Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

Masculinities

MAS·CU·LIN·I·TY

maskyə linitē noun 1. possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. “a need for men to prove their masculinity through domination over women”

synonyms: virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, strength, muscularity, ruggedness, robustness; testosterone

[Note: There is no second definition, as far as Google is concerned.]

mas·cu·lin·i·ty

n. pl. mas·cu·lin·i·ties 1. The quality or condition of being masculine. 2. Something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male. [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition 2000. Updated in 2009.]

“Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts, there are different men, who act in different ways.” — Toddy (Robert Preston) in Victor/Victoria, 1982.

Victor Victoria - Toddy and Victoria

By Scott Ross

Although my basic personality is neither notably effeminate nor excessively “manly,” I have long been bothered by traditional notions of what constitutes masculinity. At base (so to speak) it seems to me that being masculine means having male genitalia. Anything else we say is just tradition — tradition created, I should add, by men — and stereotype.

A male can be sexy and alluring in any number of forms, and with any of a myriad of behavioral characteristics. There are big slabs of hairy, over-fed beef to whom I would not give the time of day, and little wispy bois who do everything but fly on fairy’s wings I want to take into my arms and have my way with as long, and as often, as they’ll let me. I’ve been drawn to humpy guys with developed chests and raspy voices, and to skinny, femme-y twinks the arcs of whose contours, from the neck to the hips, for all intents and purposes describe a straight line. There are bois with long, limpid hair who leave me weak at the knees, and guys with crew-cuts who almost make me want to bottom.

What makes me uneasy is the hyper-masculine — the strut and attitude that says, This is how a man looks, and acts, faggot. Fun for fantasy and role-play, perhaps, but in real-life, machismo is a crashing boor. And a pose, as much as the drag-queen who dolls himself up to look like Cher except that in her case, she’s playing out a conscious, gender-kidding performance — and she knows it, and wants you to share it, and enjoy it for what it is. In the case of the uber-male, what I see, aside from arrogance and condescension, is barely concealed horror, even if it’s far from conscious.

Such men can, if they are endowed with enough good looks and curves in the right places, attract plenty of erotic attention, but they’re as phony as a queer dollar-bill. It’s why so many heterosexual men are such eye-rolling bores — and boors: They live in terror of being thought (gasp!) feminine, are convinced every gay man who as much as crosses their paths is secretly slathering at their image, and dwell in perpetual terror of the erotic possibilities of their anuses. Why does it take so much persuasion by bright, open-minded women, to get their men to even consider an anal toy or a forefinger up their butts? “If I like it, I’ll be gay! I’ll be (ptttuuiii!) a woman!”

No, boys. Most of us fags don’t want to be women… although we may admire many women, and be comfortable integrating our twin-spirit gender identities. We like our cocks and our balls too much to lose them, thanks all the same. We like what they do, and what can be done with them. And it will perhaps further shock you to know that some of us — maybe a whole lot of us — don’t like being penetrated. We’re tops, not because we feel superior to bottoms, or because we’re terrified of being thought less than utterly perfectly wonderfully masculine, but because we’re physically uncomfortable with a penis in our rectums. Period. And, trust me, we’re not walking around with endless erections over your splendors. Get over yourselves.

And while we’re at it, narrow-minded queers can get over themselves too. No one says we have to be, or to look, or to behave, one way or another or another, unless we’re comfortable doing or being or behaving so. I don’t swish and I’m not sure I could camp if my life depended on it. I don’t say that with any pride, or implicit contempt for those who can, and do. It’s just a fact of me. If the fact of you is that you’re a little nelly, or even very nelly, so be it; I’m old enough to have lived through that awful “clone look,” and style, of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. It was a sexless, because over-sexed, bore, and it more or less permanently turned me off of facial hair. Especially mustaches.

My libido embraces all kinds and types of gay (and a few straight) guys. Some are athletic and toned, some are willowy and supple. Some look as though they’d fuck you until you could barely move, and some suggest by their looks and attitudes that they’d speak with pronounced lisps and wave their wrists around more than Bette Davis on a bad day. I love them either way. I love them in every way.

Meanwhile, I’ll let Blake Edwards’ Toddy have the last word…

Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts, there are different men, who act in different ways.

Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.

Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women… and vice versa.

Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.

Toddy: Name one.

Victoria: Peeing standing up.

