Apr 18, 2015

Dean Paul Martin: Bisexual Rat Pack Kid

The Desi in the1960s  boy band Dino, Desi, and Billy was Desi Arnaz Jr., of course, and the Dino was Dean Paul Martin (left), the 13-year old son of Rat Packer Dean Martin.  Dino was very rich, very famous, and very talented, but not very focused.  He was good at so many things that he couldn't decide on one.

After his group disbanded, Dino played professional tennis and semi-pro football; he got his pilot's license; he studied medicine and joined the National Guard.  He started calling himself Dean Paul instead of Dino. He changed into a blond. He developed a spectacular physique.

And he acted, of course.  Not a lot -- he was too busy.  7 movies, mostly in roles as playboys or a woman's illcit lover; some guest spots on tv shows (including his Dad's Dean Martin Comedy Hour), and some "as himself" appearances on talk shows and game shows.

Dean's least heterosexist role was in Misfits of Science  (1985-88), part of the mid-1980s fad for science fiction comedies (others included Automan, Max Headroom, and The Greatest American Hero).  He played Dr. Billy Hayes, a young scientist who travels around in an ice cream truck with a group of mutants with weird powers.  15 episodes appeared during the 1985-85 season, and another in 1988.  A lot of homoerotic buddy-bonding (notice the number of people who can't keep their hands to themselves in this photo), and not a lot of heterosexual machinations.

Dean was married to women twice, briefly, but rumor has it that he enjoyed the company of men and women both.  He appeared in a 1979 issue of After Dark, the interview-and-revealing photo magazine aimed primarily at an audience of gay men.

He died in 1987 when the small plane he was flying crashed.  His son, Alexander Martin, is also an actor.

See also: The Gay Rat Pack; Cesar Tells about His Hookup with Desi Arnaz Jr.

Apr 16, 2015

The Original Jungle Boy and His Boyfriend

An orphan, the son of a mahout, Sabu Dastigir was riding a real elephant around Mysore when he was signed to star in Elephant Boy (1937), an adaptation of the Kipling tale "Toomai of the Jungle."  Wearing only a dhoti and turban, his last name deleted to make him seem more savage, he became a media sensation.  He was transplanted to England as a ward of the state and enrolled in school, but he found little time to study when he was receiving almost as much publicity as Johnny Weissmuller.

After a starring role in the pro-colonial Drum (1938), he was cast in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), set in the mythical past, an "Arabian fantasy in technicolor."  In the 1924 silent version, Douglas Fairbanks plays a thief who wins a princess, but Sabu would not win any princesses.  Instead, the spunky, enterprising  thief Abu falls in love with Prince Ahmad (John Justin), who has been deposed by an evil uncle.  The two escape together, steal a boat, and plan to sail downstream from Bagdad to the ocean, where they might find a safe haven in the wilderness.  But then Prince Ahmad falls in love with a princess from another kingdom, and insists that they stay in Bagdad. The rest of the movie involves the prince ignoring, endangering, or simply abandoning Abu to make time with the princess.  In the throws of unrequited love, Abu often looks hurt but never complains.

After starring in a loose adaptation of Kipling's Jungle Book (1942), in which Mowgli befriends both a native girl and a British officer but falls in love with neither, Sabu moved to Hollywood and signed on with Universal, where he starred as a dhoti-clad Jungle Boy in three Technicolor romances, all set in distant lands where no one had ever heard of Hitler.   Sabu was in a rather precarious position.  Although he (or rather, his body) was the top-billed star, he was irrelevant to the plots, about swarthy adventurer Jon Hall wooing cool, mysterious Maria Montez.

Sabu became a darling of World War II beefcake photos.  His torso, v-shaped, barrel-chested, bronze-skinned, sculpted but softening slightly at the stomach, is often displayed in a bright light against a black backdrop, so that every muscle will stand out.  The only problem is, he has no one to desire; in movie after movie, his same-sex loves go unrequited.

 He courts Jon Hall's character aggressively -- hugging, grabbing, taking his arm, pressing against his chest, unbuttoning his shirt, mussing his hair, offering him flowers, chasing away other suitors with a barking "Get back, he's mine!"  Hall's characters respond with amusement and affection, but no longing.

Sabu is captured once, and once he and Hall are captured together, but otherwise Hall is tied, struggling, about to be drowned or fed to cobras, and the jungle boy comes swinging down on a rope or galloping up on a white horse to save him.

And Sabu's characters never expresses any heterosexual interest. In Arabian Nights, Ali (Sabu) enters a harem to deliver a message, and the sex-starved girls engulf him, groping and fondling. He screams "Please stop!  Stop it!" with shrieks of terror.  They back off, bewildered, as if no man or boy had ever resisted their advances before.

At the end of each movie, Sabu practically shoves Hall's characters into the arms of Maria Montez. Then, after the final clench, they offer to adopt him.  It seems absurd to emphasize Sabu's muscular physique, have him approach Jon Hall with blatant homoerotic desire, and then claim that he is just a little boy, not yet able to understand "adult" desires.

After the war, when Sabu was too old to play teenagers, he played heavily muscled, usually half-naked Jungle Men who get girlfriends.  He appeared briefly in his own comic book title.  Later in the 1950s, he invested in a real estate business and took whatever roles he could find that did not require wearing a loincloth.

Days after filming A Tiger Walks in 1964, Sabu died of a heart attack. He was in perfect health and only 39 years old. He left a legacy of superbly homromantic movies, and influenced two generations of dhoti-clad Jungle Boys,  from Gunga in Andy's Gang, Hadji on Jonny Quest, Haji of the Elephants, and Raji on Maya, to the various Mowglis of the 1990s.

Apr 12, 2015

Dark Shadows: David Collins, the Gay Heir to the Throne

I loved the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-71), though in retrospect I didn't see it very much.  It came on just as the school day was ending, so if my friends and I ran fast, we could catch the last 10-15 minutes.  But even after 40 years, I still have fond memories of the gay-subtext romance between Barnabas and Willie, the conflicted, often-shirtless werewolf Chris Jennings, and David Collins, the young heir to the family fortune and ghostly doings.

Although he was a kid, and then a teenager (aged 10-15), he didn't do any of the things I did: he never watched tv, went to school, or got birthday or Christmas presents, and his parents, Elizabeth and Uncle Roger, never pushed him into playing sports or liking girls.

He sometimes had a female companion for adventures, but he never longed for them; they were playmates, nothing more.  Instead, David found his strongest emotional bonds with older men, first Chris Jennings, then Quinten (who had a Dorian Gray portrait in the attic), and then unwitting antichrist Jeb Hawkes.  I didn't know it then, but I saw some strong gay symbolism in David.

David Henesy, who played David Collins, was as popular as the other teen idols of the 1960s, like Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, and photographed for teen magazines nearly as often.  Oddly, he consented to only one shirtless  shot, but still, I thought he was dreamy, and fantasized about meeting him one day.

In fact, by the time I moved to West Hollywood, he had retired from acting, and moved to Panama, where today he runs a chain of upscale restaurants.

There have been remakes in 1991, 20015, and 2012, but they eliminated the gay symbolism by casting David with little kids: Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  Alexander Gould (top photo), and Gulliver McGrath.

Or maybe it's too late for the magic to return.

See also: Alexander Gould in Weeds.

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