Mar 8, 2014

Jackson Odell: Gay-Positive Teen Idol

Speaking of teen idols growing up, have you run into Jackson Odell lately?  When he was 14 years old, he filmed Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (2011), based on the series of children's novels.  Judy and her brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) decide to have the best summer ever.  Stink's involves catching Bigfoot, with the help of his teenage friend Zeke (Jackson Odell), president of the Bigfoot Believers Association.

Zeke does not, at any point, melt into a puddle of hormones at the sight of a cute girl.  This is perhaps a first for any teenage boy character in the movies.

By the time the movie premiered, Jackson had grown about a foot.

He began making the sitcom circuit, with roles in Jessie, Arrested Development, and such gay-positive series as Modern Family and The Fosters. 

He signed on to a talent agency to pursue his singing career, and released covers of many contemporary hits, including the gay-themed "Same Love."    He explains: "This song has significance right now that I think is important to address.  Let people love who they love."

He has a fan page with 50,000 subscribers.

Meanwhile he kept growing and growing.  He's only 16.  I wonder how muscular he'll be at 25.

You can see him on The Goldbergs, about a Jewish family in the 1980s, as the teenage Barry's buddy.

Nostalgia tv always lacks gay content -- the fun for hetero audiences is in imagining what the world was like in the good old days before those pesky gay people existed. But since Jackson is so gay-positive, maybe he'll add some glimmers of gay subtext to his character.

Timothy Leary, the Homophobic Guru of the 1960s Counterculture

The Youth Counterculture of the 1960s turned on to psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, as a means of achieving higher consciousness and recognizing your connection with all beings.

LSD trips were like sexual connections, the participants -- boys and girls both -- expressing love, friendship, and desire on a transcendent level.  As a result, when they came down, they weren't as homophobic as those who abstained from acid.  If it's not hurting anyone else, than whatever turns you on is cool.  Even if it's like, going with someone of another race (then illegal in 23 states), or two dudes going together.

The guy who almost single-handedly turned the Counterculture on to LSD was a Harvard psychologist named Timothy Leary, who started out studying the effects of psychedelics on consciousness in the late 1950s, then became an outspoken evangelist for the drug movement.  He believed that LSD could cure insanity, reduce recidivism in criminals, and eventually result in a society free from war, crime, injustice...and gay people.

Wait -- wasn't the guru of "Do your own thing" in favor of turning on with whatever turned you on?

No, not at all.

According to The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin, Richard Alpert (later the guru Ram Dass) lived and worked with Leary for several years in the 1960s, even helping take care of Leary's children.

Most of their friends knew that Alpert was bisexual with a distinct preference for men.  He was constantly falling in love with cute guys, after all, and he and his wife had an open relationship.  But Leary didn't.  When he found out, he started screaming that Alpert was evil, and kicked him out of the commune.

Later, in an interview for Playboy magazine, Leary responded to allegations that sometimes otherwise heterosexual men engage in same-sex activity during the free-fall orgies of an LSD trip.  No, not at all, he said firmly.  In fact, using LSD is a proven "cure for homosexuality."  Hundreds of gay men have used the drug to overcome the hangups that made them think they were women, and went on to a "normal" heterosexual life.

Of course, nothing of the kind ever happened.  Leary was making the whole thing up.  But he had to have some way to reconcile his homophobia with the increasingly open sexuality of the generation he helped create.

He was also friends with gay poet Allen Ginsberg, his lover Peter Orlovsky, and many other gays of the Counterculture (pictured: Neal Cassidy).  Maybe he didn't realize it.

See also: Dr. Spock: The Kids Are All Right.

Mar 5, 2014

Naked Rugby Team Calendars

When I was a kid in the 1970s, you could see naked guys only by sneaking into a locker room.  I didn't even know that pictures of naked guys were available until the spring of my freshman year in college, when Lars Lundquist, the photographer responsible for my brief modeling career, told me.  They were very rare, apparently acquired through mail order, passed from hand to hand like sacred texts.

When I turned 21, I found In Touch and Mandate at the adult bookstore in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.  So I could get about 20 pictures of naked guys every month, but the magazines were very expensive, about the equivalent of $20 each today.

Then came the internet, and cell phone self-photos, and suddenly 50,000,000 photos of naked guys were available with a few clicks.  All sizes and shapes.  Russian Orthodox priests, African-American bodybuilders, dwarfs into leather, fratboys dropping their pants at the Wal-Mart, whatever.  If you weren't careful, you could spend all day just accumulating and classifying hundreds of naked guy photos.

So why would anyone want to spend money on a calendar with amateur guys getting naked?

1. The guys are spectacular, the cream of the crop of amateur rugby players, rowers, military officers, Marines, and so on.  Although with the recent proliferation of nude male calendars, sometimes they're less spectacular celebrities, artists, factory workers, and farmers.  Nothing wrong with seeing some bodies of "regular guys."

