The Tin Man and the Lion: Unanswered Prayers

Every once in a while I find myself accidentally humming a Garth Brooks song called “Unanswered Prayers.” The gist of this 1991 country hit is that the singer runs into a girl he was in love with back in high school. At the time, he prayed to God Almighty that they would be together for the rest of their lives. Now he sees that time has not been kind to his old flame. He compares her to the hot babe he’s now got on his arm and thanks the Lord that he wasn’t saddled with that old mess for all those years. It’s really quite touching and heartfelt…. unless you are the first Mrs. Garth Brooks. He divorced her to marry Trisha Yearwood.

My life was at a crossroads when this little ditty was all over the radio. I was touring the country in a children’s theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. Previously, I had been working at Tower Records on Long Island and feeling rather lost after being cut from two different drama schools in the previous two years. I felt like I had twice slipped off the launchpad of my illustrious theatrical career. So there I was at 22 years old: depressed, living at my mother’s house, treading water in the old familiar pool of a record store.

One day at work I got a phone call from a former classmate who was now stage managing children’s theatre tours. He called to say that they needed a last-minute replacement for The Cowardly Lion in a Wizard of Oz tour, and could I be in Philadelphia to start rehearsals, tomorrow?

I had just come out of a meeting with my supervisor in which he told me I was doing an excellent job and if I kept up the good work, I would be moving up the record store hierarchy very soon. Now I had to go back into his office to clarify that the pro-company bullshit I had just shoveled at him was no longer relevant, and that he should start spreading the news, ‘cuz I’m leaving. Today.

I took off my polyester vest with the yellow and red name tag, headed down the yellow brick road and never looked back.

The 10 days of rehearsal were a blur. This was my first paying theatre gig, hired sight unseen and thrown in with people who actually auditioned and were cast in this show. I was a wreck. I hadn’t sang or danced in almost a year. I felt like I would be discovered as a fraud and fired before we even left Philly. Luckily I was playing the Cowardly Lion, so channeling that nervous energy wasn’t a broad stretch. I didn’t exactly transform into Bert Lahr, but I held my own. I worked my ass off to prove I belonged there. And it worked. Nobody had a clue how I got the job.

We hit the road and I soon learned that traveling in a non-union theatre tour is quite a unique experience. You get to know each other intimately in a very short period of time. Relationships develop. Alliances are formed and broken. It has all the drama of a reality show like Survivor or Big Brother, but in a van. This can be a nightmare situation with the wrong combination of people, as I would find out on subsequent tours. But this cast gelled well, onstage and off.

There were 9 of us floating from town to town – a microcosm in Glinda’s bubble. Together we weathered bad hotels, truck-stop food, common colds passed around the cast. We went to museums in Chicago, partied on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, broke down outside of Memphis, hit the beach in Miami, and got drunk… everywhere. We played venues ranging from a church basement in North Carolina to the opera house in Cleveland. I had never been to any of these places – some I still wish I could revisit, others I have no desire to see again.

The Tin Man caught my eye from the first day of rehearsal. Beneath the silver makeup was a golden boy: a blond-haired, blue-eyed dancer with a perfect rack of sparkling teeth. Truth be told, the boy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, and his singing voice…. well … it was kind of amazing: he had this uncanny ability to sound both sharp and flat at the same time.

But the boy had charisma. And when he started to dance, he lit up the stage. Your eyes would just go to him. It didn’t matter who else was there.

Besides his moves and physical appearance, he really was a golden boy in every way – a  positive energy that just lifted me up and made me feel good. I tend to dwell in darker places, so this rather simple ray of sunshine totally captivated me.

Yes, he was simple. That needs to be mentioned. There was no deep thought process going on there. Let’s just say he was unencumbered with a lot of brain activity. I tend to get stuck in my own head so this was the breath of fresh air I needed.

It’s such a cliché – the blond hair, the blue eyes… I’m sorry but I totally fell for it. Given my dark coloring and more cerebral tendencies – not that I was curled up in the back of the van reading poetry, but I knew the difference between Proust and Juliet Prowse – the whole “opposites attract” factor worked in my favor.

My odds of nabbing the Tin Man were certainly helped by our situation. But we did have an undeniable rapport – everyone could see what was going on between us before anything physical actually occurred. And it did. Before long, The Tin Man and I decided to take ourselves out of the cast’s hotel roommate rotation and shacked up together full-time. 

