Apr 27, 2019

An Angst-Ridden, Gay Hanna-Barbara Cartoon

Picture from Deviantart.com
In 1958, former MGM animation directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera  (probably not a gay couple) teamed up to explore the uncharted world of television cartoons.

Their first creation was Huckleberry Hound, a laconic blue dog named after Huckleberry Finn, who got into countless jams trying to fit into the human world.

Many other characters followed, in a bewildering variety of tv shows airing in prime time and on Saturday morning, until by the 1960s Hanna-Barbara was synonymous with television animation. 

Although they experimented with many genres, including sitcom (The Flintstones), superhero (Space Ghost), and mystery, their most recognizable brand was anthropomorphic animals, alone (Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, Snagglepuss) or in domestic partnerships (Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Louie, Pixie and Dixie), in an exclusively human world, fighting against the constraints of their human caretakers.

Kids could relate.  We were constantly trying to be more, experience more, and constantly running against adult constrictions: "No, you're too young to do that."

Gay kids could especially relate.  The heterosexual longing that we see in the Warner Brothers cartoons was nearly entirely absent.  There are no wives (Doggie Daddy is a single parent), few girlfriends, few female characters of any sort.  Instead, two males live together, an early glimpse of the gay subtexts that would eventually allow us to realize that "it's not raining upstairs."

I actually couldn't recount the plot of any particular cartoon. I just remember the distinctive Hanna-Barbera running style:  legs spinning like airplane propellers, arms straight out in front of you, passing the same background scene over and over.

But it wasn't about the cartoons, it was about the characters.  They appeared in mountains of toys, games, clothing, furniture, foodstuffs, and who knows what else?  They became iconic images of childhood, familiar faces that guided us into the future, and now inform our memories of the past.

Yogi Bear seems to be balancing a box of his cereal on his bicep.  Not really suggesting that he is particularly strong.

Many pastiches, fan creations, and tv shows have revisted the characters.  But the DC Comics miniseries Exit, Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, is by far the most complex.

Snagglepuss was a pink mountain lion with a flair for the theatrical, modeled after Bert Lahr. with three catchphrases: "Heavens to Murgatroyd!", "Exit, stage left!", and the intensifier "even.":  "It's raining.  Pouring, even."

In The Snagglepuss Chronicles, he's a Southern gentleman, a playwright reminiscent of Tennessee Williams, a Broadway celebrity who hob-nobs with Lilian Hellman.  Don't believe the cover, which shows him rakishly peering over sunglasses while cuddling against a lady's shoulder, like a hetero-horny lady's man.  He's gay.

He has a wife, but only as a beard, since he must keep his gay identity hidden in the harshly repressive world of the 1950s.

Early episodes involve his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and friendship with an aspiring writer named Augie Doggie, while he supervises a play about his early life.  Then Huckleberry Hound drops in for a permanent visit.

Huck has just lost his wife, children, and career after a private detective revealed that he is gay.

Snagglepuss takes him to the Stonewall Inn, where Gay Liberation will be born in a few years.  "It's the only place like it in New York,  Maybe the world."

That's ridiculous.  There were many gay bars in New York, and in most big cities.

Quick Draw McGraw, the police officer assigned to keep Stonewall under surveillance, gets a kickback for reporting that there are no "deviants." He turns out to be gay himself, and begins dating Huck.  But when the bar is raided anyway, he betrays his boyfriend to save his career.  Huck soon commits suicide.

A few years later, Huck's son, Huckleberry Hound Junior, comes to town in search of the truth about his famous father.  Snagglepuss invites him, along with Quick Draw and other familiar Hanna-Barbara faces, to join the cast of a new animated tv series.

That's right.  They become the cast of The Huckleberry Hound Show.

The storytelling is competent, if a bit contrived, and I like the world where animals and humans co-exist.

But it's way too angst-ridden and depressing for my tastes.  I like my comics funny.

And what, precisely, is the point of usinng Hanna-Barbera characters to tell this story?  It would work just as well without them.

See also: Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo

Apr 26, 2019

"Bonding": Who Knew BDSM was So Boring?

The "Bonding" in Boomer's Beefcake and Bonding refers to "male bonding," intimate emotional connections between men that can be read as homoromantic.

But the new Netflix short-series Bonding (2019) is about BDSM.  Or something like it.

Pete, a ridiculously straightlaced, conservative Richie Cunningham type (Brendan Scannell), wants to become a stand-up comedian, but is too shy to get on stage.  Desperate for money, he takes a job assisting free spirit Tiff (Zoe Levin), who works as a dominatrix.

