Jun 23, 2023


In Marion Zimmer Bradley's  Star of Danger (1965), which I first read in 1978, a sixteen year old Terran named Larry visits Darkover, a melange of feudal kingdoms where telepathy is common.   Although cautioned not to leave the Terran sector, he does anyway, and meets the native boy Kennard. They quickly develop a Jonny Quest-Hadji sort of friendship, but their parents are suspicious and hostile, and forbid them from seeing each other.

The two are as disconsolate as any star-crossed lovers.  “I don’t like to say goodbye, Larry,” Kennard stammers. “I like you. . .I wish. . .” He takes Larry’s hand between both of his, and Bradley informs us that “Larry didn’t know for years how rare the gesture was.”

In spite of Dad’s admonition, Larry sneaks out again, and he and Kennard reunite, only to be captured by evil mercenaries.  They escape, but must cross the dangerous planet together,  facing more mercenaries, monsters, brigands, savages, and other dangers, always risking their lives for each other.  At one point they realize that they have a psychic link, and share a moment of intimacy rare in science fiction: “Kennard reached silently for Larry’s hand. . .the clasp slid up Larry’s elbow until their arms were enlaced as well as their hands.  It was a sign not alone of friendship but of affection and tenderness.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the novel Larry goes back to Earth for high school, and Kennard remains on Darkover.  Alone.

Hungry for more same-sex romance, I read all of the Marion Zimmer Bradley novels I could find.  And I found Heritage of Hastur (1975), in which Regis Hastur, attending private school on Darkover, desires his roommate, Dani: “he literally ached to slip across the brief space between their beds, slip into bed beside him, share with him this incredible dual experience of grief and tremendous joy.”   But Dani is a cristoforo, or Darkoverian Christian, so “of course” he condemns same-sex relations as evil, and Regis must keep his passion to himself.

As  Regis and Dani cross Darkover, rescuing each other from various evil fates, including the noisome pederast who seems to simper about in many science fiction novels, they recognize that they are in love.  Dani admits that he was always been in love with Regis, but was cowered by his internalized homophobia: “I was so ashamed. . .I wanted to die for  you, it would have been easier."

But when I first read the novel, I did not even realize that Regis and Dani were lovers , so squeamishly does Bradley tiptoe through the subsequent climax and denouement. The social forces of the 1970’s conspired to keep her inarticulate, me inobservant, and Regis and Danilo trapped by a heteronormativity that made their relationship trivial, expendable, and in the end shameful.  Nevertheless, there is none of the homophobia one finds in Ursula K. Leguin, and The Heritage of Hastur is the first novel I ever read in which men identify themselves, however tentatively, as “lovers of men.”

The Original Jungle Boy and His Boyfriend

An orphan, the son of a mahout, Sabu Dastigir was riding a real elephant around Mysore when he was signed to star in Elephant Boy (1937), an adaptation of the Kipling tale "Toomai of the Jungle."  Wearing only a dhoti and turban, his last name deleted to make him seem more savage, he became a media sensation.  He was transplanted to England as a ward of the state and enrolled in school, but he found little time to study when he was receiving almost as much publicity as Johnny Weissmuller.

After a starring role in the pro-colonial Drum (1938), he was cast in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), set in the mythical past, an "Arabian fantasy in technicolor."  In the 1924 silent version, Douglas Fairbanks plays a thief who wins a princess, but Sabu would not win any princesses.  Instead, the spunky, enterprising  thief Abu falls in love with Prince Ahmad (John Justin), who has been deposed by an evil uncle.  The two escape together, steal a boat, and plan to sail downstream from Bagdad to the ocean, where they might find a safe haven in the wilderness.  But then Prince Ahmad falls in love with a princess from another kingdom, and insists that they stay in Bagdad. The rest of the movie involves the prince ignoring, endangering, or simply abandoning Abu to make time with the princess.  In the throws of unrequited love, Abu often looks hurt but never complains.

After starring in a loose adaptation of Kipling's Jungle Book (1942), in which Mowgli befriends both a native girl and a British officer but falls in love with neither, Sabu moved to Hollywood and signed on with Universal, where he starred as a dhoti-clad Jungle Boy in three Technicolor romances, all set in distant lands where no one had ever heard of Hitler.   Sabu was in a rather precarious position.  Although he (or rather, his body) was the top-billed star, he was irrelevant to the plots, about swarthy adventurer Jon Hall wooing cool, mysterious Maria Montez.

Sabu became a darling of World War II beefcake photos.  His torso, v-shaped, barrel-chested, bronze-skinned, sculpted but softening slightly at the stomach, is often displayed in a bright light against a black backdrop, so that every muscle will stand out.  The only problem is, he has no one to desire; in movie after movie, his same-sex loves go unrequited.

