gets his girlfriend pregnant.

 The other two gang members, Butchie (Henry Winkler) and Wimpy (Paul Mace), seem not particularly interested in girls, in spite of their obligatory smooching sounds and breast-grabbing gestures whenever girls pass. 

 Butchie especially, short, slim, with a desperate, haunted look in his eyes and a curious diminution of a name that protests too much, behaves in a decidedly transgressive fashion.  He likes boys, but the objects of his interest keep rejecting him.

Late one evening, the others decide to look for girls, but Butchie wants to hang out at the deserted soda shop with Eddie (Joe Stern), the dark, curly-haired soda jerk. No one else is present, so Eddie asks if they might “get personal.” Butchie, grinning, says: “as long as you don’t come over here and give me a great big kiss, anything goes.”

This is a curious response; although his grin suggests that he is stating a laughable absurdity, his quickness at considering it, and the accumulation of adjectives (it’s not just a kiss, it’s a great big kiss) suggest that it is close to conscious thought: perhaps Eddie could kiss him. Indeed, he has specifically rejected an evening of girl-chasing to be alone with a man. What does he expect to happen? 

 But then Eddie rejects him, telling him that he is wasting his life by spending all of his time in the soda shop, oblivious to the possibility that Butchie might hang out there because he likes Eddie. Understandably angry, Butchie goes home.

Later, Chico sneaks into Butchie’s room. They sit, one on a chair, the other on the bed. “Do you have anything to tell me?” Butchie asks. They gaze at each other for a long moment. 

 Chico considers telling him something, but then decides against it. What are they leaving unsaid? Somewhat angry, Butchie prods him further: “Because if you don’t have anything to tell me, I guess I could go to sleep.”

Chico stares at him for a moment more, and then angrily jumps up and runs for the door, refusing to tell him, leaving Butchie silent and frustrated, rejected twice on the same evening. Butchie remains silent and frustrated as Chico, still refusing to tell him, weds the rich girl.

Henry Winkler went on to superstardom as Fonzie on Happy Days, a sitcom that also had tons of gay content.

Aug 15, 2012

Arlo and Chad: Orange County Gay Couple

Orange County (2002), a comedy starring Colin Hanks as a high school senior torn between buddies at home and and a distant college, features an explicit same-sex romance.

I assumed that buff slacker buddies Arlo (Kyle Howard) and Chad (RJ Knoll) were standard movie buddies with a unstated homoerotic attraction, like Dave and Chainsaw in Summer School -- especially when they were shown trying to pick up girls.  But then they make an announcement:

Chad: Last night we’re at this party, little Arlo here decides to profess his undying love for me. Didn’t I tell you he was a fruitcake?

Arlo: That’s not true, Bro. Here’s what really happened. Chad crashed at my house, right, and I woke up in the night, he was fondling my. . . .

Chad: Dude, I lost my keys. I was looking for ‘em.

Very clear, isn't it: they have had sex, and they are in love. They are sitting in their car in a position of quiet intimacy, at peace with each other. They are delighted that there is no longer any doubt about whether they are lovers. Their friends respond with approving grins, not with surprise, since they were aware that the two were a couple all along.

Oddly, the screenplay was written by Mike White, who also wrote and starred in the execrable Chuck & Buck (2000).

But most fan reviews of Orange County on and the Internet Movie Database seem utterly confused: “What the heck does that scene mean?”; “Weird scene”; “It’s a joke, right?”; “Are they supposed to be gay, or what?”

Why are reviewers baffled?  Because they believe that no fictional characters can be gay unless they are Wearing a Sign.  Arlo and Chad have never explicitly stated "We are gay," so they must be taken as heterosexual. Why would they profess their "undying love" and have sex?  It must be a joke.

Aug 14, 2012

Mike Henry's Tarzan

There were several Tarzans in the 1960s -- Denny Miller's blond beach boy, Ron Ely's lanky environmentalist, Johnny Weissmuller flickering on late-night reruns -- but Mike Henry captured the imagination of the Now Generation.  The former football star and tv cowboy donned a loincloth for Paramount only three times -- in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966), Tarzan and the Great River (1967), and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968).  He had signed up to play Tarzan on tv, but he opted out and continued his career fully clothed.

Why was Mike Henry the iconic 1960s Tarzan?

