Sep 2, 2021

My Boyfriend Ed Asner and I Make Gay History

Hi, Boomer,

I'm Michael, from the gay synagogue in L.A.  Here's my gay celebrity romance story:

The episode "My Brother's Keeper" of The Mary Tyler Moore Show  (January 13, 1973) is an icon of gay history, the first time that the word "gay" was ever used on the air to mean a gay person.

The plot  is simple: When her brother Ben (Robert Moore) visits, the snooty Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) tries to fix him up with Mary, but instead he hits it off with working-class Rhoda (Valerie Harper).  Phyllis is horrified at the idea of Rhoda as a sister-in-law, until Rhoda says that it won't work out: "He's not my type."

"Why not?" Phyllis asks.  "He's witty, he's attractive, he's successful..."

"He's gay."  90 seconds of uproarious laughter from the studio audience, Phyllis looks confused, then relieved.  And blackout.

The original script didn't have a big reveal: Rhoda and Ben just weren't going to date.  But why not?  Various ideas were bantered about: he was married, he was a priest -- but they all raised too many questions.   Why hadn't he told Phyllis?  Was his relationship with Rhoda cheating?  Finally someone suggested "He's gay."

There's a dispute over who made the suggestion.  Some say Robert Moore.   After all, he was gay in real life, and had directed the gay-themed Boys in the Band in 1968.

Some say writer Dick Clair.  He was gay in real life, too.

Some say Valerie Harper.

They're all wrong.  It was my idea.

I was still in high school, a tall, slim twink with a smooth chest and a big cock, a drama club geek, a good little Jewish boy, the class clown, and o-u-t, out!

Well, not at school -- I had a "girlfriend," who turned out to be a big ol' lesbian later on.

Out to my parents, who were sending me to a shrink to "cure" me but otherwise were relatively accepting for the 1970s.

Out to myself -- Gay Liberation, baby!

And of course, out to my boyfriend, Ed Asner.

Ed Asner, who played gruff boss Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore, was 40 years old, a former football star, a big, burly Daddy, with a hard hairy chest, thick biceps, and a thick...well, you get the idea.

Ed was married -- 13 years, three kids.  But it was a marriage full of temptations and recriminations, infidelities, separations, suppressed traumas, and screaming matches.  They were both seeing psychiatrists.

And when the heartache grew too much for him, he drove out to Van Nuys and picked me up.  We went out to dinner, we went to ballgames -- when a reporter turned up, he introduced me as his "nephew." We checked into a cheap hotel and...

Yeah, I was a little bit in love with him.

Ok, a lot in love with him.

My parents were fine with our relationship -- they didn't know that we were boyfriends, of course.  They thought that having a big, macho man around would be a good influence on me, that is, turn me straight.

So, getting back to the story:

One night we were at a burger place, and Ed told me that they were having problems with a script:

"This guy, Phyllis's brother, starts spending time with Rhoda, but he's not interested in her romantically.  Why not?  Just not having chemistry won't work -- there has to be a big reveal at the end."

"Seems obvious to me," I said.  "He's gay."

Ed looked around to see if anyone heard.  "Are you kidding?  You can't have a gay guy on tv.  The censors would be down our throat!"

"It's the 1970s -- just don't show him making out with a dude, and it will be fine.  They had a gay guy on All in the Family last year."

"But they didn't use the word 'gay.'  It's the word that will get people up in arms."

"They just have to get used to it.  Watch -- gay!"  I exclaimed.  People looked around.  "Gay!  Gay!"

"Shut up!"  Ed muttered.  "My nephew is quite the kidder!", he told the couple at the next table with a fake laugh.

"You ever hear of Gay Liberation?  We're coming out of the closet, baby!  Better to deal with it  now than later, and better Mary Tyler Moore than The Partridge Family."  I grabbed his hand under the table.  He brushed me away.  "You could at least ask."

He shrugged.  "Ok, I'll ask, but I can't make any promises."

But everybody loved the idea of making Ben gay -- it was hip, it was edgy, it was "now." It went right into the script, and the rest is history.

Our relationship ended not with a bang, but a whimper: eventually Ed just stopped calling me -- I guess he decided to "work things out" with the wife.

But I'll always have great memories of my romance with a Hollywood legend.  And the knowledge that I was part of gay history.

