May 31, 2013

Beach Movies 2: The Duds

Between 1963 and 1967, AIP churned out a dozen Frankie-and-Annette beach movies that emphasized biceps over bikinis and buddy-bonding over hetero-romance.  Other studios followed suit, but they were not nearly as eager to expose male muscle.  Where the Boys Are, Beach Ball, Palm Springs Weekend, and many others paired girls in bikinis with boys who were fully clothed.  The swimming pool scene in C'mon, Let's Live a Little featured six mostly naked girls and one fully-clothed boy.

Nor were there substantial gay subtexts.  Instead of plotlines about boys choosing buddies over The Girl, they involved boys abandoning buddies in search of The Girl.

For instance, Palms Springs Weekend (1963), is over-loaded with hetero-romance.  Overaged college buddies Jim (Troy Donohue) and Biff (Jerry Van Dyke) visit the desert resort, where they try to get with the police chief's daughter (Stefanie Powers) and a shy wallflower (Zeme North), respectively.

Meanwhile, high schooler Gayle (1960s it-girl Connie Stevens), posing as a college student, gets hit on by spoiled rich kid Eric (Robert Conrad, star of Hawaii Five-0) and tries to get with a cowboy named Stretch (Ty Hardin, a discovery of gay talent agent Henry Willson). 

Not enough hetero-romance?  Ok.  The boys' basketball coach (Jack Weston) comes along as a chaperon, and tries to get with the owner of the hotel they're staying in (Carole Cooke), but he's stymied by her rambunctious young son, Boom-Boom (Billy Mumy of Lost in Space).  Yes, there's a kid named Boom-Boom.

There are also some hunky basketball players in the background, played by Greg Benedict, Gary Kincaid, Mark Dempsey, and the last of the Henry Willson discoveries, Jim Shane (left).

With all of the competition over girls and ruminations over girls, there must be some gay-subtext triangulations somewhere.  But I couldn't find any.

The whole movie is a dud.  Leads you to wonder what made the AIP beach movies so beefcake- and subtext-heavy.

See also: Buster Keaton

May 30, 2013

Jorge Rivero Dates a Drag Queen

Speaking of Hispanic beefcake, we find very few bodybuilders in Mexican movies before the 1980s.  Even the luchadores enmascarados, masked wrestler-superheroes like Santo and el Demonio Azul, had beefy wrestler physiques.  So producers didn't know quite what to do with the magnificent physique of bodybuilder Jorge Rivero (seen here in the Mexican version of the 1950s Physique Pictorial, Muscle Power.  

So they put him in Westerns (Pistoleros de la frontera), Santo movies (Operacion 67), and comedies (Como pescar un marido, How to Fish for a Husband).

But his big break came in El pecado de Adan y Eva (The Sin of Adam and Eve, 1969), in which he and his costar, Candy Cave, were nude throughout.

Offers from American, Argentine, German, and Italian productions came pouring in, and though Jorge still starred in many Mexican Westerns, dramas, and thrillers, he began appearing on the big screen in the U.S. as well:  in Rio Lobo (1970), he starred opposite John Wayne and Robert Mitchum as a former Confederate soldier turned train robber.

He was required to demonstrate lots of heterosexual interest in such softcore porn as Eroticofollia (The Evil Eye, 1975), Erotica (1979), and Profesor eroticus (1981), but at least he had a lot of nude scenes, including full-frontal.

And there was still room for buddy-bonding, as when he played the Western antihero El Payo.

Or in Priest of Love (1981), where he played Tony Luhan, the Native American who hosted bisexual writer D. H. Lawrence (Ian McKellan) during a visit to New Mexico.

Or in Conquest (1983), a sword-and-sorcery epic about a man with mystical powers (Jorge) and his buffed sidekick (Andrea Occhipinti).

He even got a boy sidekick, similar to Tarzan and Jai, in El nino y el tiburon (The Boy and the Shark, 1978).

No gay characters, but some homophobic content.  Noches de cabaret (1978) is a Mexican comedic take on the Victor/Victoria theme.  Jorge falls in love with a woman (Sasha Montenegro), but he thinks she's a drag queen.  Upset over the idea of being in love with a man, he plans suicide.  But Sasha reveals her true identity for a "happy" ending.

Quite a career for someone who started out getting beat up by Santo.

