Dec 29, 2012

UFO: the Shirtless SHADO Warriors

Before books like Whitley Strieber's Communion (1985) and Budd Hopkins' Missing Time (1988) popularized the idea of aliens grabbing people from their beds to perform scientific experiments on, the  tv series UFO (1970-71), part of the 1970s British invasion (The Prisoner, The Tomorrow People, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), had a similar premise: in the near future, the worlds' governments become aware that aliens are abducting people to harvest their organs.  They set up the secret organization SHADO to combat them from a fake movie studio, a submarine, and a base on the Moon.

Oddly, everyone at SHADO headquarters, men and women both, wear see-through shirts, so there was a huge amount of beefcake for a science-fiction series.

At first the protagonist was former American astronaut Edward Straker (Ed Bishop).  In the second episode, lone wolf British test pilot Paul Foster (Michael Billington) witnesses a SHADO operation, and is given the choice of signing up or being killed.  Foster decided to join, and Michael Billington soon became the standout star, and a favorite of teen magazines.

In the third episode, Foster is brainwashed by the aliens into attempting to kill Straker.  Later Foster is captured by the aliens, and Straker has to come to the rescue.  The grudging love-hate relationship continued  through the series, and provided fodder for many slash fiction stories.

Only 26 episodes were aired, but there were two novels, comics, toys, action figures, a board game, and eventually a video game. And from 1975 to 1977, the same universe was used for Space: 1999, in which the Moonbase (and the moon with it) is swept away from the Earth's orbit for interstellar adventure.

Later Michael Billington played two-fisted heroes on many British tv series (The Onedin Line, Spearhead, The Collectors) and attended innumerable fan conventions.  He never married. He died in 2005, five days before his UFO costar Ed Bishop.

Dec 28, 2012

Spring 1980: Blood Brothers in German Class: Bravo Magazine

In college, my Second Year German class (1979-80) didn't offer the wealth of adventure boys with boyfriends (Tintin, Spirou, Corentin), nor the buffed Kaliman or the teen pop sensation of Menudo, but Dr. Kraus had a stash of back issues of the  teen magazine Bravo.  It was more risque than its American counterparts, with articles on sex (only heterosexual sex) and nude photos of teen models (both male and female).  She assured us that nudity was commonplace in Deutschland.

 The cover stories were mostly the expected Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, and John Travolta, but there were some surprises.Who was this Tashunke, the young, buffed, shirtless friend of the Indian Winnetou? Some digging (and careful translation) revealed a miniseries, Mein Freund Winnetou (1980), and a series of novels by Karl May about homoerotic "blood brothers" in the Old West.

Muscles for Siegfried!  The blond muscleman Uwe Beyer became completely nude to play the Medieval hero Siegfried fighting the dragon (we watched the 1966 movie in German class).

Roy Black was a schlager singer, specializing in soft, sentimental ballads, like Heintje.   He also starred in some lighthearted anti-establishment comedies, such as Always Trouble with the Teachers (1968) and Our Doctor is the Best (1970).

Hans Jurgen Baumler was an Olympic silver-medalist in figure skating.  He also recorded some schlager songs and appeared on tv, notably on the bulge-heavy Salto Mortale (1969-72), about a family of trapeze artists.

In my junior year, I got Death in Venice

Dec 26, 2012

Fall 1979: The Northern Thing: German Gods, Heroes, and Dragons

During my sophomore year at Augustana College, I spent a quarter abroad in Regensburg, Germany, and registered for a class in German Myths and Legends, mainly because my other choices were  The Political Economy of Modern Germany and German History since 1945.  I was skeptical. Ancient Greece, India, and the Pacific were tropical, tailor-made for revealing togas or loincloths, but surely there would be minimal beefcake and even less bonding among the Medieval Germans.

In fact, there was a lot of beefcake.  When Siegfried sets out to slay the dragon Fafnir in The Nibelungenlied, he traditionally strips down to his bare skin, as Uwe Beyer does in this 1966 version that we watched in German class (bodybuilder Samson Burke does not strip down).

In 2011, Charles S. Stewart crafted this nude figurine based on an old art deco design.

But no bonding, unless you count triangulations:

The Nibelungenlied feature soap-opera love triangles between Siegfried, his wife Gudrun, and his true love Brunhilde.  Meanwhile, Alberich the Dwarf tries to woo the Rhine Maids, but they reject him,so he steals their gold.

Tristan und Isolde is about the love triangle between the Knight Tristan, King Marke, and Isolde.

