Dec 7, 2013

Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller: Duelling Tarzans

In 1931, MGM was auditioning musclemen with exceptional swimming ability for a new movie about Tarzan, the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp hero.  It would be a big deal, the first Tarzan talkie, with real location shots.

Two Olympic gold medalists auditioned: 23-year old Buster Crabbe and 27 year old Johnny Weissmuller.  Weissmuller won, and starred in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), one of the top box office draws of the year.

Apparently being muscular and bulgeworthy was not a consideration.

Undaunted, Buster was cast as the Tarzan clone Kaspa the Lion Man in King of the Jungle (1933).

And Tarzan the Fearless (1933), which sank like a stone and was quickly forgotten.

Johnny continued his juggernaut in Tarzan and his Mate (1934), Tarzan Escapes (1936), and Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939), 12 movies in all, becoming the iconic Tarzan for generations of moviegoers, finally retiring to become Jungle Jim in 1948.  Watch his Cannibal Attack (1954)  for some major gay subtexts.

He doesn't have a lot of gay rumors, though some people suggested that when his movie son, Johnny Sheffield, grew up, they became an item.

Buster had a much more versatile career, playing many action heroes, including Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and many Western heroes, including Billy the Kid and Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion (1955-57).  He even played another Tarzan clone at the age of 44, Thunda, in the movie serial King of the Congo (1952). 

He has more gay rumors than Johnny.  In Full Service, the tell-all memoir of a Hollywood hustler, he's listed as one of Scotty Bowers' clients.

Close friends in real life, Buster and Johnny competed for a girl in the non-jungle drama Swamp Fire (1946), set in the Louisiana bayou.

Dec 6, 2013

Fall 1984: Fake Names at Hell-fer-Sartain State College

Many people have been asking about the real name of Hell-fer-Sartain State College, where I taught for for a year after getting my M.A. (it was actually only 8 months, if you don't count Christmas and spring break, but that was more than enough).

It's Lone Star College now.  Back then it was North Harris County Community College.  In a far, far, far northern suburb of Houston.

What I liked about it:
1. The student who got naked in my class
2. A visit from Bruce
3. The redneck boy in the trailer court next door who worked out with weights in his front yard.
4. Male nudity in Italian Class
5. Spring break in New Orleans.
6. Trip to Italy to track down Giovanni, my high school crush.

What I hated about it:

1. I had a dreary two-room apartment on a dead end street, with an illiterate redneck landlord upstairs and a headbanger neighbor.

2. Everyone in the rust belt moved to Texas in the early 1980s, which meant that everything was grotesquely crowded.

3. The gay neighborhood of Montrose was only 20 miles away, but due to traffic (see #2), it took an hour to get there.  I hate traffic, so I usually stayed home.

4. Everything else was 20 miles away, too, in grotesque traffic.

5. Due to the great migration from the rust belt (see #2), everyone was new at their job, they took forever and made lots of mistakes, which made every chore from banking to going to the gym a daunting enterprise.

6. Everything was under construction, resulting in constant delays, and more flat tires in nine months than in my previous 8 years of driving.

7. The campus was all ugly concrete slabs and treeless scrub grass.

8. My students were illiterate, surly, and very, very homophobic.

9. And so was everyone else.  "You're not going into Houston?  Nothing but homos down there -- be careful you don't get grabbed!"  It was nearly as bad as Turkey five years later.

10. All gay men were very, very closeted, "closet queens," as we used to call them, giving you fake names and fake phone numbers.

  I put a personal ad in The Montrose Voice, the local gay weekly, asking for a "long-term relationship," and got questions like "Are you gay?"; "Why do you want to know my name?"; "Can we go to your place -- my wife is at home!"; and "Are you a cop?"

(Gay people were Cooperstowninals in the State of Texas until 2003.)

And when I did get a date, we had to drive far, far away lest anyone they know see them; we couldn't go back to my place, too many people around; and if they spent the night, they invariably gave me a fake phone number in the morning.

I got even with a guy named Hank, a recent graduate of the college, now working in a department store, who claimed to want a relationship, but gave a fake telephone number.  He didn't realize that as a faculty member, I had access to all student records.  So I looked him up and called.

