Jan 10, 2020

Bobby Darin: Dream Lover of the 1950s

Bobby Darin (1936-1973) grew up in East Harlem, New York.  His first foray into the music business was as a songwriter, paired with future radio great Don Kirshner.  But he hit the big time in 1958 with "Splish Splash" (I Was Taking a Bath), a humorous take on the teen dance crazes of the era.

Splish, splash, I was taking a bath
On about a Saturday night

Bing, bang
I saw the whole gang
Dancin' on my living room rug.
Flip flop
They was doin' the bop
All the teens had the dancin' bug.

He illustrated the song with a nude, censored photo of himself in the shower, a rarity in 1958.

More songs, humorous, romantic, and just weird, appeared, six albums in 1960 alone.  Perhaps the weirdest is "Mack the Knife," about a murderer:

Now on the sidewalk, sunny morning,
Lies a body just oozin' life,
And someone's sneakin' 'round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

Well, at least it's not heterosexist.

In the 1960s Bobby moved into moved into jazz, country-western, and folk, became a dramatic actor, and ran a successful music publishing company.

In 1960 he married Sandra Dee, the star of Gidget (1959), a gay icon and role model to young lesbians of the era, here being wooed by James Darin (no relation) and some other beach hunks.

The couple divorced in 1967, leaving a son, Dodd.

Bobby was married again, briefly, in 1973.

He was politically liberal, and heavily involved in the campaign to elect Robert F. Kennedy as president.

There's not much evidence of Bobby being gay in real life.  The 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, starring Kevin Spacey, contains a few gay jokes:

Sandra tells Bobby that if he thinks acting is so easy, he should try kissing Troy Donahue (who was rumored to be gay).  Bobby smiles, as if he's considering it.

But that may be a take on Kevin Spacey himself.

On the other hand, most of Bobby's songs drop pronouns, and could apply equally to male and female lovers:

You're the reason I'm living
You're the breath that I take
You're the stars in my heaven
You're the sun when I wake.

The nude photo is on Tales of West Hollywood.

See also: Ricky Nelson

How Do We Know that Paul Robeson was Gay?

When I was in college in the late 1970s, Paul Robeson (1898-1977) was one of my heroes.  I loved his booming, soul-rending "Old Man River" in Showboat:

I get weary, and sick of trying
Tired of living, and scared of dying
But ol' man river, he just keeps rolling along.

And his hysterical megalomaniac in Emperor Jones.

He was one of the few African-Americans who managed to break into mainstream theater and film, but during the Cold War his radical political views caused him to be blacklisted -- he called America a "fascist state," and spoke favorably about the Soviet Union.  He had to live in exile in London, and his movies and songs were censored for many years.

How cool is that?

His physique was almost as impressive as his voice, so directors had him rip off his shirt whenever possible.  In the 1920s he became the first African-American to pose nude, for photographer Nickolas Muray.

When sculptor Antonio Salemme saw a performance of The Emperor Jones, he asked Robeson to model for him, and produced several busts, as well as the nude, arms-raised "Negro Spiritual."

I always assumed that he was gay because...well, I assumed that everybody was gay.  Besides, he was friends with many of the gay figures of the Harlem Renaissance, and Paris between the Wars, and many of his film and theatrical roles involved gay subtexts.

I got my proof in 1987, when an article the Advocate mentioned that he was "recently discovered to have been gay."

In August 2014, a new biography of Paul Robeson came out, written by none other than distinguished gay scholar Martin Duberman.

Great!  I thought.  Now I'm going to hear all about Robeson's male lovers, maybe a long-term romance with Antonio Salemme or director Sergei Eisenstein, maybe cruising for hunky sailors in Paris with Jean Genet or visiting Paul Bowles in Morocco to troll for rent boys.

But Duberman found no evidence of Robeson's male lovers, not a hint of cruising for hunky sailors or trolling for rent boys. Not that Robeson had a problem with gay people; he was "wholly accepting," according to his gay friends.  But he never expressed any same-sex desire.  As a young man in Harlem, he was often approached, even offered money, but he wasn't interested.

