Jul 6, 2013

Celeb Date #3: Good Times at the Gym

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I saw many celebrities at the gym -- not big stars, but some current and former sitcom favorites like Ron Glass of Barney Miller, Matt McCoy of We Got It Made, and Jonathan Prince of Throb.  I particularly remember Jimmie Walker, who had a breakout role on the sitcom Good Times (1974-79), a Norman Lear Blacksploitation sitcom centered on the family of stern, no-nonsense Florida (Estelle Rolle), the maid on Maude, now living in a Chicago housing project.

I never saw more than an occasional glimpse of Good Times, enough to know the basic premise.  I liked paterfamilias James, played by John Amos, previously Gordy the Weatherman on Mary Tyler Moore, who had a solid, muscular physique.

Good Times had no shirtless or nude scenes, but John Amos had a blatant bulge, even by 1970s standards.  He played the adult Kunta Kinte in Roots (1977), and a half-naked warrior in the sword-and-sorcery Beastmaster (1982).

And Michael (Ralph Carter, left), the youngest son, a world-weary, Malcolm X-quoting Black Power activist, who developed a nice physique and bulge of his own before the series ended.

And Keith (Ben Powers, below).

But I hated strutting racist stereotype JJ (Jimmie Walker), with his weird chicken-dance moves and grinning catchphrase "Dyn-O-Mite!" He was abrasive and annoying, not to mention dishonest, and, by the end of the series, a bona fide hoodlum.

Apparently no one else in the cast liked him, either.  At the end of the third seasons, John Amos had complained so much to Norman Lear that he was fired, and his character killed.  Then Esther Rolle left in protest at the direction the show as taking, leaving the kids to fend for themselves for two seasons.

At the gym, Jimmy Walker was a total jerk.  He hogged the machines while he gossiped with his entourage, and then neglected to wipe them down afterwards.  Nothing is more disgusting than trying to do a leg press in a pool of Jimmie Walker sweat.

Most of the gym members were celebrities, gay, or both, including most of Jimmie Walker's entourage, so I was shocked when he recently came out against gay marriage "on moral grounds."

John Amos was much more gay-friendly.  He didn't even mind being gawked at in the shower (not because he was a celebrity -- because he had a spectacular physique).

He played half a a gay couple (with Stacey Keach) in a recurring role on Two and a Half Men.  

Janet Jackson, little sister of Michael Jackson, who spent two seasons as wisecracking tot Penny before becoming a multiple Grammy winner, is a gay icon.

Ralph Carter, who is living with HIV,  is apparently gay in real life.

See also: My Personal Trainer

Plus-Sized Boys in 1980s Movies

In the 1960s and 1970s, gay preteens who liked their boys plus-sized found slim pickings in movies and on tv, where skinny waifs ruled.  The most they could hope for was an occasional bully or obnoxious glutton, like Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

By the 1980s, the husky or fat kid became a standard movie sidekick.  Paradoxically, he was apparently inserted into the plot to decrease the erotic potential of the buddy-bond, using the rubric that fat is by definition unattractive.  In The Goonies (1985), Jeff Cohen as "Chunk" participated in the adventure along with the others, and even managed to save the day.  But not before he took off his shirt to do the "truffle shuffle" belly dance.

Jerry O'Connell (center) even got a nude shot with his buddies in Stand by Me (1986), but again, his size apparently precluded any homoromantic imaginings between him and River Phoenix (left), Corey Feldman (right), or Wil Wheaton (not shown).

Paranormal investigator Brent Chalem was Andre Gower's buddy in Monster Squad (1987), but they didn't express much romantic interest.  Instead, gay kids shipped Andre and Robby Kiger.

We see the same exclusion in Adam Sadowsky as Jason Bateman's scheming best friend on It's Your Move (1985-86): friendship, but not much of a gay subtext. Peter Costa played a silent, timid, beset-upon white kid who hung out with Rudy on The Cosby Show (1985-89), but he was more of a sight gag than a friend. Besides, Rudy was a girl.

None of these actors spent much time in front of the camera as teenagers or adults, except for Jerry O'Connell, who muscled up.  Maybe being a former child star is especially traumatic when you are plus-sized.

