Mar 13, 2021

Love, American Style

In November 1966, my bedtime changed from 7:30  to 8:00, and a dozen beefcake and bonding shows were opened up for me:  It's About Time, Run Buddy Run, Time Tunnel, and My Three Sons, 

In November 1969, my bedtime changed from 8:00 to 9:00, and I felt terribly grownup as I watched Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-0, It Takes a Thief -- and Love American Style.  

It was an anthology show.  Every episode had 3 vignettes about heterosexuals interested in having sex with each other.  Bosses chased secretaries around the office. A plumber seduced a coed.  A wrong number turned into romance.

Sex was on everyone's mind, the unspoken impetus to every action.  No one ever had any, but they often planned to, as Hollywood mirrored the sexual revolution.  In the end the traditional "no particulars until your wedding night" was affirmed.

It was fascinating, a glimpse into a completely alien world.  There was nothing like this on The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family.

Yet it was familiar and comfortable, due to the endless parade of guest stars that I knew and liked from other programs: Davy Jones, Bill Bixby, Don Grady, Ted Bessell, Tony Randall (left), Barry Gordon (below).

The adults all insisted with knowing grins that in a few years I would be joining their motley crue, with my own tongue-lolling machinations after girls, so I watched to get a glimpse of my future.

And I found:

1. Beautifully decorated apartments, groovy threads, a world of light and color.

2. Beefcake.  The men were always taking their shirts off.

3. Buddies.  While the protagonist quested after girls, his quiet, loving best friend stayed home and waited.  So wherever I went in life, at the end of the day there would be a man waiting.

In the first episode I saw, "Love and the Dating Computer" (November 3, 1969),  a mixup at a computer dating service matches two men, Francis (Broderick Crawford, right) and Marion (Herb Edelman, left).  They have everything in common -- they are perfecly matched  -- except for that little matter of being of the same sex.  But maybe that was what they were looking for all along.

See also: Love Boat/Fantasy Island

The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple (1970-75) seems like an odd addition to the teen-friendly Friday night lineup that also included The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, and Room 222.  No teens, no teen idol songs, just two middle aged men, the slovenly Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) and the fastidious Felix Ungar (Tony Randall) as bickering heterosexual roommates in a New York apartment.

Ostensibly they are thrust together out of necessity after failed heterosexual unions: Felix is kicked out of his house because his wife, Gloria, finds him too fastidious, so he takes refuge with his divorced friend.  But surely being a “neat freak” is insufficient cause for divorce.  Nor does the sudden disruption of his life explain why Felix continues to live with Oscar for five years; a middle-aged heterosexual man with a sizeable business income (Felix is a professional photographer) may move in with a buddy for a few weeks in an emergency, but he would certainly want his own apartment as soon as possible.  If Felix is understood as “gay,” however, it makes perfect sense.

Tony Randall would most likely favor a gay reading of his character: in the 1950’s and 1960’s he specialized in gay-stereotyped roles, sensitive, effete, artistic, snobbish, persnickety, and doting on macho best friends; in Send Me No Flowers (1964), his character all but jumps into bed with the hunky Rock Hudson.   After The Odd Couple, he planned to make television history by playing the first openly gay character with a starring role in prime time, but network censors insisted on closeting Love, Sidney.

Randall notes that they did attempt to mention gay people a few times in The Odd Couple.  Felix finds an article that Oscar is writing about gay liberation, assumes that he is gay, and muses, “If it was going to be anyone,  you’d think it would be me.” Oscar and Felix accidentally book themselves onto a gay airplane flight, and fit right in with the other couples.   But all such references were summarily nixed by the network censors. The producers got so fed up that they filmed clips of Oscar and Felix kissing, and sent them in just to get the censors mad.

The network was so squeamish about potential “misinterpretations” of the couple that in the first season they made the middle-aged men, one still aching from a breakup, flirt with women as aggressively as college fratboys.  In the first episode, “The Laundry Orgy” (September 1970), Felix and Oscar scheme to end their weekly poker game early so they can go out on a date with the giggling British-mod Pigeon Sisters, who seem to have popped in directly from a stag film.  Aside from the best-buddy dynamic, the fact that they can only conceive of a date with women when both of them go together, the plot is remarkably heterosexist, with poker-playing buddies mere hindrances on the road to heterosexual toddy.

