Mar 6, 2020

When Jim Rockford Went to Bed with a Boy

I have had  this conversation more times than I can count.

Guy I'm Trying to Pick Up:  Where are you from?
Me:     Rock Island, Illinois.
Guy I'm Trying to Pick Up:  Rockford!  You must have loved The Rockford Files.
Me:    I said Rock Island, not Rockford, and I've never seen The Rockford Files.
Guy I'm Not Trying to Pick Up Anymore: I knew you'd be a fan!  Who wouldn't want to watch a show set in his home town?
Me:  I'm from Rock Island, not Rockford,  and the show was set in California. Rockford was the name of the main character.
Guy I'm Walking Away From:  So when you were living in Rockford, did you ever  watch them filming?

The Rockford Files aired from 1974-80, when I was in high school and a college freshman and sophomore, and had other things to do on Friday nights.  I've only seen a few of the opening sequences, where an answering machine takes a crazy message for Jim Rockford:
"Hey Jim, this is Louie down at the fish market. You going to pick up these halibut or what?"

"Mr. Rockford? This is the Thomas Crown School of Dance and Contemporary Etiquette. We aren't going to call again. Now, you want these free lessons, or what?"

"This is Shirley at the bank. The answers are: no, no, and yes. No, we won't loan you money. No, we won't accept any co-signers; and yes, your account's overdrawn. I get off at 4:30."

"Jim? Nadine Arcala at the Zodiac Restaurant. You don't pay that dinner tab, we're gonna repo your birthday."

Of course, in the 1970s you knew about most programs, even if you hadn't seen them.  I knew that it starred James Garner, after Move Over, Darling but before Victor/Victoria, as the pushing-50 antiheroic anti-private dick Jim Rockford, who had spent five years in prison (for a crime he didn't commit, of course), and now lived in a dilapidated trailer in Malibu and took cases for $200 per day plus expenses.

His scoobies included:
1.His con-artist dad Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr),
2. Sneaky, underhanded informant from prison Angel (Stewart Margolin, who was a fixture in 1970s sitcoms).
3. Hot cop Becker (Joe Santos)
4. His lawyer/girlfriend Beth (Gretchen Corbett).

I guess I saw enough random scenes to remember the Becker Bulge. The guy was packing.

And I did, somehow, see the episode "The House on Willis Avenue", which aired on February 24, 1978, the spring of my senior year in high school.  I hadn't figured "it" out yet, but I was getting close, and Jim Rockford teaming up with a 22-year old wannabe private eye named Richie Brockelman (Dennis Dugan) set off my gaydar.

  The two had major chemistry.  They were even shown sleeping together. 

On Friday nights in March and April 1978, Dennis Dugan spun off into his own 5-episode series, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, but I was busy and didn't follow up.  Apparently there were some buddy-bonding plotlines, Richie helping his old fraternity brother and so on.

Dennis Dugan began his career playing a gay man in the rather homophobic Norman, Is That You (1976), and ended it directing the rather homophobic I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007). In between, he had a lot of guest roles in dramas and sitcoms, but never made it to stardom.

Mar 5, 2020

"Dropping the Soap": A Soap Opera Parody with Gay Characters

I was turned off immediately by the title Dropping the Soap, which alludes to the homophobic myth that prison is undesirable solely because gay men will rape you there.  But it originally streamed on the gay network Dekkoo, so WTF?

Turns out that it's about an actual soap opera.  After countless years of airing over-the-top storylines, Colliding Lives is tanking in the ratings, so the network suits are thinking of "dropping the soap."  Instead they send in Olivia Vandersteen (gay fave Jane Lynch) to shake things up.  She fires everyone under 35, axes storylines, harasses the writers, and so on.

Each of the ten 12-minute episodes begins with a scene from the soap, usually involving aging main star Julian (Paul Witten, right). Soap opera cliches rush in one after another, reminding me of sketches on the old Carol Burnett show. For example:  Julian must take time from investigating the UFO case to interview his ex-girlfriend, who was lost and had amnesia for many years, so he married someone else.  Then she returned, but she didn't give the order to take his wife off life-support.  That was the aliens.

All in three minutes!

The second half of each episode goes back stage.

Head writer Donovan Knockers (Michael McKiddy, far left) is being forced to fire random staffers.  His is twin sister Kit Knockers blackmails him: if she is fired, she will tell everyone that he got a boner on a family camping trip when they were 12, That was before she transitioned, so he got a boner looking at a boy.  Which didn't happen but would ruin his career.

Olivia coerces Donovan into becoming her boy toy.  Apparently he has an "Speaking of big, Donovan -- my office.  And bring a latte."

Julian does a commercial for Man Musk.

Kit blackmails Julian with a video of down Santa Claus's chimney.

Sean (Burt Grinstead), who made the cover of Daytime Eye Candy magazine, joins the cast to play Julian's long-lost son and take off his shirt.   Julian is horrified because he doesn't think his character is old enough to have a son Sean's age.  Especially a hunky one with abs...and a chest...and a who makes you forget your lines...

