Oct 19, 2013

John Gavin: Perennial Straight Man with Some Gay-Vague Twists

Today John Gavin is remembered chiefly as "straight man" Sam Loomis who confronts "queer" killer Norman Bates (gay actor Anthony Perkins) in Psycho (1960), or maybe as "straight man" Julius Caesar in the otherwise gay-subtext-filled Spartacus (1960).  

The square-jawed, handsome leading man with hairy chest and the slim frame played many more "straight" men through his 30-year career, with only a couple of gay-subtext vehicles of his own:

Four Girls in Town (1957).  Four men, including John Gavin and gay actor George Nader, pursue four starlets.  Everybody ends up happily attached.

The TV series Convoy (1965-6) was not about truckers, but followed the adventures of a Navy commander (John Gavin) and a civilian ship captain (John Larch) escorting ships across the ocean during World War II.  Haven't seen it, but it sounds promising.

His best claim to gay fame is in: Throughly Modern Millie (1967): In the 1920s, flapper Millie (Julie Andrews) sets her sights on the boss, Trevor Graydon (John Gavin), who nicknames her "John," but still can't conjure much interest.  He does eventually get a girl (Carol Channing), but the 2002 musical version corrects the "mistake," giving him a nice male stenographer instead.

Probably not a big gay ally in real life, conservative Republican John Gavin was named ambassador to Mexico by President Reagan in 1981, and served to 1986.

Fall 1980: Cruising at the Levee

Levee Patron
After meeting the Mormon missionary on my trip back from Los Angeles, I started my junior year at Augustana College.  Still depressed.

1. I was living alone for the first time, in a single dorm room, and even though home was only about a mile away, I was homesick.

2. My classes in Modern American Literature, The Modern British Novel, and Survey of German Literature were all extraordinary heterosexist.

3. Anything about gay people that I saw on tv, like the drag queen episode of Trapper John MD, or in movies, like Cruising,  was oppressively homophobic.

4. My friends at Augustana were as aggressive in the "what girl do you like?" mantra as they had been in high school.

5. Two years after figuring it out, I had met a half dozen gay people, including Peter the male witch, Mary's brother, the "cannibal" hustler in Colombia, Wolfgang in Germany, and my ex-boyfriend Fred.  Only Peter currently lived in Rock Island, and he never wanted to hang out.

The rest of the post is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Oct 18, 2013

Summer 1980: The Mormon Missionary

August 6th, 1980, a Wednesday night.  I was in my 1974 Dodge Dart, chugging along the Interstate.

I was depressed. I had been planning to stay in Omaha with my minister boyfriend Fred forever, but it didn't work out.

Then I spent a week recuperating with my high school friend Tom in Los Angeles.

Now I was on my way back to Rock Island, where there were almost no gay people that I knew of, wondering what went wrong.

Delano Hotel, Beaver, UT
In Utah, near where the I-15 meets the I-70,  I decided to stop for the night in the quaintly named town of Beaver, at the Delano Hotel, one of those old-fashioned neon hotels that advertises "color tv" and "telephones," as if those amenities are noteworthy.

The desk clerk (I don't remember his name, so I'll call him Eli)  was college-aged, handsome, with short black hair, black eyes, and a muscular frame.  He had a rugged, leering look.  In a 1980s gay nerd movie, he would play the arrogant jock who is dating The Girl before the nerd comes along and wrests her away.

Somehow I mentioned that I visited Colombia last year, and Eli said, "I'll be in South America  in September.  Brazil. My church is sending me there to be a missionary."

Mormon Missionary
Not Eli

This was unexpected!  I expected Eli to be a juvenile delinquent, maybe, but not a missionary. "What church?"

"The Latter-Day Saints," he said.  "Pretty much everyone around here is LDS."

Mormon!  Nazarenes hated Mormons almost as much as Catholics -- an idolatrous, polygamous cult.  Of course, Nazarenes were wrong about almost everything.

I remembered the incongruous sight of pairs of clean-scrubbed, grinning young men riding bicycles while wearing suits.  There was always something erotic about them, a sensuality hidden just beneath their feigned asexual wholesomeness.

