Mar 23, 2018

The Homophobic Horrors of Gym Class

The homophobic horror that is high school gym class began in 1855, when the state of Ohio made the ill-fated decision to require it of all students.  It took off during the 1920s, when "physical culture" was all the rage in Europe, and students were doing gymnastics in the yard.

By the time I entered junior high in 1972, the diabolical structure was in intact.

1. The "class" was actually called Physical Education or "p.e.," but only girls said that.  Boys had to say "gym."  Unless you used the term "class" with it, in which case it was "p.e. class," not "gym class."

Got that?  Better not slip up, or you would be called a "fairy" or a "girl."

2. The two most gifted athletes in the class would then become team captains, and choose their team members.  "Fairies" were constantly ridiculed and degraded during the process, and left unchosen at the end, while the two team captain argued over who had to take them.  "I'm not taking the fairy -- you take him!"  "No way -- no girls on my team -- you take him!"

Then we played a sport.  No instruction in rules or strategies -- the "teacher' assumed that we already knew the rules.  If we asked, we were yelled at: "Don't be a smart-ass!  You know the rules!"

3. In junior high the sport was usually dodge ball, which involves trying to kill each other with hard round projectiles while yelling homophobic slurs: "Take this, fag!"

4. In high school the sports were football in the fall, basketball in the winter, softball in the spring.  Same procedure: no instruction, two jocks picking teams and deriding the "fags" and "fairies" while the "teacher" looked on.

Football was the worst.  "Stand here, facing this big, hulking man-mountain.  You're going to try to stop him from passing this line."

I just stepped aside and let him through.

We also got brief instructional tours, single class sessions, of golf, archery, and tennis, barely enough to learn what the equipment looked like. 

And rope-climbing.  I never understood that one.

I was very happy during my junior year, when the "teacher" gave up and just gave us free days to do whatever we wanted.  I ran around the track.  No homophobic taunts, no humiliation, and no projectiles hurled at you.

Mar 22, 2018

Elvis in Underwear

In the 1950s, nude photos of male celebrities were practically non-existent; the few examples we have were taken and developed in private, and didn't get mass exposure for many years.  Even shirtless photos are uncommon.  So it's no wonder that Elvis Presley caused a stampede when he was photographed in his underwear during his induction into the U.S. army in 1958.

At the time he was the most famous singer in the world, a cultural icon who almost single-handedly drew rock and roll away from its roots in jazz and blues.   He had already had a string of #1 hits, including "Heartbreak Hotel," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" -- the list goes on.  Being drafted was a big deal, even without the underwear.

A few other shirtless shots have surfaced over the years.  Elvis didn't have a great physique; in fact, he was a little chunky.  But that didn't make much difference to his armies of fans, in and out of the army.

He was apparently quite homophobic in real life -- most men of the 1950s generation were -- but that didn't stop him from forging friendships with many gay men.

Including actor Nick Adams.  Of course, he may not have known: Adams was not exactly out at the time.

Mar 21, 2018

Robert Goulet: 1950s Gay Icon

You may not recognize the name Robert Goulet, but he was an icon to the gay generation who survived the pre-Stonewall Dark Ages (1950-1969).

During those years, he was a fixture on Broadway, starring in such gay favorites as Dream Girl (1959), Meet Me in St. Louis (1960), and Camelot (1962), befriending such gay favorites as Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Cher.

As a singer, he charted frequently during the 1960s, with the easy-listening pop tunes that the older generation liked as a remedy to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones: "My Love, Forgive ME" (1964), "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" (1965), "Once I Had a Heart" (1966).

He starred in eight movies, often with gay subtexts:

1. Gay Pur-ee (1962).  Animated cat Mewsette (Judy Garland) leaves her quiet country life for the wicked city of Paris, and her male friends Jaune-Tom (Robert Goulet) Robespierre (Red Buttons) try to rescue her.  There's also a sophisticated male cat shipped to America as a "mail order bride."

2. Honeymoon Hotel (1964) had an interesting gay connection: he and Robert Morse (the one in the dress) check into the "honeymoon hotel" along with all of the other couples.  Heterosexual hijinks follow, but there are a sizeable number of double-takes at the "honeymoon couple," as well as the rule "you've got to have a girl in your room" to eliminate any rumors.

Here's a semi-nude photo of the boyfriend.

3. I'd Rather Be Rich (1964).  Young heiress Sandra Dee has to decide between her fiance (Andy Williams) and the man she's hired to impersonate him (Robert Goulet).

Goulet appeared on tv nearly 100 times, in specials devoted to his music, in his own series, Blue Light (1966-67), about an American journalist going undercover to spy on the Nazis during World War II, and in many guest roles: a hunky science teacher on The Patty Duke Show, a con artist faith healer on The Big Valley. a murderous doctor on The Name of the Game.

The 1950s was the era of the face, not the physique, but Goulet was not shy about displaying his tight, hard muscles for the camera.

Of course, Goulet continued to perform for thirty years after Stonewall, but he aimed his work at that same body of fans who had loved him in the 1950s, appealing to Boomers only in an occasional spoof, or when a melodious voice was needed: he provided the voice for Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2 (1999), and for sensitive third grader Mikey on the Disney Channel's Recess (1998-2001).

In 2005, two years before his death, Goulet took over the role of Georges, owner of the nightclub and Albin's partner in the Broadway revivial of  La Cage aux Folles.  It was like a final shout-out to the gay fans who had followed him for half a century.


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