May 29, 2013

Ricardo Montalban: What Happened to the Hispanic Beefcake

One of the most iconic beefcake images of the Boomer generation appeared on February 16, 1967, in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed": The Enterprise picks up the frozen survivors of a long-ago eugenics experiment, including the world's most perfectly developed man, former dictator Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).  As he strutted around Sick Bay, his hospital gown robe falling off his massive, smooth chest, Boomers believed it.

Khan returned fifteen years later, in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), to take vengeance on the Enterprise crew that stranded him on a barren planet.  He was gray-haired and craggy, but he still couldn't find a shirt that could cover his massive chest.  His crew, including male model Cristian Letelier, was buffed, too.  And he had a gay-vague sidekick played by Judson Scott.  Gay favorites  Ike Eisenmann and Merrit Butrick costarred.

In between, Ricardo Montalban played the mysterious, probably supernatural Mr. Roarke, who managed the wish-fulfillment Fantasy Island (1977-84) that our parents or, more likely, our grandparents watched.  Most wishes were about finding heterosexual loves.

But those parts are only two of the highlights of a 60 year career.

Born in Mexico in 1920, Montalban became a film star in his home country before moving to the U.S. in the late 1940s.  He insisted on remaining true to his heritage, and became one of the few Hispanic actors who was regularly cast as Hispanic, even though it meant many suave, sophisticated, gay-vague villains in B-movies.  He also played many hetero-romantic roles, reviving the Rudolph Valentino "fiery Latin lover" image in the postwar world.

And, during the craze for Biblical and ancient Roman epics, he got to take off his shirt a lot.

I haven't seen many of Montalban's 160+ movies and tv shows, but I did note the buddy-bonding Joe Panther (1976), in which Turtle George (Montalban) mentors a young Seminole Indian (Ray Tracey).

In Captains Courageous (1977), he played the noble Portuguese fisherman Manuel, who mentors rich kid Harvey (Jonathan Kan).

He played gay villain Victor Ludwig in The Naked Gun (1988), who doesn't hit on his secretary because he "likes German boys," whatever that means.

More recently, he was playing parodies of himself, such as Senor Senor Senior on Kim Possible and a Hispanic cow on Family Guy.

Although he was married to Georgiana Young from 1944 until her death in 2007, he is the subject of several gay rumors, linking him to Zulu on Hawaii Five-O, Cesar Romero, and teen heartthrob Scott Baio.

May 28, 2013

Blazing Saddles

March 1979: my first year at Augustana College.  The Student Union is showing Blazing Saddles (1974), directed by Mel Brooks.

I've never heard of him.

It's a spoof of the Western genre, about a black cowboy, Bart (Cleavon Little, shown here in his underwear with Chick Vennera), who saves the town of Rock Ridge from an evil railroad company, in spite of everyone's racism.

No beefcake, though when Bart is seduced by temptress Lilly Von Schtump (Madeleine Kahn), she investigates his penis size:  "Is it twue what they say about you people? [Unzipping sound.]  Oh, it's twue!"

Along the way Bart makes many friends, including the dimwitted but super-strong Mongo (played by beefy footballer Alex Karas, below, the gay gangster in Victor/Victoria).  

But he develops a strong, arguably romantic bond with the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder, left, who would go on to star in another interracial homoromance, Silver Streak).  The movie even ends with the two riding off into the sunset together.

So far, so good: a nice gay subtext, and some references to penises.  But then, during the climactic brawl, the cowboys literally break the fourth wall -- they go crashing into the next soundstage over, where effeminate chorus boys are rehearsing. Their director, Buddy Bizarre (Dom Deluise) criticizes them: "It's so simple!  Watch me, faggots!"

I was shocked and appalled.  Where did this come from?  It ruined the whole movie!

Borscht Belt comedian turned tv writer Mel Brooks directed several comedies during the 1970s.  They were praised by the artsy crowd at my college for parodying movie genres, for breaking the fourth wall, and for talking about sex -- a lot.  The artsy crowd didn't seem to mind the incessant homophobia:

Silent Movie (1976): in a running gag, a passerby sees the men piled atop each other or innocently hugging, and shrieks "Fags!" in disgust.

High Anxiety (1977): psychiatrist Dr. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) encounters a "fag" at the airport, and a heterosexual "dyke" nurse.

