Dec 24, 2022

The Action-Adventure "Hazel"

Amazon Prime is streaming a lot of old sitcoms from the 1960s: The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, Dennis the Menace.  I can't wait for them to get around to Hazel (1961-66), with Shirley Booth as the maid for a middle-class family.  Not because I loved it.  Because it gives me a visceral sense of foreboding and dread, as if something is not right.  And I want to find out why.

I was only five years old when the program ended, so I don't recall more than a few snippets of episodes.  Maybe the premise itself is not right?  

.In the 1960s, middle-class households did not have live-in servants.  Single fathers might have a nanny.  Hazel is a bizarre throwback to an earlier generation.  

There are two types of servants on tv: heartwarming nannies who bring joie de vivre to sullen children (like Fran on The Nanny and "Charles in Charge"); and sarcastic maids who skewer their boss's pretentions (like Florence on The Jeffersons).  But Hazel is neither.  

Accoding to the episode synopses, Hazel doesn't behave like a servant at all: she gets a job at a department store; she publishes a cookbook and goes on tour; a talent scout hears her musical group perform; she takes a job as a spokesperson for a cake mix.  When does she have time for cleaning the house?  Why does she stay a maid, instead of embarking on a career as an actress or singer?

Hazel actually works for two families.  During the first four seasons, lawyer George Baxter (Don DeFore), his wife Dorothy (an interior designer), and their son Harold (Bobby Buntrock).

I tried to research whether Don DeFore was gay, but only discovered that he was married several times and a staunch Republican who worked on the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964 ("In your gut you know he's nuts.")

Bobby Buntrock retired from acting after Hazel, and died in an auto accident in 1974, at the age of 21. I couldn't find out if he was gay, either.

 In the last season, the network wanted to appeal to a younger audience, so they axed George and Dorothy, sending them off to Iraq (without informing the actors), and gave Hazel and Harold to a younger family: George's brother, real estate agent Steve Baxter (Ray Fulmer), his wife Barbara, and their young daughter Susie.  

Harold was now a teenager, so he started getting "teenage" plotlines about jobs, girls, and the generation gap, and he got a new best friend, Jeff (Pat Cardi).

Ray Fulmer has only a few acting credits on IMDB, notably a 17-episode arc on the soap opera Somerset and the 1963 movie Wild is My Love, about three college boys who fall for a stripper. 

None of this sounds very appealing, but it doesn't explain the visceral dread.  Granted, the snippets of episodes that I remember would be very scary for a five-year old: 

1. Some poisonous mushrooms accidentally ended up in the supermarket.  Some worried-looking government guys complain that not all of the packages have been returned; one is missing.  Whoever bought it doesn't listen to the radio or read the newspaper.  Cut to Hazel, turning off the radio and throwing out the newspaper as she prepares the mushrooms that will kill everyone.

2. Hazel is tied to a conveyor belt that will carry her through a claw machine to her death.  Her hunky, much younger boyfriend arrives in the nick of time, stops the machine, and unties her.  They hug.

But I have found neither of those scenes in the episode synopses, or in the complete acting credits of Shirley Boothe (in case I made a mistake). Hazel has a boyfriend in only four episodes, and it's the middle aged Mitch (Dub Taylor), not the young hunk of my memory.

Maybe that's the reason behind my dread.  I was peering into another universe, where Hazel was an action/adventure series, not an outdated sitcom about a maid.

Happy Trails to Homophobes: The Roy Rogers Show

When I was a kid in the 1960s,  my church didn't allow us to listen to rock music, go to movies, or read comic books or science fiction (I usually found loopholes in the rules).  Television was permitted, but preachers and Sunday school teachers railed against it anyway. 

Did The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ever ask God's guidance in fighting the Communists?
Did The Beverly Hillbillies ever bow their heads and say grace before eating Granny's vittles?
The Flying Nun tried to brainwash you into becoming an evil Catholic.

