Jun 20, 2020

The Catbird Seat: Strong Women, Gay Men

I hated a lot of the stories that teachers foisted on us in school. They were always heterosexist, and usually depressing, dreary, and boring.  One of my least favorites, was James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat."

Two teachers assigned it in high school, and one in college, and none of them ever explained what the heck a catbird seat is.

A catbird is just a regular American bird.  Thurber made up the catchphrase "sitting in the catbird seat," just to confuse his readers. 

James Thurber (1894-1961) was a  mid-20th century writer who made a career of pointing out the humorous foibles of men as they pursued women, or women as they pursued men, heterosexual desire to the max: "The Male Animal," "My World and Welcome to It," "Is Sex Necessary?", etc., etc.

"The Catbird Seat" (1942) is about mild-mannered, gay-vague Mr. Martin, who is not interested in women and therefore reprehensible.

He clashes with brash, braying Mrs. Ulgine Barrows, a coworker who is dating the boss, and therefore invulnerable.  She loves incomprehensible catch phrases  like "Are you sitting in the catbird seat?"

She's really annoying, and about to take over the business, so Mr. Martin decides to kill her.  But his plans don't work out as expected.

So its basically a conflict of wills between two people who are outcasts in 1942 society, a strong woman and a "weak" (read: gay) man.

Strong women and "weak" (read: gay) men were savagely lampooned during the 1940s.  On the Burns and Allen radio program, Mel Blanc played a mild-mannered, nebbish postman who dreamed of killing his overbearing wife.  But "The Catbird Seat" is notable for its utter misogyny and intense heterosexism.

It's a very short story, but still, it's been filmed twice.

1. In a 1948 episode of Actor's Studio, starring Broadway actor Hiram Sherman, who often played gay-vague roles.

2. In the 1959 movie The Battle of the Sexes, with Peter Sellers (34 years old, but wearing old-man makeup), which frames the conflict as a modern American vs. old-school British.

Jeff East: from Disney Adventure to Superman

During the 1950s and 1960s, Walt Disney single-handedly selected and groomed boys whom he thought could represent "youthful masculinity" -- and make money for the studio: Tommy KirkKurt Russell, Tim Considine, James MacArthur.  After his death in 1966, the Disney Adventure Boy was a rarity.  Ike Eisenmann came close, but perhaps the last was Jeff East.

Born in 1957, the tall, lanky, curly-haired teenager made a string of Disney moves in the mid-1970s, all set on the 19th century frontier.  However, Disney curtailed the shirtless shots that made Robbie Benson's Westerns a success -- Jeff displayed his chest (and nude backside) only in Tom Sawyer (1973) and Huckleberry Finn (1974), when he was barely pubescent.(That's a surprisingly muscular Johnny Whitaker next to him).

In his teenage roles, Jeff was stunningly handsome, but fully clothed.  Maybe for that reason, he remained relatively obscure,  receiving almost no notice in the teen magazines.

In 1977, Jeff moved on to his first "adult" role, as a college student who participates in a deadly hazing in The Hazing, also released as The Case of the Campus Corpse.  As if overcompensating for the censorship of Disney studios, he takes everything off -- he spends about half the movie in nothing but a revealing jockstrap.

And he has a painfully intense, overt same-sex romance with his costar, fellow college student Charles Martin Smith.

His most famous role came in 1978, when he played the teenage Clark Kent (but not his voice) in the blockbuster Superman.

Afterwards he continued to act, but mostly in low-budget projects.  Pumpkinhead (1988) was memorable for the same-sex romance between his harassed camper Chris and country boy Bunt (Brian Bremer), but most were of little interest for gay fans.

Today, somewhat chunky, no longer blond, but still handsome, Jeff East has retired from acting and works in real estate.

Jun 18, 2020

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Remember the cave where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher got lost in the classic Tom Sawyer?  In yet another 1960s rendition of the "boys trapped far from home" genre (others included H.R. Pufnstuf,   Land of the Lost, and Journey to the Beginning of Time), that cave led to a time-space warp that zapped  Tom  (Kevin Schultz), Becky Thatcher (LuAnn Haslam), and Huckleberry Finn (Michael Shea) into various worlds based on fiction, legends, and history.

