May 22, 2020

Douglas Barr: The Gay Casting Couch

During the heyday of the Village People, they even found their way onto prime time: When the Whistle Blows was a sitcom about three hunky construction workers, Buzz (Douglas Barr, left), Randy (future soap hunk Phillip Brown), and Hunk (former pro-football star Tim Rossovich), plus their female coworker.  Like the Village People, they were all gay-coded but "really" heterosexual, spending their time off disco dancing and solving people's personal problems (one of the episodes was even entitled "Macho Man").

Though it was heavily promoted by the network, it aired on Friday nights, when the intended audience was out disco-dancing, so  only nine episodes aired in the spring and summer of 1980.

This was 31-year old former model Douglas Barr's first acting credit -- male models were always assume gay in the 1970s, so he had been the recipient of many casting-couch invitations by gay producers, directors, and casting agents, but he states that he always said "no" (he said "no" to female invitations, too).

He relied only on his talent, charm, handsome face, and obvious beneath-the-belt advantage to land his next role: disingenuous Howie Munson, sidekick to trucker-stuntman-bounty hunter Colt (Lane Majors) on Fall Guy (1981-86).  I've never seen it, but I understand that there was some buddy-bonding, and some shirtless and swimsuit-clad shots.

Along the way, Doug played a trapeze artist in a revealing leotard on Fantasy Island, and was displayed in a speedo on Battle of Network Stars.  Mostly he played men who fall for women, but in the "Rallying Cry" episode of Hotel (1985) he played half of a gay couple involved in a custody battle.

Next came more buddy-bonding: The Wizard (1986-87), about a little-person genius inventor (David Rappaport) who has globe-trotting adventures along with his sidekick-bodyguard-best buddy (Doug).

I met Douglas Barr at a party in 1987, but at the time I hadn't seen him in anything, so I didn't know he was a celebrity.  I knew that he was very nice and had a great physique.

Later he starred in Designing Women (1987-91) as Bill Stillfield, boyfriend and eventual husband of Charlene (Jean Smart), naive receptionist of the interior design company.

Since Designing Women, Doug has been involved with directing, especially tv movies with titles like Perfect Body, Sex, Lies, and Obsession, and Beautiful Girl.  He's written a few such movies himself, including The Cover Girl Murders and Taking a Chance on Love.  Not a lot of gay subtexts.  But he had more than enough early in his career.

Designing Women: A Half-Hour Spent Dishing with Friends

My parents liked Designing Women (1986-93)  so much that they bought a paintingof the house used for exterior shots,  It hung in the foyer of their house in Rock Island, so it was the first thing I saw when I flew home for a visit, and the last thing I saw on the way back to West Hollywood.

We also liked it in West Hollywood -- maybe not that much -- but I remember watching after Murphy Brown on Monday nights.

It was about four women who work as interior decorators in  Atlanta, but actually spent most of their time dishing.  Sort of like The View, or The Golden Girls without the cheesecake.

1 Wealthy Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), who owns the company, is Dorothy, the sane, stable center of the storm. She champions an endless array of liberal causes. Dixie Carter was actually conservative, so she made a deal with the producers: for each liberal tirade, she got to do something conservative, like sing "Amazing Grace."  Julia eventually marries an eccentric millionaire (Hal Holbrook).

2. Her sister Suzanne (Delta Burke), a former Miss Georgia,is man-hungry (so Blanche), elitist, and bigoted. She gets all the snarky lines, and so was a favorite of drag queens.  Her ex-husband (Gerald McRaney) appears a few times.

3. Charlene (Jean Smart), their secretary, sits at her desk reading magazines and making Rose-like non sequiters.  She eventually marries (Douglas Barr, top photo).

4. Mary Jo (Annie Potts) must be Sofia. She's a no-nonsense single mother, with two sons (Brian Lando, George Newburn), an ex-husband (Scott Bakula), and eventually a boyfriend (Richard Gilliland).

5. Anthony (Meshach Taylor), an ex-convict, does deliveries and manual labor.  He feels emasculated from spending all day in a feminine environment.

When I read through the plot synopses, I wonder if I actually watched this show, or just heard about it.  Nothing seems familiar:

Mary Jo's father visits and hits it off with Charlene.
Mary Jo goes on a date with a much younger man.
They all go on a wilderness survival weekend.
They take a self-defense class.

The only episode I actually remember is "Killing All the Right People," which aired during the second season, on October 5th, 1987.

 Their friend Kendall Dobbs (Tony Goldwin) has AIDS, and faces prejudice and paranoia.  Suzanne is bigoted, but Mary Jo gets all fired up with protective maternal ferocity (I don't remember how Julia and Charlene reacted). He asks them to design the room for his funeral, which struck me as strange -- his friends and family would only be there for a couple of hours. Why not donate the money to a hospice or something? But it was one of the first times that AIDS appeared on network televsion.

