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.

Sep 7, 2012

The J.C. Penneys Catalog

During the 1960s, gay kids had to get their beefcake quota where they could find it, like in the J.C. Penneys, Montgomery Wards, and Sears catalogs that came in the mail several times per year.  Parents must have found it odd for kids to stray past the toy section -- and if you weren't careful, they took your interest in underwear ads to heart and bought you several new pairs for your birthday in lieu of toys.

Sometimes newspapers had adequate black-and-white drawings of men in briefs, too.

And the ads in grownups' magazines might feature a bare chest or two.

Sep 5, 2012

Michael Gray and Captain Marvel

Michael Gray didn't get a big teen idol treatment, maybe because he didn't sing, so there was nothing for his fans to do but wait for Saturday morning, when his live-action tv show Shazam (1974-77) came on after Land of the Lost.  It was about a teenager named Billy Batson who traveled around with an older mentor (Lee Tremayne), looking for people in trouble.  When he found some, he would say "Shazam!" and turn into the muscular superhero Captain Marvel (so all bad guys had to do was gag him, and he'd be helpless).

Wait -- a middle-aged man and a teenage boy traveling and living together?  Sounds like a homodomestic pair to me.

It was a slight, wish-fulfillment plot, similar to The Powers of Matthew Star  a few years later.  My friends and I found it too childish to watch regularly.  But to make matters worse, after a season, Shazam got all mixed up with the adventures of a miniskirted female superhero, the Mighty Isis, so you could never be sure if you would see beefcake or cheesecake.

But at least Michael Gray was cute, in an androgynous teen idol way, and his alter ego, Captain Marvel, (Jackson Bostwick, John Davey) had muscles in all the right places.

Shazam marked the beginning and the end of Michael Gray's fame, but he's doing well in his second career as a florist.

Animal House

Today the anarchic campus comedy Animal House (1978) seems impossibly homophobic: there are discussions of "closet cases"; characters call each other "fruit" (for wearing a beanie), "homo" (for refusing to sexually assault an unconscious girl), and "faggot" (for falling down).  Apparently they find nothing more disgusting than a gay person.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Two of the writers, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, came directly from the staff of National Lampoon, a magazine well known for its homophobic humor, and four actors were solicited from Saturday Night Live, the most homophobic program on television during the period (only John Belushi agreed).

What joy could gay teenagers in the 1970s possibly find in watching homophobes seduce every woman in sight?  

1. There is a TON of beefcake.  The Delta House fratboys are toga-clad, toned, taunt, and tanned almost constantly.  Boon (Peter Riegert) has a stunning shirtless scene.  The rival frat, including Kevin Bacon, have an underwear-clad hazing ritual that is not to be missed.

2. Both Peter Riegert and Tom Hulce, who played Pinto, are reputedly gay.

3. In spite of the endless scenes of bedding and gazing at girls, Animal House is about buddy-bonding.  Two of the fratboys, nerdish Hoover (James Widdoes), and leather-clad anarchic D-Day (Bruce McGill), never display heterosexual interest at all.  The others treat the quest for heterosexual sex as a game, something to talk about later, during their important lives with their friends.  Only Boon has a girlfriend, Katy (Karen Allen), who is constantly reprimanding him for ignoring her in favor of his male friends.

In the grammar of the teen anarchy film, same-sex relationships must end when the rowdy frat boys graduate and accede to their heterosexual destiny, marrying and fathering children. Here, however, the concluding “where are they now” series of freeze shots mostly  skips heterosexual performance – in favor of discussions of their careers: Hoover is a district attorney, Bluto a senator, Flounder a sensitivity trainer, and Otter a gynecologist, transferring his interest in the female form from the personal to the professional, out of the bedroom and into the clinic. In the end heterosexual “destiny” fails to claim them.

Sep 4, 2012

Star Man's Son

Andre Norton lived for almost 100 years (1912-2005), and published over 100 science fiction novels, many with gay content.  I stumbled upon her Star Man's Son (1952) in 1978, during my freshman year in college:

 A new edition came out that made the post-Apocalyptic youth (named Fors) look like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and his telepathic mutant lynx as big as a tiger.  The 1952 and 1968 editions, with a different name, make him smaller but still buffed, and the cat a kitten.

Three hundred years after a nuclear holocaust destroyed civilization, the young hard-bodied Fors of the barbaric Eyrie tribe is exploring one of the dead cities. He observes a man from a strange tribe, with an appearance that is new and obviously pleasing: “His wide-shouldered, muscular bronze body was bare to the waist and at least five shades darker than the most deeply tanned of the Eyrie men.”

Arskane is singing, and his song “affected Fors queerly, sending an odd shiver up his backbone.”

The stranger is attacked by Beast Things (mutated rats), captured and dragged off, and although they have never met or spoken, Fors endures two days of hardship and incredible danger to rescue him. 

 He drags the unconscious and injured Arskane up from a pit lined with poisoned spikes (“his big body was flaccid,” Norton helpfully tells us), carries him to an abandoned building, and spends four days nursing him back to health. 

 Eventually, when Arskane is feeling better and his big body is no longer flaccid, Fors suggests that they return to his home in the Eyrie, for the time being anyway. Arskane jumps at the idea of the two of them staying together, but suggests that Fors’ suspicious tribal elders might have trouble accepting a dark-skinned stranger. They might have more luck among his tribe, the Dark People.

The journey is arduous, with many opportunities for one of the pair to be captured and the other to conduct a gallant rescue, and so many instances of touching, holding, and pulling each other close that I stopped counting. Arskane begins by calling Fors his “comrade,” then “friend,” and finally “brother.” When they arrive at the Dark People’s camp and meet with the chief, Arskane pleads the case that Fors should remain:

Arskane: [Fors] has saved my life in the City of the Beast Things, and I have named him brother.

Chief: He is not of our breed.

Arskane: He is my brother!

The chief finally relents, but Fors is surprised and not entirely pleased by Arskane’s ardor. He hadn’t planned on marrying Arskane!   Instead, he returns to the Eyrie to work on an alliance between the tribes.

Arskane accepts the rejection stoically, but with some deep unspoken hurt: he walks away “without looking back.”

In 1978, I was outraged by the ending.  When men and women meet in science fiction, they stick around.  Why do men meet men, then say goodbye and walk away?  Why do so many authors insist on telling us that same-sex relations are trivial, transitory, unrelated to the permanent social structures of kin and community?

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