"What do you do for fun around here?"  I asked.

He mentioned a bowling alley.

"No, I mean real fun." I stared at him suggestively.  "You know, guys only."

Still Not Eli

He grinned.  "Oh, you can find just about anything you're looking for down in St. George."

"That's a long way.  I passed it like two hours ago."

"In the countryside you learn to be patient.  Sooner or later, the fun comes to you."  He paused.  "I'll be here all night, in case you get lonely or want to talk -- you know, about God or anything."

I went to my room and lay down on the bed.  Anything you're looking for. In case you get lonely.  Could he be gay?   Maybe his missionary partner was his lover?  Riding on bicycles side by side through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, returning to their room every night to cuddle and kiss?

I want to say that I invited Eli to my room, and we spent the night together.  Or that he came out to me, and we talked all night about growing up gay and Mormon.

But what actually happened was: I fell asleep before I could muster the nerve to call.  And when I woke up in the morning, someone else was staffing the front desk.

I kicked myself all the way across Utah and Colorado.

And I wondered how many other gay men were stranded in small towns in the mountains, longing to reach out but never getting the nerve.  Or the chance.

To this day, I have a thing for religious leaders: preachers, priests, monks, rabbis, imams -- and Mormon missionaries.

Update: I tracked Eli down!  His real name is Derek, and he's a muscle bear in Yuba City, California.

Everybody Loves Lil Chris

In the British tv reality series Rock School, Gene Simmons of KISS created a rock band out of the students at an "average high school."  15 year old Chris Hardman, aka Lil Chris, became the standout performer, and quickly got a recording contract. (Don't worry, he's 23 in this photo.)

His debut single "Checkin' it Out" hit #3 on the British pop charts in September 2006.  Four other singles made the charts, and he released two albums.

By 2008, Chris was a sought-after tv personality, with appearances on The Weakest Link, Hider in the House, T4 on the Beach, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Hole in the Wall, plus his own talk show, Everybody Loves Little Chris.

In 2012 he starred in the stage musical Loserville, about some nerds who find love.

His lyrics are mostly heterosexist, but as a DJ, he works both gay and straight venues, and in stage performances and his twitter account, he's careful to acknowledge the possible interest of both male and female fans.

Maybe that makes up for it.

Besides, he poses (nearly) nude.

Oct 17, 2013

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The last place you'd expect to find gay content is in a movie about a brothel for heterosexuals, with no gay characters.  But The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is loaded down with gay symbolism.

The Chicken Ranch is a nice, cozy, down-home whorehouse in rural Texas, run by the heart-of-gold Miss Mona, and ignored by sheriff and occasional customer Ed Earl.  When a crusading tv reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe finds out that "There's a Whorehouse in Texas!" and starts a Moral Majority protest, Miss Mona isn't concerned; she's handled right-wing bigots before.  Besides, she's busy preparing for the annual visit by the winners of the big college football game (who sing "The Aggie Song" with their shirts off).

Turns out that Miss Mona was short-sighted; the tv crusade galvanizes the religious bigots, many of whom are customers "on the downlow."  Eventually the Governor himself, though a master of "the Side Step," calls to announce that the brothel must be shut down.  Defeated, Miss Mona and the girls get on "The Bus from Amarillo" and scatter to new lives.

It's a bit racy for high school and college drama departments, but there have been some productions, In March 2013, the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, sponsored an all-male version.

When the original play opened on Broadway in 1978, Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign was in the air, and fundamentalists were increasingly abandoning their old bogies of feminism, paganism, and evolution to scream "There are Gays in Our Town!"  Audiences could hardly fail to make the connection.

The movie adaptation arrived in July 1982, at the height of Jerry Falwell's anti-gay Moral Majority crusade, and gay director Colin Higgins made the symbolism even more obvious, with an ongoing romance between Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) and Ed Earl (Burt Reynolds) that must be hidden ("Sneakin' Around").

Plus lots of wink-wink casting: perennially gay-coded Dom Deluise as Melvin P. Thorpe, and open-secret Jim Nabors as sympathetic Deputy Fred.

