Aug 31, 2012

Naked Werewolves

Vampires resonate with gay teens because of their metrosexual sophistication, their unconventional sexual practices, and their "secret," but they tend to be Don Juans, courting women, biting only women. But werewolves are working class to the vampires' elite, they're rugged and macho, and they usually inhabit a male-only world.  Besids, after a night of howling at the moon, they always end up naked.

Gay boys in the 1960s loved the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-71), because cute werewolf Chris Jennings (Don Briscoe) was always getting ripped out of his clothes, revealing a firm hairy chest.  David Collins, young heir to the family fortune, had a fairly obvious crush on him.

Thirty years later, a new generation of gay boys got to see the cute, diminuitive Oz (Seth Green) nude in a cage on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).

David Naughton played a gay-coded werewolf in American Werewolf in London (1981).

There were gay-coded werewolves in comics during the 1970s.

But the quintessential werewolf hunk appeared on the inaugural season of the Fox network, in a series aptly entitled Werewolf (1987-88).  The physique of college student Eric Cord (John J. York) was on display throughout most of most episodes, the camera zooming in obsessively on his massive chest, biceps, and backside.

The future soap hunk knew that his body was the main draw of the program, and he worked it, obtrusively strutting and flexing like a male model in the middle of a story about fleeing deadly danger.  Even when he hadn't just reverted from werewolf form, his shirt was usually off.  His chest was hairy or smooth, depending on whether he'd shaved recently.

The plots were male-centered, too.  In the first episode, he wolves out and attacks his college roommate. Fleeing from an obsessed bounty hunter, Eric gets involved with the personal problems of the people he meets along the way (usually men), but rarely if ever looks at a girl.

Aug 29, 2012

Time Tunnel

Time Tunnel lasted for only a season (1966-67), but it was an obsession; I bought (or rather, asked for) every merchandising tie-in available, a coloring book, Gold Key comics, a Viewmaster, a board game.

When the government threatens to shut down the costly Time Tunnel project for lack of verifiable results, impetuous scientist Tony (former teen idol James Darren, dark and intense in a green turtleneck sweater) decides to become a human guinea pig.  He runs through the tunnel, and is transported through time and space to the Titanic hours before it hit the iceberg.  Coworker Doug (Robert Colbert, tall and broad-shouldered in a dumb-looking business suit) decides to follow, for no logical reason except that he can’t imagine living without Tony.

In each episode, Doug and Tony are transported to moments of tremendous danger (Jericho just before the walls fell, Krakatoa just before it exploded, Pearl Harbor just before the attack).  Fortunately, they are experts in many forms of self-defense and fluent in dozens of ancient languages.  Their co-workers can only watch in horror, and sometimes repair the tunnel sufficiently to send them on a new jump to a moment of tremendous danger.  “At least they’re together,” fellow scientist Lee Meriwether muses.

Doug and Tony are constantly landing on top of each other, being tied together by villains, and otherwise forced into intimate physical contact, as if the Time Tunnel is playing matchmaker.  But perhaps it has no need: neither of the scientists ever refers to a wife or girlfriend back home, and only rarely do they flirt with any of the women they meet on their travels.  Instead, they grab wrists, touch shoulders, wrap arms around waists, exactly like romantic partners in peril.  Nearly every episode has one of them captured and imprisoned or strung up somewhere, so that the other can embark on a daring rescue and say teary-eyed, “Doug [or Tony], I thought you were. . . .”

Tied spread-eagle side by side in “Pirates of Deadman’s Island” (February 1967), they seem to be holding hands; Tony’s hand is actually poised slightly above Doug’s, but this is discernable only with a modern freeze frame.  In the last episode of the series, “Town of Terror” (April 1967), Tony is startled by gunfire and jumps against Doug, pressing both hands flat against his chest, a gesture that I have seen elsewhere only in women seeking comfort in the mighty arms of men.  They are being presented quite overtly as lovers.

I cannot imagine that anyone could be oblivious to the romance between Doug and Tony,  even in the dark ages of 1966; certainly not the producer, Irwin Allen, whose 1970’s science fiction series often resist heteronormativity , and least of all the actors themselves. Robert Colbert, who has guested on forty years of tv programs, from Hawaiian Eye to Frasier, is best known as James Garner’s foppish (i.e., gay) brother on Maverick.