As the show progressed, the poker pals and the Pigeon Sisters were dropped, and the tension about the duo’s conflicting personal habits faded into the background.  Eventually their definition as an “odd couple” depended less upon the neat/sloppy interaction than upon appearance together in all public and private events, so obviously romantic partners that their occasional heterosexual dates and separate bedrooms seemed irrelevant.  In “The Princess” (September 1972), Felix is hired to photograph the Princess of Luxembourg (Jean Simmons).  Oscar and the Princess share a mutual attraction, but the walls of royal security make him despair of ever seeing her again.  Then Felix receives an invitation to attend a royal ball, and gets an idea: “It says here that I can bring a guest.  Oscar – you’ll be my date!”  So Oscar and Felix, resplendent in tuxedos, mingle among the palace elite as same-sex partners without the least embarrassment.  The Princess seems taken aback by this demonstration that the two are lovers, but only because she is herself interested in Oscar.

After the initial giggling Pigeon Sister phase, Oscar and Felix develop an extraordinary interest in children.  They tutor a teenage jock, act as big brothers to a reform school boy, adopt a homeless boy,  restore a lost infant to its mother, help Oscar’s homeless niece deliver her baby, and coach pee wee football. This domesticity helped The Odd Couple move beyond the sophomoric humor of Neil Simon’s hetero-sex farce, and sealed the duo’s popularity among adolescents.

Of 114 episodes, only fourteen concern Oscar or Felix seeking heterosexual romance, and eleven involve nurturing children or adolescents.  Most of the remaining episodes show the couple acting as domestic partners: going on cruises and retreats together, relating anecdotes about how they first met, or helping friends sort through their romances.  The romantic implication of their relationship is never far from the surface.  For instance,  in “Being Divorced Means Never Having to Say I Do” (December 1971), Oscar’s ex-wife Blanche announces that she is getting remarried.  Oscar is delighted at the prospective liberation from alimony payments, but Felix objects (literally, during the ceremony!).  He protests that Blanche is obviously not in love with her fiancé.

Oscar: [Sarcastically.]  What is love, Dear Abby?

Felix: Love is that feeling between two people, a man and a woman. [Pause.] It doesn’t have to be a man and a woman. [Pause.] It could be a man and a dog, or a dog and a cat, or a. . .a bunny. [Pause]. Love is that intense, vital, passionate feeling one person has for another.

As Felix attempts to describe the romantic love that would justify a permanent monogamous commitment rather than a simple friendship, it is curious that he doesn’t make love exclusively heterosexual, as so many people still do today.  His pause after “it doesn’t have to be a man and a woman” followed by an incoherent ramble about pets suggests that he has thought of another form of romantic love, one that he dares not speak aloud.  Oscar agrees that he has a “intense, vital, passionate” feeling for Felix, but it is certainly not hate, and it is too passionate to be simple friendship.

The theme song had lyrics, never aired, that emphasize what gay viewers knew all along, that the two were literally in love, sharing a passion deep enough to withstand their conflicting personalities, their trivial pursuit of women, and the stares of passersby:

No matter where they go, they are known as the couple.
They’re never seen alone, so they’re known as the couple.
Their habits, I confess, none can guess with the couple. . .
Don’t you find, when love is blind, it’s kind of odd?

Mar 12, 2021

Capitani: Scruffy Detective and a Small Town Full of Secrets. In Luxembourg


Ready for another dead girl in the woods and a  gruff detective investigating the case along with a lady detective whom bicker/flirts with?  Seriously, are these series written by humans or an automatic cliche generator?

Well, at least Capitani  is set in Luxembourg, so maybe we'll get some interesting shots of Luxembourg City and hear the Luxembourgish language, quite different from German:

Come back to my hotel room.  I want to show you my sausage.

