Saturday, 30 May 2009

265: Kliban

B. Kliban
“Playboy”, July 1976

Famous for his cats, and cartoons surreal almost to the point of being obtuse, Kliban also did a lot of lavishly coloured sex gag cartoons for “Playboy” in the 1970s. Most of Kliban’s sexually themed gags are a little bizarre, and usually end up making some sort of direct or indirect comment about sexual liberation since his people are just fucking in the strangest ways. Here it’s blatant. Grandpa’s homosexuality, or transvestism (though whether the casual reader is going to make that distinction is another matter) is just another part of ‘70s society. Given the commune ambience, whether being accepted as part of all this is necessarily a good or flattering thing could be a matter deserving more consideration.

264: Playboy selection

“Playboy” has a long history as one of the better venues for cartoons. It’s published all sorts of cartoonists in all sorts of styles. But when people think of a “Playboy” cartoon, they’re usually thinking of a particular type of sexual cartoon. Quite often featuring a naked lady, but almost always about the satisfactions of lust, with maybe a little about the convolutions of human jealousy or dissatisfaction as comic grit, but by and large fairly positive about sex.
Many of the gay cartoons just take the typical heterosexual situations which the cartoonists riff off anyway and just play them with a gay couple. There is a small but definite body of “Playboy” cartoons about gay transvestism, but that’s because of “Playboy”’s fascination for the female form, and so there’s a little disquiet about the repercussions of having one’s natural manly lusts fooled. There are not that many which are all that sneering about gay effeminacy, unlike “Mad” magazine of the same period. Playboy had adopted a pro-gay rights attitude as part of its general policy for healthy sexual and social liberation by the mid 60s but its comic homosexuals were usually sissy caricatures. By the 1970s Playboy had loosened up around homsexuals, and its comics were able to make jokes about gay people just as people not as some other weird species.
Here are some examples where the joke is a homosexual doing exactly the very thing a heterosexual would do in the same situation. And most actually wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of “Gay News” or “Christopher Street” at the time.

Buck Brown
“Playboy” December 1973
This is the only one where you could say the cartoonist has definitely drawn people intended to be identifiably “homosexual” – scrawny arms with clasped hands, cigarette held in less than virile manner, and the use of the name “Bruce”. The gag itself is just another one about swinging, like so many cartoons in “Playboy” about casual healthy orgies and wotnots. The gay variation: “Wife-swapping” but only with men, ho, ho.

Roy Raymonde
“Playboy”, January 1975
The standard outraged, betrayed older man discovering his young lover in bed in with another. It’s not until you read the caption, and the very last word, that you realise the variation. And then you notice something slightly different about the expression of the young man.

John Dempsey
“Playboy” June 1976
From a sequence of marriage guidance counsellor jokes, “The Honeymoon is Over”. Two fairly straight-looking men here, just casting devoted glances at each other.

“Playboy”, September 1977
Just a variation on the oft-quoted line from the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”.

Phil Interlandi
“Playboy”, May 1979 from “Class Reunion”

263: Phil Interlandi

Phil Interlandi
in “Playboy” June 1960

Ah, a beginning in several senses.
This was the second gay-themed cartoon to ever appear in "Playboy", the first had appeared in January.
The usual straight cliché with a twist.
No suggestion of effeminacy in either of the men.

Friday, 29 May 2009

262: The Last Donahue Show

“The Last Donahue Show”
By Walker Percy
from “Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book”, 1983

The Donahue Show is in progress on what appears at first to be an ordinary weekday morning.
The theme of this morning’s show is Donahue’s favourite, sex, the extraordinary variety of sexual behaviour – “Sexual preference”, as Donahue would call it – in the country and the embattled attitudes toward it. Although Donohue has been accused of appealing to prurient interest, with a sharp eye cocked on the ratings, he defends himself by saying that he presents these controversial matters in “a mature and tasteful manner” – which he often does. It should also be noted in Donohue’s defense that the high ratings of these sex-talk shows are nothing more nor less than index of the public’s intense interest in such matters.
The guests today are:
Bill, a homosexual and habitué of Buena Vista Park in San Francisco
All, a heterosexual businessman, married, and a connoisseur of the lunch-hour liaison
Penny, a pregnant fourteen-year-old
Dr. Joyce Friday, a well-known talk-show sex therapist, or in media jargon: a psych jockey

