Jun 30, 2018

The First Teen Idols, 1956-1963

Before 1955, most teens appropriated their music from Mom and Dad, who listened mostly to silky-voiced crooners like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Then rock and roll exploded onto the musical scene almost over night, and suddenly dozens of young rock and rollers were aimed directly at teenagers, through jukeboxes at teen hangouts, hysterical praise in teen magazines, teen-oriented radio stations, and appearances on teen-oriented tv programs: Elvis Presley and Pat Boone by 1956, Paul Anka and Ricky Nelson (1957, Ricky only after he sang on his father's tv sitcom), Frankie Avalon  (left) and James Darin (1958).

In all, 19 major teen idols appeared between 1956 and 1963, with 243 charting songs, mostly with the same pitch.   There was little word play, little metaphor, not a hint of irony or ambiguity to detract from the clarity of the pitch: if you are a boy, get a girl. If you are a girl, get a boy. That is your reason for living, period.

There was no rampant heterosexual desire in the pitch. In "Travelin' Man" (1961), Ricky Nelson has girls in every port, and in "The Wanderer" (1962), Dion insists that he'll have sex with any girl who offers. But usually sex is not on the teen idol's mind; he is looking for The One, the "mate that fate created me for" (Bobby Rydell). Paul Anka (left) cries every night for the gods to grant him The One, so that his life can have meaning.

After finding the One, the teen idol finds all other girls forever repulsive, or is simply unable to notice them.  And even more, he cannot find any joy in any other relationship, interest, or activity.  He goes to movies, drives a hot rod, surfs only to be near her.  He gets a job only to earn money to buy her gifts.  If it were possible, he would spend every moment for rest of his life literally staring into her eyes.  Nothing else matters.

The reason for the pitch is obvious: to promote a heterosexist future of marriage and family to the biggest generation of juveniles in the history of the planet.

In spite of the "teen angel" cliches, none of the 243 songs mourn dead girlfriends, but The One breaks up with the teen idol (like Fabian, left) quite often, due to a family move, parental disapproval, or simple rejection.  This loss is much more painful in the pitch than it would be in real life, since even after The One is gone, the teen idol still finds other girls repulsive, or is unable to notice them.  Thus, he is constitutionally unable to find anyone else.  He will never have another girlfriend for the rest of his life ("I'll Never Dance Again," Bobby Rydell tells us.)

But the tragedy gets even worse.  Single people can find happiness and contentment with family and friends, a career, leisure pursuits, political activism -- but The One was the teen idol's sole joy in life, his sole reason for living, so he will never find any joy in anything else, ever.  His life is over.

In the pitch, the teen idols inhabit a world that consists entirely of girls.  Only 27 of the 243 songs mention boys at all, and in 22 of them, including "Staying In" (Bobby Vee), "Johnny Will" (Pat Boone), and "Pin a Medal on Joey" (James Darin), boys are reviled competitors, lying in wait to steal The One.

Of the remaining five songs, three merely allow the teen idol a buddy to commiserate with over the loss of The One: "Poor Boy" (Elvis), "Ten Lonely Guys" (Pat Boone), and "Drip Drop" (Dion).

The other two, a pitiably small number, allude to same-sex desire or practice.

In "Jailhouse Rock" (1957), Elvis evokes a dance at the county jail, an all-male preserve, and specifices that the prisoners vie for the attention of the most attractive dance partners"  "Number 47 said to Number 3,  'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see!'"

More homoromantic is Bobby Darin's "Nature Boy" (1961), about a "very strange enchanted boy" from far away, "a little shy and sad of eye," like the sad, shy gay boys who linger at the margins of heteronormative myth.

Nature Boy visits Bobby on "a magic day," and, during their time together, tells him "the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."  Perhaps the song managed to pass into the pitch because the "boy" could be read as a little boy, advising Bobby to find a girl.

But the original song, written by Nat King Cole in 1948, is about an adult, one of the long-haired sandal-clad Nature Boys, forerunners of the hippies, who wandered L.A. in the 1940s.  And Nature Boy never says "get a girl!"  He wants Bobby to love him.

Jun 28, 2018

Walk, Don't Run: Cary Grant's Last Gay Pickup

Walk, Don't Run (1966) is set during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where there is a severe shortage of hotel rooms.  Important businessman Sir William Rutland (bisexual actor Cary Grant) arrives with nothing available, so he answers a "roommate wanted" ad.  The only problem: the apartment is owned by a woman, Christine Easton (Samantha Eggar).

He assures her that he has no amorous intentions -- he has a wife back in England -- but then he spends the next day bragging about the "beautiful woman" he's living with, hoping that someone gets the wrong idea.

