Jan 26, 2019

Tracking Down My Jewish Cousins

When I was growing up in Rock Island, almost every kid in my class had grandparents or great-grandparents from the Old Country,  so"where you came from" was a constant classroom assignment.

"Bring some food from your country"

"Tell about how your country celebrates Christmas."

"Teach us a few words in your country's language."



In junior high the assignments became more complex: the political structure, history, and economy of your country.


By high school, we were writing histories of immigration from our country, writing reports on its literary classics, and charting its GDP.

Except for me.  My grandparents and great-grandparents, both biological and adopted, were born here, and no one remembered any farther back (even today, after 50 years and a lot of genealogical research, I can't trace the main branches of my family across any ocean.). 

 I was forced to "just pick a country" to do the assignments: Spain, Finland, the Philippines, Japan, and India spring to mind.

Being American-born-American, with no particular ethnic heritage, I've always been eager to embrace any hints of anything non-WASP-y in my family tree.  Like my Native American relatives, who turned out to be Aunt Nora's husband's family.



And...Jewish?



I have two odd memories that suggest a Jewish connection:

1. It's the summer of 1966 or 1967, when I'm five or six years old.  We're visiting our relatives in northern Indiana, and my parents decide to drive out and see "Otto."  I don't know if he's a friend or relative or what: these things are never explained to kids.


Otto is very old, way older than my grandparents, bald with wrinkles and glasses that make his eyes look big.  His living room is heavy with thick furniture, a dark-oak piano, black-and-white pictures of dour-looking relatives, and a very nervous, trembling poodle.



One of his photos shows some guys in old-timey swim uniforms.  Otto catches me looking at it.

"That's my son, back when he was not much bigger than you," he says.  "Do you like to swim?"

"No.  I like to watch tv."

"I don't have a television, but I can give you some paper to draw on."  He goes to his desk and pulls out a black-bound day calendar for the year 1963. Blank, never used. It starts in September, not January, and has dates for "Yom Kippur," "Rosh Hashanah," "Purim," "Pesach."  I don't know what any of those words mean at the time, but later I figure out that they're Jewish holidays.  So Otto is Jewish.

2. It's two or three years later, maybe 1969 or 1970, when I'm 9 or 10 years old. Grandma Davis has taken us to Fort Wayne, the big city about 30 miles from her farm.  In the midst of doing fun grandma-and-kids things, she drives us to a ritzy neighborhood far from downtown, and says "I have to stop at this house for a minute.  You can come in, but don't make fun because they're Jewish."

I'm offended.  Does she think I'm a hick?  We have lots of Jewish kids in Rock Island.



We climb up a thick, heavy porch with granite pillars, and knock on the door.  A middle-aged man with wavy hair and a little paunch answers.



The only other thing I remember are two teenagers, a girl and a boy, sitting at the kitchen table, watching tv -- the first portable black and white tv set I had ever seen!



The boy didn't have his shirt off, sorry.  But he was still cute, with dark crewcut hair and very pale skin.  And he was very, very grown up.




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

Jan 25, 2019

"Once Upon a Time" in Camelot

I'm ten episodes into Season Five of Once Upon a Time, about fairy tale and legend characters interacting in real life, and it's a heavy slog. 

I was looking forward to the heroes (Snow White, Prince Charming, their grown-up daughter Emma, Emma's boyfriend Captain Hook, the reformed Evil Queen, and her boyfriend Robin Hood, plus miscellaneous hangers on) going to Camelot.  But it starts off with the heroes returning from Camelot with their memories wiped, and Emma, formerly the Savior, as the Dark One (the ultimate evil).

Granted, her tied-back white hair, black suit, and monotone voice are rather cool, but what happened in Camelot?

We end up with three tiers of flashbacks:
1. Now in Storybrooke, with wiped memories, struggling to find out things that the audience already knows from:
2. Six weeks ago in Camelot,where the characters are addressing problems that began in:
3.  Long-ago Camelot.

Costume changes aren't enough to figure out who knows what at this point, who is an ally of whom, who's now a Dark One (they multiply like flies), and what they're questing after this time. They need Excalibur, and then the Holy Grail, and then some dreamcatchers, some squid ink, the tears of a lost love,a spark from the Flame of Prometheus and um..,fortunately, all of those things are a short walk away from 6-weeks ago or long ago Camelot.