After battling or befriending Aztecs, ancient Egyptians, mad scientists, Don Quixote, Indian thuggees, Captain Ahab, a medieval Caliph, cavemen, and wizards, it was another zap and another adventure.

Huck, who was only marginally literate, narrated the story, and made humorous malapropisms and mispronunciations.

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aired on Sunday nights in the fall of 1968, where it faced stiff competition from Land of the Giants.  Twenty episodes aired before it was cancelled.  I saw them as reruns during the summer of 1969.  Later they were syndicated in The Banana Splits and Friends.  

Tom and Becky are friends only, with no romantic inclinations.  But Tom and Huck have ample buddy-bonding, particularly when one or the other requires rescue.  And they require rescue a lot.

And though there were few shirtless shots, both of the boys, aged 15, were on display enough to attract the interest of teen magazines -- and of gay kids.  Michael Shea, the "hunk," wore a white shirt unbuttoned to his navel and a red vest, and was frequently tied up, so his muscles could strain against the ropes. Kevin Schultz, the "brain," wore a white shirt with a thin red tie and tight slacks.

The New Adventures turned out to be the summit of their acting careers.  In adulthood, Michael became a police officer.  Kevin and his identical twin Keith started a musical group in 1970, chummed around with fellow teen idol Jon Provost (below), and later became professional photographers.

Jun 16, 2020

"Cosmos": Three Guys Sitting in a Car in the Dark

After wading through 23 blurbs of "movies we think you'll like" on Amazon Prime, all about men and women falling in love, I come to Cosmos (2019).  Three amateur astronomers intercept a signal that they think is from an alien civilization, but...

Sounds like the same plot as Contact. But at this point, I'll take anything that doesn't feature a man and a woman falling in love.  The amateur astronauts are all men...a good sign. They doubtless have wives and girlfriends at home who won't understand their obsession, but I can handle that.

Plus it stars Tom England.  This might not be the right one, but it's a promising start.

Scene 1: Harry (Joshua Ford), Mike (Tom England), and Roy (Arjun Singh Panam) are driving through the English wilderness at night, listening to "Space Gab" on the radio.

Closeting the Sikh by naming him "Roy Kennedy"? Maybe the role was already written when he auditioned for it, but why not just change the character's name to something more Indian-sounding?

Roy has been away from the group for a few months.  Mike says "It's great to have you back," and then, tentatively, "What are you doing this evening?"

Asking him for a date? Does he have a crush on Roy?

They get to the observation site and unload their new telescope, named Annabelle, which, Mike declares, "Makes life worth living."  Roy points out that it is "stiff, and lifeless, and weighs a ton," not like a real relationship.

Later, Roy is sitting in the car while Mike works on something on the roof.  His crotch presses against the window.  Roy doesn't seem to appreciate the bulge.

If pressing your salami against the glass doesn't get his attention, he's a lost cause.  Time to move on, Mike.

Wait -- we're  still in Scene 1?

Fifteen minutes in, and still in Scene 1. 

Are they going to be chatting and flirting with each other in a darkened car through the whole movie?

I fast forward.

2 hours at that observation site in the dark, then driving down a country road again, to stop and talk to another guy in the dark.   Oh, and Mike and Roy hug.  I guess they agreed to date after all.

Regardless of the gay subtext or text, I don't get it.  Where is the scene with them trying to get government officials to listen?  How about the scene where their home life is affected by their "obsession"?  And the scene where they meet the aliens?

Who would make a movie that's nothing but sitting in a dark car for two hours, talking about nothing?  Who would expect anyone besides their mother to watch it (and Mom would be fast forwarding)?

The writers/directors are Elliot and Zander Weaver, two brothers who apparently have never been to film school.

Or seen a movie before, ever, in their lives.

Or looked up the definition of "movie" in the dictionary.

Guys, it's a moving picture.  There has to be movement.

Maybe I'll just take a peek at one of those movies about a man and a woman falling in love.

