Dec 13, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons

When I was in college in the early 1980s, every boy was expected to spend the early part of every week screwing up his courage to ask out The Girl, the one who walked in slow motion across the quad, her hair blowing in the wind.  If she agreed, he would spend Friday or Saturday night with her, dancing to Depeche Mode, watching Cannonball Run, and having sex.  This was his goal in life, all he could ever want or hope for or dream of.

If she refused, he would be forced to endure the humiliation of hanging out with other boys, eating take-out pizza and playing Dungeons and Dragons and waiting to try again iwith a new girl.

No one understood that many boys liked to eat pizza and play Dungeons and Dragons.  Especially those whose goal in life was to spend time with boys, not girls.

Gary Gygax invented the fantasy role-playing game in 1974, and by 1978 it was a phenomenon, being played in high school and college dorm rooms all over the world.  You developed a character (Elf, Dwarf, Wizard, Barbarian, and so on), endowed him with abilities (Strength, Charisma, Intelligence) and trekked with other characters through a heroic fantasy world, solving dilemmas and fighting enemies as you searched for a fabulous treasure.  

My character was usually a titan.

Six hours in a dim room with that cute chemistry major on one side and that hunky fratboy on the other, sitting so close that your legs sometimes brushed together and an occasional smooth bare chest was visible through buttons that had come undone.  Channeling the worlds of Conan the Barbarian or The Lord of the Rings. Pretending to be Boris Vallejo musclemen, without the nude ladies.  Plus you got pizza.  What's not to like?

The adults disapproved, of course, thinking D&D players were abandoning the real world, turning psychotic, or worshipping the Devil.  Several movies in the early 1980s featured teenagers turned catatonic or suicidal by the insidious board game.  For instance, in Mazes and Monsters (1982), some college kids (including Tom Hanks and Chris Makepeace) play in creepy caverns, and Robbie (Tom) gets so lost in the game that attacks his friends with a sword.

But we were just engaging in a little male bonding.  And sometimes Dungeons and Dragons games developed into something involving unzipping, nudity, and sausage sightings.

See also: 6 Naked Men in a Dorm Room

Dec 12, 2012

Bobby and the Beanstalk

I liked Greek mythology, and to a lesser extent Norse, but I hated fairy tales.  Even when I was little.  There were three main sources, none with many fairies.

The Grimm Brothers (one of whom was gay): mostly about children being threatened by evil parents or stepparents (Hansel and Gretel, Snow White)
Charles Perrault: mostly about girls being threatened by evil suitors (Red Riding Hood, Bluebird).
Hans Christian Andersen (who was gay): mostly about people dying.

So I wasn't happy on the night of February 26th, 1967, when Mom and Dad insisted that we watch a live-action version of Jack and the Beanstalk instead of  It's About Time.

It was even worse than I anticipated: they turned it into a "fade out kiss" heterosexist fable. Jeremy, the peddler who sells Jack the magic beans, becomes his companion in the quest to climb the beanstalk and steal from the giant.  They rescue Princess Serena, who has been transformed into a talking harp and can only be restored with a kiss.  Upon returning to Earth, Jeremy discovers that Jack's mother looks exactly like Princess Serena -- maybe they're the same person -- so they fall in love.  There's even a love theme -- "One Starry Moment."

Cover your eyes, groan, and rush downstairs to your room to read comic books.

But there were three things for gay kids to like in Jack and the Beanstalk.

1. The 1960s was overloaded with "precocious" kids who claimed to be experts on adult heterosexual practice or even doted on girls themselves.  But Jack (9-year old Bobby Riha) is utterly oblivious to feminine beauty and  disapproves of "love junk."

Bobby Riha was a popular child actor through the 1960s, with a starring role on The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-70) and guest shots on Mannix, Bonanza, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch (not this episode; I just like this picture of Greg).  

He retired from acting in the mid-1970s, and is now a professional photographer.

2. Jeremy was played by Gene Kelly, the star of a dozen gay-subtext musicals: Anchors Aweigh, Singin  in the Rain, On the Town, The Pirate, and finally Xanadu. I had never heard of him in 1967, but you couldn't miss the bulging muscles.  He could outmatch Burt Ward's Boy Wonder anytime.

He was never shirtless or nude on camera, but off camera -- that's another matter.

3. The Woggle Bird Song was kind of cool, with a "be true to yourself" message.

Dec 11, 2012

The 24 Months of Jon-Erik Hexum

In the early 1980s, we were holding out for a hero.  As the song goes,

He's gotta be sure, and it's gotta be soon,
And he's gotta be bigger than life.

We got Jon-Erik Hexum.  But he was a gift to the world for only 24 months.

Born in New Jersey to Norwegian parents, Jon-Erik hit the L.A. scene days after he graduated from Michigan State in 1980.  He had a number of failed auditions, mostly because casting agents didn't know what to do with him.  He couldn't be a New Sensitive Man: he was massive, with a swoon-inducing hairy chest, massive shoulders, and biceps like baseballs.  But his dark blue eyes, pretty face, and well-groomed hair disqualified him from roles as man-mountains who fight off enemy armies with their fists.

