Jun 14, 2018

Depression-Era Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz: Secretly a Fruitfly?

The UCLA Digital Archives contains about 50 pictures captioned "Boys from financially disadvantaged backgrounds participate in a free summer camp in Griffith Park."

The camp, organized by Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, hosted over a thousand boys during the summer of 1937, in groups of 100, 10 days at a time.

They were apparently in their teens.  Photos show them boxing, swimming, fencing, and reading.  There were also apparently religious programs.

There was already a Griffith Park Boys' Camp, started in 1924 and still running.  I can't tell if Sheriff Biscailuz co-opted it or started one of his own.

But it doesn't look like he continued it past the summer of 1937.  It was a one-time thing, a surcease for the underprivileged youth of L.A. County, and an opportunity for us to look at the biceps and abs of our grandfathers' generation.

Why only once?

Maybe we can find a clue in the life of Sheriff Biscailuz.  Eugene Biscailuz (1883-1969), a L.A. native who graduated from St. Vincent College (now Loyola Marymount), got a law degree from USC, and worked for the L.A. police department from 1907 to 1958.  Of Basque ancestry, he spoke Basque, Spanish, and Latin.

According to a L.A. Times article, "He was a courtly and colorful cowboy who sat astride a silver-saddled palomino at parades and rodeos."

How festive!

At the age of 19, he married Willette Harrison, whose father was an administrator at San Quentin.  Way to increase your career prospects!

She was also interested in the rough-and-tumble world of police work.  Although not allowed to join the force due to the sexist mores of the day, she often helped Biscailuz with his cases.

 In 1923, they went to Honduras to extradite notorious murderer, Clara Phillips, "The Tiger Lady."

Willette died in 1950.  They had no children.

Although a proponent of "law and order," Biscailuz belonged to the secretive Lofty and Exalted Order of Uplifters.  Founded in 1913 by Harry Marsten Haldeman (the grandfather of Bob Haldeman of the Watergate scandal) and L. Frank Baum (author of the Wizard of Oz books), it originally met in the Blue Room of the Los Angeles Athletic Club for drinking and carousing.

Another of their hijinks were the risque musicals, written by Baum and set to music by  Louis Gottschalk, with names like The Uplift of Lucifer; or, Raising Hell: An Allegorical Squazosh and The Orpheus Road Show: A Paraphrastic Compendium of Mirth.  Most

During Prohibition they moved to the isolated Rustic Canyon, where they could drink and carouse in private.  They met until 1947.

Other members included celebrities like Clark Gable, Harold Lloyd, Daryl F. Zanuck,  and Walt Disney.

The gentlemen's clubs of the early twentieth century were sites of homosocial camaraderie and probably not a little homoerotic buddy-bonding.

Biscailuz has other gay connections.  He knew gay actors Ramon Novarro and William Haines.  Hard-boiled novelist James Elroy talks about a "lean, mean fruitfly" who plays golf with Sheriff Biscailuz.

So why just one year helping underprivileged boys?  Could it have drawn too much suspicion that Sheriff Biscailuz was a secretly "fruitfly?"

The Penis Festival of Greece

In the Greek Orthodox Calendar, "Clean Monday" is the start of Lent, the season where believers give up something important to them to commemorate Christ's sacrifice on Easter.

In the village of Tyrnavos, about 200 miles north of Athens, the men give up penises.

So they have a Penis Festival, or Bourani, at the end of their month-long Carnival season.

Bourani is actually a spinach soup. On Clean Monday all of the "initiates," including visiting tourists, have to drink it from a penis-shaped ladle, then sip tsipouro, an alcoholic beverage, from a penis-shaped cup, and finally sit on a penis throne.

You can bring a friend; couples are welcome.

 Meanwhile the men who have already been initiated stand around with penis-shaped scepters singing obscene songs about penises.

There's a parade of penises and other caracatures, and  many vendors plying the crowds with penis-shaped candy and toys.

Such an obviously homoerotic festival has ancient roots.  It was originally in honor of Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and carousing.

Several puritanical Greek governments have tried to banned the festival, but it keeps going on in secret.

It's mostly men, but women have been allowed since 1980.

While you're in Greece, be sure to fly down to Crete to check out the artifacts of the beefcake-heavy Minoan Civilization.

Jun 13, 2018

Summertime Beefcake at the County Fair

If you wanted to insult a Nazarene, you accused them of being "worldly," engaging in behavior that wasn't sinful, but veered a little too close to the behaviors of "the wicked old world."

For example, women were merely required to avoid wearing men's clothing or jewelry, to keep their hair long, and to dress "modestly."  After that, they were on their own.  So a skirt that came above your knees?  Not a sin, but sure to get you glares and whispers of "worldly!"

It was a sin to go to the theater, but what if the theater came to you?  If you went to an amateur drama production at the high school, you weren't technically backsliding, but your Sunday school teacher would certainly admonish you for being worldly!

The Nazarene Manual had a long list of "entertainments" that were forbidden by God: carnivals, circuses, festivals, theaters, moving picture shows, dance recitals, vaudeville shows.  But it didn't mention fairs.  An oversight, certainly, but one that made fairs worldly instead of sinful.

