Oct 12, 2012

Joey Lawrence: from Blossom to Bodybuilder

Joey Lawrence was a child star of the 1980s, appearing in kid-friendly movies (Little Shots, Summer Rental), sitcoms (Silver Spoons, Gimme a Break), and after school specials.  At the age of 14, he landed role as Joey Russo, brother of the unconventional Mayim Bialik in Blossom (1991-1995).

Gay boys  were more interested in Joey and Blossom's older brother, Tony (Michael Stoyanov), or in their hunky Dad (Ted Wass), or in Blossom's hunky boyfriend (David Lascher), and lesbians watched for the buddy-bond between Blossom and her best friend, Six (Jenna Von Oy).  Joey was mostly left on the sidelines, observing the action, uttering an occasional "Whoa!" to denote surprise, all but ignored by teen magazines.  Then, in a 1992 episode, Joey's shirt was "accidentally" ripped off, revealing a tan, slightly hairy, muscular chest that for some reason the teenager had kept hidden.   The studio audience gasped in amazement. Suddenly Joey -- and the producers realized that his chest was a bigger audience-draw than the catchphrase "Whoa!" 

He initiated a teen idol career, filming music videos while shirtless.  He appeared shirtless on the cover of his first album, Joey Lawrence, in 1993 (but not the more serious Soulmates in 1997).

After Blossom, his tv and movie appearances usually required his shirt to be off a lot.  He became more and more buffed as the 1990s progressed.  

Many of his movies involved buddy-bonding, most notably in the boys alone drama Jumping Ship (2001) with his brothers Matthew  and Andrew.  It appeared on the Disney Channel and then vanished, never to be released on DVD.  He also played a gay character in Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber (2005).
Today Joey -- now Joseph -- mostly draws the crowds with his singing, dancing, and acting talent.  Not that he ignores the power of his physique; in June 2012 he stripped with the Chippendales for a special 3-week engagement. Unfortunately, it was heterosexist, for "women only."
Otherwise Joseph is a staunch gay ally. 

Jughead's Girlfriends

Today Archie comics is unique in children's media in featuring an open, out gay teenage character, but during the 1980s and 1990s, it made an attempt to heterosexualize its most famous "woman-hater," Jughead Jones.

In a story prophetically entitled “Genesis. . .the Beginning” (Jughead Digest  36, 1985),  Jughead is up late one night when a beam of light flashes out of his TV set and renders him unconscious.  The next morning he has received a facelift, and there is an odd masculine symbol affixed to his beanie.  “I feel reborn. . .” he exclaims.  “I have strange tingling sensations. . .It’s like I have an inner power.  I have a desire to talk to. . .to touch. . .my gosh! A girl!”

Reggie doesn’t believe that his friend has suddenly been converted to heterosexuality: “That boy is one sickie!”  But Archie comes to his aid: “This is going to make him more normal!  He’s always been an oddball!”

Further stories during the late 1980s and early 1990s indicated that the publisher John Goldwater expected the readers to buy the explanation that Jughead had always liked girls, but was inhibited by lack of self-confidence, that his real self was a “self-confident, girl-loving, prowling wolf."

In a letter to the readers reprinted incessantly during the period, he noted slyly that Jughead had “changed” (but failed to give any details), and invited readers to comment on which version they liked better.

The consensus was overwhelming: readers liked the old Jughead, needed someone to stand apart from the boy and girl-crazed antics of his peers and demonstrate that heterosexual desire was not necessarily an universal of human experience.

Nevertheless, the girl-loving Jughead remained.  During the last 20 years, Jughead has been involved in  passionate affairs, tempestuous love-hate relationships, and casual dates with amateur psychologist Trula Twyst, health food nut Googie, jazz fan Debbie, and long-time admirer Big Ethel.

Paradoxically, the girl-hating Jughead is still around, often in the same issue; in Jughead 130 (2000), Jughead is in love with Trula Twyst in one story, but in another he saves an attractive female movie star from drowning and refuses a kiss as a reward.  For several years, his capsule biography on the Archie comics webpage referred both to his girlfriends and to his “rather abnormal dislike of girls."

Oct 9, 2012

Archie and Jughead

Though there are lots of hints and signals about same-sex desire in Archie Comics, Archie himself is ludicrously girl-crazy. He is failing French until Veronica helps him “study” by seductively reciting French words  – and then he gets an “A.”  He is an expert artist, but only when he paints girls.  Advised to chose a future career, he selects fashion photography because then he can be surrounded by girls all day.

Archie’s girl craziness rarely receives any criticism from parents or peers, and when someone does complain that he's "too" girl-crazy, he retorts that chasing girls is the only thing worth doing in life.  In “The Andrews Family Tree” (Archie Digest 108) , teenage brain Dilton discovers that all of Archie’s ancestors just missed brilliant scientific discoveries because of their girl-craziness  – they didn’t notice the apple falling because they were busy flirting, for instance. “I feel sorry for your ancestors,” Dilton says, “They were a bunch of losers.”  Archie responds  “And I feel sorry for poor Dilton!  He can’t tell us winners from the losers!”

It seems odd that this acme of girl-craziness has a best friend who "hates" girls. Or at least "hated," from the 1940s through the 1980s, until the character was retconned.  Jughead actually liked girls as friends, but he did not want to date. kiss, or cuddle them.  He was not attracted to women.