Jun 15, 2020

Tom Brown's School Days

I saw Tom Brown’s School Days (1940) on Matinee at the Bijou, a 1970s tv series that replayed classic movies.   I had never heard of the original novel by Thomas Hughes (1857), about the agonizing love between two boys in an elite British boarding school, but later I sought it out.  Robert Drake writes that it became “one of the more influential texts for emerging gay writers, or writers with a gay sensibility."  The same can be said for the movie.

A tall, slim seventeen-year old named Jimmy Lydon plays Tom, “the typical American boy” even though he is still scripted as upper-class British.   He expresses his typical American boyhood by being stoic, courageous, and adventurous, by taking off his shirt to reveal a slim physique.  And by ignoring girls.  The daughter of a local shopkeeper plays a pivotal role in the plot, but Tom never gives her a second glance.  Instead, he falls in love with an aristocratic upperclassman.

East (Freddie Bartholomew, previously in Captains Courageous), tall, thin, brittle-looking, and as feminine as a young Quentin Crisp,  takes the initiative in the courtship, approaching Tom the moment he gets off the train, showing him around, taking him by the arm or shoulder, and gazing at him with rapt ardor.  He gives Tom a picture of two ancient Greek warriors shaking hands -- a 19th century beefcake poster -- and marks them as “Brown” and “East."

East carefully dismisses or outwits Tom’s other suitors.  When they go out for “murphys” (baked potatoes sold as a snack), he protects Tom from a groping, leering boy named Tadpole.
Tadpole: Is this the new fellow? Nice looking, isn’t he?
Tom: How do you do?
Tadpole: (Looks him up and down.) Hungry, thank you.

A more violent threat comes from Sixth Formers (high school seniors), led by the bestial Flashman (Billy Halop of Dead End, shown here playing Humphrey Bogart's gunsel).  He offers several shirtless and semi-nude scenes, with a more muscular physique.

Flashman bullies Tom, and forces him to endure dangerous hazing.  Their fight, oddly, serves as the subject for the lion's share of lobby cards and posters.

When Tom is accused of “telling tales,” the worst crime in the boys’ honor code, East breaks up with him, tearing up the picture and sending him his half.  Even after Tom is found innocent, East refuses to take him back, using oddly romantic rhetoric: “I’m not interested in you or anything about you!  I never want to see you again!”

Adult women in movies of the era rely on the phrase “I never want to see you again” to angrily break up with their boyfriends, but this is nearly the only example of its use among "buddies."  The implication, of course, is that Tom and east are not buddies, but homoromantic partners: their relationship is emotionally intense, physically intimate, and exclusive, and but for their breakup, it would be permanent.

The movie ends years later, when Tom and East encounter each other by accident at the tomb of their beloved headmaster.  Tom asks “Can’t we be friends?” and East grudgingly shakes his hand, thus giving closure to their romance.  In the original story, Tom stands at the tomb alone. Only in the 1940 are Tom and East homoromantic partners, so only in 1940 do they require closure.

Bartholomew and Lydon were paired again in Cadets on Parade (1942). Rich kid Austin Shannon (Freddie Bartholomew), an eighteen-year old military cadet, is bad at sports and reviled as a “sissy” by his self-made-man father, so he runs away and encounters street tough  Joe Novak (Jimmy Lydon).  The two set up housekeeping together (in a flat with only one bed).  Joe never mocks his partner's sissiness, but he does gently suggest that success at school may depend on an increased manliness.  Austin’s salvation, his return to middle-class society, comes through learning to box and play football, not through heterosexual experience: no girls appear or are mentioned in he movie.  But Austin draws Joen into civilization through the same rubric that girls use with jungle boys, through teaching him to read and use proper table manners.  In the end they both enroll in the military academy.  The tagline is: “The Story of Two American Boys…On the Road to Being Men!”

 The last of the Jimmy Lydon - Freddie Bartholomew pairings was The Town Went Wild (1944):  gangly sophisticate David (Freddie) and blue collar Bob  (Jimmy) are best friends, but they do not share a homoromantic bond.  David is dating Bob’s sister, but there is no hint at triangulation: he really does spend all of his time with her, while Bob is relegated to the status of third wheel.  It is interesting that the sissy gets engaged, while the he-man never expresses any interest in girls, but still, one must wonder why the scripted homoromances between Freddie and Jimmy ended so abruptly.  Perhaps the subtext was becoming too obvious, veering too close to conscious thought.