I think that was the only time gay people were mentioned on Designing Women.

It was just a fun half-hour spent dishing with friends,

And about the only thing I could talk about in both West Hollywood and rock Island.

May 19, 2020

"Bored to Death": Three Guys, One Bed, and a Lot of Dropped Pronouns

Bored to Death on Amazon Prime is advertises as a sitcom about three friends who start a private-detective business -- and, like everything on Amazon Prime, it's promoted as "the best tv show in history," "an incredible masterpiece."    How can so many shwos that I never heard of be the best tv show in history?

Tne Trailer:  In 43 seconds, Jason Schwartzmann (the gay best friend in the Scott Pilgrim movies) kisses girls three times  --a gigantic red flag.  But he is also interacts with two guys:
1. Ted Danson (the elderly demon on the gay-positive Good Place )
2. Zach Galifianiakis (who I mistake for Jason Mantsoukas, Janet's crazy boyfriend on The Good Place).
The three are shown in bed together (wearing pajamas, no beefcake), It's obvious that Ted and Zach play the gay couple-best buddies, giving him a place to stay after a girl kicked him out.

That's good enough for me..

So, as Kenan and Kel used to say,"Here it goes..."

Opening Credits:  Jason wanders through the pages of a mystery novel, chasing the Girl of His Dreams.  Zach appears as Superman, but gets a gut.  Ted appears as a suave,sophisicated, fey gay guy.  He tries to pick Jason up, but is unsuccessful and runs off.

Scene 1: Aspiring writer Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) is moving out of his New York apartment.   He complains that the movers shouldn't be Jewish, because, you know, it requires muscles, and all Jews are weaklings.  Antisemitic joke?  Not a good start!

Meanwhile girlfriend (I guess) Suzanne is packing,too.   They kiss a wet, sloppy, tongue-swallowing kiss.

Gross!  Fast-forward!

I fast-forward two minutes. The wet, sloppy kiss is over.  Now they're arguing about pot. Jonathan likes it, Suzanne doesn't. Is she dumping him?  Then what's with the 2-minute long tongue-swallowing?

Scene 2: Downstairs neighbor advises Jonathan to rebound fast, but he doesn't want to. Instead, he goes back to the apartment and reads a Raymond Chandler novel.

Raymond Chandler was a hard-boiled detective writer of the 1930s and 1940s (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye).  Horribly homophobic.  Besides, mystery fiction has evolved a great deal since the 1940s.  I can't believe that any contemporary aspiring writer would read his junk.

Next Jonathan poss an ad on craigslist offering his services as a non-licensed private detective.

Scene 3: Jonathan meets with his buddy Ray (Zach), an aspiring comic book artist.

Ray discusses the last time his heart was broken, dropping the gender of the heart-breaker.

 The best way to tell if a guy  is gay --  he drops the gender when discussing dates and romantic partners.  Gay people do it so often to avoid homophobic confrontations with bosses, next-door neighbors, and strangers on the bus, that it becomes instinctive, and they do it even when talking to friends.

Wait -- five lines later, he mentions a girlfriend, Leah. Straight!  The gender-dropping was a tease!

Then what was he doing in bed with Ted Danson in the promo.  Ted must be the gay friend that put them both up for the night during a caper.

Scene 4:  Jonathan gets a private detective job: A woman asks  him to track down her missing college-student sister, who isn't in her dorm room (so?  when I was in college, I was in my dorm room maybe 20 minutes a day).

 She suspects the boyfriend, Vincent (Richard Short, left), of foul play, because he has a tattoo, he's English, and he's way old - 30!   Jonathan, who has been hitting on her, is nonplussed by the "way old" comment, because he's 30, too.   But he promises to help out.

Scene 5: Jonathan  goes to a ritzy art gallery,where he has a job doing something unspecified.  Coworker Sandrine warns him that George is angry with him for being late.  Then they discuss breakups.  Sandrine drops her romantic partner's gender, but you can't fool me again.  I'm sure it's just a gay tease, the partner was a guy, and Sandrine will be kissing Jonathan by Episode #3.

 Scene 6:  George (Ted Danson) appears, a lavender-scented, candy-colored, limp=wristed poof of the Tennessee Williams-Cole Porter school,  Instead of being angry,he pulls Jonathan into a toilet stall in the restroom.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

But he doesn't want a blow job-- he wants pot, which Jonathan supplies from a Viagra prescription bottle.

Why does Jonathan have Viagra?  George gave it to him,thinking that he needed help in the sexual arousal department.

Why does George care whether Jonathan gets aroused?  Nudge,, nudge, wink, wink.