Toddy: There’s absolutely no rule that says a man can’t sit down.

Victoria: Men have Adam’s apples.

Toddy: So do some women.

Victoria: Name one.

Toddy: Nana Lanoux.

Victoria: Nana Lanoux? Who’s she?

Toddy: The last woman I slept with.

Victoria: When was that?

Toddy: The night before the morning I decided to become a homosexual!

Victoria: Did Miss Lanoux have a big Adam’s apple?

Toddy: Like — a — coconut!

— From the Victor/Victoria screenplay by Blake Edwards

All other text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Gay History, Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism, Personal Essay

I didn’t buy it for the articles: After Dark magazine, ca. 1978-79

By Scott Ross

Actually, the articles on theatre, movies and literature were often quite good. But I discovered After Dark magazine, at 17, because my best friend, with whom I was desperately in love, turned me on to it. (He also, through my intense attraction to him, helped me codify what I’d been feeling about other boys for so long. It was not a self-revelation he relished, but that’s another story, as they say, for another time.)

Michael and I bought our copies of After Dark at the newsstand (anyone remember those?) across from the North Carolina State University campus, and compared our reactions to the (many) photos of hot young guys in various states of undress. Michael liked the athletic ones; I preferred the boyish boys. I still do.

After Dark June 1978 5396949394_cfd2d16942

The June 1978 issue featured  piece on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, which I was lucky enough to see a year and a half later, on my first trip to New York. Anne Reinking was out that matinee, as was her wont. But there were plenty of great dances to watch, and gorgeous dancers. Especially Timothy Scott. Who would, alas, be dead 9 years later.

Although After Dark was not specially gay — it evolved, curiously enough, from Ballroom Dance magazine(!) — each issue was chockful of homoerotic photos, and its subtitle, The Magazine of Entertainment, certainly made it of interest to a gay male audience. Some have said that the emergence of an unfettered gay press (The Advocate, Christopher Street) made After Dark, begun in 1968, a victim of its own times, and timidity. But there was plenty to recommend it to teenage gay boys like Michael and me. Where else, at our age, could we have gotten our sweaty hands on a magazine with so many sexy, gorgeous (and undressed) young men in it? After Dark, like my well-thumbed paperback copies of The Front RunnerThe City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge, fueled my 17-year old’s masturbatory fantasies quite nicely, thank you.

Among my favorite After Dark images, which still reside in a clip folder in my filing cabinet:

Bluth-Toby4

Accompanying an interview with “Toby” Bluth (brother of the animator Don) was this beautiful sketch. Three or four years later I would be in love with another young man, allegedly straight, who looked very much like Toby’s sexy boy, right down to the long blond mane.

David Vance - Innocence

This ad for David Vance’s lithographs ran in issue after issue. I wanted this boy badly at 17.

Peter Reed SF's Pacific Ballet principal Duncan IMG

Kenn Duncan’s photos of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. Above, Peter Reed, principal dancer with San Francisco’s Pacific Ballet.

John Meehan American Ballet principal Duncan IMG_0003

Kenn Duncan’s incredibly erotic portrait of American Ballet principal dancer John Meehan was an instant turn-on for me. I used his magnificent ass for fantasy fodder more times over the years than I can count.

Duncan dancer IMG

A Kenn Duncan portrait of another principal dancer of the period. I’ve lost the caption, so I don’t know who he is, or with which company he danced. But his laughing face, and the position in which Duncan photographed him, so indicative of how I wanted to find this boy in my bedroom, revved my adolescent engine into overdrive.

There’s a great deal to be said for openness, in life, in art and in glossy magazines; I wouldn’t go back to those days of fumbling subterfuge for anything. And yet, After Dark, for all of its reticence, was the right publication at the right moment for a generation trembling on the cusp of full sexual integration. It served its purpose. It certainly provided a safe erotic outlet for this anxious adolescent. However coy it may have been, it holds a special place in my heart for that.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Personal Essay

Louis and the Angels

“His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists — utterly and entirely — of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn’t it curious?”  ― Mark TwainLetters from the Earth

By Scott Ross

I was christened a Presbyterian, converted against all odds (and my own, buried agnosticism) to the Catholic faith, got myself ex-communicated, and eventually grew to embrace my nascent atheism. I have, as Twain might have said, only a vague curiosity about any sort of an afterlife and neither belief, nor any interest whatsoever, in the Christian concept of Paradise. But one thing I know to be true.