Bill’s Story: Yes, I’m gay, and yes, I cruise Buena Vista. Yes, I’ve probably had over five hundred encounters with lovers, though I didn’t keep count. So what? Whose business is it? I’m gainfully employed by a savings-and-loan company, am a trustworthy employee, and do an honest day’s work. My recreation is Buena Vista Park and the strangers I meet there. I don’t molest children, rape women, snatch purses. I contribute to United Way. Such encounters that I do have are by mutual consent and therefore nobody’s business – except my steady live-in friend’s. Naturally he’s upset, but that’s our problem.

Donahue: (striding up and down, mike in hand, boyishly inarticulate): C’mon, Bill. What about the kids who might see you? You know what I mean. I mean – (Opens his free hand to the audience, soliciting their understanding)

Bill: Kids don’t see me. Nobody sees me.

Donahue (coming close, on the attack but good-naturedly, spoofing himself as a prosecutor): Say, Bill. I’ve always been curious. Is there some sort of signal? I mean, how do you and the other guy know – help me out –

Bill: Eye contact, or we show a bit of handkerchief her. (Demonstrates)

Studio Audience: (Laughter)

Donahue (shrugging [Don’t blame me, folks], pushes up nose-bridge of glasses, swings mike over to Dr. J.F. without looking at her): How about it, Doc?

Dr. J.F. (in her not-mincing-words voice): I think Bill’s behaviour is immature and depersonalizing. (Applause from audience) I think he ought to return to his steady live-in friend and work out a mature, creative relationship. You might be interested to know that studies have shown that stable gay couples are more creative then straights. (applause again, but more tentative)

Donahue (eyes slightly rolled back, swings mike to Bill): How about it, Bill?

Bill: Yeah, right. But I still cruise Buena Vista.


For a start, before looking at Bill's "problem", it’s worth pointing out that not only does this accurately criticise this type of TV talk show when they were relatively new, but it is also quite accurately and viciously parodic of Phil Donahue himself.
The general intent is to satirise complacently, selfish sexual satiation. This is implicit in the first half of the sketch, and is then made explicit in the second half, when characters appear who condemn the morals and manners of the show’s guests in Southern gentlemanly terms (such Percy himself possessed), but it’s such a weird science-fictional apocalypse that it rather undermines their (and Percy’s) criticisms. Not that I object to incursions of looniness, it just works against the subtlety of the first half of Percy’s satire. Apparently this conclusion stems from Percy’s low-key TV addiction, keeping the TV on around the clock so he would "know if the world suddenly comes to an end", and if so then why couldn’t it be revealed on “Donahue”.
Percy’s book, “Lost in the Cosmos”, criticises the emergent “Me Generation” and the effect of its belief that self-help seminars and self-expression will be the solution to their and the world’s ills. Openness about homosexuality is part of this new social trend, hence Bill’s appearance at the beginning of the sketch. Just enough shock, but also acceptance of shock to make Percy’s point. Bill can appear and defend his sexual behaviour, not just his right to be gay, because that was the tenor of the times. Whether Percy himself agrees, is another matter. Percy does not actually condemn the characters out of their own mouths, but establishes enough details for his readers to come to a measured decision. Bill is not just a caricature, and is actually much more ambiguous than you might expect. For good or ill, Bill’s realistic argument that his expression of his homosexuality is just part of the workaday American life is actually part of Percy’s larger attack on the current nature of that American life.
But for all that, and either way, it’s still a sketch about a man defending his right to rampantly cottage

261: The Lavender Scare

"Gay Ordeal"
in "The Realist"
By Paul Krassner?

