Jul 4, 2015

The Gay Origin of Yankee Doodle

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we had to sing "Yankee Doodle" in music class every five minutes.

They told us "It's a great patriotic song, nearly as great as our national anthem!  It celebrates rugged American masculinity."

Like this Currier & Ives print of a muscular American trouncing the effete British dandies.

Except it didn't make sense.  Yankee Doodle was the dandy.

And what's the nonsense about sticking a feather in your cap and calling it macaroni?

And the immeasurably heterosexist "With the girls be handy"?

Turns out that the song was a British satire intended to signify that American men were prissy, feminine, and not interested in the ladies.

The high "macaroni" wig with a tricorner cap atop it was popular among British fops of the era, and an all-around term for feminine or gay men.

Rictor Norton's sourcebook of gay history reprints a British newspaper article from the 18th century complaining that: "the country is over-run with Catamites...or Macaronis."

A broadside explains:

Macaronies are a sex, Which do philosophers perplex;
Tho’ all the priests of Venus’s rites agree they are Hermaphrodites.

The admonition to be be "handy" with the girls was pure sarcasm.  Yankee Doodle would never dream of putting his hands on a lady.  A man, maybe.

The gay coding of "Yankee Doodle" continues in the famous painting "The Spirit of '76," by Archibald Willard.  It was originally entitled "Yankee Doodle," intended to be humorous.

Willard only decided to make it serious after seeing the determination in the eyes of his models, especially the younger drummer (modeled by railroad magnate's son Henry Devereaux) gazing with sullen admiration at the older (modeled by Willard's father).

And in the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, a fictionalized biography of composer George M. Cohan. James Cagney as Cohan falls in love on schedule and sings the obsessively heterosexist "Yankee Doodle Boy":

I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart -- she's my Yankee Doodle joy.

But his mannerisms are so flamboyant that the gay coding seems almost deliberate.  Cagney's movies are generally loaded down with gay subtexts, and he may have been bisexual in real life.

Jul 3, 2015

Dream of the Red Chamber: Gay Chinese Literature

When I was a kid in the 1960s, China didn't seem likely as a "good place."  There was a My Village in Japan, but no My Village in China.  Chinese art involved vast natural landscapes rather than the muscle gods of Greek myth, and all of the movie adaptations of the travels of Marco Polo gave the Italian explorer (Alfred Drake, Horst Buchholz, Desi Arnaz Jr.) a girlfriend.

Then came Bruce Lane and the kung fu craze, and the late 1970s was all awash with muscular Chinese  martial artists: Sonny Chiba, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao (left).  Sometimes they got girls, but often they enjoyed homoromantic bonds with fellow martial arts students, kung fu masters, and "blood brothers."

So I took a course in East Asian Culture and Civilization, and found some hints and signals.

Chinese poetry minimizes heterosexual romance to concentrate on the manly love of comrades:

Drawing up the green silk coverlets,
placing our pillows side by side;
like spending more than a hundred nights,
to sleep together with you here (Bo Yuji)

In West Hollywood in the 1980s, I took a course in Chinese literature at USC.  The professor assigned The Dream of the Red Chamber, the 18th century masterpiece by Cao Xueqin, but  "forgot" to mention that the main characters are all bisexual.

When Pao-Yu, is an adolescent, he meets Chin Chung, handsome "but too shy and effeminate."  They become inseparable friend -- or more.  "Let's not talk about it now," Pao-Yu said.  "I'll settle with you later, after we go to bed."

The narrator continues: "It is not known what settlement Pao-Yu made with his friend that night nor how, and we will not venture any speculations."

See also: Confessions of a Mask

Jul 1, 2015

Paul Anka: The Gay Next Door

Paul Anka was the first teen idol to be known for his physique as well as his music.  Other teen idols of the 1950s -- Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone -- may have been dreamy, but the teen magazines emphasized their cool threads, not their muscular chests. Paul not only had a face and a voice, he had a body, and he knew how to use it to his advantage.

His first single, "Diana," hit the top of the charts in 1957,  pushing hits by Jerry Lane Lewis and Elvis Presley out of the way.  "Puppy Love," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," and "Lonely Boy" followed, all chart toppers, mostly about lost or unrequited love.

In the early 1960s, as the British invasion limited the appeal of the 1950s-era teen idols, Paul re-invented himself as an adult contemporary performer, and continued to enjoy a string of hits: "In the Still of the Night," "You're Having My Baby," "One Man Woman."

And he made movies that required more underwear, swimsuit, and semi-nude shots than any other teen idol of the era.  Look in Any Window (1961) is particularly memorable.