At least there's some beefcake on display.

1. Liam Garrigan as rather young, stupid, morally corrupt King Arthur.  But to be fair, his kingdom is tiny.  When it's zapped to Storybrooke, the entire population hunkers down in a few tents on the outskirts of town

2. Elliot Knight as a very young, hot Merlin (Second photo)

3. Andrew Jenkins (right) as Percival, who helps a long-ago Arthur track down Excalibur, but it turns out to be broken.  No broken swords in the Arthurian Mythos, but there's one in Lord of the Rings.

4. Sinqua Walls (left) as Lancelot, who sparked with Guinevere, Arthur's main squeeze.

5. Giacomo Baessato as Grif, Arthur's page, who he talks into committing suicide as part of his plan to take over Storybrooke.












6. Guy Fauchon as Vortigen, the world's first Big Bad.  This isn't him, but it's what came up when I searched for "Guy Fauchon" "shirtless," so I'm going with it.

Plus there's a subplot about Merida from Brave trying to get a magical talisman to prove that her father was brave, which will allow her to take control of the Scottish kingdom.

I shouldn't complain.  The Scots Highlanders walk around barechested most of the time.

1. Paul Telfer as Lord Macintosh















2. Marco D'Angelo as the beefy Lord Maguffin.  Maguffin, like the Alfred Hitchcock plot device?

3. Josh Hallam as the white-fright-wigged Lord Dingwall.  Dingwall, like dingbat?










3-5. Colton Barnert, Jordan Olson, and Matthew Olson as Merida's three redhead brothers, who she spends several episodes trying to save from the evil highlanders who later become her loyal subjects.  Go figure.

And as a bonus, Mulan and Ruby (Red Riding Hood) show up and spark at each other, although Mulan is still cagey about the gender of her "lost love," and Ruby (a werewolf) is completely heterosexist: "I wouldn't know about romance.  I sort of ate my only boyfriend."

I understand that they hook up later on in the season>

On to the Underworld, with Zeus, Hercules, and miscellaneous musclemen!


Waltons: The Gay Connection


It's been off the air for over 30 years, but people still point to The Waltons (1972-81) as emblematic of "good tv" about "family values," by which they mean it had no bad words, parental disrespect, or gay people.  Remember when President Bush told People magazine that we need fewer families like The Simpsons and more like The Waltons?

So we should all live in rural North Carolina during the Depression, have no money but an enormous house and chicken for dinner every night, have enormous numbers of children, and all go to bed at the same time, shouting "Good night" to each other across the darkened rooms?

I hate to be the bearer of "bad news," but even The Waltons had a gay connection.  



1. The central character, aspiring writer John-Boy Walton, was played by Richard Thomas, who starred in Last Summer (1969), about a three-way romance in the gay mecca of Fire Island, and Fifth of July (1982), about a gay paraplegic Vietnam veteran.

2. Will Geer, Grandpa Walton, was gay.  His lover, Harry Hay, founded the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization in the U.S., in 1950. 



3. Ralph Waite, John Walton, is heterosexual, but during the 1980s he ran for Congress, primarily due to the incumbent's lack of support for AIDS research and gay issues. 

4. Eric Scott, left (Ben Walton), has starred in two gay-themed movies, Defying Gravity (1997) and Never Again (2001).





5. I've never seen an episode all the way through, but I understand that there was a parade of hunky guys, sometimes shirtless.

















6. And frequent buddy-bonding.

7. The John-Boy doll didn't look much like him (it was a blond GI Joe in overalls) but it had a massive chest.















8. John-Boy had an almost total lack of heterosexual interest (before his wedding in a 1995 movie).

See also: My Crush on Richard Thomas


Savage Sam: Disney Adventure Kid

The Disney Adventure Boy was usually a teenager (Tommy Kirk, left, James MacArthur, Roger MobleyKurt Russell,Jeff East)    who demonstrated his all-American masculinity by taking off his shirt (as Jimmy Lydon also did inTom Brown's School Days)  and by falling in love with a girl.  By the end of the 1950s, heterosexual desire as as emblematic of "young manhood" as a hard chest and bulging biceps. 

Only a few of the Adventure Boys were preteens, or cast as preteens (Bryan Russell, Kevin Corcoran Ike Eisenmann).  Then the requirements changed: they weren't expected to like girls at all -- the mythic "discovery" was still in the future.  But they still had to take their shirts off, displaying their physiques as blatantly as the teenage musclemen.  And the conflation of semi-nudity and lack of heterosexual interest allowed a space for the recognition of same-sex desire among the preteens in the audience.



