Mar 18, 2023

"Kiss Me, Kate" Updated and Gay-ified

I'm not much for musical theater, but I have a fondness for Kiss Me, Kate (1953), about the on- and -off stage antics of contemporary players performing a musical version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.  The lyrics just need a bit of tweaking.

For instance, early in The Shrew,  Petruchio sings that he's come to Padua to marry a wealthy woman.  He doesn't care about her looks or personality; she could even be assertive and powerful.

I shall not be disturbed a bit, if she be but a quarter-wit.

If she only can talk of clothes, while she powders her gosh-darned nose. 

 Still the damsel I'll make my dame: in the dark they are all the same.

The gay version:

 I shall even take, in a pinch, a cock that's a quarter inch.

If he only can talk of sports, while he stuffs stockings in his shorts

Fat, femme, twink, or downlow is fine

If Dad's wealthy, I'll make him mine: they all look same from behind.

Off-stage, Lois Lane (no relation to Superman) proclaims to her boyfriend that she prefers an open relationship:

I would never curl my lip at a dazzling diamond clip 

Though the clip meant "Let 'er rip," I'd not say "nay."

How about: I would never shake my head at a guy who's good in bed 

Though the bed meant "Give me head," I'd say "Ok."

She continues:

There's an oil man known as Tex who is keen to write me checks.

 Tex's checks, I fear, mean that sex is here to stay.

Gay version: There's a hung man known as Block, who is keen to show me his cock

Block's cock, I say, means that we are gay to stay...

And two gangsters sing that knowing some Shakespearean quotes will enhance your ability to seduce or sexually assault women:

If your blonde won't respond when you flatter  her, tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer.

Gay version: If the guy in your bed tries to block your cock, tell him what Gratiano told Shylock. 

They continue:

 If she fights when her clothes you are mussing, "What are clothes? "Much Ado About Nothing."

Gay version: If he bites when your cock he is.... sorry, I got nothing.

And the chorus boys complain that it's too hot to get laid tonight:

I'd like to meet with my baby tonight, get off my feet with my baby tonight

But no repeat for my baby tonight cause it's too darn hot.  

I'd like to stop by my baby tonight, and blow my top with my baby tonight

 But I'd be a flop for my baby tonight, cause it's too darn hot.

That one is gay enough as it stands.

Beefcake Dads of 1950s Sitcoms

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a fad of nuclear family sitcoms, set in small town Mayfields, with a pipe-smoking Dad, a Mom who did housework in high heels, groovy teenagers, and wise-cracking preteens.  They actually weren't very popular at the time; adults preferred Westerns, swinging detectives, and musical-variety shows.  But the first generation of Boomers remembers getting their first glimpses of what family life was like -- or what they thought it should be like -- from the nuclear family sitcoms.

They generally identified with and/or mooned over the teenage boys: the muscular physiques of Bud (Billy Gray) of Father Knows Best and Wally (Tony Dow) of Leave it to Beaver, the blatant bulges of Ricky and David Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet), the teen idol cuteness of Jeff (Paul Petersen) of Donna Reed.  But there's a lot to be said for the dads, too.

Unfortunately, they weren't always as gay-friendly as their tv sons.

1. Born in 1906, bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his wife, former dancer Harriet, started The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on the radio in 1944. They transitioned to television in 1952, and lasted until 1966, making Ozzie and Harriet the longest-running fictional program on radio/tv.  Still not satisfied, he tried a spin-off, Ozzie's Girls, in 1976 (in which Ozzie takes in three college girls as boarders).

Ozzie and Harriet had many gay friends in real life, although no openly gay characters appeared on their show (that would have been impossible in the 1950s).

2. Robert Young (here apparently informing us of his size) was not only less than adequate physically, he was homophobic.

After his tenure on Father Knows Best ended, he starred in Marcus Welby, M.D., one of the most homophobic tv series of the 1970s.  In one episode, Dr. Welby diagnoses a man with "homosexual tendencies," but assures him that with the proper counseling, he can overcome his affliction.  In another, he treats a gay pedophile, with the implication that all gay men are pedophiles.  Gay activists protested, but the network -- and Dr. Welby -- wouldn't budge.

3. Born in 1909, Hugh Beaumont started out as a minister, but moved into acting during World War II.  Although a devout Methodist, he played his share of scoundrels, in Apology for Murder (1945) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), plus hard-boiled detective Mike Shayne.  Leave It to Beaver was meant to be a change of pace, but he was so typecast as Ward Cleaver that he took only a few roles afterwards, and ended up retiring to grow Christmas trees.

