Apr 8, 2017

Looking for Love in the Encyclopedia

My parents married on the spur of the moment,while my father was on leave from the navy.  They immediately drove cross-country from Indiana to Long Beach, where Dad was gone all day, leaving Mom alone in a small apartment.

In those days, fast-talking salesmen often knocked on your door, and the naive 20-year old with her first checking account was an easy target.  Mom ended up buying several things that she regretted later: a vacuum cleaner, a set of ceramic dogs, a record-of-the-month service.

And a 20-volume black-and-red bound set of Collier's Encyclopedia.

The salesman told her that it would be essential for her future children's success in school.

When I was growing up, the set of Collier's Encyclopedias, the ceramic dogs, and the late 1950s records were stored in the basement, exiled as reminders of the loneliest, most miserable period in Mom's life.

(No, I don't know why my parents didn't get just rid of them before leaving Long Beach.)

The salesman was lying: not once did I, or my brother or sister, have a homework assignment that required the Collier's Encyclopedia.

But I loved it.  When I was in grade school at Denkmann, I used to bring volumes upstairs and leaf through them while the family was watching tv.

My brother derided me as a "braniac" for reading the encyclopedia.  But I didn't actually read much, although occasionally an interesting fact sprang out at me, like the Yaghan of Pantagonia wore no clothes, even in bitter winter weather.

I was looking for beefcake photos, or pictures of men who "liked" each other.

I found dozens of them, in articles on Indonesia, Indian Tribes of South America, African Tribes, China, Bolivia, and the Artic.

South American Indians wrestling, but I thought they were hugging.

Pygmies of the Belgian Congo (now Zaire).

Barrel-chested Aymara tribesmen of the Andes.

Muscular African natives wearing only loincloths.

Javanese athletes wearing only suggestive pouches, holding hands.

My first glimpses of a "good place," where same-sex desire was free and open, came from the My Village Books and the Collier's Encyclopedia.

By the way, years later, I looked up "homosexuality" in the index, and found only one reference, under Abnormal Psychology.

It's amazing that I found glimmers of hope in the silence.

See also: The Gay Village of Sonia and Tim Gidal.

Scott Wolf

Scott Wolf became famous for Party of Five (1994-2000), a teen drama about some kids being raised by their older brother (Matthew Fox) after their parent die.  Bailey (Scott Wolf) was the teen hunk, who had a drinking problem. Two recurring gay characters added to the angst; Ross (Mitchell Anderson), a teacher, and Victor (Wilson Cruz), a nanny.

Though Bailey didn't do any significant buddy-bonding, Scott Wolf did quite a lot in his movie appearances.  He was also quite willing to provide shirtless, underwear, and nude shots.


Double Dragon (1994) was an entry in the mid-1990s martial arts craze with an post-Apocalyptic edge: two brothers who looked nothing alike, Billy (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy (Mark Dascascos) search for a magical medallion.  Like most movies based on video games, it wasn't great, but it featured some buddy-bonding and last-minute rescues, minimal hetero-romance, and lots of shots of beautifully sculpted physiques.

 White Squall (1996), like White Water Summeramassed a group of muscular teens (Jeremy Sisto, Ryan Phillipe, Eric Michael Cole, Jason Marsden), gave them a hunky mentor (Jeff bridges), and shipped them out to sea for a story involving survival, hugging, and near-nudity.

In Go (1999), a caper movie told from four different points of view, Rashomon-style, Scott went beyond buddy-bonding.  Lovable drug dealers Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) are a gay couple.  They don't even die at the end.

Entertainment Weekly reported that the subsequent rumors that the actor was gay in real life "made him squirm," but he "didn't' find them offensive."  Why would something make you squirm if you didn't find it offensive?

At any rate, Scott has not played gay characters -- or engaged in significant buddy-bonding -- since.  Though he hasn't slacked off on the beefcake.

Apr 7, 2017

NBC Experiment in Television: The Cube

February 23, 1969.  NBC Experiment in Television: The Cube

A Man (Richard Schaal, a regular guest star on tv sitcoms) awakens in a square white room covered in a four-by-four grid.  He doesn't remember how he got there, or much about his life before.

People keep popping in to threaten or insult him or dredge up painful memories of his past: his friend Arnie, a Monk, a Black Militant, a Guitarist (Ralph Endersby, above and left). Sometimes they transform into different people before his eyes.

A Priest gives him an orb that is supposed to tell the Man the meaning of the Cube, but it doesn't work; it contains strawberry jelly.  A Professor tells him that he's acting in a play.

His visitors can all get out through hidden panels in the walls, but the Man is stuck.  A child on a tricycle pops in, singing "You're never going to get out of here, out of here, out of here."  A rock band comes in and reprises the song.  Many people come in at once, filling up the cube with witty cocktail-party conversations about the Man's shortcomings and how he'll never get out.

Finally the Man has had enough.  He yells at his captors: whatever else they do to confuse his sense of reality, he knows that he is real.

A panel opens, and a psychiatrist invites the Man out.  He's won!