" don't...I mean," he stammered, trying to figure out how he managed to accidentally write down his real number.

"You said you wanted a relationship.  So -- dinner tomorrow night?"

He didn't want dinner.

See also: My Most Embarrassing Hookup.

Robert Gant: Gay Action Hero

In the 1950s, there were no "openly" gay actors.  To make a public proclamation was unthinkable -- even a rumor could mean the end of your career.

Today agents, casting directors, producers, directors, and costars still encourage gay actors to pretend to be heterosexual -- at least until they're famous.  Being "openly" gay will stall your career at the start.

Robert Gant was openly gay from the start.  A practicing attorney, he broke into acting in 1994, with some guest spots on Friends, Ellen, Silk Stalkings, Popular, and Caroline in the City.  

Mostly heterosexual or unspecified characters, but he played an iconic gay character in Queer as Folk (20002-2005): Ben Bruckner, college professor, partner of central character Michael (Hal Sparks).

And in Save Me (2007), he plays Scott, a resident of an "ex-gay" halfway house who starts a relationship with another resident, drug addict Mark (Chad Allen).

And in Kiss Me Deadly (2008), he plays Jacob Keane, a spy who happens to be gay -- probably the first "openly" gay action-adventure hero in movie history, and the only one to date.

There have been lots more tv guest spots since, on Hot in Cleveland, Bones, Mike and Molly, Baby Daddy, and Sean Saves the World.  Sometimes gay characters, sometimes not.  Sitcom casting directors don't seem to care who he's dating, as long as he has a square jaw, a muscular physique, and comedic timing.

Not a lot of movie roles.  Maybe movie casting directors are still thinking "our target audience is homophobic, so.."

Dec 5, 2013

Summer 1984: Country Boys with Guns

Studying for my M.A. at Indiana University was lots of fun, but an academic failure.
1. Faced with 3,000 possible courses, I went crazy: South Asian Anthropology, Russian Folklore, Mandarin Chinese, Tibetan Culture, Languages of Africa.  Competing with students majoring in these topics, I didn't do well, and eked by with B's (failing grades in grad school).
2. I planned to become a book editor, not a literature scholar, so why did I need to read Ralph Roister Doister, Pamela, The Mill on the Floss, Love's Alchemy, The Vicar of Wakefield, Sartor Resartus, Ulysses, , The Waste Land, and The Duchess of Pembroke's Arcadia?  I got B's in my English classes, too.

So there was no question of going on for a Ph.D. -- it wasn't going to happen. Instead, in the spring of 1984, as I prepared for my comprehensive exams in Restoration-Augustan and Romantic Literature, I sent out resumes to 130 publishing companies, 48 newspapers,  34 television stations, and 16 translation agencies.


The semester ended; I spent two weeks in India with Viju, two weeks in my old room in Rock Island, and then returned to Bloomington to finish my degree with a summer school class.  I applied for my old job in the Memorial Union Snack Bar.

Then one day in July, someone asked "Why don't you teach?  They always need English professors."

"But...I hate teaching!  Surly students who never do the assigned readings, fall asleep in class, and make homophobic comments!"

"Do you hate it more than making sandwiches?"

I got a copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which lists academic job openings.  It was mid-July, so there weren't a lot of jobs for the fall still open, and most required a Ph.D.  But I applied for five teaching positions, and in mid-August, I got a phone call from Lone Star College in Houston, Texas:  "Classes start in a week: Intro to Literature, Survey of American Literature, and two Freshman Comps.  How soon can you be here?"

Houston, Texas or making sandwiches?

The Lyceum, Ole Miss
On August 19th, 1984, I packed my car with two suitcases and two boxes of books, said goodbye to Viju (who was sticking around to get his Ph.D.), and drove 1000 miles south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and finally Texas.

As I was driving through Tennessee, I saw two country boys with guns (top photo), and thought "This is a good sign."

I spent the night in Oxford, Mississippi, and walked onto the campus of Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi.  The Lyceum was brightly lit in the darkness.  I wondered if I would see Luster and Quentin from The Sound and the Fury, or Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazard, or at least more country boys with guns.