Raheem (Aaron Ramzi) joins the cast to be Middle Eastern, and Julian awkardly tries to prove that he's not prejudiced.

I don't like that being gay is something shameful that will ruin careers, or that the transgender character is so reprehensible.  But, come to think of it, Olivia is reprehensible, too.  And Julian.  The only guy in the cast with a smidgen of morality is Sean, who is gay.

And could we see Sean him with his shirt off again?

My grade: B

Mar 4, 2020

10 Things I Hate About the Wizard of Oz

From 1959 to 1991, The Wizard of Oz, was shown on tv every year, on CBS until 1968, and then on NBC.

Nazarenes weren't allowed to go to movie theaters, but watching movies on tv was fine, so our parents sat us down every year and forced us to watch the "beloved children's classic."

Apparently it was shown in November or December, but I remember it in the springtime, one of the traumas of the end of the year.

It's old-fashioned, outdated, incomprehensible, and...well, horrifying.

1. 10-year old Dorothy, played by 16-year old Judy Garland, the queen of angst, lives a horrible life on a Depression-Era Dustbowl farm in black-and-white Kansas. Her parents are dead; her elderly Uncle and Aunt appear to be raising man-eating pigs.

 Her only source of joy is her dog Toto, but the evil Miss Gulch is planning to take him away and have him killed.  So Dorothy dreams of going to a place where there "isn't any trouble."

2. A giant tornado destroys her home and zaps Dorothy off to Oz, where at least things are in color, but the main residents are disturbing munchkins.  They look like little adults with mouth deformities, and walk like they have cerebral palsy. Could this be the place with no trouble?

3. Dorothy has accidentally killed the dictator of Munchkin land and stolen her ruby slippers, which apparently are powerful.  The Wicked Witch of the West, the dictator of Winkie Land, shows up.  She thinks Dorothy is hot ("I'll get you, my pretty")  But she wants to kill her anyway, get the slippers, and take over Munchkin land.

In Oz five minutes, and Dorothy has already started a war and gotten a death threat. No wonder she wants to go home to Kansas.

4. She goes on a journey through an empty postapocalyptic Oz to get to the Emerald City and ask the assistance of the great and powerful Wizard.  Along the way she picks up adult male companions, mutants with their own quests: a brain, a heart, the "noive."

She's uncomfortably intimate with the Cowardly Lion.

Meanwhile the Witch burns, poisons, and otherwise terrorizes the group.  I hated the poppy field -- that's opium poppies, the source of heroin -- where Dorothy and company are almost smothered to death.

Incomprehensible: when the Scarecrow's body is torn up and scattered around, the Tin Man says "That's you all over," punning on a 1930s slang phrase meaning "That's just like you."   Who makes a joke about a friend being torn to pieces?

5. At the Emerald City, where the bourgeoisie live in glorious excess and ignore the deprivations of the proletariat, Dorothy and company enjoy a spa day.  Dorothy asks about getting her eyes dyed, which is disgusting.  There's an incomprehensible reference to "a horse of a different color": another pun on a 1930s slang phrase meaning "that's different."

6. After trying to terrorize the Fellowship of the Ring for awhile, the Wizard says he'll help, but only if they steal the Witch's broom.

They undertake a second long and perilous journey to the Witch's castle, where they are captured.  The flying monkeys are horrifying, as is the hourglass that counts out the minutes Dorothy has to live.  Nightmare time!

After almost being murdered, Dorothy melts the witch, frees her slaves -- at least in The Wiz, they were hunky guys in speedos -- and brings the broom back to the Wizard.

7. Who has no power at all!  He's a complete fraud!  He sent her on the quest assuming she would be killed, and his secret would be safe. Too cowardly to commit your own murders, Wiz?

The Wizard suggests that, instead of real skills, the companions defraud their way through life.  For instance, the Scarecrow gets a diploma he didn't earn and spouts some gibberish that sounds brainy but isn't.  He'll probably become a math professor.

Unfortunately, Dorothy can't defraud her back to Kansas.

8. Glinda the Good Witch, the dictator of Gillikan Land, shows up and, with an infuriating smirk, tells Dorothy that she always had the power to go home.

Why not tell her this before she went through all of the agony and terror, you sadistic jerk?

Were you trying to get her to do your dirty work for you, assassinate two world leaders so you could consolidate your power?  Were you the brains behind this whole trip?

And why is the matra that takes you back to Kansas "There's no place like home"?  That is, don't stay in Oz.  Is Glinda worried that if Dorothy sticks around, she will be a threat to her power?

9.  Upon arriving back in Kansas, Dorothy discovers that it was all a dream that occurred when she hit her head during the tornado.  All of that trouble, pain, betrayal, fraud, and behind-the-scene machinations for nothing.  Besides, the plot about Miss Gulch taking away Toto is never resolved. Dorothy's life is still horrible.

