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The Prince on the Silver Screen, Part 6

by Caspar Wintermans in Films & Books , 09 augustus 2015

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

The rise of the porn movie closely coincided with that of television. Around 1945, about seventy-eight million cinema tickets were sold in a week. A quarter of a century later, the number had dropped to sixteen million because of competition from this new medium. Cinema owners wondered how they could turn the tide, and understood that they had to offer something audiences could not see on television: sex. Gay productions were only a fraction of what was being produced in this line of business; films such as “Boys in the Sand” didn’t get many viewings from straight people, of course, and would not have contributed a lot to the positive revision of the average American’s perception of homosexuals. This educational task had to be performed by television.

The couple Richard and Esther Shapiro are to be merited for creating a lead for a charming young man who is attracted to men in the soap “Dynasty.” None of the networks had ever dared to, and Aaron Spelling, who was producing the show for ABC, was warned that many a viewer would stop watching the show. But the opposite was true.

‘Steven is Gay’
“Dynasty” aired from 1981 in an attempt to outshine “Dallas.” In its nine seasons - 220 episodes! - “Dynasty” follows the ups and down of the Denver family of oil baron Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), who is married to his broad-shouldered and blonde secretary Krystle Grant Jennings (Linda Evans). This marriage very much displeases Blake’s ex-wife Alexis Morell (Joan Collins), who would have cat fights with the blonde sex bomb wife in scenes that have become renowned, while cursing and clawing. Blake also has a conflict with his son Steven (initially played by Al Corley), who is critical of the way Blake is running his empire, while Blake cannot accept that Steven is gay. Furious, he wants to show this boyfriend Ted Dinard the door when he finds him in Steven’s bedroom, precisely at the moment they are saying goodbye forever. Blake and Ted struggle, and Ted hits his head against the mantelpiece and dies. Blake eventually is given a suspended sentence. Father and son later have a painful confrontation in the presence of the entire family, including the major-domo.

Steven: “My love for [Ted] was no accident. It was decent, it was honorable. But you [Blake] wouldn’t accept that. No, you had to make me over, to fit your image of a Carrington.”
Blake: “I wanted you to be a man.”
Steven: “I am a man! Just not your kind. You know, I’m finally facing up to something here. I tried to live a lie, to please you. Not anymore. From now on, I’m going to live my life my way. I’m a homosexual, Dad. I’m gay. And I want you to face it. And say it. Say it! ‘Steven is gay.’”

There is a long silence. Steven’s sister Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) then breaks the silence and says: “Steven is gay.” The background music makes it very clear to whom our sympathy goes out to; to the very idealistic and educated young man, and not to the pragmatic father who is fixated on profit. The expressions of support came in immediately. In the documentary “Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar” (2006), Al Corley says that he was flooded with letters from gay men who wrote that they finally could talk to their parents about their sexuality, and that they could now refer to Steven Carrington’s character - that “Dynasty” gave them a point of reference that fulfilled a need. This scene was aired in the USA on April 28, 1982. The French audience, however, was presented with a censored, not to say mutilated version of the scene. The words: “I’m homosexual, I’m gay” were replaced by the synchronization department with: “I am sick, I am very sick.”

Al Corley decided to leave the series, to be replaced by Jack Coleman in the third series. The fact that Steven had married the scheming Sammy Joe Dean (Heather Locklear) and had begotten a child with her, disappointed a lot of gay people, but the writers didn’t try to transform the character to a straight one; they only showed how difficult it is for gays, even when they come out of the closet, to find their place in a society which is always communicating a dislike of their “deviant” lifestyles. Stephen’s attempts to conform completely fail; he stays who he was. Remarried now to the unstable Claudia Blaisdel (Pamela Bellwood), he fell head over heels in love with Luke Fuller in the fourth season.

No Gay Mannerisms for Luke

And many viewers with him! One wonders how many secondary school pupils and students across the world became aware, or more strongly aware of their hidden desires because of Alexis’ PR Assistant. This comes from first-hand experience; I was in my last year of grammar school when this smoothly shaven, crew-cut prince Charming in a suit made his appearance on “Dynasty.” I secretly admired him enormously. The twenty-five-year-old William Campbell had been selected for the part by Aaron Spelling. I’ve taken some memorable quotes from an interview with the actor in “The Ottawa Citizen” from December 12, 1984. The interviewer describes the actor as a rugged rugby player of one meter ninety-five centimeter and a hundred and ten kilogram. He is living with Virginia Madsen. A movie star. A woman.