If there is a Heaven, and Pops ain’t there, I ain’t staying anyway.

Louis Armstrong, 1960, photographed by Herb Snitzer

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Personal Essay

What’s so bad about being nice?

By Scott Ross

“Nice” is now considered an overused, some would say ambiguous, word. I don’t mean “nice” as a substitute for “I can’t think of anything to add to your anecdote but I have to punctuate it with something” or because you don’t want to say what you’re actually thinking, or as a buzzword for everything teenagers think is impressive. I’m referring to “nice” as an adjective to describe another human being. Perhaps a case can be made that it is too indistinct, and too (to employ another meaning of the word) wanton in its overuse. And it may well be that I am merely over-sensitive to my own paucity of verbal imagination. But there a many people of whom I am very fond, and toward whom my use of the word does not seem — and is certainly not meant as— pejorative.

The men and women I think of, and describe as “nice,” are amiable, pleasant, agreeable, thoughtful, goodhearted and good-natured. They are courteous, they’re polite, they’re warm, they’re friendly. They have, and exhibit, tact and grace. Above all they are kind. Kind when they needn’t be expected to exhibit kindness; kind in the face of rudeness, thoughtless, and indifference. Kind to everyone equally. They are not fools, although “foolish” is another definition of “nice.”

Perhaps the fault lies less with the word itself than with the world we have made around it. In a culture — and I can only speak of America as it is the only culture I know intimately — that has become increasingly crass, loud, obnoxious, rude, thoughtless and aggressive, perhaps it’s the qualities that make one “nice” are themselves undervalued rather than the word itself.

Mind you, I am not referring to phoniness masquerading as decency. My bitter conclusion concerning many, if not most, ardent Jesus Christers after a lifetime of observation, is that they behave in ways they believe to be proper out of a basic terror that they will deny themselves a Heavenly reward, whereas most atheists perform good works merely because doing so is right and honorable and humane in itself. No further recompense is necessary. The same may be said, in my experience, of many devout Jews.

No, I mean those people one knows, considers friends, is related to, works with, or merely chances upon, often behind the counters of one’s neighborhood grocery store, who are simply and genuinely nice. Who would no sooner think of pushing you down in order to be the first in the door at a WalMart Black Friday sales event than they would of whacking their aged mothers across the back of the head with a ball-peen hammer. Some believe that manners are love. Audrey Hepburn’s mother, the Baroness Heemstra, impressed upon her daughter that manners were a kindness.

If it was good enough for Audrey Hepburn…

A paradigm: One afternoon this past summer I walked into a waiting elevator at my place of employment. Understand that in our elevators, as in most these days, are two sets of floor buttons, one on either side of the doors. As I was standing to the left and punching the button for my floor, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman hurried forward from the lobby. I held the door for her. She did not say “Thank you.” What she did say, as she entered the car and stood on the right side of it, was, “Fourth floor, please.”

I replied, as pleasantly as I could, “There’s a set of buttons on your side.”

She snorted an incredulous laugh. She was, obviously, taken aback that anyone would speak to her that way — that a mere peon would react to her imperious commands in any way other than to obey them.

Yes, I know: I could have pushed the button on my side for her. And had she asked me nicely (that word again) I might have done so, and then pointed out, politely, the set of buttons in front of her, on her side of the car. Understand that she was carrying nothing. Her hands were free. She was not in any way physically debilitated. Had she been overburdened with packages or briefcases or binders, or been pulling one of those wheeled suitcase-carrier thingies, I certainly would have pushed that button. What she was, I suspect (in common with all too many people in our building these days) was a Republican appointee who assumes that lowly, under-dressed, non-aligned State workers such as myself are not worth wasting consideration on. They won the election. They’re in charge now, thank you. Why should they be expected to be nice on top of that? And why shouldn’t they be able to call out their floors and expect us to fall all over ourselves to push their goddamn elevator buttons?

What I did not do — much as I desperately wanted to — was point out to this harpy that if she looked she might notice I was not wearing a braided uniform and a cute little bellboy’s cap. That her manners were appalling. That I was not in the building to be ordered about merely because she was better dressed, and better-heeled, than I, and worked on a higher floor. And that she might, if she possibly could, take a few moments out of her busy day and contemplate what was, to her, the clearly alien concept of common civility. I did not say, as I wished to, “I don’t care who got you your sinecure, lady. I’m not your trained monkey.” But I didn’t do her snottily commanded bidding either.