I can't imagine a worse job for someone who is: a. ridiculously straightlaced; b. ridiculously shy; and c. gay  (well,he says he's gay, and he dates men, but the way he and Tiff gaze longingly at each other, I'm not sure).

But at least the subs (straight word for bottoms) are all men, so he can see some penises, and work on his stand-up routine.

I've been in BDSM scenes.  They're nothing like this.  Flintstones fetishes.  Penguin wrestling.  Tickling house calls orchestrated by the wife. And aggressively pansexual: the subs, who signed on for a heterosexual scene, don't seem to mind at all when a guy helps out.  When Tiff doesn't show up for a scene at all, the sub insists that Pete take over.

The BDSM job makes for some "coming out" sequences, as Pete struggles to tell his roommate (who, in a subplot, is upset because his girlfriend won't try ass-play, so he asks Pete to do it), and Tiff decides to tell her whole psychology class through show-and-tell.

About that -- psychiatrists go to medical school.  This is like an undergrad psych class. There's a lecture on Freud. And it appears to be the only class any of the students are taking.

You would think that a show about a dominatrix's assistant would be more...um...interesting.  But it's mostly sight gags playing with Pete's discomfort with nearly everything ("You want me to rub what on what?") followed by long, boring conversations.

Both Pete and Tiff are ridulously broken, using BDSM as a barrier to keep from making real emotional connections.

Wait -- which one am I supposed to identify with?

And what am I supposed to make of the last scene, when they go on a housecall and meet a killer?  In a comedy.  Changes the whole vibe.

By the way, guess who they end up with:

The jaded, done-everything, whipping-your-genitals-before-breakfast Tiff hooks up with Doug (Micah Stock), the most redonkulously naive, conservative, corn-fed country boy who ever ended up in grad school in psychology in New York. Their first date is to a video game arcade.  What is he, twelve?

Micah Stock, by the way, is by far the most attractive cast member.  But I couldn't find any beefcake photos.  Figures.

The redonkulously naive, conservative, ultra-skittish, "but people might see us!" Pete hooks up with the jaded, done-everything-twice Josh (Theo Stockman).  Their first date is to a gay strip club, where they drink real alcoholic beverages while go-go boys gyrate over them.

Gay characters:  They're all pansexual.

Gay Sex: Just kissing.  We do see two heterosexual sex scenes (no nudity).  The BDSM scenes don't appear to involve genital contact.

Beefcake:  Not as much as you might think.  Apparently you keep your clothes on for BDSM.  We get to see some of Pete, if you're into skinny androgynous types.

I'll give it a C, if you're not into BDSM.  If you are, you'll find it so horribly inaccurate that it's unwatchable.

Apr 25, 2019

Frank Hamer and Maney Gault: The Brokeback Couple Who Brought Down Bonnie and Clyde?

I walked into the living room in time to see the last few minutes of The Highwaymen, about the Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, who tracked down legendary spree killers Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.   Basically all I saw was the bloody car being paraded through the streets of a small Louisiana town, one of the guys refusing an interview, and the two driving off together.  The closing credits stated that they were buried in the same grave.

Driving off into the sunset together!  Buried in the same grave!  Were they a romantic couple?  Time to do research:

Born in 1884 in Fairview, Texas (near Dallas), Frank started out as a cowboy, then joined the Texas Rangers in 1905.  He resigned several times, most notably in 1932, because Texas had just elected a female governor, and he couldn't stand the idea of being bossed around by a woman.  He also worked as a federal marshall, cattle theft specialist, prohibition enforcer (tracking down bootleggers during Prohibition), and strike-breaker.

In 1917, he married Gladys Sims, who was on trial for her husband's murder.  The husband's brother-in-law, Gus McMeans, ambushed them, and in the ensuing shootout McMeans was killed.  There was no investigation.

Frank also stalked and threatened José Tomás Canales, a state representative who was investigating corruption in the Texas Rangers.  He was not charged.

And that's just the summary on wikipedia.  Quite a piece of work.

Frank was married twice, and had two kids, Billy Beckham Hamer and Francis Augustes Hamer (that's how it's spelled).  He died in 1955.

Maney Gault (left, with Frank in 1932) doesn't have a wikipedia article, but I read an article in True West magazine.  He was born in 1886, and worked as a dairy farmer before the Depression; then he found a job in a sawmill.  Frank was his neighbor in Austin, Texas.

They sat up many nights playing cards and playing bluegrass music and um...such.