As the tour moved on and we passed through state after state, I began to meet different people from the Tin Man’s life. Ex-boyfriends, a potential new boyfriend he had put on hold until after the tour, the best girl-friend from home who had been in love with him since 8th grade…. with each new appearance, I’d get pushed aside until we headed to the next town. I’m afraid I did not react well to these situations, as I was reminded that the boy could have anyone he wanted, so why stick with me, other than the fact that I was on the tour? 

The thing was, he played the helpless card pretty well. There was a dependence on others that worked like a charm, whether counting change or picking out clothes to wear. He needed to have someone there to pay attention, to help, to do things for him.  I mistook this for a dependence on ME until I realized that this parade of people that passed through had all been in the position I currently held, and they were only too happy to jump back into that role when given the opportunity.

One day, I was having a conversation with the Wicked Witch, fairly oblivious to the feelings she may have had towards me. She was incredulous when I expressed my envy of our Tin Man. She was thoughtful for a minute and said, “Don’t you see? He is like… dessert. He’s strawberry shortcake. It’s delicious. Everyone wants it. But you can’t live on that. No nutritional value. You are……… a baked potato. It’s sturdy. A staple. It’s good for you. It’s not as showy as the strawberry shortcake, and people might not think to go for that initially – they want to go right for the dessert, but the baked potato is better for them.”

Now… I have repeated this to people through the years and it is always interesting to gauge the different reactions it elicits. Some perceive it as a total insult. Others “get it.” At the time she told me this, I got it. I understood what she was saying. It was not what I wanted to hear. I just wanted to continue gorging on the fucking dessert. But I got it.

Ah, the pain of hearing things you know are true but don’t want to hear. I remember, toward the end of the tour, we were in some Super 8 dive bar and the Tin Man slipped some money in the jukebox, which then started playing the aforementioned “Unanswered Prayers.” He was laughing and boozily sharp/flat singing it to the Wicked Witch. And she’s looking at me. And I realized that, as painful as it was to admit, the tour was ending and the golden boy would be gone. There was never any delusion that we would continue on together after the tour was over.  He had another theatre job lined up and I was…. what the hell was I going to do? Go back to Tower Records?

I was scared to death. This band of friends, this lifestyle that I had grown accustomed too, making a living doing what I loved… well, a children’s theatre version of it, anyway… it was all about to go away. This trip to Oz had opened my eyes to the possibilities of my life. And very soon I was going to land back in my own black and white Kansas. I didn’t want to wake up from my Technicolor dream. Wasting time in a suburban record store was no longer an option.

The tour ended, as they do. I got an apartment in New York City with Glinda the Good Witch – you can read more about that transition here. I was hired back for a Babes In Toyland tour with the same company that fall. It was a total nightmare. But while in rehearsal, I did meet The Scarecrow from another Wizard Of Oz tour. He was not a golden boy, but he did have a certain glow… He also had a brain and appreciated the value of a baked potato. We were together for 9 years. 

The Tin Man and I did end up working together again in summer stock the following year. By then, the spell had been broken. I had grown a lot and he had not. I saw him for the shallow, needy person that he really was. Yes, my heart would still flutter when he would gaze with those baby blues and smile that thousand-watt smile, but now they just seemed like tools in his arsenal: tactics to lure in the next “devotee du jour.” It was not necessarily calculated – just second-nature for him. I don’t think he had the capability to put that much thought behind it, even if he wanted to.

So he turned his attention elsewhere. And as I watched him work his golden magic on someone else, I’d hear the faint strains of a familiar song…. “Some of God’s greatest gifts… are Unanswered Praaaayers.”

John Waters In Blueboy Magazine (1977)

Back in January of 2020, I posted an article written by Armistead Maupin for the September, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine. I mentioned that this magazine was part of my collection of vintage male erotica that is large enough to choke a horse – file boxes full of smut that were gifted to me by an old friend when he vacated his New York City apartment after 30 years. I was slowly selling them off on eBay, but that door slammed shut earlier this summer when the company decided that they did not need all the unholy illicit dirty sticky revenue generated by adult items. As of July, they have completely eliminated their adult section.

Sidenote: If anyone can recommend a halfway reputable website to peddle my gay wares, I would be very grateful.