 Instead, Duberman found a long list of women.  A very, very long list.  Robeson had a robust sexual appetite. Robust, but exclusively heterosexual.

So where did the "Robeson is gay" come from?

Author Marc Blitzstein tracked it down to a story told by gay liberation pioneer Jim Kepner.  One day in 1947, the young Kepner made a delivery to Robeson's apartment in Manhattan.  Robeson answered the door in a "lavender dressing gown," invited him in for tea, and made some cruisy eye contact as they chatted.

In 1987, Kepner told the story to Stuart Timmons, who then wrote "Robeson was recently discovered to have been gay" for his Advocate article.

That's it.  One anecdote, 40 years old, where nothing actually happened.

Robeson still might have been gay or bisexual, with super-secret liaisons, or desires that were never fulfilled.  But his very busy heterosexual sex life and his openness to friendships with gay people lead me to doubt it.

Well, at least he was an ally.

Jan 9, 2020

Josh Charles or Somebody Plays a Gay Guy in Something or Other

Last night before going to bed, I was watching the horrible second season of Lost in Space and reading my Facebook feed.  I came across an article about a new tv series starring Josh Charles, who starred in the New Zealand comedy-drama Please Like Me.

He plays a 25-year old still living at home with his single dad and two teenage sisters, one of whom is autistic. When Dad dies (no doubt a slow, lingering death with a deathbed scene), he finds himself "the adult" of the family.

Sounds like Party of Five. Except in the promo,  which mostly depicts the trio frolicking, Josh is shown kissing a guy.  He's gay!

In the morning, I couldn't find the article again, and there was nothing else about the tv show online. It wasn't listed on IMDB or Wikipedia. Could I have dreamed the wholething?

The title was Everything's Going to be Fine or something like that.  Google was no help at all.

First I searched on Everything is Going to be Fine and "tv series":

  • A quote from the 2013 novel Summer Day's Dream
  • An episode of Black Books.
  • An episode of The Office.
  • A quote from the website WRAL Sports Fans.

Then Everything's Going to Be Okay:

  • A scene from Monsters, Inc.
  • Good Wife star Josh Charles on the shocking death of his character.
  • Cris Velasco's original GYLT game show.  Does GYLT stands for Gay Young Latinx Transmen?
  • Girlfriend review on twitter: Tato says everything's going to be ok.

Maybe it's Everything's Going to be OK?

  • A quote from the novel Things Jolie needs to do before she bites it
  • A tv series probably entitled Kevin (probably) saves the world
  • A quote from the 1970s sitcom Good Times (1974)
  • A clip from Lost in Space.

The only other thing I remembered was the New Zealand comedy drama Please Like Me.

Success!  Turns out it was set in Australia, not New Zealand, and it starred Josh Thomas, not Josh Charles.

In the first episode, Josh's girlfriend dumps him because she thinks he's gay.  He thought he was just "going through a phase."

So he invites a gay guy named Geoffrey with a G (Wade Briggs) to dinner with his overbearing roommate Tom (Thomas Ward) and Tom's girlfriend, whom he wants to dump.  Dumb idea for a first date!  Josh and Geoffrey spend the night together but don't have sex.  They wake up in the morning to find that Josh's mother has attempted suicide.

Whoa, drama.  If I was Geoffrey, I'd be out of there!  But he becomes a main character, along with Tom, the girlfriend, institutionalized Mom, Josh's new boyfriends (whom he usually doesn't have sex with), and four season's worth of dying relatives.  It sounds like a Howard Cruse comic strip come to life.

Being apprised of the real name of the star, I was able to find his new tv series on IMDB.  The title is actually Everything's Gonna Be Ok, and there are four episode synopses:

1. Nicholas (Josh Thomas) volunteers to be his sister's guardians when his dad dies of "very bad cancer" (as opposed to good cancer?).

2. Nicholas and the two girls try to go back to their routine.

3. Matilda wants to get "white girl wasted" (sounds racist).  Matilda, Nicholas, and his boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison) are banished to the guest house during Genevive's party.