And an increase in the beefcake.  Burt Reynolds, who previously posed naked in Cosmo, hangs out in a towel, Dom Deluise hangs out in his underwear, and the Texas Aggies sing in the locker room fully nude (lots of rear shots, and even a few frontals if you freeze frame).

See also: 10 Stage Musicals with Unexpected Beefcake.

Oct 16, 2013

Helmut Berger: Gays as Pure Evil

During the 1930s, the wealthy Essenbeck family agrees to manufacture arms for the Nazis, thereby selling their souls and becoming The Damned (1969).

The Nazis are portrayed as beings of pure evil -- not because of their policy of extermination against "inferior" races, but because they enjoy gay sex.  And heterosexual sex, of course.  But the gay sex is emblematic of their moral bankruptcy.

Martin, the young heir to the Essenbeck fortune, likewise demonstrates his own moral bankruptcy by going to "that sort" of bar and performing in drag, but he also enjoys sexually assaulting women, including his preteen cousin and his mother (then suggesting that Mom commit suicide).

Wait -- gay men are threats to little girls?  And adult women?  Even Jerry Falwell never went that far!

How disturbing is it that the uber-deviant Martin was played by a gay man, Helmut Berger, and directed by his lover, Luchino Visconti?   Did they have no self-respect at all?

Apparently not.  Visconti also directed Death in Venice (1971), in which same-sex desire is portrayed as a sickness that invariably leads to death, and Berger also starred in Dorian Gray (1970), about the horrific physical consequences of an "immoral lifestyle" (that is, being gay).

The two worked together again in Ludwig (1972), about King Ludwig of Bavaria, whose gayness drives him mad, and in Conversation Piece (1974), about a retired professor whose gayness drives him mad.

No Gay Pride in this family!

At least Helmut was nice to look at, in a slim, androgynous way.

Luchino Visconti died in 1976.   Helmut Berger continues to perform.  He specializes in nasty, villainous characters, but for the last 30 years they've been mostly heterosexual, such as the evil Peter DeVilbis who seduces Fallon on Dynasty.  

I guess the "gays as pure evil" bit is a little harder to sell today.

Oct 15, 2013

Rocky Horror Show Live: New Brads, Janets, and Rockies in Gold Lame Shorts

What can you do with a movie that encouraged a generation of LGBT people, "Don't dream it -- be it"?

That encouraged the audience to participate by talking back, throwing things, and playing along with the characters?

That audiences played along to, week after week, year after year, until they had every image, every word, every gesture memorized?

That spawned a dozen catchphrases and a warehouse full of tie-in books, magazines, cards, and toys?

What's left to do with the Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Revive the original play, which ran in London from 1973 to 1980.

It's considerably different from the movie -- new songs, different dialogue, Magenta and Columbia have different characters, and most interestingly, Rocky talks.  A whole new take on the Rocky Horror universe (you can read the script here).

Revivals began in  1990 in Britain.  In the U.S., a Broadway revival played from 2000 to 2002, with every beefcake hunk imaginable cast as the underwear-clad Brad, the gold-lame muscleman Rocky, and sweet transvestite Frank-n-Furter: James Royce Edwards,  Luke Perry, Micah Thompson, Jonathan Sharp,

There are new costumes, new cast dynamics, new subtexts -- being gay or transvestite is not nearly as shocking today-- and a raucous evocation of the long ago disco- and sex-obsessed era of the 1970s.

It's now playing everywhere, in high schools, colleges, community theaters, little theaters.  Halloween season is most popular, but it can be seen at any time.  According to the official show blog, here's where it's coming up in 2014:

The Grandview Playhouse, MA, April-May
The Bangor Opera House, ME, June
The Ivory Theater, MO, October
Downtown Theatre, CA, October
World Trade Center Theatre, OR, October
Oh Canada Eh?, Niagara Falls, October

So even if you've had some terrible thrills many, many times before, it's always exciting to go down to the lab and see what's on the slab. Let's do the Time Warp again.

Woody Guthrie and his Clan: 4 Generations of Pro-Gay Folksingers

If you visit the facebook page of guitarist, drummer, and all-around cool guy Krishna Guthrie, you'll seem some nice beefcake photos.  And this sign:

Krishna is the latest in a dynasty of gay allies.  His great-grandfather was folksinger Woody Guthrie (right), who was introduced to radical politics by the gay couple Will Geer (later Grandpa on The Waltons, center) and Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, the first modern gay rights organization.