The uncensored story, with nude photos and explicit sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

See also: Hip Sitcoms of the 1970s

Sep 1, 2021

"I Heart Arlo": Gay Alligator Boy in the Big City?


Arlo is a 15-year old alligator-boy who grew up in the swamps of Louisiana, but now lives in Seaside, New York.  He has a Southern accent that keeps slipping away, a penchant for bursting into song, the innocent joie-de-vivre of Spongebob Squarepants, and the friend-making obsession of Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Most of the episodes in I Heart Arlo (2021) involve Arlo trying to help a friend who is facing a crisis:

From left to right:

1. Alia, an irresponsbile tiger-girl, struggles to hold down a job.

2. Marcellus, a grumpy fish-man, tries to profit financially from other people's problems.

3. Tony, an Italian rat, doesn't want his parents to find out that he runs a pizza place instead of being a gangster.

4. Furnecia, a drag queen furball, is so stressed from working overtime at her hair salon that she begins losing her hair.

5. The giantess Bertie (not shown) wants "a room of her own," but every refuge she finds soon gets overrun by her friends.

Arlo also has problems of his own: he sheds his scales, causing his friends to think he is a ghost; he gets sick with "swamp itch"; he tries to relate to his estranged father, a wealthy bird-man (Vincent Rodriguez III of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).

Vincent Rodriguez III is gay, of course.  So are Michael Woodard (Arlo), Mary Lambert (Bertie), Jonathan Van Ness (Furlecia), and Ryan Crego (the executive producer).  

Their Seaside community is built on friendship and acceptance of nonconformity, gender and otherwise.  When Dad finds Arlo wearing a dress, his only concern is that he will need a new pet name.  How about "Pumpkin"?

In the episodes I watched, no one expressed any heterosexual interest.  Or any same-sex interest, for that matter.  Romance does not appear to exist in this world.

Some reviews have suggested that, in addition to the general acceptance of difference, Arlo is gay, and his earlier movie (Arlo the Alligator Boy) a coming-out story.  What about his lack of expressed same-sex interest?  They explain that he is a kid, too young to have sex.

I've heard that one before: boys can gaze in awe at the girl next door a decade or more before they hit puberty, but you can't be gay unless you are sexually active. It's nonsense.  Gay boys have crushes in kindergarten.   For a fictional character to be identified as gay, they have to say or do something that indicates an experience of same sex desire.  Arlo doesn't.

However, lots of kids are nonbinary, transgender, asexual, aromantic, or simply gender-noncomforming.  They can respond message of radical inclusion rather than alienation and rejection, regardless of whether Arlo actually dates anyone.

Aug 31, 2021

The Coming-Out Episode of "Family Reunion"


Family Reunion is a sitcom about a family who moves from the Pacific Northwest to the South to get closer to their roots.  I reviewed an episode earlier to see if the boy Mazzi was gay (turns out that he just had feminine-coded traits).  One of the writers responded, saying that the show is gay-friendly, and a gay cousin will show up in a later episode.  That episode is "Remember When M'Dear Stole the Show."

Scene 1: 6 Weeks Ago.  The teenage Jade auditions for part of 18-year old Mimi in the musical that the whole family is working on, The Night I Fell in Love.  But her grandmother, M'Dear, has guilted Mom, the writer/director/producer, into giving her the part.

Scene 2:  Mom Cocoa complains that, with all her rewrites, M'Dear is changing the whole show.  The title is now The Night I Fell in Love with Jesus, and it's about a religious conversion rather than a heterosexual romance.  M'Dear: "But you begged me to be the star!"

Scene 3: 
They're all hanging out on the porch after rehearsal, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Cousin Barron (Nico Annan, left), a big-time songwriter who works with celebrities. Wait -- isn't Dad a celebrity?  So what's the big deal?

Backstory: Grandpa and M'Dear raised Cousin Barron after his mother died, and wanted him to become a dentist, but he insisted on a career in music.  

Cousin Barron arrives.  Hugs all around.  "Who's the cute guy with you?"  "Oh, that's Sidney (Sean Samuels), partner."  

Sidney and M'Dear bond over a Bible verse quoting contest.

Scene 4: They gather in the kitchen to watch a video of Cousin Barron and Shaka (the older son) dancing.  The youngest daughter asks "So, are you guys (Sidney and Barron) dating, or what?"  

Dad tries to shut her up: "That ain't none of your business," but Cousin Barron says "We're not dating, we're engaged!'  

Shaka: "Wait.  You can't be engaged.  You're not gay!"

Cousin Barron: "Well, I am gay."

Grandpa yells about how he's against homos and won't have them in his house. The rest of the family is supportive.

Scene 5:  Whoops, Shaka is homophobic, too.  He doesn't want to dance with Cousin Barron anymore.  "But I'm still the same person."  "No, you're not. Stay away from me!" He runs ouy of the room.

Scene 6: Opening night.  I used to think it was weird, back in the 1970s, when all of the regular cast and no one else would appear in community theater productions.  Well, they're doing it again.  

Backstage, Dad wants to know why Shaka has deleted Cousin Barron from his TikTok account.  

Shaka: "Because I hate him! Dad, did you know he was gay?"  

Dad: "Sure, I've known since we were kids."  

Shaka: "Doesn't it bother you?"

Dad: "No. And I'm surprised it bothers you."  Me, too.  In a family of allies --- even the super-religious Bible verse champion M'Dear -- how does the son turn homophobic?  I guess from Grandpa?

Shaka: "Well, I'm not gay, so I don't want to ever see him or hear about him again."

Scene 7:  M'Dear has turned the "tragic diagnosis scene" into a dance number.    Then she twists her ankle and can't continue, so her understudy, Jade, must go on!

Shaka seeks out his brother, Mozzie: "Can you believe Dad actually wants me to accept Cousin Barron!  He acts like hating gays makes me a jerk!"

Mozzie: "That's because it does.  Since when are you homophobic?"

Shaka: "Dude, I'm not afraid of gay people.  But if I  hang out with them, people will think I'm gay, too!"

Mozzie: "Some people think I'm gay because I'm so feminine.  Who cares?"

Scene 8:
Uh-oh, Jade has to go on in M'Dear's place, but she didn't learn her lines!  So M'Dear performs while sitting on a park bench.

Scene 9: Grandpa congratulating M'Dear on her performance.  "How did you like my duet with Barron?"  

Grandpa: "Grr, grr, Book of Leviticus, grr!"  

M'Dear: "Oh, he's a great singer.  And he and Sidney are so happy together!"

Grandpa: "I know what you're trying to do.  But I absolutely cannot deal with Baron being like that Isn't there some way to fix him, turn him normal?"

M'Dear: "He doesn't need fixing."  

Grandpa:  "What did I do wrong, for him to turn out like that?  I failed my sister, and I failed that boy."

M'Dear: "Barron is an educated, successful man of faith. You did a good job."

Grandpa: "But the Bible says that God hates him!"

M'Dear: "Don't quote the Bible to me.  I'm the Bible verse champ.  You can cherry-pick a few verses to suit your agenda, or you can realize that Jesus is about love."

Scene 10: The rest of the family is in the kitchen, eating ice cream.  Shaka has somehow turned accepting, and asks Barron to make a TikTok with him.  How did that happen?  

Scene 11: Barron and Shaka dancing, then posting the video to the internet.  Shaka apologizes for being homophobic earlier.  They hug.  

Scene 12: On the porch, saying goodbye to Cousin Barron and Sidney.  Grandpa comes out, so the family scrams.  Cousin Barron apologizes for being gay.  Grandpa says he doesn't get it, but "I'll be there for you."  They hug and leave.  M'Dear congratulates Grandpa on his ability to be civil in spite of his homophobia.  Hey, he can talk to a gay person without yelling!  Give him a medal!

Postscript: Meg DeLoatch, Co-Writer of the episode, dedicates it to her son Maxx, whom she "loves unconditionally."  Co-writer George Blake dedicates it to his "two best loves: my Mom and my Tommy."  

My Verdict:  Most sitcoms in the 1980s and 1990s had an episode where a visiting friend or family member comes out.  Everyone is fine with it except for the series jerk, who recoils in homophobic panic, but gradually comes around.  This was the same plot, except with two homophobes instead of one.  But there's no reason for them to be homophobic, when the rest of the family isn't.  It seems contrived, added just to get some conflict.  

  I liked the ultra-religious M'Dear being an ally, but Shaka went from ultra-homophobic to "let's hug" way too quickly, and Grandpa got off the hook way too easily.

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