The story of Tommy Kirk

Tommy Kirk in “Old Yeller”

You may have seen him turning into a sheepdog on “The Shaggy Dog,” tragically killing his dog in “Old Yeller” or as the know-it-all brother in “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Life for fresh faced, slightly goofy Tommy Kirk seemed sunny in those 1950s movies at Walt Disney Studios. He was one of the studio’s top stars and even was part of the Mickey Mouse Club in the “Hardy Boy” series with Tim Considine. He was wholesome, clean cut and quirky-things that easily won over Disney audiences.

But as Kirk grew out of those kid roles in the early 1960s, life started to drastically change. Like most child stars, the transition from family movies to teen movies can be difficult. Studios and audiences don’t like you because you aren’t as cute and are going through the awkward years of growing up. However, it’s harder for a child star when they are gay.

It was becoming apparent that adult Tommy Kirk was gay and this didn’t fit into Walt Disney’s family friendly, perfect studio.

Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine in Mickey Mouse Club’s “Hardy Boys”

“Even more than MGM, Disney [in the early 1960s] was the most conservative studio in town. They were growing aware. They weren’t stupid. They could add two and two, and I think they were beginning to suspect my homosexuality,” Kirk said. “I noticed people in certain quarters were getting less and less friendly. In 1963 Disney didn’t renew my option and let me go. But Walt let me return to do the final Merlin Jones movie, ‘The Monkey’s Uncle,’ because those were moneymakers for the studio.” (Taken from IMDB)

Kirk said his teen years were a very unhappy time for him.  He had also been marked as box office poison after movies like “Village of Giants” (1965) and “Mars Needs Women” (1967).  Kirk’s career could have been saved by a potential role in “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) with John Wayne. Unfortunately, he went to a party where people were smoking marijuana. The party was busted, Kirk was arrested and newspapers printed “Ex- Disney Child Star Arrested for Pot.” He was fired from the film.

Not only was his career floundering, but once he accepted he was gay, he had no way to meet people or express himself.

“I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize,” Kirk said. “It wasn’t until the early sixties that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career.

Eventually, I became involved with somebody and I was fired. Disney was a family film studio and I was supposed to be their young, leading man. After they found out I was involved with someone, that was the end of Disney.” (Taken from IMDB)

Though Kirk’s acting career went into the mid and late 1960s when codes and morals were beginning to loosen, there was no way for him to portray a gay man on screen as some actors in the pre-code 1920s and 1930s had the freedom to do.

Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello. The two starred in several films together including “Pajama Party”

Quite on the opposite side, Kirk was in highly heterosexual all-American teenage romance beach films.  In “Pajama Party” (1964) with Annette Funicello, Kirk plays a Martian that doesn’t understand romance or how to woo women. Funicello’s character teaches the Martian-named Go Go- how to show affection in order to make her boyfriend jealous. Teaching Kirk how to romance a woman in a film almost makes me wonder if it was a jab at him.

Kirk quit acting by the early 1970s, saying that he got sick of it and stopped. He now runs a carpet and upholstery cleaning business, according to IMDB.

For a child star who struggled so much, Tommy Kirk is really forgotten today. Books like “Screen World Presents: Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors” mentions in the last few sentences about his career, “It was not until years later that Kirk was fired after word got out about his homosexuality.”

Other books like “Queering Teen Culture” by Jeffery Dennis don’t discuss the hurt or ruin that Kirk experienced. The book mainly seems to focus on the silly roles he was in and how overly sexual the males were in beach movies.

For somebody that stared in most of the live action Disney classics, you don’t hear anything about him. I wonder if it has to do with Disney still trying to keep appearances.

From interviews I’ve seen in recent years, Tommy Kirk seems to be bitter from the experience. I can’t say that I blame him.

It’s heartbreaking that such a bright young Disney star fell down so hard.

This is part of the “Queer Blogathon” hosted by Garbo Laughs

This is for the Queer Blog-a-thon hosted by Garbo Laughs. The blog-a-thon focuses on portrayals of gays, lesbians, trans-gender in classic film for LBGT month.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page 

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Yankee Doodle dressed in drag

When you think of transgender individuals what comes to mind? Cher’s daughter, Chasity, becoming Chaz? The teased wigs and lots of eye make-up of Rupal’s contestants on the VH1 show “Rupaul’s Drag Race”? Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire”?

What about a female impersonator in a 1919 silent film?

Yankee Doodle in Berlin” (1919) features an interesting portrayal of a transgender person.  It is a 58 minute long Mack Sennett comedy and the lead male is dressed like a woman for all but three to five minutes of the film.

Captain White exposed as a man!

Captain Bob White, American soldier, has been charged with an important mission during World War I: infiltrating the enemy lines to find out secret plans. White bravely carries out the mission and disguises himself as a woman in order to seduce secrets out of the Germans.

Along the way, White meets a Belgian girl, played by Marie Provost, enslaved in a German labor camp. He saves her and dresses her like a German soldier, while he is dressed like a woman, so that she can safely escape.

As White is dressed like a woman, he punches and fights German soldiers, is ladylike enough to seduce Kaiser Wilhelm but exotic enough to shimmy in a Chinese dance number.