I think I’m fairly nice. But I’m not that nice.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation, Comics, Personal Essay

Remembered with fondness: The “Milton the Monster” opening sequence

By Scott Ross

For them as is interested, here’s the rather stylishly rendered opening of the (long-forgotten by most) Milton the Monster Saturday morning cartoon show, from 1965; it ran until 1968. The series was created by Hal Seeger, who also produced the new Out of the Inkwell series in the early 1960s, which was my introduction to Max and Dave Fleischer’s Koko the Klown.

At five I relished Count Kook’s request (“When the stirring’s done, may I lick the spoon?”)

Milton and his gruesome cohorts put me somewhat in mind of Little Lulu writer/layout man (and occasional artist) John Stanley’s wonderful contemporaneous Dell comic, Melvin Monster. Like Milton, Melvin was a decent sort in a world of malevolent bugaoboos, his misadventures filtered through the same macabre sense of humor that informed Stanley’s Old Witch Hazel stories in the Lulu comics.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation, Personal Essay

The bloom is off the rose: The Saturday morning cartoons of my youth in decline, 1969 – 1972

By Scott Ross

Partly as a result of getting older, I suspect, the allure of Saturday morning cartoons began to abate somewhat as I turned eight. But only partly. I was still wild about animation (even the “limited” sort Chuck Jones once astutely termed “illustrated radio”), still spent my allowance on comic books, still went to every Disney movie that opened, and still listened largely to cartoon-related records. But the Great Moment was ending, and I think I sensed it. From the highs of Jonny Quest and The Banana Splits and The Mighty Heroes, there were more and more items like Hot Wheels, which — quite rightly — brought the ire of the FCC down on the network. And there was worse yet to come.

1969. Old Business: The previous season Bugs Bunny moved from ABC to CBS, and was coupled with the Road Runner series under the omnibus heading The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, alleviating my 12-noon, which-should-I-watch? conundrum. Whew.

New Business: The networks took their Saturday morning fare very seriously in those days. Each typically ran a 30-minute promo on the Friday evening before unveiling their new shows. On one memorable Friday night in 1969, CBS aired not only their promo piece but a full half-hour pilot for what it was obviously expecting to be its breakout hit that year. More on that anon.

I was more interested in a few other items on the slate. First, one of two Hanna-BarberaWacky Races spin-offs, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. The voice of the villain was provided by my favorite Bewitched warlock and Hollywood Squares regular, Paul Lynde. The fact that my family had just moved from Canton, Ohio to Mt. Vernon, birthplace of the then-ubiquitous Mr. Lynde, was serendipity.

Penelope seems dubious. Perhaps she knows something about Paul Lynde? (Who, if they had eyes and ears and a little imagination, DIDN’T?)

The other was Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, a strange series revolving around Dick Dastardly attempts to shot down a carrier pigeon during World War I (“Stop that pigeon! Stop that pigeon!”) “abetted” by, to paraphrase MAD magazine, a gang of the usual idiots. Since D.D. was voiced by Paul Winchell, using the same voice he’d employed in Wacky Races, his “side” didn’t seem to have been the Germans. But he could hardly have represented the Allies, especially as he’s clearly the villain of the piece, and is always foiled. See what I mean when I say it was strange? Still, I loved it. One of my most vivid memories of that time is walking back home from the YMCA on a bitterly cold December Saturday and finding my DDandMITFM Fan Club package in the day’s mail.

The other new show that tickled my fancy was a rare live-action series, The Monkees. Of course at the time I had no notion of just how ersatz and pre-fabricated the band was, or how determinedly the people behind the group (among them Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider) aped The Beatles in their feature films. But I suspect that, even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. I found them, and their show, cheerful, charming, and fun, from their famous “Monkees Walk” to their under-cranked antics. And it certainly didn’t hurt that their British component was the adorable former chorus-boy Davy Jones.

