Dec 21, 2013

Earle C. Liederman: The Grandfather of Modern Bodybuilding

Everyone's heard of bodybuilding entrepreneur, Charles Atlas, who sold thousands of "dynamic tension" resistance-training regiments from the 1930s through the 1960s with the comic strip ad, "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac."

But few people, even bodybuilding aficionados, realize that before Charles Atlas, the mail-order muscle-building market was dominated by Earle E. Liederman (1886-1970), an associate of Eugen Sadow who advertised "Become a giant among men!" to the wimpy office boys of the Jazz Age.

The former physical education teacher, Vaudeville strongman, and professional acrobat began distributing his book, Muscle Development, in 1920, and continued with The Science of Wrestling and Secrets of Strength.  

But where Charles Atlas promised men that muscles would help them get girls, Liederman's ads were usually more inclusive, promising that muscles would make you "a business and social favorite."  And the health benefits of bodybuilding, he noted expansively, would apply to both men and women.

His lessons were typewritten, addressed personally to the student, and tailored to his/her individual needs (actually ghost-written by one of his army of assistants), with practical advice like "don't invest in many collars, as your neck size will increase dramatically."

One of his students, he claimed, was Charles Atlas himself.  Liederman himself provided the illustrations, displaying a massive physique even in his fifties.

During the Depression, he was eclipsed by Charles Atlas's graphic-savvy showmanship, and lost everything.  He hosted a physical-fitness exercise program, and in 1945 moved to Los Angeles to edit Joe Weider's new magazine, Muscle Power.  

His column, "Let's Gossip," with its dish on the sun-and-surf hijinks of the glitterati, is credited with drawing hundreds of young muscle enthusiasts to L.A., where many posed for the gay-vague Physique Pictorial and were discovered by gay casting agent Henry Willson.

After a falling-out with Joe Weider, Liederman went to work for a rival bodybuilding magazine, and died in 1970, the elder statesman of the bodybuilding movement.

I don't know if he was gay.  When you read his columns, he comes across as very fey, a drag queen Auntie, sweetie darling.  But he was married to Miss Alaska for awhile,  so I can't tell.

His course is still available online.

Dec 20, 2013

James Marsden: Former Teen Idol Plays Gay, with Kissing and Everything

You don't need a face shot to distinguish James and Jason Masden.  James has a more ripped physique, which he tends to display with constant semi-nude scenes, plus full nudity in Death at a Funeral (2010).  (Jason is cute too, of course).

A popular teen idol of the 1990s, James appearing on teencoms like Saved by the Bell: The New Class and its Canadian clone, Boogie's Diner.  His first starring role came in Second Noah (1996-97), a dramedy about a family (including the Torgerson Twins) who live near Busch Gardens in Florida.

His most famous dramatic role as a teen idol was Disturbing Behavior (1998): the new kid in town (Marsden) teams up with his new buddy (fellow teen idol Nick Stahl) and The Girl to uncover a plot to turn all of the kids into perfect Stepford Teens.

Gossip (2000) is about a college student (Marsden) and his roommates, a boy and a girl, concocting gossip for a class project. But are his roommates really his friends?

As an adult, he is probably most famous for the X-Men series, where he plays Cyclops, but he has also done some serious dramatic roles, such as The Notebook.

The Oklahoma-born actor was "a little uncomfortable" around gay people when he first moved to Los Angeles, but he soon got over it: he hangs out in gay bars, he's been interviewed in The Advocate and Out, and he's played gay characters twice, with kissing and everything.

The 24th Day (2004): Dan (Marsden) and Tom (Scott Speedman) have a one-night stand that goes wrong.

Heights (2005): a Manhattan lawyer (Marsden) about to marry a woman finds his world turned upside down when his photographer ex shows up with an exhibition about the men he's been with "on the downlow."

He also had a noteworthy appearance on Modern Family, as a free spirit who befriends Cam and Mitchell.

