Sunday, 20 July 2008

154: Rock Hudson's and Jim Nabors's Gay Marriage

Here’s some cartoon representations of a rather strange gay rumour that started doing the rounds in the US in the early ‘70s. You can read more about it at
Rock Hudson we probably all know. Jim Nabors played a gee-golly, hapless accident-prone dork - Gomer Pyle, but also had a successful singing career (English audiences might want to think of Michael Crawford, as both Frank Spencer in “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” and also as a world-spanning musical star).
In those distant days the prospect of gay marriage was weird plus unnatural multiplied by ridiculous to the power of impossible, and therefore good for an extravagant laugh, particularly when allied to such high-profile names.

from “When Watching TV You Can Be Sure of Seeing…” in “Mad” October 1972

This is contemporaneous with the original appearance of the rumour. “Rona Boring” would be the gossip columnist Rona Barrett. This dates from a time when insinuations of homosexuality would constitute a major slur. You could argue that “Mad” is satirising the vituperative destructive procedures of gossip columnists. That by sharing this recension of the Hudson/Nabors rumour with its teenage audience its pointing out how stupid this all is.

written by Josh Alan Friedman, drawn by Drew Friedman in Weirdo #9, Winter 1983-1984

This is so very not a secret wedding. I think Rock Hudson’s best man could be Franklin Pangborn, while Nabor’s best man in military uniform is Frank Sutton who played the drill instructor in “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” That the actors who played military characters should appear in uniform is typical of the “TV Guide”-reality this parody inhabits, where actors eventually become one with their phosphor-dot roles, developing an existence and identity independent of their real lives. Which is also how gossip assumes such power, when you’re only as real as your headlines.

The two Friedman brothers have always been extreme examples of the baby boomer imagination, obsessed by the tawdry trivia of the American entertainment industry, fascinated by the second-rate comics, TV, and films of their youth, yet so enamoured they are compelled to lavishly reproduce them all again in pointillist hyper-realistic style.

written by Josh Alan Friedman, drawn by Drew Friedman in Weirdo #12, Winter 1985

The Friedman’s were so enrapt by this titbit that they returned to flesh it out further a couple of years later in full-page glory. Here they play up the idea of this thwarted love, while also giving us numerous panels revealing what the shared romantic home life of such different men would be like.
Indeed there's a slight frisson in all this since both Nabors and Hudson were alive when the Friedmans were putting these cartoons togther. Imagine the legal steps that a certain dwarven scientologist would take if something equally as insinauating of hidden homosexuality were compiled nowadays.
In this piece. the Hudson leading-man persona naturally slips into this particular romantic scenario, even if it is a homosexual one. The yokel mannerisms from Nabors disconcert for comedic effect, playing off against Hudson's silent movie-magazine good looks. The things is almost but not quite poignant, sympathetic to the plight of closeted homsoexuals, but Nabors is really the butt of the joke, too out of place in all this to be successfully gay. The whole thing though is as freakily verisimilitudinous as a photo-expose from scandal rag.

Lenny Bruce had some routines about Hudson's rumoured homosexuality which I'd already covered at

1 comment:

NG said...

Oh yeah, I remember this one... suffice to say this was one rumor that went viral and there was no internet and cable back then.