George notes that he is taking Viagra because with his heart trouble, heavy drinking, and work pressure, he's having trouble performing in bed.

Anyway, George is "bored to death" with art, life, booze, and ___.  He used to stay in a relationship with a ___ for two or three years, but now it only takes about a week before he's too bored with the ___ to get aroused.

Fill in the blank:
a. Gender-dropping "Person"
b. Man
c. Woman

Answer: "person" twice, then "woman"  George finally outs himself as a  lavender-scented, candy-colored, limp-wristed heterosexual horndog!

The remaining scenes:  Sister and her boyfriend are immersed in a consensual S&M scene.  Jonathan bursts in to "rescue" her, and they have him arrested as a crazy intruder. At the police station, the cop tells him to stop pretending to be a private detective, or he'll end up in prison, and "You don't look lke you would thrive in that environment."

At least he doesn't mention droppng the soap.

May 18, 2020

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Early 1960s Beatniks and Breasts

Amazon Prime keeps telling me that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is wonderful, fabulous, a joyous masterpiece!  Plus there are gay characters. So I'll give it a shot.

Scene 1: A few years after "what the Jews went through" (late 1940s?)  Mrs. Maisel (Emily Price) at her wedding.  She is giving a speech about how marvelous she is, interspliced with flashbacks about her days at Bryn Mawr.
Con: Bryn Mawr is a ladies' college.  Ladies in skimpy bikinis
Pro: Her dad is Tony Shalhoub of Wings and Monk.
Pro; Her husband Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) is attractive.
Con: He takes her to a burlesque show.  A lady dancing with her boobs hanging out.

Quick!  Fast forward!

Scene 2?: Mrs. Maisel goes to the butcher shop, cuts to the front of the line, and announces that she got the rabbi to come over for Yom Kippur.  She goes back to her ritzy Upper East Side apartment, distributes black-and-white cookies to the staff (haven't seen those since Seinfeld), and cooks a brisket (she's Jewish,I get it).  Joel calls; they discuss his attempts to break into stand-up comedy..

Late 1940s: Era of the Borscht Belt?  Henny Youngman?  "Take my wife, please?"

Scene 3: Joel tries out his routine on a client, then quickly changes clothes (no beefcake). He talks to his coworker Archie (Joel Joestone) about his gig in the Village tonight.

Scene 4:  On the way to Greenwich Village, Mrs. Maisel sees colorful charactes, including, I think, a gay couple.   The Gaslight Cafe is a huge, smoky Beatnik place where the Sixteen Tons Trio is singing (folk singers?)..  

Mrs.Maisel gives the brisket to the elderly, bearded Baz to bribe him into giving Joel a better time slot.  His act is a rip-off of one of Bob Newhart's telephone sketches (the ones that ended with Bob saying "The same to you, fella!" and hanging up).

So it's actually the early 1960s.

Meanwhile Alex (Susie Myerson)< the butch lady bartender, reads a gigantic book.  She must be the gay character.

Scene 5: On the way home, Mrs. Maisel suggests that Joel change from telling jokes to the more confessional comedy popular in the early 1960s.  Henny Youngman is over-the-hill; Lenny Bruce is where it's at.   

Scene 6: They go to bed (in pajamas...grrr.)  Sloppy kiss, no sex.Mrs.  Maisel gets up, puts on face cream, and goes back to bed, then wakes up early and washes it off (what for?  who cares?).

Scene 7: Mrs.Maisel goes to another apartmentt and talks to Rose, who has a husband, a child , and a baby.  Whoops, Rose is her mother!  And she has a baby, at her age?  Whoops, the child and baby are Mrs. Maisel's.  Where have they been all day?

Scene 8: That night, Mrs. Maisel and her friend are watching an old-fashioned late-1940s tv set and exercising.  Mrs. Maisel's legs in close-up, going up and down,up and down....

Fast foward again!

Scene 9?:  Joel is doing his revised act. Mrs. Maisel, Archie, and Archie's girl are watching.  He bombs.  

Scene 10: On the way home.  Joel is angry wth Mrs.Maisel for giving him bad advice.  

Back home:  Joel is packing to leave.  He's dumping Mrs. Maisel.  After one bad set?  Or were there other problems that I fast forwarded through while trying to avoid Mrs. Maisel's legs? 

Well, he hates his day job and he's having an affair.

Scene 11: Dad Tony Shalhoub is watching tv.  Mrs. Maisel comes in to announce that Joel left.  They are judgmental: "What did you do to drive him away?"  

Scene 12: Mrs. Maisel wanders through the empty apartment, then out into the rain (umm...where are the kids?).  She goes to the Gaslight.and starts doing confessional comedy, and is a hit.  She shows her breasts.  