The Little Vampire and Pal

Movies starring preteens, such as The Never Ending Story and Journey to the Beginning of Time, are a good place to find gay content.  Preteen boys aren't required to drool over girls quite as often as teenagers and adults, and the myth that there are no gay children -- gayness is something that happens to you as an adult -- means they aren't being patroled by the Thought Police quite as heavily. So same-sex romance can be displayed, as long as no one actually Says the Word.

In The Little Vampire (2000), an adaptation of the novel series by Angela Sommer-Bodenberg, Tony (9-year old Jonathan Lipnicki, left) moves from America to Scotland, and becomes involved with a boy vampire named Rudolph (13-year old Rollo Weeks, right).  They rather obviously fall in love, rescuing each other from danger over and over, and flying through the air holding hands in a scene reminiscent of Superman flying with Lois Lane in the 1978 movie.

Rudolph and his family (Mom, Dad, older brother, and sister) don't attack people -- they drink animal blood, not human blood.  They just want to live in peace, but they are always in hiding, from evil vampires, bigoted humans, and especially a vampire hunter named Rookery.

Everyone is looking for a mystical stone that can either destroy the vampires or turn them human. Tony finds it.  In a climactic battle, he turns them human to save them, but now they lost their memory and don't know who he is.  A tear trickles down Tony's cheek as he realizes that not even Rudolph knows him.

But in the final scene, Tony whistles the mystical tune that the vampires taught him, and their memory is restored, and Tony and Rudolph, and their two families, can be together again.

This was not the only gay-friendly project of the two stars.  In 2006, Rollo Weeks starred in The Thief Lord, which also featured a strong same-sex romance.

Jonathan Lipnicki was a busy child star before The Little Vampire, with starring roles in Jerry Maguire (1996), The Jeff Foxworthy Show (1996-97) and Stuart Little (1999, 2002).  Recently he has been involved with independent films -- and bodybuilding.

I couldn't resist; most of these pictures are of the grown-up Jonathan rather than from the movie.

Jonathan is a strong supporter of gay rights. In 2011, he played in the STIKS Celebrity Video Game Challenge for Charity, representing the Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline for LGBT and questioning youth.

Jun 14, 2020

Curon, Episode 2: Every Gayer and Creepier

I don't usually do second episodes, but...the plot twists!  The gay subtexts and texts!  The beefcake!

Recap: Curon, the Netflix tv series, sends Ana and her two teens to her hometown in northern Italy, where her mother was murdered 17 years ago by someone with her face.  Grandpa Thomas is not happy to see them, probably because there's someone with her face trapped in the attic.  But Ana is staying anyway, and sends the twins to school.   Daria gets a girlfriend; and Mauro seems to be out on the Black Lake and back home in his room with his shirt off at the same time.

On to Episode 2:

Prologue:  Grandpa Thomas and Ana quickly drive away, while someone who looks like Ana climbs out of Black Lake.

Scene 1: Breakfast.  Grandpa Thomas tells the twins that Ana has gone off by herself to calm her nerves, so she won't be answering her cell phone.  He also shows Mauro the room where he saw the person with Ana's face last night; it is empty.

Scene 2: Micki, Daria's new girlfriend, reveals their kiss last night to Lucas (Luca Castellano),a shy boy who obviously has a crush on her but is stuck in the friend zone. He isn't happy with this new development.

Scene 3: Grandpa Thomas tells his friend Berger "Thanks for last night" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  He asks if there are one or two bodies.  (I'm lost.  Who died?)

Scene 4: In school, the teacher forcibly separates the twins.  Daria must sit next to Mickie (not a problem!), and Mauro, next to Lucas (matchmaking?). They insult each other.

Scene 5: Albert Asper (Alessandro Tedeschi)), the guy Ana used to date back before the murder-leaving town 17 years ago,  comes across some dead sheep.  There's a wolf in the woods!  (I hope this isn't a boring werewolf story!)

 Meanwhile, teacher is telling a story about how there's two wolves inside of us, one good and the other evil, fighting for control.  (Ulp;; it's going to be a boring werewolf story....)

