May 22, 2021

The Strange/Scary House: Hendrik is Gay for 45 Minutes

 While trying to track down my Hazel poison mushroom memory, I stumbled upon the German movie Das schaurige Haus ("the scary house," but for some reason appearing on Netflix as The Strange House). It's set in Austria, on the Slovenian border, so I thought it might have some Slovenian spoken, and the protagonist Henrik (19 year old Leon Orlandianyi) is kind of cute, so I gave it a go.

Scene 1:
Mom, surly teenage Henrik, and adorable preteen Eddi drive through the beautiful Austrian mountains to their new home, Bad Eisenkappel/Zelezna Kapla ("Iron Chapel" in German and Slovenian; this must be on the Austrian border).  They pull up to a horrible. overgrown barn-style house.  The leering real estate agent shows them around: it's horrible on the inside, too. There's evidence that the previous tenants, another single mom, teenage son, and adorable preteen, left in a hurry.  And a locked door marked with a trail of salt "to keep the ghosts away." 

As they unload their stuff, a neighbor lady peers down from her window, prays, and crosses herself.  Bad things happen in that house.  But the title sort of gave that away.

Somebody or something calls to Eddi from behind the locked door.

Scene 2: Dinner in the scary house.  Surly teenage arguments.  Henrik storms away.  He sees that the locked door is open -- it leads to a staircase.  But he doesn't go up -- smart kid!  

Later, Eddi comes into Henrik's room while he is in bed and scrawls a mysterious symbol on the wall.

Scene 4:  Henrik skateboards through town to the grocery store to get bread rolls.  The locals stare open-mouthed, and he has trouble communicating, because everyone speaks Austrian German or Slovenian.

After breakfast, the family goes over to meet the spying neighbor lady. Growl, stare. "You won't last long." Slam.

Scene 5:
The boys go exploring, and find an overgrown grave yard.  One of the tombs has photos that look like the previous tenants: teenage Ralf and ten-year old Roland.  Is it an odd coincidence that Hendrik and Eddi are exactly their age?

Eventually the boys reach a lake where lots of people are hanging out, picnicking, playing with Frisbees, swimming.  Henrik spies a girl that he'd like to have sex with, and tells Eddi to go find some kids his own age to play with.  But before he has a chance to approach her, a boy named Fritz approaches him!  This must be a prime cruising site.  

Suddenly a group of bullies approach to torture intellectual/outsider Fritz.  They quickly turn their attention to the "anti-German slur" Henrik, but Henrik grabs Eddi and runs away, with Fritz tagging along.  He tells them about the previous tenants (actually way back in 1980): Amelia Polzmann murdered her two sons by feeding them poison mushrooms, then killed herself.   

Scene 6:  Mom is tired, so the boys cook dinner.  Eddi hears someone calling for Roland, one of the dead boys, and sees a mysterious figure watching them from outside.  A ghost, or anti-German stalking?

Later, Henrik looks up a news story about the murders, and shows Mom. Dismiss, dismiss.  "What about Eddi seeing things and sleepwalking?"  Nope, dismiss.

Later, the boys are brushing their teeth when -- ok, enough shots of Henrik in his underwear!  Granted, he's 16, legal age in Germany, and the actor is 19, still, this is supposed to be wholesome family entertainment.  I didn't come her for penises.   -- when they overhear Mom arguing with the Leering Realtor.  

Meanwhile, Mom sees a new wall-scribble, and a photo of the dead family.  Is that the Leering Realtor with them?  Looking exactly the same? Gulp!

Scene 7:  Late at night.  Henrik climbs out of bed, in his underwear, of course, and takes away all of Eddi's art supplies so he can't scrawl weird symbols on the wall.

It doesn't work.  Later, Henrick and his penis are  awakened from a nightmare to see Eddi scrawling on the wall again.  The word GOBE.

