Oct 26, 2013

Victor McLaglen: Boxer turned Silent Movie Boyfriend

Victor McLaglen was a British boxer who retired in 1920, moved to Hollywood, and became a popular character actor, mostly in parts that emphasized his towering height and bulging muscles: Hercules, Strong Boy, Biff Williams, Bull Stanley, Big Steve Andrews, Big Ben Wheeler

 He often appeared in movies directed by the homophobic John Ford, costarring with the homophobic John Wayne.

Yet the gay subtexts were everywhere.

1. The Unholy Three (1925). Three circus performers, a strong man, midget, and transvestite, form a "queer" criminal family.

2. Beau Geste (1926).  Buddy-bonding in the French Foreign Legion.

3. The Cock-Eyed World (1929).  Two marines (Victor, Edmund Lowe) compete over girls in Russia, Brooklyn, and Latin America.

4. The Lost Patrol (1934).  Soldiers lost in Mesopotamia during World War I take their shirts off while trying to find their way back home.

5. The Great Hotel Murder (1935).  Victor and Edmund Lowe are back, now novelist and detective competing to see who can solve a murder.

6. South of Pago Pago (1940).  Victor and Jon Hall take their shirts off while competing over a girl in the South Pacific.

7. The Quiet Man (1952).  Victor plays an Irishman who doesn't like the idea of American John Wayne marrying his sister, so they fight, tearing up the town, and end up buddies.

8. The Abductors (1957). Victor and buddy Gavin Muir plot to steal the remains of Abraham Lincoln.  No nudity, but by this point he's 69 years old.

Victor was married 3 times, but if you look closely at his personal life, you can find any number of provocatively intimate same-sex friendships.

Oct 25, 2013

Spring 1980: I Meet Ronald Reagan's Boyfriend

Ronald Reagan
During the spring of 1980, my sophomore year at Augustana, my boyfriend Fred the ministerial student took me to Des Moines, Iowa, where he had friends among the closeted gay religious community.  We stayed with a middle-aged Episcopal priest and his 16-year old boyfriend -- that's a tale in itself.

But the highlight of our trip was meeting Oscar (not his real name), who lived in a tiny apartment crammed with books and photos and memorabilia.  He had worked as a set designer on Broadway for 40 years, and he knew everyone and had slept with almost everyone: Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Tennessee Williams, Dom Deluise, James Coco -- and Ronald Reagan!

In the spring of 1980, Reagan was running for President on the "Hate the gays" platform.  He would serve two terms as the most hated president in gay America, a pawn of the Religious Right who refused to meet with gay activists and refused to mention AIDS.

But in 1936, "Dutch" Reagan was a 25-year old sports announcer on WHO Radio in Des Moines, when Oscar, a student at Drake University, got a job there as a production assistant.

"He was my first!" Oscar said, his eyes glazing at the memory.  "Oh, but it wasn't just physical...we were in love -- and we didn't care who knew it! We drove his lemon-yellow convertible through the streets, and sometimes at stop signs we would kiss, just to scare people.

We would drive past the cruising spots, where everybody was skulking around,  and yell 'Yoo, hoo, boys!'

After his shift was over, we went to a little nightclub called Cy's Moonlight Inn.  After midnight it was all gay, mostly college boys, and did it get wild!  Dutch used to 'accidentally' pour beer on a cute guy, just so he would have to take his shirt off!'

Our love affair ended in the spring of 1937, when Dutch got a contract to go to Hollywood, and a year later I took the plunge and moved to New York."

"Do you have any photos of you together?"  I asked.  "Or old letters?"

"No, but you can have a photo of me -- wasn't I a hottie back then?  Nobody would keep inCooperstowninating evidence.   You could get arrested for being gay back then!  You could lose your job, lose your family, lose everything."

"Wait -- what about the story of you kissing openly, in public?"

Oscar ignored me.  "That talk about Dutch hating gays is just talk.  He has to put on a anti-gay facade to get votes, but in private, he knows who his friends are."

Lately there has been some re-evaluation of Reagan's stance on gay people.  He was adamantly opposed to the homophobic Briggs Amendment, he invited a gay couple to spend the night in the White House, and, according to his daughter Patti, he would have supported gay marriage.

Could there be any truth to Oscar's tale of dating the future president?

1931 Yellow Nash Convertible
Oscar is not mentioned in any of the biographies of the President, but then, they are quite skimpy about his four years in Des Moines. He was indeed working at WHO radio in 1936, he had a $600 Nash Convertible -- I don't know the color -- and he was a regular at Cy's Moonlight Inn, a speakeasy at 73rd and University (the records don't say that it was a gay club.)

