Dec 10, 2016

Peter Koch, Forgotten Muscleman of the 1980s

The other night I was watching A Different World on Netflix, a "very special episode" where Dwayne rehabilitates two juvenile gang-bangers (played by preteen rap duo Kriss Kross).  The police officer who brings them in for mentoring was striking -- tall, blond, buffed.  He had only one line, but maybe he was in other things....

I found Peter Koch, a forgotten muscleman of the 1980s.

Born in 1962, he played professional football for five seasons while doing modeling and some acting.  His first tv role was "Harry the Bodyguard" on a 1986 episode of Dallas.

He showed some chest as Swede Johanson in the war movie Hearbreak Ridge (1986)

Why do musclemen never get to be romantic leads?  If they're not rescuing POWs from behind enemy lines, they're grunting and flexing to threaten the lead -- here Peter's character roughs up Patrick Dempsey in Loverboy (1988).

It's as if Hollywood thinks of muscles and by definition violent rather than sexy.

He was very busy in the 1990s, playing football players, cops, bodyguards, soldiers, and miscellaneous hunks.  No starring roles, but he played himself in the thriller Sweet Evil (1996), and he had a substantial part as the Fire Captain in Conspiracy Theory (1997), starring Mel Gibson.

Not a lot of roles in the 2000s, but he kept busy as a fitness trainer.

According to his facebook page, he lives in Santa Monica, he's single, and this photo is prominently posted.

My gaydar was triggered until I read more: it's not the boyfriend, it's Toby Maguire.

And Pete's Facebook likes: Brett Easton Ellis, George W. Bush, and Mike Pence.

Ok, not gay, not gay friendly, but still a hunk.

Dec 9, 2016

Beetle Bailey's Boyfriend

In 1950 Mort Walker started the newspaper comic strip Beetle Bailey, about a lazy, inept student at Rockview University.  The large cast of characters included students, faculty, and Beetle's longsuffering family (his sister eventually married and spun off into her own strip, Hi and Lois).

College humor didn't attract many reader, so on March 13, 1951, Walker had Beetle join the army.  He was stationed at Camp Swampy in South Carolina, where he has stayed ever since, still lazy and inept, still surrounded by a colorful characters: girl-crazy Killer, intellectual Plato, dimwitted Zero.

And Sarge -- Sergeant Orville P. Snorkle, Beetle's platoon leader.

Their relationship was antagonistic -- Sarge often yelled at Beetle and pounded him into a pulp -- but affectionate.  They were often shown hanging out together as friends.

Or more than friends.

As the years passed, and especially after Mort Walker's sons, Neal, Brian, and Greg, took over the writing in the 1980s, the homoromantic subtext became increasingly important to the plotlines.

Many gags involved Sarge's total lack of interest in women.

Beetle dated girls, but less and less frequently, as strips hinted that his main interest lay in the masculine as well.

Beetle exhibited a freedom of speech and action that no other soldier had, relishing his special place in Sarge's life.

They used blatantly romantic vocabulary and themes.

A number of strips hinted that Beetle regularly shared Sarge's room, or his bed.

Other characters treated them as a couple.

Their fights became the standard squabbles of comic-strip couples, where physical violence demonstrates affection rather than hatred.

The question is, were Mort Walker and his sons aware of the subtexts?

Doubtful -- bickering buddies are a comic strip staple.

Still, we have to wonder about the August 19, 2013 strip, with Beetle looking for the blue skies over the rainbow.  Sounds like he's coming out.

Dec 6, 2016

Slapsie Maxie and Mad Max: Boxers with a Hint of Lavender

I've heard the phrase Slapsie Maxie many times, usually applied in derision to a guy who fights with open-hand slaps rather than closed-fist punches.   It's supposed to suggest that you're a sissy, potentially gay. But only recently did I discover that the phrase originated with a potential landsman.

Born in 1907, Jewish boxer Maxie Rosenbloom (left) had a weak, open-glove punching style that earned him the nickname "Slapsie Maxie."

It was effective: he won 222 of his 298 fights.  But he was hit in the head so often that he lost some motor functioning and reasoning skills, becoming what they called "punch drunk."  

Forced into retirement in 1937, Slapsie Maxie began a new career in the movies, playing "himself" or other big, tough,  slow-witted, "punch drunk" characters.

He also capitalized on the association of "slapping" with effeminancy, playing characters with "a touch of lavender," such as a powder puff salesman in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942),  a gangster named "Trixie Belle" in Here Comes Kelly (1943), or a Hopalong Cassidy parody named Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951).  

The humor came from seeing someone big and tough who might be gay, or who was too "stupid" to realize that his acts were gender-transgressive.

 In real life, he was married for a few years (1937-45), but he seemed to prefer the company of men, such as trainer and manager Frank Bachmann (left).  And he was not averse to gender-transgressions: apparently a young Davis Hopper saw him in drag at the premiere of Dodge City (1939).

Slapsie Maxie also opened a popular nightclub, Slapsie Maxie's, and made a dent in radio and on tv, playing "himself" in an ongoing role on The Fred Allen Show, and appearing on episodes of The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Donna Reed Show.