Frank got Maney a job with the Texas Rangers, and they started going on cases together.  They continued to work together until the Bonnie and Clyde case, whereupon Frank moved on to other jobs.  Maney stayed on as a Ranger  until his death in 1947, finally supervising a vast territory in west Texas.

He was married, too, to Rebecca Johnson Gault (1886-1955).  Two kids, Leona Gault Pannell and Johnson Gullette Gault. 

But marriage and children don't preclude same-sex loves.  Maybe Frank  and Maney had a Brokeback Mountain thing going on. Can you imagine them saying "I won't quit you"?

Ok, I looked up the movie's end credits again.  It says "same small tract," not "the same grave."

Find-a-Grave says that they are buried in the Austin Memorial Park Cemetery. They are the ones with crosses: Maney's grave is in the foreground, and Frank's a row back and to the left, about 10 feet away.

Were then 10 feet apart in life, too?

Or closer?


David Lascher

The 1990s was the decade of the teen hunk; they appeared on Saturday morning, on Saved by the Bell and its clones (California Dreams, Breaker High), on the teen-heavy nuclear family sitcoms on ABC's TGIF (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, Teen Angel), and on the material-starved kids' networks, Disney and Nickelodeon (Welcome Freshmen, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete and Pete).

With all the teen hunks wandering around, it was easy to get lost in the crowd, even if you have a killer smile and a fantastic physique. David Lascher almost did.

Born in 1972, David hit Hollywood in a series of Burger King commercials and two failed network series before landing the role of teen operator on Hey, Dude  (1989-91), about the employees of a faltering dude ranch.  He hatched crazy schemes, competed with laconic Native American Danny Lightfoot (Joe Torres), gasped and  moaned over girls, and was nominated for a Young Artist Award.  But no one really noticed, not even when he took his shirt off.  Not that his smooth, muscular chest wasn't appealing, but if you changed he channel, you got Mark-Paul Gosselaer and Michael Cade.

 Next he was hired to play Vinnie Bonitardi on the TGIF series Blossom, as Blossom's wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend.  He lasted through two seasons (1992-94), plus a special two-part call-back, but again, no one really noticed, not even in his swimsuit, shirtless, and underwear shots.  He was pleasantly muscular, but his co-star was the incredible Joey Lawrence.

In the fourth season of the TGIF "I've got a secret" comedy Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1999-2000), the teen witch went to college.  David played the manager of the coffee shop where she worked, and eventually competed with long-term boyfriend Harvey for her affection, which didn't make him popular with Sabrina-Harvey shippers.  He lasted for 3 seasons, then vanished, with viewership at an all time low.

But when he played a gay-vague or gay role, David had no trouble being noticed. His three-episode story arc as a gay high school jock on Beverly Hills 90210 was memorable, not at all shadowed by the regular cast of Beverly Hills musclemen like Jason Priestley and Ian Ziering (left).

In White Squall (1996), he has to contend with an incredible number of shirtless hunks, including Scott Wolf, Ryan Philippe, Jeremy Sisto, Ethan Embry, Balthazar Getty, and Jason Marsden -- and he doesn't even take his shirt off  -- yet his performance stands out as quiet, dignified, and touching.

Note to David Lascher: gay characters from now on.

Apr 23, 2019

Christmas with Travis Milne

Canadian actor Travis Milne has one of the most strikingly beautiful faces in recent screen history.  Plus his real name is George Travis Darold Milne XI.  That's right, there have been 10 Travis Milnes before him, generation after generation of strikingly beautiful faces.

Unfortunately, drop-dead gorgeous guys are  often relegated to romantic comedies.  Travis has starred in several of those dreary "finding love at Christmastime" movies:

Holiday in Handcuffs (2007): Melissa Joan Hart kidnaps Mario Lopez, and passes him off as her boyfriend at a Christmas gathering, where her brother reveals that he is gay.  That's more surprising than committing a felony?  Travis plays the gay brother's boyfriend.

A Gift-Wrapped Christmas (2015): Workaholic single dad (Travis) finds love with a harried personal shopper.  At Christmas, natch.

Runaway Christmas Bride (2017): Kate leaves her fiancee at the altar and falls in love with an Olympic skiier (Travis).    At Christmas.

Apparently you just need to add the word "Christmas" to a movie to qualify for it to air on the Hallmark Channel in December.  Let's try it out:

Christmas in Casablanca.
A Jurassic Park Christmas
Home Alone at Christmas

He has also been some generic "finding love" romcoms:

Nearlyweds (2013): Three female friends find out that their weddings, to Ryan Kennedy, Steve Bacic, and Travis Milne, were performed illegally.  Complications ensue.

