Monday, November 30, 2009

Gay Actor, Writer and Artist Sir Antony Sher

Antony Sher has been acclaimed as being one of the most intelligent and talented British stage actors over the last two decades.  Born in 1949 in South Africa, after serving his compulsory military service (often spent painting portraits of the officers), Sher had enough and moved to Great Britain which offered many more opportunities for a young man interested in the arts. He really believed in himself and knew he had talent, but it seems few others could see it at the interviews Tony's been known to paraphrase his rejections during this tough period in his life..."Not only have you failed in the audition and we do not want you to try again, but we seriously recommend that you think about a different profession."

But Tony didn't give up, and eventually the curly haired man with brooding eyed was accepted at the Webber-Douglas Academy. Things got even better, and after working at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool he made his London stage debut in "John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert".   Antony continued to work hard and learn his craft.  At the Royal Shakespeare Company he took the title role in Tartuffe and then played the Fool in King Lear before his big breakthrough in 1984, playing the title role in Shakespeare's Richard III.  This won Antony the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award.

He's still not so much of a household movie star name in the United States.  John Schlesinger gave Sher his first screen role (a bit part as a soldier) in "Yanks" (1979).  Sher then went on and co-wrote and starred in "Mark Gertler Fragments of a Biography" (1981) and then in 1985's "Shadey" (an uneven dark comedy about  a London mechanic who wants a sex change). In the 1990's he continued to work in films, where he performed as a psychiatrist who treats a youthful serial killer in "The Young Poisoner's Handbook" and followed that performance by playing an AIDS counselor who falls in love with an HIV-positive ballet dancer in "Alive and Kicking/Indian Summer" (1996).  In 1997 Sher played alongside Judy Dench in  "Mrs. Brown" and was cast as Chief Weasel in "The Wind in the Willows" (both 1997). The film he is most likely to be recognized for in America would probably be his performance in the hit movie "Shakespeare in Love" (1998).

In 1985 Sher played the drag queen hero in Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy".  His portrayal of the eccentric British painter Stanley Spencer in Stanley" earned him acclaim and led to his Broadway debut in 1997.
Sher is also the author of several plays, including ID (2003) and Primo (2004).

After Ian McKellen came out as a gay man on the radio, and Simon Callow had come out in his book, Antony also came out publicly with his book of paintings and drawings.  In 2005, he and his partner, director Gregory Doran, with whom he frequently collaborates professionally, became one of the first gay couples to form a civil partnership in Britain. 

But he had more to share with the public, and that included a drug addiction.  As an artist, Sir Antony posed alongside one of his paintings (below, right); a sketch of a naked man hunched over a broken pane of glass snorting up the shards:
“Anyone who has checked into one of these [clinics] will know you feel very scared,” he said. “The group I was in was sent to the art room for something I'd not heard about, which was art therapy. For the first time, I felt a sense of security — at school the art room was a place of comfort and safety. The picture I did on the very first morning was of a naked man leaning on a broken mirror....The figure of the man is very hunky and sexy. That's how I felt on cocaine — that's what's so seductive about it.”

At his peak, Sir Antony was snorting two grams a weekend and suffering 'coke-overs' (drug-induced hangovers).  He started using it at social events and said it gave him extra confidence, turning a shy individual into the life of the party.  “I've been clean for 13 years but I still do art therapy once a week,” he added in a published story. “  Just at the time he was receiving critical acclaim for his performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he said he developed stage fright, and the drug made all those fears go away for that instant.  In 2000 Antony was knighted for service to the theatre.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sexy Tarzans: Hairy-Chested Footballer Mike Henry

Before making movies, good-looking Mike Henry played pro football for the Pittsburgh Steelers and later for the Los Angeles Rams, where his firm body was nicely showcased in those tight pants. It was while with the Rams that heterosexual Henry began acting. Sy Weintraub was a Rams fan and had seen a TV documentary about them called "Men from the Boys" produced-by and featuring none other than Mike Henry. In 1965 he was signed by Sy Weintraub to replace Jock Mahoney as Tarzan.

Born in 1936 in Los Angeles, Mike made 3 Tarzan films, all shot back-to-back between 1965 and 1966; Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (released 1966), Tarzan and the Great River (released 1967), and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (released 1968).

The Tarzan franchise of that era attracted many of the same fans as the popular James Bond movies did, and it's reported that Weintraub wanted his next Tarzan to compete at the box office by being a sharp, sexy, and cool ape-man with lots of fast action to go along with the jungle adventure. The first movie's poster (below) with helicopters and modern weapons shows how far they moved in that direction.  Hollywood folklore suggested that the reason Henry's Tarzan sported a hairy chest was to compete with Sean Connery's body carpet displayed in the Bond films. In terms of raw beefcake sex appeal, Bond's 007 couldn't match an almost-naked man wearing only a leather loincloth, and generated buzz (true or not) that the studio padded Mike's loincloth pouch to ensure a noticeable manly bulge.  Then there are the ideas about that sheathed knife at his waist:  To some, the knife's handle is similar in length, diameter and position to that of an erect upturned penis.  After a little comparing of Tarzans, it does appear to me that this "big knife" was added to Mike's Tarzan and wasn't a prominent part of the standard loincloth for Jock Mahoney's costume.  No doubt that sometimes "a knife is just a knife", and with that in mind, all I can say is that both the photos below and film trailer make it clear to me that this version of Tarzan was a heavily marketed product. Mike's character was packed with sex appeal.  If I had to pick between only going to a Connery or Henry (Bond or Tarzan) movie back then, I think it would have been a tough choice to make!

