Nov 23, 2019

Razzle Dazzle:1970s Variety Shows

When I was a kid, I hated variety shows like Carol Burnett. even though the dancers wore tight pants.  So I tried my best to avoid the several thousand comedy-variety hours that populated the late 1970s.
But sometimes it was impossible.  They kept featuring movie superstars, or they were squeezed in between shows I wanted to watch, or my brother, a big fan of 1970s music, thought they were cool.

After a tv special in November 1976, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour appeared in January 1977.  It was a must-see because I wanted to know how the Brady kids had grown up. Barry Williams and Christopher Knight were dreamy, of course, but the big surprise was Mike Lookinland, still a kid when The Brady Bunch ended, but now, three years later, grown into a teenage hunk who was poured into his white leisure suit.  Bobby Brady is packing!

You could almost overlook the tacky costumes, weird numbers ("Do the Hustle") and crazy plot twists (Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett asleep in the Brady living room?).

And the 1970s guest stars they kept trotting out to boost ratings: Vincent Price, H.R. Pufnstuf, The Hudson Brothers, Paul Williams.

But really it was about the blossoming of Michael Lookinland.

By the way Michael was the only Brady to do a lot of non-Brady projects during the 1970s, including The Mighty Isis with Tommy Norden of Flipper, a Disney movie with Mitch Vogel, and this commercial, apparently about putting him into the tighest pants they could find. 

On Saturday mornings in 1974, after Shazam!, there was nothing on but The Pink Panther and the laughtrack-infused Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, starring three middle-aged men with blatant bulges and disco shirts opened to reveal slim hairy chests.

About those bulges....the one on the right might as well be naked.  You know exactly what he's packing.

The Hudson Brothers, Bill, Brett, and Mark, had some minor hits such as "So You Are a Star" and "The Truth About Us," but in the Leif Garrett era they weren't pretty or androgynous enough to draw a lot of teen idol attention, even though they made a whopping 16 episodes.

Brett, the youngest of the group (only 24 in 1977) has been the subject of some gay rumors.

The Keane Brothers had the opposite problem -- they were aged 11 and 12 when their show (called The Keane Brothers, naturally) appeared in the summer of 1977. The youngest kids ever to host a prime-time variety series, they were too young for most teenagers to consider adequately dreamy.

How did they get big names like Burt Reynolds, Betty White, and Andy Williams to guest star?

And whose idea was it to put them up against Donny & Marie on Friday nights?  No wonder they just lasted four episodes.

Teen magazines sort of skipped over them.  I don't know what this photo is about.  Maybe the photographer talked Tom into a shirtless shot, but he chickened out at the last minute.

And then there was Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Bay City Rollers Show, Sonny and Cher, The John Davidson Show, The Jacksons, Shields and Yarnell, Pink Lady and Jeff.

See also: The Brady Bunch Dad

Hogan's Heroes: The Wackiest POW Camp in Germany

Our older brothers and fathers were in Vietnam, where casualties were mounting every day, but at home we watched wacky soldiers: McHale's Navy, No Time for Sergeants, F-Troop, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, and, the wackiest of all, Hogan's Heroes (1965-71), which also drew from the spy and "I've got a secret" craze.

It was set in a World War II prisoner of war camp, Stalag 13, where the "prisoners," deliberately captured, were all spies:

Back row: LeBeau, covert operations; Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane), the leader; Kinch (Ivan Dixon), communications.

Front row: Newkirk (Richard Dawson), impersonations and con games; Carter (Larry Hovis), explosives and all things scientific.

The commandant, Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer, right), was an incompetent bureaucrat. The only guard was Sergeant Schultz (John Banner, left), a sweet-tempered toymaker in civilian life, who turned a blind eye to the unusual activities ("I see nothing!").  Both were victims of circumstance, not actively evil; the  villains were the Nazi higher-ups, who might discover the secret operation and shut it down.

What was the attraction for gay kids, other than the fact that the only other choices on Saturday night were The Lawrence Welk Show and the first half of a movie?

