Jan 12, 2013

Mighty Isis

In the fall of 1975, I was in high school, too old for Saturday morning tv.  I still watched, but sneakily, with an algebra textbook open on my lap, pretending to be just sharing space in the living room with my brother and sister: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (a gay couple adopts a sea monster), Land of the Lost (a gay boy trapped far from home), Westwind (about Van Williams taking his shirt off).

But what was the point of The Mighty Isis (1975-77), about a mild-mannered science teacher, Andrea Thomas  (JoAnna Cameron), who recites "Oh, Mighty Isis!" and turns into the ancient Egyptian goddess?  And then uses her superpowers to get teenagers out of jams?  And then preaches to them: "See, you shouldn't use tobacco!  See, you shouldn't hang out with kids who drive motorcycles!  See, you should always carry a jacket!"

1. Andrea had a buddy, fellow science teacher Rick Mason (Brian Cutler), who was cute and had no romantic interest in her. (Photo is from Catalina Caper a few years before, where he got to buddy-bond with gay actor Tommy Kirk).

2. But Rick did get a boyfriend (Gregory Elliot) in "Seeing Eye Horse." (about a boy who was blinded in a riding accident, and therefore afraid to "get back on the horse again.")

3. Every teen hunk in the business guest starred: Leigh McCloskey (Dallas), Johnny Doran (Captains Courageous), Buddy Foster (Mayberry RFD), Thomas Carter (The White Shadow).  They rarely took their shirts off, but in the 1970s exceptionally tight pants were in style.

4. There was little heterosexual romance, but a lot of homoromantic entanglement.

For instance, the episode "How to Find a Friend" has the teenage Tom (Mike Lookinland  of The Brady Bunch) gazing wistfully at cool motorcyclist Joe (Tommy Norden of Flipper).  He tries to win Joe's heart by offering him a loaded gun.  It doesn't work.

But Isis assures him  that someday he'll meet a boy who likes him for himself, not for the size of his. . .um. . .gun.

5. There were crossovers with Captain Marvel from Shazam!

Jan 11, 2013

Jolly Green Muscles

In the 1960s, beefcake wasn't common, but if you were diligent, you could find it in some unexpected places, like the Green Giant, (or Jolly Green Giant), who wore a toga made from leaves and flexed gleaming bodybuilder muscles on cans of corn, in magazine ads, and in television commercials (which offered the added bonus of a booming voice).

The character was created by the Minnesota Valley Canning Company in 1928.  He became so popular that the company changed its name to Green Giant in 1950.  He didn't get much of a back story, like other advertising icons; he just lived in a valley, supervised vegetable production, and after 1972, had an apprentice named Sprout (not a son; the Giant remained happily unmarried).

Jan 9, 2013

Charles Atlas

During the 1960s, gay boys could find beefcake in unexpected places.  The interior cover of nearly every comic book featured a bodybuilder in a posing strap, usually Charles Atlas, sometimes Joe Weider, Earle E. Liederman, or someone else from the early days of bodybuilding.

The sales pitch was heteronormative. "Get girls!"  "Attract the opposite sex!"  Charles Atlas offered a mini-comic strip about a "98 pound weakling" named Mac, who gets buffed, beats up a bully, and attracts the attention of a girl.

But who paid attention to the plot when you could look at pecs and abs?

Jan 8, 2013

Hannah Montana and the Real Daniel Booko

Hannah Montana (2006-2011) was very good at gay subtexts, like many teencoms on the Disney Channel (check out Wizards of Waverly Place or Even Stevens).  And very good at beefcake.  So I wasn't surprised at the episode where everyone wonders why Hannah is always hanging out with Jackson (Jason Earles, who went on to play the gay-vague Rudy on Kickin' It).

He's actually the brother of her alter ego Miley Stuart, but admitting that would give the secret away, so they pretend to be dating.  Jackson goes on a talk show and proclaims “I love Hannah!” while jumping on a couch, parodying Tom Cruise’s well-publicized exploit on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and inviting parallel speculation about his sexual identity.  He then fuels speculation by admitting that he can't continue the charade anymore; he loves Hannah “like a sister.”

And I wasn't surprised when Jackson got a boyfriend.  "Hanging out" with Hannah after one of her concerts, Jackson meets Stavros (Daniel Booko), who loves another female celebrity "like a sister."  Stavros leers at him, says “awesome” in appreciation of his beauty, and bluntly asks him out.  A subsequent montage shows the boys delighted in each other’s company and ignoring the pop star Hannah.  But Stavros turns out to be shallow, and drops Jackson when a better opportunity arises.

But I was surprised that Stavros never took his shirt off -- unusual for a guest star on Hannah Montana.  I soon found out why.  If Stavros displayed this physique while aggressively courting Jackson, if Jackson got a silly grin on his face while gazing at this physique, the subtext would become text, it would be impossible to hide the attraction under the guise of friendship.

