When I was a kid in Rock Island, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat on weekday afternoons displayed a lot of old Looney Tunes cartoons. No matter that they were originally for adults, and full of references to 1940s culture that went over our heads -- if it starred Bugs Bunny, we were interested.
Except not all of the Looney Tunes featured Looney Tunes stars. There were parodies of travelogues, advertising, and short subjects. I found one particularly memorable: "Hollywood Steps Out" (1941), with caricatures of contemporary Hollywood stars dining and dancing at Ciro's Nightclub. I had never heard of any of them. I know who many of them are now, of course: Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Fonda, Groucho Marx. I've even heard of Jerry Colonna and Kay Kyser. But to give you the idea of what it was like going in cold:
Establishing shot of Ciro's Nightclub in Hollywood, where dinners start at $50.00 ($940 in today's currency).
1. Soulful Eyes exclaims "What a place!" Elderly Blond Woman sells him a cigarette, and lights the match with her shoe.
2. Guy with Big Lips talks to a Developmentally Challenged Girl, who responds with a series of "oomphs." Apparently she can't speak. Disturbing!
3. Johnny Weissmuller takes off his coat, revealing his muscular physique. I knew who he was -- Tarzan (top photo). Wow, beefcake!
4. Three Gangsters talk about how risky a job is. But it turns out to be pitching pennies.
5. Crazy Guy with Frizzy Hair gives the Elderly Blond Woman a hot foot, but she doesn't respond.
6. Big Ears swerves his head to gaze at a Lady in Red passing, with a fan over her face.
7. Pipe Smoker takes the stage. As he introduces the first act, he's interrupted by a horse and jockey, who apparently want to have sex with him, but he shooes them away.
8. Feminine Old Guy swishes as he conducts the music. Swishy -- gay hint!
9. Jimmy gets cruised by a woman, who wants to dance with him. He refuses, and finally runs away, leaving a sign "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Not interested in girls -- gay hint!
10. Big Ears from #6 dances across the floor, following the Lady in Red. Some other people are dancing, including an ice skater and Frankenstein. The Three Stooges slap each other. Fat Man dances with two women at once. A man with big feet dances.
11. Andy and his date are getting milkshakes. He's shocked that they cost $50, and asks his father at the next table for a loan. But Dad doesn't have any money, either, so they both end up washing dishes.
12. Big Ears is still following the Lady in Red, while Pipe Smoker from #7 takes the stage again. The horse and jockey flirt with him again. Then a woman dances, naked except for a giant bubble held in front of her (gross!). A Guy in a Cap and Gown gazes in lust, and yells "Students!" A table full of men wolf-whistle (Gross! This isn't fun anymore!).
13. She dances for a long time, while a man comments: "I haven't seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child." Henry drools, but is called away by his mother. Googly-Eyes says obsessively "Gee! Gee! Gee!" A man looks through binoculars and says "Guess who?" Crazy Guy hits the bubble with a sling shot, and it pops, revealing that she is wearing a barrel.
14. Big Ears finally catches the Lady in Red, and turns her around.
She turns out to be a guy in drag!
During my childhood, before I was aware that gay people (or drag queens) existed, I was confused by the revelation. Why was this man dressed as a lady? Why had he been flirting with Big Ears all night? Did he want to hug and kiss? But...boys didn't hug and kiss boys. Did they?
A glimmer of gay potential on Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat