Feb 16, 2013

Lockie Leonard and His Friend Egg

Australian tv produces a surprising number of blond, bronze teenage surfer hunks: Xavier Samuel in Newcastle, Ryan Kwanten in Home and Away, and Lockie Leonard, the teenage surf rat who first appeared in a trilogy of children's books by Tim Winton (also the author of That Eye, The Sky, which was made into a movie starring Jamie Croft).

Lockie moves with his family from Perth to small-town Angelus, Australia, where he is surrounded by weirdness.  However, instead of becoming a paranormal investigator, as in Eerie, Indiana, Lockie tries his best to conform, to fit in. Which isn't easy when his sister eats linoleum, his dad arrests farm animals, his brother wets the bed, his best friend is a headbanger, and he's in love with a crazy female grommet (an experienced surfer).

I've only seen two episodes of the tv series (2008-2010) starring Sean Keenan as Lockie and Clarence Ryan as his headbanger mate, but I have noticed a few gay-positive moments.

1. Sean Keenan is 14 to 17 years old, considerably older than the 12-13 year old Lockie in the books.

2. His best friend is named Egg, which in the U.S. (at least where I grew up)  is slang for something dirty.

4. Lockie and Egg have more subtexts than in the novels. Egg is devoted to Lockie, and usually dislikes girls.  When Egg makes a new friend, Curtis, Lockie falls into a deep depression.  Meanwhile a girl named Sasha flirts with Egg, who ignores her to hang out with Curtis, who is interested Sasha. Then Lockie decides that he'll do anything to get Egg back.  It gets complicated.

5. Lockie's brother Philip (Corey McKernan), a minor character in the books, is pivotal, embarking on his own relationships, particularly with the gay-vague Joe (Nicholas Rechichi)

6. The books focus on the ups and downs of teenage hetero-romance, but the tv series expands to include a more well-rounded -- and queer -- vision.  Lockie wonders if he should have been born a girl; he is embarrassed by his Dad's oddball antics; Mom has a "polka dot day," and falls prey to the "ladies who lunch"; his brother Philip goes out for girls' netball.

7. Sean Keenan's teenage hunkiness is on display.

Shakespeare: The Original Gay Poet

Throughout high school and college, my English, Spanish, French, and German teachers carefully steered us away from gay writers, if they could help it, and when they had no choice, tried hard make us believe they weren't. Oscar Wilde's career ended when he was arrested on "scandalous charges." What did he do?  Oh. . .um. . .er. . .he corrupted Lord Alfred Douglas, introducing him to gambling and loose women.

They steered us away from all gay content, and when they had no choice, tried their best to make us think it wasn't.  Why did Whitman mean by "We two boys together clinging, one the other never leaving"?  Oh. . .um. . .er. . .he's talking about his brother, and anyway you're not supposed to read that part.

So I grew up thinking that no novelist, poet, playwright, or artist in all the history of the world had ever been gay.  Except one: William Shakespeare.

You could hardly miss the subtexts in practically every play:
1. Romeo and Juliet: Benvolio is in love with Romeo.
2.  Merchant of Venice: Antonio is in love with Bassanio.
3. Richard II is gay.
4. Henry IV: Hotspur is gay.
5. Othello: Iago is in love with Othello.
6. A Midsummer Night's Dream: Oberon likes boys, and Puck likes everybody.

Plus his wife, Anne Hathaway, whom he leaves back home in Stratford while he hangs out with guys in London for 20 years

And the Sonnets, addressed to the mysterious "Mr. W. H." and full of complaints about Shakespeare's boyfriend, a fickle youth who is hot one moment, cold another, who spends all his money with no emotional return, and who dates other people -- even women.

How could you miss it?

Mrs. Johnson, who taught my senior-year Shakespeare class, tried to miss it.  Desperately.  In nearly every class session, she came up with a new bit of evidence that Shakespeare wasn't. . .um, you know, that way (no one ever actually Said the Word).

Her evidence:
1. None of his characters are Wearing Signs.
2. It was an Elizabethan convention to write romantic-sounding poetry about platonic friendship.
3. The "fair youth" was an apprentice who was learning the acting craft.
4. Anne Hathaway was pregnant when they got married.
5. No one who is a writer can ever be. . .um, you know, that way.
6. Especially a great writer.

See also: The 7 Ages of Man

Feb 15, 2013

The Persuaders: The Last of the Gay Swinger Detectives

Coming nearly a decade after the gay swinger bachelor detective fad that gave us everything from 77 Sunset Strip to Hawaiian Eye, The Persuaders! (1971-72) brought together two detective traditions by pairing multimillionaire playboys from both sides of the Atlantic.

The tough, gritty American Danny Wilde was raised on the mean streets before making his fortune (played by Tony Curtis, the third choice after Glenn Ford and gay actor Rock Hudson).

His boyfriend was Lord Brett Sinclair, an Oxford-educated British aristocrat (Roger Moore, previously The Saint, soon to become the quintessential 1970s James Bond).