 He courts Jon Hall's character aggressively -- hugging, grabbing, taking his arm, pressing against his chest, unbuttoning his shirt, mussing his hair, offering him flowers, chasing away other suitors with a barking "Get back, he's mine!"  Hall's characters respond with amusement and affection, but no longing.

Sabu is captured once, and once he and Hall are captured together, but otherwise Hall is tied, struggling, about to be drowned or fed to cobras, and the jungle boy comes swinging down on a rope or galloping up on a white horse to save him.

And Sabu's characters never expresses any heterosexual interest. In Arabian Nights, Ali (Sabu) enters a harem to deliver a message, and the sex-starved girls engulf him, groping and fondling. He screams "Please stop!  Stop it!" with shrieks of terror.  They back off, bewildered, as if no man or boy had ever resisted their advances before.

At the end of each movie, Sabu practically shoves Hall's characters into the arms of Maria Montez. Then, after the final clench, they offer to adopt him.  It seems absurd to emphasize Sabu's muscular physique, have him approach Jon Hall with blatant homoerotic desire, and then claim that he is just a little boy, not yet able to understand "adult" desires.

After the war, when Sabu was too old to play teenagers, he played heavily muscled, usually half-naked Jungle Men who get girlfriends.  He appeared briefly in his own comic book title.  Later in the 1950s, he invested in a real estate business and took whatever roles he could find that did not require wearing a loincloth.

Days after filming A Tiger Walks in 1964, Sabu died of a heart attack. He was in perfect health and only 39 years old. He left a legacy of superbly homromantic movies, and influenced two generations of dhoti-clad Jungle Boys,  from Gunga in Andy's Gang, Hadji on Jonny Quest, Haji of the Elephants, and Raji on Maya, to the various Mowglis of the 1990s.

Jun 21, 2023

A Teenager Doing Pushups on TV

Today you can go online and see 100,000,000 pictures and videos of naked bodybuilders and athletes flexing for selfies, and every actor with even minimal musculature takes off his shirt at the drop of a script.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there was virtually nothing.  An occasional Tarzan movie, an occasional teen idol with an open shirt in a Tiger Beat centerfold.  And that was it.

Seeing a man or boy on tv with his shirt off was so rare -- vanishingly rare -- that every instance is indelibly imprinted in my brain, as unforgettable as my first airplane trip or my first date with a guy.

Greg strips down to go surfing on The Brady Bunch .
Stephen Parr shows off his washboard abs on Mystery Island.
Steve Elliot shaves while wearing only pajama bottoms on Petticoat Junction.

And, sometime in the 1960s, I'm guessing around 1968, a Public Service Announcement for the President's Council on Physical Fitness shows a teenage boy doing pushups.


Hard delts, thick biceps, beautiful interplay of muscles as he rises and falls, rises and falls.  His face becomes red.  He is smiling.

The narrator tells us that with every pushup, he's "a little bit stronger, a little bit healthier, a little bit happier than before."


I can't find the original PSA, but it was an iconic moment, a moment when I recognized the beauty of the male physique, in spite of the adult insistence that only women liked to look at men.

By the way, pushups are still widely recognized as a good way to maintain core strength.  The recommended number in a minute differs by age and sex.  50-60 year olds are supposed to be able to do at least 25.  I can do 50, which makes me "excellent" for my age group but only "above average" for a 20-year old.

Jun 20, 2023

"The Summer I Turned Pretty": Glittery, Marshmallowy Teen Romcom with Lots of Gay Potential


A girl named Belly, approaching her sixteenth birthday, her Mom, and her hunky brother Steven (Sean Kaufman) spend the summer at their dear friend's Katherine's beach house, where she draws the attention of Katherine's two hunky sons.  While she decides between them, there are beach parties, yacht parties, afternoon teas, shopping for dresses, visiting friends, various charity events at the country club. and the biggest event of the season, the Debutante Ball.  It's The Summer I Turned Pretty, "a story about first love, first heartbreak, and the magic of that one perfect summer."

Sounds glittery and marshmallowy, an ultra-escapist fantasy, Love Boat for tweens.  And there's an actual, honest-to-goodness Debutante Ball.  I'm in!  

Prologue: Establishing shot of the elegant New England resort town of Cousins, where Belly has been coming with her family every summer since she was a baby: "I count the days until I'm in that house."  I would, too: it's a mega-mansion.  Flashback to three boys and a girl frolicking at various ages.  "It's always the same.  That's what I love about it."