“I’m playing Luke pretty straight,” Campbell says. “And I didn’t have any second thoughts about playing a gay as far as my career goes. It wouldn’t occur to me that anyone would associate the role with the actor. If they do make that assumption, they aren’t friends of mine. It’s their problem. Not mine. So far I haven’t had too many people take notice of the fact that I’m playing a homosexual. Gays don’t approach me any more than they did in the past. I can’t afford to turn down parts because I don’t agree with the type of character I’m asked to play; I can’t afford to turn down the money. I haven’t gone out of my way to assume any gay mannerisms for Luke. My voice naturally goes high sometimes. I touch a lot and use gestures when I talk. All those things may be considered to be effeminate by some people, but that doesn’t bother me now and it never has.” “In an upcoming scene,” the journalist postulates, “Campbell will be called upon to reveal some intimate sexual feelings for another man.” He admits it won’t be easy. “I have nothing to relate that to,” he says. “It’s foreign to me. But it’s a job and I will have to think in terms of that man as a woman I care about. My girlfriend, Virginia, has gone off to Yugoslavia for thirteen weeks [to play in a movie]. I’ll think about that long separation and that should help me be convincingly sad.”
Virginia was Campbell’s future ex. Clearly, the actor (still an inveterate bachelor by the way) needed to label himself as a practicing heterosexual. Nevertheless, within the limitations of the melodramatic scripts, he delivered a great performance. His part in “Dynasty” meant his break-through.
Steven is struggling with his sexuality, but Luke has fully accepted himself. He used to be married, but will not make the same mistake again. Steven, who works at the company run by Alexis (competing with Blake’s company), is confronted with the facts by his subordinate. His marriage to Claudia is a denial of his orientation. Claudia herself is not very pleased with her rival. She keeps entering her husband’s office when he is in a “compromising” situation, for instance when the helpful Luke is straightening Steven’s tie, or when Steven has just put his hand on Luke’s shoulder. “One of these days I’ll learn to knock!” she snarls, but in that respect she’s just as grim as Steven’s homophobic brother Adam (Gordon Thomson).

The experienced “Dynasty” viewer knows that the background door is always opened, and precisely at the moment the intruder is the last person in the world the people in the room want there. Those are the clichés of the soap opera; the more interesting thing is that Luke is portrayed as a kind and balanced young man who speaks wise words, something that hardly happened on television when it came to gay characters. In a reaction to Steven’s remark that he (Steven) is afraid of a relationship with Luke because it would not be considered “normal,” Luke says: “‘Normal’ is loving someone, Steven, sharing and giving, growing together. Not everyone is capable of love. Sometimes I think it’s a real gift. And if it is, what difference does it make whom you love? As long as you do love.” Torn between the increasingly grumpy Claudia and his handsome colleague, Steven comes to a decision after Adam (who is now after Claudia) has insulted him for the umpteenth time: he rings Luke’s doorbell, who is very surprised to see him.

Luke: “Steven! What do you want?”
Steven: “I have to talk to you, Luke.”
Luke: “Look - I’m not the one to help you sort out your problems with your wife.”
Steven: “I’m not asking you to. I’ve thought about us and... I know what I want to do... where I want to be... and with whom.”

The men look at each other knowingly. Steven then enters his apartment, and Luke closes the front door. What happens then is not screened, but the suggestion is very clear; they will be sleeping together. And when Steven announces in a later episode that he is moving in with his boyfriend, he says: “The world may disapprove, but I don’t give a damn about the world. Just about us.” This good news demands a physical expression, but a kiss was not in the cards yet. Luke hugs Steven and pats him on the back affectionately.

New Insights

There was a lot of kissing in “Dynasty,” and things became a lot more explicit in the final season, perhaps because of disappointing rates, but Steven was never allowed to kiss his boyfriends. In the company of his wives, Steven could walk around half-naked, but not in the company of his unfortunate lovers. Unfortunate, yes. Ted Dinard was accidentally killed by Blake, and Luke is riddled with bullets during a coup d’état in a European mini-state in which Alexis’ daughter Amanda is to marry the crown prince. The season ends with a cliff-hanger of bodies that are photogenically grouped. In the first episode of the next season, it is revealed that only two wedding guest did not survive the coup, and Luke is one of the unfortunate ones. He gets to say goodbye to Steven, who covers him with his cutaway jacket, a scene that perhaps refers to the gesture James Dean made in 1955 in “Rebel Without a Cause” to protect his friend, played by Sal Mineo, against the cold. Blake witnesses the scene and is moved by it. He recognizes that his disapproval of Steven’s homosexuality was a big mistake. “I thought,” he says, “you’d be happier living by my values. It was wrong of me. I can see now that your own values work as well for you as mine do for me.” The overriding multi-millionaire Blake Carrington has finally developed new insights.

Wedded Bliss
But why was Luke Fuller written out of the series? Was it because in 1985, the producers weren’t ready to have two men live together, with the young son of one of them, no less? Or was it William Campbell’s decision, who, in spite of his statements in the quoted interview was afraid that his career would be at risk because the audience would forever see him as “the homosexual on ‘Dynasty’”? Both answers are possible (Campbell played another gay man in “Tales of the City” and was completely naked in this series). Anyway, “Dynasty” had created a precedent. Thirty years later, gay character are not an exception any more in soap series, and with the recent opening up of marriage to same-sex couples, some men already got married in several series from more enlightened countries. In April 2014, for instance, Sonny Kiriakis (Freddy Smith) and Will Norton (Guy Wilson) got married in “Days of Our Lives,” an NBC series that started in 1965. The two are extremely popular in the USA, and the ceremony, which can be viewed on YouTube, illustrates how the homosexual has developed from a pathological pervert to an appreciated party animal. In the well-played scene, many a tear of joy is brushed away, and why not? In an imperfect world, there is always a need for feel good movies. Who would have thought one century ago that two men would present each other with a ring and would vow to be faithful and loyal in front of their families?

