May 15, 2015

Fall 1978: Spending the Night with My Music Professor and His Favorite Boys

To fill my fine arts requirement at Augustana College, I registered for a class called "Music Cultures of the World."  It sounded more interesting than "Music Appreciation."

The professor, Dr. Morrow, grew up in Indiana and got his Ph.D. in music from Northwestern. He was the first African-American professor I had ever had to that point, so I took advantage of every opportunity to gaze at his very solid, muscular frame, with impressive shoulders and biceps.  I'm not usually into backsides, but when he turned his back to write on the blackboard, my interest was piqued.

 For some reason that I haven't yet figured out, I was the only white kid in a class of twenty.  The others were African-American, five girls and one boy (a sizeable percentage of the twenty or so on campus).

They may have been expecting more African culture.  Instead, we covered:
1. Native North America
2. South America
3.Australia, New Guinea, and Oceania (like the Australian didjeridoo).
4. China, Japan, and Korea
5. Southeast Asia and Indonesia
6. India and Pakistan
7. Central Asia and the Middle East
8. Europe
9. And, finally sub-Saharan Africa.

Since I was the only white student in the class, Dr. Morrow was very careful to make me feel welcome.  He was always calling on me, asking me questions, lending me books and recordings to drop off at his office later.  He liked my paper on traditional Chinese musical instruments so much that he kept a copy and put it on reserve in the library for students in future classes to read (it was still in Special Collections in 2014).

On the weekend of November 10th, there was a festival of Indonesian music at the University of Iowa, about a 45-minute drive away.  The headliner was Sumarsam, a 34-year old Javanese musician, expert on the gamelan, currently an artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University.

Anybody could go, of course, but Dr. Morrow said the department would pay for three students.  I don't know how many applied, but he selected me, Manny (a senior music major) and Kurt (a sophomore from his Rock class).

Three boys, no girls. What a coincidence!

Oh, and bring your swimsuit.  The hotel has a heated indoor pool.

We left right after everyone's last class on Friday, arriving around 4:00 pm.  "Dinner's not until 6:00," Dr. Morrow said.  "Plenty of time to take a dip.  Who's up for it?"

I didn't need to be asked twice!

Dr. Morrow was very impressive, as muscled as a bodybuilder, with an amazing bulge in his swimsuit, but I was jealous of the attention he lavished on Manny.  I thought I was his only favorite!

 Dinner was Indonesian, which is very similar to Filipino: rice, fish, dumplings, peanut sauce.

The first concert was good.  No naked male dancers, but a lot of interesting music.

Afterwards we went back to the hotel room, where there were two double beds.

We all stripped to our underwear, except for Dr. Morrow, who went into the bathroom and came out wearing pajamas.

 "Ok, who's bunking with me?" he asked, climbing into one of the beds.  "I'm not picky -- I'll sleep with anybody."

Dr. Morrow is #8 on the list of teachers I may have hooked up with.  Can you guess if anything happen between us that night, or on subsequent nights?

Answer after the break.

May 14, 2015

Henry Willson: The Man Who Invented Beefcake

During the Cold War of the 1950s, the Clark Gable-Cary Grant- Fernando Lamas model of  masculinity, the suave, sophisticated bon-vivants who sipped champaign at El Crocadero, fell into disfavor.  Movies began to display a new model of "youthful masculinity" featuring regular guys, small-town boys who sipped sodas at maltshops.   They had to be wholesome -- God-fearing, mother-respecting, patriotic -- yet sexual, overbrimming with erotic energy, aware (without stating it) that sometimes things happened in bedrooms.

They had to be stunningly handsome, of course, and muscular -- for the first time ever in the movies, they would rip their shirts off regularly, providing a beefcake spectacle that might draw audiences away from the still-prudish tv.

Walt Disney and his minions scoured the countryside to provide a stable of Adventure Boys for the teen and preteen audience -- James McArthur, Roger Mobley, Boomer East, David Stollery,  Tommy Kirk, Tim Considine, and many others.

For adult beefcake, the go-to guy was talent agent extraordinaire Henry Willson.