29-year old Daniel Booko, a minister's son from Three Rivers, Michigan,  played the friend of Maddie's boyfriend on The Suite Life of Zack and Codya dumb lunk hired to take his shirt off on ICarly, and a champion skater on Kickin' It.  

Outside of the teencom circuit, he has an impressive range of projects, from teen sex comedy to horror to adventure, most recently in the Jersey Shore spoof Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012) and Christmas Wedding Date (2012).  Surprisingly, his characters almost never gets the girl.

But he did get a boy, playing a gay character on The O.C. 

No word on whether he's gay or a gay ally in real life, but he talks about the kind of girls he likes in this interview.

Boyce and Hart

Boyce and Hart barely rated a "wow!" in Tiger Beat.  Maybe they were too old, over 30 by 1968.

But they made a splash with gay kids, and not just because of the eye-appeal of their exceptionally tight white slacks.  While other musical duos like Simon & Garfunkel gazed at each other and occasionally placed a hand on shoulder, Boyce and Hart seemed to relish physical contact, always touching: hugging, arms around shoulders, legs draped over thighs.

Both had wives and talked about girls, but still, it wasn't hard to imagine them as boyfriends.

Arizona native Bobby Hart (bottom) and Virginia boy Tommy Boyce  (top) met in Los Angeles in 1958, when they were 19 and 20 years old.  Soon they were writing songs for Chubby Checker, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Del Shannon, and Dean Martin.  

But their biggest fame came in 1965, when they began writing the songs for The Monkees. They left  in 1966, after a dispute with producer Don Kirshner, but they remained close to the Monkees, who graciously gave them credit for writing such hits as "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I Wanna Be Free."

Boyce and Hart also performed, with three albums and five charting singles.  They appeared as themselves on three 1960s sitcoms: I Dream of Jeannie (1967), The Flying Nun (1970), and Bewitched (1970), and wrote the soundtracks of a dozen other programs, including Days of Our Lives, The Ambushers, and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.

The songs they wrote for others were often heterosexist, to meet the requirements of the music machiine of the era.  But some, deliberately or not, omitted pronouns:

It's so neat to meet you "Where the Action Is"
Say you'll always be my friend, because "I Wanna Be Free."

And some were about friends:

Just exactly what does trust mean?
Is it about being down with the scene?
Or is it about following your own true heart
And being true to your friends to the end from the start

They wrote over 300 songs together before breaking up in the early 1970s.  They reunited briefly in the 1975-77 to perform with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones of The Monkees (calling themselves David, Micky, Tommy & Bobby).  But then each pursued his own projects.  They lived on opposite sides of the country, Boyce in Nashville, Hart in Los Angeles.

Tommy Boyce committed suicide in 1994.   Bobby Hart is currently working on a musical about their partnership; Sunshine Pop: Stories from the Boyce and Hart Music Machine.

Jan 6, 2013

The Transcendent Flesh: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

When I was a kid, my church hated the Roman Catholic "cult."  The Pope was the Antichrist, priests and nuns were possessed by the Devil, and millions of their brainwashed followers worshipped idols and drank wine.  Our Sunday school teacher cautioned us to never speak to a Catholic, if we could help it, or we might get brainwashed, too, and never walk past a Catholic church, or a priest would "get" us.  

In college I dropped out of church.  When the Preacher called to check up on me, I told him I was going to another church now.
Which one?
"Roman Catholic," I said, just to shake things up a bit.
He slammed the phone down, and by the next Sunday, my family was being shunned, stared at, and whispered about.  They made me call the Preacher and tell him that I was only joking.

The first real Catholic I met was Frank, the boy on the Prospect List.  I spent the night with Todd, a Maronite Catholic, at  music camp in the summer of 1976.  My first view of the real Roman Catholic Church came the next fall, when my Medieval History class  at Rocky High saw Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), about the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Like many movies and tv programs of the era -- That Cold Day in the Park, Hair, If...., even The Bugaloos -- it featured  a "wild youth" who shakes up the establishment.  Raised in luxury as the son of a wealthy Italian merchant, Francis is repelled by the materialism, avarice, and aggression of the adults.  He goes to war, but cannot bring himself to fight.  He seeks refuge in the Roman Catholic Church, but finds it antiquated and materialistic. So he "lights out for the territory" and starts a hippie commune. . .um, I mean a monastic order.

To symbolize his rejection of the material, Francis sheds his clothes, revealing a beautifully sculpted backside.  So a naked male body shows us the way to Paradise.

Some of the movie posters tried to transform the movie into a heterosexual romance, but Francis has no interest in women.  Or in men, either.  He has a best friend, Paolo (Kenneth Cranham), but his love extends to all living things and even inanimate objects, and cannot be contained in a single person.

Actor Graham Faulkner, reputedly gay in real life, also stripped down to play a Cornish farmer with rather shapely thighs, frolicking on the beach with writer D.H. Lawrence in Priest of Love (1981).