Kevin Corcoran was born in 1949 into a family of actors (with six siblings in the business).  By the age of 7, he was starring on The Mickey Mouse Club as one of the singing, dancing, ear-wearing Mouseketeers

In The New Adventures of Spin and Marty (1957), Kevin played Moochie, the tagalong annoyance to the gay-coded couple (Tim Considine, David Stollery).  The name (and the personality) stuck, and soon he was playing tagalong annoyances named Moochie in several Disney productions, often as the little brother of Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur, or both.


But not merely annoyances. The boy exceeds the teenager in masculine bravado, his masculinity becoming even more enhanced by the absence of heterosexual desire. His semi-nudity itself becomes queer, signifying maleness without a feminine gaze. 


In the boy-and-dog Western, Savage Sam (1963), for instance, 14-year old Kevin plays Arliss Coates, his Old Yeller character, now living alone with his big brother Travis (Tommy Kirk). 





Mom and Dad are breezily dismissed, but adult guardian Uncle Beck (Brian Keith, who always wears pink) looks in on the boys from time to time, occasionally bringing along his gay-coded life partner, Lester White (Dewey Martin, who always wears lavender) and daring us to draw conclusions.

Travis does the wimmen’s work, cookin’ and cleanin’ and bein’ purty (the adult men constantly comment on how handsome he is), while Arliss, a scrappin’, ornery cuss, does the man’s chores.

Girl next door Lisbeth (Marta Kristen), responsible for demonstrating that Travis is heterosexual, overdoes it, eyeing him hungrily and bandying about barely-cloaked sexual innuendos. When they ride together, she places her hands not around his stomach, like most back-seat equestrians, but around his belt, a posture that might allow her intimate access to his privates. We can find few more risqué gestures in the Disney opus.

A band of Apaches, unregenerate savages of the old school, abduct Travis, Arliss, and Lisbeth, rip off the boys’ shirts to give the audience what they bought their tickets for, and force them on a cross-country journey back to their village. Butch Arliss squawks and fights, but shy, feminine Travis suggests that they bide their time until they can escape.


As a consequence, the Apaches pretty much leave Lisbeth and Travis alone, but they decide to make a brave out of Arliss. They grab and grope him exhaustively, including hands placed directly in his most intimate areas, suggesting a link between homoerotic desire and savagery, as juxtaposed with the “civilized” heterosexual romance of Travis and Lisbeth











Tommy Kirk was outed a few years later, and fired from Disney.  

Kevin played "the man of the house," his masculinity undiluted by a feminine desire for the feminine, in The Shaggy Dog (1959), Toby Tyler (1960), Swiss Family Robinson (1961), and The Mooncussers (1962).  In adolescence he retired from acting, but continues to work behind the camera, directing episodes of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Quantum Leap, Baywatch, and Murder She Wrote.  


Jan 24, 2019

Doug Davidson: Failed Teen Idol turned Soap Superstar

Speaking of forgotten teen idols, who is this "Doug Davidson" photographed next to Shawn Stevens as the latest Tiger Beat fave raves circa 1978?

According to IMDB, the 64-year old actor's most memorable character is Paul Williams on the soap The Young and the Restless from 1978 to 2018.

40 years playing the same character!  Five Daytime Emmies!












Paul Williams began as a teenage hoodlum who romanced series regular Nikki and gave her an STD, but soon he retooled his chaotic energy into more respectable pursuits.  He became a private investigator, and later police chief.  He's had a series of romances, one of which produced the bad boy for the new generation, Ricky (Pete Porte).
















Whoa.  Could we make this post about Peter Porte instead?












Born in 1954 in Glendale, California, Doug was a theater and marine biology at Occidental College when he appeared in Fraternity Row (1977), a drama about a fraternity hazing that results in a student's death.  It hasn't been released on DVD or streaming video, but apparently it starred Gregory Harrison, the future star of Trapper John, MD

Next Doug had an uncredited role in The Initiation of Sarah, about a sorority girl who uses her Carrie-like superpowers to wreak havoc on a rival sorority.

