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

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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