German: Komm in mein Hotelzimmer. Ich möchte dir meine Wurst zeigen

Luxembourgish: Kommt a mäi Hotelzëmmer. Ech wëll Iech meng Wurscht weisen

Scene 1: Establishing shot of the Luxembourgish village of Dudelange.   An ambulance rolls into the woods. Scruffy Guy watches them uncovering a dead girl while a news report on the radio helpfully tells us that they have discovered a dead girl.

He drives through the countryside for a long time to the village of Manscheid, and parks beside the Auberge des Bons Amis. A homeless guy walks past, talking to himself: "I'm empty.  I'm broken."  A reflection of Scruffy Guy's internal state?  Suddenly the boss calls and tells him to return and investigate the crime scene.  So what was all this for?

Back at the crime scene, in the rural countryside populated by suspicious hillbillies (Luxembourg is big enough to have hillbillies?).  Scruffy Guy chews out the guard, Brigadier Mores, for his lax protocol.  

Scene 2:  Meanwhile, a middle-aged male-female couple at breakfast.  Rob, a secondary school teacher, is upset because he didn't get the directorate.  He asks his wife why she came in so late last night.  If it's any of your business, she went out for a drink!  The kids aren't in their bedroom; maybe they went off with Lea.  That's a lot of plot exposition in three minutes!  

Meanwhile, Scruffy Guy and Mores head for the crime scene.  Funny, they're walking through woods, but before it was right by the road.  Wait -- this is a different girl!  Two girls found dead in different locations in Luxembourg on the same morning!

Elsa the Lady Cop is investigating.  She offers to go into town to get forensics, but Scruffy Guy sends Mores instead.  He prefers with the lady.  Darn, that means we'll never see Mores again.

Scene 3: At the school, Rob has assigned an essay -- in French: "Am I free to choose my own fate?"  He looks out the window at the butts of girls playing soccer in the field below, until the coach looks up at him, suspicious. Into teenage girls, Rob?  

Meanwhile his wife -- Nadine -- is working at her shop. She calls to see if Lea gave the girls a ride to school, but she hasn't seen them.  At that moment an ambulance rushes past.  Uh-oh.

Homeless Guy sees it rushing past, too, while talking to himself.  Obviously he's going to be a suspect, but he's innocent. I''m going with Rob.

Scene 4: Scruffy Guy-- Capitani (Luc Schiltz) -- identifies the body: 15 year old Jenny Engel, Nadine and Rob's daughter.  Lady Cop notes that everyone in the village knew her.

Meanwhile, Nadine is following the ambulance.  She calls Mick, who is still in bed.  There's a picture of him with the girls on his nightstand.  No, they're not with him.

Scene 5: The forensic team finds pills on Jenny's body.  Capitani concludes that it was a suicide.  But Elsa protests: Jenny would never do such a thing. 

Suddenly they see a man in a ski mask watching.  They chase him.  Elsa tackles him and even shoots at him, but in the end he escape.  Not Rob, who is still at school.

Lots of people in the village hear the gunshot, including a new character, Manon, a young woman wearing short pants and boots.  She goes into the bakery, where everyone is discussing the gunshot, the ambulance, and Nadine.  "Why can't you mind your own business?" she asks, and rushes into the back.

Scene 6: 
 The ambulance and Nadine arrive at the crime scene.  She surmises that Jenny is dead, and collapses in tears (is it weird that at this heart-wrenching moment, all I notice is Capitani's bulge/).  

Rob arrives and indentifies the body. He's the stepfather.  So Mick must be the biological father, and Lea the new wife?

Scene 7: In the village, Elsa says that there's another daughter, Jenny's twin Tanja.  Both girls were last seen near their mother's shop at 4:00 pm yesterday.   Capitani calls in a missing person report and decides to stay in town to investigate (I checked -- it only takes an hour to drive from one end of Luxembourg to the other, so couldn't he just go home?)

Scene 8: 
Mom Nadine collapsed from the shock, and is now unconscious in the hospital.  Elsa gets a call from Steve, and tells him the whole story.  She'll be working tonight and can't see him.  