What a coincidence -- teacher is Klara Asper, Albert's wife.  And Mickie and Giulio (one of the Hugging Guys) are their children!  I hope they are ok  with having two gay kids.

Scene 6:  Classes let out early in Italy: Mickie invites Daria home for lunch (bringing the new girlfriend home to meet the folks?).   She blows off Lucas, who gets mad and punches a mirror and then tells someone about last night's lesbian kiss.  Soon it's all over the school.

Scene 7: Lunch. The family is deeply religious, with crucifixes everywhere (wait -- Klara the teacher won't allow crucifixes in her classroom, but she's got a house full of them?  Something's wrong with this family).

Scene 7: Grandpa Thomas and his buddy are tracking "them" in the woods.

Meanwhile, Lucas and Mauro bond.  Suddenly the Boat Rental Guy shows up and asks about the boat that Mauro stole.last night.  Why is it still on the lake?

He calls them "pansies," and they run away.  (Is everybody in this show gay?  But Lucas is in love with Mickie...)

Meanwhile, Daria and Mickie discuss the kiss.  It was Mickie's first time, and her parents would have a fit if they found out.

Scene 8: They're just sitting down to lunch.  Dad Albert criticizes Klara's cooking; she cringes. Giulio gets up from the table without permission, and Dad practically attacks.  Authoritarina, abusive jerk!  And, no doubt, homophobic. (With two gay kids!).

 Scene 9:  Instead of kissing Mauro, Lucas gives him a plot exposition dump.  The submerged church is not due to a demon invasion.  After the War, Daria and Mauro's great-grandparents) pushed through a reservoir project which submerged the whole village, and everybody had to move. That's why the Rania family is hated so much.  (Political/economic tensions. I'm disappointed.  I thought it was Satan).

 Meanwhile, Grandpa Thomas and his buddy are still tracking (after that plot dump, something exciting had better happen soon.) 

They go into a cave and call for a someone to come out ("I won't hurt you.")  But the person or werewolf won't.  So they keep tracking, and find a cell phone with a call from Mauro on it.  Maybe the missing mom's?

Scene 10: Someone wrote "Mickie Asper Lesbica #Maiunagioia" on the wall of the school.  Luca desperately tries to erase it.  Mickie assumes that he did it and yells "You're dead to me."

Scene 11: Giulio is boxing with his shirt off, while the other Hugging Guy, Davide, plays on his cell phone. He practically kills his opponent; Davide has to rush into the ring and pull him away.  Then Giulio showers naked, while Davide asks "What happened back there?  You looked possessed by...."  He throws him a wad of cash. "Now either smile, or tell me what's wrong."

 Giulio smiles.  "I missed you."

The homoeroticism of that scene is breath-taking.  I need a break. I'll be back later.

Scene 12:  Lucas goes home, where his fat, fruity Dad is playing with their cat.

He takes a shower and hangs around nude, upset over the day's events.  Suddenly he sees a naked guy standing behind him.  With his face.

Scene 13:  Mickie and Daria are shooting up an abandoned trailer for fun. They discuss Lucas.

Meanwhile, Grandpa Thomas and his buddy are still tracking (hasn't it been, like 8 or 9 hours?  Did they get a bathroom break?) Thomas wants to continue tracking "them" down a ravine, but Buddy points out that "they're" already dead, and anyway it's getting dark.

Scene 14: Mauro is playing with his drone.  There's someone in the attic room where he saw his mom's doppleganger!  He rushes to investigate.  Albert the Jerk, who stands too close, bugs his eyes, and generally acts gross nd creepy ("I'm worried about your mother's disappearance because we used to be friends...good friends..."}

Scene 15: Mauro tells twin sister the plot exposition dump he got earlier.  They find Mom's cell phone -- still in the house! Why would she leave without it?  Is Grandpa Thomas lying?

Scene 16: Albert the Jerk is wandering around in the dark, being creepy.

Meanwhile, Lucas is crying and holding his head with his shirt off.

Suddenly we see his doppelganger climbing naked out of the Black Lake. Shudder.

Beefcake: A lot.

Weirdness: A lot.

Heterosexual characters:  Lucas, maybe?

See also:Curon: A Gayer, Creepier Locke and Key

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