Dec 19, 2013

Living Hell: Gay Symbolism, Nudity, and Gore

I don't have much interest in the Japanese "guro" genre, which isn't about scaring you so much as displaying blood spurting out of disembowled people.  But some of them, like Shugo Fujii's Living Hell (2000) and White Panic (2005), have enough male nudity and gay symbolism to make them worthwhile...almost.

Living Hell (Iki-jikogu) stars teenager Yasu (Hirohito Honda), confined to a wheelchair due to "hysterical exhaustion," who lives with his older brother Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) and adopted sister Rumi.  The family is happy and "normal" until his senile grandmother Chiyo and her granddaughter Yuki, survivors of a grisly multiple murder, move in.  Grandma is a dour, expressionless, ghost-like creature who says things like "Children are the root of all evil."  Yuki doesn't speak at all.

Yasu is frightened of the women, but Ken tells him that he must accept family, no matter how odd.  Besides, they were traumatized by the tragedy.  They begin harassing Yasu when everyone else is out, first with minor pranks, then with painful torture, including hours of electroshock on his sex organs.

Ken doesn't believe him, and the women warn that if he tells Rumi, they will kill her.  The audience is led to believe that he may be just hallucinating.  Or maybe Yuki is real, but Grandma Chiyo is a ghost.

He tries to escape, but is captured.

Mitzo (director Shugo Fujii, left) who works with Ken at the newspaper, starts to investigate the original murders, and suspects that Chiyo and Yuki were responsible.  After some stuff involving a failed genetic experiment, he goes to the house, finds Yasu, and tries to rescue him, but then he, too, is captured.

Then Yasu discovers the awful truth: he belongs to a family of cannibals!

Yasu is soft, passive, androgynous, and sexual -- the camera loves his semi-nude body (there is also a brief frontal).  Mitzo is hard, tough, and masculine.  It is interesting that the director makes Yasu the object of the gaze and himself the hero, storming into the house for a homoerotic same-sex rescue from the depraved heterosexual family.

It's too late, of course.  Blood splatters everywhere.  This movie is not for the squeamish.

Dec 17, 2013

The Last Picture Show: Small Town Melodrama with Nudity and Gay Subtexts

I saw The Last Picture Show (1971) when I was trapped in Texas, and found it immeasurably depressing, in spite of the infinite number of gay subtexts.

It's about depressed young people in a dismal, windswept Texas town in the 1950s.  They try to find meaning in their sad little lives through tawdry affairs with people they hate and going to the movies, but they can't perform during the affairs, the movie theater is closing, and they're all leaving or dying.

Sad-eyed high school seniors Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are obviously into each other, no matter how much they try to triangulate their romance with girlfriends whom they can't perform for and affairs with older women whom they hate.  They split up when Sonny goes off to die in the Korean War.

Sonny has an affair with the depressed middle-aged Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman).  Why is she depressed?  Other than being trapped in a horrible small town, I mean. Because her husband, Coach Popper (Bill Thurman), is unable to...well, you know, and likes to smack his student athletes on the butt.  Gay, right?  You couldn't state it openly in 1971, but it's implied.

For that matter, an awful lot of the men in town are unwilling or unable to...well, you know.  It's as if the quiet desperation of their lives has resulted in impotence.  And a lot of gay subtexts.

Rich boy Bobby (Gary Brockette) invites them all to his house for a skinny-dipping party (he has a famous frontal nude scene that got the movie banned as obscene in several places).  He wants a girlfriend, but not if she's a virgin.  He doesn't want to have to worry about any of that icky sex stuff.

They take the young street sweeper Billy (Sam Bottoms) to a prostitute to lose his virginity, but it doesn't work out, probably because he's not into girls.  He is into Duane, however.  At the end of the movie, he's killed as he sweeps the streets, thus convincing Duane to return to the girlfriend he hates.  Is it because the only two eligible guys in town are gone?

Several of the performers, including Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, and Cybil Shepherd (Jacey, who dates both Sonny and Duane), have become strong gay allies. Jeff Bridges went on to play in several gay-subtext dramas.

See also: The Fabulous Bottoms Boys.

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