As the end of this selling opportunity drew near, many vendors starting unloading their products at a discounted rate.1Cover I went in the opposite direction: Rather than listing these publications for less than their worth, I chose to buy up even MORE magazines at a discount

One of these recent acquisitions was the November, 1977 issue of Blueboy Magazine which featured an interview with The Pope of Trash: filmmaker John Waters.

This interview was conducted just as Desperate Living was about to be released.

Madame Spivy: A Tropical Fish

This is the plea of a poor little tropical fish. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

Ladies and germs, it’s time once again to visit that celebrated lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe. To the uninitiated, allow me to get you up to speed:

Spivy (1906-1970) was a lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here:

The Alley Cat

The Tarantella

Auntie’s Face

100% American Girls

Today we will focus on A Tropical Fish. As with the previously mentioned Alley Cat, this song was co-written by Spivy with Jill “Billy” Rainsford. Both songs were featured on the 1939 78 record album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs By Spivy.

As with Auntie’s Face, Spivy begins this song with her trademark “It’s very sad and we must be very quiet” spoken intro before launching into the tune, which tells the story of a tropical fish writing a letter of complaint to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City (1934-1945).

A Tropical Fish

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the clerk and the trombone player,

The child on the street and the ultra-elite all write letters to the mayor.

La Guardia’s most conscientious – he tries to grant everyone’s wish

But they went him one better when he got a letter from somebody’s tropical fish.

 

Dear Mayor,” the letter began, “I’m writing as fish to man.

Our tank’s overheated and we’re being treated like common sardines in a can.

The way people watch us is quaint. Our privacy’s something what ain’t.

So be a good fella, my dear Fiorella and hear a poor fish’s complaint.

 

To be quite specific, the food is terrific.

We’re on the hay diet – you really should try it.

It tastes like the hook – gee, I wish we could cook.

The service is lousy – we have no back-housey.

And it’s some spot to be in with no pot to … cook in.

 

The innocent faunas are hiding in corners

Their love life is wearing with human eyes staring…

Why can’t we have covers like those birdcage lovers?

They’re hidden each night ‘til the morning sunlight

Then brought out to bath with no questions asked.

 

Dear Mayor, I’ve been very frank… but you don’t know life in a tank.

Believe me, it’s hellish and you wouldn’t relish to sleep in the water you drank.

Now here’s what we tropicals wish: Some bedrooms to give us ambish.

Less public relations and more comfort stations.

Yours truly,

A. Tropical Fish”

Lastly, here’s a syndicated article about Spivy that ran in newspapers across the country in late November, 1948. Note that her last name is mispelled “Devoe” with no mention of Bertha Levine.

Spivy Church 1948 full

WWII Boys Of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

Welcome to our third installment of photos celebrating WWII-era men of U.S. Navy pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at the school in Moraga, California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. You can see more photos in our previous posts here and here.

Only the earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. An anonymous person offers a helping hand as the men are photographed in profile.

Comparative photos from June 13 & August 18,1942

All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps. In all of the photos, the men stand behind some sort of grid fencing to better illustrate misalignment and spinal curvature.

The photos were taken to measure the fitness progression of each recruit as they underwent extreme physical training. Each picture was accompanied by an index card containing body measurements and physical achievement test results over the course of several months.

This allows for some contrasting images that Weight Watchers might want to consider emulating.

Before and after a summer of training: June 26 & September 8, 1942

This installment focuses on photos of cadets as they underwent summer training in the California sun. The results speak for themselves. #tanlines

My collection of photos gathered from around the internet now includes close to 500 different cadets. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching the origins as well as the fates of these brave men. Those featured in this post passed away as young as 22 and as old as 94.

Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition, sun dappled as they trained to serve their country. Nearly 80 years later, we salute and admire their fine forms and dedication.

Tom Ammiano Gets His Letter

Tom Ammiano is nearly 80 years old and recently dyed his hair blue. Not your traditional “grandma’s rinse” – it’s a punk-ass electric blue. It suits him.

If you don’t follow California politics, you may not be familiar with the name of this San Francisco legend who served for years on the city Board of Supervisors as well as the State Assembly. But you may remember him from the Academy Award winning documentary The Times Of Harvey Milk. Or perhaps you caught the documentary See How They Run, about one of his two San Francisco mayoral campaigns. Or his appearance in the documentary To Be Takei. In Gus Van Sant’s movie Milk, he portrayed himself. In the miniseries When We Rise, he was played by Todd Weeks.