Craig Fowler (Paul), the teenage son of dysfunctional parents, has a paralyzing "sexual abnormality."  He goes to a youth center and ogles the buffed athletes working out.

Then he spies on his hunky neighbor (Jack Cassidy, David Cassidy's dad), kissing his wife in the swimming pool.

Meanwhile rumors of his sexual deviance run through the neighborhood.  Two teenage boys chase him, yelling threats, and the cops are on his trail.  "Let me get my hands on any guy that isn't normal!" one grunts.

Craig tries to pursue a "normal" life by courting girl-next-door Ellen (Gigi Perreau), but eventually even "true love" can't repress his aberrant desires.

Nope, Craig's not gay -- that would have been too controversial for Hollywood in 1961. There are still almost no gay teenagers in mainstream film.  Craig's a Peeping Tom.  But the gay symbolism is obvious.

Assumed gay in real life, Paul was actually heterosexual, though he was friends with gay teen idol Sal Mineo and bisexual Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr..

Jun 29, 2015

Fall 1985: Watching Brothers in the Hollywood Hills

When I first moved to West Hollywood in 1985, every Wednesday night my friend Mark, who introduced me to Michael J. Fox,  drove me up to a house in the Hollywood Hills, where there were about twenty gay men, most involved in the film industry, drinking wine, eating fancy hors d'oeuvres, and waiting until 10:00.

To watch tv.

What was all the fuss about?

Brothers (1984-89), a sitcom on the premium cable network Showtime, about three grown-up brothers who run a bar.

1. Macho ex-football player Joe (Robert Walden, left, formerly the roving reporter on Lou Grant).

2. Macho construction worker Lou (Brandon Maggart, left).

3. Cliff (Paul Regina, right), who, in the first episode, dumps his fiance on his wedding day and tells his brothers that he is...gay!

A gay character on tv!

In 1984, gay characters appeared on network tv very rarely, usually in "old high school buddy comes out" episodes of sitcoms. There were no gay characters in starring roles.  There were no tv series about gay people.

Brothers was revolutionary.

Cliff knows nothing about the gay world, so he and his brothers work together to explore cruising, dating and romance, gay organizations, gay rights, AIDS, and homophobia of various types.  Their tour guide is Donald (Philip Charles Mackenzie), a stereotypic swishy queen who is loud and proud.

Both are actually shown dating men, getting involved in relationships, and even kissing guest stars like Charles Van Eman, Jay Louden, Matthias Hues, and John Furey (right, the one with the basket).

Other gay characters in the 1980s were portrayed as completely sexless, announcing that they are gay but never doing anything about it.  Revolutionary again!

As the show progressed, episodes increasingly focused on non-gay topics, like machinations at the bar, Joe's dating and eventual marriage, or Lou's wife and kids, including a seminary student (John Putch) and a teenage prodigy (Yeardley Smith, later the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons).  

In the fall of 1986, I enrolled in a Wednesday night class at USC, and couldn't go up to the Hollywood Hills anymore. Brothers aired until 1989.

You can watch episodes on youtube, but I don't think I will.  I prefer to keep it part of my memories of those first months in West Hollywood, when everything was exciting and fresh and new.

Jun 28, 2015

Journey to the Beginning of Time

During the late 1960s, our local afternoon kid's show, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat, played a serial called Journey to the Beginning of Time, about four boys on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York who find a secret passage leading to a mysterious river. They paddle down the river through different geological eras, rescuing each other from mastodons and dinosaurs, learning to survive in the prehistoric wilderness.  

Finally they pass the Precambrian Era and see the dazzling psychedelic fireworks of the Earth's creation.

The serial made no sense.  The boys' costumes and hair styles changed; they got taller and shorter; the voice-over narration didn't match the action; no one wonders how they're going to get back home again; and where did boys visiting a museum get a boat, anyway?

Still, it became one of the iconic images of my childhood, maybe because it made no sense.  It was a puzzle, a mystery to be unraveled, and that puzzle involved boys facing the world together.

  In a pivotal scene, Doc (Josef Lukas) loses the diary with his scientific notes of the journey, and Jo-Jo (Victor Betral) fights off a dinosaur to retrieve it.  Their subsequent moment of emotional intimacy reverberated through my childhood.

Turns out that in 1966, producer William Cayton took the river sequences from a Czech movie, Cesta do Praveku (1955), then filmed new opening and closing segments in the United States with different boys, figuring that the dumb kids in his target audience would never notice.  

 I noticed, but I didn't care. I was busy watching the boys bonding with each other through science fiction adventure.


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