Mar 30, 2013

More of Ike Eisenmann

Speaking of Ike Eisenmann, most Boomer boys are so fixated on his beefcake scenes in Return from Witch Mountain (1978), or maybe his superlative performance as a racist in tight jeans who has a change of heart on The Jeffersons  that they don't remember a decade of buddy-bonding and tight jeans.

1. The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon (1976), an ABC Afterschool Special about the friendship between shy, retiring Duffy (Ike) and outgoing school hunk Peter (Lance Kerwin).

2. The Fantastic Journey (1977), which had nothing to do with either of the two similarly titled movies (one about shrinking scientists, and the other about a dog and cat finding their way home).  This one was a precursor of Lost, about people from various times and places trapped on an island in the Bermuda Triangle.  Ike played the teenage Scott Jordan, who hung out with the mysterious Varian (Jared Martin).  There was also a prissy gay-coded villain, played by Roddy McDowell.

3. The "High Explosive" episode of Chips (1978), with Ike as a country boy who fires a pellet gun into traffic.  He's just aching for some hand-on-shoulder big brothering from Ponch (Erik Estrada), and favors us with several shots of an amazing aptitude beneath the belt.

4. The "Phantom of the Roller Coaster" episode of Wonder Woman (1979).  Roller coaster enthusiast Randy (Ike), who again wears extremely tight jeans, buddy-bonds with David (Jared Martin again), without realizing that David's disfigured twin brother is the sinister "phantom."

5. Preston, Scotty's nephew, in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982), whom Kirk calls "a tiger," and who dies trying to save his fellow crew members.

Things Fall Apart: Homophobia in Colonial Africa

Outside of the Republic of South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa today is more homophobic than the worst of the 1950s Dark Ages in America: "kill the gays" bills, gay organizers imprisoned, President Mugabe's "worse than dogs and pigs" speech.  By official policy, no Africans are gay, except maybe a few brainwashed by perverted Westerners.

But neither intense homophobia nor the belief that no native gay people exists preclude gay symbolism.  Things Fall Apart (1958), by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who died last week, is the first African novel to receive a wide readership in the U.S.. And a classic study of homophobia.

In 1890s colonial Nigeria, Igbo village leader Okonkwo is obsessed with appearing unmanly.

His father, Unoka, was fond of music and language, lazy, indolent, sophisticated, neglectful of his wives and children; in other words, gay-vague, and Okonkwo is terrified that he might end up "that way," too.

Okonkwo is made guardian of Ikemefuma, a boy prisoner from a rival village, and grows fond of him.  But when the village oracle says that the boy must die, Okonkwo does not hesitate to deliver the killing blow, even as the boy is calling him "father."

Okonkwo doesn't mind his daughter Ezinma playing boys' games and rejecting marriage, but he is horrified by his son Nwoye, who is gentle, kind, and artistic, fond of music and poetry.

When Nwoye is "recruited" by Christian missionaries -- representatives of a soft, feminine, gay-coded religion -- Okonkwo considers it the ultimate betrayal, and disowns him.

The white people and their effeminate Christianity continue to encroach on his village, trying to turn "real men" into "sissies." Okonkwo kills one of the white "sissies," and then realizes that he will be tried in colonial court for the murder. That would be the ultimate humiliation, so he decides to commit suicide instead.

No one in the novel openly expresses same-sex desire.  But we can find ample gay symbolism in the hyper-masculine fear of the feminine "other."

Mar 29, 2013

Don Ho and Gay Hawaii

In 1966, teens were listening to the new age of rock: "California Dreamin'", "Paperback Rider," "The Last Train to Clarksville."  The adults were listening to "Tiny Bubbles," a slow, lethargic audience participation song seemingly designed for cocktail lounges at 3:00 am, when the singer is drunk and the audience too tired to care:

Tiny the wine....make me happy....make me feel fine.

The singer was a 36-year old Hawaiian named Don Ho (no relation to the Vietnamese singer),  who in fact wasn't drunk, but had been performing at his mother's night club, Honey's, since 1959.  "Tiny Bubbles" stayed on the charts for 17 weeks, and propelled him into stardom.

Between 1966 and 1971, Don Ho released six albums of slow-moving easy-listening, "nice" songs as an antidote to the hippies' acid rock: "What a Wonderful World," "The Lights of Home," "She's Gone Again"  Often interspersing English slang with Hawaiian pidgin: "Tu Tu Kane," "Mahi Pune."

He performed on The Joey Bishop Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Hollywood Palace, and Laugh-In.  He had his own daytime tv series.

He appeared as himself on The Brady Bunch, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, almost every tv series with an episode set in Hawaii (long after his heyday, he was still appearing as "himself" in Hawaiian-themed tv episodes, from Charlie's Angels to Life Goes On).

The adults loved him.  His fans included Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., and Judy Garland.  Teens didn't know what to think.  Was he an asexual Asian Uncle Tom, or the first Asian sex symbol?  Was he perpetuating trite stereotypes (hula dancers wearing leis in tiki bars), or was he celebrating his Hawaiian heritage?

Gay teens were especially perplexed; here was a man surrounded by ladies, but with decidedly gay-coded mannerisms. Who sang "Lovely Hula Hands" but employed hunky male back-up singers.  Was he a Hawaiian Liberace in pink sunglasses, hiding same-sex desire behind a glittery facade?

Probably not. He was married for 40 years, and had 10 children.  But he did share the stage with Judy Garland.