Jul 5, 2013

Sonny with a Chance/So Random

Speaking of Southern Baptist Sissies, Matthew Scott Montgomery has played a nearly-gay character on the Disney Channel.

The teencom Sonny with a Chance (2009-2011) starred Demi Lovato as the Sonny, the "new girl" on the teen sketch comedy show So Random!  

Plotlines interspliced sketches from the show with the back-stage antics of Sonny and her costars, particularly the joined-at-the-hip Nico (Brandon Mychal Smith, right) and Grady (Doug Brochu).  The two were a barely-heterosexualized gay couple, physically intimate (whenever he gets scared, Nico jumps into Grady's arms), exclusive (except when one is asked out by another guy), and passionate.

The main antagonists were the stars of the teen soap MacKenzie Falls, especially dreamboat Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight, above left, partying at the gay club Tigerheat, and right, bonding with bff Zac Efron in 17).  Chad imagines himself a serious artist, vastly superior to the clowns of So Random!  But eventually he warms up to them, and begins dating Sonny.

When Demi Lovato left the series, it was revamped into a musical variety program, So Random! (2011-2012), with the cast playing "themselves" in comedy sketches and musical numbers.  Several new characters were added, including Shane Topp (left) and Matthew Scott Montgomery, who played the gay-coded Angus.  He has also played gay characters in Warren the Ape, Second Shot, and Feed.

Demi Lovato is a gay ally, but other cast members haven't made any pro- or anti-gay statements.  Sterling Knight, housemate of of Ryan Pinkston, is probably gay or bisexual, or at least gay-positive enough to take off his shirt at gay clubs.

Southern Baptist Sissies: Gays vs. God, Yet Again

Sordid Lives (1999) became  #2 on my list of 10 Gay Movies I Hated  because of its dreary insistence that gay life in Texas today is stuck in a pre-Stonewall dark Age, with a drag queen undergoing de-homosexualization therapy in a mental hospital and a gay guy who had to go 3000 miles and undergo 300 years of therapy to be "who he is."  (He never heard of the thriving gay communities in Dallas, Houston, and Austin?)

In December 2000, back in West Hollywood for a Christmas visit, my friends took me to a new play, Southern Baptist Sissies, written by Del Shores, the perpetrator of Sordid Lives.  I liked it a little better, mainly because the Southern Baptist homophobia resonated with my childhood church.  Although ours was much worse.  How about heterosexuals going to hell for not kicking their gay kids out of the house?  Or for suggesting that there might be worse sins than being gay?

But I had a problem with the gays-vs.-God message.

A teenage in the Calvary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, Mark  isn't sure whether he wants to accept Jesus Christ as His Personal Saviour or not, but his Mom promises that if he does, he can have his buddy TJ for a sleepover.  So he does, and homoromance results.

Mark doubts the church's homophobia, and several other teachings (such as his favorite teacher, who is Jewish, is destined for eternal damnation).  He finally abandons religion. He drives 3000 miles and undergoes 300 years of therapy to be "who he is" (Del Shores).

Emerson Collins (left), who played Max in Sordid Lives: The Series, will play Mark in the 2013 movie version.

TJ goes into the closet, gets married, and hates gay people.  He  does everything he can to promote homophobia in the church.

 Luke Stratte-McClure (right), who also played a Southern gay boy in Del Shores' Yellow, will play TJ.

We hear from two other gay boys: Benny, who is flamboyantly feminine, also abandons religion.  He grows up to become a drag queen performer.

He'll be played by William Belli (left, with Jerry O'Connell), who has played drag queens so often that he rated an appearance as The Professor on RuPaul's Drag University/

Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery, above, in Yellow) can't bring himself to accept a life without faith, so he commits suicide.

That's your choice, folks: like religion and hate gays, or like gays and hate religion.

Why can't you be gay and religious at the same time?

If your Baptist roots were homophobic, stop whining and join a gay church, like the MCC or the Reconciling Pentecostals International.  Dallas has a MCC plus The Cathedral of Hope, with over 500 members.

Or join a gay-positive mainline church, like the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, or Disciples of Christ.  Dallas has over 50 gay-affirming churches, including two Baptist.

Or join a pro-gay religion, like Buddhism, Judaism, or Wicca.