4. Nicholas is bad at sex (well, it works better if you take your underwear off).  In the B plot, Matilda tries to bake Luke a cake (Luke does not appear in the character list).

After all that work, it sounds terrible.  I'm giving it a hard pass.

I couldn't have watched anyway.  It's not available on Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime, or Youtube.

Jan 8, 2020

Flannery O'Connor's Lesbian Girlfriend

I had to laugh when I was watching the recent adaption of Tales of the City, and a young Anna Madrigal cons her way into a job at the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco by claiming to be a fan of Flannery O'Connor.

As if anybody in real life would ever be a fan of Flannery O'Connor.  Or ever read a word of her stories, unless they were forced by some horrible literature professor.

I was forced to read two of her stories in college:

"A Good Man is Hard to Find": a family on vacation is murdered, one at a time. Including the children.  Grandma is the last to go.  Why would anyone willing read about something so horrible?  Why would anyone write about it.

"Good Country People": a depressed philosophy major thinks that a traveling salesman is interested in her, but she's fat!  No chance!  He really just wants to steal her prosthetic leg.

O'Connor wrote lots of other stories, plus two novels that were hedged together from stories, all in the Southern Gothic vein of grotesque, people hugging corpses and lauding the mentally disabled as prophets.

A devout Catholic, she really hated intellectuals: all that book learning keeps you from the mystery of faith. She also hated atheism and religions other than Catholicism.  She lived her life in Milledgeville, Georgia, never married, attended Mass daily, and died of lupus in 1964, at the age of 39.

Sounds like the life of most of her isolated, miserable characters.

Wait -- never married?

And she had a lesbian buddy!

We were not aware of the relationship until the day after Christmas1998, when 75-year old  Betty Hester shot herself.  Next to her bed was a copy of the Flannery O'Connor fan newsletter splattered with her blood.

Fan newsletter?  It must have three subscribers.

Research by her friend, Flannery O'Connor scholar Sally Fitzgerald (wow, what a horrible academic specialization) revealed a correspondence beginning in 1955, when a timid 32-year old "office girl" from Atlanta, a lesbian who had been dishonorably discharged from the army,  wrote to her favorite author.  Flannery, surprised to get actual fan mail rather than suicide notes, wrote back.

They began a correspondence of hundreds of letters.  Some were published in a collection of Flannery's works, but with a pseudonymn, as if revealing Betty's identity would be too personal.  They are mostly about philosophy and religion: Flannery begs Betty to convert to Catholicism, the only true faith.

Betty agrees to convert, but there might be a problem: she's a lesbian.  Flannery states that she "doesn't care in the slightest," nor will it make the slightest difference in her relationship to the Church.  She only starts to get annoyed when Betty decides to leave the Church in 1961.  The  two continued to correspond, but more cooly, up until Flannery's death.

So, was Flannery a lesbian, too?  Or did she not care because lesbians were only mildly salacious compared to the human monsters she was accustomed to writing about?

Her biographer insists that Flannery couldn't have been a lesbian because she dated a man, once, in the early 1950s.  Proof positive!

Next Betty got a crush on Iris Murdoch, another philosophical Catholic writer whose biographer insists "couldn't have been a lesbian."  But Flannery remained her first, and truest love.

 You're probably wondering about the top photo.

Flannery's novel Wise Blood is about the preacher in the Church of Truth without Christ, which doesn't believe in God, heaven, hell, or sin, so you are free to do whatever damn thing you want.  Enoch Emery, a teenage follower, leaves the church when he starts worshipping a new Jesus, actually the shrunken corpse of a South American Indian in a museum.

In the 1979 movie version, Enoch Emery was played by Dan Shor.  Two years later, Dan starred in the horror movie Strange Behavior, which features a lengthy conversation buck nekkid, his bare butt displayed to a generation that had almost never seen male nudity on a screen.

I wish I had written this post on Dan Shor rather than Flannery O'Connor.  Lesbian or hot, I hate her works with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.  I even hate the plot synopses of her works.

