Oct 21, 2017

The Unexpected Beefcake of Steve Guttenberg

I've never met Steve Guttenberg, but after seeing him in so many movies, tv series, and off-Broadway plays,  he seems more familiar than some of the celebrities that I've actually met.

His physique is especially familiar, since he displays his muscular chest, shoulders, and biceps in nearly every movie, often to indicate confusion or embarrassment.

He's got nothing to be embarrassed about.

At last count, I've seen twenty of his movies, beginning with The Chicken Chronicles (1977), when the 19-year old transformed the teen sex comedy into something more, and The Boys from Brazil (1977), where his character is killed in the first scene.

Comedies like Police Academy (1984), where his Carey Mahoney gleefully pretends that he had sex with the uptight police captain.(For more homoerotic subtexts combined with homophobia, see Bachelor Party, by the same director).

Science fiction like Cocoon (1985), about a group of senior citizens who use alien technology to rejuvenate themselves.

Dramas like The Bedroom Window (1987), where his Terry Lambert has an affair with the boss's wife and becomes the main suspect in a murder.

Not a lot of buddy-bonding roles, but lots of gender transgressions that give his characters a gay-vague subtext even as they pursue women.  And he forms a lot of alternate families, as Short Circuit (1986), 3 Men and a Baby (1987), and Home Team (2000).

And lots of gay-positive roles, like Can't Stop the Music (1980), where he plays the gay-vague manager of the gay-vague Village People (and incidentally wears the tightest shorts known to Disco).

To Home for the Holidays (1995), where a gay couple is invited to the festivities.

To P.S. Your Cat is Dead (2002), where he plays a homeowner who captures -- and kisses -- a gay burglar..

To Mojave Phone Booth (2006), about various people affected by a phone booth in the desert, including a lesbian couple.

In his memoirs, The Guttenberg Bible, Steve talks about his early naivete (he didn't realize that the Village People were supposed to be gay) and about the shock of realizing that some men found him attractive.

He's gotten over it since.

Oct 20, 2017

Brandon Cruz and his Best Friend

Former child stars are subjected to all sorts of weird rumors.  Jerry Mathers of Leave It to Beaver died in Vietnam.  Josh Saviano of The Wonder Years donned deaths-head makeup to become Marilyn Manson.  Brandon Cruz of The Courtship of Eddie's Father became a punk rocker.

Wait -- that last one is true.

Kids on 1950s and 1960s tv were required to be emblematic of the establishment. No rebellion, no discussion of the social problems of the era, not even a Beatles moptop.  Some, like Billy Gray, grew up to savagely critique the racism, sexism, heterosexism, and materialism of their star vehicles. Others, like Tony Dow, leaped head-first into the counterculture.

Brandon Cruz, who was only ten years old when Courtship ended, has nothing but nice things to say about his co-star Bill Bixby, "a second father,"  and shrugs off criticisms of the show's conformist content: "I was a kid. I said what they wanted me to say."

Brandon continued to act through the 1970s, with guest shots on Kung Fu, Medical Center, and Police Story, an Afterschool Special ("Mighty Moose and the Quarterback Kid"), and several well-received movies, including The Bad News Bears (1976) and The One and Only (1978).

But his main interest was music.  He became involved in the punk scene of the 1970s and 1980s, performing with the bands Dr. Know (1981-2010) and The Dead Kennedys (2001-2003).

Punk resonated with many gay teens due to its anger, its refusal to conform to the conventions of mainstream rock, and its politics -- a welcome change from the "isn't heterosexual sex great?" lyrics of mainstream rock. In "Moral Majority" (1981), for instance, the Dead Kennedys savagely criticize the homophobic Religious Right:

You call yourselves the Moral Majority
We call ourselves people in the real world
Trying to rub us out, but we're still alive
God must be dead if you're still alive

And that's just the clean part of the song.

But Brandon is not all about rage against the machine.  He often performs "Best Friend," the theme song from Courtship, which sounds extremely homoromantic when it's not about a kid:

People let me tell you 'bout my best friend,
He's a warm hearted person who'll love me till the end.
People let me tell you bout my best friend,
He's a one boy cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy.

Today, in addition to his music, Brandon is active in Paul Petersen's A Minor Consideration, dedicated to improving working conditions for child actors, and he works as a drug/alcohol rehabilitation counselor.  He is a strong gay ally, and happily acknowledges his gay fans.

Oct 18, 2017

Christian Tessier: The Six-Pack Abs of Nickelodeon

The Tomorrow People (1992-1995), an early Nickelodeon sci-fi series about mutant teenagers (a remake of the British version), starred Christian Tessier as a super-genius named Megabyte.

The 14-year old Canadian actor had been a fixture on Nickelodeon for several years, with roles on You Can't Do That On Television, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and elsewhere.

He first stated to bulk up in Tomorrow People, but it was in Natural Enemy (1996), as a collegiate swimmer stalked by his stepfather, that we really saw his spectacular pecs and six-pack abs.

Plus impressive speedo shots.

He also stripped down in Habitat (1997).