Having demonstrated that he is heterosexual, sort of, Rutland goes cruising.  He spies American architect and Olympic competitor Steve Davis (Jim Hutton), and rather obviously tries to pick him up.  After some seductive conversations, he drags Steve into a bathhouse, apparently hoping for a glimpse of his goods.  The American complains about women scrubbing his body -- women, gross!  -- before jumping nude into the bath.

Thus softened up, Steve agrees to share Rutland's room.  Christine is not happy with the idea of two men living in her apartment, but they assure her that they have no amorous intentions -- toward her, anyway.

Then, Rutland begins matchmaking, cleverly deflecting his attraction to Steve onto Christine.  At first Steve will have none of it -- he's not interested in women, thank you very much -- he prefers his hot boyfriend, Russian athlete Yuri Andreyovitch (Ted Hartley).

But a visa malfunction requires Christine to marry right away, so Steve acts the Good Samaritan.  And the marriage sticks.

His job done, Rutland heads home.  Just in case you thought he might really be gay, the cab driver suggests that he take a fertility god with him -- he and his wife have four children, but there's always room for more!

You'll find fewer obvious examples of overt same-sex desire deflected onto the feminine.  Aside from a few obligatory "My wife back home" statements, Cary Grant plays Rutland as gay.  And except for his deus-ex-machina falling in love, Jim Hutton does likewise.

This was Cary Grant's last movie role, though he continued to perform on stage (seen her in the 1930s with long-term partner Randolph Scott).  He remained active in the Hollywood community until his death in 1986.

Born in 1938, Jim Hutton had a "golly-gee" openness that was good for light romantic comedies, and he made a dozen of them in the 1960s: Where the Boys Are, Bachelor in Paradise, You're Only Young Once, Looking for Love, Sunday in New York, Who's Minding the Mint?  He died in 1979.

His son, Timothy Hutton (born 1960), was a Brat Pack hanger-on who played in a number of memorable buddy-bonding dramas, such as Taps (1981) and The Falcon and the Snowman (1986).

Jun 27, 2018

Johnny Weissmuller: A Second Rate Tarzan

I have a confession to make: I never liked Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.  I prefer Buster Crabbe, Herman Brix, or Mike Henry.

I know, I know, he invented the Tarzan mythos.  There were Tarzans on screen before, not to mention comic strips, a radio program, and the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but nothing matched the popularity of the MGM Tarzan series:

1. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
2. Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
3. Tarzan Escapes (1936)
4. Tarzan Finds a Son! (1938)
5. Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)
6. Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)

And the RCA series:
1. Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
2. Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)
3. Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
4. Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)
5. Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
6. Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

 The yell, the vine-swinging, the "me Tarzan" patois -- all invented by or for Weissmuller.

The problem is, they were entirely heterosexist, all about Tarzan and Jane's primal jungle romance.   They were Adam and Eve in a pristine heterosexual paradise, threatened only by the savages and unscrupulous Europeans who carried Jane off, kicking and screaming, in every single episode -- that girl was totally unable to take care of herself.  When Jane wasn't around, Tarzan found a nubile female substitute.

There were no gay subtexts, except maybe between Tarzan and his adopted son, Boy (Johnny Sheffield). Tarzan had no male friends, and whenever Boy tried to make a male friend, Tarzan roughly jerked him

 And, come on -- look at him!  In the 1960s, the go-to guy for Tarzan on film was the spectacularly muscular Mike Henry.
Or you could see Gordon Scott, whose impossibly super-sized chest cast its own shadow.

After that, it was quite a shock to turn on Tarzan Theater  and see this rather paunchy specimen, with ridiculous hair and yet another woman tied up by his side.

Wrecked is a Wreck

Lost (2004-2010), about plane crash survivors facing paranormal peril on a desert island, was great.  Well, it started out great, and went downhill with the secrets-with-a-secret, most of which would be easily answered in the course of ordinary conversation.

"I thought there were five other survivors in your group."
"There were."
"....well, so tell me what happened to them?"

Instead of saying "Locke has risen from the dead," they make some cryptic reference to shadows.

My favorite is are the twin demigods or whatever, Jacob and ___. Everyone takes great pains to not say ___'s name, even though it's obviously Esau.

And the writers wrote themselves into so many inescapable corners that they had to fall back on a cop-out "They were all in Purgatory" ending.  I think...

Sorry, lost my train of thought.

Anyway, it's been 8 years, so a Lost parody hardly seems relevant.  I went in to Wrecked with low expectations, thinking maybe I would get a little beefcake and maybe some bonding.  I didn't.  Not much, anyway.

A disparate group of people are stranded on a desert island in a plane crash.  Danny (Brian Sacca, left), the slacker son of a rich businessman, and shy flight attendant Owen (Zach Kregger, top photo), see their chance to shine, and take charge.