Steve has his back to us.  He turns around.  We're supposed to be shocked, but I don't recognize him.  Wait--- he looks almost exactly like Capitani.  Could he be the Scruffy Guy who was watching the construction site body in Scene 1.  Then he got into his car and drove onto a country road, and hte next scene had Capitani driving on the exact same road, to confuse the viewer?  

I go back to check.  Nope, that was definitely Capitani, going from one murder site to a small town where another murder had taken place, but he didn't know abou tyet.  The big reveal of Steve's identity is jsut sloppy direction.

Steve is at a campground with a couple of guys, one of whom says "Steve, I love you so much. Kiss me."  But it's more misdirection -- the other guy is making fun of him for being stupid enough to have a girlfriend.  

Scene 9: Capitani is explaining to the big boss that he's setting up an office in Manscheid and recruiting Elsa and Mores as his staff.  Then he interrogates Rob the Stepfather: he last saw the girls when they left school at 3:00 pm.  He doesn't know where they went after.  Why not?  Shouldn't a parent know what his teenage daughters are up to?

Next he interrogates Mick the Biological Father, who has a key to the house.

Meanwhile, a priest say the Lord's Prayer with Nadine, then goes out into the hallway, where Homeless Guy -- Usch  (Luc Feit)-- is waiting.  Capitani and the fathers arrive, and Usch hugs Mick.   The priest explains that he lives in the parish house, but "the entire village has adopted him." 

Scene 9: At the Auberge des Bons Amis, where Capitani parked earlier.  Wait -- he came to this town in Scene 1, before his boss called to tell him about the dead girl.  Is he involved somehow?

The manager is in the back room, doing paperwork, when she hears Capitani ask for a room.  She looks up, horrified.  

A montage of people searching the woods for Tanja, Mom Nadine in her hospital bed, Manon the Bakery Girl going out, Elsa folding clothes, Steve and the other guys practicing boxing...and Rob hanging himself in the attic!

Beefcake: None.  Steve and Capitani are both cute.

Other Sights: The ficttional village.

Gay Characters: None specified.

Heterosexism:  Capitani seems to have a crush on Elsa, and Elsa's boyfriend Steve seems to have anger issues.  I predict a "teen nerd wrestling the It-Girl from the obnoxious jock she's dating" plotline.

Mysteries: What Capitani was doing at the other murder scene.  If it's Tanja, why didn't he mention it?   How did he know to come to the village in advance? Why does the hotel manager have such an odd reaction to Capitani's presence?  Why did Rob hang himself?

Will I Keep Watching:  Why not?  It's in Luxembourgish.

Mar 10, 2021

"Neon Flesh": Hustler with a Heart of Gold Opens a Brothel for His Mother

The plot synopsis for Neon Flesh (Carne de Neón), on Amazon Prime,  says something about a guy opening a brothel to honor the memory of his prostitute mother, so one would expect a nonstop boob fest.  But the trailer shows a muscular, half naked guy being interrogated and threatened while playing chess, and no ladies in sight.  There must be some mistake; synopsis and trailer couldn't possibly be referencing the same movie.  

Turns out that the trailer shows the only beefcake scene, and there are surprisingly few boobs in the movie.   Interesting -- I wonder if writer/director Paco Cabezas was going for a gay male audience.  Probably not: he also wrote and directed Invasion Traversi (2000), about an invasion of evil transvestite aliens who turn everyone gay; the "last living heterosexual on Earth" has three days to find "a real man" and save the world.

On the other hand, star Mario Casas, seen here with his brother, has played gay characters several times (including gay porn, I think), and appeared at Gay Pride events with his girlfriend Blanca Suarez, so definitely an ally, if not bi/pan. 

On to the movie: 23-year old Ricky (Mario) has been living on the streets for years, getting by through the usual underground economy of petty theft, drug dealing, and hustling ("Everybody knows what your ass looks like!", he is told).  He's been saving up his money to open a high-class brothel in honor of his mother, a prostitute currently in prison (but not for prostitution -- that's legal in Spain).  

With the help of his friends, drag queen La Infantita (Dámaso Conde), pimp Angelito (Vicente Romano), and Angelito's muscular but dimwitted sidekick El Niño(Luciano Cáceres, left), Ricky buys an abandoned building and transforms it into a high-class brothel-nightclub, Hiroshima.