Will: “I never really thought about my future very much. It felt like my own skin was a coat that was too heavy, and even when I came out it wasn’t as though the coat suddenly fit, it was more like I finally understood why it never would. I didn’t believe that I would ever find any kind of love, let alone the love that I found with you. E.M. Forster once described love as ‘two imperfect souls coming together to create something close to perfection.’

That’s how I felt since the day that I met you. I respect you, I admire you, I adore you, but most of all, Sonny, I love you.”
And the woman who plays the marriage registrar ends the ceremony with the following wish: “May the love you share be the bond that brings you strength and comfort and joy all the days of your lives.” Amen!

Continuing Intolerance

Many will label “Days of Our Lives” as “popular culture,” as cheap entertainment, but the series undeniably has an educational, yes, even civilizing effect. Sonny and Will passionately kiss each other, on the sofa, on the dance floor, in bed and under the shower (compilations can also be found on YouTube), and if viewers with an irrational fear of homosexuals see this often enough, they might learn to overcome this fear. In our seemingly tolerant country, much still needs to be done in that respect, as Sipke Jan Bousema concluded when he talked to some secondary school pupils in Veenendaal about homosexuality for his documentary “Strijders voor de liefde” [Warriors for Love].

“When we watch homosexuals, we think it is disgusting,” one of the interviewed youth said. “When men kiss each other, how disgusting is that?”
“We don’t think that’s OK,” another boy stated.
Mr Bousema: “But I am gay, and I am here.” This lead to an expression to what used to be called “gesundes Volksempfinden”: “Yuck!”
But the boy was willing to explain his point of view in a way that is a credit to his teachers of Dutch and Religion: “God has created us in a way we can make children for offspring, and homosexuals cannot do that.”
“Imagine,” a classmate suggested, “that you have a friend who is suddenly gay?”
“I’ll simply stop seeing him,” was the answer.
This is how people think in the Dutch Bible Belt.
There is a lot to be done.

Part 7: Conclusion

The tread throughout the history of “gay film” is the fight for the acceptance of a minority by a majority that has difficulty dealing with the “deviant passions” of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, a struggle that didn’t get any easier with the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and strengthened many in their conviction that the God who is Love abhors eight to ten percent of his Children (“God hates fags”), a God who demonstrated His displeasure through the virus.

Nonetheless, much has changed for the good. Gay film festivals are now organized in Manilla, London, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Amsterdam, New York, Tel Aviv, Jakarta, and many other cities. An increasing number of actors and actresses are coming out of the closet without it negatively affecting their careers. In TV series such as “Queer as Folk,” of which there is both a British and a US version, gay men are portrayed who do not see their orientation as a reason for alcoholism or committing suicide. The genre of romantic comedies that make people laugh because of the situations gay people find themselves in, not because of their sexual orientation, is flourishing. This is an indication of great progress since the première of “Anders als die Andern” in 1919. But past results do not guarantee future developments.

The box office hit “Brokeback Mountain” was awarded with three Oscars in 2006. This was a joyful event, as earlier on, a film about two cowboys in love would not have been appreciated by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences in Hollywood. In China and the United Arab Emirates, the movie was banned. This is logical, as both atheist communists and fundamentalist Muslims do not like men who like men. The rejection by the Evangelicals in the USA, who scornfully referred to the movie as “Bareback Mountain” and made distasteful jokes about one of the main leads, Heath Ledger, when he died of drug intoxication, shouldn’t come as a surprise either. It is apparent that homophobia is still very much alive. For example in the “reconverted Russian Federation” (a term used by the “Katholiek Nieuwsblad” [Catholic Newspaper] to describe President Putin’s police state in an optimistic light), where official discrimination, the abuse and in some cases torture of gay people is becoming increasingly popular.

It doesn’t seem to alarm the Patriarch of Moscow. And in many African countries, where ultra-conservative religious groups from the USA are influencing the political agenda because of this American funding, dark clouds are forming for the gay communities in these countries. Also, the hope that the Vatican would start seeing “sodomites” in a more humane light, has now long gone.
As long as this situation doesn’t improve significantly, most of these films with gay themes will continue to reflect this tension in some way, and directors such as Haim Tabakman, who paints a penetrating picture of the isolation an orthodox Jew in Jerusalem finds himself in in “Eyes Wide Open” (2009), should be seen as warriors for love. The battle will be long and hard, but love will conquer all. Let’s make way for love. So, let’s make love like tigers until dawn.



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In the New Issue of Gay News, 326, October 2018

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