Oct 19, 2013

John Gavin: Perennial Straight Man with Some Gay-Vague Twists

Today John Gavin is remembered chiefly as "straight man" Sam Loomis who confronts "queer" killer Norman Bates (gay actor Anthony Perkins) in Psycho (1960), or maybe as "straight man" Julius Caesar in the otherwise gay-subtext-filled Spartacus (1960).  

The square-jawed, handsome leading man with hairy chest and the slim frame played many more "straight" men through his 30-year career, with only a couple of gay-subtext vehicles of his own:

Four Girls in Town (1957).  Four men, including John Gavin and gay actor George Nader, pursue four starlets.  Everybody ends up happily attached.

The TV series Convoy (1965-6) was not about truckers, but followed the adventures of a Navy commander (John Gavin) and a civilian ship captain (John Larch) escorting ships across the ocean during World War II.  Haven't seen it, but it sounds promising.

His best claim to gay fame is in: Throughly Modern Millie (1967): In the 1920s, flapper Millie (Julie Andrews) sets her sights on the boss, Trevor Graydon (John Gavin), who nicknames her "John," but still can't conjure much interest.  He does eventually get a girl (Carol Channing), but the 2002 musical version corrects the "mistake," giving him a nice male stenographer instead.

Probably not a big gay ally in real life, conservative Republican John Gavin was named ambassador to Mexico by President Reagan in 1981, and served to 1986.

Oct 18, 2013

Everybody Loves Lil Chris

In the British tv reality series Rock School, Gene Simmons of KISS created a rock band out of the students at an "average high school."  15 year old Chris Hardman, aka Lil Chris, became the standout performer, and quickly got a recording contract. (Don't worry, he's 23 in this photo.)

His debut single "Checkin' it Out" hit #3 on the British pop charts in September 2006.  Four other singles made the charts, and he released two albums.

By 2008, Chris was a sought-after tv personality, with appearances on The Weakest Link, Hider in the House, T4 on the Beach, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Hole in the Wall, plus his own talk show, Everybody Loves Little Chris.

In 2012 he starred in the stage musical Loserville, about some nerds who find love.

His lyrics are mostly heterosexist, but as a DJ, he works both gay and straight venues, and in stage performances and his twitter account, he's careful to acknowledge the possible interest of both male and female fans.

Maybe that makes up for it.

Besides, he poses (nearly) nude.

Oct 17, 2013

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The last place you'd expect to find gay content is in a movie about a brothel for heterosexuals, with no gay characters.  But The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is loaded down with gay symbolism.

The Chicken Ranch is a nice, cozy, down-home whorehouse in rural Texas, run by the heart-of-gold Miss Mona, and ignored by sheriff and occasional customer Ed Earl.  When a crusading tv reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe finds out that "There's a Whorehouse in Texas!" and starts a Moral Majority protest, Miss Mona isn't concerned; she's handled right-wing bigots before.  Besides, she's busy preparing for the annual visit by the winners of the big college football game (who sing "The Aggie Song" with their shirts off).

Turns out that Miss Mona was short-sighted; the tv crusade galvanizes the religious bigots, many of whom are customers "on the downlow."  Eventually the Governor himself, though a master of "the Side Step," calls to announce that the brothel must be shut down.  Defeated, Miss Mona and the girls get on "The Bus from Amarillo" and scatter to new lives.

It's a bit racy for high school and college drama departments, but there have been some productions, In March 2013, the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, sponsored an all-male version.

When the original play opened on Broadway in 1978, Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign was in the air, and fundamentalists were increasingly abandoning their old bogies of feminism, paganism, and evolution to scream "There are Gays in Our Town!"  Audiences could hardly fail to make the connection.

The movie adaptation arrived in July 1982, at the height of Jerry Falwell's anti-gay Moral Majority crusade, and gay director Colin Higgins made the symbolism even more obvious, with an ongoing romance between Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) and Ed Earl (Burt Reynolds) that must be hidden ("Sneakin' Around").

Plus lots of wink-wink casting: perennially gay-coded Dom Deluise as Melvin P. Thorpe, and open-secret Jim Nabors as sympathetic Deputy Fred.

And an increase in the beefcake.  Burt Reynolds, who previously posed naked in Cosmo, hangs out in a towel, Dom Deluise hangs out in his underwear, and the Texas Aggies sing in the locker room fully nude (lots of rear shots, and even a few frontals if you freeze frame).

See also: 10 Stage Musicals with Unexpected Beefcake.

Oct 16, 2013

Helmut Berger: Gays as Pure Evil

During the 1930s, the wealthy Essenbeck family agrees to manufacture arms for the Nazis, thereby selling their souls and becoming The Damned (1969).

The Nazis are portrayed as beings of pure evil -- not because of their policy of extermination against "inferior" races, but because they enjoy gay sex.  And heterosexual sex, of course.  But the gay sex is emblematic of their moral bankruptcy.

Martin, the young heir to the Essenbeck fortune, likewise demonstrates his own moral bankruptcy by going to "that sort" of bar and performing in drag, but he also enjoys sexually assaulting women, including his preteen cousin and his mother (then suggesting that Mom commit suicide).

Wait -- gay men are threats to little girls?  And adult women?  Even Jerry Falwell never went that far!

How disturbing is it that the uber-deviant Martin was played by a gay man, Helmut Berger, and directed by his lover, Luchino Visconti?   Did they have no self-respect at all?

Apparently not.  Visconti also directed Death in Venice (1971), in which same-sex desire is portrayed as a sickness that invariably leads to death, and Berger also starred in Dorian Gray (1970), about the horrific physical consequences of an "immoral lifestyle" (that is, being gay).

The two worked together again in Ludwig (1972), about King Ludwig of Bavaria, whose gayness drives him mad, and in Conversation Piece (1974), about a retired professor whose gayness drives him mad.

No Gay Pride in this family!

At least Helmut was nice to look at, in a slim, androgynous way.

Luchino Visconti died in 1976.   Helmut Berger continues to perform.  He specializes in nasty, villainous characters, but for the last 30 years they've been mostly heterosexual, such as the evil Peter DeVilbis who seduces Fallon on Dynasty.  

I guess the "gays as pure evil" bit is a little harder to sell today.

Oct 13, 2013

Where the Flavor Is: Gay Cigarette Ads of the 1960s

My father spent most of the 1960s trying to quit smoking, so I never started.  But there was something appealing about cigarette ads. Not a lot of nudity, but the hint of biceps and bulges, and some rather obvious gay symbolism.

The cigarette itself is a phallic symbol, and depending on its placement, draws the eye to the hand, mouth, or crotch.

The situations depicted in the commercials and ads were always purely masculine enclaves, guys with guys and no women in sight. This Camel ad seems to be set in an upscale gay bar.
Offering or asking for a cigarette, offering or asking for a light, was really an erotic invitation. You had to cup your hand around the other guy's to steady the lighter, creating a moment of evocative intimacy.

The most famous cigarette ads took place in a homoerotic cowboy world, with men roping cattle and then gazing longingly at each other at the end of the day.  The slogan added another layer of gay symbolism: "Come to where the flavor is: Come to Marlboro Country."

Several "real" cowboys were hired to play the Marlboro Man, including Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer.  Most died of lung cancer -- as did many of their customers, prey to the association of a carcinogenic substance with homoerotic freedom.
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