Aug 19, 2023

Comparing "The Righteous Gemstones" with "Eastbound and Down"


I don't know anything about baseball, so I'm not sure what "eastbound and down" means (maybe a decrease in power, like "down the drain"?).  But I'm going through Danny McBride's series before The Righteous Gemstones to check for parallels, particularly the treatment of LGBT people.  Any gay characters? Any homophobia?  Any queerbaiting?   So Eastbound and Down, Season 1, Episode 1.  

The premise: a disgraced pro baseball player is forced to teach phys ed at his old high school. need a degree in education and a year of student teaching to do that.

The full review is on Righteous Gemstones Boyfriends and Queer Codes

Aug 14, 2023

10 Little House on the Prairie Hunks

When I was in high school and college, if I was home on Monday night at all, I was watching a hip sitcom like The Jeffersons or WKRP in Cincinnati, certainly not Little House on the Prairie (1974-83).  But my sister loved it. The historical drama, based on the autobiographical novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder, was about a farm family in frontier Minnesota in the 19th century: Charles and Caroline Ingalls and their daughters Laura, Mary, and Carrie. Other relatives come and go, the daughters grow up, and so on.

I always thought it was a family-friendly drama, like a TGIF sitcom, but my research reveals that it was quite angst-ridden, more "what shall we cry about this week?" than humorous anecdotes about one-room schoolhouses and general stores.  Episodes featured drug addiction, leukemia, child abuse, alcoholism, prejudice, diseases, accidents, murder, robbery, and rape, not to mention an ongoing story arc about Mary's blindness and a series finale that has the whole town of Walnut Grove blowing up!

This was the 1970s, when the top songs on the radio were about people and horses dying and the top "sitcom" was about soldiers being blown to bits in the Korean War.  Still, the pain and anguish seems a bit excessive.

With all the sobbing going on, you wouldn't expect much beefcake and buddy bonding, but apparently producer and star Michael Landon went out of his way to appeal to gay men and boys (and maybe heterosexual girls).  Dozens of 1970s musclemen and androgynous teen idol-types crossed the screen to have accidents, lose loved ones, die of diseases, and take their shirts off.  Here are the top candidates.

1. Michael himself, Charles Ingalls, previously Little Joe on Bonanza, with a famous body and bulge.  Where to begin?  He loses family members and friends, loses houses to fires, loses jobs, deals with infinite pain and sorrow, yet still believes that there is a Divine plan behind all the misery (it's actually the writers, wondering "what horrible thing can happen to the Ingalls this week?")    And he has plenty of time to work out.

2. Jonathan Gilbert as Willie Oleson, the spoiled son of the town shopkeepers (his sister Nellie was the snooty, bullying antagonist to the girls).  He is mostly comedic relief, but he helps out during blizzards, fires, and illnesses.

He grew up, but this is the only shirtless shot I could find.

3. Matthew Laborteaux as Albert, an orphan adopted into the Ingalls family.  Subsequently his girlfriend is raped, he takes to stealing, gets an incurable disease, and becomes addicted to morphine.  He should have stayed in the orphanage.

4. His brother Patrick as Andy, one of Laura's friends whose mother is killed and father (played by Merlin Olsen) becomes an alcoholic.

5. Linwood Boomer (love that name) as Adam Kendall, one of Mary's colleagues at the School for the Blind.  They get married and lose their infant son in a fire.  Eventually he gets his sight back and becomes a lawyer.

6. Jason Bateman (seen here as an adult, pouring lemonade onto his crotch) as James Cooper, who loses his parents in an accident (on camera, naturally) and is adopted by the Ingalls family.  Later he is shot during a bank robbery, but healed by a miracle.

7. Stan Ivar (left) as John Carter, whose wife runs the town newspaper.

8. Dean Butler (right) as Almanzo, who marries Laura and is crippled by a stroke.  Then his house is destroyed, his wife gets sick and almost dies, his brother dies of an incurable disease, his infant son dies....

Just another week in Walnut Grove.

9. Steve Tracy as, I mean Percival Isaac Cohen Dalton, who rejects his Jewish heritage and marries Nellie Oleson.  Perhaps she was attracted to his very blatant bulge.  No angst in his plotlines, but the actor himself died of AIDS in 1986.

10. Radames Pera as John Sanderson Edwards, who dates Mary Ingalls before he moves to Chicago to become a newspaper reporter and is murdered.

Whew!  After all that, M*A*S*H sounds like a lighthearted diversion.