Suffice to say he has been in a lot of documentaries. Although he did not make the final cut of the groundbreaking 1977 film The Word Is Out, his 30 minute pre-interview surfaced online several years ago:

“I’ve never taken much shit but I do get the shit beat out of me because of it.”

In short, Tom the school teacher turned activist, politician, stand-up comedian, and pothead is always a compelling interview. His recently published memoir is titled Kiss My Gay Ass – a phrase he once yelled at then California Governor Schwartzenegger. The book reads like a private uncensored conversation with the author.

Tom AmmianoThere’s a story from the memoir that has garnered Ammiano a surprising amount of attention as of late. 63 years ago, he was a 106 lb. effeminate teen trying to fit in at a Catholic High School in Montclair, New Jersey. Although unsuccessful at contact sports, he excelled at track – running from bullies had trained him to be fast. Among those bullies – the football coach who would physically assault him in the hallways along with the other jocks.

By the end of the school year, Ammiano had performed well enough to qualify for a varsity letter. But before the ceremony, the rug was pulled out from under him. The letter sweater – that symbol of athleticism and masculinity – could not be allowed on the back of faggy Tommy Ammiano. The powers that be – namely, the football coach – would not let that happen. So they moved the goalposts: The track meet that garnered him those last few points towards his letter was suddenly disqualified. And Ammiano’s dream of acceptance through that symbol of “normalcy” went unfulfilled.

He writes of the humiliating experience in his book; “Shame. I hate that. I think shame was a very big deal growing up. During those years everything was about controlling you through shame. Then struggling against that shame – knowing, somehow, it was all wrong. But what are your options?”

Ammiano chose to bury it away and move on with his life – getting as far away from New Jersey and the innumerable aggressions and slights that many a “weird” gay kid suffered while growing up. He moved to San Francisco – “Oz” he calls it – and seldom looked back.

Kiss-My-Gay-Ass_Front-Cover-600x910

But when you write your memoirs, you have to.

Ammiano recounted the story during a radio interview while promoting the book late last year. “It’s something that still hurts,” he said, “even a hundred years later.” A listener decided to try and correct this situation. He wrote to Immaculate Conception High School to request that they award Ammiano his long overdue varsity letter.

Unaware of this , Ammiano was floored when he received a letter from his alma mater in February of this year. “We most certainly would like to ‘right’ this ‘wrong’…… You truly posses the ‘heart of a Lion’…. You are an inspiration.

Last month, the cameras rolled as Ammiano was presented with his sweater. At age 79, the man of many documentary appearances has one of his very own. Granted, it’s 7 minutes long, but it’s beautifully done. And it’s on ESPN. He must have had a laugh over that.

ESPN also has an excellent article here. See the documentary here:

http://www.espn.com/core/video/iframe?id=31622926&endcard=false

http://www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/31622926

Remembering his time on the track team, Ammiano wrote; “I especially liked the long distance runs… I got really good at those.”

He had no idea.

More Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis Shower Pics Surface

Who would have thought that 2021 would be the year that nude photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would drop… and keep dropping?

Well – I guess the guy who is selling them on eBay knew, but the rest of us continue to be surprised by the release of these playful pics. I first wrote about them here in a post that was picked up by a dozen websites around the world, including the Advocate. Since then, two other pics have surfaced.

This photo, which I added to the previous post, sold on eBay for a whopping $1,600:

The pictures were part of a 2018 Sotheby’s auction of items belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. The auction description listed “4 candid photographs of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

To recap – three of the four recently sold on eBay:

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the most recent photo popped up for auction, as it was partially visible on the Southeby’s website. SothebysCropped, low-res versions of this shot and a couple of others are also on Pinterest, with captions that they were taken at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel in 1952.

dean-martin-jerry-lewis-a-shower-el-mirador-hotel-1952-1

While I was able to clean up the sauna and first shower shots by removing the eBay seller’s watermark, which was strategically placed over Dean & Jerry’s nether regions, this time around the cheeky monkey has opted for a post-it note on Dean’s dong.

Damn Post-it Note.

Ah well. Nice pic nonetheless.

This appears to be the end of this lot of photos… but it is possible that there are others out there….

The Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

The fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Incoming college students were photographed fully nude to gauge posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues… all while emotionally scarring the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines but had a much darker view of the experience 50 years later in a New York Times Op Ed piece.

In recent years, the Yale photos have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The photos in question were so rare that most online articles on the subject did not actually feature any of them, opting to show similar medical textbook illustrations or military posture pics such as the WWII-era St. Mary’s College Navy Pre-Flight School photos, which I have written about here and here.

In the past year, choice examples of the photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have begun to trickle out on eBay. It was only a matter of time before some familiar names began to pop up. Writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in a whopping $1,225.

Younger readers might not remember Franciscus – the dashing star of half a dozen television series and over 30 films. There is a fan site that dubs him The Patron Saint Of Cool. He was not afraid to show some skin over the course of his career, particularly in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

In her memoir and in a recent segment on The Tonight Show, Jane Fonda remembers him as her first love…and the best kiss she ever had.

james+franciscusjane+fonda

They met while working together in summer stock when she was 18 and he was 20.

“He walked me out to the end of a pier and he kissed me,” she recalled. “The stars began to whirl and the pier began to shake, and my knees gave way and I slid down to a pile at his feet…. I’ve never had a kiss like that ever since.”

As for his Yale photo, which was taken the year before…. unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full Franciscus. The image posted for the public auction has a strip of paper blocking the view. For just $1,225, the high bidder is now enjoying the unedited 8″x10″ all by themselves.

On The Life Of Brian… During The Pandemic

Artist / writer Adam Donaldson Powell asked if I would contribute to his latest project, in which he invites artists, writers, musicians, and other performing artists from around the world to contribute essays about their work and lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath. Here is my contribution:

https://adam-donaldson-powell.blog/2021/05/11/on-the-life-of-brian-during-the-pandemic/

My Mother, The Superhero

This Mother’s Day I’d like to tell you a little bit about my mom. Three days ago she got three neighbors out of their burning house minutes before a propane tank explosion. Here she is being interviewed on News 12 Long Island, followed by cell phone and doorbell cam footage of the explosion.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows my mother. She is half of a dynamic duo, paired for 25 years with Mike, my stepdad. In truth, they are part of a trio of superheroes that also includes my sister Jen the Emergency Room nurse, who I have previously written about here. They are the ones running towards the danger when everyone else is running away.

All three of them have a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. My sister runs out to the grocery store and ends up tending to someone who collapsed in the checkout line. I have lost track of the number of car accidents in which they – singly or in pairs – were the first on scene, comforting and assisting the injured. Two years ago, a trip to Disney landed the three of them in the middle of a suicide scene in the hotel parking lot. Their bill was comped.

Happy Mother’s Day to Mom and Jen – we are always lucky to have you looking out for us.

Mambo Italiano

Back in 2013, I spent 6 weeks on the jury of a murder trial in Manhattan. It ended in a hung jury, which was very frustrating, although the guy was retried and convicted the following year. Throughout the trial, there was one reporter who showed up at court every day. Other reporters would come and go, depending on who was testifying, but this one woman was always there. She looked like a fragile little bird, sitting alone in the courtroom.

After the trial was over, most of the jurors were escorted out a side door to scurry away, ashamed of their inability to reach a verdict. A couple of us went out front and spoke to the press. And there was the reporter. After six weeks, I was finally able to ask what publication she worked for. When she said “The New York Post,” I let out some sort of involuntary laugh/snort. I shook my head and was speechless for a moment. I had decided beforehand that I would not speak to a Post reporter. But it was her – the one who had paid the most attention.

I wish I could remember the exact wording I used to express my distaste for that piece of shit tabloid. I remember her assuring me that she was one of the many good reporters working there – “especially in the online version.” I know the last thing I said to her was “Be nice.” Now that the trial was over, I was able to go back and read what she had written. I found her trial reportage to be accurate and fair.

That reporter was Laura Italiano, who just resigned after being pressured into writing the false “Kamala Harris’s book is being given to migrant children at taxpayer’s expense” front page story.

She should have left The New York Post years ago, when she still had a moral compass.

As one Twitterer observed: “breaking point” implies that there were other false stories. Wouldn’t it be great if she ‘fessed up to the other news items she was “forced” to fabricate? And where is the apology to the Vice President?