Feb 17, 2018

One Life to Live

When I was a kid in the 1960s,  my Mom watched several soap operas regularly.  I saw an occasional snippet, when I was home sick or walking through the living room on the way to do something else.

Gross!  There wouldn't be any same-sex plotlines for 30 years, so they were occupied entirely by the heterosexist "true love between a man and a woman" mantra.

And it would be 20 years before the shirts dropped and soap hunks were regularly put on display.

And they always made you feel guilty for watching.

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives."

We don't have much time on Earth.  Better stop wasting time on soap operas and get busy with something useful!

But in 1968 when my friends and I began gathering in front of the tv every afternoon to watch Dark Shadows at 3:00, we sometimes stayed put for the new soap opera One Life to Live -- the only other choices were stupid game shows.

Dr. Larry Wolek (Michael Storm) filled out his 1970s hipster uniforms nicely, in spite of his plotline, which was both stupid and disturbing:

He found "true love" with town heiress Meredith, though her father disapproved of the match.  Shortly after they married and she gave birth to twins, she was shot and killed by a burglar, and Larry moved on to a new "true love."

Meanwhile, Meredith's uptight sister Vicki developed a split personality, becoming the funloving Nikki.  While slumming, she hooked up with muscular truck driver Vinnie (Antony Ponzini), Larry's working-class brother.

No class distinctions in Llanview!

Antony Ponzini (1933-2002) was a major crush of my childhood, with his dark curly hair, bronze skin, classic Mediterranean features, and muscular build.  I'd choose him over the whitebread Larry Wolek any day.

But then Vicki was cured and decided to marry Vinnie's best friend, newspaper reporter Joe Riley (gay actor Lee Patterson who starred with Van Williams, left, in the homoerotic Surfside Six).  

How did this incessant, absurdly exaggerated search for heterosexist "true love" fade-out-kiss resonate with gay kids?

1. Every heterosexual relationship played out against a background of  same-sex relationships.  Larry and Vinnie discuss their desires for Meredith and Nikki, respectively.  Vinnie and Joe discuss their desires for Nikki and Vicki, respectively.

2. Heterosexual relationships are doomed.  In a week, or a month, or a couple of years, your "true love" will die or fall in love with someone else.  But same-sex bonds are permanent.

We stopped watching in 1971, when Dark Shadows ended.  But Mom remained a fan for thirty more years of diseases, infidelities, and fade-out-kisses, and, eventually, when Dan Gauthier joined the cast, gay subtexts.

Feb 16, 2018

Can You Ever Get Tired of Tarzan Musical Beefcake?

Tired of Tarzans yet?

I didn't think so.

Here are a gaggle of loincloth-clad musclemen (more or less), gathered from high school and college drama departments, little theaters, children's theaters, and miscellaneous beefcake venues across the U.S. (with a few European entries).

1.North Shore Music Theater, Beverly, Massachusetts.  It has a theater in the round so you can see Tarzan from all angles.

2.  The Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia.

3.  Amity High School in Woodbridge, Connecticut offers one of the more buffed Tarzan, with long hair but no dreads.

4. Stafford High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia gave Tarzan a 1950s greaser haircut, but with that chest, who cares?

5. Pittsburgh Musical Theater.  Rather an ugly Tarzan, but at least he has biceps.

More after the break.

The Hager Twins: Picking and Grinning

What can you say about twin brothers who grew up in Chicago but claimed to be cowboys?

Who were discovered working at Disneyland, and signed on by "pickin' and grinnin'" Buck Owens to 16 years of the hayseed "family values" variety show Hee-Haw (1969-1985).  Yet posed nude (and coyly hidden) in Playgirl in 1973?

(But not to worry; fully clothed, their tight cowboy jeans left nothing to the imagination.)

Who released singles like "Gotta Get to Oklahoma (Cause California's Getting to Me)" and an album entitled Motherhood, Apple Pie, and the Flag,  yet had a fast-paced, self-deprecating comedy routine, like a country-western Sonny and Cher?  In glittery, rhinestone-enlaced costumes, like country-western Liberaces?

Who sang mournful songs about cheating girlfriends and absent wives, but never married and were never seen with women?  They lived close together through all of their lives (except for a 3 1/2 year separation), and died eight months apart in 2008 and 2009.

Not many gay kids looked to Hee-Haw for role models.  But maybe they should have.

In addition to Hee-Haw, Jim and Jon starred in the tv movie Twin Detectives (1976), about twin detectives, and on a 1978 episode of The Bionic Woman, as evil twin clones from another planet.

The handsome, photogenic duo spent the last twenty years of their lives appearing at county fairs, nostalgia events, and the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio.  Singing, riffing, and signing autographs for their thousands of devoted fans.

Feb 15, 2018

Even More Tarzans on Stage

I could look at stage Tarzans all day -- the biggest, most buffed hunks of small towns across the country stripped to a loincloth and paraded about for two hours.  Ignore the heteronormative plot and concentrate on the biceps, pecs, and abs.

1. Berkeley Playhouse.  Nice to see a Tarzan with a belly -- no Nautilus machines in the jungle.

2.  Marietta High School in Georgia.

3. The Big Fork Summer Playhouse in Big Fork, Montana, which, as far as I can tell, is near nothing in particular except two Indian reservations, Blackfoot and Flathead.