Scene 1: Belly and her friend Taylor in her room, packing for the summer.  "You should pack clothes that show off your new boobs."  "It doesn't matter -- I always buy a lot of new stuff when I get there."  I imagine it's buying clothes during the day, charity events at night.

"Which of the two brothers are you going to kiss this summer?" Taylor asks. If they've spent every summer together, wouldn't they be like cousins, a familial bond that erases erotic interest?  

Scene 2:
On the way to the house, Mom cautions Belly and hunky brother Steven (Sean Kaufman, left) to be good houseguests: "Put your dishes in the dishwasher; don't leave them in the sink."  "But Katherine has people to do that."  

Arriving in town, they stop at a gas station.  A hunky guy says "hello" to Belly.  She's shocked: "guys never talked to me before."  Must be the new boobs.  He invites her to the bonfire tonight.

Scene 3: They arrive at the beach house, where Katherine is arranging flowers. Of course. Her son Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno, top photo) rushes out to hug Steven and comment on how much Belly has grown.  

Her other son, Conrad (Christopher Briney), stares at Belly with jaw-dropping, hormone-sloshing, Girl-of-His-Dreams paralysis.  But he sees her every year. Must be the new boobs.  

Left: a photo from Christopher's instagram, with the caption: "Find out why I'm fighting with Isabel (Belly) and kissing Danny."  

The Danny in the cast list is the bookstore manager in Scene 5, played by Adam Plant, who also does podcasts and youtube videos as a "trans man of faith."   He just appears in two episodes, so I doubt that Danny and Conrad have an on-screen romance.  Off screen, well....

Scene 4: Inside the house, Katherine is shocked at the many boxes of groceries that Mom Laurel brought: there are grocery stores in Cousins, you know.  Belly comes in, and Katherine stares with jaw-dropping, hormone-sloshing, Girl-of-Her-Dreams paralysis.  "My God, she's gorgeous!  You have always been pretty, but...my God, what happened?"  I guess that's what "the summer I turned pretty" means.  Belly has become so breathtakingly spectacular that everybody, even her "aunt," wants to have sex with her. 

Laurel gives us a plot dump: "As you know, Belly, your father and I are divorced, and Katherine's husband is working in London, but they'll both come to visit for the 4th of July."  Laurel and Katherine are obviously ex-lovers.  Or current lovers.

Scene 5: Mom Laurel, a famous writer (of course), has a book signing this afternoon, and wants Belly to go with her, to drum up some buyers. Come in to see the most beautiful girl in the world and buy a book.  But she goes swimming with Jeremiah instead.  

Katherine offers to go to the book signing, but first she needs to drop by the country club.  Laurel disapproves: all those mega-wealthy, elitist snobs!  But you don't mind having a mega-wealthy best friend?

Scene 6: While Belly and Jeremiah frolick at the beach, Laurel and Katherine head to the country club and then to the bookstore, where the manager, Danny (Adam Plant, above) asks how Laurel's book tour went.  Katherine yells at him for not ordering enough copies for the signing.  (There's also a book party tomorrow night.)

Laurel picks up a Western novel and insults its author, Cleveland (Alfredo Narciso): "ooh, I'm masculine yet intellectual!  I read Hemingway!  I wear horn-rimmed glasses!"  And of course he's standing right there!  Romance coming up.

Scene 7:  At dinner, everyone discusses how sexy Jeremiah is, now that he's started working out.  Conrad mopes around, being surly.  Katherine invites Belly to become a debutante: hang out with other wealthy girls all summer, and finally "come out" at the annual Debutante Ball.  "The daughters of the wealthiest families in New England do it."

Conrad calls it "bullshit," and Mom calls it archaic, but Katherine claims that nowadays it's all about business: networking, marketing yourself, leadership skills.

Scene 8: 
Night. Jeremiah brushing his teeth while Steven showers.  They sing together. They have some major erotic chemistry going on.  Meanwhile Belly runs into Conrad moping by the pool.  They gaze at each other with stultifying horniness, and then discuss whether Belly should become a debutante.

Scene 9:  Jeremiah and Steven set out for the bonfire party mentioned in Scene 2.  Mom and Katherine are making brownies and preparing to watch their first-night-together movie, It Happened One Night.  Belly claims that she's tired and just wants to go to bed, but she sneaks out to the bonfire instead.  Wait -- if Jeremiah and Steven can go, why can't Belly?  

Scene 10:  Belly got talked into wearing an expensive evening gown -- to the beach!  So she covers by claiming that she has come from another party.  The gas station guy from Scene 2 flirts with her, but backs off when he discovers that she is only 15. She is upset to discover that both Conrad and Jeremiah have girlfriends.  They were supposed to wait around for her?