Scene 8: Henrik and Fritz on a date, lying on a blanket at the park.  Henrik tells Fritz about GOBE.  It's Slovenian, but he doesn't know what it means.  He grabs Ida, a passing girl, to translate (uh-oh, love interest): Mushrooms.

Fritz deduces from this that Amelia Polzmann didn't murder her sons.  One of the dead kids is speaking through Eddi, trying to exonerate her. 

Chris and his band of bullies arrive and punch Henrik in the nose.  Fritz faints at the sight of blood, but Ida administers first aid  (uh-oh, Fritz has just been replaced by Ida).

Scene 9: Eddie rushes out to the old cemetery, explaining "The woman called me."  He draws pictures of dead people on his sketch pad.  

Cut to night.  Henrik and his penis text Ida to discuss the ghost stuff.  Then he climbs into bed with Eddi to keep him safe from the ghosts.

Scene 10.  Morning.  A knock on the door.  Henrik and his penis rush to answer: it's Ida, gazing like she's about 10 seconds away from tearing the rest of his clothes off.  He brings her up to his room to wait while he finishes getting dressed.  She sees a girl among his photos, and roils with jealousy.  "Is this your girlfriend?????!!!!"  "No, just someone from my group of friends."  "What a relief!"

Another knock on the door.  It's Fritz, Henrik's boyfriend!  Well, this is awkward.

They get down to the business of finding the real murderer.   The ghosts might know who killed them, so let's conduct a seance!  Aww-- a seance means holding hands.

Scene 11:
The seance.  Eddi is possessed by the ghost of Roland Polzmann, who leads them up to the attic, to a locked room full of scary artifacts.  It belong to Ralf, the teenager brother, who was heavy into the occult.  A devil's head bookcase has a hidden compartment, and inside a book with another secret compartment!  Then Ralf shows up as an evil ghost, so they have to scram! 

Scene 12: The secret compartment contains a Super 8 film from the 1980s and a small diary.  While Fritz rushes home to get projection equipment, Henrik and Ida sit touchy-feely on the bed to, I mean, I mean they are interrupted by Leering Realtor.

Fritz returns, and squeezes between Henrik and Ida on the couch to watch the film (too late, kid -- you should never have left them alone).

Nothing incriminating:  home movies of Roland and Ralf, augmented by the diary: Ralf is unhappy in their new home.  Roland has made new friends, but he's all alone.  Mom picks mushrooms; Dad is surprisingly close to the housekeeper.  If it's all innocent, why bother to hide it so thoroughly?

I'm not going to go through the rest scene-by-scene.  

Beefcake: Henrik and his penis are on display for about 3/4ths of the movie.  Some teenage bare chests.  The only significant adult male is the Leering Realtor.

Other Sights: Some nice village establishing shots, the cave that Mom explores.

Gay Characters: Henrik and Fritz, for the first 45 minutes.

Heterosexism: A completely unnecessary romance between Henrik and Ida, obviously tacked on when the director realized that his original rejection of her could be "misinterpreted" as signifying that he is gay.   Then an even moreunnecessary two-scene romance between Fritz and a girl at the village party, obviously tacked on at the last minute to alleviate suspicions that Fritz is gay.

The movie was based on a 2012 novel by Martina Wildner, which has no hetero-romantic plotline.

Plot twists:  The murderer's identity is a surprise.

Plot holes: Why did the dead boys wait 40 years to manifest and request that the living solve their murder?  Did they need two tenants their exact ages?

My grade: B until they decided to heterosexualize Hendrik and Fritz.

May 20, 2021

I Dream of Jeannie

When Larry Hagman died, his obituaries praised his conniving Texas oil magnate J.R. Ewing of Dallas (1978-1991, plus a 2012 remake).  But I rarely watched Dallas.  I remembered him from one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the 1960s, I Dream of Jeannie (1967-70).

I didn't watch that a lot, either.  Most gay kids preferred Bewitched.  The premise seemed too much like a Playboy fantasy: astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle washed up on a beach, opens it, and out pops a genie -- nameless, so he calls her Jeannie (Barbara Eden).  She calls him Master.  She wears a belly-dancing costume that leaves little to the imagination, and is willing to do anything he wants. Anything.

