Aug 26, 2023

Eric Roberts, Gay and Nearly Nude


Before Eric Roberts played Eli's friend Junior on Season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones, he had a long career -- 667 acting credits on the IMDB -- as serious actor and beefcake star, beginning at age 22 with King of the Gypsies (1978).

Eric stripped to his underwear in Star 80 (1993), as a guy who murders his wife, a model who appeared in Playboy.   

In 1996, when it was dangerous for an actor to play a gay character, Eric starred in It's My Party, as a gay guy with AIDS who decides to host a party for family and friends, then end his life.  Well, in those days gay men in movies were either dying of AIDS or coming out into a world where everyone is homophobic and there is no LGBT subculture.  As far as I can tell, this was his only gay role.

But he has taken off his clothes on screen many times since.  No frontals, but there's a butt shot on Gemstone Pride

The Kiss Heard 'Round the World: A Kelvin/Keefe Adventure

A Righteous Gemstones story: The day of Kelvin and Keefe's canonical kiss, as seen by BJ, Amber, Gideon, Judy, Eli, Keefe, and Jesse.

10:20 am: BJ

BJ watched Judy primping at her dressing room vanity. He grinned: it was so ordinary, but he wanted ordinary. After their marital problems, Judy and Kelvin both quitting the church, the kidnapping, and the rescue, it was nice to be just plain dressing for the morning service again.

Judy led him out into the south corridor and kissed him. He saw that Jesse and Amber were also kissing goodbye. But Kelvin and Keefe just pressed their foreheads together. Ugh! That was ordinary, too. How many times had Keefe complained about Kelvin's fear of being open in public? Well, he didn't really complain -- he was so devoted that anything Kelvin did was fine with him. But BJ could tell that he was suffering over being treated as a good buddy. "The kidnapping and rescue didn't change anything!" he thought."If that doesn't do it, what will?"

Link to the full story.

Aug 25, 2023

Charles in Charge: The First Teencom

Fresh from his tenure on Happy Days, Scott Baio made a dent in the "servant saves dysfunctional family" genre with Charles in Charge (1984-85), about a college student who works as a male nanny, a surprisingly gender-bending role for 1984.

Willie Aames, who had starred with Scott in the teen sex comedy Zapped! (1982), would play his girl-crazy best friend Buddy.

Charles' rather disturbed charges would include painfully shy teenager Lila (15-year old April Lerman), tween mad scientist Douglas (14-year old Jonathan Ward), and preteen juvenile delinquent Jason (Michael Pearlman).

Charles himself would be rather nerdy, fond of suspenders, ties, and shirts buttoned all the way up.  To preclude any gay suspicions, he would have a steady girlfriend, Gwendolyn (Jennifer Runyon), and Buddy would be indefatigably girl-crazy.

Charles in Charge premiered on October 3, 1984 in a block with John Stamos' teen-oriented sitcom Dreams. There were a few things to like about it, like Jason's blatant crush on Charles.  But the teens who were expecting a hot teen idol stayed away, and the adults were busy watching The Fall Guy and Highway to Heaven, so the show tanked after 22 episodes.

A retooled Charles in Charge appeared in first-run syndication on January 3rd, 1987.   Lots of retooling:

1. The theme song was revamped to sound sexy and risque ("I want...ooh...I want Charles in charge of me!").

2. Charles was now a collegiate hunk, with an updated wardrobe, when he wasn't wandering around the house in a towel (or a hot dog suit).  A Charles-of-all-trades, he supplemented his nanny income by working as a teaching assistant at the college, and at the local pizza parlor hangout.

3. Buddy's girl-craziness likewise faded away; he became a dimwit instead.

4. There were strong adult characters, grumpy Walter Powell (James T. Callahan) and Charles' mother Lilian (Ellen Travolta).

5. And Charles' new charges, the Pembrokes, were not at all dysfunctional: glamorous future model Jamie (14-year old Nicole Eggert), bookish future writer Sarah (13-year old Josie Davis), and preteen athlete Adam (12-year old Alexander Polinsky).  Justin Whalen played Cousin Anthony.

This time teen viewers took notice, and Charles quickly becoming the #1 syndicated program on the air (Mama's Family was a close second).  It lasted until 1990, and inspired a whole genre of beefcake-heavy 1990s teencoms.

Of the three kids in the first incarnation of Charles, only Jonathan Ward had a significant acting career as a teenagerHe starred in the "boys alone" drama White Water Summer with Sean Astin (1987) and in the E.T. ripoff Mac and Me (1988), plus his own "my secret" teencom, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter (1987).  In 1994, he wrote and starred in a Discovery Channel documentary, Understanding Sex. 

Of the three kids in the second incarnation, both Nicole Eggert and Josie Davis went on to successful acting careers.  Alexander Polinsky does voice-over work and is involved behind-the-scenes in model construction.

See also: The Sound of Music

Aug 21, 2023

Terry and the Pirates

Terry and the Pirates (1934-1973) presented the most overt adult-teen homoromance in the comic strips.  When fourteen-year old Terry Lane first set out to search for his missing grandfather, accompanied by soldier of fortune Pat Ryan, he was a wide-eyed innocent who seemed to belong in a humor strip, quite out of place among the jungles, copra plantations, and seedy port cities of the South China Sea, where everybody had an angle, a price, and a lot of secrets.  He was even drawn differently from the other characters, with a round face and soft, curvy lines amid Milt Caniff’s trademark square-jawed, angular men and women.  Caniff often used humorously drawn outsider characters, like the pug-cute Dickie Dare and the eyeglassed, golly-gee-spurting Wash Tubbs, to link the preternatural world of adventure with the comfortable, familiar world back home.  But Terry was neither boy, like Dickie Dare, nor man, like Wash Tubbs.  He was a teenager, and he was growing up.