Dec 25, 2012

Tales of Boys and Men: Robert Louis Stevenson

Strangely, I always associate Christmas Day with boredom.  Opening and playing with your presents takes about an hour, Christmas dinner takes another hour, leaving fourteen hours to sit around the house, with no school, friends incommunicado, bad weather outside, and nothing on tv.

Time to break out your stash of Robert Louis Stevenson books. 

The Scottish novelist (1850-1894) is  relegated to the junior high classroom nowadays, probably because his works aren't usually heterosexist.

His two main subtext novels both involve bonds between teenage boys and adult men:

Treasure Island (1883), an adventure with pirates and buried treasure in the South Seas, originally serialized in the magazine Young Folks, deliberately written with "no women in it."  No heterosexual imaginings, but young Jim Hawkins develops a grudging friendship with Long John Silver.

My favorite version was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

 In every generation, the current Hollywood It-boy seems to get a chance to play Jim Hawkins: Jackie Cooper (1934), Bobby Driscoll (1950, left), Kim Burfield (1972), Christian Bale (1990, above), and Kevin Zegers (1999).

Kidnapped (1886): David Balfour, tricked out of his inheritance by a villainous uncle, travels the rough Scottish Highlands, where he is rescued by and buddy-bonds with the rogueish Alan Breck. Again, "no women in it." 

David has been played by Freddie Bartholomew (1938), James MacArthur (1960), Lawrence Douglas (1971), Brian McCardie (1995), and Anthony Pearson (2005).  Some versions give him a girlfriend.

This photo is actually from The Light in the Forest, but I couldn't resist including a shirtless shot of James MacArthur.

A statue commemorating David and Alan Breck has been erected in Edinburgh.

Some scholars also find a subtext in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), but I didn't see one.

The Black Arrow (1888) was a heterosexual romance, but The Master of Ballantrae (1889) is about two brothers, James Durie and his brother Harry, on opposite sites of the Jacobite Rebellion.  There's some heterosexual romance, but the emphasis is on the enmity between the two brothers melting into love. They die the same hour, and are buried under the same stone.

Bisexual Errol Flynn (left) starred in a famous 1953 version.

So, was Robert Louis Stevenson gay? According to his biography, Myself and the Other Fellow, by Claire Harmon, no, but he appreciated homoerotic desire, and he enjoyed the attention of the many gay men who were drawn to him.    

Dec 24, 2012

The Gay South Pacific

I identified India and Australia as "good places" from tv, but the Pacific came from books, which imagined a vast ocean studded by islands, some uninhabited, some inhabited by cannibals and headhunters, some inhabited by muscular men who wore only loincloths and fell in love with each other.

Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe, about a a man who is shipwrecked (actually off the coast of Brazil) and lives for many years with his native companion, Friday.  The subtext is obvious.

I had three or four juvenile versions.  My favorite was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.  The only movie versions during my childhood were Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which transports them into space, and Robby (1968), which makes them about ten years old.  And nude.

Call it Courage (1940), by Armstrong Sperry, about a boy named Mafatu (played by Evan Temarii in the 1973 movie), who is afraid of the sea, so he sets out on his own in an outrigger canoe, get shipwrecked, fights cannibals, and returns home a man.

No gay subtext, but the boy was bronze and hard-bodied, a perfect fantasy boyfriend for a preteen.

Kon-Tiki and The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl.

Island Boy, by Robert R. Harry (1957), about another bronze, hard-bodied boy who grows up to be king, without falling in love with any girls along the way.

There were some tv shows and movies, too: Gilligan's Island, where Gilligan and the Skipper share hammocks; Danger Island, where Jan-Michael Vincent met his first boyfriends; Jules Verne's Mysterious Island; South Pacific where beefy men hang all over each other while ironically singing "There's nothing like a dame."

Not a lot of toys, but I did manage to find this hula boy bobbler that sat by my bedside.  He didn't look Hawaiian, but he had six-pack abs and a nice chest.

In college I read Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851), about an American whaler named Ishmael who finds a bond deeper than marriage  with the gigantic, muscular  "savage" Polynesian, Queequeg.  The professor neglected to mention the gay subtext, but I found it.

And after I moved to Los Angeles, I found this edition of Cruising the South Seas (1987), a collection originally published by gay author Charles Warren Stoddard in 1905. They were remarkably open for 1905, and even for 1987, touching expressions of love between Europeans and Polynesians.

Dec 23, 2012

Axl in Underwear: Raising Hope/The Middle

I hate to be one of those guys who complain that "things were much better in my day."  But just look at muscle on network television 30 years ago, in 1982-83:

Programs to watch for the beefcake: Voyagers (Jon-Erik Hexum), Chips (Erik Estrada), Trapper John MD (Gregory Harrison), Taxi (Tony Danza), The Dukes of Hazard (John Schneider and Tom Wopat), Fame (lots)

Programs to watch for the teen idols: Alice (Philip McKeon), Family Ties (Michael J. Fox), Happy Days (Billy Warlock), One Day at a Time (lots).