Woody remained close to Will through his life.  No doubt he would have been outraged to hear his anthem, "This Land is Your Land," used by the anti-gay marriage NOM at their rallies.

Woody's son Arlo Guthrie (left, with Will Geer) became the poster boy for hippie androgyny, gleefully transgressing gender norms in dress, hair, and behavior.

He starred in the counterculture classic Alice's Restaurant, which contains as many gay subtexts as the censors would allow.

He often sneaked pro-gay messages into his songs, like lambasting the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in "Alices Restaurant."

Woody's granddaughter (Krishna's aunt), Sarah Lee Guthrie, and her husband, Johnny Irion, often perform at gay venues.

And that's not all.  Arlo and his wife Jackie had four children and ten grandchildren.  There's an entire Guthrie clan out there, all raised to believe that it's ok to be gay.

Oct 14, 2013

Spring 1979: My Modeling Career

One of the highlights of my freshman year at Augustana was my brief -- very brief -- modeling career.

I had my own radio program, the "International Pop Hour," where I played pop songs from Europe.  In between, I interviewed anyone who might have the slightest international connection, from the political science professor from China to the Italian-American manager of Langomarcino's Chocolates.  One day in April, shortly after I got back from determining that my friend Mary's brother was "straight," I interviewed Lars Lundquist (not his real name), who came to Augustana as a foreign student in 1968 and now had his own photography studio in Chicago.

"I do everything -- kids, dogs, weddings, even passport photos," he said, "But I'm specializing in fashion.  I want to get some clients and go into talent management."  He paused.  "You know, you've got a nice fresh-scrubbed all-American look.  Did you play football in high school?"

"No, I was an athletic trainer.  But I saw more moldy towels and stinky athletic supporters than any football player."  I cued the laugh track.

"Can you come out to Chicago next week?  We'll do a shoot, and see what happens."

It's a scam!  My inner skeptic told me.  But then..."He's got a studio in Chicago, on Michigan Avenue!"  Besides, my listeners -- all 5 of them -- wanted to know what happened.

So the next weekend I drove out, and he took some shots of me wearing an orange leisure suit, a polo shirt and jeans, and a yellow turtleneck sweater with green pants (bright colors were "in" that year).

I quit my job at the Carousel Snack Bar, and through the spring and summer of 1979, except for my 10 days in Colombia,  I drove out to Chicago every few weeks and let Lars photograph me.  I got some work: see if you can find the Christmas 1979 catalog for the Marshall Fields department store, or Chicago Magazine in the spring of 1981.  I didn't keep any copies -- the photos were too embarrassing.

The money wasn't very good, and I was too busy with classes, clubs, and my job to drive out to Chicago every five minutes, so I was getting tired of it by the fall of 1979, when Lars asked, "Would you consider working for the gay market?"

"What?" I asked, stunned.  "What kind of market is there for gays?"

"All you have to do is pose nude -- there's no sex involved.  And the pay is good."

Was it legal?  And where could you go to buy nude pictures of men?

Apparently there were several gay porn magazines available in the adult bookstores of big cities.  Plus a mail order industry of nude male photos, marketed to gay men who couldn't get to big cities, and didn't want a porn magazine delivered to their home.

I could be a beacon of light to gay men in small towns!

But I would be out to millions of people.  Ok, hundreds.  They wouldn't be seeing my real name, but still...what if my mother saw the photos...or my friends at school....

A few days later, I met Fred, my ministerial student boyfriend.  I was sure that he would disapprove, so the nude photo shoot never happened, and my modeling career fizzled out (except for the adult movie I made, sort of, a few years later).

Oct 13, 2013

Spring 1981: Handcuffed by My Professor

Everybody at Augustana College knew about geology professor Dr. Burton and his Handcuff Parties (I changed his name and department).

Every quarter during finals week, he invited the students from his advanced classes to his house.  They had Happy Joe's pizza and soda, and the boys got to select pairs of handcuffs from Dr. Burton's collection to play with.