Astronauts and Cave Men: It's About Time

In November 1966 I turned six, a "big boy," with a later bedtime and the freedom to watch "good tv", shows about cute boys: The Monkees, Lost in Space, Tarzan, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes, Run Buddy Run, Time Tunnel, Flipper .  On Sunday night we had church, but with a new baby in the house we often stayed home, and I could watch It's About Time (1966-67), a "trapped far from home" sitcom from Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the hugely successful Gilligan's Island.

It was about two astronauts who got zapped into prehistory, where cave men spoke in "ug-ug" broken English and fought dinosaurs.  They move in with a cave family played by comedy legends Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross.

Mac (Frank Aletter, right) was a sitcom pro, already the star of Bringing Up Buddy and The Cara Williams Show.  He would go on to play Professor Hayden on Danger Island, with Jan-Michael Vincent.

Hector (Jack Mullaney, left) was best known for his role in the beefcake-heavy musical South Pacific (1958), with Ken Clark as the voluminous Stewpot.  Mullaney never married and was reputedly gay.

Mac and Hector wore their astronaut costumes most of the time, but sometimes they wore animal skins that revealed tight, firm chests and shoulders.  The cave people also wore animal skins, and in spite of their fright wigs, many muscular bodies were visible in the background.

Here's another picture from South Pacific.  

There was significant bonding: the two astronauts bickered like a married couple, hugged, fell into each other's arms, and lived together, even when they returned to the twentieth century.

They gazed with tongue-lolling horniness at the cave family's daughter, but such minor concessions to heterosexism could be ignored.

And there was a "dreamy boy" for us to gaze at: Pat Cardi, who had just finished work on the dark comedy Let's Kill Uncle, played the cave family's fourteen year old son, Breen.  He wore a fright wing, but his animal skin was almost as revealing as the tight pants on Flipper.  

Unfortunately, It's About Time aired on Sunday nights, opposite the last halves of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Walt Disney, so most of the intended kid audience was already occupied.

After 18 episodes, low ratings prompted a complete reversal of the premise: the astronauts return to 1960s America, bringing a cave family with them. It didn't help.  So in spite of the ecstatic tv ads and a full run of tie-in toys, games, coloring books, lunch boxes, and the like, It's About Time sank seven episodes later, and was lost to history.  Except for 60 year olds who can still recite the theme song:

It's about time,
It's about space,
About strange people in the strangest place.
It's about time,
It's about flight,
Traveling faster than the speed of light

Jan 6, 2020

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll's books, Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, are supposed to be nonsense.  Characters appear and disappear at random.  There is no plot, just a series of incidents.  There is no goal.  Things happen, and Alice wakes up.

There are three ways that you can adapt these books for movies or tv.

1. You can stay true to the original books, and have Alice faced with a random series of events that make no sense.
2. You can play on what would happen if Alice returned to England and insisted that she had actually been to Wonderland:  a grim story of a girl undergoing Victorian cures for insanity.
3. You can make Wonderland a real fantasy or science fiction universe, with internal consistency and logical plot developments (good luck!)

The 2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass did #3, with a little of #1 and #2.  The result varies tremendously in tone, and has about as much to do with the original book as The Lord of the Rings has to do with professional baseball.

Alice (whose last name is Kingsleigh, not Liddell), is grown-up, and who is played by 27-year old Mia Wasikowska, is a sea captain, with a domestic problem: her ex-suitor Hamish (Leo Bill) has bought her father's company (um..Alice's father was a college professor), and will throw her mother out unless she gives up her adventuring life and goes to work as a clerk in his firm.  When she refuses, her mother has her committed to an insane asylum under the evil Dr. Addison Bennett (Andrew Scott).

Got all that?  As turgid as a George Elliot novel.

Then Alice goes through the looking glass, gets involved briefly with some nonsense shenanigans involving chess pieces and Humpty Dumpty, then plummets into Wonderland (now called Underland), where she is given the task of curing the life-threatening depression of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).