In the spring of 1978, he visited a friend at CBS Studios and was spotted by Young and the Restless producer John Conboy, who asked him to test for the new bad boy character.  His first episode was in May 1978, just after he graduated, and the rest is history.



His aborted teen idol career seems to have occurred around 1980 and 1981, just as his Young and the Restless character was getting started.  Usually teen magazines ignore soap operas, assuming that only middle-aged housewives are watching, but apparently Doug had something special that drew the photographers to him.

What was it?  Three guesses.







But Doug's teen idol fame only lasted for a few issues, as he failed to do any teen-oriented projects.  Soaps keep you busy with a five-day-a-week shooting schedule, so he hasn't had time for much more screen work at all: a male model on I'll Take Manhattan (1987), Paul Reiser's best friend on Mr. Write (1994), himself on a Diagnosis: Murder episode that takes place on a soap opera set.  He has also hosted The New Price is Right and its Las Vegas stage version, The Hollywood Christmas Parade, and the Tournament of Roses Parade. 

Since 2000, Y&R has had several gay and bisexual characters, but none with particularly major or positive storylines. 

I guess we'll have to make do with Doug Davidson's chest.

Jan 23, 2019

Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball has a sleazy, heterosexist reputation, all about girls in bikinis jiggling while men leer.  But actually it's a legitimate sport, more difficult than regular volleyball because the sand is so soft. 

It began in the 1920s on the beaches of California as a "family fun" sport.  Tournaments began in the 1940s, spreading out from California to Hawaii, Florida, Europe, and eventually around the world.

Beach Volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996.  In 1997, world tours began, with prizes up to $400,000.

It's a big deal.


 Beach volleyball is offered by many colleges and high schools in Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Kentucky (yes, there are beaches in Kentucky),  and other states.







The Georgia State Panthers


















But of course California is the mainstay.

San Marcos High School.   I don't know why red trunks are so appealing.  Maybe they stand out against the sand better.









Santa Monica High School.













Even Catholic schools get into the act.  Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.












Private clubs have their own teams.

The uniforms aren't quite as evocative as swimsuits, but you can't beat the beefcake.



Star Trek

Star Trek (1966-69) represents the beginning of a franchise that eventually encompassed 6 tv series, 12 movies, and an infinite number of tie-in novels, comic books, games, and toys. But at the time I didn't notice.   Either my parents watched something else, or it aired past my bedtime, so I only watched when I slept over with a friend who was a fan.

And I didn't have a lot of friends who were fans.  I didn't see most episodes until reruns started appearing in the 1980s.


I only remember one moment of joy: in the 1966 episode "Naked Time," the space explorers contract a virus that makes them act irrationally. Navigator Sulu (George Takai), imagining that he is D'Artagnon of the Three Musketeers, rushes down the corridor, sword in hand, his chest hard and bronze and gleaming.  

And later, cured, he returns to the room he shares with Ensign Chekhov (Walter Koenig).  Chekhov, already in bed, rises on one elbow.  "Are you ok?" he asks.  "I was worried."  "I'm ok now," Sulu says, sitting next to him.  They smile.

Like the smile shared by Rich and Sean in The Secret of Boyne Castle, it became an iconic memory of my childhood.  I wanted that smile more than anything.

Except the scene never happened.  Chekhov wasn't even in the episode, and he and Sulu were never shown sharing a room.  I invented the memory.








So, what are we left with:

1. A universe where heterosexual desire is a constant.  Remember when they meet early explorer Zephram Cochrane (Glen Corbett), trapped on a planet with an alien energy cloud.  It's female, and in love with him.  

2. An endless supply of alien babes for Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to smash his face against: "Kiss?  What is kiss?"






3. Some beefcake: Kirk got his shirt ripped off in many episodes, occasionally Kirk or another character (such as Frank Gorshin) bulged, and occasionally an alien dude, such as David Soul or Michael Forest,  wear a revealing outfit.  

4. No significant buddy-bonding.  Some people see a spark of homoerotic desire between Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), but I don't see it.

5.  No gay characters, ever.  Ok, we can forgive the 1960s series, but what about The Next Generation, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine?  Obviously this is a world where gay people are unknown and unwelcome. No wonder my friends and I spent our time watching something else, or listening to The Monkees.  