Jul 4, 2013

Milton Berle: Television's First Drag Queen

In an October 26, 1967 episode of Batman, Batman and Robin ran afoul of Louie the Lilac, who trapped them in a man-eating lilac bush and later got them. . .um. . .all wrapped up in each other (Batgirl was in the melange, too).

He wore a lilac suit, liked perfume, and had henchmen named Azalea, Petunia, Lotus, and Sassafras.   I was too young to recognize gay stereotypes, but I knew feminine-coding when I saw it.

Later I saw Louie the Lilac, aka Milton Berle, as a desk clerk on Get Smart (1968), a fast-talking used car salesman on Here's Lucy (1969), a tv clown on Mod Squad (1971), and another used car salesman in The Muppet Movie (1979), without ever realizing that he was Mr. Television.

In 1950, there were 500,000 tv sets in use in the United States.  By 1956, 30 million.  And when the millions of new viewers turned on their new tv sets, they were watching Milton Berle, a former vaudeville performer and radio comedian, on Texaco Star Theater (1948-56).

Not many episodes have survived, but apparently it was a musical-variety program with Berle, or Uncle Miltie doing stand-up comedy and sketches, including frequent drag numbers and the lisping catch phrase "I'll kill you a million times."  Sounds gay-coded to me.

For the first few years, it regularly trounced its competition (to be fair, its competitors included The John Hopkins Science Review and Uptown Jubilee).  Then sitcoms took over, and musical variety was passe.  But Milton Berle continued the format in Kraft Music Hall (1958-59), and he appeared in drag frequently through the years, even at the end of his life: on an episode of  Roseanne (1995), he catches the bridal bouquet at the gay wedding that Roseanne arranges for her boss.

Oddly enough, he was homophobic in real life, throwing around the words "fag" and "queer" with abandon.  In 1993, he was scheduled to present an award with drag performer RuPaul, and a backstage incident caused a well-publicized feud between Old and New Drag.  According to RuPaul, Berle made rude comments and inappropriately touched her breasts.

Hollywood rumors give Uncle Miltie another claim to fame: he was widely recognized to have the largest endowment in the business, surpassing a foot in length.  Apparently he was not shy about displaying it to anyone curious, as long as they weren't "queer."

Uncle Tom Award #3: High School Musical

Time for another Uncle Tom Award, given to the actor, director, or producer who most effectively promotes heterosexism.  Award #2 goes to Kenny Ortega and Lucas Grabeel of High School Musical.

The Disney franchise (2006, 2007, 2008) was a parody of 1980s teen comedies, a boy-girl hetero-romance, and a paeon to "being who you are," as high schoolers Troy (Zac Efron, left), Chad (Corbin Bleu, below), and their teammates are torn between the machismo of sports and gender-transgressive singing and dancing in the Drama Club.

Lucas Grabeel played Ryan Evans, stylish, feminine, gay-coded brother of the quasi-villain Sharpay (Ashley Tinsdale).  Many fans point to the song "I Don't Dance," in which he tries to convince the Chad to perform in the upcoming talent show, as gay-subtext classic, loaded with innuendo and homoerotic energy.  Here's a clip.

 In the stage version, he's gay.

But not in the movie.  He couldn't be.  Director Kenny Ortega explains: "None of the kids can be gay, because they're too young to have sex."

So parents festoon their boy babies with bibs reading "Chick magnet."  Kindergarten boys and girls exchange valentines, and everyone says "Oh, how cute!"  But being gay is not about desire or romance, it's about sex, so if you aren't sexually active, you're not gay.

That's pretty disgusting.

 Attuned to the many "Ryan is gay" rumors, the writers gave him a girlfriend in the last installment.

Lucas Grabeel has been the subject of some gay rumors of his own, especially after he played Danny Nicoletta, the photographer friend of Harvey Milk who struggled to keep his memory alive, in Milk (2008).  He responded to them with an offensive statement on his website.  He really, really, really doesn't want you thinking he's gay:

"As an actor, you play roles. I'm NOT Ryan Evans. I'm NOT Kelly Kuzio from Veronica Mars, I'm NOT Lex Luthor [from Smallville]... I'm Lucas. But when I go to WORK,  I assume the character of whom I'm playing.. In the movie Milk, I PLAY gay.  That doesn't mean that I am gay. Sean Penn, one of the greatest actors of our generation, is playing Harvey Milk, a gay character... but he is married to Robin Wright-Penn. Most people in this movie are straight men playing gay men.... Emile Hersch, James Franco, and Diego Luna are just a few...."