He walks down the hall to the psychiatrist's office to sign some papers.  "I'm here!" he exclaims.  "I'm real!  If I cut myself, I bleed."

The Man actually does cut himself on a letter opener, and puts his finger to his mouth, and tastes strawberry jelly, not blood.  And he's back in the Cube again.

The IMDB classifies The Cube as a comedy, but I found it terrifying, as an 8-year old, on a cold Sunday night in the spring of 3rd grade.  The gay symbolism was obvious: we're trapped in a cage of heterosexist lies, told again and again that we don't exist, or we're insane.  And there's no escape.

The Cube was written and directed by Jim Henson of Muppet fame.  It has never been rerun, or released on video, but you can see clips on youtube.

Apr 5, 2017

I Spent My High School Years with Barry Manilow

Speaking of singers that you couldn't avoid hearing during the 1970s, I spent my entire three years at Rocky High and most of my four years at Augustana College  running in the other direction while Barry Manilow's syrupy love! love! love! love! crooning spewed forth from transistor radios, car radios, the p.a. at school, record stores, tv...but there was no escape.

Ninth Grade:
"Mandy": I remember all my life, raining down as cold as ice, sending Mandy away.

Well, he got that right -- all my life, I've remembered that song, no matter how much I don't want to.

"It's a Miracle": It's a miracle, a true-blue spectacle, that he is in love.

At least he's over his relationship with Mandy.

"Could it be Magic": baby take me, high upon a hillside, high up where the stallion meets the sun...come, come, come into my... 

This is the first song I heard that I knew was about having sex, although I wouldn't be asking anyone to come, come, come into my....for a few years.

Tenth Grade:
"I Write the Songs": I write the songs that make the young girl cry...I am music, and I write the songs...

Barry Manilow is music?  Rather full of himself, isn't he?

"Trying to Get That Feeling Again": he sees a doctor to get a pill, because he's gone up, down,all around,  trying to get that feeling again. 

You just need to relax, Barry.  It can be tiring going...um....up, down all around.

"This One's for You": This one will never sell, they'll never understand, I don't even sing it well.

He's got that right.  The song won't sell, he doesn't sing it well.

Eleventh Grade:
"Weekend in New England." Last night I waved goodbye, now it seems years -- I'm back in the city, where nothing is clear.  

I'd rather be in the city than stuck in a small factory town in the Midwest.

"Looks Like We Made It": Do you love him as much as I love her, and will that love be strong when the old feelings stir?  

Barry is talking to someone in love with a man about how much he loves a woman.  I can't figure out what's going on.

Twelfth Grade: 
"Daybreak" It's daybreak if you want to believe, it's daybreak, no time to grieve. 

Repeat 38 times. Don't try to figure out what it means. I hav no idea.

"Can't Smile without You": can't laugh, can't sing, finding it hard to do anything.  

So that's why his singing is so bad -- he's broken up with someone!   Quick, get back together!

"Even Now": Even now I think about you when I'm climbing the stairs, and I wonder what to do so she won't see.  

You still thinking about Mandy?  It's been four years!

"Copacabana": this one has a plot, about a showgirl with two boyfriends who shoot each other, so she goes crazy, and continues to come to the Copa, even though thirty years have passed and it's now a disco.  Sort of a Miss Haversham thing.  Cool.

When I was in college, his new songs started moving down the Top 40 charts.

"Somewhere in the Night": You're my song, music too magic to end.  

Wait, I thought Barry was music, and wrote the songs? So how can somebody else be music?

"Ships": We're just out of sight, like two ships that pass in the night. 

He's saying this to his father as they walk along the beach?  Seems weirdly romantic.

"I Don't Want to Walk Without You."

We already know that Barry can't smile, laugh, or sing without you, so walking is a logical extension.

"Bermuda Triangle."  It's a region where planes disappear and weird things happen.  So Barry sings about losing his girlfriend in the Bermuda Triangle, except he means she got stolen away by another guy.


"I Made it through the Rain." And I found myself respected by others who -- got rained on, too.  

At Augustana, we didn't say "I got rained on" to refer to people taking advantage of you.  We had an earthier expression.

I don't remember hearing any more Barry Manilow songs after that, but apparently he's been releasing an album every couple of years: Greatest Hits, Greatest Hits of All Time, A Swinging Christmas, Barry Manilow Sings Sinatra, Night Songs, Duets, The Essential Barry Manilow.  And performing live.  And not using the word "gay."

Oh, didn't I mention it?  He sang about ladies, but he never was seen on the arm of a lady. Everyone assumed that he was gay, but he never said anything, for fear that his fans were homophobic.

He finally came out in April 2017 at the age of 73, having been with his partner, Gary Keif, for 39 years, and married to him since 2014 (not pictured; this is just a random muscle hunk walking along the beach with him).

See also 12 Songs I Hated.