The show that CBS had pinned its hopes on turned out to be its big winner that year, but I found Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! a let-down. I liked the big, dumb Great Dane (memorably voiced by H-B stalwart Don Messick in the manner of Daws Butler’s Snuffles character from the old Quick Draw McGraw series, especially in Scooby’s adoration of “Scooby-Snacks”) and the first image of the main title gave me chills: Bats screaming from a prototypical haunted-house. Oh, boy! But in the pilot, as in every single episode after, the plot’s seeming phantasmagoria turned out to hold (yawn) a logical, and all too human, explanation. Like most children, I loved the eerie, the creepy, the ghastly, the ghostly. I wanted to be scared. I wanted ghouls. I wanted blood-thirsty monsters. Not guys running around in rubber spook suits. For this 8-year old viewer, Scooby-Doo violated my expectations in the most prosaic fashion. I continued watching the show, but for the characters (such as they were) and for the cute blond Freddy, not for the series itself, its lame mysteries, or its anti-spectral solutions.

The Mystery, Inc. gang has been the collective victims of countless Internet porn spoofs… especially Shaggy and Fred.

The NBC line-up continued to be great fun. I remember tearing this promo spread from a Heckle and Jekyll comic; although I thought the artwork was strange, even crude, something about it appealed to and intrigued me.

Along with the returning Banana Splits and Underdog, the most enjoyment was to be had with two new NBC series. The Pink Panther Show provided a forum for airing the Friz Freleng/David DePatie-produced theatrical Panther shorts, along with new ones, including a curious series called The Aardvark and the Ant in which a Dean Martin sound-alike emmet is menaced, Wile E. Coyote style, by a Jackie Masonesque anteater. (The Inspector shorts followed later.) But the cream of the crop was the genuinely bizarre Sid and Marty Krofft offering, H.R. Pufnstuf.

Pufnstuf was a comic fairy-tale in which a cute adolescent (the adorable Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger of Oliver!) washes up on an island populated by costumed characters, led by a Southern-accented dragon. Jimmy is perennially pursued by the ineffectual camp villain Witchipoo (Billie Hayes) because she wants her talons on the magical talking flute the boy carries in his pocket(!) There was also a big frog in a derby who looked like she wandered in from a Bob Fosse musical, evil trees, talking alarm-clocks and a sneezing house. It was crazy, atrocious, and enchanting.

1970. Hanna-Barbera continued exercising its pop music bent with two new shows, Josie and the Pussycats and The Harlem Globetrotters. Filmation likewise mutated The Archies (Archie’s Funhouse Fetauring the Giant Juke Box) and the Kroffts followed up the quasi-musical H.R. Pufnstuf with The Bugaloos, a bunch of adolescent insect musicians menaced by yet another wacky wiccan, this time played by Martha Raye, on NBC. The Archie Andrews universe also gave birth to Sabrina and the Groovie Ghoulies, fright-show refugees who (naturally) have their own rock band.

Josie, which looked like an animated Hefner fantasy, at least had the distinction of having an integrated trio. The Bugaloos was also integrated. I wonder why I don’t remember how cute John Philpott was.

I’d loved watching the real Harlem Globetrotters on television, and I enjoyed seeing them on Saturday mornings, even in lousy Hanna-Barbera animation and saddled with dumb plots and a little old (white) lady bus driver. They also sang, quite well (especially Meadowlark Lemon) and the eventual Harlem Globetrotters television soundtrack LP is still a cheery, funky delight.

Meanwhile, over at ABC…

While I was looking forward to Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please… Sit Down! (and which I now scarcely recall…)

…the winner of the bizarro sweepstakes that year was decidedly Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. Almost indescribable, LLSC starred a cast of costumed primates playing out a Cold War satire and riding around on chopped motorcycles complete with training wheels, with the lead’s voice performed a la Humphrey Bogart.

A part of me finds this sort of thing cruel now, but at the time it amused me no end.

1971. I continued to spend now-wasted hours in front of the tube on Saturdays at 10, but with an increasing loss of enthusiasm. Even comic books, my mainstay since the age of four, had begun to pall on me, what with paltry narratives and indifferent artwork. (The obvious exceptions being those featuring reprints, such as Uncle Scrooge.) The magic was waning.

The new Pebbles and Bam-Bam Show was mildly intriguing. Even more interesting than the teenage versions of the Flintstones’ and the Rubbles’ somewhat bland offspring — their sidekicks were quirkier, and more fun — was the fact that they were voiced by Sally Struthers and Jay North.