The two met on the French Riviera, hated each other on sight, and destroyed a hotel bar with their fistfight. But the savvy judge Fulton (Lawrence Naismith) sentenced them to work together solving one of his cases, and soon they realized that they made a great team.

Few American Boomers remember the series; only 24 episodes were made, far fewer than American audiences expected, and it aired on Saturday nights opposite the similarly-themed Mission: Impossible, a veritable death sentence. However, it was very popular in Europe, where the titles hinted at homoromance: Amicably Yours, The Partners, The Two.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of girls around, a new damsel in distress in every episode.  According to Wikipedia, "a beautiful girl" (Ep. 1), "a beautiful aristocrat" (Ep. 3), "a beautiful dancer" (Ep. 5), "a beautiful daughter" (Ep. 9), "a string of beautiful girls" (Ep. 13), "a beautiful photographer" (Ep. 17), "a lovely granddaughter" (Ep. 22), "a beautiful heiress" (Ep. 23), and "a beautiful ingenue" (Ep. 24).

With all that pulchritude around, it's amazing that any homoromance managed to shine through, but in Danny and Brett were one of the most physically affectionate of the swinger bachelor couples, always hugging, walking arm in arm, reclining against each other.  One would be kissing a girl, and the other would be lying expectantly at his feet.  It almost made up for the almost complete lack of my-hero rescues.

Frankie Galasso: Dream Teen

Every boy band has a leader, a hunk, a goofball, and a "dreamy one," a shy, sensitive, gay-coded prettyboy that the intended audience of preteen girls is expected to swoon over and think "I could change him." Oddly, it's usually the hunk who is gay in real life.

Dream Street, which drew teen idol attention for a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, featured Frankie J. Galasso as the shy, sensitive prettyboy, although he didn't skimp in the beefcake department.  His schtick was an unbuttoned shirt, as if he was too shy to take it all the way off, or caught in the midst of dressing, casually revealing his tight chest and killer abs. (And, in this pin-up, his feminine gold ring).

He is also an actor.  As a kid, Frankie had a starring role in Hudson Street (1995-96) as cop Tony Danza's son, plus he provided the singing voice of Christopher Robin in two Winnie the Pooh movies.

He has appeared in Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), The Biggest Fan (2002), and A Tale of Two Pizzas (2003).

Since Dream Street folded, Frankie (still in unbuttoned shirts) has embarked on a solo career.  In 2012 he toured in the national company of Jersey Boys, about the 1950s boy band Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  He played the young Joey Peschi, but Jersey Boys has some gay content other than the beefcake, with a gay theatrical manager and a passionate romantic friendship between Frankie and his best friend Tommy.

Every boy band member gets gay rumors.  Frankie hasn't addressed them.

Boy on a Dolphin: Gay Subtexts in 1960s Greece

Ancient Greece  had always been a "good place," with endless tales of gods in love and heroes battling monsters while naked.  But what about modern Greece?

There was My Village in Greece, about a boy who roamed a white-roofed village on the isolated island of Mykonos (not yet a gay mecca), and Peter Buckley's similar Greek Island Boy.  

There were pictures of men and boys on white-sand beaches, sometimes hugging.

Many movies that appeared in the first days of the 1960s made modern Greece a sleepy backwoods full of big-breasted temptresses who are discovered and civilized by the West. (sort of like the Peace Corps with sex instead of well-digging).  But also full of gay subtexts.

Boy on a Dolphin (1957) starred Sophia Loren's breasts, but two Westerners were triangulating their love-hate relationship over them (and the statue of the boy on the dolphin): art collector Victor (Clifton Webb) and hunky museum curator James (Alan Ladd, right).  Both actors were gay.

Besides, the real Boy on a Dolphin was a nude teenager named Arion.

Never on Sunday (1960) had an American named Homer (Jules Dassin, left) trying to reform a prostitute, and with her all of Greek culture. No gay subtexts, but lots of hot Greek sailors falling all over each other in their eagerness to become clients.

It Happened in Athens (1962), about two men, one rich and one poor, competing in a marathon.

Island of Love (1963) is basically Some Like It Hot without the drag.  Two film producers fleeing the mob take refuge on a Greek island, where one of them falls for a gangster's daughter.   The other doesn't like girls.  (Tony Randall and Robert Preston have both played gay characters.)

The Moon-Spinners (1964), a Disney caper movie set on the island of Crete, stars Peter McEnery, the first gay teenager on film.

Zorba the Greek (1964) sends another Westerner, a British writer named Basil (Alan Bates) to Greece to civilize the savages, but in this case he's the one transformed, by the free-spirited Zorba (Anthony Quinn).  They end up falling in love, and though in the end Basil must go back home, they have time for one last dance on the beach. (Alan Bates, by the way, was gay).

