The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Tag: 1950s (page 1 of 1)

Back to the Future: Escaping Sexology

My (highly attenuated) attention was recently directed to an LWT doc from 1981 available on YouTube . It compares the pre-war, pre-gay world of ‘sisters’ (‘musical’ friends you didn’t want to fuck) and ‘trade’ (‘normal’ working class ‘real’ men you really did), with the post-Stonewall, butched-up, Marlborough Man world of gay-on-gay early 1980s love action.

I can’t remember seeing it before, and the pioneering gay-interest series Gay Life that it was part of was originally broadcast only in the London area – when I was revising for my O-Levels in Yorkshire. But perhaps I somehow did, and it shaped my entire worldview – and so I naturally repressed the memory of it to protect my fond image of myself as my own man.

Gifford Skinner, the delightful old quean in tweeds talking in the first half about his 1930s sex life, is very much his own man – though it’s difficult now not to see him in a Harry & Paul sketch. He is here a living and still very lively link with London’s vanished world of ‘trade’: otherwise ‘normal’ working class young men and soldiers and sailors who would sleep with (usually middle or upper class) queers, for a few bob, a few pints, or just a few laughs. Born in 1911, the son of a publican, he would have been in his twenties in the 1930s, and 70 when the documentary was made. (Today – I can’t find a date for his death online – he would be 110 years old.)

What strikes me about Gifford’s reminiscing, apart from his wonderfully mannered way of talking – ‘My DEAR!’ – is how this veteran from an era of supposed sexual repression and rampant homophobia, guilt and self-loathing, talks so frankly and fearlessly, so matter-of-factly about his adventurous youth, and his enthusiastic and very definite desires. The opposite of how things are today in our ‘liberated’ age – when everything has to be ideologically-filtered and pre-censored in order to avoid offence and cancellation.

There’s the fixation on his fellow infant school-chums’ bottoms:

‘We did an awful lot of marching in those days – and I always used to look at the boy in front, his bottom, the crease came from side to side, I found it was absolutely fascinating’.

Followed by his adult love for ‘real men’ and ‘rough types’. And his attitude towards his ‘sisters’, exemplified in a typical exchange he recounted with one of his ‘bits of trade’ – who found it difficult to understand why he didn’t want to sleep with his friends:

‘“Why do you like going with me? Why don’t you go with one of your friends, they’re so elegant and attractive – like Jeremy?”’

‘“Oh MY GOD! I couldn’t go to bed with HER!”’

‘They always thought it strange that we would run the risk of taking a stranger back home instead… It was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t consider such a thing. I really liked the real thing or nothing.’

The ‘real thing’ was particularly guardsmen, who could be found in large numbers in Hyde Park on any afternoon. Where you could ‘spot them a mile off’.

‘They had to wear their red tunics when they were out, no civilian clothes were worn, magnificent red tunics. They looked very, very smart indeed – they were magnificent really. You would tell them a mile off. The colour was gorgeous against the green in Hyde Park!’

But perhaps his recollection that stays with me the most is his memory of how many of the military men had a mate or ‘oppo’ that they were ‘inseparable from’ – especially sailors. And so, they would both come back to Gifford’s, one of them sleeping in the living room chair while the chosen one spent the night in bed with the welcoming host. His lonely, cold, creased up, best pal listening to the sounds of magnificent giggly sodomy next door.

Also fascinating is the testimony of the late Dudley Cave, as an example of the 1940s-50s new-wave of self-identified ‘invert’, speaking from the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard phone room, having been one of the founding members since it was launched in 1974. (And where he was still working, and still being eminently charming and helpful to everyone, when I volunteered in the late 1980s – back when I still had some milk of human kindness about me).

