May 8, 2013

Edson Stroll: Bodybuilding Opera Buff

I met Ed Stroll when I was working for Muscle and Fitness in Los Angeles: dashing, energetic, and still extremely buffed in his 50s. He was working in real estate, but he spent most of his time at the Marina del Rey Yacht Club, and knew everything there was to know about high culture: concerts, ballets, and especially opera.

And, whenever he could spare a moment, playing high-powered businessman types on Murder She Wrote, Hotel, Dynasty, Simon and Simon....

I didn't know that he had been in show biz for over 30 years. Or that his real name was Edson.

Born in 1929, Ed trained as a bodybuilder, actor, and singer, performing on stage in Shangri-La, Carousel, On the Town, and other plays before breaking into tv with guest shots on How to Marry a Millionaire, Sea Hunt, Lock-Up, and Men into Space.  

He starred in two famous episodes of The Twilight Zone: "Eye of the Beholder", about a society where the idea of beauty is our "ugliness"; and "The Trade-Ins," in which an elderly couple shop for hot new bodies.

He starred in the military comedy McHale's Navy (1962-66), as Virgil Edwards, "the handsome lover boy of the crew" (according to Wikipedia; I've never seen it).

He appeared in Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961) as Prince Charming, and The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962), as romantic lead Captain Tom Andrews.

Not a lot of gay content, but you don't really need any when you spend all of your time hanging around gay men.

I assumed he was gay; he never said he wasn't.

When he died on June 18, 2011, his obituary stated that he was survived by Anita Winters and his two dogs,  Eddie and Sugar Baby.    I have no idea who Anita Winters is.

May 7, 2013

Don's Party: Mostly Heterosexual Boys in the Band

Don's Party (1976), based on the long-running play by David Williamson, is set on the night of the 1969 Federal Election in Australia, where the conservative, establishment Labor Party is expected to win.

Schoolteacher Don (gay actor John Hargreaves, left) and his wife Kath invite some friends over to celebrate the victory.  They are:

1. Alcoholic professor Mal and his bitter wife Jenny

2. Conservative dentist Evan and his artist wife Kerry.

3. Sex-obsessed Cooley (Harold Hopkins, left, lately of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo) and his giggly girlfriend Susan.

4. Liberal-supporter  Simon and his wife Jody

5. Working-class Mack (gay actor Graham Kennedy), who has just left his wife.

Gradually it becomes clear that the Liberal party will win, sending Australia plummeting into a snake-pit of drugs and free love, so the depressed partygoers begin drinking heavily.

And the gloves come off.

Men snipe at each other about their failed ambitions.  Women snipe about how small their husbands' penises are and how they're likely to be gay.

Hidden homoerotic desires come out.  There are attempted gay pick-ups.  There is full frontal nudity. By the end of the evening, everyone hates everyone.

It's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets The Boys in the Band. 

To be fair, there's no actual gay sex -- heterosexual machinations predominate -- and there are more naked ladies than naked men.  But still, Don's Party provides a glimpse into the 1970s establishment anxieties over the gay potential of the sexual revolution

May 6, 2013

Christopher Jones: Wild in the Streets

Wild in the Streets (1968), like many 1960s movies and tv shows, including That Cold Day in the Park (1969) and even The Bugaloos (1970-71), draws on establishment fear of the youth counterculture.  Based on a short story by Robert Thorn, "The Day It All Happened, Baby," it stars Christopher Jones as rock star/revolutionary Max Frost, who is elected President of the United States.

 Among his "horrifying" executive decisions: withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, disbanding the FBI, shipping surplus grain to third-world countries...oh, and sending everyone over 35 to concentration camps, where they are kept high on LSD.

No explicit gay-content, but the hippie boys are quite affectionate with each other, reclining against each other's bodies, lying in each other's arms, and there is considerable beefcake, if you like lean and shaggy.

Born in 1941, Christopher Jones broke into show biz through his friend Frank Corsaro and through his wife, actress Susan Strasberg.  He was known chiefly for playing the titular role in The Legend of Jesse James (1965-66), which transformed the famous outlaw into an anti-establishment hero, a modern day Robin Hood who may have had a substantial buddy-bond with his brother Frank (Allen Case).

And for Chubasco (1967), about a young man sentenced to work on a fishing boat with the older movie hunk Richard Egan, while falling in love with Susan Strasberg.

His studio obviously thought that Christopher would strike an emotional chord with the hippie generation.  After Wild, they promoted him in the hippie sex comedy Three in the Attic (1968), about a boy with three girlfriends;  The Looking-Glass War (1969), about a Polish hippie working behind the Iron Curtain for the West; and Ryan's Daughter (1970), about an Irish boy in love with a girl.

Not a lot of gay-content, but sometimes beefcake is enough, and he gets naked a lot.

But Christopher was disillusioned with Hollywood, especially after the death of his friend/lover Sharon Tate, so he abandoned acting and became a painter.

Encounters with the Tripods: Heterosexism on 1960s Children's TV

It's hard to remember my first encounter with the Tripods, the army of adults, parents, teachers, neighbors, babysitters, coaches, youth ministers, and complete strangers who kept insisting that heterosexual desire was universal human experience, that I, like all boys, would soon become obsessed with the feminine, that no man in the history of the world had ever loved men.

1. Maybe Flipper, not the tv series but the feature film.  It premiered on August 14, 1963, when I was not yet three years old, but I must have seen it on tv later, because it felt odd and disquieting. The "wrong" Porter Ricks, no Bud, Sandy (Luke Halpin) as a little kid -- and he likes a girl!