Scene 11:
Back home, Laurel and Katherine are smoking pot and discussing whether to tell the husbands.  Yep, they're lovers.  Then they discuss getting Laurel a Tinder account so she can get laid.  Maybe not.

Meanwhile, at the bonfire, Belly is sitting around being morose when Cam (David Iocono, left), who she met in 7th Grade Latin Class, shows up.  He's interning on a whale-watching boat; would she like to go? They're interrupted by Conrad getting into a fight. Then the police arrive.  Everyone runs away.  

Steven and the brothers won't let Cam give Belly a ride home, since he's a near-stranger, but she agrees to go on the whale-watching trip, and kisses him!  Her first kiss!  Conrad glares at her.  Dude, you were kissing another girl five minutes ago. 

Before they have a chance to drive off, the police stop them for underaged drinking.  And no, being rich won't take care of it.

Scene 12:  Maybe it will.  The police just take them home, and remind Katherine that they have a golf date set up with her husband.  "Underaged drinking!" Lauren yells.  "What if you weren't rich?  You would have gone to jail!"  No, they would still be returned to their parents. Well, unless they were black. "What's gotten into you?  What's wrong?"  

Montage of Steven brushing his teeth, Conrad staring morosely into space, Jeremiah grinning, Lauren texting, and Belly deciding to accept the invitation to become a debutante.  In the morning, she talks to the morose Conrad for a few minutes, then rushes off to go whale-watching. The end.

Beefcake:  Only Jeremiah and Steven, so far.  There will be others.

Gay Characters:  I assume that Katherine and Lauren are lovers.  Steven and Jeremiah seem quite into each other. 

Conflict: Lauren resisting the lifestyle of the rich and famous, while spending the summer at the elegant beach-mansion.  Steven and Conrad have problems that they haven't revealed yet.  And, of course, Belly will have to choose between two boys (or maybe 35,000, now that she's become Pretty).

My Grade: A if some of these people turn out to be LGBT, otherwise B.

Jun 18, 2023

Julie and the Phantoms: Gay Teen Romance from Beyond the Grave

Julie and the Phantoms on Netflix, about an aspiring singer who starts a band with three ghosts, has the look and the feel of a Disney Channel teencom.  Aren't they all about aspiring singers?   But it's Netflix, so there is gay representation.

15-year old Julie (Madison Reyes) has the standard teencom overprotective single parent, bratty little brother, It-Girl nemesis, and dreamy-boy crush named Nick (why aere they always named Nick?).  Her life changes when she accidentally releases three members of a boy band who died after eating bad hot dugs in 1995  (a fourth didn't eat the hot dogs, and lived):  They are:

1. Calm lead guitarist Luke (Charlie Gillespie, left)

2. Goofball Reggie (Jeremy Shada).  Unfortunately, this is a teencom, so no beefcake.

3. Skateboarder Alex (Owen Joyner, below), who came out as gay shortly before they died.  Not to worry, the other guys are totally cool with it.  .  In fact,  they are so completely nonchalant about gay subtexts, hanging all over each other all the time, singing love songs to each other, that they seem like a post-gay anachronism.  Were any teens really so nonchalant about gayness in 1995?

The guys adapt quickly to being dead and 25 years in the future.  True to sitcom logic, only Julie can see or hear them -- except when they are singing.  So why not start the band up again?  Julie explains that they vanish at the end of each number because they are in Sweden, performing through holograms.

Yes, we hear the songs.

Teencom complications ensue for Julie, mostly about keeping the secret, pursuing dreamy Nick, and gaining the confidence to sing on her own (she hasn't been able to sing since her mother died).  The boys must deal rather poignantly with the faact that their parents, their surviving band mate, everyone they loved has moved on and lived without them for 25 years.

Alex begins dating a Native American ghost named Willie (Booboo Stewart).  Their physical contact is limited to holding hands and hugging, but since this is a teencom, that's all the heterosexuals get, too.  

Willie accidentally becomes the conduit of the season's major plot arc:  He is enslaved by an evil ghost named Caleb (Cheyenne Jackson).  When Caleb finds out about the guys, he wants their souls, too.  If they fail to comply, he will destroy them; they will cease to exist.

 The only way to escape is to go on to the afterlife by finishing the "unfinished business" that is keeping them earthbound.   But what is it?

Spoiler alert: They finish the unfinished business in the season finale, but they don't go on to the afterlife.  Instead, the evil Caleb takes over Nick's body.  So there will no doubt be a Season 2.

My grade: B.

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