Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas to all.

So here we are, not knowing what the future will be and clinging to happy loving memories of our past or present.  Nostalgia is about what we recall.  In times of great change and problems from the past, one item that many of us of a certain age hold dear to are the images created by a movie studio.  To be sure, there's plenty of history with this famous company that has been much less-than gay friendly over the decades, but for many generations of gay men who grew up in a marketing world filled with comic books, movies, cartoons, television programs and theme parks (in far-away places like California and Florida), the name "Disney" often sparks some fond memories of childhood.  And especially in the past few decades the company has been supportive of gay employees and visitors to its theme parks.  Being made to feel welcome and included is important to everybody.

A lot of the Disney magic was (and continues) to be created by talented gay men.  So on this Christmas Eve, it's the magic of the artisans who created a smile and laugh for kids of all ages (and sexualities) that matters most here at VGMH.  Disney gay talent Howard Ashman proved that making magic knows no boundaries or prejudice.  Feeling happy inside and having fun never goes out of style.  There's more about him below.   A sincere and worldwide best wishes to all, from Steve.


Producer, lyricist and openly-gay Howard Ashman made a huge splash in the world of Disney animation in 1989 with "The Little Mermaid," which he co-produced with John Musker.  The song "Under the Sea" (co-written with composer Alan Menken) won an Oscar for Best Song.

Howard's lyrics, as Menken recalled, "would wink at the adults and say something to the kids at exactly the same time." And as demonstrated below, the handsome (and buff) male heroes and villains in these Disney classics have continued a long-standing tradition of being immortalized in cartoon-style smut fantasies.

Perhaps his greatest work was "Beauty and the Beast."  In fact, "Beauty and the Beast," which he executive produced, was the first animated movie ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, a category typically reserved for live-action films, while its title song won the songwriters yet another Oscar.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 17, 1950, the successful lyricist, librettist, playwright, and director moved to New York and became an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, while writing plays including "Dreamstuff," a musical version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," which marked the beginning of his association with Off-Off-Broadway WPA Theatre in 1977.

The hunky gents in these films have evoked many artists to pay honor by creating their own (slightly more gay-erotic) versions.  But back to how Howard joined Disney...

Two years past 1977, Howard teamed with Menken for the first time creating a musical version of Kurt Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater." They went on to write the musical version of Roger Corman's 1960 cult film "Little Shop of Horrors" and won critical raves and awards including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical of 1982-83. The off-beat show was transformed into a motion picture by Frank Oz in 1986, subsequently winning the musical duo their first Academy Award nominations.

That same year, Howard penned the ballad "Disneyland" for the Broadway production of "Smile," written with Marvin Hamlisch. Soon after he signed a contract with The Walt Disney Company to write lyrics and dialogue for its animated features.  The rest is a wonderful history of great song and memories for several generations.

Howard died following complications from AIDS at the age of 40 in New York City during the making of both Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Ashman and Menken had finished the songs for Beauty and the Beast and 11 songs intended for Aladdin, although only three were featured in the finished film ("Arabian Nights", "Friend Like Me", and "Prince Ali"). Tim Rice was brought in to finish the Aladdin songs with Menken. Ashman was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 2001. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to him, "To our Friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950-1991"

In 1994, "Beauty and the Beast" moved to the New York stage, and has since become Broadway's 10th longest-running musical. The production features "Human Again," a chorus number by Howard and Menken that was storyboarded for the animated motion picture, but never completed.  The princely hunk from The Little Mermaid continues to delight boys of all ages.  Please relax, have inner peace, and enjoy this season and good memories from holidays past.


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