Joining the army in 1941, aged 20, and distressed about his ‘abnormal’ desires, a sympathetic army psychiatrist loaned Dudley a copy of Havelock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion in the Male, and he recognised himself within its pages immediately. Right down to the supposed preference for the colour blue and the ‘triangular’ pubes allegedly common to the ‘inborn’ invert or homosexual. Although some of Ellis’ notions seem laughable now – but perhaps no more so than some of the contemporary pseudo-science of congenital gay creationism – it helped Dudley be much more accepting of his sexuality. And in fact, set him on the road to become an advocate for gay equality after the war.

(Interestingly, according to this 2004 tribute by Peter Tatchell, Dudley who was a survivor of Japanese POW camps, found that homosexuality was ‘more or less accepted in the Army’, and contrary to the obsession that was to develop after the war, no one was disciplined for it – despite there being rather a lot of it going on – and the worst prejudice he ever experienced was being chided for ‘holding a broom like a woman’.)

The sexual historian Jeffrey Weeks also pops up in the second half of the doc. He isn’t quite as entertaining as Gifford – a very hard act to follow – but he is saying eminently sensible things about how the modern gay identity emerged out of the taxonomies of 19th sexologists, who ‘discovered’ a new species, ‘the homosexual’, making same-sexing a condition or essence rather than an act or sin. And how it is time to move beyond these rigid definitions that ‘don’t correspond to the range of desires of wishes or needs that they actually have’.

That, in other words, the pre-gay world of ‘so’ Gifford and his ‘rough’ chums had something going for it.

But the 1980s was to take no notice of Weeks, or Gifford. What actually happened was of course Aids and Thatcherism-Reaganism. Which largely succeeded in locking down the sexual openness and experimentation of the ‘gender bending’ early 80s and reaffirmed instead both the gay identity and its ‘pathology’. Quarantining queer desire in the queer body.

h/t James Sheen

Paul Newman & James Dean on 1950s Broke Straight Guys

JD: “Kiss me”

PN: “Not here!”

Touching how shy and excited Paul Newman appears in this screen test for East of Eden – and how he tries to cover it up with boyish bravado. He also easily outshines Dean in looks – and totally eclipses him in stature. But perhaps not in charisma.

The ever-cool Dean looks almost… French.

Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin’s 50s Love Makes Today’s Bromance Look Like Bromide

Mark Simpson pays tribute to Lewis & Martin, ‘the hottest male comedy double-act of all time’

(Originally appeared in Out, May 2009)

Forget hair whorls, genomes, amniotic fluid, older brothers, domineering mothers or disco. I can reveal with absolute, religio-scientific certainty that the cause of my homosexuality was just two words.

Jerry. Lewis.

As a kid in the 1970s I watched reruns of his movies, especially the ones from the early fifties with his on-screen boyfriend Dean Martin, with a level of breathless excitement that nothing came close to – until I discovered actual buggery in the 1980s.

Films like Money From Home where he pins Martin to the bed wearing a pair of polka dot shorts camper than Christmas in West Hollywood (1953), and Sailor Beware (1951), where he is pricked by several burly USN medics wielding ever-bigger needles until he squirts liquid in all directions and faints made me the man I am today.

Earlier this year, after a lifetime of being ignored by a cross-armed Academy Awards that never gave him so much as a nomination when he was making movies, Lewis is finally getting an Oscar.

But not for his hilariously cute films with Dean Martin or his solo classics such as The BellboyThe Errand BoyThe Nutty Professor, and The Disorderly Orderly – in which, memorably, he happily hoovers with the appliance plugged in up his own ass – but for his fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy.

It’s a charity Oscar – in every sense. Lewis is 82 and has had serious health problems for some time.

The Hollywood gays though were reportedly Not Happy. They had a hoover up their ass about Lewis.  Apparently some tried to block his Oscar because this ill, old man born in 1926 almost used the word ‘faggot’ last year after hosting a twelve hour telethon.

In effect, The Gays are running down the street screaming Maaaaaaa!!