4. Utah State University.  Those pecs and abs are real.  They grow them big in Logan.

5. Missoula Community Theater.  Ok, they can't all be hunks.

More after the break

Feb 14, 2018

More Tarzans on Stage

I've already done a post on Tarzan musicals, but summer playhouses, community theaters, little theaters, and high school and college drama departments keep coming up with more, cramming any hunk who can swing on a vine into a loincloth and letting him strut his stuff for two hours.  Sure, the plot is heteronormative, but who's going to Tarzan for the plot?

1. Mount Gretna Playhouse in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  Go Amish!

2.  Helena Theater Company.  Montana is Big Sky Country.  Also big biceps.

3. Epiphany Lutheran Church in Dayton, Ohio.  Go Lutherans!

4.  A little skinny, but there probably weren't a lot of musclemen who could act in Marble Falls, Texas, population 7,000.

5.  The Hale Center Theatre in Orem, Utah.  Go Mormons!

More after the break

Feb 12, 2018

The Civilian Conservation Corps: Depression-Era Beefcake

Picture it.

1933:  The heart of the Great Depression.  40% of the U.S. population is out of work.  President Roosevelt, just  inaugurated March 4th, promises a New Deal full of federal programs designed to get the economy started again.

Among the unemployed are many buffed young twinks, aged 18-25.  Roosevelt tries to think of a way to get them photographed with their shirts off in those days before the physique magazines.

He comes up with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC, who would be housed in work camps while engaging in federal improvement projects.

The first CCC camp opened on April 17th, 1933.  By July there were over 1,400 camps with over 250,000 young men at work (that's 10 hookups per day for 68 years).

At its peak in 1935, there were 500,000 workers in 2,900 camps.  Among them were future actors Raymond Burr and Walter Matthau.

There were also a few thousand older men (experienced workers), veterans, and Native Americans.

The CCC workers were unmarried (i.e., available), usually living at home and helping to support their parents.  They signed on for six months, with the option of returning for up to two years.

Apparently they weren't provided with shirts.

Their projects were diverse, involving soil conservation, making trails and shelters in state and national parks, building wildlife refuges, fighting fires, Here the CCC boys are at work on controlling the Mormon crickets that swarm in Nevada and Utah.  (Mormon cricket is the name of the species.)

Here they're posing with shovels in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

More after the break

Feb 11, 2018

Hello, Dolly!: The First Gay Diva

In 1964, Jerry Herman, the gay composer who gave us the anthem "I Am What I Am," and Michael Stewart, the gay playwright who gave us Bye, Bye Birdie, sat down to write a musical comedy adaption of The Merchant of Yonkers (1938), a play by gay writer Thornton Wilder.  It was, in turn, an adaption of Einen Jux will er sich machen (He'll Go on a Spree, 1842), by gay Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy.

The end product of this long gay legacy is Hello, Dolly!, the story of Mrs. Dolly Levi  (Carol Channing on stage, Barbra Streisand in the 1969 movie), a professional purveyor of heterosexual romance in Yonkers, New York.  Actually, she claims to be a professional arranger of everything:

If you want a law abolished, jury swayed, or toenails polished, just leave everything to me.
If you want your liver tested, glasses made, or cash invested, just leave everything to me.

But in this musical, she's only involved in matchmaking, and she does quite a lot of it. Most musicals have two hetero-romances, one serious and one funny.  Here there are four.

I hated West Side Story, where Uncle Toms created an oppressive heteronormative nightmare out of just one hetero-romance, but for some reason I quite like Hello, Dolly, with its four.

Maybe because the first two romances come between Barnaby (Danny Locklin) and Cornelius (Michael Crawford), clerks of wealthy feed store owner Horace Vandergelder, who might easily be a gay couple.  They go out on the town in search of anonymous hookups as a sort of male-bonding competition:

We'll see the shows at Delmonico's, and we'll close the town in a whirl
And we won't come back until we've kissed a girl!

And because the third comes between fey artist Ambrose (Tommy Tune) and Vandergelder's niece, who is trying to establish her independence from her domineering uncle. They have perfectly mercenary reasons to wed.

The fourth is with Dolly herself.  She is approaching middle age (excuse me?  Barbra was 27), and worrying that  "the parade will pass by," so she sets out to land client Vandergelder (Walter Matthau). I don't know why -- their personalities are polar opposites, and she's closer in age to Barnaby and Cornelius.

Maybe because he's quite wealthy?

We know why Vandergelder wants to get married: for the housework.

In the winter she'll shovel the ice, and lovingly set out the traps for the mice
She's a joy and treasure,  for practically speaking, to whom can you turn when the plumbing is leaking?

So instead of a claustrophobic "One Hand, One Heart," we have an entire roomful of male camaraderie, and one gay diva:

I feel the room swayin', while the band's playin'
One of your old favorite songs from way back when
So take her wrap, fellas,  Find her an empty lap, fellas
Dolly'll never go away again

There was a lot of gay talent among the cast, too.  On stage, Cornelius was played by campy gay performer Charles Nelson Reily.  In the movie, Tommy Tune was gay, and Danny Locklin bisexual.  Both Barbra Streisand and Carol Channing were gay divas (although Channing took a few steps backwards recently with her insistence that the Bible condemns gay people).

See also: West Side Story

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