No data on whether he was a gay ally or not, but apparently his tv wife, Barbara Billingsley, was nonchalant about gay people.

4. The youngest of the 1950s sitcom Dads, ex-football star Carl Betz was only 36 when he was cast as Dr. Alex Stone, husband of the practically-perfect Donna Reed.  He had been making the rounds of tv adventure series, with guest parts on The Big Story, Waterfront, Sheriff of Colchise, Panic!, and Perry Mason, and he continued to be a sought-after performer throughout his life.

While he was playing the titular lawyer in Judd for the Defense (1967-69), one of his clients was a father who thinks that his son's friend is "recruiting" him into the "homosexual lifestyle."  Judd assures him that there's no cause for believing such a scandalous rumor.

Charlie Brown, Linus, and Gay-Coded Peanuts

I didn't read  Charles Schulz's Peanuts in the newspaper; our Rock Island Argus offered only a cheap imitation called Winthrop. My knowledge of Peanuts came through Fawcett paperbacks acquired at garage sales during the 1970s and treasuries acquired at the Waldenbooks at the Mall during the 1980s.

Not a lot of gay content.

1. Only two significant same-sex friendships (Charlie Brown-Linus and Peppermint Patty-Marcie), and neither display the intensity, physicality, or exclusivity that might push them from friendship to romance. (Christopher Shea provided the original voice for Linus.)

 Marcie calling Peppermint Patty "Sir" does not signify lesbian identity.  Lesbians do not call each other "Sir."

Plus, every character, almost without exception, is involved in an unrequited heterosexual romance: Lucy is in love with Schroeder, Sally with Linus, Peppermint Patty and Marcie both with Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown with the Little Red-Haired Girl.  Linus and Snoopy never zero in on one crush, but they each get many girlfriends.

In one 1985 continuity, Charlie Brown merely has to say "Eleanor" for Linus to collapse, and "Fifi" for Snoopy to collapse in agony over their lost loves.

Heterosexual desire validated over and over again, same-sex desire absent.  It was a world where gay kids felt alien and unwanted.

But there was an exception.  Like Jughead in the Archie comics, Schroeder is not interested in girls.  He not only rejects Lucy's advances.  He not only lacks a heterosexual crush of his own.  He never expresses any interest in any girl, ever. 

Of course, Schroeder never expresses any interest in boys, either, but he had a passion for music, specifically classical music.  Mostly Beethoven, because Schulz thought the name sounded funny, but also Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Handel.  His artistic interest and ability is gender-transgressive in a world devoted to sports (continuities are devoted to baseball, tennis, golf, ice skating, and so on).  He alone resonated with gay kids as "one of us."  He alone saw the world in a way they could understand.

Mar 15, 2023

The Gay Villages of Sonia and Tim Gidal

When I was little, my search for a "good place" often led me to the My Village books.  Tim Gidal (1909-1996) was a a pioneer in the field of photojournalism and a respected academic at the New School for Social Research.  In the interest of fostering international understanding, he and his wife Sonia published My Village in India (1956), a photo-story about the everyday life of a real ten-year old boy in a rural village.

It became so popular that they started scouting out villages in other countries, eventually traveling to 23:

1956: Austria
1957: Yugoslavia, Ireland
1958: Norway
1959: Israel, Lapps (Norway)
1960: Bedouins (Jordan), Greece
1961: Switzerland
1962: Spain, Italy
1963: Denmark, England
1964: Germany, Morocco
1965: France
1966: Finland, Japan
1968: Korea, Brazil
1969: Ghana
1970: Thailand
They only stopped when the couple divorced.

Each story was written in present tense and covered a few days in the life of a 10-12 year old boy: shepherding in Yugoslavia, fishing in Norway, tending to a vineyard in France.  He also went to school, played with his friends, talked to other villagers, went to a festival or took a field trip to a big city, and sometimes solved a minor mystery.  On the way you learned something about the history, language, and culture of the country (probably for the first time).

No gay people or same-sex romances were ever mentioned.  So why did these books offer a glimpse of a "good place"?

1. The boys were all exceptionally cute, from my preteen vantage point, and in warm climates they often stripped down to swim or fish or frolic.  Even in cold climates: the Norwegian boy stripped down for bed, and the Finnish boy was photographed completely nude in a sauna.

2. Their fathers, older brothers, and neighbors all lived off the land: they were farmers, shepherds, fishermen, loggers.  That meant endless photographs of muscular adult men.