To his credit, Tony doesn't take advantage of the situation.  Like Darren of Bewitched, he wants to take care of himself, and he forbids Jeannie from using her magic (she, of course, disobeys him). His best friend Roger (Bill Daily) is less scrupulous -- he can think of lots of things to wish for.

Neither makes the slightest attempt to compromise the lady's virtue, but no doubt that is exactly what was on the minds of millions of straight male viewers.

Every "I've got a secret" sitcom has a Gladys Kravitz to suspect the secret, peer through windows,  and snoop around.  On Jeannie, it was base psychiatrist Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), who was gay-vague: no wife, and no reason for his obsession with the strange goings-ons in the Nelson household, except for a desire to see more of the hunky astronaut.

According to Barbara Eden's autobiography, Rorke (here with gay icon Judy Garland) was "unashamedly gay" in real life, and "a prince" who often invited cast members to dinner parties at his home.

After Jeannie, Larry Hagman went on to Dallas, of course, and Barbara Eden chose roles involving gutsy, go-getting women to prove that she wasn't just a belly-dancing sex object.

 She reprised her Jeannie character twice:

I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) substituted Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H for Larry Hagman, who was busy with Dallas.   In order to save Tony's life, Jeannie has to sacrifice her relationship with him -- and he must forget that he ever knew her.

In I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991), the events of the previous movie never occurred, but Tony was absent (Larry Hagman was still busy).  Jeannie has to find a new temporary master, and meanwhile saves her kidnapped son, Anthony Jr. 

May 19, 2021

Los Angeles as Home: "The Lucy Show"

The Lucy Show (1962-68) was a fixture of my childhood.  I wasn't exactly entranced by the show -- no cute boys, no exciting outer-space adventures -- but it wasn't designed for kids.  Lucy had boring, mundane adult problems like sticking to a budget and worrying about her job, and she all but ignored the swirling social unrest in the world outside.  But my parents liked it, so it became a warm, comforting presence on Monday nights.

Apparently there were two versions.  The first (1962-65) was an early Kate and Allie:  Widowed Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) and her divorced friend Viv (Vivian Vance) live in Danville, New York, with their children (Jimmy Garrett, Candy Moore, Ralph Hart).  Before my time.

I just remember the second version (1965-68), with Lucy Carmichael living in Los Angeles, where she worked for blustering bank president Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) and got into crazy predicaments.  

In spite of the lack of beefcake and space adventures, there were five points of interest:

1. Some of the guest stars were cute, like Frankie Avalon, Ken Berry, and Clint Walker (left). Not her son, Desi Arnaz Jr., though.

2. Years later, when I began watching classic movies and tv shows, I realized that many of the stars were familiar from guest appearances on The Lucy Show: Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, George Burns, Paul Winchell, John Wayne, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar.

3.  In later seasons, Lucy gets a sidekick, the hip, sprightly Mary Jane (Mary Jane Croft, right), who seems to "like" Lucy, and continues to hang around in spite of the constant scrapes and catastrophes.

4. Lucy and Mr. Mooney were two grown-ups, a man and a woman, but not married to each other.  In fact, they weren't married to anyone, nor did they express any interest in getting married (actually Mr. Mooney had a rarely-mentioneed wife off camera).   Maybe Los Angeles offered an escape from the endless man-woman couples that I saw in real life, that the adults insisted was my destiny.

5. Episodes involving movie stars, references to Graumann's Chinese Theater and the Brown Derby, even throwaway lines like "I was stuck on Santa Monica Boulevard" helped define Los Angeles as an Arcadia or Oz, a place that is intimately familiar, that you constantly long for, even though you have never actually been there.

Maybe Los Angeles was a "good place."