There were also blindfolds, gags, ropes, and rolls of duct tape, if you wanted to get creative.

 I never heard of anyone complaining that the Handcuff Parties were inappropriate. We were so naive that no one recognized the homoerotic potential of roomfuls of college boys being handcuffed and groped by their friends. Or thought for a moment that Dr. Burton might be gay.

Dr. Burton
So when I met him at the levee, I was shocked.

He was a big, husky bear in his mid-40s, with a brown beard and a furry chest, and heavy muscles that might soon go to fat.  I spent the night at his house, and the next morning he cooked a very nice breakfast: a sort of egg and bacon casserole, potatoes Lyonnaise, and croissants with orange marmalade.

After that, Dr. Burton called every two or three weeks and invited me over, sometimes for dinner, sometimes afterwards.  I always got a very nice breakfast.  But he never brought out the handcuffs!

He explained that they were only for group play.

Well, then, invite me to the December Handcuff Party.

"But you're not in any of my advanced geology classes.  How would I explain you being there?"

So in the spring quarter, I registered for Paleontology, which turned out to be one of the most fun classes I ever had, especially in a dreary semester of heterosexist world literature.  And, during finals week in May 1981, he invited the whole class  to his Handcuff Party.

There were about twenty boys and two or three girls, mostly geology majors who had been to these parties before.  After our pizza, Dr. Burton brought out three boxes of handcuffs, showed us how to put them on and take them off without a key, and explained his ground rules:

1. Only boys can be handcuffed.
2. Don't handcuff anyone who doesn't want to be.
3. Let them loose the moment they ask.
4. No hitting, punching, or slapping.
5. Nothing below the belt
6. Keep your clothes on.

It was enormous fun handcuffing, manhandling, and pretending to interrogate cute guys, and even more fun being handcuffed and having cute guys "frisk" me like a police suspect.

But Dr. Burton wasn't participating.

"He never plays," a senior geology major explained.  "He's busy making sure that everyone follows the ground rules."

"Well, there's a first time for everything."  I grabbed a pair of handcuffs, ran up behind Dr. Burton, and quickly pulled his hands behind him and handcuffed him.

The room got very quiet.  Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch.

I expected Dr. Burton to get angry, or ask to be released immediately, but instead he said, "Ok, you got me fair and square.  Now, what are you going to do with me?"

Instantly he was swarmed by guys, pushed down into a chair, and gleefully manhandled, while he laughed and struggled and protested.  Someone even broke the rules and unbuttoned his shirt to caress his furry bear chest.  Maybe it was me.

As the party was winding down, Dr. Burton thanked me.  "No one ever thought of handcuffing me before," he said.  "It really made me feel like one of the guys."

He continued to invite me to his house every two or three weeks, but I didn't take any more geology courses, so I wasn't invited to any more Handcuff Parties.

I almost changed my major, just so I could go.

See also: Sean and the World of Gay Leathermen; A Creepy Old Guy Tries to Pick Up College Boys

Where the Flavor Is: Gay Cigarette Ads of the 1960s

My father spent most of the 1960s trying to quit smoking, so I never started.  But there was something appealing about cigarette ads. Not a lot of nudity, but the hint of biceps and bulges, and some rather obvious gay symbolism.

The cigarette itself is a phallic symbol, and depending on its placement, draws the eye to the hand, mouth, or crotch.

The situations depicted in the commercials and ads were always purely masculine enclaves, guys with guys and no women in sight. This Camel ad seems to be set in an upscale gay bar.
Offering or asking for a cigarette, offering or asking for a light, was really an erotic invitation. You had to cup your hand around the other guy's to steady the lighter, creating a moment of evocative intimacy.

The most famous cigarette ads took place in a homoerotic cowboy world, with men roping cattle and then gazing longingly at each other at the end of the day.  The slogan added another layer of gay symbolism: "Come to where the flavor is: Come to Marlboro Country."

Several "real" cowboys were hired to play the Marlboro Man, including Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer.  Most died of lung cancer -- as did many of their customers, prey to the association of a carcinogenic substance with homoerotic freedom.