Aug 3, 2019

Michael Landon, Gay Ally

Michael Landon arrived in Los Angeles at age 19 and immediately started landing roles as tortured outcasts and juvenile delinquents, such as the gay-vague protagonist in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). He also cut some teen idol records and posed for innumerable beefcake shots before landing the role of Little Joe, youngest of the three sons of widowed rancher Ben Cartwright (Lorne Green) on Bonanza in 1959.

For the next 14 years, Little Joe played the part of "teen hunk," strutting about shirtless and bulging, giving thousands of boomer kids their first crushes.  Unfortunately, he had little significant buddy-bonding, as he was constantly consorting with women, culminating in a marriage -- and the tragic demise of his bride -- 1972.

When Bonanza finally ended in 1973, Landon had acquired a reputation as a stable, solid, and "wholesome," a conservative remedy to the endless sexual innuendo found elsewhere on prime time.

But his next series, Little House on the Prairie (1974-83), was not exactly conservative.  It offered cynicism, backstabbing, contemporary social issues -- and an endless supply of beefcake.  According to Alison Arngrim, who played the bitchy Nellie Oleson, Michael Landon was quite aware of the program's gay male fans, and catered to them by mandating that the cute guys on the show often appear shirtless -- and engage in some buddy-bonding plotlines.

Never far from a tv screen, Landon continued after Little House with Highway to Heaven (1983-89), about a wayfaring angel who displays little heterosexual interest and travels with a male companion (Victor French).

He was in declining health, but he lived until 1991, long enough to express his support of his gay son, 16-year old Christopher.

Aug 1, 2019

Fred with Tires: The Iconic West Hollywood Photograph

This is one of the iconic photos of West Hollywood.  Nearly everyone I knew had a print in their living room or bedroom.  It was a fixture in our homes, like the family photos that heterosexuals keep on their mantles:

A buffed young man carrying tires through an auto shop, his male-model face and expensive hairstyle contrasting with his working-class surroundings, a sweaty, macho, implicitly heterosexual grease monkey emerging from his closet, transformed into an object of homoerotic desire.

He represented all of small-town joys that we left behind in the Straight World, and the much greater joys we found with our friends and lovers in our new home.

I didn't know where it came from until yesterday: it's "Fred with Tires" by fashion photographer Herb Ritts (1952-2002).

He grew up in a wealthy household in Los Angeles (his next door neighbor was Steve McQueen), and attended Bard College.  His photography career began in 1978, when he and buddy Richard Gere had car trouble on a road trip, and he began photographing the future star in front of their jalopy -- not shirtless but sultry, bulging, a canny evocation of working class machismo combined with pretty boy sensitivity.

The next year, a photo of John Voight made it to Newsweek.

Pleased with the critical reaction, Ritts began photographing other celebrities, such as Brooke Shields and Olivia Newton-John.  He specialized in female supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.  He published a number of books on fashion photography, and became a renowned expert in the field.

He was also a well-known commercial photographer, with work for Levis, Revlon, Brut, Chanel, Maybelline.

Although he was gay, out since college, in a committed relationship with partner Erik Hyman, his artistic emphasis was always on the feminine.  There are only a few male celebrities in his archive, and those few are rarely shirtless, displaying a sensuality but not overt eroticism.  This color photo of Justin Timberlake is an exception.

So how did we get "Fred, with Tires"?  In 1984, Herb hired a UCLA undergrad named Fred for a raincoat ad in the Italian magazine Per Lui.

 He hated the raincoats, so he had Fred pose in jeans instead.  The editor hated the photos -- too sultry, too erotic, too gay -- but ran them anyway.  And the last, taken when Fred was tired, sweaty, and little annoyed, anxious to finish up and go home -- perfectly captured the West Hollywood moment.

The original hangs in the Getty Museum, and prints became fixtures in our apartments, emblematic of home.

