Dec 6, 2016

Slapsie Maxie and Mad Max: Boxers with a Hint of Lavender

I've heard the phrase Slapsie Maxie many times, usually applied in derision to a guy who fights with open-hand slaps rather than closed-fist punches.   It's supposed to suggest that you're a sissy, potentially gay. But only recently did I discover that the phrase originated with a potential landsman.

Born in 1907, Jewish boxer Maxie Rosenbloom (left) had a weak, open-glove punching style that earned him the nickname "Slapsie Maxie."

It was effective: he won 222 of his 298 fights.  But he was hit in the head so often that he lost some motor functioning and reasoning skills, becoming what they called "punch drunk."  

Forced into retirement in 1937, Slapsie Maxie began a new career in the movies, playing "himself" or other big, tough,  slow-witted, "punch drunk" characters.

He also capitalized on the association of "slapping" with effeminancy, playing characters with "a touch of lavender," such as a powder puff salesman in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942),  a gangster named "Trixie Belle" in Here Comes Kelly (1943), or a Hopalong Cassidy parody named Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951).  

The humor came from seeing someone big and tough who might be gay, or who was too "stupid" to realize that his acts were gender-transgressive.

 In real life, he was married for a few years (1937-45), but he seemed to prefer the company of men, such as trainer and manager Frank Bachmann (left).  And he was not averse to gender-transgressions: apparently a young Davis Hopper saw him in drag at the premiere of Dodge City (1939).

Slapsie Maxie also opened a popular nightclub, Slapsie Maxie's, and made a dent in radio and on tv, playing "himself" in an ongoing role on The Fred Allen Show, and appearing on episodes of The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Donna Reed Show.

In 1950, he teamed up with his lifelong friend, another boxer-turned-actor, Max Baer (known as Mad Max, top photo and left), playing the "stooge" who bedevils "straight man" Baer.  They starred "as themselves" in four comedy shorts and toured as the comedy team "The Two Maxies."

They remained close friends until Baer's death in 1959.  Slapsie Maxie died in 1976.

Max Baer's son, Max Baer Jr. (born in 1937) made his own splash in Hollywood as Jethro Bodine, dimwitted backwood Adonis on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71).  Later he contributed to gay history by producing Ode to Billy Joe (1976), starring Robby Benson as a gay teenager who commits suicide.

The Nutcracker: Men in Tights

When I was a kid, our church forbade movies, theater, carnivals, circuses -- basically anything that had a plot.  And my working-class parents disapproved of anything "long hair."  So ballet and opera were completely alien.

Except at Christmastime, when we would go to see "The Nutcracker" at Centennial Hall on the Augustana College campus, or at Rock Island High School, or both.  One year the Youth Symphony participated, so I got to be in the orchestra pit for eight full performances.

The plot is heterosexist -- Elsa receives a nutcracker shaped like a toy soldier for Christmas.  He comes to life, fights an army of mice, and reveals that he is actually a prince.  They return to his kingdom, the Land of Sweets, where he makes Elsa his queen.

But who pays attention to the plot?  No matter what people tell you, they go to ballets for one reason, and one reason only: to celebrate male or female beauty.  Dances in form-fitting tights, swaying and twisting, making every curve and muscle visible.

No other art, not even bodybuilding, displays the male physique so openly and extensively.  You don't just get a glimpse or a hint -- everything is out there, through the entire performance.

No wonder every gay kid in town, even those who were otherwise obsessed with sports, couldn't wait for Christmas.

 The only ballet dancer I knew by name was Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), who danced in a tv version of The Nutcracker in 1968.  I also saw him on The Muppet Show in 1977, and in Romeo and Juliet in 1982 (which also has a heterosexist plot, but who cares?)

I didn't know at the time that he was gay in real life, and dated a number of celebrities, including Raymundo de Larrain and Tab Hunter (left), plus his long-time lover Erik Bruhn.  I responded to his passion, his obvious joy at being an object of desire, and his superlative physique.

He was even able to invest The Nutcracker with gay symbolism, transforming the Prince into an outcast, a wooden soldier who longs to be a "real boy."

I discovered Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948-) in a 1977 tv version of The Nutcracker, and later in Carmen (1980) and Don Quixote (1984).  He was more muscular than Nureyev, and an accomplished actor, but his aggressively heterosexual stance bothered me, as if he wanted to "redeem" ballet from its gay reputation.

Good luck.  Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950), the first ballet superstar, was gay, and caused a scandal with his erotic movements (the audience rioted at the premiere of The Rites of Spring).

So was Tchaikovsky, who scored The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

See also: Erik Bruhn, Closeted Ballet Great.

Dec 5, 2016

My Date with Robin Williams and His Mega-Hunk Boyfriend

West Hollywood, September 1985

When I first moved to West Hollywod, I expected to see (and meet, and date) celebrities all the time.  But during my first two months, I saw only four., and only met (and sort of dated) one.

So when my friend Marcus invited me to a Labor Day pool party hosted by his film-producer housemate, visions of celebrity beefcake filled my head.

Sylvester Stallone and Lou Ferrigno sunbathe nude.  

Harrison Ford in a speedo dives into the pool and splashes Steve Gutenberg.

Mel Gibson struts  about in his bulgeworthy Mad Max leather chaps.

Besides I heard about West Hollywood parties, where the games involve  penis size contests and the evening ends in the bedroom, with couples bringing in a third to "share."  Maybe me and Harrison Ford and Steve Guttenberg!

Marcus' house was in the Hollywood Hills, only a few miles from my apartment in West Hollywood, but through a maze of narrow, curvy roads named after Greek gods: Hercules, Zeus, Venus, Achilles.

On the way up Laurel Canyon Boulevard, the car behind me decided that I was going too slow, and zoomed around.  As it passed, I got a glimpse of the swishy queen in the passenger seat sneering at me.

It was Robin Williams!

The full story, with nude photos and explicit sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.