So I never went as a child, and of course when you live in a gay neighborhood, the thought of going to a county or state fair never crosses your mind.

I didn't start going to them until I met Troy, who was a fan.

Ok, they're very crowded, with redneck stuff like farm exhibits and tractor pulls.
Glittering, gaudy rides and games of skill hawked by scary people with cigarettes and big baskets.

Crazy food like deep fried Twinkies.

And the people who eat deep fried Twinkies every day.

Heterosexuals as far as the eye can see.

There's something fascinating about heterosexuals in the wild, certain that there are no gay people for a hundred miles around.

Married heterosexuals wander around with their kids in tow.  But unmarried heterosexuals come in single-sex packs, hanging all over each other, grabbing each other's butts, engaging in all sorts of homoerotic hijinks.

Not to mention the ample beefcake, muscular men with their shirts off and their jeans packed.

If their shirts aren't off, ask.  They may be persuaded to strip for a photo.

See also: Celtic Festivals; Physique-Watching at the County Fair

Jun 12, 2018

Joseph Szabo: There are Men Standing Behind the Women

There are a few gay artists out there, but the field is dominated by straight men, who will praise what they find sexually attractive and dismiss everything else.  So photographers who win awards, get grants, and get their work hung in museums tend to photograph women.

Take Joseph Szabo, for instance. As a teacher at Malverne High School on Long Island in 1972, he began photographing his female students.  It sounds inappropriate and creepy, but the photos "capturing the beauty and promise of youth" won him acclaim, and resulted in an extremely popular hippie-dippy book, Almost Grown (1978).

 It combines Szabo's photos with teenage girls' poetry compiled by Columbia University professor Alan Ziegler:

I am a woman.
It's autumn and cold outside.
Not inside.
My hands are ripe for you.
I cry.
I hate to go to sleep.
I love dessert and
    the sun going down on
the highway overpass.
Kiss me.

It is noted as "A celebration of teen-age experience: the years of restless desire and blossoming sexuality; the world of high school, parking lots, and street corners; and the uniquely American culture in which all of us have grown up."

Well, not gay men.  The book is intensely heteronormative and fraught with the straight male gaze: lots of long-haired girls gazing wistfully at the camera, or boys and girls together hugging.

But sometimes some male beauty shines through.

After he retired from Malverne High in 1999, Szabo published some more photo books:

Teenage, with new works from the 1970s and 1980s, mostly about long-haired girls and boys and girls kissing, with an occasional lifeguard.

Rolling Stones Fans.  Szabo explains that during the 1970s, two of his high school students (girls, no doubt) asked him to drive them from Long Island to Pennsylvania to a Rolling Stones concert.

 Today it would be highly inappropriate for a teacher to accept such an invitation, but in the touchy-feelly 1970s, it was no problem, so he went.  And he took photographs, mostly of long-haired girls hugging boys.  But some beefcake shines through.

Jones Beach, mostly about long-haired girls in bikinis, but occasionally there is a hot guy in the background, or this hot dad in the foreground.

Szabo's work can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and elsewhere.

But be warned: most of the men are hidden the background, behind endless vistas of the feminine.

Like in most art.

Jun 11, 2018

Ken Olandt

During the 1980s, it seemed that every adult actor and teen idol spent eight hours per day pumping iron, so physiques that were merely stunning risked being overlooked in the exalted company of Robby Benson, Allan Kayser, Jon-Erik Hexum, Adrian Zmed, and Sylvester Stallone.

Ken Olandt was almost overlooked.  Trained as an advertising agent, he and his physique started making the rounds of tv guest shots in 1983 -- Love Boat, The A-Team, Simon & Simon, Hotel.  He got a recurring role as a streetwise dock boy on the short-lived Riptide (1984-85).  But he was rarely asked to do as much as unbutton a button by casting agents accustomed to walking, talking versions of Michelangelo's David.

 And the teen magazines, when they paid attention to him at all, showed off his smile (which, to be fair, was very nice).

In 1986, Ken -- or his agent -- hit on a gimmick to get him noticed.  If his pecs and abs were merely spectacular, why not show off the regions where he really surpassed mortal expectatons?  Most other actors were too timid or inadequately superhuman to agree to underwear and jockstrap shots, but Ken was more than qualified, and not at all timid.

April Fool's Day (1986) was a psycho-slasher -- a genre not generally known for male nudity, with the possible exception of Hell Night -- but Ken spent a long scene in his underwear (and, incidentally, buddy-bonding), and gay men and straight women finally started paying attention.

Summer School (1987), a comedy about a substitute teacher (Mark Harmon) who bonds with his students on the way to the beach, featured Ken as a student moonlighting as a stripper.

And so it went for the next decade.  Whether he guest-starred on a remake of the 1960s tv show Gidget,  set mostly on the beach, or Murder, She Wrote, set elsewhere, more likely than not, Ken would be asked to strip down to his underwear or appear nude except for a g-string or swimsuit.

Not that anyone was complaining.
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