He's depressed over his family being killed a jabberwock attack when he was a boy, so the White Queen (Mirana of Marmoreal) talks her into going back in time to try to prevent their deaths.

To do so, Alice has to steal something from the chronoscope from the God of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Unfortunately, the exiled Red Queen (Iracebeth of Crims) is dating the God of Time.

She also gets involved with the feud between the White and Red Queens back when King Oleron (Richard Armitage) ruled Underland, and they were just princesses.

Got all that?

I don't.

But at least there's no hetero-romantic plotline.  The Mad Hatter does not express any romantic interest in Alice, or anyone else.  I expected Alice to fall for James Harcourt (Ed Speleers, top photo), the only Victorian who isn't shocked by her eccentricities, but she doesn't.

Jan 5, 2020

Shock Treatment: Romance is Not a Children's Game

In the summer of 1981, I went to see Shock Treatment, which was widely advertised as "the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show!"  

Ok, so it starred Brad and Janet from the original movie, played by different actors (Cliff de Young, Jessica Harper).

No other characters from Rocky Horror, no references to Rocky Horror, no sweet transvestites, no gay relationships, no references to gay people except for a racist/homophobic anecdote!

But once you get over your initial disappointment, Shock Treatment presents an interesting conceit: the world is a tv studio, and everyone a player (shades of Shakespeare).  Everyone is under surveillance, everyone is acting in a show within a show within a show.  There are no private moments; everyone is always being observed, commented on, controlled.

And they're trapped.  Like many stories with gay symbolism, there is no way out.  This is the whole universe.

The story is a heterosexist fable: studio owner Farley Flavors is in love with Janet, so he hires Drs. Cosmo and Nations McKinley to institutionalize Brad in their psychiatric-hospital Faith Factory program.  To make Janet forget about Brad, they groom her to star in her own show.

Jessica Harper has a much stronger voice than Susan Sarendon, the original Janet.  Shock Treatment is worth watching just to hear her paeon to egotism, "The Me of Me"

Deep in the heart of me, I love every part of me
All I can see in me is danger and ecstasy
I'm willing to die for me.
One thing there couldn't be is any more me in me

Or to feel the throbbing sexual energy as she walks through red-draped hallways and cruises "young blood."

Janet:  I want some young blood, I want some young blood, and I'm going to get it somehow!
Brad: I'm looking for love....
Janet: I'm looking for trade!

The gay symbolism comes when the various couples prepare to bed down for the night.  Cosmo and Nation begin an SM game, with evocations of the danger of the "jump to the left" that comes with acknowledging one's same-sex desire.

Nation: What a joke.
Cosmo: What a joke!
Nation:  You feel like choking, you play for broke.
Cosmo: Romance is not a children's game.
Nation: But you keep going back just the same.

But even more evocative is "Look What I Did to My Id," in which the cast is in the dressing room, preparing for Janet's big debut, and hoping in vain that it will allow them the freedom to escape:

Cosmo and Nation: With neurosis in profusion, and psychosis in your soul.
Eliminate confusion, and hide inside a brand new role.

Ralph: This could take us to a new town nowhere near here.

I've used that line many times over the years.

The key to escape is not power, not love, but as in Rocky Horror Picture Show, desire, a passion that vitalizes, sets priorities, and makes life clear.

Judge Oliver Wright and Betty Hapschatt, suspecting a nefarious purpose behind the studio, hide in the rafters all night to investigate without being observed.  When they discover that Brad and Farley are twin brothers separated at birth, they break Brad out of the asylum, take him to confront Farley Flavors, and reunite him with Janet.  Then the four find a way out and exit into glorious sunlight while singing about sex:

Some people do it for enjoyment.
Some people do it for employment.
But we're going to do it anyhow, anyhow
No matter how the wind is blowing.
We just gotta keep going.

It's not far from Frank-n-Furter's "Don't Dream It, Be It."

Not a lot of beefcake, although Gary Shail, who played the lead singer of Oscar Drill and the Bits (Janet's opening act), was somewhat attractive.  He also appeared in Quadrophenia (1979). 
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