The Lyceum pointed the way to the Mississippi equivalent of the Levee in Rock Island, a forest with grassy walkways and secluded groves of oak, elm and magnolia trees, where men met each other in secret, in the dark.

Lots of men -- rugged Ole Miss Rebel football players, well-kept businessmen-types, bears, blue collars, rednecks who drove a dozen miles to stand in seclusion in the warm, humid night. Lots of muscles.  The smell of beer and cigarettes and sweat.

Another good sign.  Maybe Texas wouldn't be so bad after all.

See also: 36 Hours of Cruising at Lambert International Airport.

The Electric Company: Bringing You the Power

Kids in the 1970s who were too old for the numbers and letters of  Sesame Street graduated to The Electric Company (1971-77).  Instead of "Come and play, everything's a-ok," they yelled "We're gonna turn it on, we're gonna bring you the power!"  They taught you words with Saturday Night Live-style parodies of everything from Julia Child to The Six Million Dollar Man.  

The cast included future superstars Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, and Rita Moreno.

I never saw it, but I imagine that, like Sesame Street, there was only limited gay content.  Maybe just Morgan Freeman naked in a bathtub.

In 2009, a refurbished Electric Company appeared on PBS.  Instead of sketch comedy, it specialized in adventure: four kids with superpowers take on the corruption in their neighborhood (through the power of words), notably an evil anti-literacy gang called The Pranksters. Sort of like Whiz Kids, or Ghostwriter.

The kids were:
1. Athletic Hector (Josh Segarra, left)
2. His feminine-coded sidekick Keith (Ricky Smith, right)
3. His sister, singer/dancer Jessica (P-Star)
4. Intellectual Lisa (Jenni Barber)
5. Young gun Marcus (Coy Stewart)

Unlike the 1970s series, there was significant buddy-bonding between Hector and Keith, as well as between the main Pranksters, the hefty Manny (Dominic Colon) and Danny (William Jackson Harper).

And beefcake.  These were teenagers and young adults, not kids.

And gay content.  Between the 2006 pilot and the 2009 premiere, Josh Segarra starred in the gay-themed comedy The Boys Upstairs off Broadway.

Dec 4, 2013

Fall 1984: My Student Gets Naked in Class

I hated almost every minute of my year at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas (1984-85), but there was one incident that almost made it worthwhile.

One of my students in Survey of English Literature was Chad, a soccer player from Australia, tall, slim, tanned, in the habit of flirting with me, or at least saying things that sounded like flirting, like"Can I knock you up later?" ("Can I come to your office?").

One day early in the semester, I was lecturing on Shakespeare, when Chad came running in late, still in his gym clothes: a t-shirt emblazoned with the school logo and red shorts.  He plopped down in the first row.

"Hamlet's soliloquy...." I began.

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Chad's shirt came off.  I saw a smooth, tanned, muscular torso.

On the beach, he might not have been impressive, but in a classroom on a dull September afternoon, he was stunning.

And shocking.  My jaw dropped.  I could not have been more surprised, not even if the whole class disrobed in front of me.

The room became very silent.    All eyes were on Chad as he carefully folded his shirt and put it in his gym bag.

Oblivious to the staring eyes, Chad took his gym trunks off.  Underneath was a well-packed jock strap.

Finally I was able to speak.  "Um...Chad?"

Lone Star College
"What?"  He reached into his gym bag, pulled out a pair of jeans, and wriggled them on.

"What are you doing?"

"What do you mean?"  Next a fresh t-shirt came out of the gym bag and wrapped onto his muscular body.  And a notebook and pen to take notes.  He looked like a college student.

I continued my lecture, and called Chad up to my desk after class.  His excuse was: "I didn't want to be late."

Apparently students in Australia changed clothes in the classroom all the time.

Or maybe he just did it for my benefit.  One day near the end of the semester, he came to my office, started crying, and revealed that he was attracted to guys!  Did that mean he was gay?  His parents would disown him!  Basically the same strategy Viju used last year to determine if Professor Singer was gay.

I offered hand-on-shoulder support, but didn't reveal anything.  In 1984, gay faculty in Texas would be fired, no questions asked.