Archie and the gang generally accepted this "quirk," but on those rare instances where Jughead seemed to be interested in a girl, they were beside themselves with joy.  In “There’s This Girl, See” (Archie Annual Digest 74) Jughead says that he needs money because “There’s this girl,” and his friends joyfully hug each other and take a collection to finance his date.  When it turns out that the girl merely owes him money, which he needs for a date with a boy, his friends spend a spread panel banging their heads together and kicking themselves in frustration.

Jughead’s most passionate relationship was with his “best pal” Archie, a fact recognized as natural and inevitable by almost all of the other characters. In Archie Double Digest 9, Jughead is so closely attached to Archie that he even tags along on his date with Veronica.  She banishes him, but the softhearted Mr. Lodge intervenes and reunites them

In Archie Andrews Where Are You Digest 66, Archie is dumped by a girl, and his father cheers him up not by introducing him to another girl, but by sending him out on the town with Jughead.

In “Best Friends” (Archie Andrews, Where Are You? 43), Jughead invites Archie to a dance, explaining that “you know I don’t go with girls.” Archie agrees, but at the last minute Jughead receives an invitation to a pizza cook-off that he would rather attend, and gives the tickets to Betty.

When Betty presents herself as a substitute date, Archie is nonplussed.  “[Jughead] stood me up!” he exclaims, treating the snub exactly as if he were expecting a romantic date.  There is no hint that anyone perceives the event as “buddies hanging out”; if we knew nothing about the characters but this single story, we would certainly conclude that Archie considers both Jughead and Betty appropriate romantic partners.

Jughead was also frequently paired with Betty or Veronica, or both,  as a competitor for Archie’s affection. When all three successively try to lure Archie to fates unknown, he balks.  “How much can a man take!” he exclaims.  “Is it my fault I’m so desirable?”  Although this is a satirical story that ended with all of them characters rejecting Archie, the implication is clearly that Jughead, like the girls, has a romantic interest in Archie.

Gradually becoming aware of the existence of gay people, Archie Comics tried -- not always successfully -- to heterosexualize the character of Jughead during the 1990s.  But not to worry, in 2011 they made up for it by introducing a "real" gay character.

Most recently, Jughead has been retconned as asexual, adding to the sexual diversity of Riverdale High.

Oct 8, 2012

Johnny Weissmuller's Last Boyfriend

During the 1970s, my brother and I liked to watch Chuck Acri's Creature Feature on Friday nights at midnight (when we could get away with it).  It sprinkled the monsters liberally sword-and-sandal and jungle hero epics, and one night it showed Cannibal Attack (1954), with a 50-year old Johnny Weismuller, long retired from his MGM Tarzan movie, oddly playing a fully clothed version of himself: Johnny Weismuller.

The governor of an unnamed African colony hires him to find out who is stealing valuable shipments of cobalt. Only sinister foreign powers would be interested in so much cobalt, so he is looking for both a thief and a traitor. Johnny suspects everyone, but especially the governor’s ne’er-do-well brother, Arnold King ( David Bruce, left, from another movie). 

The governor is forcing Arnold to work in the mines in order to “make a man out of him” (e.g., make him heterosexual). Who better than a shady, sexually ambiguous middle-aged man to consort with the enemy?

But writer Carroll Young specialized in buddy-bonding jungle flicks and director Lee Scholem evoked the homoerotic male gaze constantly in such television programs as The Adventures of Superman, Maverick, Colt 45, Sugarfoot, and 77 Sunset Strip: neither would be content to let the two movie hunks remain antagonists. 

 So early in the film, Arnold saves Johnny from drowning. 

 A few scenes later, Johnny saves Arnold from a leopard. 

Arnold apparently enjoyed the rescue, so he splashes about in the river until a crocodile investigates, then calls out for help. Johnny comes running, but he trips and falls, knocking himself unconscious (he is fifty years old, after all). When Arnold realizes that he’s not going to be enveloped in the hunk’s arms, he pulls out a knife and dutifully saves himself.

Scholem believed that audiences could never tire of men holding each other and saying “Are you all right?." so he had the two rescue each other many, many times.  

They spend the rest of the movie with one’s hand pressed firmly on the other’s shoulder, sometimes for two full minutes (try this at home; it’s impossible: within sixty seconds, your partner will either break contact or want to kiss). 

Meanwhile Luora (Judy Walsh), the governor’s “half-breed” ward and secret girlfriend, falls all over Johnny, cooing and batting her eyes, but Johnny ignores her. She invites him on a midnight swim; when he refuses, she snips “are you that anxious to get rid of me?” He is. 

 When she sees the two men enter a cave together to do something that is none of her business, she pretends to be attacked by a crocodile, so Johnny will pry his hand from Arnold’s shoulder (or wherever it is at this point) long enough to rescue her. But after the faux rescue, Johnny rushes right back to Arnold again.

Luora turns out to be the culprit, conspiring with her handsome lover Rovak (Bruce Cowling) to sell the cobalt to the enemy and pin the blame on Arnold. She also happens to be the queen of a savage tribe, which she orders to feed Johnny and Arnold to a crocodile (the title is misleading: no cannibals threaten to eat anyone). 

They escape at the last moment (with the requisite hand-on-shoulder “Are you all right?”), and in the ensuing gunplay, the governor, Luora, and Rovak are all killed. To tie up all of the loose ends, Arnold is named the new governor.

In the last scene, his hand still superglued to Arnold’s shoulder, Johnny says “I guess it’s time to move on,” softly and hesitantly, as if he wants to be talked out of it. Arnold has no time to respond – there’s a crash in the office. It’s the chimp, Kimba, messing up the place. Fade out to laughter, and we never hear Arnold’s response to the question of Johnny leaving. This was his last movie – maybe he stayed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...