James Darren spent his twenties playing outcasts, loners, victims of prejudice, a jazz musician in love with Gene Krupa (Sal Mineo), and a  race car driver so smitten with a male acquaintance that he marries his sister (in The Lively Set, 1964), while hitting the pop charts with remarkably bitter songs about romantic betrayals: “Goodbye Cruel World” (1961), “Hail to the Conquering Hero” (1962), “Pin a Medal on Joey” (1963).  After Time Tunnel, he took no more outcast or loner roles.  Perhaps playing someone who found love cheered him up.

By the way, in 2006 there was an execrable tv movie version that heterosexualized the characters.

Aug 27, 2012

Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard created Conan, the barbarian hero who wanders an antediluvian sword-and-sorcery world,  in a series of stories for the pulp Weird Tales beginning in 1932.  Though not terribly muscular, according to the taste of the age, Conan was aggressively heterosexual.  Other barbarian heroes in 1930s pulps traveled alone or with same-sex sidekicks and disdained women as unwelcome harbingers of civilization.  But Conan rescued women, fell in love with them, and usually intended to marry them before they were killed by sorcerers or turned out to be witches.  He had no room for a sidekick; those men he did manage to befriend invariably betrayed him before the story ended.

The stories fell out of favor for a generation or two, but they were rediscovered during the Swinging Sixties.  In 1966, heroic fantasy writers L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter put them in chronological order, added additional materials, and published the series.  Other authors added their own tales to the mythos, specializing in endings in which Conan ravishes the naked lady after rescuing her (the original stories kept Conan chaste).

The covers, often by Frank Frazetta,  showed a nicely muscled Conan, but it was hard to find one that didn't also show a naked lady.

Marvel began the comic book series in 1970, with both adaptions and original stories. In 1974, the magazine-size Savage Sword of Conan printed more "adult" material (that is, you see breasts).

I bought the comic books whenever the covers DIDN'T show a naked lady lying on the ground, clutching Conan's leg (couldn't they stand up?).  So about one issue in six.

The stories inside had not a hint of bonding; women exist to be rescued and then either betray Conan or fall in love with him, and men exist to torture him.

But at least there was plenty of beefcake.


I never liked Bill Murray. When he first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1977, I was still somewhat homophobic, and I found his flamboyantly feminine manner and Castro Clone outfits disquieting.  Though I was out by 1979, my initial disquiet remained, so when my brother recommended Meatballs (1979), I said "No way!"  But then he made a cryptic comment: "It's the kind of move you'll like."

Bill Murray played hetero-horny summer camp counselor Tripper Harrison, who leads the boys in his care on panty raids at girl’s camp across the lake, and meanwhile romances female counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch). Heterosexual desire is assumed the goal of every journey and the motivation for every action; an Internet Movie Database reviewer writes that it is about: “teens and young adults living their summer with no concerns other than guys hooking up with girls and girls hooking up with guys.” Even in his pep talk to the track team, Tripper presumes that the only reason boys participate in sports is to get girls:

Even if we win, if we win, hah!. . .It just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk [the rival camp] because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or if we lose. It just doesn’t matter!

Director Ivan Reitman got his start with the sleaze-fests Foxy Ladies (1971) and Cannibal Girls (1973), and went on to produce Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), films that manage to defuse the erotic potential of man-mountains Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone by making them comedy dupes. Could we expect even a moment of love to intrude into Meatballs?

But then there was Rudy.

Chris Makepeace, a fifteen-year old Montreal native with dark blue eyes, pale soft skin, and oddly red lips, plays the shy and feminine Rudy, who falls in love with the boisterous Tripper. In an early scene, Rudy notes that Tripper jogs past his cabin every morning, so he conspires to jog himself and arrange an “accidental” meeting. Though oblivious to the romantic signals -- or pretending to be to avoid having to tell the boy "sorry, not interested" -- Tripper accepts Rudy’s friendship with panache, and even adopts him as a special project, coaching him to become star of the camp track team.