2. It's for charity.  Since 2009, the Warwick University Rowing Club has stripped down every year for Sports Allies, which fights homophobia and bullying. Other groups strip down to fund breast cancer or AIDS research, or children's charities, or to memorialize a fallen comrade.

3. They're not heterosexist.  A few professional naked-male calendars are aimed specifically at gay audiences, but most are advertised with rhetoric like "for the ladies!"; "every woman's fantasy!"; or just "a woman's calendar."  These are usually advertised without specifying a gender.

4. Don't let these coy pictures fool you.  There are a lot of full frontal shots.

So far it's been mostly European and Australian men with the bollocks to pose nude for charity, but a few American teams have gotten in on the act, like the Nashville Grizzlies, a gay rugby team.

March isn't too late to get a 2014 calendar; they're half-price.

Yul Brynner: Bisexual Beefcake from Hollywood's Golden Age

Speaking of Yul Brynner, the Russian-born actor with the shaved head (1920-1985) was a reliable source of beefcake in the 1950s and 1960s.  While other actors were kept strictly under wraps, Brynner's chest and shoulders were usually on display, to add to his exoticism or sexiness.

Born in Vladivostok and raised in Paris, Brynner immigrated to the U.S. with his mother in 1940, and worked as a radio announcer for awhile before hitting Broadway.  In spite of the rumors, he never posed for physique magazines, though he did model nude for some private photos.

In 1951 he originated the role of Mongkut, King of Siam, in The King and I (he was to play Mongkut twice more in Broadway revivals, in the 1956 movie, and in a 1972-73 tv series).

No doubt the King's bare-chested costume added to his popularity.

In 1956 Brynner also starred in Anastasia and in The 10 Commandments; his Pharaoh Ramses began a fad for ancient Egyptian beefcake that lasted for about ten years.

Next came a string of adaptions of classics:  The Brothers Karamazov, The Sound and the Fury, Taras Bulba; plus Westerns, secret agent, and adventure movies.  He played Arabs, Russians, Native Americans, Mexicans, always with the shaved head and sultry looks, always with the physique.

One of his more interesting roles came in The Surprise Package (1960), in which he plays a thief who teams up with a deposed king (Noel Coward).

In The Magic Christian (1969), an anti-establishment movie in which a zany rich guy (Peter Sellers) and the hippie he adopts (Ringo Starr) set out to prove that money can buy not only love, but everything else.  Brynner plays a drag queen who cruises Roman Polanski. Apparently it wasn't his first time in drag.

 Although married four times, Yul Brynner was bisexual, and had relationships with Paul Newman,  Hurd Hatfield, Jean Cocteau, and Manuel Puig (who wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman).

Plus Marlon Brando; according to rumor, he provided the penis for that famous photo of Brando engaging in a homoerotic act.

There's a memorial to Brynner in his hometown of Vladivostok, including this full-sized statue (fully clothed). They probably don't know that he was bisexual.

Mar 4, 2014

Caddyshack: Masculine Women and Feminine Men

Danny gawks at Lacey, while his girlfriend gags
I saw Caddyshack (1980) during the summer after my sophomore year in college, shortly after I got back from my disastrous move to Omaha. It didn't make any sense to me then, and it doesn't now.  It seems to be several movies crammed into one.

1.  A snooty, easily riled judge (Ted Knight) runs the snooty Bushwood Country Club, where he butts heads with goldenboy golfer Ty (Chevy Chase) and boorish millionaire Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield).

2. There's some mild social critique: the club is restricted, no African-Americans or Jews.

3, The judge has boorish grandchildren and a niece, Lacey Underall, who sleeps with everyone she can find.

4. There's some class competition between the club snobs and the salt-of-the-earth caddies, who get to use the country club pool for 15 minutes once a year.  Somebody drops a candy bar in the pool.

5. The main caddy, Danny (Michael O'Keefe), butts heads with the more muscular Tony (Scott Colomby of One Day at a Time), sleeps with Lacey, has a pregnancy scare with his girlfriend, and wins a Caddy Scholarship so he can go to college.

6. Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) is a sleazy groundskeeper who keeps making visual penis gags (e.g., a water hose between his legs), and spends the movie fighting an animatronic gopher.  At the end of the movie, he blows up the golf course, and everybody dances.

Tony becomes Lacey's latest conquest

So is this absurdist comedy, nerd comedy, gross-out comedy, social satire, or what?

There are three things I'm sure of.

1. There are no gay slurs.

Most 1980s teen comedies have the characters spouting off against "fags" every five minutes, but there are no gay slurs at all. There are even a few minor gay references, as when Czernik is asked if he wants a driver (golf club) and quips "No, he's not my type.", or when Tony jumps up and down trying to spy on Danny and Lacey's tryst.

2. There is significant beefcake, if you like guys who are skinny and androgynous. Shirtless scenes, swimming pool scenes, underwear scenes while preparing for sex.