 Born in 1911, Willson began his career as a talent scout for the Zeppo Marx Agency, where he signed on future film great Lana Turner.  In 1943, he became the head of the talent division for David O. Selznick's Vanguard Pictures.  He and his assistants prowled gyms, modeling agencies, athletic events, and community theaters looking for prospects. Muscle Beach was a good bet, training ground to dozens of bodybuilder hopefuls drawn in by Earle E. Liederman's chatty columns in Muscle Power.

Since he was gay, Willson tended sign up men who were gay, or bisexual, or at least "gay for pay."   He spruced them up, arranged for acting lessons and gym memberships, and gave them strong, macho, all-American names:

Orton Whipple Hungerford III = Ty Hardin
Robert Mosely = Guy Madison
Francis Durgan = Rory Calhoun
Merle Johnson = Troy Donahue
Roy Harold Scherer = Rock Hudson

They present a straight facade to the world, of course, so Willson conspired with movie magazines and gossip columnists to send them on dates with female stars or link them romantically with in-the-know starlets.  Sometimes he even arranged "Hollywood marriages."  It seems that the "hiding in plain sight" was part of their appeal, adding a salacious twinge, "is he or isn't he"?

In 1953, Willson opened his own agency.  He didn't need to seek out prospects anymore; he was receiving 9,000 letters per week from high school football players and small-town thesbians anxious to make it big.  And some did -- if they were willing to make it on the casting couch first, or at least flirt a bit.  Almost every Hollywood hunk of the new beefcake model got his start as a Willson boy:

Doug McClure
James Darren
Chad Everett
Dack Rambo (left)

John Saxon
Nick Adams
Clint Walker (left)
John Derek
James Gavin

Willson didn't care for bodybuilders, except for Cal Bolder -- they had to find their representation elsewhere. And a few other hunks managed to find work without him.  But even if they weren't discovered by Willson, they often realized that connections are everything, and gay, bi, or straight, they became regulars at his weekly pool parties:

Ed Fury
Farley Granger
Van Williams
Robert Stack

Roddy McDowall
Steve Reeves
Tony Curtis
Aldo Ray
John Bromfield
Gary Conway
Gary Lockwood
Richard Long
Robert Wagner (left)

Disaster hit in 1955, when Willson made a deal with Confidential magazine to keep the rumors off Rock Hudson in exchange for a story about Tab Hunter's arrest at a gay party in 1950 (the actor and agent had a falling out).  The deal fell through, and Willson was effectively outed.  His established clients left -- most denied that they had ever met him -- and it became difficult to sign new clients.

During the 1960s, the fresh-faced, wholesome look became  "square," replaced by shaggy and androgynous,  and Willson's career ended.  Destitute, drinking heavily, forgotten by his former friends, he moved into a rest home for indigent Hollywood stars, and he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1978.

But he left an amazing legacy, a 1950s world where "gay" was always just beneath the surface.

May 13, 2015

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen has been a fixture in Hollywood for 50 years, often playing presidents and other figures of grave and pressing authority, but in his early years, he played delinquents and bad boys.  He was never a child star or teen idol -- he didn't start acting professionally until he was in his 20s.

 He had nearly a decade of guest spots on tv programs as diverse as Flipper and Twilight Zone, making a big impression (although that's not what it looks like) but not receiving critical acclaim.

Then came The Incident (1967), a drama about two young hoodlums (Martin and Tony Musante) who terrorize the passengers on a subway car (including Jeff Bridges).

One of the passengers, by the way, is gay, marking The Incident as the first time -- but by no means the last -- that a Martin Sheen vehicle has included gay characters.

In That Certain Summer (1973), the first tv movie to include gay characters, teenage Scott Jacob discovers that his dad (Hal Holbrook) is gay.  Martin played his lover.

In Consenting Adult (1985), a married couple (Martin Sheen, Marlo Thomas) discover that their son (Barry Tubb) is gay. Martin's character doesn't react well.

In 1986, he played the character of Ned Weeks, a gay journalist attempting to document the rise of AIDS, in The Normal Heart on the London stage.

In 8 (2012), he played Theodore Olson, the attorney who introduced a federal lawsuit challenging California's Proposition 8 (which banned same-sex marriage).

Beefcake in his early performances, and bulges in all the right places throughout his career.  Not a lot of buddy-bonding, and a bit of homophobia (as in The Believers), but the negatives are overwhelmed by his gay-positive roles.

Besides, among his many liberal causes, Martin Sheen is a champion of gay rights.