Wow, quite a list.  Is there anybody in the world, who is really, actually gay, Lucas?  Or are gay people mythical creatures, like unicorns?

Why did you even agree to play a gay character?

Jul 3, 2013

The Dandy and the Gay Cult: The Last Days of Pompeii

When I was a kid, my church didn't like anything "worldly," not even literature.  Novels were at best a waste of time, and more likely they would promote heresies like atheism, Catholicism, and witchcraft.

But they made an exception for historical dramas set in or around the time of Christ: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Big Fisherman,  Barabbas, and even Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii (1834).

Later I discovered that Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was gay, and a member of the Dandy movement, about well-sensitive, highly refined gentlemen who obsessed over fashion and grooming, swooned over opera arias, enjoyed hedonistic vices, and wrote poetry.  During last days of the Romantic Era (1770-1830) and the first days of the Victorian, "dandy" was code for "gay."

Most of the Dandys weren't great writers; in fact, Bulwer-Lytton gave his name to a contest every year to see who can write the worst opening for a novel.  I only got through a few pages of the purple-prosed Last Days of Pompeii. But apparently, if you slog through the romance between Roman citizen Glaucus and the "beautiful" Ione, you'll meet the evil Egyptian sorcerer Arbaces, who seduces and "destroys" Ione's brother Apaecides -- he sings a song of "love" and then leads him to "a curtain on the other side of the chamber."

Now Apaecides is a priest for the evil cult of Isis, which engages in all sorts of decadent activities.  Not to worry, he renounces Isis and converts to Christianity before Arbaces murders him.

At least the destruction of Pompeii is not caused by God's wrath against the sodomites.

There have been several film versions, mostly skipping the gay subplot.  In the 1959 peplum version, Glaucus (bodybuilder Steve Reeves) gets a gay subtext with his best friend Marcus (Mario Berriatua), but the character of Apaecides, renamed Antonius (Angel Aranda, left, from a Spanish movie) is insignificant.

In the 1984 tv miniseries, Nicholas Clay (left) plays Glaucus, Ernest Borgnine Marcus, and Benedict Taylor Antonius, in a minor plotline that gets him a girlfriend.  There's also a new hunk, the gladiator Lydon (Duncan Regehr, top photo, posing with phallic symbol).

See also: The Flowers of Evil

Jul 2, 2013

Sterling Beaumon: Not All Bad

After the gay subtext-filled How to Eat Fried Worms (2006), Luke Benward and Adam Hicks starred in the Disney Channel's Mostly Ghostly (2008), which was unremittingly heterosexist.

Max (Sterling Beaumon) is a "normal" 11-year old, crushing on a girl and being bullied by his older brother (Adam Hicks). So much for the myth of childhood innocence.  He meets two ghosts, Nicky (Luke Benward) and his sister Tara, who has a crush on him.  When the evil ghost Phears captures Tara, Max and Nicky must work together to save her.  But there's a problem -- Max's magic show is coming up, with the girl he loves as his assistant.  And so on.  Couldn't find a gay subtext.

Sterling Beamon was no stranger to heterosexist plotlines.  He had a recurring role on Lost (2007-2009), as the young Ben, who would grow up to become the leader of the evil Others.  The eight-year old Ben arrives on the Island, and immediately falls in love with a mysterious girl named Annie, who will haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.  

The miniseries Clue (2011), loosely based on the board game, was about teenage crime investigators, including Seamus (Sterling), Lucas (Zach Mills), and Dmitri (Stephan James), all of whom crush on girls. I never saw it, but it doesn't sound promising.

Even the short-lived Red Widow (2013), in which he plays the son of widowed mobster Marta: she walks in on him and his girlfriend having sex.

Plus some serial killers and teenage drug runners.