1. Lack of displayed heterosexual interest. Other entries in the spy genre, such as I Spy and Wild Wild West, involved its heroes in endless leering at bikini-clad women, but the POW camp was an all-male world, with no women visible except for Colonel Klink's secretary and an occasional female resistance agent. Hogan occasionally smooched with a woman, but no episodes involved hetero-romance.

2. Dreamy guys in the cast, especially Robert Clary.  No beefcake, unfortunately -- no one as much as unbuttoned a button, even while lying around in the barracks. In fact, it's almost impossible to find nude shots of any of the cast members, even in other projects.

3. Hogan and Klink certainly weren't buddies. Klink was constantly annoyed by Hogan's  irreverence. Hogan found Klink stuffy and old-fashioned (another 1960s clash between the establishment and the counterculture).  Yet as they strategized against each other, or more often worked together toward some common goal, they developed a love-hate bond that one could easily see spinning into a forbidden romance.  It was a pleasure to watch them interact every week.

Bob Crane (1928-1978) became so famous as Colonel Hogan that it's hard to remember his many other roles.  He starred in the Disney movie Superdad (1973) and his own short-lived Bob Crane Show, guest starred on everything from Ellery Queen to Love Boat, and worked extensively in theater.

He was married twice and had five children (shown: his son Scotty), but he also had relationships with many women, and occasionally men.  He was reputedly a BDSM bottom; however, no BDSM scenes appear in the hundreds of tapes he made of his sexual encounters.

When he was murdered in 1978, people speculated that it was a BDSM scene gone wrong.The main suspect, his friend John Carpenter, was acquitted on lack of evidence.

Greg Kinnear played Bob Crane in the 2002 movie Auto-Focus.

Nov 22, 2019

The Worst TV Shows of All TIme, #13-25

I'm going through the clickbait list of the worst tv programs of all time, trying to dispute the idea that they were somehow worse than everything else on tv.  The plotlines may not have been scintillating, but they sometimes offered other pleasures, like gay subtexts or beefcake.

13. Co-Ed Fever.  Well maybenot  all of them.  Co-Ed Fever was of the three Animal House clones that appeared in 1979 (t=the others were Delta House and Brothers and Sisters).  Only one episode aired in the U.S., six in Canada, and the set was co-opted for the first season of The Facts of Life.  The premise: a women's college goes co-ed, and some guys enroll, looking for babes.

14. Baywatch.  Huh?  10 seasons of lifeguards running across the beach in slow motion, chests glistening,  bulges bouncing around.  What else would you watch on Friday night in 1989 to get you horned up before heading out to the bars?  Not Full House and Family Matters, certainly.

15. The Powers of Matthew Star.  An androgynous teen idol and his traveling around in a van to fight evil.  Gay subtext!  So he changed from exiled alien prince to secret agent halfway through, who cares?  Nobody was watching for the plot.  Besides, one of the stars was family.

16. Galactica 1980.  Never hearrd of it, but then, I never watched the original Battlestar Galactica.  Wasn't a Mormon theology meets Star Wars, with Lorne Green at the helm?

17. Black Scorpion. Lady puts on a tight black scorpion suit to fight supervillains like Adam West. But the costar was Family Ties hunk Scott Valentine, seen here on the cover of a 1988 Playgirl (this is as much as he shows).

18. Ghost Whisperer.  Lady solves crimes by talking to ghosts (comes in handy in murder cases). She also runs an antique store and has sex with David Conrad.

19. Flying High.  Stewardesses with boobs get sexually harassed by their captain, back in the days when sexual harassment was considered by inevitable and funny.  But this wasn't a comedy.  Take a look at the plotlines: The plane is out of control when the flight crew becomes ill; an escaped prisoner takes one of the attendants hostage; the attendants stop a drug smuggling ring; the Captain becomes blind.

20. Hogan's Heroes.  World War II was horrible, but there are parts that veterans looked back on fondly, like buddy bonding and The Andrews Sisters.   This was a POW camp with prisoners secretly working for the underground, and a commandant who disliked Nazis as much as the Allies.  It was clever, funny, and homoerotic.  I still have a crush on LeBeau (who, by the way, was played by a Holocaust survivor who found nothing wrong with the show).

21. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.  That group of people should not have been in a variety show.  But as long as they were, watch the Brady Boys.  They have grown up, and they are packing.  SeeL Razzle Dazzle: Variety Shows of the 1970s

22. Hee Haw Honeys.  A spin-off of the hayseed Hee-Haw, which, as you recall, featured fat men and thin women telling hayseed jokes and singing.

23. Manimal.  Shapeshifting professor solves crimes.  How is this more unrealistic than Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  It starred Simon MacCorkindale, an action/adventure/sword and sorcery star of the era.

24. Life with Lucy.  Ok, at 78 years old, Lucille Ball should not have been doing the broad physical comedy that was her signature. She had already starred in three successful tv series and was widely praised as the greatest comedian of all time.  Wouldn't that be enough for anyone?  Apparently not.  Lucy returned as the mugging, pratfalling grand-dame of a stick-in-the-mud family, with a daughter married to former Mr. Mooney Gale Gordon's son.    Everyone was worried that she was going to break a hip.

25. Murphy's Law.  The "law" states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  It has been the title   of three tv series, but the writers probably meant the 1988-89 series, with George Segal as an insurance investigator.  He has a Japanese-Italian girlfriend named Kimiko Fanucchi, an ex-wife, and a daughter.  But the cute Charles Rocket is hanging around somewhere.

See also: The Worst TV Shows of All Time, #1-12.

Nov 20, 2019

"The Crown", Season 3: More Hunks, Fewer Gay People

I loved the first two seasons of The Crown: the inner workings of Buckingham Palace in the 1940s and 1950s, as young Queen Elizabeth gets her first taste of power.  No references to gay people, no beefcake to speak of, not even many cute guys.  But you hardly noticed amid the beautifully realized sets and costumes.

I couldn't wait for Season 3, which extends the story into the 1960s and 1970s: the Queen (now played by Olivia Colman) struggling to maintain the facade of respectability as the winds of change sweep around her. The Beatles, Carnaby Street, youth protests, psychedelic drugs, the Wolfenden Report, the rise of the Gay Rights Movement in Britain. 

Except none of those things appear.  The winds of change involve threats to royal prestige: a new prime minister from the anti-royalist Labor Party; nationalistic fervor in Wales; and endless (but rather dull) financial problems.

But wait -- there were lots of prominent gay people in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.  Prince Charles himself was the subject of constant gay rumors.  Surely there's some reference?


But at least there's more beefcake.

Episode 1: The Queen's art advisor, Sir Anthony Blunt (Samuel West), turns out to be a Russian spy.  He's also gay, but the fact is not mentioned.

Episode 2:  Britain needs a bail-out from the U.S., but President Johnson is playing hard-to-get.  As a last resort, the Queen sends the wilding Princess Margaret to dinner at the White House, where he enjoys her drunken antics and hands over the money.  Best line: Lyndon Johnson: "You can't screw a man in the ass and expect him to send you flowers." I guess not.  The top usually sends the flowers.

Episode 3: The Queen responds to the October 1966 disaster in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan: a mudslide engulfed a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  Way too sad for me; I didn't watch.  But Jack Parry-Jones plays one of the teachers.

Episode 4: Prince Philip's mother, Princess Alice, who has been living in a convent in Greece, moves into Buckingham Palace.  Oh, no, the mother-in-law.

Episode 5: England is in a financial crisis.  The Queen bonds with her new race horse manager (John Hollingworth, left).

I'd date him.

Episode 6: With Wales clamoring for independence, Prince Charles (Josh O'Connell, left) is ordered to spend a semester studying Welsh at a university in Aberystwyth,  so he won't be entirely clueless in his role as Prince of Wales. 

Charles is a shy, sensitive young man whose best friend is his sister and who would really prefer to be an actor.  All sorts of gay stereotypes --  but nothing comes of it except a little buddy-bond with his Welsh Nationalist tutor.

Episode 7:  The 1969 moon landing results in Prince Philip getting a midlife crisis.  Look for Andrew Lee Potts as Michael Collins.