Feb 12, 2013

My Two Moms: Fred Koehler

Fred Koehler is short and rather husky, with a round, handsome face and a befuddled expression that makes him perfect for roles as oddball outsiders with no heterosexual interests.  Instead, they are gay-vague, yearning for love, acceptance, and family.

Like Ben Sharpless, teenage son of the obsessive sheriff Nolan in Birdseye (2002).

Or Andrew Schillinger, son of the white supremacist Vern Schillinger on Oz (1999-2003). (Who, by the way, gets several nude scenes, including a frontal.)

Or the mentally handicapped Pemon in Little Chenier (2006).

Or the obsessive-compulsive Lists in the Death Race franchise (2008, 2010, 2012).

But Boomers will always think of Fred Koehler as Chip, the child of two moms (Susan Saint James, Jane Curtin) on the sitcom Kate and Allie (1984-89).  Ok, they're heterosexual roommates, not lesbian life partners, but they provide a stable home, each acting as a mother to all of the kids, so what's the difference?

They even suffer a bit of reverse discrimination.  Their landlords, a lesbian couple, plan to classify them as two families and charge them double rent, until they are convinced that family consists of people who love each other, regardless of whether they are sleeping in the same bed.  

The lesbian landlords appeared only in that one episode.  The rest of the series was gay-free, but the message has remained throughout Fred's career: family is family.

A Separate Peace

Boys at boarding school have been falling in love with each other since Tom Brown's School Days, but for some reason high school teachers -- and homophobic school boards -- never notice.  They scream in agony over novels with a brief reference to a gay uncle, but novels about schoolboys in love are perfectly fine.

In the 1970s, my junior high and high school English teachers assigned many homoromances, as Chaim Potok's The Chosen and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, but the most overt of them was A Separate Peace (1959), by gay author John Knowles.

Based upon Knowles' experiences at the elite Philip Exeter Academy, A Separate Peace pairs shy, quiet 16-year old Gene Forrester with the effervescent, carpe-diem Finny.

In the days before teenagers had any idea that same-sex desire existed, Gene can't understand the intensity of his attraction, resulting in envy, jealousy, and anger.  He "accidently" breaks Finny's leg, ending his athletic career.  Finny forgives him.

Later, Finny falls down a flight of stairs, breaks his leg again, and dies as a result (even today, many novels about gay people kill them as psychic punishment).

When I first read the novel, I couldn't understand why Gene loved and hated Finny at the same time.  Today I know about internalized homophobia.

There have been three movie adaptions of A Separate Peace.  The producers seemed more gay-savvy than high school English teachers, as they all tried to minimize the homoromance. The 1972 version, which starred John Heyl (who never acted again) and Parker Stevenson (later to star in The Hardy Boys series with Shaun Cassidy), made the boys' uncertain future in World War II pivotal to understanding Gene's rage.

The 2004 version diluted the romance by immersing Gene and Finny into a group of four boys.  The 2011 movie short kept all of the competition and removed all of the desire.

Feb 10, 2013

Bell, Book, and Candle

Gillian doesn't like being in the lifestyle.  Having to hide all the time, to lie about your identity; the hedonism; the endless affairs.  She wants to live a "normal life," with a husband and kids.  She falls in love with publisher  Shep Henderson and leaves the lifestyle, in spite of the admonitions of her Aunt Queenie and fey "brother" Nicky.

Meanwhile journalist Sidney Redlich is investigating the lifestyle.  Most people aren't even aware that people like that exist, he says, but there are hundreds in Manhattan alone.  They have their own hangouts, like the Zodiac Club, where the aging queen Bianca de Passe holds court with her many admirers.

Nicky invites Sidney out for a drink and comes out to him -- "You're closer to one than you think."  Soon the two are inseparable companions, working on a book together, no doubt lovers as well.

Meanwhile Queenie has fun hinting that she is, um, that way, to see if anyone suspects.  No one ever does. "I could say it openly on the bus, and no one would believe me."

Ok, Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) is "really" about witches, one of the witch-as-persecuted-minority vehicles that continued with Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  But it couldn't have more gay symbolism if it tried.

Actually, it was trying.  The details about "the lifestyle," Gillian's desire to be "normal," Nicky's seduction of Sidney Redlich, and the drag queen aunties all reflected books like The City and the Pillar (Gore Vidal, 1948) and The Homosexual in America (Edward Sangarin, 1952) which were starting to reveal the existence of gay people, "hundreds in Manhattan alone."  Playwright Jon Van Druten, who was gay, also wrote I am a Camera (1951), based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, about the gay subculture of 1930s Berlin.

Many of the stars had gay connections.  Kim Novak (Gillian) attended the parties of 1950s gay Hollywood with Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson. Elsa Lanchester (Queenie) was married to a gay man.  Ernie Kovacs (Sidney) portrayed a number of lisping, mincing "pansy" characters on tv. And in 1959 Jack Lemmon (Nicky) would star in the quintessential absurdist gay comedy, Some Like It Hot. 
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