History of the World, Part 1 (1981): there are ridiculed "fag" characters in Roman times and during the French Revolution.

 According to Nathan Lane:  "Mel's take on homosexuals is that we're these flamboyant extraterrestrials."

Not worth the strong gay subtexts.

May 27, 2013

The Mod Squad: Buddy-Bonding Hippies

During the 1960s, the establishment made many attempts to cash in on the counterculture, often with little success.  But The Mod Squad was a hit.  It lasted for five years (1968-73), won Emmies and Golden Globes, and spawned a toychest full of comic books, tie-in novelizations, games, and toys.

The premise: three hippies are arrested for disparate crimes:
1. Wealthy rebel without a cause Pete (Michael Cole, top and left) stole a car.
2. Black-power Link (Clarence Williams III, right) participated in a race riot.
3. Free-love advocate Julie (Peggy Lipton, center) ran away from home.

With-it Captain Greer (Tige Andrews) gives them the choice of jail time or going undercover in the counterculture.  They refuse to become snitches, but they're assured that they'll be snitching on criminals who prey on hippies, not on hippies themselves.  So they're off, infiltrating high schools, colleges, churches, rodeos, hospitals, and lots of hippie tribes, to apprehend counterfeiters, blackmailers, kidnappers, and lots of murderers.

The two main establishment fears, sex and drugs, are absent.  These hippies don't use drugs, and they don't have sex: in 124 episodes, Pete falls in love twice, and Linc and Julie one time apiece.  They are much more likely to be called upon to assist same-sex chums or young boys.

The squeamishness about heterosexual free-love also has the effect of separating Julie from the others, leaving Pete and Linc to snoop around by themselves. At first they distrust each other -- Pete comes from a privileged white family, and Linc is a black separatist -- but as they work together and rescue each other time after time, they develop an emotionally intense quasi-romantic partnership.  They became in effect an Adventure Boy couple, Jonny and Hadji writ large.

There was also significant beefcake.  Michael Cole was displayed shirtless or semi-nude only a few times, lest the establishment get scared, but he provided substantial beneath-the-belt interest.

After Mod Squad, he guest starred roles on everything from The Love Boat to 7th Heaven, but nothing of substantial gay interestno word about whether he is gay-friendly in real life or not.

Clarence Williams III never took off any clothes, but he had his own beneath-the-belt action on display. After Mod Squad, he had over 100 acting credits, including several of gay interest.  In Ritual (2000), he plays a successful attorney with a disfunctional family, including a gay son (Shawn Michael Howard) who is the best adjusted of the lot.

Peggy Lipton, friend of Rock Hudson and the mother of a gay son, is a strong gay ally.

Dean and Logan: Romance or Bromance?

23-year old Dean Collins is best known for The War at Home (2005-2007), a sitcom about a lovable bigot (Michael Rappaport), his nearly-gay son (Kyle Sullivan), and the gay Iranian teenager next door (Rami Malek), who eventually moves in.  Dean played his other son, a preteen operator.

But he's also played in several other gay and gay-positive vehicles, such as The Least of These (2011), about sexual abuse in a Roman Catholic boarding school that leads to murder.

21-year old Logan Lerman is best known for the Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief (2010), based on the novel series about a boy who discovers that he is half-Greek god and must save the world along with his gay-vague best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) and The Girl.

But he's also played in several other gay and gay-positive vehicles, such as Hoot (2006), about a teenager who moves to Florida and teams up with a mysterious wild boy (Cody Linley) and The Girl to save a habitat of endangered owls.

And The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), about an outcast high schooler who befriends both The Girl and her cool, popular gay brother (Ezra Miller).

Dean and Logan met while working on Jack and Bobby (2004-05), about the childhood of two brothers who will both grow up to be President of the United States (not John and Bobby Kennedy, though).   They've been inseparable ever since.  

They upload their videos to youtube under the name monkeynuts1069.  In "Jealousy," Dean gets angry when Logan dates someone else, so he kidnaps him and ties him up.  

They started a band, Indigo, with fellow musician Daniel Pashman (center). I listened to their song "Touch Screen," and didn't find anything heterosexist: "I'm on a mission to Mars, and I'm burning up cars."

The question inevitably arises: are Dean and Logan a gay couple, or heterosexual life partners?  Is it a romance or a bromance?