The Full Monty, 2023

 In The Full Monty (1997), some Midland blokes fight the grinding poverty of their depressed industrial town by putting on a strip show.  They were not Chippendales: they were middle aged, fat, scrawny, not hung (with an exception), but that was the point.  Regular guys coming together and showing you "the Full Monty" became a triumphant moment that brought the community together.   Plus Lomper (the scrawny one) and Guy (the hung one) became a couple.

26 years,eight prime ministers, and innumerable redevelopment plans later, the Midlands are still depressed, and the guys are still together.  They've gotten old; some have children and grandchildren; Lomper and Guy are married, and run a cafe that used to be called the "Big Bap," due to the size of their dinner rolls.  Then "bap" became slang for something dirty. 

Every episode appears to center on one of the gang.  I am reviewing Episode 4, which is Lomper-centric..  

Scene 1: Lomper sneaks across the border with contraband: a pigeon!  He and his friend bring in another pigeon, have them mate, and in ten days they'll have a pigeon egg and be rich!  Except it doesn't lay an egg.  I don't get it.  According to the RSPCA, it's legal to own pigeons in England.  They're protected, so you can't kill them without a license.  So why is Lomper's pigeon contraband, and how could a pigeon egg make them rich?

Scene 2:  Horse driving his scooter down the highway, getting honked at.  He runs out of petrol on a traffic island, and can't get off, so he sets up camp.  Guy's girlfriend offers him a ride.

Scene 3:  Lomper explains to a loan shark that the pigeon isn't laying, so he'll need some extra time to pay back his loan.  They agree to an extra week.

Scene 4:  Guy's girlfriend and Horse driving.  She's on the phone, complaining about the cost of the wedding.  Horse is surprised that they are getting married.  "He sent you an invite."  Wait: I thought Guy was with Lomper? Weren't they the gay couple in the original movie?  

Scene 5:  Horse being assessed to see what kind of aid he needs.  "Can you stand up without help?  Can you prepare meals?"  He heads home.

Scene 6: Lomper at home, being excited.  His husband asks what he's on about at 2:30 in the morning.  Lomper won't say.  Who is this guy?  He doesn't actually act like a husband, more like a cranky roommate.

Cut to the next day:  They have a buyer for the pigeon!  A software billionaire from South Korea.  I guess you'd have to be a billionaire to afford a pigeon.  Or just go to any public space and grab a few.

He's named the pigeon Lewis, after the fastest racing pigeon in Europe.

Scene 7: Lomper heads to the Mercure Hotel, feels out of place amid its elegance, and meets with the buyer, Mr. Sang-Choi.  Ulp, he wants to see the pigeon egg, but Lewis hasn't laid yet.  I'm sick of pigeons, and I can't figure out who the husband is, if it's not Guy.  

Scene 8: Lomper's restaurant, now called Le Grand Pain.  It's being run, the middle aged guy from the original movie?  No, a new character named Dennis(Paul Clayton). The pigeon sneaks out of its box, and Gerald, not realizing that it's worth millions, shooes it away.   Lomper comes out of the bathroom and freaks out.  So Lomper and Guy didn't stay together, Guy turns out to be bi, and Lomper marries someone else.  That's disappointing -- I thought it would be a love for the ages.  But then, I've had more than one boyfriend during the last 26 years, too.

Scene 9: The loan sharks come in, and ask if Dennis and Lomper are married.  He says that they are.  Good -- now they can shake down him, too.  "Your husband owes us 17,500.  Pay up!"

Dennis closes the restaurant and calls Lomper to ask WTF?   The pigeon-buyer and the guy he bred the pigeon with also show up, asking for money.  

Scene 9:  Dennis thinks that Lomper is cheating on him with Guy, so he rushes to the house to confront him and his girlfriend.  "Yes, I know that he's bisexual, and he dated Lomper 25 years ago.  So what?"  After all the creditors, he's worried about cheating?  

Guy wants to know why his old friend is so upset: "He's gone.  Found someone else."  Maybe if you weren't so mean to him, he'd stick around.  But what does this have to do with the pigeons?

Scene 10: 
 Lomper on a rooftop, being depressed.  Dennis finds him.  "Best view in Sheffield."  Wait -- I've been to Sheffield.  Some neighborhoods were a bit run down, but it was nowhere near the urban wasteland of, say, Gary, Indiana.