On the other hand, he's posed in the gay-themed Bello magazine, and he's best buds with Kiril Kulish, who starred in the gay-positive Billy Elliot: The Musical (top photo) and Cameron Palatas (top photo and left, with David Henrie), who starred in the gay-positive Bag of Hammers (2011), so he can't be all bad.  

Father Dear Father: Gay-Friendly Britcom without Gays

In the spring of 1977, during my junior year in high school, I couldn't wait for 10:00 pm on Thursday nights, for the logo of Thames TV, with Parliament, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, and London Bridge rising from a cloud-covered Thames, and the Britcom Father, Dear Father (1968-73).

 Although I don't remember it fondly as "good beyond hope," I have never laughed so hard at a tv series.  My parents finally forbade me from watching it in the living room, where they would be disturbed in their bedroom nearby.

The premise: gay actor Patrick Cargill played Patrick Glover, a rather uptight, easily-flummoxed novelist.  He had two teenage daughters, the effervescent, free-spirited Anna and Karen (same personality, impossible to tell apart).

Like Three's Company, Father Dear Father was about humorous misunderstandings, mostly involving sex.

Anna and Karen are looking after the pregnant cat of their friend Andrew (Clifton James), who is black, and Patrick thinks one of them is pregnant.  He interrogates Andrew, who says that when the babies come, he'll "keep the black ones and give the rest away."

Anna takes her own apartment, but when Patrick calls, neighbor Justin (Richard Fraser) answers the phone, and he thinks they're living in sin.

Karen and her boyfriend Howard (Richard O'Sullivan, a future Dick Turpin) are going camping, but Patrick thinks they're going to get married and live in a tent. "But what if children come?"  "We'll just chase them away."

Patrick disapproves of Anna's hippie boyfriend Dumbo (Brian Godfrey, who has made his career playing drag parts in pantomimes) and tries to hook her up with a more conservative boy, but instead the boy's mother thinks he is proposing marriage.

Eventually Anna marries photographer Tim (Jeremy Child), whom of course Patrick doesn't like.

Not a lot of beefcake, and a lot of hetero-shenanigans going on.

But there were three points of interest:

1. The other British Invasion series were science fiction or anarchic comedies, but Father, Dear Father was set distinctly in modern Britain.  Patrick and his family live in Hampstead, a northern suburb or London.  I had not yet been to Britain, or anywhere outside the U.S. except Canada, so the glimpse into another country was fun and exciting.

2. Patrick displayed no heterosexual interest of any sort.  He had a number of male friends, including a ne-er do well brother, but the women in his life consisted of his housekeeper, his agent, and his draconian ex-wife.

3. Anna and Karen were gleefully tolerant of anyone and everyone.  None of their friends every specified that they were gay, but many could have.

Jul 1, 2013

Kickin It: Jack and Jerry, a Modern Romance

Kickin' It (2011-) on Disney XD, is set in the struggling Bobby Wasabi Martial Arts Academy, run by Rudy (Jason Earles, previously of Hannah Montana).  Five misfit students band together to form the Wasabi Warriors.

1. Wisecracking Jack, played by Leo Howard (left), who has also starred in a Disney channel DVD review program, Shake It Up (2013) and Conan the Barbarian (2011), #9 on my list of Unexpected Disney Channel Teen Hunks.  He has a crush on

2.  Kim, the only girl in the dojo.

3 Surly lone wolf Jerry, played by Mateo Arias (right, with Jake T. Austin, who apparently hugs every teen hunk he can find),#7 on the list.  He's dating Mika, niece of the owner of their hangout, Falafel Phil's.

4. The nerd Milton (Dylan Riley Snyder), who is dating Julie, but also buddy bonds with Randy (Evan Hofer).

5. The portly Eddie (Alex Christian Jones), who isn't dating anyone in particular, but fancies himself a "playa."

In spite of the requisite children's program hetero-horniness, there is a lot of gay content.

1. Beefcake provided by the regulars and such guest stars as Billy Unger and Booboo Stewart.

2. Jason Earles' gay-vague portrayal of Rudy, who has a girlfriend but likes to hang out in his "man cave" with love-hate frenemy Lonnie (Peter Oldring, left, the gay Fabian on Love That Girl) 

3. Jack and Jerry, inseparable partners, with an intense, physical romance reminiscent of that of Zack and Slater on Saved by the Bell.  They even have a shipping name, Jarry.  (A shipping name is a portmanteau used by fans to identify the relationship they favor; for instance).