And in 2012-13, just three.

1. Suburgatory.

2. Raising Hope, about the buffed but nerdy Jimmy (Lucas Neff) raising his infant daughter in an unspecified Southern city. He lives with his working-class parents and senile great-grandmother (played by comedy legend Cloris Leachman).

Although buffed, Jimmy rarely appears shirtless on screen, lest his muscles detract from his nerdiness.

Cousin Mike (Skyler Stone), who my friend David claimed to have hooked up with, appeared in four episodes, usually in his undewear.

His dad, Burt (Garret Dillahunt), works as a pool cleaner and landscaper.  He offers more shirtless and underwear shots.

3. The Middle, about a working-class family in Middle America, whose teenage son Axl (Charlie McDermott) somehow manages to make surly and self-possessed endearing.  Though his preference for lounging around in his underwear is presented as slovenly rather than hot, his physique has garnered him a huge fanbase among gay boys and straight girls.

Hollywood believes that all gay people are affluent lawyers living in New York or Los Angeles, so of course there are no gay people in either of these programs, but they appear in allusions:

On Raising Hope, Jimmy's boss mentions that he grew up with two moms.

On The Middle, Axl's sister Sue has a flamboyantly feminine "boyfriend" that has her parents exchanging worried looks (but no one ever says the word, and Sue remains oblivious).

However, the knowing subtexts are frequent.

On Raising Hope, Burt shows off his physique to get tips from both male and female customers.

On The Middle, Axl's friends, played by John Gammon and Beau Wirrick, are muscular jocks, and rather obviously into each other.  They even dance together at a wedding.

See also: Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of "The Middle" and  Why No Gay People in "The Middle"?

Kurt Russell: Teen Idol Turned Man Mountain

Few actors make the difficult transition from child star to teen idol, and fewer still survive as adults in show biz.  Kurt Russell did it, but he lost something along the way.

Born in 1951, Kurt first became a star on The Travels of Jaimie McPherson (1963-64) , about a boy traveling through the Old West who bonds with a gruff wagon train operator (Charles Bronson).

Later in the 1960s, he became a familiar sight on tv, often playing oddball outsiders -- a jungle boy on Gilligan's Island (1965), an alien warrior who bonds with Will Robinson on Lost in Space (1966), an Indian boy who bonds with William Smith on Laredo (1966).  His physique became a familiar sight, too, as many gay preteens of the era could attest.

As a teenager, Kurt's impish smile and slightly confused expression made him unsuitable for Disney Adventure.  He made only one Adventure Boy movie, The Secret of Boyne Castle (1968) -- as American exchange student Rich who fights spies in rural Ireland, along with his boyfriend -- but unlike other Adventure Boys like James MacArthur and Peter McEnery, he never dropped a button.  He had many more shirtless, underwear, and semi-nude shots as a boy than as a teen.

After that, he concentrated in comedy, taking over the oddball genius roles left behind by the fired Tommy Kirk -- The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), The Barefoot Executive (1971), Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972), The Strongest Man in the World (1975). With one major exception -- Tommy Kirk wasn't very good at displaying believable heterosexual interest, but Kurt's comedy characters were indefatigably girl-crazy.

As a young adult in the 1970s, Kurt moved into serious dramatic roles, playing Charles Whitman, the University of Texas sniper, in The Deadly Tower (1975), and Morgan Beaudine, who travels through the Old West bonding with his estranged brother Quentin (Tim Matheson) in The Quest (1976).

And from serious dramatic roles to gnarled, surly Snake Plissken, who negotiates Manhattan as a maximum security prison in Escape from New York (1981); R. J. Macready, who fights a monster escaping from the Antartic ice in The Thing (1982); Reno Hightower, who longs to regain his former football glory in The Best of Times (1986).

His list of memorable buddy-bonding roles is practically endless: Detective Cash, who gets naked in the shower with Sylvester Stallone's Tango in Tango and Cash (1989); firefighter Bull McCaffrey, who rescues his brother Brian (William Baldwin) in Backdraft (1991); Michael Zane, who tracks down his former partner during an Elvis convention in 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001).

But subtexts only work if the actors are utterly unaware of the homoerotic potential of their on-screen friendship, or are completely aware and ok with it.  The adult Kurt Russell is aware, but not ok with it; he uses homoerotic potential as a source of squeamish laughter or disquieting menace.

There are nude photos of Kurt Russell on Tales of West Hollywood.


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