He still thinks that Lomper has spent 70,000 pounds ($90,000) on a guy.  "Where'd you meet him?"  "Her," Lomper corrects him, thinking of the pigeon.  "Worse and worse." 

"I picked her up in Amsterdam.  I had to smuggler her in.  I wanted to breed her."  Ok, this is like a plot from "Three's Company" in the 1970s, where people overhear innocent conversations and think they are about sex.  Fortunately, it doesn't last much longer.

Scene 11:  They give "missing pigeon" fliers to their friends, including two teenagers (must be the kids of the guys whose lives have not been accounted for yet: Gaz, Gerald, and Dave.  They go out searching among the millions of pigeons in Sheffield for the special 70,000 pound pigeon.  

Guy complains that he doesn't have time for this, being a CEO: "I only went out with Lomper for a few months."   Dave ducks into a shop to buy a hoodie, but his wife doesn't like it. Gaz makes like a statue to catch pigeons.  Horse applies for jobs.

Scene 12:  Back at the coffee shop, Dennis asks Lomper why he did it.  "I wanted you to notice me.  Mostly I'm invisible.  Then you'll spot me, and this look crosses your face like you don't like me anymore."  You mean we weren't seeing a few mean moments, he's mean all the time?  I'd be looking for someone else, too.   "I disappoint you. You deserve better."

Doesn't that exchange beg a kiss, or a hug?  Or at least a reassuring pat on the back?  But Dennis just sits there. After Lomper leaves, he starts crying.

Scene 13:  Brian, a middle-aged guy I don't recognize (not in the original movie), comes into teenage Destiny's room to complain about the loud music. Back story: he's moving in with her mother, and she hates him, so he's going to pay her 500 pounds to find somewhere else to live.  Can you do that with teenagers in England?   There appears to be some nastiness between them.  

Scene 14: Lomper sees the pigeon at the footie (soccer) stadium, so he and his mate go to fetch her. He ends up hanging from a lighting fixture far above the floor, while everyone else is worried that he will fall.  "I don't care about our coffee shop," Dennis calls.  "I just care about you."  But the pigeon laid eggs, which Lomper retrieves for a ton of money.  Nope -- Dennis rushes up to hug him, and the eggs all crack

Aug 13, 2023

"Hollywood Steps Out": Queer Looney Tunes in 1941


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

Prince Valiant

During the 1960s, the Rock Island Argus printed mostly depressing 50-year old comic strips with jokes about husbands hating their wives or friends betraying each other, with little bonding (Out Our Way was an exception) and very little beefcake. Alley Oop and Prince Valiant were exceptions -- 50 years old, but muscle-heavy.

Prince Valiant was a color strip that appeared only on weekends.  Like Gasoline Alley, it featured characters aging in real life, but it was unique in having no speech balloons; text appeared at the bottom of each panel, making the strip seem more like an illustrated novel than a comic.

When it first appeared in 1938, Val was a young prince from Thule (modern day Norway) who traveled to Britain to become one of King Arthur's knights. Later he returned to Thule to help his father regain his throne, then traveled across Europe and Asia, fighting Goths and Huns, visiting the Holy Land (long before the Crusades).  By the 1960s, the middle-aged Val had settled in North America.

Generally Medieval fantasies (and real epics like The Song of Roland) offer little beefcake; knights wear shining armor, and their northern climate doesn't permit much skinny-dipping.

Sigfried in The Nibelungenlied gets naked, and Sir George in The Magic Sword (1962),  and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) in Excalibur (1981) take their shirts off, and that's about it.  But in Prince Valiant,  Val was shirtless more often than not.  His muscular physique was drawn in full color and in loving detail.

Unfortunately, through the 1960s, Val retained a 1930s page boy haircut, red lips, rosy cheeks, and long lashes, giving him a rather feminine appearance that didn't lend itself to romantic fantasies.  The name "Val" didn't help much.

And there was little buddy-bonding.  During the 1930s, Val sparred with rival prince Arn of Ord, but they became little more than grudging friends.  In fact, the main plotlines involved the fade out kiss.  First Val and Arn competed for the hand of the fair maid Ilene.  Then she died in a shipwreck, Arn was dropped from the strip, and Val turned his attentions to the fair maid Aleta.

They married, and in 1947 their son Arn was born (the first European baby born in North America).   Eventually they had three more children. When I started reading the strip in the 1960s, Arn was a mischievous teenager, but soon he, too, married.

 Hal Foster, the original cartoonist, also drew Tarzan for many years.   He died in 1982, but the strip is still going strong.

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