3. American media of the 1960s was full of preteen boys "discovering" girls.  But the Village boys never expressed the slightest interest in girls.  Indeed, they didn't seem to know any, other than their sisters.

4. However, they often came in pairs that were extremely expressive by American standards: always hugging, wrapping their arms around each other, lying side by side, even kissing each other on the cheek.  To my preteen mind, it was obvious that they were boyfriends.

See also: Looking for Love in the Encyclopedia

Mar 12, 2023

"Bridge and Tunnel": Young adults act like junior high kids on Long Island in the 1980s

 In the 1980s, being gay was a secret: you didn't come out to anyone, ever.   Gay people appeared on tv only very occasionally, as a "friend from college" who visited, came out, and caused the straight people angst.  But today I expect more nonchalance about gay characters, even if the show is set in the 1980s, like Bridge and Tunnel on Amazon Prime.  

The premise sounds like That 70s Show meets Friends: a group of "known each other since grade school buds" from working class Long Island negotiate careers and romances.  I watched Episode 7, figuring that the gay character, if there is one, would take a while to come out.

Scene 1:
Two girls, Stacey (blond) and Unknown (long black hair), in the back yard discussing the chords for their new song, "He's cute, even with crooked teeth."  I can't tell the identity of Unknown from the cast list:  3 of the 4 women have long black hair.  

Pogs (Brian Muller), a curly-haired, blatantly bulging hunk, appears and asks what happened to his copy of Cornerstone (a 1979 album by Styx).  Blonde Stacey hates Styx, so she burned it. 

Plot dump: they are brother and sister.  Wait -- the only brother-sister in the cast are Jimmy and Genie.  They discuss the merits of Styx vs. The Clash, and call each other "fucking idiots."

Scene 2: Mikey in a bar, wearing a snazzy suit, complaining to another woman with long black hair that he's been on seven interviews in the last two weeks, with no job offer.  She suggests that he drop accounting and become an artist.  

Scene 3: Another woman with long black hair,  dressed in show-all short-shorts,  calls Dad  (Edward Norton, top phone) to the phone.  So she's Genie Farrell!

They discuss whether or not to tell Genie's brother Jimmy that Jill is calling for him.  Genie enjoys torturing Jimmy, so she goes down to his photography dark room, accuses him of masturbating, and hands him the phone (it has a very long cord).  

Jill is a middle-aged woman with long black hair.   Wait -- I thought they were all childhood friends? She looks old enough to be Jimmy's Mom. She's calling because she is thinking of setting up her friend Juliana with their mutual friend, Blatantly Bulging Pogs, and wants to know if he would be into her.  How could Jimmy know, without seeing the lady?  Why doesn't she just ask Pugsley?

After Middle-Aged Jill hangs up, Jimmy is indeed devastated.  I surmise that they used to date, then she dumped him, so Jimmy thought that she was calling to say she can't live without him and please take her back.  Nope!

Scene 4: 
Accountant Mikey (Jan Luis Campos, left) is still in the bar.  He asks the Black-Haired Woman to hang out.  Two of the three Black-Haired Women are accounted for, so to speak,  so by default she's Tammy Ocampo.    She gets all gushy and star-struk, but she's busy tonight.  "How about tomorrow night, Man of My Dreams?" 

Problem: he wants to Neflix and Chill (or the 1980s equivalent), but she wants to go dancing at the hottest club in the City.  

Ok, but he can't afford the cover charge, and his Dad won't let him borrow the car.  Idiot, you never drive from Long Island into Manhattan, you'll be sitting in gridlock for six hours and spend two more hours looking for a $20 parking spot.  Take the LIRR!   "No problem, I'll take care of everything, future Life Partner!"

Scene 5: The Farrell Family at breakfast.  Sister Genie criticizes  Lovelorn Jimmy and Dad for going to bed at 10:30, instead of having lives.  Plot dump: Mom isn't dead, she's in Rome doing God knows what.  These are working class folk, but Mom can afford to get off to Rome?  

The phone rings; Sister Genie answers, in spite of her Dad's protests.  Middle Aged Jill, again!   Lovelorn Jimmy is furious: "Stop telling her that I'm home when she calls! I can't stand the constant devastation!"  

Jill's reason for calling: her friend Julianna can't make the set-up date with Pogo, next week, so is he free tomorrow night?  Geez, how would Jimmy know?  Call him yourself, or let Julianna do it!   