For girls, they get Angelito's favorite prostitute, a crack addict so strung out that she doesn't draw customers anymore; and several victims of human trafficking, one of whom is extremely pregnant.  They give the trafficked girls the standard spiel: "You owe us for getting you into the country.  As soon as you have paid off your debt by working for us, we will give you citizenship papers. You can leave anytime you want, but the police will arrest you and deport you."

Complication: When Mom gets out of prison, she turns out to be in her 60s, with Alzheimer's Disease.  She doesn't know who Ricky is.  But after she starts working as a bartender at the club, she seems to improve.  

Actually, all of the girls improve.  While they are still trafficking victims, they turn into a quasi-family.  When the pregnant girl has her baby, they plan to sell it to a rich family in an illegal adoption, but decide that the new family might not treat the child properly, so they keep it.

Complication: Chino (Dario Grandinetti), who runs all the other brothels in town, wants revenge on two cops who beat his son to death.  So he grabs them, plus the Wild Child boarding school girl who is dating the younger one.  Ricky knows who actually did the beating, so Chino tortures him to find out.  That's the beefcake scene from the trailer.

Oh, and he wants 50% of the club's profits, retroactive to when it opened months ago.

No way Ricky can afford to pay that.  He has to close up the club and help his friends and the girls escape (Angelito is killed in the process), plus rescue Wild Child.  

Beefcake: Just that scene, and  El Nino flexing his muscles.

Other Sights: The gritty underbelly of a Spanish city, I think Barcelona.

Boobs: Surprisingly few. 

Heterosexual Romance:  The cop and Wild Child.  El Nino gets a crush on the pregnant girl, but nothing comes of it.

Sexism: At the beginning, the girls are treated as property that can be bought, sold, and discarded.  That all changes.

Is Ricky Gay?

"Everybody knows what your ass looks like."

He tries to hug Angelito, but Angelito pushes him away: "We're buddies, but none of that fag stuff!"  Ricky convinces him to hug anyway.

Angelito disapproves of the sign for Hiroshima: too big, and too pink, like it's advertising a gay bar, not a brothel.

Ricky displays no interest in any girl, not even the Wild Child whom he rescues.  In the end he drives away with his mother! 

My verdict: Gay, but not specifically stated.  Maybe viewers are supposed to deduce that he's gay because Mario Casas has played so many gay guys in the past.

My Grade: B+.

Mar 8, 2021

February 15th, 1981: The Best Night of TV Beefcake

February 15th, 1981. 
A Sunday night during my junior year at Augustana College.  The day after Valentine's Day.  Last year I was with my first boyfriend, Fred; we couldn't go out, of course, but he gave me flowers and cooked a nice dinner.  This year, with no one open on campus and no gay venues in town except for a bar that I'm too young to get into, I sat at home, lonely and depressed, while my parents and younger brother went out on their respective dates.  

Tonight I feel even worse.  To avoid a hassle with my parents over not going to the evening church service, I drive to campus,  get a burger and fries in the Student Union Snack Bar, and hang out in the tv lounge.

7:00: Fortunately, the lounge is empty, no fratboys clamoring to watch the boob fest Charlie's Angels ("in your next assignment, Angels, you will go undercover as bikini models").  I turn it to CHIPS, about California Highway Patrol Officers Ponch (Erik Estrada) and Jon (Larry Wilcox) showing off their biceps and bulges.  In tonight's episode...well, who cares?  I get to see Erik Estrada.

Two guys come in and ask if they can watch One Day at a Time -- "Barbara is smokin'"   I don't mind -- liberated woman Ms. Ann Romano raising her two teenage daughters in small-town Indianapolis is always good for hip, relevant, with-it dramedy.  Besides, in the sixth season, the girls have grown up, Julie is gone altogether, and Ann has filled the gap by adopting her late boyfriend's son Alex (Glenn Scarpelli, who will come out years later).  In this episode, Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) takes on the case of an immigrant set to be deported, played by the hunky Steve Bauer.