The story checks out.  Oscar certainly knew Dutch Reagan, and maybe they were friends.  But lovers?

I'm still not convinced.

But why would he lie about a relationship with someone so detested?

Oscar came to visit me in West Hollywood a few years later.

Oct 24, 2013

Mighty Med: Comic Book Fans with a Secret Life

In Mighty Med, which just premiered on the Disney XD Channel, two comic book fans, Kaz  (Bradly Steven Perry from Good Luck Charlie) and Oliver (Jake Short from Ant Farm, left) go through a secret portal to a hospital for superheroes, villains, and various sci-fi and fantasy characters.  

Upon discovering that they have a special rapport with the ailing superheroes, the Chief of Staff, Horace (Carlos Lacamara), offers them jobs.

They must now juggle the "normie" requirements of home and school and heterosexual crushes with their secret life at the hospital, where they must fend off the evil machinations of various anti-normie factions, including Horace's nephew Alan (Devan Leos).

There's certainly a lot of potential gay symbolism in the disdain that the fantasy beings feel for "normies."

And a lot of gay subtext potential: the two besties are tailor-made for bromance, and the supervillains who want to infiltrate Mighty Med, Wallace and Clyde, appear to be a couple.

Not a lot of beefcake so far, but superhero patients like Tecton (Jilon Vanover) and Titanio (Chris Elwell) always have spectacular physiques, and it's only a matter of time before one doffs his leotard.

Reefer Madness

I've shown many classes the 1936 film Reefer Madness.  It was originally released as Tell Your Children, a cautionary tale about the dangers of marijuana.  But it was so off-the-wall, with atrocious acting and a ridiculous plot, that it was placed on the exploitation-film circuit, and later rediscovered by the 1970s college student crowd.

There's a strong gay subtext: drug dealer Ralph (Dave O'Brien) sees high schooler Jimmy (Warren McCollum), murmurs "Nice!", and practically licks his lips in anticipation.  Wrangling an introduction, he says "Nice to meet youuuuuu!" with a lascivious leer, then invites Jimmy to the soda shop, where he will try to get him hooked on the psychosis-inducing weed in a parallel to how gay men were accused of recruiting boys.

In 1998, Reefer Madness: The Musical appeared off-Broadway, eliminating the redundant characters and upping the camp.  Christian Campbell (left) played Jimmy, lured from his "wholesome" heterosexual chastity by drug dealer Jack (Robert Torti, top photo) and cohort Ralph (John Kassir).  In addition to the gay subtext, there was a lot of beefcake, with the super-muscular Jimmy stripped down to his underwear and a chorus of semi-nude male and female devils.

The musical is a bit too racy for the high school drama club crowd, but it has made some impact in colleges and community theaters.

The film version, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005), star Christian Campbell as Jimmy, Steven Weber as Jack, and Robert Torti as Jesus.  It adds some characters, such as John Mann as Satan, ups the gay subtext by removing all pronouns from the seduction scenes, and adds an explicit connection between the anti-marijuana crusade of the 1930s with bigoted attacks on gays and lesbians:

And once the reefer has been destroyed
We'll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud
And sex depicted on celluloid
And communists and queens!
When danger's near, exploit their fear
The end will justify the means!

Oct 23, 2013

Gay Supervillain in Training: The Thundermans

The latest in the "my secret" teencoms is Nickelodeon's The Thundermans, which premieres on November 2nd.  It's about is a retired superhero, Thunderman, who is trying to live a "normal life" incognito in Hiddenville (!).

First thought: you might want to change your name.

Hank Thunderman (Chris Tallman) and his wife Barb (Rosa Blasi) are the standard fat-doofus-husband-hot wife couple that we see everywhere on tv, but Hank is particularly doofus-like.  He's constantly trying to revive his superhero powers and failing miserably, like a former high school football player trying to relive his gridiron glory after losing the battle of the bulge.

We aren't told exactly why they have to go incognito, but I suspect that it has something to do with Hank's increasing impotence around supervillains.

Their four kids also have superpowers to hide.

Teenage Phoebe (Kira Kosarin) is a "good girl," a straight-A student who plays by the rules, including the rule of "no non-supes in the house," which sort of keeps her from having friends and negates the desire for a "normal life."

She has a best friend, Cherry, who suspects her secret.