Couldn't they just do them over?  What is this, 1964?

Summer Love (2016).  How's that for a generic title?  They're not even trying.  A widowed mom has to choose between two hot guys (Travis, Lucas Bryant).

Same Time Next Week (2017): A widow and a widower (Travis) find love.

Other than finding love, Travis appeared in some shorts, some sleaze (Confessions of a Go-Go Girl), and some Canadian cop shows, including story arcs on Rogue and Saving Hope and 78 episodes of Rookie Blue (back before he buffed up).

Plus he hosted My Green House, a Canadian environmentally friendly DIY series.

Quite a lot of work for someone of  his age, but nothing most gay men would go out of their way to see.

No mention of a wife or girlfriend, but I still get the distinct impression that he's heterosexual.

Apr 22, 2019

What's Gay About "The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle"?

Who wouldn't want to read a novel called The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle?  (Only 7 in the British edition; in America we rate a half more).

Especially when reviews call it Agatha Christie combined with (insert science fiction great here).

I've been binge-reading it on airplanes for the past few days.  I usually read faster, but in this case I often  have to read the same passage over several times, consult my list of characters, and cross-reference the various plot twists. But here's the basics:

In a bucolic Britain between the Wars, Lord and Lady Hardcastle hold a weekend party and their country estate, Blackheath.  Their young-teen daughter Evelyn is supposed to be watching her younger brother.  But she lets him go off by himself,  and groundskeeper Charlie Carver (who is the boy's biological father) and another person lure him to the lake and murder him. (That's not at all what happened).

Lord and Lady Hardcastle can't forgive Evelyn for "causing" her brother's murder, so they ship her off to Paris (That's not at all what happened, either).

19 years later, it's still a bucolic Britain between the Wars.  Blackheath has fallen into disrepair. The Hardcastles, nearly broke after years of being blackmailed for various misdeeds, invite everyone who was at the original party to return for a masquerade.  To find out who the second person was?  To celebrate Evelyn's forced engagement to an odious banker, which will solve their financial woes? To confront their blackmailers? (Actually Lord and Lady Hardcastle and Evelyn all have different motives).

The guests spend the day hunting, getting drunk, growling at each other, mistreating the servants, exchanging secret notes, going on clandestine meetings, tearing pages out of diaries, eavesdropping on secret plans, taking things from secret hiding places, being assaulted by mysterious assailants, and having dinner. It's like Agatha Christie on speed.   At 11:00 pm sharp, during the masquerade, Evelyn is murdered.  Or commits suicide.  Or both.  Aiden's job is to find out whodunnit.  

To make things more interesting, he must sleuth while reliving the day over and over, bouncing from body to body:
First he is the doctor who has a mysterious locked trunk and a Bible full of cryptic underlining.
Then he's the butler who has been mysteriously assaulted by the estate artist, and is under heavy sedation, but sees various people coming into his room and making cryptic remarks.
Then he's the odious banker who is engaged to Evelyn, and whose servant happens to be the illegitimate son of Lord Hardcastle, and has a hidden agenda of his own.
Next a shy socialite
And the police constable who is dating the shy socialite's sister.
Eight in all.

When Aiden is in a body, he is privy to few of his host's memories, so he has no special knowledge that will help him unravel clues.  But the host keeps trying to regain control.  The worst of all possible possessions.  

Did I mention that he's in all of these bodies at the same time?  So he can consult with his selves in other hosts, who are also working to solve the mystery.

If he is murdered or falls asleep, he returns to the butler.  If he goes through all eight hosts without finding out who is planning to murder Evelyn, everything resets, and he starts over.  Apparently he's done this thousands of times already.  

Other than the various hosts, Aiden's main ally is Anna, who is also reliving the day over and over (and who has a hidden agenda of her own).  

A mysterious man in a Plague Doctor costume occasionally pops in with a cryptic remark.

A mysterious man in a Footman uniform keeps hunting down the hosts and killing them

  (None of these people are what they seem).

This is all very complex, requiring a lot from the reader.  Eventually one wonders why.  The mystery is complicated enough as it is, with two illegitimate sons and a daughter, two dead boys, endless red herrings. and secrets that are never revealed.  Why have Aiden bouncing from body to body in what feels like a giant video game?

Gay characters:   The odious banker is gay.  We learn this through rumor and innuendo (but this is Britain between the Wars, so one can't expect Out and Proud).  Many of the male characters don't express any heterosexual interest.