May 12, 2015

Fall 1974: Kept After School by My Science Teacher

#4 on the list of teachers I may have hooked up with: Mr. Peterson, who taught chemistry and physics at Washington Junior High.

He was the most physical teacher in the school. Most teachers hide their bodies, trying to become pure intellect, but as he danced, ran, and skipped around the classroom, Mr. Peterson obviously had a chest and shoulders and biceps -- and, if you looked closely, a Bratwurst shifting in his slacks

He always wore his tie half-undone, as if his body was aching to burst out.

 When he walked down the row of lab tables to check on our work, you could feel his heat.

In the fall of ninth grade, Dan and I enrolled in his physics class, expecting discussions of black holes, teleportation, and Star Trek-style warp drive mechanics -- what could be more exciting?

Unfortunately, physics turned out to be deadly dull.

Levers and inclined planes and how pulleys work. Put this wire into that box.

Mr. Peterson tried to make it fun by singing songs and making silly puns, but still:

Gravity, friction, inertia. AC and DC currents. Calculate the velocity of a pitched ball.

Yuck!  We tweaked by with C's. And spent a lot of time whispering and giggling and making funny drawings in our notebooks.

One day we collaborated an elaborate picture of the ancient Greek view of the universe: a flat world surrounded by a vast ocean, with a dome of heaven above.  We labeled it "What we learned in Mr. Peterson's class."

We were so engrossed that we didn't hear Mr. Peterson approach and look over my shoulder.  "Looks like you guys have a lot of free time on your hands," he said with an incongruous smile.  "We'd better put you to work.  Report to the Chemistry Lab at 3:00 to wash test tubes."

Test tubes?

Five big boxes of them, a new shipment for Advanced Chemistry.  Before they could be used, they had to be soaked -- one at a time -- in a solution of hydrochloric acid, then washed in a special detergent and rinsed in de-ionized water.  Who knew it was such a complicated process?

Fun, though.  We got to wear goggles and gloves.

As we worked, Mr. Peterson tried the usual adult conversation starter: girls.  Do you have girlfriends?  What girl do you like?  Girls always go for scientists! And so on.

Finally I got tired of it and exclaimed "Girls are gross!"

Dan kicked me under the table.  In ninth grade, you couldn't express a lack of interest in girls.  The adults would say "Don't get smart!" or redouble their efforts to hook you up with "the girl of your dreams."

But Mr. Peterson said "Yeah, I guess girls are pretty gross," without even blinking in surprise.  "So, what do you like?"

I was too shocked to lie.  " with muscles."

"Muscles?"  He stared, but only for a moment.  "Right, physical fitness is important.  You guys like Bruce Lane?  Wow, he had some muscles on him!"  He began doing fake kung fu moves and singing. "Everybody was kung fu fighting..."

"Donny Osmond is cute, too," Dan said.  "He took off his shirt in Tiger Beat."

"When I was a kid, we liked Elvis Presley.  Did you ever see him in Blue Hawaii?  He spends about half the movie in a swimsuit!"

The three of us spent the rest of detention talking about cute and muscular guys, from Greg Brady to Tarzan!

Mr. Peterson framed his comments in heteronormative terms: "I bet the girls go for him!" or "He must get all the girls he wants!"  But grownups always tried to make everything about girls.  It was easy to ignore the side-comments, and just feel proud and happy to be talking about muscles.

When we were finished with the test tubes, he said,"You've been such good assistants, I want to treat you to a hamburger."

We didn't care that dinner was in about an hour.  He drove us to Mulkey's, and we sat in a booth on either side of him, close enough so our legs and thighs were inches away from his, and we could feel the warmth from his body.

When the waitress asked  "Are these your sons?", he said, "No, my research assistants.  We're scientists, conducting a very important experiment."

"On what?"

"Muscles!"  Dan exclaimed.  We all laughed.

Best detention ever!

We never got detention again, but we took Mr. Peterson's chemistry class in the spring semester, and occasionally he tapped my shoulder and asked "Seen any musclemen lately?"

My brother and sister both took his classes when they were in junior high, and he always asked about me.

Since he's on the list of Teachers I may have hooked up with, you're probably wondering if we did.

Answer after the break:

Not unless you count my fantasies.