Her twin brother Max (Jack Griffo who doesn't want you to say "gay") is a wannabe supervillain who wants to attend Villain University in a few years.  Apparently he's going to be a stereotypic gay villain, pushing up the feminine-coded mannerisms, although he'll be dating a girl by the third episode.

The younger kids, Billy (Diego Velazquez) and Nora (Addison Riecke), have super-speed and heat vision, respectively.

Oh, and there's Dr. Colosso, a supervillain transformed into a bunny who acts as Max's mentor and confidant.

There is an inevitable comparison with the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place, about a family of wizards, complete with a Dad who has lost his powers, two teenagers, one conniving and one straitlaced, a best friend who suspects the secret, and a rambunctious preteen.  It's too soon to see if it will have as many gay subtexts, or as much beefcake.

Georgy Girl: Lesbian Mother in the Swinging Sixties

The song "Georgy Girl" (1966), by the Seekers, is about a girl who is too fat and unfashionably dressed to get a man:
You're always window shopping but never stopping to buy.
So shed those dowdy feathers and fly

Just the thing to create a generation of shallow, vapid party girls with eating disorders.  

But the movie Georgy Girl  is a queer subtext classic about doing what you need to do to make a nontraditional family.

In the Swinging Sixties, Georgy (Lynn Redgrave) has a masculine-coded name and doesn't care much about attracting men -- lesbian subtexts start here.  But she does want a child.  

Her roommate, Meredith (Charlotte Ramping) likes men a lot, but doesn't want a child -- she's already had several abortions.  Now she's pregnant again.

What to do?

They both move in with Meredith's boyfriend Jos (bisexual actor Alan Bates).  Meredith will provide sex, and Georgy will raise the baby, Sara.

But  Jos decides that he likes Georgy better, so she gamely provides him with sex, and eventually Meredith leaves.  They continue to raise Sara until Jos gets bored, and leaves, too.

Now Georgy has what she wanted all along -- a daughter.  But she's not a blood relative, and single women can't adopt children, so the state intends to take Sara away.

What to do?

There's a deus ex machina in the wings.  Georgy's old boss, Leamington (James Mason), suddenly arrives and proposes marriage.  She's not attracted to him, but with a husband, she can adopt Sara.  And did I mention that he's loaded?  The movie ends with Georgy gazing lovingly at Sara and ignoring her new husband: "who needs a perfect lover when you're a mother at heart..you're rich, Georgy girl."

I'm pretty sure that director Silvio Narizzano was gay.  He really likes shooting Alan Bates semi-nude.  Besides, according to wikipedia, he became depressed after the death of his "long-term friend" Win Wells, who wrote about Getrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Oct 22, 2013

Bobby Boris Pickett and the Gay Monster Mash

Born in 1938, Robert Pickett was a minor tv star, with roles in Dr. Kildare, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, and Petticoat Junction.  He displayed a respectable physique opposite gay teen icon Tommy Kirk in the beach movie It's a Bikini World (1967).  

(Left:  more respectable physique from Bikini World).

He recorded many songs, mostly  horror parodies: "The Werewolf Watusi," "Monster Man Jam," "Monsters on the Prairie."  But his biggest claim to fame was the novelty-horror song "The Monster Mash" by "Boris" Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, which sprang to the top of the charts in 1962, 1970, and 1973.

 It has been covered by everyone from Boris Karloff to Alvin and the Chipmunks, heard on every tv series from Cheers to The Office.  

There isn't a lot of specifically gay or heterosexist content. Dr. Frankenstein is "working in the lab, late one night," when his Monster rises from the slab and wants to dance. Other Universal monsters appear and join in. The only conflict comes when Dracula prefers "The Transylvania Twist."  Nobody expresses any heterosexual interest, though Dracula has a son.

There's a video on youtube starring more explicitly gay versions of the monsters: they hug, hold hands, and collapse into each other's arms.

The 1995 Monster Mash: The Movie channels The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with two teenagers dressed as Romeo and Juliet (including Ian Bohan, left, later photo) trapped in a castle with the monsters, who want to use them for various nefarious purposes. Gay actor Adam Shankman plays a gay Wolfie, who wants to eat them.  It's not on DVD, but there are VHS tapes out there, and there's a trailer on youtube.

Bobby Pickett died in 2007.

See also: Jozin z Bazin, the Czech Swamp Monster.

Fall 1979: Don't Call Bruce Gay

My best friend at Augustana College, Bruce, didn't realize that we were friends.  He thought I was just another member of the Bookstore Gang, the group of comic book-science fiction-Monte Python fans who hung out at the Student Union Bookstore, but never had real conversations and never saw each other socially.  A casual acquaintance, a "school friend" at best.