10. After all that, there are no same-sex relationships, and there's no beefcake. Where's the gay content?  (The "dandy-lion" line doesn't count.)

Oh, well, here's a picture of a shirtless guy.

See also: The Wiz; The Boys and Men of Oz

Mar 3, 2020

Why Is Bomba the Jungle Boy Always Tied Up?

Johnny Sheffield (1931-2010) spent the first 24 years of his life being filmed in a loincloth cut to the thigh, first as "Boy," son of Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller in 8 movies (1939-1947), and then as the teenage Bomba the Jungle Boy in 12 movies (1949-1955).  After all that, it proved impossible to find a fully-clothed role, so Johnny went to UCLA, got his degree in business, and had a successful second career in real estate.

The movies were on tv constantly during my childhood, and now they're all available on DVD. 

I noticed something interesting: in all of the Tarzan movies featuring the adolescent Boy, and in all but one of the Bomba movies, Johnny gets tied up. 

Did the directors have a bondage fetish?

Or is it a matter of maximizing beefcake?

Johnny begins to get an impressive physique in the last 3 Tarzan movies, which are terrible.  Maureen O'Sullivan refused to do them, so Jane was recast with Brenda Joyce.  

The Bomba movies are even worse: endlessly recycled stock footage of African animals, and an endlessly recycled plot about Bomba falling in love with a visiting colonial administrator's daughter while fighting poachers or insurrectionists.  

How can you get audiences to fork over money to see such stuff?

Easy: show some pecs and biceps, and maybe a loincloth-bulge now and then.

So you add a few scenes of Johnny asleep, or else unconscious after falling out of a tree.  The camera zooms in for a close up of his face, shoulders, chest, stomach, and loincloth.  Then it starts over again.  Before we're done, we've been staring at Johnny's body for five minutes.  

But sleeping/unconscious shots show the muscles at rest.  Audiences want big, bulging, flexing muscles.  Fight scenes with bad guys or wild animals cause bulges, and sometimes the loincloth rides up to reveal the underwear beneath, but there's too much moving around for a serious gawk at Johnny's body.

Idea: why not have Boy/Bomba tied up, threatened by poachers or about to be sacrificed by an evil cult or something? That way he can strain against the bonds, flexing his muscles, but he's not moving.  The camera can zoom in, and audiences can stare as he struggles for five minutes.

I'd pay money to see that.

Mar 2, 2020

TV in 1980 vs TV in 2020

I now have an index page for "Modern TV."  There are a lot of shows.  I do one or two per week, sometimes after watching a single episode, sometimes after watching all 8.  Which leads me to ruminate on the vast difference between the tv I grew up with and what passes for tv on streaming services today.

TV in 1980:
1. TV programs had titles that identified the theme: Archie Bunker's Place, BJ and the Bear, Little House on the Prairie.  Often with a pun or catchphrase:One Day at a Time, Too Close for Comfort, Hart to Hart, The Facts of Life

2.  Situations and characters rarely changed.  When they did, it was usually a last-ditch effort to stop declining viewrship in the show's old age, as when Laverne and Shirley moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, or when a new kid was  added to Family Ties.

3. You knew what you were getting into when you started watching.  A sitcom would have humor, with angst only on occasional "very special episodes."  A drama would have drama, with an occasional wisecrack but no humor.

4. Episode plots were self-contained, with no references to anything in the past.  The Golden Girls were passionately interested in gardening in one episode, and bowling in the next.  Blanche's visiting brother was never mentioned before, and would never be mentioned again.

5. Most programs aired for 4 years, or more. Only flops lasted for a year or two.

6. There were about 25 episodes per season, so well over 100 altogether (100 episodes were necessary to ensure syndication sales).

7. Episodes aired once a week, from September through May, with reruns in the summer, usually on the same day at the same time. Only struggling, unpopular shows moved from time slot to time slot.

8.  As a result, the tv program became part of your life, returned to regularly week after week for 100 or more weeks over a period of years..  30 years later, you still remember the theme song, the situation, the plotline and even individual episodes.  The characters are  like old friends.

TV in 2020

1.Mostly nondescript one or two word titles that could refer to anything: The Club, The Crown, The Stranger, The Greenhouse, The Unlisted.

2. Characters come and go.  Even protagonists  die with impunity.

3.  Genres merge with impunity.  Characters die agonizing deaths in comedies, and dramas are imbued with wackiness.

4, Episodes build on each other to form a season-long story arc.  You have to watch in order.  Skip an episode, and you are lost.

5. Most programs last only one season.  A program that lasts four seasons is criticized for "airing past its prime."

6. There are typically eight episodes per season.

7. All eight episodes are dropped at the same time.  Typically you watch them all in a few days, so if they drop on Sunday, you've finished the series by Tuesday.   Some people even "binge watch" them all in a single day.

8. As a result, you forget them quickly.  Six months later, you don't recall the plots or characters, and you may have only a vague recollection about the plot arc.  A year later, you don't even remember that you devoted three nights of your life to finding out what happened on The I-Land.

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