I am somewhat unproud of the U.S. State Department’s recent disclosure that, out of eighteen security-risk employees who resigned under investigatory pressure last year, sixteen had been charged with homosexuality

“Hotchkins, you’ve been a faithful employee here for quite a few years now, but we have reason to believe that you’re a homosexual.”
“Why, sir, that’s not true.”
“We all have our problems, Hotchkins, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But I’m afraid that a security investigation is necessarily called for.”
“But even if it were true, sir, hasn’t my loyalty always been above question.”
“Yes, but there is a new factor now: the possibility of blackmailing you.”
“Well, the secret is out now – who would they tell?”
“Me, of course. You don’t want your employer to know you’re a homosexual, do you? So you might very well give out secret information to avoid that.”
“Yes, sir, I see your logic. If only there was some way I could prove. . .”
“Now, Hotchkins, you must try to take this like – oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Sir, I really hate to have to do this to you, but you leave me no alternative. There’s something about me that I’d like you to ask your wife tonight . . .”


A nearly contemporaneous American response to British concerns about homosexuals as security risks, now known as “The Lavender Scare”. All the same arguments, and again this has the same usual punchline of a proof of heterosexual prowess as the pay-off. I’ve only seen the cover to the American satirical magazine “Monocle’s” “Special CIA Issue” but it prominently features the question: “What Does The CIA Have To Say About Sex Perversion In Its Own Ranks?” so obviously America was suffering some of the same anxieties that Britain suffered over Vassall.

260: Your Ad Here - Walter Jenkins

from “Your Ad Here” by Michael O’Donoghue
in “National Lampoon”, October 1972

One of a series parodying actual 1960s advertising, on the line of what if the adverts had actually referred to current 60s events, rather than the usual style of commercial blandishments, exploring the discrepancy between the different media representations of the 1960s, what the 60s thought it was and what actually happened, as a means of making stronger satirical attacks upon the 1960s both culturally and historically. This one parodies the campaign for Ronrico Rum.

Anyway, the guy caught with Walter Jenkins was actually a 60 year old man named Andy Choka.
Walter Jenkins was probably the most high-profile American gay sex scandal for decades, until George Michael was likewise found in a public toilet. (Not that this is the sort of thing that gets mentioned in 1200 page high school American history text books). On October 7, 1964 Walter Jenkins, Lyndon B. Johnson’s closest aide and advisor, was arrested for having sex in a YMCA toilet in Washington, D.C. It was splashed all over the nation’s newspapers a week later on 14 October, barely weeks before the 1964 Presidential Election. It remained a hot topic until other international events knocked it off the front pages. Again, as had happened in England, because of Jenkins’s high position in the government there was also a public inquiry as to whether his homosexuality meant that he constituted a national security risk.

You can read a detailed current news report:,8816,897301,00.html

This slightly later article from the February 1956 “The Realist” argues that response was largely tolerant, and might herald greater liberation for homosexuals in America (it didn’t), and also is an early instance of airing many of the crude gay gags that have since become so woefully tiresome:

259 - American Unisex 3: Mad Magazine

Mad, October 1973
“Standards Rewritten for the Liberated Woman”, by Frank Jacobs

And this is the standard “Mad” effort, where I once again decry “Mad” in the ‘70s as a bunch of clapped-out, senescent farts who are so behind the times it’s the only thing funny about them. This effort being only 6-7 years late. Hell, even “Monty Python’s” – “I’ve heard of unisex, but I've never had it” dates from 1969. Although this goes beyond unisex, or even effeminacy, to suggest more of transvestism, since the female figure is also throwing away bras and undergarments. So quite what the writers of “Mad” think they’re parodying is another matter. One or two similar extravagant gay figures crop up in American sitcoms in the mid-‘70s, but usually American sitcoms of the period are too busy trying to present homosexuals as just like everyone else to go after this stereotype from a Jack chick cartoon
- and even that was a couple of years earlier.

258 - American Unisex 2: Richard Guindon

Richard Guindon, “The Realist”, August 1967

Ah, a good honest gay come-on joke inspired by unisex, rather than coy sneers and hints. A fresh breath of filthy air.

257 - American Unisex 1: Jules Feiffer

As I’m sure I’ve noted elsewhere, most jokes about unisex style tend to run not much further than third party comments about “How do you tell the girls from the boys”, or couples deciding who’s going to wear what. As far as boys with long-hair go, you’ve got the standard cry of “Get a haircut, you commie fag”, but that’s just cheap abuse. Unisex jokes about homosexuality are rather more rare. Stereotypes about homosexuals and a penchant for fashion are as old as the hills, but these unisex jokes are more about sexual collisions resulting from the blurring of obvious gender signifiers.