I can't imagine what difference it makes.

May 26, 2013

The Who's Tommy

November, 1978, my freshman year at Augustana College. Student Union Movie Night is showing  Tommy, the 1975 rock musical starring  Roger Daltrey of The Who!

"Um...does he, like, take his shirt off?" I ask my friend.

"All the time!"

So I ask a boy from my French class, and we sit cozily on folding chairs.

It's about a boy named Tommy (Roger Daltrey), who sees his stepfather murder his father, and is so traumatized that he becomes blind, deaf, and dumb. But he grows up to become a "pinball wizard" and the messiah of a new youth-oriented religion.  Gay performer Elton John plays one of his followers.

On the way, horrible, traumatic things happen to him.  When he is ten years old, evil Uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), who has blacked-out teeth and wears rubber gloves, is asked to babysit.  After reading The Gay News to get some ideas about how to be a more effective pervert, Uncle Ernie starts "fiddling down there."

 Oi, gay men are all child molesters. Got it.

The British rock group, with lead singer Peter Daltrey and backups Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle, didn't seem particularly homophobic, although they were certainly heterosexist.  I first heard about them in the fall of 1975, when the older boys at Rocky High started grooving to their song about fondling women's breasts:

Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest
And when Daddy comes home, he never gets no rest.

Many of the other Who songs I heard over the next decade were  heterosexist:

"The Kids are All Right": "I don't mind other guys dancing with my girl."
"Heat Wave": "Sometimes she calls my name, and I feel a burning flame."
"The Real Me": "The girl I used to love, lives in this yellow house."
"Imagine a Man": "Imagine a girl [with] the body of chalky perfection and truth."

And two were actively homophobic:
"How Many Friends": "There's a handsome boy, tells me how I've changed his past.  But could it be, he's really just after my ass?"  Not to worry, he meets a woman who's a real friend.

"Rough Boys" (1980) is about gay men.  Apparently they're all into macho heterosexual hustlers: "Tough boys, come over here -- I want to bite and kiss you."  Some people thought that Pete Townshend (left) was "coming out," but he denied it, saying that he was just singing about gays.  Although in a recent interview he states that he's "probably bisexual."

Oddly, in 1998, Roger Daltrey starred in the gay-themed Like It Is, as a sleazy music producer whose assistant, Matt (Ian Rose) falls in love with a young boxer (played by Steve Bell).  Quite a transition from Tommy.

Clay O'Brien: No Girls Allowed

Clay O'Brien (no relation to Western star Hugh O'Brian) probably wins the award for the most tv and movie appearances without any displays of heterosexual interest.  His characters display none at all.

Born in 1961, he first appeared , along with his older brother Sam and a dozen other child stars, in The Cowboys (1972), about a cowboy (John Wayne) who hires a group of preteens to drive his cattle to market. I haven't seen it, but it sounds like a "boys alone" buddy-bonding adventure.

The Duke took a special liking to Clay, and mentored him in the art and craft of being an on-screen cowboy.  They played father and son in Cahill, US Marshall (1973), and he used his influence to get Clay some roles as the son or surrogate son of some other big name cowboys: Fess Parker (Daniel Boone) in Climb an Angry Mountain (1972), James Garner (Maverick) in One Little Indian (1973), and Roy Rogers in Mackintosh and T.J. (1975).  Plus gay-vague "confirmed bachelor" Bill Bixby in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975).

For some reason, he was asked to appear semi-nude a lot.

With all of that older-younger buddy-bonding going on, you'd think that Clay would have little time for gay subtexts with boys his own age.  But he had a starring role in The Cowboys (1974), about a group of boys who run a cattle ranch.

Meanwhile Disney, which was still reeling from the stigma of the Tommy Kirk's outing, tried to revive the "teen genius" genre with preteens.  In The Whiz Kid and the Mystery at Riverton (1974), based on the Alvin Fernald books by Clifford Hicks, Magnificent Brain Alvin ( Christopher Shea, the original voice of Linus in the Peanuts animated specials) solves the mystery with the help of his best friend Shooie (Clay), the Greatest Athlete in the World.  The characters returned in The Whiz Kid and the Carnival Caper (1976).

Clay retired from acting during adolescence.  He became a cowboy in real life, a respected rodeo performer who has won seven world titles in team roping.  He is married with children.
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