Top 10 Beefcake Horror Movies: The 1970s

Horror movies in the 1970s upped the blood, guts, and overall grossness content to compete with tv, but unfortunately backed away from the nonstop nudity of the swinging 1960s.  Still, there were plenty of muscular guys around, taking showers, climbing into bed, or being strapped to tables for weird experiments.  You just had to know where to look.  Here are the Top 10 Beefcake Horror Movies:

1. Daughters of Darkness (1971): John Karlen, the gay-vague Willie Loomis of Dark Shadows, plays a hip artist who stumbles upon a couple of female vampires.  You get a lot of butt shots, and a glimpse of Willie's willy in a shower-sex scene.

2. Malpertuis, aka The Legend of Doom House (1971): A Belgian movie about an androgynous sailor (Matthieu Carrier), who is abducted and brought to a creepy house populated by Greek gods, all of whom have sexual designs on him.


3. Frogs (1972). About homicidal frogs.  Sam Elliot (left) doesn't seem to own a shirt, and beefcake model Nicholas Cortland gets frogged to death in the shower.

4. Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973): Baron Von Frankenstein tries to build a sex-machine monster out of Srdjan Zelenovic (top photo), while his nude boyfriend, Andy Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro, tries to save him.  But be careful -- there are an awful lot of bare breasts on display.

5. Devil Times Five (1974). Five crazy kids, including future teen idol Leif Garrett, invade a winter resort and cause mayhem.  But guest Taylor Lacher still has time to strip down and make out with his wife.  There's also a seduction of a mentally-challenged handyman.


6. The Devil's Rain (1975).  If you didn't get enough of a shirtless William Shatner in his early teen idol days or on Star Trek, you can see him here as a guy battling small-town Satanists.  Look for the film debut of John Travolta as "Danny."

7. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975): Michael Sarrazin, who took off his clothes frequently in 1970s dramas, here hangs out in the swimming pool a lot while figuring out that he's the reincarnation of his girlfriend's murdered Dad.




8. Track of the Moon Beast (1976).  If ever a movie was tailor-made for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffs....College student Chase Cordell gets hit by a meteor fragment and goes on a rampage.  He also took off his shirt in the grindhouse Sins of Rachel (1972).












9. Eaten Alive (1977).  A hotelier in the South handles unhappy guests by feeding them to a giant crocodile.  Robert Englund, who would go on to play Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, displays rather a nice physique as a victim named Buck.

10. Coma (1978).  Half-naked musclemen (and women) are being kept in comas to harvest for organs. Among them is Tom Selleck, a few years before he became Magnum, P.I.










Jan 22, 2019

The Tripods on TV

John Christopher's Tripod series (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire) was one of my childhood favorites, so I eagerly watched the 1984-85 British TV series when it appeared on PBS, part of the British invasion that also included Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Tomorrow People, and The Prisoner).

The plot was about the same: in a dystopian future, people live under the thrall of the tripods.  On their 16th birthday, teenagers are capped with mind-control devices so they won't rebel.  Will  (John Shackley, left) decides to flee to the White Mountains (the present-day Alps), where he can be free.  He brings two companions, his cousin Henry (Jim Baker, center) and a French boy named Beanpole, or Jean-Paul (Ceri Seele, right).






When they reach the White Mountains, Will and the German boy Fritz (Robin Hayter) are sent out on a reconnaissance mission to a tripod city.

But the differences were depressing.

There is an extraordinary amount of beefcake, but the heterosexism is rapant.







In the book, a homoromantic bond is Will's motive for trying to escape: Jack, a few months older, has been capped and no longer cares for him.  In the tv series, the homoromance is absence.

In the book, Will briefly considers staying at the Chateau Ricordeau in France, where everyone is very nice to him -- he could have a "normal" life instead of always running.  He meets a girl named Eloise, but they are just friends.  In the novel, Will falls in love with Eloise and decides to marry her. There's an entire romantic plotline.

Beanpole is also given a heterosexual romance.

In the book, Will infiltrates one of the tripod cities, along with his German friend Fritz.  They have an intense, passionate, homoromantic friendship.  But in the tv series, they are coworkers and acquaintances, nothing more.





During the 1980s Reagan-Thatcher era of conservative retrenchment, homoromantic subtexts were rare, and the "fade out kiss" emphasized even more aggressively than in the 1970s.  So I should have expected it.  But I didn't.  After a few episodes, I stopped watching.

None of the principal actors has continued in show business.  Today John Shackley and his wife live in Chile, where he works in hotel management.


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