Jan 27, 2018

Milton Berle: Television's First Drag Queen

In an October 26, 1967 episode of Batman, Batman and Robin ran afoul of Louie the Lilac, who trapped them in a man-eating lilac bush and later got them. . .um. . .all wrapped up in each other (Batgirl was in the melange, too).

He wore a lilac suit, liked perfume, and had henchmen named Azalea, Petunia, Lotus, and Sassafras.   I was too young to recognize gay stereotypes, but I knew feminine-coding when I saw it.

Later I saw Louie the Lilac, aka Milton Berle, as a desk clerk on Get Smart (1968), a fast-talking used car salesman on Here's Lucy (1969), a tv clown on Mod Squad (1971), and another used car salesman in The Muppet Movie (1979), without ever realizing that he was Mr. Television.

In 1950, there were 500,000 tv sets in use in the United States.  By 1956, 30 million.  And when the millions of new viewers turned on their new tv sets, they were watching Milton Berle, a former vaudeville performer and radio comedian, on Texaco Star Theater (1948-56).

Not many episodes have survived, but apparently it was a musical-variety program with Berle, or Uncle Miltie doing stand-up comedy and sketches, including frequent drag numbers and the lisping catch phrase "I'll kill you a million times."  Sounds gay-coded to me.

For the first few years, it regularly trounced its competition (to be fair, its competitors included The John Hopkins Science Review and Uptown Jubilee).  Then sitcoms took over, and musical variety was passe.  But Milton Berle continued the format in Kraft Music Hall (1958-59), and he appeared in drag frequently through the years, even at the end of his life: on an episode of  Roseanne (1995), he catches the bridal bouquet at the gay wedding that Roseanne arranges for her boss.

Oddly enough, he was homophobic in real life, throwing around the words "fag" and "queer" with abandon.  In 1993, he was scheduled to present an award with drag performer RuPaul, and a backstage incident caused a well-publicized feud between Old and New Drag.  According to RuPaul, Berle made rude comments and inappropriately touched her breasts.

Hollywood rumors give Uncle Miltie another claim to fame: he was widely recognized to have the largest endowment in the business, surpassing a foot in length.  Apparently he was not shy about displaying it to anyone curious, as long as they weren't "queer."

Jan 25, 2018

Sausage Sighting of James Arness

I'm Ali, short for Alika, "Guardian."  I was born and raised in Makaha, the surfing capital of the world.

Kind of a bummer when you hate surfing.

I was a bit of a chubby kid, not at all athletic, and a "sissy" -- I got picked on a lot.   I liked to hang out on the beach and look at the surfers, but I didn't like hanging out with them.  They're, as a rule, macho, sexist, and way homophobic, surfing to "prove" their manhood, goading each other on with homophobic slurs.  Even today, there are no openly gay professional surfers.  You have to have a wife and kids back home.

Imagine what it was like when I was growing up in the 1960s!

The only surfer I could stand was my classmate Brian Keaulana  -- Native Hawaiian, with beautiful dark skin, brown eyes, and a smooth muscular chest.  He teased me all the time, but at least he wasn't mean.  No tripping, no hitting, just ribbing me on being momona (fat), and on watching tv all the time.

I did watch a lot of tv.  I longed to escape from the island, find my way into the world of Lost in Space (Billy Mumy, sigh!) or That Girl (I wanted to be Ann Marie, and get to kiss Donald Hollinger).

Or Gunsmoke.

Marshall Dillon (James Arness) was exactly my type: tall, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced, a Grade-A cowboy complete with 10-gallon hat and leather vest.  And what a bulge on him!  What I wouldn't give to be captured and tied up by the bad guys, and have Marshall Dillon burst in to save the day!  Maybe carry me off into the sunset, for lots of kissing and hugging!

Remember, I was like nine or ten years old.  I wouldn't be thinking about sex for a few years.

One day I told my friend Brian about my crush on Marshall Dillon -- omitting the kissing and hugging, of course -- and he said "I know him.  We buddies."

"Not!"  I exclaimed.  Surely he was putting me on!

"No lie, Brah.  He's a surfer, and his son, too."

"Not a surfer, a cowboy!"I protested, angry.  He had no right to pull my Archetypal Cowboy out of his mythic setting in the Old West and plop him down into the mundane, every day world of Makana Beach!

"Don't be buggin', Brah!  He an actor, right, come over here from the Mainland to surf.  His son, too.  They tight with my dad, come for dinner, play Matchbook cars, like that."  His father was Buff Keaulana, a lifeguard and former surfing great.

"You lolo, or pull my leg!"

"I can prove it!  Next time James Arness comes to Hawaii, you come over for dinner, too."

I figured he was just blowing hot air, but sure enough, a few weeks later, Brian invited me to lunch at James Arness' house!

Apparently he really was a surfer -- he and Rolf rented a bungalow on Makana Beach two or three times a year, and flew out from L.A. for a surfing vacation.

When Brian and I arrived, James, Rolf, Buff, Corky, and a couple of guys I didn't know were sitting on deck chairs in swimsuits, eating take-out bentos full of poke (raw fish), tako (octopus), chicken and rice, and liliko (passionfruit).