Apr 4, 2017

Vince Edwards: from Nude Model to TV Doctor

Speaking of Chad Everett, Boomer kids in the early 1960s could watch another beefcake-heavy medical drama: Ben Casey (1961-66), with Vince Edwards as the original young, idealistic surgeon butting heads with an older establishment figure (Sam Jaffe).   The opening was somewhat heterosexist, with Sam Jaffe saying "man, woman, birth, death, infinity," and the plotlines lacked homoerotic subtexts, but Vince Edwards had a dark, intense face and beefy forearms (accentuated by a large gold watch) that attracted gay boys and their heterosexual gal pals.

The program had quite a large preteen fanbase: there were Casey comic books, trading cards, hospital play sets, board games, and cereal premiums.

Born in 1928, Vince Edwards started out as a physique model (there are some fully nude photos roaming around the internet), and played one of the first bodybuilders in the movies, in Mr. Universe (1951).

Other beefcake movies followed, including Hiawatha (1952) and Island Women (1958), but mostly he played thugs, heavies, cops, and regular guys on the wrong side of the law.  At the same time, he embarked on a brief singing career.

After Ben Casey, Vince paid his respects to the spy genre with Hammerhead (1968), and to the war genre with The Devil's Brigade (1968), but he spent most of his time in tv movies, again playing mostly heavies, escaped convicts and the psychopath next door.

In 1983, he starred as a Han Solo clone in Space Raiders, with 13-year old David Mendenhall taking the place of Luke Skywalker.

The Return of Ben Casey (1988) was the pilot for a potential tv series, but it didn't get picked up.

He also directed episodes of The Hardy Boys, Battlestar Galactica, BJ and the Bear, and The Fall Guy.

Given his past in nude physique modeling, one wonders if Vince Edwards had a connection to the gay subculture of 1950s Hollywood.  He was married four times, so unlikely to be gay in real life, and he had an ongoing feud with fellow tv doctor Richard Chamberlain (who was gay but closeted at the time).

The nude photos are on Tales of West Hollywood.

Apr 2, 2017

One Day at a Time (the Gay Daughter Version)

One Day at a Time (1975-1984) was one of my favorite childhood tv series: Bonnie Franklin starred as a divorced woman (unheard-of at the time) raising two teenage daughters, the rebellious Julie MacKenzie Phillips and the "good girl" Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) in Indianapolis.  Later she adopted wisecracking preteen Alex (Glenn Scarpelli).

She was aided or bedeviled by the sex-obsessed building manager Schneider (Pat Harrington) and, in later seasons, her mother (Nanette Fabray).

No gay content, but there was a lot of beefcake, as a steady stream of cute guys dated and eventually married Barbara and Julie.

I still get nostalgic when I hear:

This is it -- this is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball.
This is it -- straight ahead, and rest assured, you can't be sure at all.

 In 2017, Netflix is airing a reboot, with the same theme song. The family is now Cuban, and Penelope (Justina Alvarado), in addition to being divorced, is a military veteran -- maybe the first female veteran I've ever seen on tv.  She works for Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowski), who is also dating her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno).

No Julie, but serious teenage Elena (Isabella Gomez) is a clone of Barbara, and there's a wisecracking tween, Alex (Marcel Ruiz).

Schneider is still around (Todd Grinnell, top photo), with the porn stache and sex obsession of the original.

The beefcake is still ample, with various male friends and boyfriends parading about: Eric Nenninger (left),  Froy Gutierrez, Peter Banifaz.  Mom is quite the cougar, often being cruised by twinks like Jay Hayden (below)

And that annoying laugh track is still punctuating every sentence.

But there's a big difference: gay content.

The gay angle is the main plot arc of the season.

First Elena tells her brother that she likes girls; then she wonders if she should try sex with boys first, just to see.  She "doesn't hate" kissing boys, but decides that she prefers girls.

Ok, that storyline is insulting.  It's easy to tell if you find boys, girls, or both attractive.  You don't have to do things in order to find out.

After she tells Alex, he goes to Schneider and asks about lesbians.  Schneider is shocked: "I don't think I should tell you anything without your mother's permission."

Ok, that's just plain homophobic.  Schneider apparently believes that the phrase "some girls like girls" is much too graphic and sexually explicit for a 12-year old to hear.

Then she comes out to Grandma Lydia, who overcomes her religious bigotry in 20 seconds and asks "When is the parade?"

Penelope pretends to be ok with it, but isn't, and is upset because she's not ok with it.  She's not homophobic, exactly, but with her daughter it's different -- she wanted bonding over discussions of hot boys, prom dresses, weddings, grandchildren.  Ok, Elena can get some of those things, but it won't be the same.

Penelope's lesbian friend takes her to a gay bar for immersion therapy, where a hot guy, who happens to be straight and into her, assures her that she's not homophobic.  It just takes some time to adjust to such a profound change in what she always assumed her daughter to be.

Ok, I'm not happy with that storyline.  Penelope was entirely heteronormative, aware that gay people exist, but never considering the possibility that Elena or Alex might be gay.  But it's an interesting change of pace from the usual sitcom responses: over-the-top gung-ho support or 1950s-era abject horror.

I'll give the show a B for trying.    And for beefcake.

But a B- for that annoying laugh track.

See also: One Day at a Time
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