See also: What College Boys Do In Class

Brian Austin Green: The Gay Teen of Beverly Hills 90210

Gay teens of the 1990s remember Brian Austin Green as David Silver on Beverly Hills 90210.  Especially in early seasons, when he had a gay-subtext buddy-bond with Scott (Douglas Emerson).

Beverly Hills had a full range of teen hunks, but David held his own by being gay-coded as flashy, flamboyant, with a good fashion sense.

Brian Austin Green didn't rise to the stratospheric heights of fame as Luke Perry, and he didn't offer the frontal-nudity and big-brothering of Jason Priestley, but he became a respectable teen idol, with many articles and pin-ups in teen magazines, and lots of speculation that he was gay.

After all, he was flashy and feminine in real life, too, and he wore an earring back when very few straight guys did.

As if to respond to the rumors, Brian played heterosexual characters in  several "message" tv movies, such as She Fought Alone, about a teenage rapist; Laws of Seduction, about a law student "seduced by a beautiful woman": and Teenage Father, about a teenage father.

He has continued to play almost exclusively heterosexual characters, mostly everyday guys seduced by beautiful women.  But at least they allow him to take his shirt off.

But he has at least one buddy-bonding movie: Southside (2003), about two friends (Brian, Bret Roberts) who become amateur boxers.

And one gay role, in an untitled pilot by David Kohan and Max Mutchnik about gay and straight writer buddies.

And a lot of memories.

Fall 1983: the Bodybuilder on Crutches

When I was in graduate school at Indiana University, there were 30,000 students wandering around on the 2,000 acre campus, but still, everybody knew Jimmy, a graduate student in psychology.  He was a familiar sight, tromping across the campus on his forearm crutches.

 Jimmy had cerebral palsy, so his legs didn't work well, although he could walk slowly without crutches inside the house.  Also his hands were a little stiff.

Do you know what happens to a guy who doesn't use his legs much?  His chest, shoulders, and biceps overcompensate.  He becomes "cut" in bodybuilder lingo, a pale hard slab of marble.  Incredible.

One night in September 1983, while Viju and I were cruising at Bullwinkle's,  he came in.  I yelled "Score!" (or the 1980s equivalent).

Jimmy  invited me back to the terrible house he shared with two other psychology grad students, who hadn't cleaned the place since 1978.  There was a half-full carton of milk on the kitchen table that expired six months ago.

Sometimes we went to the apartment I shared with Viju, but not often: it was up a flight of stairs, and the only way he could get up and down was to be carried.

We dated through the fall semester, going to dinners and movies and to the bars.  Sometimes we went into Indianapolis to the bars or museums, to see Pippin and Godspell.

Jimmy had just come out a few days before we met in Bullwinkle's, so none of his family and friends knew that he was gay.

His best friend Tony found out when Jimmy invited him to our Halloween party, and for some reason he went into my bedroom and saw that my wall was emblazoned with pictures of hot guys torn from magazines.

"Where are the pictures of girls?" Tony asked, dumfounded.

He didn't handle it well.  First he yelled at Jimmy for hanging out with a "pervert," and when Jimmy said that he was gay, too, he accused me of brainwashing him.  When he discovered that there were other gay guys at the party, he ran screaming off into the night.

Jimmy helped us decide if Professor Singer was gay by going along on Viju's  intel-gathering mission.

At Thanksgiving he invited Viju and me to his parents' house in Crawfordsville, but to avoid another scene, we played it cool.  I even responded to a question about "my girlfriend" with a story about a tall blonde soccer player from Iceland.

On December 3rd, a little over a week later, when Jimmy told me: "We didn't plan on it, but I fell in love with another guy.  We're moving in together."

What guy?

Steve (I forgot the last name.)

One of my students!

Grad students at Indiana teach their own classes, and Steve was one of the back-of-the-class students in Intro to Literature, getting straight C's, never participating much.  He was sort of cute, but not very muscular.

All I could think was: What chutzpah!  Stealing the professor's boyfriend, just before final grades are due!

And I told my parents that I was bringing someone special home for Christmas.  What would they say?

Steve spent the last week of the semester grinning at me, daring me to give him a vengeance F.