Jules Feiffer, “Village Voice”, 25 August 1966

When not worrying his cartoon monologists, Jules Feiffer’s subject has been the psychic battle grounds of male-female relations. Homosexuality doesn’t usually get a look-in.
This one, well, now the boys and girls can’t even tell one other apart. Since it’s in dialogue, it’s a bit more informed and involved than usual. Upon rereading, knowing it’s actually a male character, he is certainly rather more fashionably effusive and androgynous than normal. Also note his posture – that’s the same stance that Ronald Searle used, and also crops up in a few other cartoons and comics. And besides the sudden comic reveal at the end, emphasied by the sudden leadenly limp wrist in the final panel, also the suggestion that unisex will lead to transvestism.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

256: Up Pompeii

“Up Pompeii”
20 April 1970
Script by Talbot Rothwell
“Britaniccus" “Britannicus”

Lurkio: Frankie Howerd
Briton with beard: Robin Hunter
Briton without beard: Peter Needham

“Up Pompeii” was a sitcom set in ancient Rome. It had its origins in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Forum”, in which Frankie Howerd played a similar role. “Up Pompeii” is a typical 1970s British sitcom, with broad performances. The scripts for the first series were written by Talbot Rothwell, who wrote most of the scripts for the equally broad “Carry On” films. (When I hear someone say something is “broad comedy”, I usually assume that they really mean that it doesn’t aspire to any great heights). The shows are a collection of double entendres, riske gags, and slapstick humour, held together by the central performance of Howerd as the slave Lurkio.

In this episode, Lurkio ends up accompanying the Roman army to put down a revolt in Britain, and ends up associating with some “camp-followers” (ho-ho). Curiously, this inverts the usual stereotyopes, making the Britons rather than the Romans gay. But then in the world of “Up Pompeii”, the Romans are us, in all our shabby, lustful hypocritical ways, so in the context of this series the Britons can be the “other.” And making them gay also plays off usual primitive savage connotations too.

There is a practical consideration in the “gay performances” of the two Britons. How to distinguish themselves as gay in light of all the camp mannerisms of Frankie Howerd? Certainly, it’s doubtful that anyone in the public thought that Howerd was gay, since in his public roles he gave more of an impression of being like your lecherous uncle. It’s only in retrospect, knowing more about his private life, that it seems a little more implausible that such extravagant ineveigling, slightly sneering horse-faced performance might not have suggested a little something to all the contemporary folks watching at home.

It’s fairly light stuff, and likewise the two performances are equally light. Just before Lurkio lets them in, before this clips starts, we hear two loud “Yooo-hoos!”. Then they enter, fey, swinging their handbags, effeminate hands either clasped together or fluttering at the wrists, and not much in terms of dialogue, other then “pressies” and “absolutely divine” and “ta-ta”. It’s Howerd’s camping it up with them and then his line just after they’ve left which makes the real insinuation. And then his “I thought you queen had already arrived” after the battle. Not much really, nor very provocative, when compared to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.

However, it is relatively groundbreaking, since it is probably only a quirk of scheduling that has this episode beaten a month earlier by Steptoe and Son, the earliest sitcom I can find featuring gay characters which thankfully has a better handling of characterisation and set-ups for its gay-themed gags. Then again most of the gay characters on British sitcoms in the very early 1970s appear in atrociously broad ITV sitcoms (“Not on Your Nelly”, anyone?) not the respectable efforts which get repeated until the crack of doom.

Of course, “Up Pompeii” isn’t quite what one would recognise as a typical sitcom. It’s rather more like a pantomime or end-of-the-pier entertainment, with Howerd breaking the fourth wall to address his audience and comment on events and the general quality of the show. And pantomimes are full of gender-bending, pretty young girls as principal boys, men in drag as dames, and a undercurrent of sexual gags to keep the adults entertained. In such an environment, it’s possible to throw in a few gay gags which might get overlooked in the general free-for-all.