Then came a series of adventure and horror movies with little beefcake on display (I assume; I haven't seen any of them), plus guest spots on a number of tv series. Two starring roles: Joey Passamontes in All Souls (2001) and "Duck" Clellan in Battlestar Galactica (2005-6). 

Not a lot of specifically gay content, except for  Ice Blues (2008), with Chad Allen as gay detective Donald Strachey.

He's also released two songs, including "Whatever It Is," with the Religion Beats.  I never heard of the group, and I can't understand any of the lyrics, but no doubt it's religious.

Oct 17, 2017

Jonathan Ke Quan: The Goonies Grow Up

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) gives the whip-wielding archaeologist-adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) a modern-day English-mangling Sabu, the equivalent of the teenage-sidekick in the 1930’s serials.  But instead of a young adult playing a teenager, the gay subtext is minimized by making Indy's sidekick the prepubescent waif Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan, nearly 14 years old but looking around 10).

 Indy and Short Round display a great deal of affection, but always of the parent-child variety: Indy sleeps with the boy in his arms, and holds his hand while they are walking, but he is continually presented as a small boy, lest anyone think that when he says “Indy, I love you” anyone think he means something besides substitute father.  There is no rejection of the homoerotic other, except in a passage in the novelization about the “disreputable careers” that might befall a 13-year old boy on the streets of Shanghai; that is, if it were not for Indy’s intervention, Short Round might have become a boy prostitute.

Jonathan Ke Quan went on to star in The Goonies (1985) as the Asian nerd Data, who buddy-bonds in a rather aggressively physical way with fellow Goonie Mikey (Sean Astin).

And on two tv series: Together We Stand (1986-87), as a Vietnamese orphan adopted by an American family (his brother was played by the gay-friendly Scott Grimes); and the last season of Head of the Class (1990-1991), as Asian nerd Jasper Kwong.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?  Asians stereotyped as mathematical, nerdish, and asexual, so no romantic leads, no beefcake -- but, on the bright side, ample room for gay subtexts.

After playing adolescents with no heterosexual interest and intense buddy-bonding in the martial arts drama Breathing Fire (1991) and the comedy Encino Man (1992) with Sean Astin, Jonathan studied martial arts and went to USC Film School.

Since graduating, his only acting role has been in the Hong Kong movie Second Time Around (2002), which involves Las Vegas, time traveling, romance, and apparently gay characters.

He has also worked behind the scenes, as a stunt coordinator, fight choreographer, and cinematographer. No idea if he's gay in real life or not.

Oct 15, 2017

Harry Blondell, the Strongest Living American

Robert Mainardi's book Strongman: Vintage Photographs of a Masculine Icon reproduces a cabinet photo of "Harry H. Blowdell, the Strongest Living American" from 1890.

Today his slim chest, undefined abs, and small biceps could hardly be classified as muscular, and even in the days before Nautilus machines and protein supplements, there must have been many stronger guys in every town.

Here are two, Parisian boxers photographed by Paul Desoye in 1890.

Here are 8 more.

Harry was rather scrawny, even in the 1890s.  That makes his chutzpah, his raw P.T. Barnum showmanship, all the more endearing.

The fitflex.com bodybuilding website rhapsodizes about his anonymity: "We wouldn't even know his name if he hadn't signed the back of his picture. Poor Harry toiled in obscurity.

But actually, 45 minutes of internet research yields quite a lot about him.

His actual stage name was Harry H. Blondell, and his real name was Henry Krumholz.  He was born on March 16, 1872 in Wayne County, Michigan: that photo was taken, he was only 18 years old.   He was Jewish, and probably changed his name to avoid antisemitic bias.

In 1894, at age 22, he joined  Cole and Lockwood Circus in Potsdam New York: "a real one ring circus....first class in every respect, with jugglers, trapeze artists, tumblers, clowns."  He was a sideshow strongman.

In 1897, he joined the the Irving Brothers Circus, which had "a soft, round top and 12 paintings.
  His fellow sideshow performers included "Madame La Bell, mind reader; Gannallea, cabinet, Punch and magic; Zana, illusion; Arthur Irving, ventriloquist; a den of snakes, birds and monkeys, and a female band"

Either he was very successful or his two brothers cosigned a loan, since in 1901, he retired from the sideshow circuit and bought the Weaver House, a hotel and restaurant in Grosse Point, Michigan, where he "delighted patrons with nightly exhibitions of his powers...tearing telephone books, bending iron bars with his neck and folding nickels, dimes and quarters with his fingers. "  Apparently he also lifted a team of horses and miscellaneous patrons.

In 1911, the newspaper prints a photo of "innkeeper/house mover Henry Krumholz Blondell," and his children, three young boys and a girl, hitching their cart to a calf to give their baby brother a ride.  He had quite a large family.

House mover?  Apparently he moved "large residential and commercial buildings, intact, to new sites around Grosse Pointe."

He sold the Weaver House in 1918 to devote himself full-time to the house-moving business along with his "equally strapping sons."

He died on July 8, 1936.

A recent book on Grosse Point, Michigan "Local Legends" includes John Hughes, Gilda Radner and "strongman/resort owner Harry Blondell."

He wasn't anonymous at all, and it sounds like he hasn't been forgotten.
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