2. Or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwhich aired on December 6, 1964, and every Christmas thereafter. It ended with Rudolph getting a girlfriend and his Elf buddy Hermie dancing with a girl.

3. Or Hercules and the Princess of Troy, which aired on September 12, 1965, just as I entered kindergarten.  A retelling of the Perseus story, with Hercules (1950s Tarzan Gordon Scott) rescuing the Princess (Diana Hylund), and falling in love with her.

4. Or The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood, which aired on November 28, 1965, just after my fifth birthday.  A retelling of the "Red Riding Hood" tale with Red (Liza Minnelli) outsmarting an effeminate wolf and falling for the handsome woodman (Vic Damone).

Although Eric Burdon and the Animals were cute as the Wolf's juvenile delinquent gang.

But it was probably something more personal.

5. I was around four years old, and watching a children's program that I called Land of Ziggy Zaggy, but it was actually The Land of Ziggy Zoggo, aka The Nancy Berg Show (1962-65).  

Apparently my Dad thought I was mesmerized by Ms. Berg's pulchritude rather than her storytelling.  Passing by, he laughed and said "Look, Boomer has a girlfriend!"

May 5, 2013

Kawa: 5 Homophobic Rules about Gay Movies

 I love gay subtext movies, but I haven't cared for many of the gay-themed movies that I've seen: Shelter, Brokeback Mountain, Bad Education, Bent, Transamerica, Boys Don't Cry, Get Real.  Subtext movies are about the exuberant joy of two men or two women walking arm-in-arm into the future.  Many gay-themed movies are about hatred, fear, isolation, depression, and angst, angst, angst.

Take Kawa (2010), also known as Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a New Zealand movie directed by Katie Wolfe.  It has approximately the same plot as Making Love (1982), but apparently during the last 30 years, attitudes toward gay people have become much, much worse.

The middle-aged Kawa (Calvin Tuteao) "has it all," or at least the "all" that I spent my youth trying to escape from.  He has some sort of job that involves negotiating with the Australians while sitting in a huge office looking out over Auckland Harbor.  Then he goes home, tells his wife how much he loves her, chuckles at his teenage son for having sex with his girlfriend, and lies in bed next to his preteen daughter to tell her heterosexist bedtime stories while she waves a fairy wand around. In addition, his father is about to retire, making him the head of his Maori clan.

Picture perfect, right?

Homophobic Rule #1: Heterosexual life is amazing, glorious, infinitely fulfilling.  It is Heaven on Earth. It's the theme of everyone's dreaming.  No heterosexual ever experiences a moment of unhappiness, except when they discover that someone is gay.

But Kawa has a problem: he is attracted to men.  He was aware of his attraction before he married, but hoped he could overcome it.  He spent years struggling with his urges, but they're too strong.  He has to act on them.

Homophobic Rule #2: Gay people hate, hate, hate being gay.  It's a horrible obsession that intrudes upon them. They would give anything to be normal, to have a normal life.  They try desperately to suppress the urges, but they're just too strong. Are we talking being gay here, or setting fire to small animals?

Kawa acts on his urges by skulking around bathhouses for anonymous tricks. Everyone in the bathhouse is also closeted, referring to their down-low life as "going to the Gardens of Spain."

Homophobic Rule #3: There is no gay community, just bars, bathhouses, and the occasional t-room. No matter that, last time I checked, Auckland had over 50 gay organizations, everything from gay Christians to gay swimming enthusiasts.  In gay movies, it's a dark, desolate pre-Stonewall world.

By the way, Maori culture is generally gay friendly.  Maori television has a gay tv show, Takatapui, and in 2010 five gay Maori and Polynesian artists had an exhibition called Mana Takatapui: Taera Tane at the City Gallery in Wellington.

Kawa starts tricking regularly with closeted actor Chris (Dean O'Gorman, left), but he rejects any attempt to start a relationship.  He's married; he wants a normal life.  Being gay is just "having a bit of fun." (After he is outed, he tries to get back together with Chris, but the closeted actor has moved on).

Homophobic Rule #4: There is no fade-out kiss.  Gay people may have a bit of fun, but they cannot have lasting relationships.  No matter that New Zealand has gay marriage. Gay couples will always break up, or one of them will die.

Did I mention that New Zealand has gay marriage?

The bit of fun on the side is fine until one day Kawa's mom sees Kawa and Chris kissing.  Then all hell breaks loose.  Her reaction -- "My son died today" -- is the mildest of the lot.  His father collapses, screaming, onto the ground.  His wife throws up, and then forbids him from entering the house or seeing his children (that's definitely not legal).

 His son (Pama Hema Taylor, left) screams "Stay away from my mother"!  His daughter runs away to look for fairies, emblems of her lost "perfect" world of universal heterosexuality.

Kawa also quits his job.  You can't have an office with a view of Auckland Harbor if you're not heterosexual

Homophobic Rule #5: All heterosexuals are wildly, viciously, psychotically homophobic.  No wonder it's a dark closet world -- mention that you're gay, and everyone starts screaming, and you lose everything.

Months and months and months pass, and eventually Kawa's Dad appears at his apartment with the ceremonial robe, signifying that he can become clan leader after all.  What about Mom?  "Give her time."

Jeez, how much time do you need to accept the fact that your son is an axe murderer. . .or is it gay?

Same thing.

Try 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous for a Kiwi movie that gets it right.
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