They also develop a lovey-dovey gay-subtext bromance, in spite of their pursuit of ladies.

There are many other gay subtexts on the island.

Florence and Emma have a gal-pal romance.

Everyone, male and female, is in love with the British special agent who is squashed by the airplane fuselage during the first episode.

Todd (Will Greenberg, left) is mourning the loss of his golf clubs, but fey New Zealander Steve (Rhys Darby) thinks he's lost a child.  He tries to be supportive, offering hands-on-shoulders and gifts, which Todd interprets as sexual come-ons.

Sports agent Pack (Asif Ali) doesn't display any heterosexual interest or pursue any heterosexual relationships.

Unfortunately, no actual, honest-to-goodness, canonical gay characters, just subtexts.

There is some beefcake, but not as much as on Lost, where every male castaway was a fitness model.

Is there any other reason to watch Wrecked?

There is no paranormal peril on the island; minor mysteries turn out to be just that: minor.  Most plots involve struggling to survive: food shortages, tainted water, medical emergencies.  A very gross episode about not being able to poop in the jungle.  Some people die.  That just isn't funny.

Other than a few brief call-outs, like the episode title "All is Not Lost," Wrecked  doesn't try to parody Lost.  And it's not funny enough to make it alone.

I suggest holding out for a program with real gay characters.  Or fitness models.

Jun 26, 2018

Charles Starrett: Pre-War Bulge

Charles Starrett (1903-1986) was an action-adventure hero before there was such a thing.  He grew up in Athol, Massachusetts, where his grandfather's L.S. Starrett Tool Company was the main employer, and graduated from Ivy League Dartmouth.  But he wanted to become an actor, so he started out in Vaudeville, then moved to Hollywood just at the start of the talkie era.

 In 1935 he became a contract player for Columbia, generally a singing cowboy like Roy Rogers, with a backup group, Sons of the Pioneers.

Starrett made nearly 100 cowboy pictures for Columbia, ten in 1938 alone, when they were churned out as frequently as tv series today.

He introduced the character of  The Durango Kid in 1940, and began playing him regularly in 1945, churned out over 60 features during the next seven years.

In 1952 he retired from acting, and spent the rest of his life traveling as a goodwill ambassador for his grandfather's tool company.  He lived in Laguna Beach during the summer, and Borrego Springs during the winter.  In his later years, he often appeared at fan conventions.

He was married to Mary McKinnon from 1927 until his death, and had two children.  Probably heterosexual, but several gay connections:

1. Reputedly the Durango Kid plays up the homoerotic bandinage as he frees small town after small town from black-clad baddies.

2. Check out this scene from The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).  Starrett's character is whipped by the villain.

Then tied to a table, naked except for a skimpy towel.

You won't see a bulge like that on film again for 30 years.

Jun 25, 2018

Andre the Giant: The Biggest Hands in Hollywood

When thinking of beefcake icons, Andre the Giant (1946-1993) does not immediately come to mind, but take another look at him.

Not bad.

Born Andre Roussimoff in 1946, a Frenchman of Bulgarian and Polish ancestry, Andre was afflicted with gigantism due to hypersecretion of the pituitary gland.  He was already 6'0 tall (1.8 meters) at age 12, and reached a full height of 7'4" (2.2 meters) and a weight of 520 lbs (235 kilograms)

Promoters liked to emphasize his massiveness by posing him with exceptionally small men.

Along with his gigantism came acromegaly, a pituitary disorder which results in the long jaw that some people might find unattractive, plus exceptionally large hands and feet.

Here he's having a beer with a friend.  Imagine those hands on your...well, anything.

When he broke into wrestling in 1966, Andre was billed as a novelty, an immovable wall that opponents couldn't tackle, but soon he displayed talent that far exceeded mere bulk.

 As one of the "good guys" in professional wrestling scenarios, he was undefeated for fifteen years, until "villain" Hulk Hogan finally defeated him at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987.

In the 1970s he began an acting career, with roles in BJ and the Bear, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Greatest American Hero.  He is best known for playing the cuddly sidekick Fezzik in The Princess Bride.

He was especially popular among adolescent boys, who found him an image of their own pubescent struggles with growth spurts and clumsy hands and feet.

Here they are lining up to touch him.

He was a major foodie and a prodigious drinker.  He could drink 16 bottles of wine or 156 beers in one sitting.

Gigantism takes its toll on the circulatory system, the bones, and the joints.  Andre had surgery on his back and knees, and had to wear a brace, but continued to wrestle on occasion -- his last match was in Japan in December 1992.  He died of a heart attack in a Parisian hotel room in January 1993.

With all the photos of Andre with his hands all over men, you're probably wondering if he was gay.