Evelyn states that someone has abducted a "dear friend" name Felicity, and will harm her unless she commits suicide.  She's lying, but for a good portion of the book, we believe the Evelyn has a lesbian lover. And maybe she does, just not a kidnapped one.

Gay subtexts:  Aiden describes some of the male characters as "handsome." But his same-sex friendships almost always end in betrayal.

Heterosexism: Men are generally odious thugs, while women are generally good, kind, and nurturing.  Aiden bonds with Evelyn, and then with Anna.   A man and a woman walk off into the sunset together.

Beefcake: The odious banker is so bloated that he can barely move. Aiden mentions the physiques of some of his hosts, and the penis of one.

Bottom line: The book is not nearly gay enough.

By the way, the top photo is not what it seems.  It's another Stuart Turton.  Here's the one who wrote the book. He's heterosexual. 

Apr 21, 2019

"The Cool Kids": Old People Have Problems, Too

News flash: Patrick Duffy is 70 years old.

O tempora, o mores.

In many cultures older people are respected as fonts of wisdom. In our culture we think of them as screaming bigots or doddering fools, irrelevant to the world and unwelcome in it.  Dozens of tv programs, dating all the way back to December Bride in the 1950s, have had fun breaking our expectations by showing old people as active, competent, and...gasp.... sexual.

Remember the episode of Alice where Carrie (Martha Raye) and Alice (Linda Lavin) perform "If you think I'm sexy, and you want my body"?

Or the episode of Mama's Family where Thelma (Vicki Lawrence) starts dating her English professor?

Or the episode of The Golden Girls where  ...well, every episode of The Golden Girls.

The Cool Kids (2018-) are three male residents of a retirement community:
Hank (David Alan Grier of In Living Color)
Charlie (Martin Mull of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman)
Sid (Leslie Jordan) 

Not a nursing home, a retirement community where evereyone has their own apartment and there is no trace of declining physical health or mental acuity.

It's a high school without parents or curfews, and the Cool Kids rule.  Until new female resident Margaret (Vicki Lawrence of Mama's Family) starts to shake things up.

If these names bring back memories, just wait until you read the cast list: Jamie Farr, Max Gail, Julia Duffy, Ed Begley, Jr ,Stephen Tobolowski, Leslie Ann Warren, Jackee Harry, Charles Shaughnessy, Patrick Duffy, a full palette of 1970s and 1980s nostalgia casting.

But watching to see them again is a mixed blessing.  They look really old.  I don't know how or why, but apparently some years have passed since MASH, Barney Miller, Blossom, Newhart,  and Dallas

Is this show good for anything other than reminding viewers that they are home on Friday night, when they used to be out gyrating and hooking up?

Let's hear the viewer comments:

I just happened to see this for the first time while at the hospital with a relative. It was the episode about online dating. I was in tears laughing so hard!

My husband and I recently suffered the tragic loss of our oldest son.  I swore off TV and other things. The day I chose to turn it back on, I saw this, and. I thought WOW! "

Um...ok, first rule of the internet: never read the comments.

The first few episodes are about "you kids stay off my lawn!" crotchetyness.  Their old hangout is now a milennial joint called Club Twerk.  They visit anyway, face oldster-phobia, and agree that the millennial generation is the pits.

But then they go into Golden Girls territory: competitions for club president, competitions over new friends, visits from relatives, and dating.  Lots of dating.

The veteran actors have spot-on comedic timing.  It's nice to watch someone who doesn't struggle over lines, like some of the just-out-of-acting-school beefcake hunks who populate other sitcoms.

And it's nice to be able to understand what they are saying without asking a 20-year old to translate "Text me the deets of the next ish, lolz."

Gay characters:  Sid, of course.  It's nice to see a gay gay as one of the gang, in spite of his 1970s stereotypic fluttering (to be fair, Leslie Jordan flutters in real life, too).  He has a whole story arc in which he's not out to his son (really, how could the guy not know?).

And another where he admits that he's never had a gay romance before.  Margaret intervenes, and he starts dating John (Jere Burns of Dear John), who discovers that he hasn't actually divorced his wife (they are such good friends that a divorce might ruin things).

Beefcake: The Geritol set (our 1970s name for old people) isn't much for displaying biceps and bulges, and let's face it, these guys weren't really lookers back in their salad days.

Searching way down the cast list, I found this photo of Travis Schuldt, who plays Sid's clueless son.

Turn to the other channel (um...I mean, stream something else), and you can see all the milennial chests and butts you want.

Keep watching The Cool Kids to visit some old friends.

My grade: B+
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