Fast forward again!

Scene 13: Butch lady bartender invites Mrs. Maisel out for a drink (isn't it a little soon for her to start dating again?).  Offers to help her start her standup career. Mrs. Maisel thinks the idea is ridiculous, and leaves.  But then she remembers the notebook where she recorded ideas about Joel's act, and returns to the Gaslight

Scene 14:  A lot of people smokng, drinking, and arguing in an apartment.  Mrs. Maisel is reading.  Susie the Butch Lady Bartender is eating beans.

Scene 15: Mrs. Maisel goes to the police station and bails out Lenny Bruce (Jack Kirby!) to discuss comedy.  He says that standup comedy is terrible "It should not exist, like cancer and God."  But he loves it.  The end.

Beefcake:  Not a smidge.

Cheesecake:  Endless.  I have seen more body parts of Mrs. Maisel than of any other woman in my life.  And that is not a good thing.  If I watch this show, I'll have to fast-forward through half the scenes.

Heterosexism:  Not really.  This looks like it will be more of a Mary Tyler Moore "How can you make it on your own?" series.

Gay Characters:  Butch lady bartender, probably.

The Premise: the early 1960s comedy scene sounds interesting.

Will I continue to watch:  There will have to be a lot more hot guys and a lot fewer lady parts.  I understand that Joel remains in the cast, and there are several more male recurring characters, including Archie, Lenny Bruce, Benjamin (Zachary Levi), and Noah (Will Brill). 

May 17, 2020

The Phantom and Son

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, all of the good comic strips appeared in the Times-Democrat, across the river in Davenport, Iowa.   Our Rock Island Argus featured a few lousy bargain-basement knockoffs -- Freckles instead of Archie, Winthrop instead of Peanuts -- and a lot of weird, incomprehensible dinosaur comics that were last popular when Mom and Dad were kids -- Prince Valiant, Out Our Way, Alley Oop.  
The weirdest, most incomprehensible of the lot was The Phantom, a muscular Tarzan who roams the jungle in a purple jumpsuit. wearing a ring, and has a wife and kids at home.

I found this ridiculous.

1. Hetero domesticity kills adventure.  That's why superheros are typically not interested.  Edgar Rice Burroughs had Tarzan marry Jane Porter because he didn't plan on any further adventures for the Lord of the Jungle; as a long-running series began, he had to think of more and more reasons to get Jane out of the picture.

2. A purple jumpsuit.  Lords of the Jungle always wear loincloths!  The only reason to put them in the jungle, where it's hot and humid,  is so you can draw hard muscles for your readers to ogle.

3.  Did I mention the effeminate ring?  Was the Phantom a drag queen?

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936, two years before Superman. and continues to run today.  At its peak it appeared in over 500 newspapers worldwide.

Today's Phantom, Kit Walker, is the 21st in a line that extends back to Christopher Walker, a British soldier who was shipwrecked in the jungles of Bengal, India, in 1536.  He became a masked vigilante, complete with jumpsuit and ring, and when he was ready to retire, bequeathed them to his son, the new Phantom, and so on, and so on  (I'm surprised they always fit).  The superstitious natives thought he was the same person, an immortal god, and dubbed him "The Ghost Who Walks."

Today's Phantom lives with his wife (Helen), kids (Kit and Heloise), and various sidekicks in a skull-shaped cave, where he sits on a skull-shaped throne.  He fights poachers, pirates, insurgents, smugglers, evil witch doctors, cannibals, and various baddies in what is no longer Bengal, but Bengalla Island, off the coast of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Phantom also appeared in comic book form, under various imprints: Ace, Harvey, Charleton, and finally Gold Key, where his title ran for 72 issues.

I occasionally leafed through them at Schneider's Drug Store, but quickly go bored.  No same-sex rescues, no beefcake.  Geez, at least show us a bicep now and then!

The Phantom appeared in a serial in 1943, when the studios were running out of properties, starring Western star Tom Tyler (left), but otherwise his screen appearances have been few.

A big screen version in 1996 starring Billy Zane (top photo) had the superhero fighting big business in modern-day America.  It tanked, along with the sci-fi cartoon, Phantom 2040, with Scott Valentine.

I guess the Phantom is no Tarzan.  Purple jumpsuits don't sell.

I'm holding out for the modern strips, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty.  They often send in the Phantom's kids to do the adventuring.

Lee Falk imagined the Son of the Phantom as a cherubic preteen, but the modern Kit is drawn as a muscular blond teenager who has no qualms about appearing in a loincloth.

 And none of the comics I've checked show him expressing heterosexual interest (the girl he's wrestling with is his sister).

Maybe we'll finally get some gay subtexts.

See also: Alley Oop; Prince Valiant.
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