Jul 31, 2019

Kurt Russell's Secret

We usually went to church on Sunday nights, but for some reason I was home one night in November 1968 to see the last half of the best movie ever made, The Secret of Boyne Castle, on the anthology series Wonderful World of Color.
This was former child star Kurt Russell's only movie as a Disney Adventure Boy (others included Peter McEneryTommy KirkTim Considine, and Jeff East) before he moved on to playing oddball outsider Dexter Riley in a series of Disney comedies.

Here Kurt plays Rich, an American exchange student in Dublin who learns that his older brother Tom (bisexual muscleman Glenn Corbett, previously a model for Physique Pictorial and star of Route 66) is not a steel company executive after all, but a spy charged with delivering essential information to Boyne Castle, in the west of Ireland. When Tom is captured by Russian agents, Rich must take over the mission, racing through the quaint villages and lush green hills of Ireland, hoping to elude capture and reach Boyne Castle before the Russians. Fellow student Sean (long-faced, steely-eyed Patrick Dawson) tags along, throwing himself into deadly danger for no logical reason except that he rather likes Rich.

The two are presented as more intimate than mere buddies, framed in tight shots, their faces together in close ups. While they are sleeping on the heather, Rich hears a suspicious noise, and wakes Sean by moving his own body slightly. Although all we see are their faces and necks, to wake someone with such a small gesture means that they must be cuddling together. They rescue each other a dozen times, and are eventually rescued by big brother Tom.

But the most important scene, the scene I have remembered fondly for 40 years:

At an inn, Rich flirts with a waitress.

“You didn’t tell me you had an eye for the ladies!” Sean exclaims, as if he hadn’t anticipated any competition.

Rich responds by asking the waitress if she has any rooms to rent for “for a few hours.” Suspicious, she wants to know why the two boys would need a room for such a short period.

Rich and Sean exchange a knowing grin.

In 1968 I was entranced by that grin. I knew that it was a clue to the secret. If only I could decipher it, I could find my way to that other world, Oz or Living Island or Middle Earth, the world where boys could fall in love and got married.

How might we account for the not-so-subtle homoerotic bantr between the Rich and Sean? Certainly Glenn Corbett might be a gay ally: he began as a model for the Athletic Model Guild, the Advocate Men of its day, and made a career as a buddy-bonding “man’s man. Kurt Russell was never particularly gay-friendly.

Patrick Dawson works mostly in Irish radio, but his limited filmography includes the gay-vague Ginger in The Jigsaw Man (1983). We should look at the director, Robert Butler, who in the 1960’s specialized in dramas with strong male leads, such as Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, and I Spy, and later directed such hunk-fests as Remington Steele, Moonlighting, and Lois and Clark. Whether he was working with Bruce Willis, Dean Cane, Pierce Brosnan, or Kurt Russell, Butler neither minimized nor hid their physicality, allowing and even directing them to be open as objects of desire, both to male viewers and to each other.

There are nude photos of Kurt Russell on Tales of West Hollywood

See also: Kurt Russell

Jul 30, 2019

Swinging Bachelor Detectives of the 1960s

The early 1960s was overloaded with tv shows about "swinging bachelors" who dug the ladies but found their deepest emotional bonds with each other: Route 66, Follow the Sun, Bourbon Street Beat, It's a Man's World, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6.  (Sea Hunt was an exception, about a solo scuba diver.)

They usually had a female friend who worked the switchboard or sang at the local bar and provided opportunities for leering, but few if any plots involved them finding heterosexual romance.

The bachelors were often discovered by gay talent agent Henry Willson, so they were often gay, bisexual, or gay friendly.

77 Sunset Strip (1958-64) paired Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (straight) and Roger Smith (straight) as detectives who lived in Los Angeles. Edd Byrnes (rumored to be gay) played Kookie, a hipster who worked at the nightclub next door, and eventually became a business partner. Jacqueline Beer played Suzanne, their telephone operator.

Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) paired Richard Long (rumored to be gay) and Van Williams, left (rumored to be gay), detectives who lived in New Orleans.  Cal Duggan (straight) was their business partner.  Arlene Howell played Melody, their secretary.