3. Androgyny is the rule.

Tony, the "hunk," is only mildly muscular, and Danny is downright skinny.  They both have big hair and pretty, androgynous faces.

Lacey is portrayed as the epitome of feminine beauty, so attractive that when she enters a room, every man's jaw drops.  However, she differs considerably from the 1980s "big everything" ideal of Lonnie Anderson and Dolly Parton, with short hair, a skinny frame, and breasts smaller than Tony's pecs.

Danny's "plain" girlfriend is likewise short-haired and small-framed.

Ty wants to be a human being
Tony has a little brother, Joey, who caddies with him.  But in a pivotal scene, the baseball cap comes off, and the boy turns out to be a girl.

Do feminine men sleeping with masculine women add up to gay symbolism?

Maybe the point is: gender should be irrelevant.  Be with whoever you want. As Ty said, "Let's pretend we're really human beings" (not masculine and feminine stereotypes).

Mar 3, 2014

The Fabulous Bridges Boys

Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998),  known to the first generation of Boomers as the hunky, often-shirtless star of Sea Hunt (1958-61), and to the second as Izzy Mandelbaum, the octogenarian personal trainer on Seinfeld, had four children.  Garrett died as an infant, and Cindy has been in only a few projects, but Boomer and Beau have had successful show biz careers of their own.

Born in 1949, Boomer was a favorite of gay Boomers, with a huge number of buddy-bonding movies.
1. With small-town high schooler Timothy Bottoms in  The Last Picture Show (1971) 
2. With boxer Stacey Keach in  Fat City (1972).
3. With racer Gary Busey in The Last American Hero (1973)
4. With bank robber Clint Eastwood in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1973)
5.With bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry (1976)

He was also known for on-screen nudity, displaying his wares in Tron (1982) and Starman (1984)

Jeff specializes in quirky small-town types who listen to country-western music and drink beer in honky tonks.  I haven't seen any of his recent movies, except for The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), where he buddy-bonded with his brother, and The Big Lebowski (1998), which is about bowling.

I hear that Crazy Heart (2009), about a washed-up country-western singer, has a gay character.

Jeff's older brother Beau, born in 1941, wasn't quite as popular among Boomers, although he began acting as a child, and had a starring role on Ensign O'Toole while still in his teens.

I first saw him as one of the muscular teenagers who grows into a giant (and in the process sheds his clothes) in the anti-hippie sci-fi movie Village of the Giants (1965) (with Tommy Kirk and Johnny Crawford as the "square" teens who save the day).

In 1967 he starred in The Incident, about two thugs (Martin Sheen, Tony Musanti) who terrorize the passengers on a subway car.  It's notable for having one of the first gay characters in the movies.

He specialized in serious dramas, often playing quirky small-town types, sometimes in gay-positive productions, such as Sordid Lives (2000).  Occasional gay characters, most recently in The Masters of Sex (2011-2013), about sex researchers Masters and Johnson.

Several of his children are actors.  Jordan, born in 1973, is best known for Drive Me Crazy (1999).

Mar 2, 2014

The Line of Beauty: Gay Dating in the 1980s

The BBC movie The Line of Beauty (2006) begins in 1983, the midst of the Reagan-Thatcher era of conservative retrenchment, as a young man named Nick Guest (Dan Stevens, right) goes to live with his school friend Toby and his sister Catherine.

Their father, Gerald Fedden, has just been elected a Conservative Member of Parliament, and they are all set to begin the privileged life of celebrity politicians, although they must hide their various problems: Toby's drug addiction, Catherine's mental illness, Gerald's philandering.

Sounds a lot like Brideshead Revisited, doesn't it?

Esconced in the conservative but scandal-laced household, Nick begins a secret gay life.  He dates the working class Leo (Don Gilet), who dumps him abruptly, and later dies of AIDS.

He dates Wani Ouradi (Alex Wyndham, below), the closeted heir to a supermarket chain, who is engaged to a woman and happy to keep their relationship a secret.  But Wani cruises constantly, even having sex with Jasper, Catherine's fiance.  Eventually Wani, too, becomes sick.

People occasionally discover that he is gay and react with disgust, but agree to keep his secret. Only Toby remains close. He begins using drugs to cope.

By 1987, the various scandals in the Fedden household have been revealed to the Press, and Gerald has no choice but to resign as MP.  He blames Nick for all of his problems, and kicks him out of the family that has been his own for four years.

I don't remember the 1980s being so desperate, at least in West Hollywood. We never used drugs, anonymous sexual encounters were frowned on, and only a few of our friends were personally affected by AIDS.

But I do remember the secrecy -- you simply did not tell heterosexuals.  You dropped pronouns; you lied about your weekend activities; you invented girlfriends. If they found out, you could expect disgust, yelling, excoriation, and then silence, as they cut off ties with you forever.

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