Likewise, because he isn’t himself gay, and because his early nerdy, ‘retarded’ sissy persona has been deemed ‘exploitative’, Lewis has been almost completely spurned by gay studies, when really he should have his own department. If nothing else, Lewis Studies would be a damn sight more fun than Queer Studies. (As long as they didn’t include the Telethons).

His films should be set texts, but it was his anarchic early 1950s TV shows with Martin when a twenty-something Lewis was at his queerest and giddiest. Their heads so close together in those tiny 50s cathode ray tubes, gazing into each other’s eyes, rubbing noses, occasionally stealing kisses or licking each other’s necks to shrieks of scandalized pleasure from the audience. They were a prime-time study in same-sex love. And were adored for it – literally chased down the street by crowds of screaming young women and not a few men (especially popular with sailors and soldiers, they were the Forces’ sweethearts).

This half-century old double act from the homo-hating 50s is much more alive, much more flirtatious, than today’s supposedly liberal and liberated ‘bromantic’ comedy, which goes  out of its way to purge the possibility of anything physical. Next to Dean and Jerry’s simmering screen-love, bromance just looks like bromide.

Whatever the nature of his off-screen sexuality, Lewis’ comedy partnership with Martin – the most successful of all time, along with most of their best gags – was based around the matter-of-fact, unspoken assumption that they were a couple.

Their very first TV show opens with our boys arriving at a posh ball full of Waspy straight couples being announced: ‘Mr & Mrs Charles Cordney!’, ‘Mr and Mrs Walter Christiandom!’.  And then: ‘Mr Martin and Mr Lewis!’.  The dago and the jew. Setting the tone for their series, Lewis promptly trashes the place with his nervy-nerdy slapstick.

The Martin and Lewis partnership was queer punk rock before even rock and roll had been invented, trashing normality right in the living rooms of 1950s America, courtesy of Colgate. No wonder they’ve been almost forgotten.

They should never have existed.  True, the explicitness of their pairing depended on the official ‘innocence’ of the times, and the nostalgia for buddydom in post-war America, allowing the audience to enjoy the outrageous queerness of what was going on without having to think too much about it. Literally laughing it off.

But official innocence is a mischievous comedian’s gift-horse. A skit depicting (fictionally) how Martin and Lewis – or ‘Ethel’ and ‘Shirley’ as they called one another – met, climaxes with them being trapped in the closet together: pushed together mouth to mouth, crotch to crotch, by Martin’s vast, vain collection of padded jackets.

In another skit our boys end up sharing a bed with Burt Lancaster playing an escaped homicidal maniac: Jerry: ‘Boy, Dean, these one night stands are moider!’

Moider was exactly what they got away with.  In a skit set in prison, Jerry’s bunk collapses on Martin below. ‘What are you doing?’ asks Martin. ‘I felt loinesome,’ replies Lewis.

Lewis’ on-screen queerness may have been just a phase – but what a phase! It was so unruly, so indefinable, so crazy, so ticklish, so exhilarating that gays – and probably most people today – don’t know what to do with it. Or where to put it.  It’s a bit scary, frankly.

But that – in addition to still being piss your pants funny – is precisely what is so great about it. And why I still think classic Lewis is as much fun as sodomy.

 

An ‘exploision’ of D&J kisses in this cheeky and charming clip painstakingly compiled by a YouTube fan.

The noise made by the audience when Dean falls on top of Jerry in the bath wouldn’t be heard again until Elvis shook his pelvis.

Jerry joins the Navy, gets some big pricks, and then sprays everywhere.

Jerry, Dean and James Dean – the perfect locker room threesome.

Dean and Jerry join the Army as paratroopers. Watch Dean’s eyes during the blanket scene.

‘I was loinesome!’

A slightly fictionlised account of how our boys met, complete with closet clinch climax.

Never been kissed… Yeah, right.

Special thanks to Elise Moore and Hannah for sharing their pashernate love of Dean & Jerry — and reminding me of mine.