I haven't found any information about any romantic attachments, except for a cryptic story about an estranged daughter.  But since he grabbed at everything life had to offer, I imagine he invited fans of both sexes up to his room.

And no doubt many of them accepted.

People of Earth Update: Homophobia Rears its Head

I was home alone all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I binge watched the second season of People of Earth.

Not a good idea.

In case you haven't heard about it, People of Earth is a comedy about a journalist writing an article on an alien-abduction support group.  Gradually he realizes that he has also had an abduction experience.  And that aliens are real: a confederation of greys, Nordics, and reptilians are working to take over the Earth.

The second season gets considerably darker.  Spoiler alert: the focus character dies.

Who kills the focus character?  That's unconscionable!

The aliens' new mission supervisor, Eric, a micromanaging floating cube, orders the deaths of all of the support group members.

And the gay content goes south.

The gay farmer of Season 1 is gone, replaced by an  FBI agent investigating the murder.  She gradually realizes that she...well, you know.

There are three hetero-romances. Well, four, if you count the guy dating the robot.  But she's just pretending to like him to get information.

And remember Jeff (Ken Hall), the grey who is in love with the reptilian Kurt (Drew Nelson)?  Eric the Cube finds a video of him kissing Kurt while he was in a regeneration chamber, and uses it to blackmail Jeff.

A gay guy getting blackmailed?  That's horribly homophobic.

What, exactly, is the attitude toward same-sex relations in the alien society?  Jeff's coworkers seem to be fine with it, and encourage Jeff to tell Kurt how he feels. But Eric uses it for blackmail.

And when Jeff finally does tell Kurt, he is mystified, as if it is nonsense, as if same-sex romance can't even be conceived of.

He's killed before Jeff can explain what "gay" means.

(Ken Hall is in the center.)

The whole thing is played as a big, giant joke.  Oh, look, a gay alien!

Meanwhile hetero-romances are played to the hilt, with kissing and "come back to bed."

The season ends on a dozen cliffhangers.  And, since the series was renewed for a third season, then cancelled at the last minute, we will never know what happens.

So we're left with heterosexual couples kissing and a gay guy getting blackmailed.

See also: People of Earth.

Jun 24, 2018

The Brazilian Boy Stripped Naked by Aliens

Alien abduction stories today often involve have a sexual component: the harvesting of eggs or sperm from the abductee through a mechanical device, or forced sexual activity.  But the convention began long before the abduction era, during the first UFO "flap" (sudden surge of sightings), with the experience of Antonio Vilas Boas.

About 1:00 am on October 16, 1957, the 23-year old farmer was working near Sao Francisco de Sales in Minas Gerais province, Brazil (working at night because it was too hot during the daytime).  Suddenly his tractor stalled, and a huge glowing "star" appeared.  An egg-shaped spaceship landed, and some humanoids resembling classic greys came out.

He was terrified and tried to run away, but after a struggle, they subdued him (apparently the technology to paralyze humans, found in later accounts,  hadn't been invented yet).

 They dragged him onto their spaceship, stripped him naked, and rubbed him all over with a thick clear liquid.

Then they took him into another room and took two blood samples (from his chin).

Finally they put him in a third room by himself and pumped in some red gas.  A naked female humanoid appeared (the picture he drew makes her look like a blond Jessica Rabbit).

He immediately became aroused -- due to the aprodisiac qualities of the gas, he thought -- and they had sexual intercourse.  Afterwards the humanoids led the female away, gave him a tour of the ship, and let him go.

The technology to wipe memories hadn't been invented yet, either, so he remembered everything.  After complaining of nausea and other symptoms of radiation exposure, he reported his experience to to Dr. Olavio T. Fontes of the National School of Medicine, who also happened to be a UFO researcher.  His story appeared in newspapers and UFO journals throughout Latin America, and in 1965 appeared in the U.S., in the Flying Saucer Review.  

Vilas Boas later became a lawyer in the city of Formosa.  He married and had four children.

Researchers point out evidence that the story was a hoax -- it appeared during a UFO "flap" in Brazil, and similar stories were appearing in the media -- he never recanted it.

You're probably wondering, heterosexual intercourse, man with four kids. Where's the gay angle?

I first read the story  in some paranormal magazine at my aunt's house when when I was 13 or 14 years old.

1. I had studied Spanish (not Portuguese), but I had never met anyone from Latin American before.  It was fun imagining a muscular, hung Brazilian farmer.

2.  A man being stripped naked, while other men rub things on him and insert things into him, seemed strangely provocative.

3.  This was the first time I actually read about anyone being "aroused."  I knew what arousal was, and I could easily imagine it,without the presence of the female humanoid.

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