Also, Blind Date Julianna insists that Middle-Aged Jill come along.  A light bulb appears over Lovelorn Jimmy's head: "Why don't I come too?  Then you'll fall in love with me again, and we'll get back together, and I won't be living in constant agony anymore!"  Jill is ok with it, "As long as you don't get upset when you realize that we won't be getting back together."   I'm all for older-younger relationships, but it sounds like Jimmy got in over his head with the middle-aged lady.

Scene 6: 
 Night. Lovelorn Jimmy (Sam Vartholomeos)  is kneeling by his bed, saying his bedtime prayers.  I've never seen an adult do that  He calls God "Big Guy."  I'd send him a plague of locusts.  After the "bless Mom and Dad and Sister Genie" bit, he thanks God for the miracle of getting him back together with Middle-Aged Jill.  

Ridiculous scene, but Jimmy is shirtless! Whoa, this arrested-development basket case has a mega-hunky physique!.

Scene 7:  Morning.  Blatantly Bulging Pegs goes into the back yard, where Blonde Stacey and the woman with long black hair are working on their song again.  He wants to borrow Stacey's car for his hot date with Middle Aged Jill's friend Julianna.  

Blonde Stacey hesitates, but the woman with long black hair insists: she saw a picture of Julianna, and she is gorgeous!  Hey,maybe she is a lesbian!   She's not Middle-Aged Jill, and Bartender Tammy has a date tonight, so by process of elimination, she must be Lovelorn Jimmy's sister Genie. 

Stacey:  "Ok, I'll lend you my car if you admit that Styx sucks."  He can't sell out his rock gods,  and takes a cab instead.

Scene 8:  Middle-Aged Jill and another woman with long black hair arguing: "You can't go on a double-date with Lovelorn Jimmy!  He'll think you want to get back together, and be devastated when you reject him!  Besides, you really are still in love with him and want to get back together, right?" 

 "No, we're just friends."  

"I don't believe you for a second.  Men and women can't be friends. By the way, I have a date with the Man of My Dreams tonight.  I wonder what preschool we should send our kids to?"

So Middle Aged Jill's friend turns out to be Bartender Tammy, who accepted a "hang out" date with Accountant Mikey in Scene 4. 

Now it's Middle-Aged Jill's turn to be upset.  "But what about Blond Stacey?  She and Accountant Mikey used to date, and she's still in love with him and desperate to get back together!"  Geez, don't these people ever get over a relationship?   "At least ask her permission."

Scene 9:  Blatantly Bulging Pom-Poms, Accountant Mikey, and Lovelorn Jimmy drinking beer on a picnic table by the Long Island Sound.  Jimmy wonders why Pogs doesn't care about his :just friends" date with Middle-Aged Jill.  Why should Pogs care?  Did he and Jill used to date, and he's still in love wijth her, too?  These guys need to meet some new people.

Scene 10:  Lovelorn Jimmy getting ready for his hot non-date with Middle-Aged Jill.  Dad comes in to advise him against going: he's devastated just by talking to her on the phone, so what will happen after two hours of gazing at her?   

Dad: "Remember, last summer you went way overboard and wanted to drop your college and career plans to marry her?"

Lovelorn Jimmy: "Not right away. She's my Soul Mate, so I was just planning ahead.  I also picked out the gift I'm going to give her for our 50th wedding anniversary."  

Scene 11:   The date: dinner at one of those high-top tables in a bar.  Juliana (who has short black hair, for a change of directorial fetish) is astounded that Blatantly Bulging Packs, Lovelorn Jimmy, and Middle-Aged Jill have been friends since grammar school.  Was Middle-Aged Jill a teacher?  

Jimmy's upcoming job: National Geographic is sending him to Alaska for six months to photograph a herd of caribou.  Sounds kind of cool.  Juliana: "Sounds horrible.  How long does it take to snap a picture of a cow?"  Jerk!

Meanwhile, Bartender Tammy picks up Man of Her Dreams Mikey in a fancy car (borrowed from her brother; this show has siblings all the way down). Mikey disapproves of a woman paying for a date -- he's a Real Man!  He has to be in charge! -- so he suggests going to the tavern where she works every day (dumb choice, Bro).

She protests, but Mikey placates her by saying "You're very pretty.  If it weren't for Stacey, I'd have asked you out long ago."  Sorry, I lost track of who is the ex of whom, and devastated by all of their new relationships.   They rub noses, but Bartender won't kiss him until she has a drink.  You have to be drunk to kiss a guy?  Maybe ask a girl out nex time?