Episode 8: Camilla Shand's boyfriend, Andrew Parker Bowles (Andrew Buchan), dumps her for Princess Anne, so she revenge-dates Anne's brother, Prince Charles.  Isn't there any room for Charles-Andrew in this love rectangle?

Episode 9: A coal miners' strike.  Meanwhile the family breaks up Charles and Camilla.  So much for the gay rumors.

Episode 10:  Princess Margaret starts an affair with Roddy (Harry Treadaway, top photo), which leaks to the tabloids, and results in divorce.

The show is nice to look at, but becoming somewhat tedious for those of us not enthralled by British economic history. And would it hurt to include just one reference to gay people: "The tabloids are saying that Charles is what????"

Nov 19, 2019

Fall 1982: Prince Charles is Gay, And Other Things I Learned in College

In the fall of 1982,  I moved to Indiana University to work on my M.A. in English.  One night -- Saturday, September 25th, to be exact -- I bolstered my courage enough to walk the mile or so into downtown Bloomington and go into adult bookstore.  The clerk, an obese man in a dirty t-shirt, was watching Love Boat on a small black-and-white tv set.  I asked "Do you have anything gay?" and without looking up he jerked his thumb toward a rack near the bathroom.  It contained straight softcore porn like Playboy and Penthouse, but also the gay news magazines The Advocate, Christopher Street, and In Touch -- plus, on a bottom shelf, the directory, The Gayellow Pages.

I bought them all, along with a Playboy for cover, and rushed back to my dorm room, and read them all that night.  One of the articles listed 10 reasons why Prince Charles know. (They didn't say "gay" for fear of a lawsuit): he was musical and artistic, enjoyed the theater, and often wore the color pink.   He was a hunk, with a tight, muscular physique.  And more importantly, he was never seen with women, but often seen with attractive men, some of whom worked as his "butlers" or "valets," where they had intimate access to his bedchamber.

But: Prince Charles' fairytale wedding to Lady Diana Spencer last year, in July 1981, was a major event, televised worldwide.  Their romance was the subject of two tv movies, both coincidentally airing a few days ago: Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story on September 17th, and The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana on September 20th.   He had a son, Prince William, born July 1982.  (Prince Harry, bottom photo) would be born in 1984). How could he be gay?

 But he was well over 30 when he married, the article stated, and he picked Diana seemingly at random.  His mother, Queen Elizabeth, no doubt pressured him into it.  It was a screen.

At the time, I thought that gay people were physically, emotionally, and spiritually unable to engage in heterosexual relations, even as a screen, so I was astonished.

Thirty years later, Prince Charles is still the subject of gay rumors.  They may or may not be true.  But he was essential to my first realization that the gay world was more vast and complex than anything I had ever imagined.

See also: My First Visit to an Adult Bookstore

The Soloflex Guy

In 1984, ads for Soloflex home gym equipment with this model began to appear in magazines, and an infomercial began to play nonstop on tv, and gay male teenagers all over the world froze in their tracks.  Who was this Michelangelo's David come to life?  Or was he a Greek god descended from Olympus?

Turns out that he was a mortal, a former high school gymnast named Scott Madsen, who was waiting tables in a seafood restaurant while attending the University of Wisconsin when he answered a modeling ad.

Fame was instantaneous.  His poster sold 700,000 copies.  He released an exercise video, featuring Soloflex equipment, of course.  He was interviewed by fitness magazines. He published an exercise book, Peak Condition. 

Everyone thought that he was gay.  He was so obviously inviting the male gaze, so obviously displaying himself in ways that emphasized not only sinewy hardness, but flexibility and vulnerability. Gay.

Then, in 1986, Scott vanished, no doubt because Soloflex figured out that he was a gay icon, and didn't want gay business. They replaced him with Mitch Gaylord (left) and Frank Zane, and added a woman's hand to their shoulders to make sure everyone understood the target audience.

Scott Madsen wasn't gay after all.  He was straight, and homophobic!  In an interview, the man who became famous by being gazed at by gay men complained that he didn't want to be "chased around the room by faggots."

Scott resurfaced briefly in 2010, when a federal court sentenced him to two years in prison for embezzling $248,000 from Adair Financial Services, where he worked for his uncle.

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