The only program they approved of was Roy Rogers, about a singing cowboy named Roy Rogers, played singing cowboy star Roy Rogers.  He never said grace before meals, either, but in real life he was a fundamentalist Christian who always mentioned God in interviews and included Christian songs in his live performances.

The preachers didn't realize that his show (1951-57) had been off the air for over ten years.  But I must have caught glimpses of the Saturday morning reruns (1961-65 or after-school syndication (1961-1972),  because I remember hating it.  Who cared about the Old West in the Space Age?  We were all about astronauts, not cowboys.  Besides, there was hardly any gay content.

1.  Roy didn't hang out with guys like "real" cowboys.  He had a wife, Dale Evans, who sometimes rode next to him in her petite cowboy skirt, but usually stayed home to run a restaurant.

2. This wasn't even  the Old West. They had electric lights, telephones, and cars. As a kid, I found that idiotic. Why would you ride a horse if cars were available?

3.  No beefcake of any sort.  Roy never unbuttoned a button on-screen.  There were a few semi-nude shots in movie magazines, but nothing memorable. The top photo, with Roy eating a hot dog, may look promising, but according to Darwin Porter's autobiographical novel, the "squinty-eyed homophobe" was not particularly gifted beneath the belt.

4. No dreamy boys or muscular men. I found Roy unattractive,  with a face like a mask and tiny, beady eyes. The only other male star was Pat Brady, the cook at Dale's restaurant,  a gawky, comic-relief character who drove a jeep named Nellybelle.

5. The closing song, "Happy Trails to You," sung by the disembodied heads of Roy and Dale, freaked me out.  I distinctly remember them singing it to "cheer up" some kid dying in the hospital.  Mememto mori, a reminder of the transience of life and the inevitability of death -- not what a four-year old wants to hear about while eating his Coco Puffs on Saturday morning.

The only gay content: some buddy-bonding potential, I guess.  Roy and Pat starred in many movies together during the 1940s, and were close friends in real life.

Dec 22, 2022

Spring 1983: Reading Faulkner: Redneck Muscle and Boys in Drag

Nothing brings back my memories of college literature classes more than William Faulkner.  Other authors I can return to with respect, even with pleasure, but Faulkner is mostly incomprehensible, and the parts I understand fill me with disgust.

In the spring of 1983, I took a horrible class in turgid, heterosexist "classics."  First Ulysses (by James Joyce).  Then "The Waste Land," by T.S. Eliot.  Then...shudder, gasp... The Sound and the Fury (1929), by William Faulkner.

"Marvelous!" the Professor chirped. "Stupendous!  A masterpiece!  The greatest novel ever written!"

I doubt he has ever read it.  I doubt anyone has.  It is literally impossible to understand even a sentence.  Check out the first two sentences:

Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.  They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence.

Benjy the Idiot (Faulkner's term) is standing on the other side of a fence from a golf course, watching golfers hitting balls toward the hole, which is marked with a flag.  I looked it up -- no way anyone could ever figure it out from the cryptic text, even if they knew about golf, which I didn't. 

As I understand it from extensive research, The Sound and the Fury is about three brothers in the dying, decrepit, depressed Compson family of Mississipi: Benjy, Quentin, and Jason.  I imagine they look like this.

Part 1: Narrated by Benjy, an "idiot" who has no conception of time, and jumps back and forth at random between events that he didn't understand in the first place.  He cries a lot, and he's obsessed with his sister Caddy's muddy underwear.

Gay subtext: The elderly "Negro" servant Dilsey warns her grandson Luster to stay away from the Man with the Red Tie.  Wearing red is probably a gay symbol, like wearing lavender today.  Maybe they're having a gay affair.  And hopefully Luster looks like this.

Part 2: Narrated by Benjy's brother Quentin, a Harvard freshman who's crazy, and whose mind jumps back and forth at random just like Benjy's. He's obviously gay, in love with his roommate, Shreve, who responds by grabbing his knee.  Someone even calls Shreve his "husband."