What Kind of Flower are You: Queer Boys of the 1920s

Before World War II, teenage boys were not expected to like girls.  At Everett High School in Washington, most of the boys in the graduating class in 1925 are memorialized in their yearbook with manly "woman-hating mottos": "Tall, dashing, quick and fair, spurns all girls with vigilant care!"

In movies and literature, the teenage boy who liked girls was labeled gay, an effeminate contrast to the real, red-blooded, masculine boy who “spurned all girls with vigilant care.”   He was jeered, blackmailed, and ostracized. He was asked “What kind of flower are you?” and “Can I borrow your lipstick, dearie?”  His peers called him “honey-boy,” “panty-waist,” “mollycoddle,” and “Percy,” and the adults, “sensitive,” “gentle,” “artistic,” and “sweet.”

Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922), though hetero-horny himself, worries when his son Ted, “a decorative boy of seventeen,” offers to give two girls from his high school rides to a chorus rehearsal.  “I hope they're decent girls,” he muses. “I wouldn't want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything.”  (Ted was played by Raymond McKee in 1924 and Glen Boles in the 1934 movie version.)

His wife suggests that he take Ted aside and give him a little talk about “Things,” but he rejects the proposal: “no sense suggesting a lot of Things to a boy’s mind.”  He assumes that no seventeen-year old boy could possibly experience heterosexual desire unless he is manipulated from outside.

The next summer, Babbit discovers Ted kissing a girl, but he blames her for "enticing him," refusing to believe that any eighteen-year old could want to kiss girls of his own accord.

Richard, a boy just short of his seventeenth birthday, falls for a girl in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! (1933), but he is coded as gay.  There is “something of extreme sensitiveness. . .a restless, apprehensive, defiant, shy, dreamy, self-conscious intelligence about him.”  He reads too much poetry, especially sexual anarchist Swinburne and gay icon Oscar Wilde, whose trial and incarceration for “the love that dare not speak its name” was still freshly scandalous in 1904 (the date of the plot).

“He’s a queer boy,” his mother muses. “Sometimes I can’t make head or tail of him.”

Richard has been played in movies by Eric Linden (1935), Simon Lack (1938), and Lee Kinsolving (1959), and in the theater by many actors, including Luke Halpin (of Flipper), left and T.R. Knight (of Grey's Anatomy), top photo.

In the first movies of his series (1937-1939), Andy Hardy (played by Mickey Rooney, left) had an effeminate girl-craziness and was  psychoanalyzed as "queer," suffering from a “unconscious fixation on youth.”

Henry Aldrich, gay girl-crazy star of his own movie series (1939-1944) (played by Jimmy Lydon of Tom Brown's School Dayswas subject to pummeling by bullies and tense heart-to-hearts with his parents.  His buddy Dizzy usually tolerated his eccentricity,  but sometimes even he couldn’t take it anymore, and yelled “What the heck’s the matter with you, anyway?”

May 18, 2021

Mary and Rhoda and Gordie the Weatherman: 1970s Hip Sitcoms

During the 1970s, the success of All in the Family led to a fad for sitcoms with hip, relevant, "mature" themes.  Most were set in "real places,"  not New York or L.A., and juxtaposed the work and home lives of young adult professionals (if they were white) or poor families (if they were African-American).

All of the adults watched, but kids were leery, unless there were teenagers in the cast.

But who wanted to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), with the former star of  The Dick Van Dyke Show as a Minneapolis tv writer, when the other channel had The Most Deadly Game, with gay actor George Maharis (left) as a crime-fighting criminologist?

Or The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), about a psychologist with wacky patients, when the other channel had The Streets of San Francisco, with the hunky Michael Douglas as a detective?

Or Rhoda, Phyllis, Maud, Good Times, That's My Mama, MASH, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, Archie Bunker's Place....

So I didn't begin watching until 1974, when I was in ninth grade and trying to fit in with a hipster crowd, and then only occasionally, when I had nothing else to do.  I found some gay content.

1. Beefcake.  Not a lot, but occasional bulges or hints of hairy chests. Paul Sand had a hot older brother.  Joe (David Groh), the contractor who married Rhoda, deserved special attention.

As did John Amos, who played Gordie the Weatherman on Mary Tyler Moore before scoring his own sitcom, Good Times.  He also starred as the older Kunta Kinte on Roots (1977).

2. Bonding.  I missed the overt homoromantic bond between Mary and Rhoda on Mary Tyler Moore (left), but what about Hawkeye and Trapper John on MASH, or odd couple Chico and Ed on Chico and the Man?

3. Gay-vague characters. Not a lot, but I wondered about Howard Borden (Bill Daily, right), the next-door  neighbor who dropped in every five seconds on The Bob Newhart Show.  Bill Daily also played Tony Nelson's best friend on I Dream of Jeannie, and Leif Garrett's boyfriend on an episode of Chips..

4. The first gay characters on television.

May 16, 2021

David Cassidy

The oldest of a show biz family (his brothers are Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan), David Cassidy got his start on The Partridge Family (1970-74), about a family of pop singers who tour the country in a psychedelic bus (Danny Bonaduce played his younger brother). It aired on Friday nights in a block of gay teen "Must See TV," including The Brady Bunch, Room 222, and The Odd Couple.

His character, Keith Partridge, was interested in girls, but never portrayed as a absurdly girl-crazy, like most teenagers on prime-time in the 1970s. And, although pop superstars were presumably dream dates for every girl on earth, Keith frequently encountered girls who disliked pop music, who had never heard of his group, or who simply did not find him attractive. This self-deferential parody, a teen idol who can’t get a date, destabilized the myth of universal heterosexual desire; if some girls are not attracted to Keith, perhaps some boys are.

In “Days of Acne and Roses” (November 1971), Keith teaches a shy delivery boy named Wendell (Jay Ripley) how to date girls. He demonstrates the “yawn, stretch, and arm around” maneuver on Wendell, and then pretends to be a girl so that Wendell can practice his pick-up lines. Keith is remarkably unself-conscious about the physical contact and the mock flirtation, and he is not the least worried about someone overhearing and thinking that he is gay. When most of his fellow television teens recoiled in heart-pounding terror at a buddy’s touch, Keith’s nonchalance seems aggressively gay-friendly.

The teen magazines went wild with shirtless, swimsuit, and towel-shots, revealing David's slim, androgynous body, but in this case they were justified in praising his talent: his music was good.

And gay-friendly.  Songs credited to The Partridge Family (studio musicians except for David and his mother, Shirley Jones) almost entirely eliminated the incessant “girl!” that deadened most bubblegum pop lyrics in the 1970s. In the emblematic “I Think I Love You,” David awakens to the disturbing realization that he is in love:

I just decided to myself, I'd hide it from myself
And never talk about it, and [so I] didn't go and shout it
When you walked in to the room.

Why does he “never talk about it”? Heterosexual teenagers in love do nothing but talk about it. In 1971 I concluded that there must be something more to “a love there is no cure for,” perhaps a love that dares not speak its name.

David’s solo numbers also eliminate almost all gender-specific pronoun or refrainsof “girl!”  For instance in“Where is the Morning,” he laments a failed hookup that could be with either a boy or a girl:

I can’t sleep tonight. I found someone.
You smiled at me and said you were free. And I was alone.
Would you meet me again? 

My friend Derek claimed to have dated him, but David doesn't mention any same-sex relationships in his memoirs, C’mon, Get Happy (1994).

He does graciously acknowledges his appeal to gay boys: “I had a pretty strong gay following. I kind of liked it. Gay publications ran pictures of me; I was named gay pinup of the year by one. I’d get fan letters from gay guys saying things like ‘I can tell by the look in your eyes that you’re one of us.’”

And in a sense, he was “one of us,” an ally, demonstrating that same-sex desire was not only possible, but valid and worthwhile.

David spent most of his later career in Las Vegas, where he wrote songs and performed for audiences of both men and women.  He died in 2017

See also: Derek and the Pop Star.
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