Archie’s world was re-jiggered yet again, with the utterly weird Archie’s TV Funnies. I was a comic strip maven, so I enjoyed it, but it’s hard to fathom that the Filmation team imagined 1970s kids would be turned on by animated versions ofNancy and Sluggo, Moon Mullins, The Katzenjammer Kids (or The Captain and the Kids, as it was known) and Smokey Stover. Broom Hilda was at least current, but Russell Meyers’ strip was far funnier, savvier, more clever, and better drawn, than what showed up on this curious piece of mishegoss.

The finest new show, hands-down, was not a cartoon but a revival of a 1950s series. You Are There dramatized historical events, and was hosted by Walter Cronkite. I still recall many of its episodes, notably the disappearance of Amelia Erhart, the incapacitation of Woodrow Wilson, and the confirmation of the Zimmerman telegraph. Instructive, never condescending, always intelligent, they brought history to life in a most immediate and engaging manner.

One of Hanna-Barbera’s endless sausage-factory entries this season was Help! It’s the Hair-Bear Bunch! which the author of the venerable TVParty.com site succinctly regards as “stupid beyond belief.”

1972. The Kroffts returned again, this time with Lidsville. Starring another of my early crushes, the erstwhile Eddie Munster, Butch Patrick, the show also featured former Witchipoo Billie Hayes as Weenie the Genie. But the greatest pull was the villain: The great Charles Nelson Reilly, described by TVParty.com as “the biggest queen ever to parade across the Saturday morning screens.”

The most pleasing of the new cartoons this season — the only good one, really — was without doubt Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Hosted by Bill Cosby and based in part on his childhood memories, and the use of them in his stand-up comedy LPs of the 1960s, the show gave voice (and presence) to urban black youth for the very first time on Saturday morning. The characters were quirky, funny and engaging, and while there were what I think of as Dread Moral Lessons in each episode, the series, which ran for 13 years, was often marvelous. Far above the Filmation norm… although I saw what might be regarded as the pilot, the 1969 Hey, Hey, Hey! It’s Fat Albert, when it first aired and it seemed to me that the characters, in their slicker Filmation incarnations, lost more than a little style and a great deal of soul, in the process.

This was the last year I really cared to sit around watching the Saturday morning shows, at least without something else to do… a pad to draw in, something to write, maybe a comic book. My interests were changing (novels, as opposed to comics, for example.) I was certainly changing. But the endless party was coming to a close. The shows were becoming cuter (The Smurfs, The Care Bears) and more opportunistic (The Jackson 5ive first, then The OsmondsThe Brady Kids and finally, the nadir, The Partridge Family 2200 A.D.) It wasn’t enough to engage a halfway intelligent adolescent mind (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and certainly a plunge into the abyss after the highs of my childhood.

One pleasant after-note: In 1971, The CBS Children’s Film Festival officially joined the Saturday line-up. Although, curiously, it was not on the official schedule until then, I had been enjoying the show (presumably in syndication) since the mid-to-late ’60s, drawn initially by its hosts, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, but held by the many splendid movies that followed the opening segment. The films themselves had charm and appeal, and while they were often about troubled youths in difficult circumstances in foreign climes, they never felt didactic or moralistic. And they had, in KF&O, the perfect, gentle hosts. Naturally, the Kuklapolitans were eventually axed by CBS, like Captain Kangaroo on weekday mornings.

The party was definitely over.

Thanks once again to http://www.tvparty.com/sat.html for so much of the information gleaned for this essay.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation, Personal Essay

A consummate groove: The Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, 1966 – 1968

By Scott Ross

In the 28 December 1968 installment of his “The Glass Teat” column for the Los Angeles Free Press, Harlan Ellison copped to being “a devout Saturday morning cartoon watcher,” noting in the nomenclature of the time, parsed as only he would, that the then-current network offerings were “a consummate groove.” I know what he meant.

Although my conscious memory stretches back, improbable as it might seem, to the age of one or two, I date my memory of that cherished ritual of the TeeVee Generation — rising before mom and dad bestirred themselves, bolting down a bowl of Coco-Puffs (or Rice Crispies or Cap’n Crunch or whatever the breakfast cereal du jour might have been) in the kitchen (we were not allowed to eat in the living room except on TV trays, and then only on special occasion) and plunking ourselves down in front of the tube for the next several hours — to 1966. I was five then, and already cartoon-mad. For roughly the next six years, as my tastes evolved and the glories of the form began first to magnify and expand and then to cheapen and recede inexorably, the cathode box was my companion, my babysitter, my best friend.