He claims to have committed incest with his sister Caddy, but he's lying to hide a worse shame -- she had sex with someone else.

Wait -- aren't you supposed to have sex with someone other than your brother?

This part is also completely incomprehensible.  Not even a single sentence makes any sense. I understand Quentin commits suicide.

Part 3: Narrated by Jason, the third brother, the only one who thinks normally and writes normally.  This part is sort of comprehensible, except for references to events from the first part that we don't know about because they were written in gibberish, and the fact that a different Quentin shows up -- this one Caddy's daughter.  Giving two characters the same name is taboo for fiction writers, as it inevitably leads to confusion, and this is already an incomprehensible book.  

Jason's story is about stealing money from Quentin #2 (Caddy's daughter).

Part 4: No narrator. Miss Quentin has taken the money Jason stole from her, plus some of his own, and run off with the Man with a Red Tie (the one Luster is having an affair with in Part 1).  So maybe Miss Quentin is a boy in drag.  Jason does get awfully upset when he sees "her" in a bathrobe.

The homophobic Jason looks for Miss Quentin, to get his money back, but finally gives up.  The end.

It took a lot of creativity and endless Cliff's Notes to get through!

And beefcake photos.  Here's a semi-nude William Faulkner, thinking up new and better ways to torture English majors.

There's a gay dating story about William Faulkner on Tales of West Hollywood.

Dec 19, 2022

"Would You LIke a Cup of Coffee?": Korean Slice-of-Life with Cute Guys and No Hetero-Romance


I started watching the Korean tv series Would You Like a Cup of Coffee because dinner wouldn't be ready for a half hour, and because the star was the amazingly cute Ong Seong-Wu), a former member of the K-Pop Band Wanna One and "voted the #1 K-Pop Idol Among Gay Men." 

It's based on a web comic by Huh Young-Man (nicely coincidental romanization!), "Korea's most beloved comic book artist," with 215 series spanning four decades.  

Having studied all night for his civil service exam and failed once again, Go-Bi (Ong Seong-Wu) needs to clear his head and think of a new path in life.  He drops into the coffee shop (after reading its Yelp reviews, of course).  It's empty except for a middle aged woman working on a computer and a high school girl doing art; as they wait, another high school girl comes in with the croissants she baked.

Go-Bi orders his coffee, but falls asleep at the table before he can drink any.  Later, Mr. Park obligingly gives him a new cup and one of the high school girl's croissants. He takes a sip and is mesmerized.  It is a "God Cup," a cup that will change his life forever.  His goal in life is now to become a barista, specifically working for Mr. Park.

Later he approaches Mr. Park and his girlfriend, the middle-aged woman, to ask for a job.  Mr. Park responds that he doesn't need any help.  But Go-Bi seems to be on the autistic spectrum, and appears every day to ask for a job, meanwhile importuning the customers with questions, some coffee-related, some not.

Mr. Park finally gives in and lets him make a latte.  It's not very good, but Mr. Park gives him a job anyhow.  He bows about a hundred times and leaves.

Every episode introduces a different character, whose life is changed by hanging out in the coffee shop.  And that's all.  No paranormal powers, no gangsters, no no dark secrets, no major crises, just a few minor squabbles and some minor pleasures.  Like everyday life.  

Mr. Park and Go-Bi become close friends, but I don't see any romantic subtexts between them. 

 To see if Go-Bi gets a girlfriend, I watched an episode in which he asks to collaborate with the high school girl (the one who bakes) on a special drink.  She thinks that he wants to date, and politely rejects him, but that was not on his mind at all.  In fact, he doesn't express any romantic interest in anyone.  

And Mr. Park's relationship with his girlfriend is so understated that they could easily be platonic friends instead.  No one else expresses any romantic interest. Like everyday life, but without the incessant interrogations: "Do you have a girlfriend?  Do you have a wife?  What kind of girls do you like?  What girl?  What girl?  What girl?" 

My Grade: A

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