I didn't.  He got a C.   Then he moved into Jimmy's horrible house where nothing was ever cleaned, and I invited Viju home for Christmas.

During the spring semester, I often saw Jimmy tromping across the campus on his crutches.  He looked happy.

See also: The Night I Drank One and a Half Beers; and How to Date a Blind Guy

Dec 2, 2013

Alex Cord: Roping Cows and Kissing Guys in the 1960s

One of the few Hollywood hunks of the 1960s who wasn't discovered by gay agent Henry Willson, Alex Cord (born Alexander Viespi) was a professional rodeo cowboy before the acting bug hit. After performing on the London stage, he moved to Hollywood, did some tv dramas, and then a string of B-movie buddy-bonding actioners:

1. Synanon (1965): Drug addict Zackie (Alex) triangulates with Ben (Rifleman Chuck Connors) over a girl.

2. The Scorpio Letters (1967). James, I mean Joe Christopher (Alex) fights enemy agents.

3. A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (1968). Outlaw and Marshall bicker and bond in the Old West.

4. The Brotherhood (1968): Two Mafia brothers (Alex, Kirk Douglas) bicker and bond (and share a kiss).

5. The Last Grenade (1970): Two soldiers of fortune, once buddies, now enemies.

During the 1970s Alex returned to television, mostly in actioners like Jake and the Fatman and Airwolf.  He continued to work in rodeos, making celebrity appearances across the country. And he became a writer, publishing several novels.  He has been married to women twice, and is probably heterosexual, although his first novel, Sandsong, is listed under "gay fiction" on the Library Thing website.

Blake McIver: A Gay Little Rascal Speaks Out Against Bullying

If you saw the 1993 retread of the classic Little Rascals, you probably remember Blake McIver as Waldo, who stole Darla from Alfalfa.

He also played Derek, Michelle's antagonist on three seasons of the TGIF sitcom Full House (1992-1995).

Like many child stars, especially those who are gay, Blake found the transition to adult roles difficult.  He did some voice work, such as Menlow on the Disney Channel's Recess (1997-2000), and Eugene on Nickelodeon's Hey, Arnold (2001-03).  And then the roles dried up altogether.

He was depressed, had body issues, contemplated suicide.

No reason for body issues now.  The 28-year old has been working as a semi-nude dancer at gay clubs in Los Angeles for the last year, and has made enough money to release an album.

And to spread an anti-bullying message on the internet.  He says: "I believe we must raise awareness to protect the LGBT teens who are still being physically and verbally assaulted and fear for their lives every day. We also have a responsibility to end this suicide epidemic."

Jeremy Brett: A Bisexual Sherlock Holmes

Jeremy Brett (1933-1995) will forever been known as the quintessential Sherlock Holmes, paired with Edward Hardwicke's Watson in seven British tv series and moviesbased on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories (1984-1994).  But the tall, aristocratic -- and surprisingly muscular -- actor created many more iconic roles:

The snobbish Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady (1964).

D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1966-67).

Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice (1970).

Basil in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976).

The overbearing Maxim deWinter in Rebecca (1979)

And, of course, Macbeth (1981).

Not to mention Richard II on stage.

Many of his roles, including Sherlock Holmes, involved homosocial worlds where buddy-bonding was strong and intense.

He was openly bisexual, in long-term relationships with both men and women, including Gary Bond, who appeared nude in the gay-themed Australian thriller Wake in Fright, and Paul Shenar, who played Orson Welles in The Night that Panicked America.

Dec 1, 2013

Fall 1983: Is Professor Singer Gay?

In my second year at Indiana University (1983-84), I had to choose two historical eras for my Comprehensive Exams.  I decided on the Romantic Era (1770-1830), mostly because of the homoromantic exuberance of the Frankenstein monsters, vampires, and dying poets, and the Restoration-Augustan Era (1660-1770), mostly because of Dr. Singer (not his real name).

He was a new professor of Restoration Literature, a Wunderkind with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and a book coming out, though he was only 26 years old (I was 22).  Tall, thick hair, broad shoulders, nice biceps, a smooth muscular chest peeking up through the casually-unbuttoned top buttons of his shirt.  He used his hands a lot while lecturing, said "apposite" more in one class session than most people in a lifetime, and criticized; my; use; of; semicolons.