In preparation for the jungle stud role, he went into a tough workout regime, shedding 20 pounds from his waist and thighs. Reflecting the desire to make Tarzan sexy and trendy, the movie's title was toyed with. Originally titled Tarzan '65, then later changed to Tarzan '66, and finally it became Tarzan and the Valley of Gold upon its release in June 1966.
There would be no rest for Mike. When Valley of Gold wrapped in Mexico, production started in Brazil on Tarzan and the Great River. Mike suffered many injuries and health problems on the set; his face needed 20 stitches after a monkey tore his jaw open, he encountered food poisoning, dysentery, ear infections, fatigue, and a liver virus infection. That was before Rio was hit by a major typhoon! The storm destroyed the sets and brought about a typhoid epidemic. As soon as the rain subsided the crew started around-the-clock work on Tarzan and the Jungle Boy. The delay in shooting meant that Mike would have had to start the planned follow-up Tarzan TV series without a break. It was too much, and he turned down the lead in the TV series. Soon after returning to California he brought law suits against Weintraub's Banner Productions: one for $800,000 for "maltreatment, abuse, and working conditions detrimental to my health and welfare," and one for $75,000, charging that the monkey bite "resulted from human error." It's reported that these unsuccessful litigations prevented him from accepting the part of Batman in a feature movie that was in creative development. Henry's first Tarzan film was released by American International, while his second and third were released by Paramount.   Sporadically active in films later, Mike Henry was featured in all three Smokey and the Bandit films of the late 1970's-early 1980's.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

John Inman in "Are You Being Served?"

This British sitcom was broadcast between 1972 and 1985. It was set in the men's and women's fashion departments of Grace Brothers, an upscale (fictional) London department store. The idea for the show came from one of the creator's brief stints working at Simpsons of Piccadilly in the early 1950's. Edgy for the early 1970's was that Are you Being Served? featured an obviously gay character.

Played by actor John Inman"Mr. Humphrie" was a regular star of the show.  His catchphrases, very campy mannerisms and sexual double-entendres were a part of every episode. He worked in the men's clothing department and was always ready to measure pants when the male customer was handsome.  It's reported that the BBC, when contemplating making the series, tried at first to insist that Mr Humphries was removed because he was a gay character. Audiences took to him and the rest of the cast, which is why it lasted so long.  However, not all gay men were happy about the role.

Inman once reported that four or five members of the group Campaign for Homosexual Equality picketed one of his shows in protest as they believed his persona did not help their cause. Inman said that "they thought I was over exaggerating the gay character. But I don't think I do."  Others were happy to see a gay man portrayed on national television who was liked by his co-workers, not fired by his employers, and viewed the fact he was on television as a positive statement.

Both Inman and the producers denied that Mr Humphries compounded a stereotype of gay men. In 1976, he was named the BBC TV personality of the year.  In December 2005 Mr. Inman formed a civil partnership with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch.  Inman and David Croft (a show creator) stated that the character was "just a mother's boy" and that his sexual orientation was never explicitly stated.

Actress Rula Lenska, who worked with Mr Inman, told the BBC:  "It was suggestive but never in your face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today." 

Inman continued to play in live shows after his success as Mr. Humphries, and began to incorporate camp mannerisms into those performances too, once saying "Even when I'm not playing Mr Humphries, say at a summer season, I camp it up a bit. If I don't the audience are disappointed.."  Inman went on to star in more than 40 pantomimes, and was often cast as the dame. He used to make his own costumes and write his own jokes. He passed away in 2007.


David White


Playgirl Magazine, October 1976

Totally straight David White's appearance in October's 1976 Playgirl cemented his status as a gay sex symbol. It also appears to have launched a very successful modeling career for the young heterosexual stud.

I've found that most stories about his modeling career begin post-Playgirl. The story goes that White was a tanned young lifeguard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when he was spotted by a California modeling-agency scout. The scout thought David was perfect for a new Winston cigarettes ad campaign, and in 1977 he began to appear as the "Winston Man". After that, David was the cover model for the August 1978 issue of GQ magazine. White's success continued in the 1980's as he became the face of Aramis cologne.

He reportedly lived in New York City from 1977 to 1983, enjoying the big city and dancing at Studio 54 during its heyday. A natural athlete, David reportedly raced his bike in Central Park on Saturday mornings and won the Pepsi 24-hour Cycle Marathon, which covers 540 miles, twice.
He then moved to California and continued both modeling and biking. Later he became a personal trainer, and among the stars he trained was Ozzy Osbourne. White also helped Jane Fonda and Racquel Welch on their workout books and videos.

More recently, in 2007 Mr. White was reportedly living in South Knoxville Tennessee where he owned and operated "The Gym", a fitness facility. Since that time, he decided to close it. "The Gym", which opened more than 25 years ago as a “hard-core” workout facility, shut down on Dec. 5 2008 with about 250 members. His adult son, Eric White, is said to look very much like his handsome father did when he was in his twenties. The last photo is David White, approximately 30 years after his Playgirl pose.