Thanks to TVParty.com http://www.tvparty.com/sat.html I have lately been able to reconstruct the full panoply of those (mostly animated) delights that held me rapt, and kept me out of my mother’s hair, for roughly four or five hours every Saturday morning during those years.

1966. Some lunatic called Ralph Bakshi, of whom I would learn more later, came up with a crazed entry for CBS called The Mighty Heroes, consisting of Diaper Man, Tornado Man, Strong Man, Rope Man and (my favorite) Cuckoo Man. My memory of the show is a bit vague, but those wild character designs remain vivid.

The TTV-Leonardo folks, meanwhile, who had previously given us King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, came up with their own wonky superhero, Underdog. Voiced by Wally Cox, of all people, his transformation from shy, retiring Shoeshine Boy to intrepid do-gooder was accompanied by the immortal cry, “There’s no need to fear: Underdog is here!” I can still recall his sweetheart, Polly Purebread, performing a song called “Let’s Bongo Congo.” Why? Beats me.

Over on ABC, vintage Warner Bros. cartoons were re-packaged under the rubric Porky Pig and Friends, featuring a truly ugly main title sequence.

As Porky ran opposite the Hanna-Barbera Atom Ant, I rarely saw him until the network moved him to Sunday morning. My first school lunchbox featured this formican wonder-worker. Hanna-Barbera had a second offering on ABC, Secret Squirrel; he and his co-hort, Morocco Mole, were on the flip-side of the Atom Ant lunchbox, along with a character I barely remember, the somewhat unsettling Squiddly Diddly. I recall with far greater alacrity Atom Ant‘s Precious Pup for his wheezing snicker, which H-B, never a pair to be shy about beating any gag into the ground and on to China, used for several other canine characters over the ensuing years.

“Up and at ’em, Atom Ant!”

Cashing in on the phenomenal popularity of a certain mop-topped quartet of Liverpudlians, ABC gave us The Beatles in Filmation form. The songs were theirs, but their voices were provided by Paul Frees (John, George) and Lance Percival (Paul, Ringo.) Like, too mod!

Milton the Monster is, sadly, forgotten now. But I recall him fondly; I was especially taken with Count Kook’s request, “When the stirring’s done, may I lick the spoon?”

“I’m Milton, your brand-new son!”

The Jetsons was one of many attempts by Hanna-Barbera to replicate their success in prime-time with The Flintstones. It ran a single season, but found life in perpetuity on Saturday mornings. As an adult, I was amused to discover the Joe McDoakes series of comedy shorts starring George O’Hanlon, the voice of George Jetson.

“Help! Jane! Stop this crazy thing! Help! Jane!”

Noon was a time of deep frustration. On CBS, there was The Road Runner Show with its catchy (albeit all too ’60s) theme song and Chuck Jones-designed main titles. Over at ABC, The Bugs Bunny Show, featuring the immortal “On with the show, this is it” opening and “Starring that Oscar-winning rabbit, Bugs Bunny.” And on NBC, Bob Kane’s Cool McCool with its own hip theme song (“Danger is his business.”) I must have driven myself slightly nuts deciding between this trio of mouth-watering entities.

A Virgil Ross model sheet for Wile E. Coyote.

Cool McCool.

I suspect I switched from the Cool McCool opening to Bugs and then back and forth between the bunny and the Road Runner. The choices! They could drive a poor child mad!

Since my parents never owned a color set until after I left home at the age of 19, this is how I saw everything while I was growing up.

Magilla Gorilla ran after that, briefly, followed by Tom and Jerry, which also eventually ended up as a Sunday morning offering. As I’ve grown older I have less and less admiration for those early Hanna-Barbera shorts, as beautifully animated as most of them are. But I still love it when Tom gasps.

1967. One of the occasional pleasures for a comic book aficionado in the mid-’60s was the seasonal appearance, usually in two-page centerfold spread, of ads touting a network’s new fall Saturday morning offerings. I used to pull these from my comics and keep them in a growing cache of newspaper and other clippings.