 An all-male party full of hot guys in swimsuits!  My hormones should have been spilling out all over the place, but I couldn't my eyes off James Arness.  Broad shoulders, smooth chest, gigantic bulge visible in his swimsuit.

The full story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Michael Copon: Power Ranger, Gay Ally

Born in 1982, Michael Copon got his start on the most recent of the Power Rangers series, Power Rangers: Time Force (2001-2002).  

He also starred on the evening teen soap One Tree Hill (2004-5) as Felix, a homophobe who writes an anti-gay slur on the locker of his sister's girlfriend.

And on Beyond the Break (2006-2009) as Vin Keahi, the boyfriend of two female professional surfers.

But it's in movies that the bonding -- and the beefcake -- really shines.  He specializes in movies about female bonding:
All You've Got (2006): volleyball players
Sideliners (2006): cheerleaders
Bring It On (2007): cheerleaders

But there's also some male bonding.  He also goes on a quest with Peter Butler in the Vin Diesel prequel, The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior (2008).

And he starts a BoyBand with Ryan Pinkston (2010).

No gay characters, but he's a gay ally, so maybe someday.

Jan 22, 2018

The Bob Damron Guide

You probably think that the Gayellow Pages, published beginning in 1973, was the first gay directory.  In fact, there were several earlier directories.  The one most familiar to gay men in the 1970s and 1980s was the Damron Address Book.

In 1964, 36-year old businessman Bob Damron published the first Address Book, a pocket-sized 50-page list of all the gay bars he knew about in the big cities of the U.S.

The name wasn't specific, and the word "gay" was not used, because being gay was illegal in every state, with penalties ranging up to life in prison.  Being caught with a "gay" book in your possession would not only get you arrested, it would give the police a complete list of places to raid.

It was wallet-sized, so you could carry it in your pocket without being detected, and dispose of it quickly if necessary.

Later editions included codes:
C: Coffee
D: Dancing
G: Girls (Lesbians)
M: Mixed gay/straight
M/S: Mixed crowd
P: Private club
PE: Pretty elegant
RT: Raunchy types (hustlers)
S: Shows ("record pantomine acts with female impersonators")
SM: Some motorcycle.
YC: Young crowd.

The edition I bought at the adult bookstore in Bloomington in 1982 used the word "gay," and listed bars, bookstores, theaters, and bathhouses.  I carefully calculated which city in the U.S. was best for gay men by weighing all four (in my naivete, I didn't realize that the bookstores and theaters were erotic).

New York got the most points.

By the 1980s, The Damron Guide was illustrated with steamy ads.

Bob Damron died in 1989, but his annual guidebook is still going strong, specializing in international travel.

Jan 21, 2018

The Gay Hint of "Where's Huddles"

At the 1970 Superbowl, played on January 11th at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7.  The Chiefs got 16 first downs and 151 net yards efficiency. Len Dawson was the individual leader in passing, with 142 yards and 1 touchdown, and a 12/17 c/att.

I have no idea what any of that means, and I couldn't care less. Football is incredibly boring.  I'll go to a superbowl party for the snacks, but I never have any idea what's going on.  Occasionally the other guys in the room scream at the top of the lungs.  I look up from my book and say "So...did our team, like, make a point or something?"

I did try to find a picture of the Kansas City Chiefs with their shirts off.  This one came up, but it also says "Ohio State Football Players Can't Stop Being Shirtless."

I didn't know the Kansas City Chiefs were at Ohio State, but it makes as much sense as anything else in football.

Here's another one of the Kansas City Chief shirtless, at a barbecue that Channing Tatum threw for the Magic Mike Live dancers.

So a football team named after Kansas City that is actually in Ohio moonlights as a dance troupe?

This is why I don't follow football!

But in th summer of 1970, when I was nine years old, I did watch some episodes of a tv series about football!

I know, weird -- nobody watched summer replacement series.  They were awful comedy-variety crap.  Besides, there was something unsettling about watching evening tv when it was still daylight out.

But Where's Huddles was animated, and the two football players, Ed Huddles (Cliff Norton) and Bubba McCoy (Mel Blanc), did a sort of Fred Flintstone-Barney Rubble buddy-bonding routine.  Huddles' wife was even voiced by Jean Vander Pyle (Wilma on The Flintstones).

There was also a Muttley-style snickering dog wearing a football helmet, a daughter named Pom-pom, and a black guy (rare in 1970).

And a football-hating next-door neighbor, Pertwee, voiced with a strong gay accent by Paul Lynde, who I knew from Bewitched.  He voiced everything I thought about football and jocks in general, and he didn't have a wife -- somehow he had avoided the "wife-house-job" future the adults were always mapping out for me!

I didn't know that Paul Lynde was gay himself, and playing the character as gay.  I wouldn't even know that gay people existed for another six years.

But I remember a warm summer evening, when it was still light out, and you could hear the kids playing outside through the screen door, and the fireflies were just starting to sparkle, sitting in front of the tv in our small square house on 41st Street, and seeing a gay man.

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