Most comic strip characters either do not age, or they jump from child to adult instantly, but Terry aged normally, celebrating his fifteenth birthday in 1935, his sixteenth in 1936, and so on.  As he approached manhood, his relationship with Pat Ryan became considerably more intimate than those of the other pairs, the homoromantic slipping inexorably into the homoerotic.  Terry and Pat were sometimes shown sharing a single bed, or showering together, or naked together.  In a 1936 strip, the sixteen-year old Terry has just bathed, and he is toweling off.  The towel shields his backside from readers, but his frontsize is fully exposed to Pat, who is gazing with obvious appreciation.

Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Don Winslow spent half of their time brawling with men and the other half kissing women, but as long as Terry is not yet a man, Pat Ryan actively avoids the tall, slinky femmes fatale who keep wrapping their arms around him.  . When jewelry fence–kept girl Burma throws herself at Pat for three weeks’ worth of strips, he consistently rejects her, consenting to a kiss only after she calls him “Yellow!”, denigrating his masculinity, eight times in three panels.  Then, after the kiss, he refuses to accept her purring “darlings.”

Pat’s masculinity is, indeed, open to question, in spite of his square-jawed stoicism and expertise at fisticuffs.  He is denigrated by worse terms than “yellow,” including “sissy” and “pansy,” but only by women, so he won’t have to fight back.  Late in 1936, when they are all shipwrecked on another island, Burma throws herself at the colonial administrator (although she is supposedly as hard as nails, she falls for every man she sees).  The solicitous Pat gives the adminstrator’s wife make-up and hairstyle tips so she can beat off the competition.  One expects that, if World War II had not broken out, Pat could have easily returned to America and opened a hair salon.

The sixteen and seventeen-year old Terry is often positioned structurally as a parallel to whatever tall, slinky woman is lusting after with Pat this time.  The lady strips down to her underwear, and in the next scene Terry strips down to his underwear.  Pat is knocked unconscious, and the lady gingerly holds him in her arms.  The next time Pat is knocked unconscious, Terry gingerly holds him in his arms, in precisely the same position.

Columbia’s adaption, released on May 5th, 1940, is one of the era’s few intentionally humorous movie serials (it was directed by James W. Horne, who did the Laurel and Hardy shorts).  Terry was played as a squealing teenager by 22-year old William Tracy, a rather stout, likeable blond.  Pat Ryan, the soldier-of-fortune bodyguard, was miscast with Granville Owen, adequately tall and muscular but only five years older than William Tracy – he had just finished playing a college student in Start Cheering (1938), and he would go on to play the eternally teenage Li’l Abner in the adaptation of the Al Capp comic strip (1940).

The two are by far the most physically expressive of homoromantic partners in movie serials, one with hand always firmly placed on the other’s arm, shoulder, or back, except when they are walking with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists. Terry screams and flails like a damsel in distress when he is terrorized by crocodiles, headhunters, and villains lobbing hand-grenades, and after Pat swoops down like Tarzan to save him, they embrace, Terry’s face pressed against Pat’s chest.  

In an early chapter, they are bedded down for the night when a gorilla breaks into Terry’s room and tries to carry him away.  Pat rushes to the rescue, getting his shirt ripped off in the process.  Afterwards Terry stares appreciatively at Pat’s bulging muscles and hints “I’d feel a lot better if I slept with you tonight.” Pat agrees.

Aug 20, 2023

Boxers and Boyfriends: Joe Palooka

The most famous fictional boxer of the 20th century was probably Joe Palooka in the long-running comic strip (1930-1984).   Tall and immensely strong but gentle, Joe Palooka was the creation of Ham Fisher, who observed lots of young Polish immigrant boys hanging around boxing arenas, hoping that their muscles would bring them fame and fortune.

In his heyday, Joe was appearing on the radio, in movies (starring Joe Kirkwood, left), in big-little books, and in comic books.

You could buy Joe Palooka toys, gum, lunch boxes, board games, and a cut-out mask on Wheaties cereal.  

 In 1948, the town of Bedford, Indiana  (near Bloomington) erected a statue in his honor.  It was moved to nearby Oolitic in 1984.

Joe was originally "a woman-hater" and "allergic to girls," although cheese heiress Ann Howe kept trying to snare him, like Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner.  In the 1930s, lack of heterosexual interest did not signify gay identity; although gay readers found ample subtexts. Joe was a "man's man," enjoyed buddy-bonds with his sparring partner, massively-muscular Humphrey Pennyworth.

The two adopted a mute orphan named Little Max, who became popular enough to get his own series of toys and comic book title.

As boxing declined in popularity,  Joe moved beyond the ring to fight gangsters, Nazis, spies, and mad scientists.  During the 1950s he became an all-purpose trouble-shooter, traveling the world to right whatever wrongs needed a muscular remedy.  He got a tv series in 1954.  Harve published a Joe Palooka comic book through 1955.

Since changing attitudes required even heroes to express hetero-horniness, Joe eventually married Ann How.  And Humphrey became short and round, a comic relief character.

The comic strip lingered in a dwindling number of small-town newspapers until 1984.  By that time,  everyone had forgotten about Joe Palooka. (Except for Ham Fisher's home town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which renamed a nearby mountain after him).

And the 1980s college boys scouring the discount bins at the Comics Cave for beefcake covers.

And the elderly gay men who remembered glimpsing homoromantic potential in their childhood, when they opened the comics page to read about L'il Abner, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, and Joe Palooka.

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