Both Viju and I got major gaydar from Dr. Singer; flamboyant, precise, and not averse to gay content, such as Lord Rochester's "Love a Woman? You're an Ass!", about how gay sex is better than hetero sex.  When we got to John Milton: he showed us an illustration from William Blake's allegorical biography, and quipped: "I'll bet you didn't know that Milton looked like that!"

We had two goals during the semester.  First, to determine if Dr. Singer was gay.

Viju's strategy: He got some confederates, male and female, to invite Dr. Singer out for "a beer" after our Tuesday-night seminar, and checked to see whether he spent more time gazing at men or women.  My boyfriend Jimmy, the Bodybuilder on Crutches, tagged along.

Dr. Singer deliberately made eye contact with each student in turn, and didn't gaze at anyone else.

My strategy: I wrote a paper on the gay subtexts in Paradise Lostnaked Satan, etc.  I got a B (a failing grade in grad school, where everyone gets an A on everything).

Ok, so the "gay" test was inconclusive.  Our next goal: to determine if Dr. Singer was available. We waited until the spring semester, when I was single again after dating Jimmy the bodybuilder on crutches.

Viju's strategy: He went to Dr. Singer's office in Ballantine Hall and said he was having a crisis.  He was attracted to guys!  Did that make him gay?  But his parents back in India would be scandalized -- they would cut off their support, and he would have to drop out of college!  His career plans would be ruined!  He began to cry.  Dr. Singer offered him hand-on-shoulder sympathy, but didn't reveal anything (a student used the same tactic on me in Texas a year later).

My strategy: I found out that Dr. Singer went to the campus gym to lift weights every morning at 7:00 am.  I went in and timed my workout so we would end up in the shower together.  I complemented him on his physique.

"You really know how to work on those abs," I said.  "Maybe we could work out together sometime?"

"'m sort of busy."

"Well, it doesn't have to be at the gym," I said, soaping myself suggestively.  "I've had some of my best workouts at home."

That did the trick.

Moral: When all else fails, try nudity.

Mad Dog Morgan: Gay Outlaws in the Australian Bush

During the 19th century, many Australian men who were wanted by the law or had some other reason to vanish took to the bush, where they formed outlaw gangs, bushrangers, who robbed travelers or rode into town to rob banks.

In 1976, Davis Hopper, then known for counterculture cinema like Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Easy Rider (1969), starred in Mad Dog Morgan, a startlingly homoerotic adaption of the life of bushranger Dan Morgan (1830-1865).

He starts off as a laconic gold prospector, but viewing the government's brutality to Chinese workers pushes him into nonviolent resistance, then robbery.  Sentenced to 12 years in prison, he is brutalized -- and raped.

After his release, he is robbed and left for dead, but he is nursed back to health by the aboriginal Billy (David Gulpilil, the object of Richard Chamberlain's homoerotic desire in The Last Wave). 

The two spend the rest of the movie hugging, wrapping their arms around each other's shoulders, and sitting with their hands on each other's knees, while saying things like "You know I love you" and "I won't let anything happen to you."  When they go into a bar, the aboriginal is refused entrance until Dan says "He's with me," puts his arm around him, and escorts him inside.  

You haven't seen such an expressive gay couple on film since Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

The real Dan Morgan killed many men in cold blood, but the movie Dan Morgan and his boyfriend Billy are hippie Robin Hoods, shooting only when they must, robbing only the rich, tweaking their noses at capitalism, War, the whole military-industrial complex of 19th century Victoria.  They become celebrities.

One of their victims, Sergeant Smith (Bill Hunter), is so upset over the affront to his dignity that he vows vengeance.  He and Prison Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring) send troops out to search for Dan and bring him back dead or alive, preferably dead. Their sadism barely conceals homoerotic desire of their own; at the end of the movie, everyone divides up Dan's body parts for souvenirs, and Cobham takes his sex organs.

There's a surprising amount of beefcake -- Billy, especially, gets some nice semi-nude shots.  And the gay symbolism and same-sex romance has to be seen to be believed.  Try to get the director's cut, not the censored version by Troma.