Director Franco Zeffirelli, gay in real life, often used beautiful male bodies as symbols of transcendent reality, even when they have sex with women, as with Romeo (Leonard Whiting, left) in Romeo and Juliet (1968).

Today I know much more about the Roman Catholic church.  I've read The Seven Story Mountain.  I've seen the Sistine Chapel.  I know about the histories of popes and saints, the scandals of the priests, the intense opposition to gay marriage and all things gay (but check out this blog, The Wild Reed, Thoughts and Reflections from a Progressive Gay Catholic Perspective).

But in the early days, I found there appreciation of male beauty that the fundamentalist church of my childhood denied.

The Bodybuilder and the Nanny: Mr. Belvedere

An unconventional free spirit arrives out of nowhere, talks his/her way into a job as a maid, nanny, butler, or housekeeper for  a dysfunctional family, and ends up being "just exactly what the doctor prescribed."   It was the premise of a dozen sitcoms, beginning with Hazel and Nanny and the Professo in the 1960s, and going through  from Charles in Charge to The Nanny to Andy the Manny on Modern Family

Mr. Belvedere  (1985-1990) had the sophisticated, gay-coded British butler (Christopher Hewitt) intruding upon the household of macho, somewhat homophobic sports writer George Owens (Bob Uecker). Many episodes involved the journey of the mistrustful odd couple toward mutual respect and eventually friendship. Unfortunately, there were no actual gay characters, nor even a "college friend coming out" episode, though they did deal with juvenile AIDS, gender transgressions (George's young son Wesley studies ballet), and a boy who was "confused."

George had a standard sitcom family: wife, teenage son and daughter, and grade school son.  Oddly, 23-year old Rob Stone, who played high schooler Kevin, received little attention from the teen magazines, and gave gay kids only one beefcake shot, when he signs up to be a nude artist's model to impress a girl.  And even then, they didn't see a lot.

Brice Beckham (grader schooler Wesley) received more attention, even though he was barely adolescent when the program ended.  Maybe it's a reflection of the program's popularity among pre-teens.

Christopher Hewitt, who was gay in real life, died in 2001. Rob Stone is involved in many directing and producing projects, specializing in documentaries.

Brice Beckham has continued to act. In 2012 he organized a number of former child stars, including Jeremy Licht (The Hogan Family) and Maureen Flanigan (Out of This World), to produce a pro-gay response to Kirk Cameron's infamous homophobic comments.

Super 8: Four Boys, a Girl, and a Monster

An homage to filmmaking, Steven Spielberg, and J.J. Abrams' childhood, Super 8 (2011) is set in the distant past year of 1979, where high schooler Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is working on a zombie movie, along with his best friend Preston (Zach Mills), the pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee), and the skittish Martin (Gabriel Basso). They need a female lead, so Preston calls a girl he likes, Alice (Elle Fanning).  Unfortunately, Joe likes her too.

While they are filming at the train station, they witness a train crash, which releases thousands of small white cubes.  To their horror, they discover that their science teacher, the cliched intuitive black guy (Glynn Turman) crashed into the train deliberately to stop it.  "They'll kill you!" he exclaims, mysteriously.

Meanwhile, Joe's dad, Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is despondent after the death of his wife in an unrelated factory accident.  He blames the town nogoodnick, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), who was supposed to take her shift that day.

By the way, Louis just happens to be Alice's father.  Her mother "ran off."

The Peyton Place-like soap opera unfolds as unexplained events bedevil the small Ohio town.  All of the dogs run away.  People disappear.  The army arrives and takes over.  The weird cubes start pulsating and changing size.  There's a monster.

And a lot of gay subtexts.

1. Joe is a quiet outsider boy who does all of the makeup for the actors.  He has numerous gay-coded interests: makeup, art, design.  And his father assumes that he is gay.  Most parents, upon discovering that their teenage son is hanging out with a girl, would assume hetero-romance, but Deputy Lamb doesn't, not for a moment.  He consistently refers to the relationship as "a friendship," and to Alice as "one of your friends."

2. Though Joe and Preston both like The Girl, they get a scene in which they discuss their feelings for each other.

3. Martin (left) and Cary express no heterosexual interest; they don't even gawk at The Girl or make sleazy comments about her breasts, like nearly every other movie teenager.

4. Louis and Deputy Lamb apparently were close friends in high school, mirroring the relationship between Joe and Preston.  Then they had an unexplained falling-out.

Why does Deputy Lamb blame Joe for his wife's death?  Maybe Louis was interested in the Deputy, and unconsciously wanted her "out of the way" so he could move in?  Maybe Louis married in the first place only because the object of his affection was marrying.

Now, as they work together to save their kids, there is a palpable erotic tension between them.  One expects them to kiss at any moment.

They don't, of course.  The resolution, which draws on E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, involves a heterosexist rescue of The Girl.  But it's a nice ride.

In 2013, Joel Courtney will be playing Tom Sawyer to Jake T. Austin's Huck Finn.

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