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

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

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

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.

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

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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...