Little Big Man: Draft-Dodging, Gay Indians, and Physique Poses

We're so used to seeing Dustin Hoffman as a highly respected dramatic actor that it's easy to forget something:  when he was just starting out, in The Graduate (1967), Madigan's Millions (1968), John and Mary (1969), and Alfredo Alfredo (1972), his physique sold as many tickets as his performance.

Little Big Man (1970) consists of the picaresque adventures of 121-year old Jack Crabb (Dustin) beginning in 1849, when as a 10-year old he is captured by the Cheyenne Indians. He grows up with the Cheyenne, but returns to white society to save himself during an Indian massacre.

He becomes a snake-oil salesman, gunfighter, and shopkeeper, and joins General Custer's 7th Calvary, but returns to the Cheyenne in disgust after another massacre.  Several years later, when he is married with children, a third massacre prompts him to return to General Custer and orchestrate his defeat and death at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

The most surprising thing about this movie is Dustin Hoffman's body. His tight, muscular frame was on display throughout his Cheyenne years, and as nude as it could get in white society, as often as the scripts could provide him with bathtubs and bedrooms.  And everyone he meets looks like they want to rip off his clothes and have sex with him on the spot.  Most of the women get to; the men just complement him on his handsomeness, steal a surreptitious glimpse at his bulge, and offer to become his. . .um, friend.

One might suspect, that like Sal Mineo in Tonka, the movie is just an excuse to display Dustin Hoffman's muscles.  But there is an ongoing Vietnam-Era anti-War message in the endless massacres,  betrayal, and death.

White society (read: the Establishment)  is almost universally despicable, and Cheyenne society (read: the Counterculture) is almost universally good, kind, and noble.  Men who don't want to go to war (read: draft dodgers) are not outcasts; it is perfectly honorable to stay home.

The Cheyenne even accept gay people: a hwame or Two Soul named Younger Bear (Cal Bellini), extremely feminine but in a position of honor in the community, is perhaps the first positively-portrayed gay person in a mainstream movie, certainly the first gay Native American.  He wants Dustin Hoffman, too ("Come to my tent -- I'll be your wife"), but doesn't get anywhere.

Jun 30, 2013

Perry Mason: the Gay Lawyer of the 1950s

Many of the first generation of Boomer kids were inspired to become lawyers through watching Perry Mason (1957-66), who represents only people falsely accused of murder, and uses courtroom theatrics to compel the real murderer to confess: "I had to do it!  He would have ruined me!  Don't you understand!"

I never saw it, but older Boomers tell me that Perry (Raymond Burr) was a refreshing change from the girl-ogling swinger-detective-adventurers of the period: he didn't ogle, didn't have a wife back home, didn't express any heterosexual interest.  Indeed, other than his secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale), he surrounded himself completely by men: detective Paul Drake (William Hopper), district attorney-antagonist Hamilton Berger (William Talman).  

How did the writers manage to avoid heterosexualizing Perry?  

Raymond Burr wins the honor of having the longest Hollywood career without playing any significant characters who get girls. 

He has a wife in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) (but no romantic scenes of any sort), but there's no girl-ogling in His Kind of Woman (1951) with Robert Mitchum (top), Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953) with Lex Barker (left), Khyber Patrol (1954), A Cry in the Night (1956), The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980), or any of the Perry Mason reunion movies. 

Or in his other famous tv program, Ironside (1967-75): the wheelchair-bound detective, doesn't date women.  But he does have a cop buddy (Don Galloway) and a juvenile delinquent-turned-bodyguard, Mark (Don Mitchell).

Of course, the portly Burr would not be often cast as a romantic lead anyway.  But the almost complete omission of hetero-romance is curious.

Raymond Burr was gay in real life, partnered with Robert Benevides (right) from the early 1960s to his death in 1993.  He was strictly closeted, always covering by discussing the girls he found attractive and making up ex-wives. But surely he had some control over how his characters were played, particularly after he became famous as Perry Mason.