1. He had a hairy chest.  Previous Tarzans had been muscular, of course, but only Mike Henry was a bear.

2. He got out of Africa.  Fighting the Waziri headhunters and elephant poachers was hackneyed. Mike Henry's Tarzan explored the jungles of Mexico, South America and Southeast Asia.

3. He was well-educated and sophisticated, more James Bond than Noble Savage.  Edgar Rice Burroughs' literary Tarzan was fluent in English and French -- it was Johnny Weissmuller who invented the "Me Tarzan" lingo.  Mike Henry returned to sophisticated Tarzan of the novels, taking his clothes off only when the plot required it (during 9/10ths of the movie).

4. He rescued and bonded with kid sidekicks: Ramel in Valley of Gold and Pepe in The Great River (both played by Manuel Padilla Jr.),  and of course the Jungle Boy (played by Steve Bond). They were too young to be his romantic interests, but gay boys who were about that age themselves certainly fantasized about fading into the sunset with Mike Henry's muscular arm around their shoulders. 

Incidentally, Steve Bond, who played the Jungle Boy in 1968, grew up to be a popular Playgirl centerfold:

G.I. Joe and Ken

Introduced in 1964 to get boys used to the idea of fighting in Vietnam when they grew up, G.I. Joe is the bestselling boys' doll of all time (though he is marketed as a "movable fighting man").

He was cute, and since he was movable, you could have fun adventures with him, like have the bad guys force him and a buddy to kiss.

Unfortunately, when you took his clothes off, you got this:

Barbie's "boyfriend" Ken, introduced in 1961, was more fun.  He came wearing a swimsuit, with a natural-looking body that got more buff as time passed:

Unfortunately, no letter to Santa Claus or picture circled in a toy catalog ever produced a Ken doll.  Your sister or the girl down the block certainly had one, but she always wanted to play "Barbie and Ken at the prom."

If you were very lucky, she might let you play "Ken goes to the beach with his 'buddy' Allan while Barbie is out of town."  Note that the term "buddy" is in quotes on the box.

See also: The Big Men of American Tall Tales

A Far-Off Place: Bonding in the Kalahari

In the Disney movie A Far Off Place (1993), pragmatic outback girl Nonni (16-year old Reese Witherspoon) and stuck-up city boy Harry (15-year old Ethan Randall) are the only survivors when poachers attack the gamekeeper's farm in Zimbabwe.  With the killers pursuing them, their only chance is to cross the Kalahari desert, along with the Bushman Xhabbo (Sarel Bok) and a dog.

It's a long, dangerous journey, requiring teamwork, courage, and sacrifice.  They must all depend on each other to survive.

It has all happened before, in Walkabout (1971), and it would happen again, in Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog  (1995), starring Jesse Bradford,  and in about a dozen other "trapped in the wilderness" movies but the lush score and striking African scenery almost make up for the hackneyed plot.

Gay-vague Harry never displays the least romantic interest in Nonni, but he does seem to like Xhabbo's spare, muscular physique.  However, Xhabbo does not express any romantic interest in either of them (in the original novel by Laurens Van Der Post, Xhabbo's wife comes along, but here she is absent).

One expects Harry and Nonni to hook up at the end -- in Disney movies there's always a fade-out kiss -- but not here.

Ethan Randall (later Ethan Embry) was a well-known child star (appearing here with Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation).  He would go on to play several gay characters, including Reese Witherspoon's best friend in Sweet Home Alabama (2002).

Aug 13, 2012

Anthony Starke

Born in 1963, Anthony Starke started out playing cute, cool, or surly teens.  Between 1985 and 1990, he played on over a dozen tv programs (Silver Spoons, 21 Jump Street, One Big Family) and movies.

The horror movie spoof Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) is notable for his shirtless scene, and for his buddy-bond with George Clooney. 

Though his roles were often small, his scenes weren't; they usually required him to take his shirt off.

He worked steadily through the 1990s and 2000s, extending his range to play priests, killers, cowboys, and cops, but his speciality was comedy.  On Seinfeld, he was "The Jimmy," the guy who always referred to himself in the third person.

He was a wisecracking bartender on The George Carlin Show (1994-95), a black-sheep brother on Suddenly, Susan (1996-97), and a Southern con man on the buddy-bonding The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000). Again, he often was required to take his shirt off:

He hasn't played any gay characters, and his personal quote on the Internet Movie Database is gratingly heterosexist, about kissing the girl being "every boy's fantasy."  But sometimes beefcake is enough.

See also: 12 Forgotten Beefcake Boys of the 1980s
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