Very few of the new ’67 shows appealed to me especially. My comics of choice were of the “funny animal” variety: Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck, Looney Tunes characters, Hanna-Barbera, the Harvey comics. Superheroes bored me then, as indeed they do now. I remember Spiderman mostly for its theme-song, but I suppose I must have watched a few of the others, simply because they made up the bulk of the offerings on all three networks, broken up only by The Flintstones, Atom Ant and another failed Hanna-Barbera attempt at prime-time, the Bilko-like Top Cat. Another catchy theme song in that, one that was cannibalized years later by the makers of the exuberantly, hilariously offensive Queer Duck.

Top Cat! / The most effectual / Top Cat! / Who’s intellectual…

The two standouts that season were polar opposites. One was completely new, the other yet one more Hanna-Barbera prime-time cast-off that ran a single season. One was the product of two of the most inventive, even subversive, minds ever to work in the field of television cartoons, forever pushing the boundaries between adult sensibility and childish humor; the other the natural outgrowth of comic book adventure tropes geared to pre-adolescent boys.

George of the Jungle issued from Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the inspired loons behindRocky and Bullwinkle. In it, an inept erstatz Tarzan (“Watch out for that… treeeee!”) disported himself with a gorilla who sounded suspiciously like Ronald Coleman, and a jungle maiden named Ursula (shades of Miss Andress), whom George called “Fella.” In between their escapades were the adventures of Henry Cabot Henhouse III, aka Super Chicken, and the stalwart racer Tom Slick. It was wild, unpredictable, full of outrageous puns and inexplicable sight-gags. And, as with Rocky and Bullwinkle, one enjoys it even more as an adult than one did as a child.

George’s polar opposite, Jonny Quest, was straight-up action-adventure, usually in “exotic” climes and often with supernatural, or seemingly supernatural, forces at work: Mummies, werewolves, terrifying globs of invisible energy, gargoyles, kimodo dragons, spider-like one-eyed robots and, in one especially memorable episode, a pterodactyl. It was a curiously homoerotic enterprise, what with Jonny’s widowed father Dr. Quest, his factotum, the humpy Race Bannon, Jonny, and the group’s Indian ward, Hadji and, aside from the mysterious Jade, no women or girls to speak of. The character designs were by the comics artist Doug Wildey. The astonishing, big-band driven theme was by Hoyt Curtin, and Jonny himself constituted my very first crush. Typical of me, I suppose, that the first boy I fell in love with was a cartoon character.

Doug Wildey’s model sheet for Johnny Quest.

1968.

TTV came up with Go-Go Gophers, an Indian Wars satire more or less on the level of F-Troop. The Natives may have been visually offensive, but the White Man was represented by bumbling foxes led by the incomparably inane Colonel Kit Coyote, so I suppose there was something here to offend everyone.

Hanna-Barbera weighed in with the truly bizarre Wacky Races, in which a platoon of improbable vehicles and their alternately weird and/or creepy drivers, vied each week to out-smart, and out-villainize, each other. The lead stinker was the superbly malevolent Dick Dastardly (voice by Paul Winchell) who seems to have been designed after Jack Lemmon’s Professor Fate in The Great Race. His side-kick, Muttley, inherited Precious Pup’s wheezy chortle.

Also making their debut were The Archies, Filmation’s adaption of the Archie Andrews comics, in which the teens had, naturally, their own band. They even got a Top 40 hit (“Sugar, Sugar”) out of it.

Best of the… er… bunch… though, was the Hanna-Barbera produced The Banana Splits. Four costumed nut-cases (the character designs were by Sid and Marty Krofft, and Fleagle was voiced by Paul Winchell) danced, cavorted, engaged in slapstick, played pop songs, and hosted animated shorts (The Three Musketeers, The Hillbilly Bears, Arabian Nights, Micro Venture) and a live-action cliff-hanger called Danger Island! whose catch-phrase (“Uh-oh… Chongo!”) became ubiquitous. The Banana Splits theme (“The Tra-La-La Song”) was pretty nifty too.

I was wild about this show. I had Banana Splits hand-puppets, Banana Splits comics, and was a Banana Splits Fan Club member. Somehow, I missed the two 45 rpm EPs. Well, one can only eat so much sugared cereal.

Curiously, I didn’t recall that Danger Island featured a much later crush, the impossibly pulchritudinous blond beach-bum Jan-Michael Vincent. Perhaps I was too distracted by Jonny Quest to notice. But with that boy running around half-naked and being a part of such jaw-dropping homoerotic images as the above, I’m shocked it all went past me so easily.

[Stay tuned, boys and girls! Part Two comes your way next!]

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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