I don't know about Dan.  Mr. Peterson hooked him on science.  He majored in physics in college, and finally became an computer engineer of some sort.  Maybe they reunited years later.

I was happy just to be talking about muscles.

May 11, 2015

Papa soltero: Telemundo Teens on the Beach

When cable became common in the 1980s, the number of stations available increased from 3-4 to hundreds,  and Boomer kids from small towns in the Midwest got Telemundo, and heard Spanish spoken for the first time (outside of the classroom and the PBS series Que Pasa, USA?)

I didn't like the telenovelas and Sabado Gigante, which looked like a circus sideshow, but I liked some of the movies (Santo the Vampire Fighter, La gran aventura), and Papa Soltero (1987-1993), a sitcom starring Cesar Costa as "Cesar," a single Dad who works as a tv producer and lives an upscale Mexico City apartment.

In Spanish class, all you ever heard about Mexico was adobe pueblos full of people wearing sombreros and sarapes, and maybe the Mexican Revolution of Los de Abajo, so just the premise was exciting.

It was like a Spanish version of Hey, Dad...! Cesar was divorced, and saw his kids only during the summer.  Then his ex-wife died, and Cesar got saddled with them full-time: college-aged Alejandra (Edith Marquez), teenage Miguel (21-year old Gerardo Quiroz), and precocious preteen Cesarin (his real-life brother, 13-year old Luis Mario Quiroz).  By the way, that's not a flower in his hair, it's the station logo.

What was the gay connection?

1. A ton of beefcake.  The family appeared for breakfast wearing bathrobes; they slept in their underwear; they bathed, hung out in locker rooms, went to the beach in speedos.  They had muscular friends who were allergic to shirts. By the time the series ended, even "little" Cesarin was a 19 year old hunk, with biceps and a penchant for speedos.

2. A minimum of heterosexual hijinks.  American sitcoms are obsessed with making their teenage boys as girl-crazy as possible, but Cesar spent far more time dating and romancing than either Miguel or Cesarin.

3.After Papa Soltero, Luis Quiroz played gay roles on telenovelas and is reputedly gay in real life.

See also: Que Pasa, USA?

May 10, 2015

Spring 1986: Hooking Up with the Most Conservative Professor on Campus

The University of Southern California in the 1980s was extremely elitist, stuffy, and conservative, and Charles Bertan was the most elitist, stuffy, and conservative of the faculty.  A little shorter than me, slim, with an oval, slightly irregular face and a crooked smile.

He had stuffy degrees from Harvard and Princeton, always wore a suit, carried a briefcase, and spoke with super-correct grammar.

This isn't him -- I couldn't find a picture that did the conservatism justice, and also showed some muscle.

He was only a few years older than me, but he had already published a dozen books and articles on Restoration and Augustan literature: John Donne, Henry Fielding, Alexander Pope, 18th century pastoral...

His classroom skills weren't great: he called students "Mr." and "Miss", never joked, rarely smiled, and called out mistakes tactlessly.  When asked a pleasant question like "How was your weekend?" he fumbled and stammered.

Other students disliked him; I was fascinated.

Read the rest of the story on Tales of West Hollywood.

Spring 2008: Hit on by a High School Boy

Spring 2008, a warm afternoon in April.  I am jogging in Fairborn Community Park near Dayton, Ohio.  The jogging path is about 3/4 miles long, through woods, over Beaver Creek, and then past the high school. I go four times.

Suddenly there is a boy jogging beside me beside me.  He doesn't pass -- he keeps pace.  I glance over -- shorter than me, slim with brown hair and dark eyes.  He's wearing a green-and-yellow University of Dayton t-shirt and yellow jogging shorts.

"I'm a professor at Dayton," I say.

He looks over and smiles.  "Cool."

"What year are you in?"


"I never saw you here before.  A long way from campus, isn't it?"

"I like the woods."

We chat as we jog, the boy giving short, cryptic answers. I learn that he lives with his parents, and he wants to be a writer.

When a group of college-aged joggers approach, he looks alarmed, says "See ya!" and rushes off.

He appears again the next day.  This time no group of college-aged joggers interrupts us.  I learn that his name is Austin, he plays on the junior varsity football team, he has an older brother in the air force, and he hates zucchini.

The full story is on Tales of West Hollywood.