In 1950, he teamed up with his lifelong friend, another boxer-turned-actor, Max Baer (known as Mad Max, top photo and left), playing the "stooge" who bedevils "straight man" Baer.  They starred "as themselves" in four comedy shorts and toured as the comedy team "The Two Maxies."

They remained close friends until Baer's death in 1959.  Slapsie Maxie died in 1976.

Max Baer's son, Max Baer Jr. (born in 1937) made his own splash in Hollywood as Jethro Bodine, dimwitted backwood Adonis on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71).  Later he contributed to gay history by producing Ode to Billy Joe (1976), starring Robby Benson as a gay teenager who commits suicide.

Dec 5, 2016

Amazing Man

Amazing Man was published by Centaur Comics, one of the many comic book companies that sprang up during World War II to capitalize on the popularity of Superman.  26 issues appeared from 1939 to 1942.

Amazing Man has a teen sidekick named Tommy, and a coterie of equally muscled heroes who often need rescue.

This very busy cover shows some of his coterie about to be blasted off into space, while Amazing Man tangles with the hooded baddie's pet panther.

I don't know what he's doing here.  Overturning a wheelbarrow of coal onto the baddies?

His origin story is similar to that of several other mystical superheroes: born John Amman, he was raised in Tibet by the Council of Seven, each of whom endowed him with a superheroic power.  The oddest was an ability to turn into a green mist.

That should strike terror in the hearts of criminals.

The benefit of Amazing Man was that he was bare-chested and rather muscular, in an era when even Conan the Barbarian was portrayed as rather skinny.

He's now public domain, so he has appeared in several modern comic book universes, including Gallant Comics, Marvel (where he's known as the Prince of Orphans) and Malibu Comics (where he has joined the superhero team The Protectors).

Dec 4, 2016

The World According to Mork

The second celebrity I met after I moved to L.A. in 1985 was Robin Williams, at a party in the Hollywood Hills.  He wasn't nearly as nice as Michael J. Fox.  I did manage to land his date, though.

I first saw the recent Juliard graduate in Mork and Mindy (1978-82) an "I've got a secret" sitcom about the alien Mork from Ork, returning to the role Robin first played on Happy Days. Here he was sent to observe present-day Earth, specifically Boulder, Colorado.  He moved in with Mindy (Pam Dauber), who worked in a music store with her suspicious father.She initially found Mork annoying, but of course they inevitably fell in love, got married, and had a baby.

Heterosexist story arc aside, the first season featured Mork's reasonably humorous misunderstandings of Earth customs.  But plotlines soon emphasized treacly lessons of the week which Mork delivered to his commander, Orson, in an annoying "report" at the end of each episode: "I learned that Earthlings sometimes have trouble expressing their feelings."

The only redeeming feature was the beefcake.  Mork was relatively attractive, though rarely shirtless, and Remo DaVinci (Jay Thomas, later seen on Cheers), who ran their deli-hangout, had massive biceps.

Robin broke into movies with Popeye (1980), which I likedfor the gay symbolism.  Sweethaven was a fascinating, self-contained world, drawn from Depression-Era culture and the original comic strips, where everyone was as trapped as in the Village of The Prisoner. As the "National Anthem" stated:  "Sweet Sweethaven -- God must love us.  Why else would He have stranded us here?"

But then came The World According to Garp (1982).  When I was in college, all of the English majors were hoarse from shouting the praises of John Irving's original novel  so I may have been a bit prejudiced when I sat down for the  movie version.  It was slow, artsy, morbid, and disgusting, but when you cut trhogh the pretention and disquiet, you got heterosexual sex -- a lot of it. And castration -- a lot of it.

1. Jenny Fields (Glenn Close) wants a baby, so she sexually assaults a brain-dead GI to get the sperm.  She calls her son Garp.

2. Growing up, Garp has lots of sex before marrying Helen (Mary Beth Hurt).  Unfortunately, she is unfaithful. He crashes his car into a car where she is having sex with her boyfriend, simultaneously killing and castrating him.

3. Meanwhile, Jenny runs a home for abused women, most of whom have cut off their tongues in solidarity for a rape victim (symbolic castration).  Garp hangs out there, and meets transsexual Roberta Muldoon (John Lithgow). This movie has the mistaken impression that a transsexual is a castrated man.

4. Jenny is killed by a rabid anti-feminist, and her memorial service is open to women only.  So Garp puts on a dress to sneak in (symbolic castration).  But he is discovered and goes into hiding.  Eventually he is killed -- I can't stand movies where the central character dies, but at least it put an end to the castration anxiety.  
 Since 1985, I've seen five or six more of Robin's movies -- not the earnest, heartfelt ones where people die -- and I'm still not sure about him:

Heterosexism (Hook), anti-gay slurs, ad-lib channeling of some of the most offensively lisping, mincing hairdressers (in Aladdin and every comedy monologue), gay couples divided into "the man" and  "the woman" (in The Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire), immensely heteronormative plotlines -- but then there's The Night Listener (2006), where he plays a gay man mourning his lost love.

Was he a homophobic gay ally, a gay-friendly homophobe, or what?

By the way, the story of my date with Robin and his "boyfriend" is on Tales of West Hollywood..

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