A few more people have come into the lounge, mostly girls or girl-boy couples.  Someone points out that Animal House is playing on NBC.  But it started at 7:00 -- it's half over.  So we leave the tv on CBS.

8:00: Alice.  Another liberated woman, single mom Alice Hyatt finds happiness as a waitress at Mel's Diner in small-town Tucson, Arizona. In the fifth season, "Kiss my grits" coworker Flo is gone, and son Tommy (seen here with sister Nancy McKeon of The Facts of Life)  is a college hunk.  Tonight he skips class to sing at a saloon.  

8:30: The Jeffersons.  In a spin-off from All in the Family, newly wealthy George and Louise Jefferson, and sometimes their son Lionel, move to a "deluxe apartment in the sky," where they encunter various forms of prejudice. In this episode, George goes to a meeting about "keeping low lifes out of the neighborhood."  Turns out that it's a Ku Klux Klan recruitment rally.  When the leader has a heart attack, George saves his life, and his teenage son (the extremely bulgeworthy Ike Eisenmann) stops being racist.

9:00: Now the tv lounge is nearly full, every couch and chair occupied.  NBC has a special, Women Who Rate a Ten, about "the spectrum of female beauty from Mae West to Miss Piggy."  I'm about to bolt, but we take a vote, and it's 9 to 7 in favor of:

Trapper John, MD: In a spin-off from MASH, thirty years after the end of the Korean War, Trapper John is Chief of Surgery at San Francisco Generral Hospital (don't get excited -- this is a gay-free San Francisco).  He butts heads with young loose cannon surgeon Gonzo Gates (the extremely hunky Gregory Harrison).  Tonight a con-man (perennial tv hunk Dick Gautier) doesn't believe the doctors when they tell him he needs an operation.Plus his girlfriend is pregnant.

10:00.  I head for home.  Diana Ross is on the car radio:

It's my turn, with no more room for lies.

For years I've seen my life through someone else's eyes.

I didn't get a boyfriend, or see or hear anything gay.  Still, I feel a lot better.

Sometimes all it takes is a little beefcake.

Davy Crockett and the Coonskin Cap Craze

During the mid-1950s, there was a craze for "coonskin caps" among the first generation of Baby Boomer boys: a faux-fur cap, round and furry, with a long tail, striped like a raccoon.

The next generation of Boomers found them ridiculous, but remember, this was the era of the crewcut.  With your hair trimmed so tightly that there's not much left, the coonskin cap serves as a nice substitute in cold weather.

And it gives you a nice phallic symbol to play with (imagine putting over your crotch instead of on your head).

Girls had big hair in the 1950s, so crewcuts were a means of gender polarization.  They were so popular that they had their own advertising icons, such as Johnny Crewcut in Boys' Life.   Here he advises kids to "practice undressing fast before bed each night."  The optimal time is under 20 seconds.

I've gotten guys out of their clothes faster than that.

The coonskin cap craze was generated by Davy Crockett, five episodes of the Disneyland  TV series in 1954-55, based on the real Jacksonian-era politician and folk hero, who died at the Alamo in 1835.

Davy was played by 30-year old Fess Parker, who had a master's degree in theater history from USC, but found himself playing coonskin-cap frontiersmen for the rest of his life.  Here's a rare shirtless photo.

I've never seen the miniseries, but they give Davy a sidekick, played by Buddy Ebsen (later Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies), so there may have been some buddy-bonding gay subtexts.

He also hung out with such folk heroes as Jim Bowie (Kenneth Tobey) and Mike Fink (Jeff York), so there may have been some beefcake,

Davy Crockett has appeared in over 50 other movies and tv series, played by a surprising number of recognizable stars: Fred Gwynne, John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Billy Bob Thornton, Brian Keith, and John Goodman (on Saturday Night Live).

Jake Wynne (seen here at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival) played Crockett in A Man of Reputation (2012), swapping tall tales with Mike Fink in a bar.

But none of them have ever come near the fame of Fess Parker, his coonskin cap, and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett"

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, 
Greatest state in the Land of the Free. 
Raised in the woods so he knew every tree, 
Killed him a b'ar when he was only three.

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