Bruce also didn't realize that he was my connection to the daylit world, an interpreter of all those alien heterosexual folkways and mores.   In fact, he often tried to fix me up with girls, or assumed that I was hot for whatever girl I happened to be chatting with.

I chose him because:
1. He was an English/drama major

2. He didn't date much, so I didn't have to hear the play-by-play of nights of heterosexual excess.

3.. He was not cute, tall and skinny, with a mop of unruly hair and a sharp, angular face.  So there would be no weird sublimated attraction.  (This guy will give you an idea.)

4. He was pro-gay, at least in theory, though he roiled when someone insinuated that he might be gay.

He hated being called "Brucie" or anything that sounded similar.  The Fratboys soon got wise, and took to saying “Are you busy?”, “Do you bruise easy?”, “Do you think Diana Ross is too bluesy?”, or my favorite, “I bought a new record, Strange Brew -- see?” They never tired of seeing Bruce redden with rage.

So all hell broke loose that December night with Leanne.

The full story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Oct 21, 2013

Alan Steel: Hercules' Boyfriend

Sergio Ciani knew how to fill the audiences in a sword-and-sandal epic.  Born in 1935, the hefty bodybuilder got his start as the body double of Steve Reeves, then, under the stage name Walter Reeves, played Macigno, which means "Millstone," in Samson (1961).  Most foreign editions dubbed him as "Hercules," and called the film Samson vs. Hercules, even though the two characters were allies.

Renamed Alan Steel and given blond hair, Sergio spent seven years playing the Muscle Guy in the Toga. The names were all interchangeable, so he might be Goliath in the credits, Maciste in the dialogue, Samson in the subtitles, and Hercules on the movie posters.

His movies with the biggest gay subtexts are:

1. The Fury of Hercules (1962), aka The Fury of Samson and The Son of Samson, where he plays the buddy of Hercules/Samson (Brad Harris).

2. Hercules and the Masked Rider (1963), where he hangs out with the legendary 17th century lover Don Juan (Mimmo Palmera), and gets a cute gypsy boyfriend.

By the way, it's double-billed with Hercules against the Mongols (1963), where Mark Forest as Hercules/Maciste buddy-bonds with the bulgeworthy Ken Clark.

You should also see Hercules and the Moon Men (1964), because it received the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment from Joel and the Bots.  The Queen of Samar agrees to help Moon Men conquer the world, and it's up to Maciste/Hercules to stop them.  He rescues Prince Darix a few times, but then they both get girlfriends.  Go figure.

When the peplum fad ended, Sergio tried his hand at spaghetti Westerns. In Un colpo da re, which means "Rim Shot" (1967), he plays someone named The Swede, who rams heads with Moulin Rouge.

In Sapevano solo uccidere ("I Only Knew How to Kill," 1971), playing Pedro, an evil Mexican outlaw who rams heads with Boomer Smart (Kirk Morris).  He also did some dramas and comedies before retiring at the end of the 1970s.

Jim Morrison: Bisexual Poet of the Dark Side

I didn't know Jim Morrison of the Doors until 1980, when a biography by Jerry Hopkins and Daniel Sugerman appeared on the racks at Readmore Book World, with a shirtless photo and a provocative title, No One Here Gets Out Alive.

It made Jim Morrison into a tortured poet with ties to the world of magic and the occult, a hippie rebel against convention of all sort.  That read Gay to me, although the book made him sound exceptionally homophobic.  But in the 1980s, every biography of a gay or bi man made him sound like a homophobic heterosexual.

Other biographers have mentioned that Morrison was bisexual, usually in a negative light.  Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison (1992), says that his search for "the dark side" led him to "unpleasant places," like gay bars. Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend (2005) talks of his "midnight ramblings in the gay underworld."

But there's a lot of gay symbolism in the Doors' lyrics:

"Break On Through" (1967) seems to be a search for a "good place":
You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day
Tried to run, tried to hide, break on through to the other side

"Strange Days" (1967) sounds like nights at the levee, looking for love in the darkness:

Strange days have found us..we linger alone
Bodies confused, memories misused
As we run from the day,  to a strange night of stone

And "The Soft Parade" (1969) seems to include a reference to same-sex love:
There's only four ways to get unraveled:
One is to love your neighbor 'till his wife gets home

And Jim Morrison's writings:

Boys get crazy in the head and suffer
I sacrifice my c*** on the altar of silence. (The American Night).

Every gay and bi man in the 1960s sacrificed himself on the altar of silence.