 Oddly, Tripper never tries to force heterosexual desire upon Rudy, never asks what girl he would care to sleep with or invites him on a panty raid. Perhaps on some level, everyone concerned with the film knew that it would do violence to the character of Rudy to make him abandon his sweetly romantic attraction to Tripper and fixate on some girl.

Chris Makepeace went on to play many other characters informed by same sex desire; he fell in love with high school bully Adam Baldwin in My Bodyguard (1980), sleaze-teen Lance Kerwin in The Mysterious Stranger (1982), and a young Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters (1982), before settling down to the more heteronormative Captive Hearts (1987) and Aloha Summer (1988).

 More recently, in Synapse (1996), he played a man who gets his brain transplanted into a woman’s body, allowing him both gender-bending and nudity. To the best of my knowledge, he has never married.

Aug 26, 2012

Big Wednesday

Big Wednesday (1978)  covers twelve years in the lives of a trio of goldenboy surfers: troubled Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent, fresh from his homoerotic role in Danger Island); blue-eyed, curly-haired innocent Jack (William Katt, who would go on to star in Greatest American Hero); and joking outsider Leroy (Gary Busey).

Beach scenes in most movies involve slow-motion close-ups of bikini-clad women,  with an occasional guy in the distance, but Big Wednesday lingers over shots of glistening male bodies so tight that you can see the veins running across biceps and count the vertebrae on backsides.  Even scenes set far from the beach are populated chiefly by gorgeous muscleboys.

The trio shares a quiet, subdued homoerotic bond from the first moments, when they awaken on the beach in 1962, wrapped in each other’s arms under blankets, then surf “the morning glass” on a single board.  But Leroy goes even farther, eschewing the girl-grabbing that most buddy movies emphasize to “prove” that the protagonists are all heterosexual.  When they invade the Star Burger CafĂ© (still shirtless) and flirt with a pretty waitress, Leroy pointedly ignores her, horsing around with Matt instead.  Later, at a party, dozens of (still shirtless) muscleboys locate girls to grab and kiss, with the exception of Leroy – he’s in the kitchen, half naked, being oiled up by some male friends (to facilitate sexual congress, I presume).

When Matt and Jack get girlfriends, they all head down to Acapulco, and Leroy remains a “fifth wheel” who doesn’t even flirt with the local girls.
Years pass, and the water grows cold.  Matt battles the bottle, Jack goes to Vietnam, and Bear (Sam Rockwell), the South of Market leatherman who runs the beach surf shop, becomes a wealthy surfboard magnate.  All of them (except Leroy) abandon the homoerotic paradise of surfing for marriage.  Yet at Bear’s wedding, he proposes a toast:
Jack: What are we drinking to?
Bear: Only to your friends.  To your friends, come hell or high water.

It is an odd toast for an occasion that usually marks the end or severe circumscription of same-sex friendships in favor of heterosexual bondng, and striking when one notes that Bear’s fiancee appears only in that scene.  It is as if he married simply to celebrate his love of his friends, “the most important thing you got.”

The trio concurs.  Heterosexual practice comes and goes; there are flirtations, sexual interludes, marriages, and divorces (except for Leroy, whose romantic interests are never specified).  But their most important, most permanent bonds are with each other.

In 1974, at the end of the movie, they gather for another “Big Wednesday” at the beach, and the camera lingers again (for a full ten minutes) on their bodies glistening and straining under the bright summer sun.

We don’t have to look far for clues about how the possibility of same-sex desire became so overt into this plot-riddled extension of Endless Summer (1966): director John Milius, a surfer in his own right and sometime workout buddy of Arnold Schwartzeneggar, specialized in the bonding of brawny, heavily-muscled buddies in Conan the Barbarian (1982), Red Dawn (1984), and Flight of the Intruder (1991), and here he cast three goldenboys who would play much the same roles throughout their careers.  Jan-Michael Vincent plays troubled, aging muscleboys. Gary Busey has played soldiers, villains, lunatics, rock stars, and heavily-muscled regular guys, pairing with Willie Nelson in Barbarosa (1982), gay-friendly Corey Haim in Silver Bullet (1985), and Fred Williamson in South Beach (1992), but he is almost always a lost soul aching for love.

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