Scene 12:  Back on the double date, Blatantly Bulging Pumice tells Juliana his career goal: to become a music attorney.  Juliana: "How interesting.  I hate Styx!  They're the worst band in the world, don't you agree?" Uh-oh, Purile can't sell out his rock gods -- except to get laid.  "Yep, I hate them, too."

The check arrives.  The guys insist on paying, because they are Real Men, they provide for the wimmenfolk.  The girls resist.  "But if we don't pay, it's not really a date, and that would be devastating!"  

Scene 13: At the end of the date, the guys and girls split up to evaluate each other.  Juliana is ok with dating Blatantly Bulging Pogs (I'd be ok with dating someone blatantly bulging, too).  

Pogs has gone way overboard. "She's the Girl of My Dreams, My Soul Mate, My Life Partner!  Geez, not another one!

Lovelorn Jimmy is all dour and depressed after two hours of "just friends" -- but then Middle-Aged Juliana rushes up and kisses him.  Hah!  You thought that heterosexual men and women could be friends, but this show has proven you wrong!

Scene 13:  Bartender Tammy and Accountant Mikey on their beer-drinking date.  She feels guilty over dating the Man of Her Dreams when she is friends with his ex, Stacey, who is still in love with him yada yada yada.  "Sorry, we can't date, but we can hang out as just friends." The end.

 Um...I forgot to check.  I was too busy trying to keep track of who was devastated by which breakup. But according to AZ Nude Men, Jimmy and Mikey are both shirtless and underwear clad a lot.  Not Pogs -- Brian Muller must be one of these guys who can't be displayed in underwear without an R rating.

Heterosexism:   Constant, of course, but I didn't find it annoying.  I was too busy being astounded by the ridiculous immaturity in the relationships. These people act like they are in junior high.

Gay Characters: Sister Genie gets one line saying that a woman is gorgeous, and appears to be excluded from Soul Mate - devastation - rebound cycle.  Maybe she's a lesbian, or maybe there just wasn't time for her junior high romance story arc.

Bridge and Tunnel:  Never explained, but it's how you get into Manhattan, so maybe it's a derogatory term for a working class person from Long Island.

My Grade: C

Out Our Way: Teenagers Before Girl-Craziness

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I was jealous of the comics they got across the river in Davenport, Iowa.  They got Peanuts, we got Winthrop.  They got The Wizard of Id, we got Apartment 3-G.  I sort of liked Alley Oop and Prince Valiant, but what was up with the single-panel strip, Out Our Way? 

 It was about an unnamed family -- mom, young adult daughter, teenage son, younger son -- drawn in grotesquely realistic detail.

They spoke in nearly incomprehensible slang and had bizarre customs. There was an "ice box" instead of a refrigerator, a gigantic radio instead of a tv.  They bathed in a tub in the kitchen.

The older son had a job, though he looked barely fifteen.

Confused, repelled, yet fascinated, I tried to decipher the strips day after day, week after week.  The world they portrayed was vastly different from the world I knew.

Boys in my world were always fully clothed, except in locker rooms, but in Out Our Way, they stripped down for baths and for bed and to swim.  They were naked in front of each other!  They displayed a remarkable physicality, an awareness of the way their bodies looked and felt and moved.

Boys in my world did not touch each other, except during sports matches and fights. We were expected to find physical contact abhorrent.  But in Out Our Way, boys un-selfconsciously pressed against each other, draped their legs over each other's bodies, hugged, slept in the same bed

In my world, every trait, interest, and concern was gender-polarized.  Boys carried their books at their waist, girls across their chest.  Boys said "p.e." but "gym class," and girls "gym" but "p.e. class."  And the punishment for transgression was severe. But in Our Our Way, boys un-selfconsciously wore dresses.  The teenager performed "women's work," cooked (in an apron), cleaned, tended to his young brother.

Boys in my world were expected to groan with longing over the girls who walked in slow-motion across the schoolyard, their long hair blowing in the wind. They were expected to evaluate the hotness of actresses on tv, discuss breasts and bras, and claim innumerable sexual conquests.  But boys in Out Our Way never displayed the slightest heterosexual interest.  Instead, they consistently mocked the silliness of heterosexual romance.

What sort of world was this?

Many years later, I found that the comics I read in the 1960s were reruns from the 1930s and 1940s,  and even then, many had been nostalgic, evoking the author J.R. Williams' childhood at the turn of the century.

I was gazing into a time capsule, into a era when heterosexual desire was expected to appear at the end of adolescence, not at the beginning, so teenage boys were free from the "What girl do you like?" chant.

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