Hawaiian Eye (1959-63) paired Anthony Eisley (rumored to be gay) and Robert Conrad (straight) as detectives who lived in Hawaii.  Connie Stevens played Cricket, who sang at the Shell Bar.

Surfside 6 (1960-62) paired Van Williams (just before he played The Green Hornet),  with Lee Patterson (gay) as detectives who lived on a houseboat docked at Miami Beach.  Troy Donahue, left (rumored to be gay) played their friend, a wealthy playboy who lived on the yacht next door.  Margarita Sierra played a woman with the odd name "Cha Cha," who sang at a bar with the odd name "Boom Boom Room."

Follow the Sun (1961-62) paired Brett Halsey (rumored to be gay) with Barry Coe, left (straight) as writers who solve crimes in Hawaii. Gary Lockwood (bisexual), who appeared shirtless in The Magic Sword, played their assistant.  Gigi Perreau played their secretary.

What are we to make of this abundance of beefcake and buddy-bonding?

An idolization of the unmarried and unattached heterosexual swinger, after years of 1950s Family Men.
A fear of the feminine: women were portrayed as a pleasant distraction from the important things in life. But inadvertently it gave Boomer kids a glimpse of homodomesticity, men who lived together, loved each other, and didn't need a woman to fulfill them.

Jul 28, 2019

10 Forgotten Musclemen of Movie Serials

Between 1936 and 1955, you didn't just go to a movie; you went to a whole evening's entertainment, with cartoons, newsreels, two features, and a serial -- a cliffhanging, 12-15 chapter adventure, Western, or science fiction series designed to fill the seats week after week as audiences wondered "How will the hero get out of this jam?"

Three main studios, Columbia, Republic, and Universal, churned out dozens of serials every year, so they needed lots of action heroes.  Some became famous later, in feature films and on tv, and others faded away quickly, but they all offered buddy-bonding and occasional glimpses of biceps and bulges.  Here are the top 10 musclemen of the movie serials:

1. Buster Crabbe may have died in 1983, but his fame -- and exceptional physique -- live on. He was a beefcake staple for 30 years, playing Tarzan and Tarzan clones (1933), cowboys Red Barry and Billy the Kid, and futuristic space heroes Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.  Lots of scripts called for him to get his shirt ripped off.

2. Herman Brix competed in the Olympics as Bruce Bennett, then gave Buster Crabbe some competition with the serials The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935) and Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).  He also stripped down to play Kioga in Hawk of the Wilderness (1938).

3. Former college athlete Charles Starrett was best known for the Durango Kid series, but he also got torn out of his clothes in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), to be tortured and turned into a zombie (left).

4. Gordon Jones (left) died in 1963, so he isn't well known to the Boomer generation, but in his day he was a well known face and physique.  Catch his exposed biceps in an early version of The Green Hornet in the 1941 serial.

5. Kane Richmond played the adult mentor/boyfriend to teenage Frankie Darro in a series of 1930s "Thrill-o-Ramas," plus some Charlie Chan mysteries, Westerns, and beefcake-heavy boxing movies.   His main serial was the superheroic Spy Smasher (1942).  He retired to open a hair salon.

6. The rugged Tom Tyler had a long career in Westerns, but flexed his muscles as two comic superheroes brought to life in movie serials: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) and The Phanton (1943)

7. Gerald Mohr played a pulp detective named The Lone Wolf (1946, 1947) and narrated the first season of The Lone Ranger series on tv (1949-50). 

8. Speaking of The Lone Ranger, before Clayton Moore became identified with the Masked Man (1949-1957), he had a long career in movies and serials, mostly Westerns, naturally.

9. Kirk Alyn never disrobed on camera, but his muscular frame was displayed in a Superman costume in the only serials about the original superhero, Superman (1948) and Atom Man v. Superman (1950).

10. Jock Mahoney played a rather long-in-the-tooth Tarzan in Tarzan Goes to India (1962), but he also starred in some serials, such as Cody of the Pony Express (1950) and Roar of the Iron Horse (1951).  

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