In the fall of 1982, they cast him in the science fiction series Voyagers!: he and his young ward (Meeno Peluce) traveled through time, making sure that historical events turned out right.

It was put on Sunday nights opposite 60 Minutes, which the oldsters liked, and just before Chips: obviously aimed at an audience of kids, especially gay boys, who couldn't forget the sight of Jon-Erik in a brown vest and a white shirt unbuttoned to his navel.

Voyagers! wrapped up after 20 episodes, and Jon-Erik spent the next year being courted as the Next Big Thing.

He starred with super-famous Joan Collins in a tv-movie, The Making of a Male Model (1983).

He played a Prince on an episode of Hotel (1984).

He co-starred with Gary Busey in the football drama The Bear (1984).

There were rumors of destructive behavior, fast cars, all-night clubbing, orgies, drugs.  Maybe they were just rumors.  Or maybe Jon-Erik was becoming too famous, too fast.

He was often seen dancing in gay clubs, so maybe he was gay in real life.  Or maybe he just liked the adoration of both male and female fans.

Later in 1984 he landed the starring role in Cover-Up, a tv series about a male model and a female photographer who go undercover in exotic locations to solve crimes. He filmed six episodes.

While filming the seventh, on October 12th, 1984, he was playing Russian roulette with a gun loaded with blanks. Or maybe he was just joking around.  Apparently he didn't know that at close range, blanks can kill.

Cover-Up tried to slog on without him, but after 22 episodes it was cancelled.

The world tried to slog on without him, too.

The Last Boy on Earth: Kamandi and his buddy Ben

In 1972, Marvel began to publish two comic book series about gay-vague teenage boys: Werewolf by Night, about a teenage werewolf, and Kamandi, about the last human boy on Earth.

An attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The Planet of the Apes franchise (1968, 1970, 1971, 1972), it is set an a post-Apocalyptic world where sentient animals rule (everything from apes to rats), and humans are extinct.

Except for Kamandi, the last of the human survivors bunkered in Command-D (thus his name), who is raised by his elderly grandfather and emerges into chaos, hunted for sport, imprisoned in a zoo, experimented on by scientists who want to know how a human could be sentient.

Though described as "a boy" and "a tyke," Kamadi is drawn as an extremely muscular teenage with long blond hippie-hair, naked except for tight cut-off jeans.

He is captured a lot, muscles taught and struggling.  Or he fights with high kicks that display his bulging pecs and 8-pack abs almost as well.

Just as the werewolf, Jack Russell, had a middle-aged boyfriend, Kamandi soon meets other humans (he's the last boy on Earth, not the last man). He is rescued by Ben Boxer, leader of an underground human-resistance movement, and his colleagues, Steve and Renzi, who are not shy about physical displays of affection.

For the next 30 issues, Ben and Kamandi fight together, rescue each other, search the ruined cities for each other.  Kamandi occasionally meets girls, momentary dalliances that mean nothing.  And there is no question for Ben: he has eyes only for the blond muscle god.

See also: Jim Steranko; and DC Comics Muscle.

Dec 9, 2012

Clint Eastwood: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

During the 1970s, Clint Eastwood killed gay villains.
In 1997, he directed the queer-friendly Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. 
He campaigned for John McCain in 2004 and Mitt Romney in 2008.
And he supports gay marriage.

Eastwood starred in the conventional Western series Rawhide (1959-65) before revitalizing the genre with his Italian-American "man with no name" trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  He's a gruff, taciturn outsider who sweeps into a corrupt town, restores order --with lots of casualties -- and then moves on.  He is no man-mountain -- he has the taunt, lean muscles of an outdoorsman, displayed in frequent shirtless, towel, and bathtub shots.  He has more common with kung fu legends like Bruce Lee, except instead of martial arts expertise, he uses a gun.

More unconventional Westerns followed, including a musical, Paint Your Wagon (1969).  And "Dirty Harry" series -- Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), and so on, about a gruff, taciturn cop who restores order by shooting the perp (I haven't seen them, but apparently gay stereotypes abound).

But there was buddy-bonding, too.  In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Eastwood's gruff, taciturn bank robber Thunderfoot hooks up with the irreverent young hunk Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), who courts him openly and aggressively.  "I don't want your watch!" he exclaims.  "I want your friendship!"

The relationship ends in tragedy, like many other homoerotic buddy movies, such as  Thelma and Louise or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Apparently you can fall in love -- covertly -- but you must be punished.

In Every Which Way But Loose (1978), an entry into the mid-1970s trucker craze, fist-fighting trucker Philo (Eastwood) pursues a dame, along with his two friends, one human (Geoffrey Lewis), one orangutan, channeling BJ and the Bear. 

And so on through dozens of movies, plust production, direction, composition, and politics, becoming an American legend several times over.  Most recently Eastwood directed J. Edgar (2011), a biopic of FBI director  J. Edgar Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).  Commentators feared that the conservative Eastwood would closet Hoover and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), but in fact their romance was central; Eastwood didn't even censor the crossdressing.

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