Feb 23, 2018

Zachery Ty Bryan: Home Improvement Also-Ran

Born in Colorado in 1981, Zachery Ty Bryan was hired to play the oldest brother on the TGIF sitcom Home Improvement (1991-1999).  As he grew into adolescence, he became more and more muscular, but his spectacular physique never made a splash in teen magazines -- they were all agog over Jonathan Taylor Thomas.  For most of the series' run,  JTT was the standout star, Zachery a background player.

But he never became bitter over his second-banana status; ZTB and JTT remained on friendly terms.  Instead, he used his free time to star in movies and tv series:

1. First Kid (1996), about a regular guy who lands a date with the President's daughter.

2. "Mr. Muscles," a 1997 episode of Promised Land about steroid abuse.
3. Principal Takes a Holiday (1998), about a teen operator who gets a drifter to stand-in as his school principal.
4. Held for Ransom (2000), which allowed his character to buddy-bond with Jordan Brower.

Afterwards he mostly played athletes whose plots involve winning the championship, not getting the girl.  The Game of their Lives (2005), for instance, is about the U.S. soccer team beating Britain in 1950.

Code Breakers (2005) is about a cheating scandal at West Point Military Academy, with no girls in the cast.

In Hammer of the Gods (2009), he played a man-mountain, the Norse god Thor, who wields a mighty hammer and saves his friends (there's a girl, too, but it's most about his friends).

Today Zach has moved into independent film production.

Feb 22, 2018

Buster Brown Comics: 1940s Beefcake at the Shoe Store

The first generation of Baby Boomers watched some crazy kids' shows on their brand-new black and white tvs, like Andy's Gang, aka Smilin' Ed's Gang (1951-1960), with the screechy-voiced hosts Andy Devine or Smilin' Ed McConnll, the demonic hell-beast Froggy the Gremlin, and the live action adventures of a very Nordic "Indian boy" named Gunga (1955-60).

It was sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes, an attempt to get kids interested in the most boring item of clothing imaginable:  an elderly Little Person in an Edwardian sailor suit would say -- very slowly:

"I'm Buster Brown....I live in a sho....He's my dog Tige....He lives in there too.

The crazy advertising mascot derives from Buster Brown, an early 20th century comic strip (1902-1921) about a mischievous boy who has adventures and then writes a "resolution" to behave more appropriately in the future.

Like many tv series of the 1950s, it had a predecessor on radio, Smilin' Ed's Buster Brown Show (1944-1953), with Smilin' Ed McConnell hawking the shoes and reading the adventure stories.

With a tie-in comic book, Buster Brown Comics.  45 issues were published between 1945 to 1946.  You could get them for free at local shoe stores and department stores, which conveniently printed their addresses on the front cover -- presumably while picking up your comic, you (or Mom) would do some shopping.

Each issue featured a humorous story starring Smilin' Ed and the Gang, plus an adventure story starring a muscular teenage boy: "Leathern Cord of Magic," "Dude Ranch Desperado," "Leopard Men," "Desert Raiders," :Ghanga the Elephant Boy."

Most were scripted by Hobart Donovan, the head writer of Smilin' Ed's gang, and the husband of voice actress June Foray (best known for Rocky and Bullwinkle).  A number of artists drew the stories, including Ruben Moreira, Ray Willner, and future fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta.

Remember, this was an era where movies never showed shirtless men except an occasional Tarzan or Bomba the Jungle Boy, and tv was a small black-and-white box with ghostly, hard-to-see images.  Comic books were your only source of beefcake images.

And you could get free beefcake comics every other month just by dropping in to a shoe store.

Sounds bizarre, but sign me up!

See also: Andy's Gang

In Every Man's Life There's a Summer of 42

During the 1980s, as the gay movement gained ground, film producers tried every way they could think of to assure heterosexual audiences that they had nothing to worry about, that gay people did not exist.  One of their most annoying attempts was a spate of movies involving young boys having sex with older women.  It was not a statutory rape, however; it was presented with flowers and hearts and swelling music, and a voiceover of their adult selves crowing "I learned about life, and love, and being a man!!!!  It was most beautiful, most fulfilling experience of my life!!!!!"

What did the older women want with the young boys, anyway, when there were lots of men their own age around, and their dalliance with the jailbait was patently illegal?  The adult voiceover usually explained: the boys were so incredibly attractive that every woman on Earth wanted them. The one they slept with just happened to make her offer first.

The annoying trend probably began with The Summer of '42 (1971), which stars Gary Grimes as 15-year old Hermie, whose hotness causes an older woman to cheat on her husband (away in the War).  He never saw her again, but that night made him a man.  The tagline even universalizes the young boy-older woman trope: "In every man's life there is a summer of '42."

Jay North played a teenager who beds The Teacher (1974).

But the genre took off in the the early 80s, with countless "bedding the teacher/tutor/friend's older sister/miscellaneous older lady" movies: Private Lessons (1981) with Eric Brown (of Mama's Family),  My Tutor (1983), with Matt Lattanzi; Class (1983), with Andrew McCarthy; A Night in Heaven (1983), with Christopher Atkins; Gotcha! (1985), with Anthony Edwards. In Weird Science  (1985), the boys (Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Michael Smith) build an older woman robot of their own.

Why did I find these movies so annoying?

1. The promise of beefcake made them a must-see.  But the boys usually had a woman with them to ruin the swimsuit, shower, and underwear shots, and anyway they were overwhelmed by the endless breast shots of the "older woman."

2. So exuberantly hetero-horny were the boys that there was no room for men.  Sometimes men were completely missing; the cast consisted entirely of the boy and some babes.  Sometimes the boy had a best friend, but only as a sounding board, to strategize with and brag to; emotional intimacy was completely absent.

3. These movies loudly proclaimed that they represented all of male experience, that every boy who had ever lived or who ever would live longed to have sex with older women.  But they didn't just ignore gay male experience, they lovingly, emphatically, with elaborate detail, declared that no gay men exist.


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