Mar 28, 2013

The Big Valley: The Gay Connection

I never saw The Big Valley (1965-69); it was on past my bedtime, or we watched Carol Burnett instead.  But you could hardly miss the commercials crowded with musclemen poured into their slacks -- with obvious gifts beneath the belt -- set to a rousing theme song with an elderly lady saying "Show us what you inherited from your father!  Show us some of Tom Barkley's guts!"

The elderly lady was Victoria Barkley (lesbian actress Barbara Stanwyck, who starred in Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray), owner of a large California ranch in the 1880s.  She had four sons and a daughter, whose squabbles formed most of the plots.

Barbara Stanwyck and Rock Hudson starred together in several movies during the 1950s, such as All I Desire (1953), and were still close friends.  Coincidentally, most of the other actors in the cast had a Rock Hudson connection.

1. Richard Long (right) played eldest son Jarrod, a calm, sensible attorney.  A friend of Rock Hudson (left) and a regular at gay talent agent Henry Willson's parties, he was long rumored to be gay.  He later played gay-vague on Nanny and the Professor.

2. Peter Breck played hot-headed Nick, who always wore black and was always getting into fistfights.

3. Linda Evans, who played Audra, who would go on to star on Dynasty.  In 1984, she made headlines when she kissed Rock Hudson on camera, and then discovered that he had AIDS (in those days people thought you could contract it by kissing).

4. Youngest son Eugene, studying medicine at Berkeley, appeared in eight first-season episodes and then was written out. He was played by Charles Briles, who starred with Rock Hudson in Send Me No Flowers. 

5. Heath, the illegitimate son of Victoria's late husband, who had to literally fight to be accepted by his half-siblings, was was played by Lee Majors, later the star of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Fall Guy.   Majors was discovered and mentored by Rock Hudson, but upon becoming a big star, cut off all contact.  When Rock was outed as gay, Lee's publicist insisted that the two never knew each other. 

Mar 26, 2013

Gulliver's Travels

When I was a kid in the 1960s, books were strictly divided into "boy" and "girl."  Boys got tales of swashbuckling adventure: Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe. Girls got families and horses: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Women, Misty of Chincoteague.

Both boys and girls got Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver's Travels, maybe because they had both families and swashbuckling.

The main illustration was invariably Gulliver on the beach, tied by innumerable tiny ropes. It was strangely erotic, with Lilliputians walking all over Gulliver's body (one standing directly on his bulge, as if it was a little hill).  It was hard to resist imagining a comparison between a Lilliputian and Gulliver's  endowment.

Our adaptions of the original 1726 novel contained none of Jonathan Swift's misanthropy or biting social satire, just a man shipwrecked in Lilliput; and maybe, if we were lucky, Brobdingnag, the flying island of Laputa, and the land of the Houyhnhnms.

Like the original novel, our books contained no heterosexual romance.  Indeed, after Gulliver's stay among the sentient-horse Houyhnhnms, he can barely stand to be in the same room with his wife. But film versions always had to add some.

The 1939 Fleischer animated version popped up on tv occasionally. It stayed in Lilliput, and had Gulliver facilitating a Romeo-and-Juliet style romance.

The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) saddled the hapless merchant (played by gay actor Kerwin Mathews, left) with a fiancee who shares in the adventure.

In 1996, the tv movie Gulliver's Travels starred Ted Danson of Cheers (left, reacting to someone standing on his bulge).  He was back home, telling his loving wife about his travels.

The only exception was The Adventures of Gulliver (1968-70), a Saturday morning cartoon that had a very buffed teenage Gary Gulliver (voiced by Jerry Dexter) shipwrecked in Lilliput, looking for his father and a buried treasure, and evading an evil pirate.  His dog is there, too. Quite a lot of plot for 17 episodes.  But no heterosexual intrigues, although the king had the foresight to name his daughter Flirtacia.

Mar 25, 2013

Joe Weider: My Bodybuilder Boss

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I landed a job as a "contributing editor" for Muscle and Fitness.  It was actually a part-time job fact-checking and proofreading articles, but it looks good on my resume.  Besides, I got to hang out with the sort of guys who work for muscle magazines, and meet bodybuilding legends like Lou Ferrigno (not to mention Ivo, the Bulgarian bodybuilder who was insanely jealous of Michael J. Fox).

  And I met publisher Joe Weider, the father of modern bodybuilding.  He was rather gruff.

Born in 1919, Joe Weider grew up when the epitome of male beauty, as far as Hollywood was concerned,  was sophisticated and skinny, like Cary Grant.  Bodybuilders were usually assumed gay, and muscle magazines were published primarily for gay men (would you really buy this magazine for muscle-building tips?).

Although Joe began his career publishing Your Physique (later Muscle and Fitness) for a similar audience, he wanted to make bodybuilding "respectable," by which he meant heterosexual, and so he began a life-long crusade to re-brand the muscleman as an object of female desire.

In spite of his homophobia, Joe Weider was instrumental in bringing bodybuilding into the mainstream.  He published many fitness magazines (one edited by the Grandfather of Bodybuilding, Earle E. Liederman), and books (plus some other titles, including softcore hetero porn), and invented nutritional supplements like Tiger's Milk.   His self-help pamphlets, covering everything from bodybuilding to nutrition to confidence building to how to be heterosexual (a "he-man," left), were advertised everywhere, even in comic books.

He founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, which emphasized symmetry, grace, and beauty rather than the weight-lifting ability of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Association).  He mentored a generation of young bodybuilders of the new "body beautiful" school, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bob Paris.  When Bob came out in 1989, Joe was reputedly furious that a gay person had sneaked into the ranks of his beautiful heterosexual bodybuilders. I wonder what he thought about gay employees.

Joe Weider died on March 23rd, 2013, at the age of 93.


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