The gag of dressing up like another sex to trick authorities has been done hundreds of times in the movies. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye doing the “Sisters” number in “White Christmas,” Cary Grant in “I was a Male War Bride” or Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like it Hot” just to name a few.

But this cross dressing comedy is slightly different from the man-in-a-dress joke we are used to. Captain Bob White was played by Bothwell Browne, a famous female impersonator.

Though famous for wearing dresses, his character in “Yankee Doodle in Berlin” wasn’t portrayed as overly flamboyant. He punched and kicked Germans, ran from Kaiser’s advances, hung from a flying plane by a rope and kissed the girl at the end.

Browne was only in one other film, “Among Those Present” (1919), but was the top female impersonator of his time. When “Yankee Doodle in Berlin” toured the theater circuit, Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauty’s performed and Browne did the dance number from the film, according to Turner Classic Movies’ prime time host Robert Osborne.

Captain White performing his seductive dance for German leaders.

Though Browne was popular, he had difficulty gaining approval on Broadway. According to a TCM blog post, he opened his own production of the play “Miss Jack” but Broadway was less than accepting to a play with all transgender actors and actresses.

Cross dressing was appropriate and accepted during the early 1900s as long as the female caricature was funny or sweet, according to Vaudeville, Old and New by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman and Donald McNeilly. However, Browne’s sensual dance in “Yankee Doodle in Berlin” and on-stage acts as Cleopatra made viewers uncomfortable.

Ninety years later, I still thought the movie was entertaining and had the same ridiculous comedy that all Mack Sennett films seem to have.

Before and after his brief film career, Browne was running the vaudeville circuit, but quit in the late 1920s. He ran a dance school in San Francisco until he died in 1947.

This is for the Queer Blog-a-thon hosted by Garbo Laughs. The blog-a-thon focuses on portrayals of gays, lesbians, trans-gender in classic film for LBGT month.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page and Radio Waves Over Hollywood Facebook page.

Turn down your bass

Are you ever riding in the car and the song you are listening to makes your bass embarrassingly loud?

That’s happened to me on several occasions lately.  No I wasn’t listening to Lil’ Wayne or Lady Gaga’s latest single.  I was listening to classic movie soundtracks and my six disc “That Entertainment” box set.

I’ll be listening to a classic film soundtrack when it dawns on me.  That “BOOM BOOM BOOM” stereo is coming from my Jeep!  

Here are just a few songs that make me nervously turn down the bass:

1. “Ol’ Man River” by Warren Warfield in “Showboat” (1951)

2. “Easy to Love” by Jimmy Stewart in “Born to Dance” (1936)

3. “Maria” by Richard Beymer (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) in “West Side Story” (1961)

4. “Return to Innocence” by Enigma (Okay, not a classic movie song but weird! lol)

What random songs do you listen to that makes your bass excessively loud?

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Happy Father’s Day with the MacRea’s

Last year I did a post on fathers and their actor children. This year I decided to focus on just one father and daughter: Gordon MacRea and his oldest daughter Meredith. I found a very sweet duet of the two singing “Count Your Blessings” from the movie “White Christmas” (1954).

You may know Meredith as a ditzy blonde from various beach films or the perfect Billie Jo on the TV show “Petticoat Junction”- I have to admit, when I was in 4th grade she was my least favorite sister because she sang too much.

I adore Gordon MacRea and he is one of my favorite singers. Unfortunately, his career was cut short due to alcohol problems.

Once in the 1980s, Gordan MacRea was doing a performance in my hometown of Greenville, S.C.  Due to his alcoholism, he was so drunk during the concert that he couldn’t remember the lyrics during the song. So sad :( My mother told me that Meredith wrote a letter to the paper thanking his fans for attending and apologizing that her father was unable to perform.

I think Meredith really loved her father and tried to help him out as much as she could. I’ve seen clips of the two of them in the 1970s on gameshows and she was very loving towards him and still called him daddy.

Here is the clip. Meredith is probably 12 or 13:

I would also like to share this very cute “What’s My Line” episode of Dorothy Kilgallen’s father being the secret guest:

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Classic Movies in Music Videos: “Bones” by The Killers

Here we have another installment of music videos that feature either classic movie stars, movies or reference classic movies.

This month’s music video is “Bones” by The Killers from their album “Sam’s Town.”

The video is of a guy and a girl in a drive in movie and we see several classic films on-screen as well as being acted out by the couple.

Some movie references are:
•”Jason and the Argonauts” (Very first shot, the fact that the band members are skeletons
•”From Here to Eternity” (1953)- :30 seconds, 1:00, 1:30
•”Easy to Love” (1953)-  2:12
•”Lolita” (1962)- 2:39
•”Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954)- 3:16

Enjoy and let me know if I missed any!

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The hills are alive in D.C.

I met Eddie Scarry in Media Writing, MCOM 241, in the Fall of 2008 at Winthrop University. We bonded over conversations about how GAP clothes were now boring and how we liked Gwen Stefani’s album “Sweet Escape.”

Scarry was the opinion editor for “The Johnsonian.” He made students and professors angry, but also got them thinking, while writing about topics such as “professors get paid a lot so don’t complain about four unpaid furlough days.”

Photo of Julie Andrews at the Lincoln Medal ceremony. (Washington Examiner)

As I read Eddie Scarry’s work and became closer friends with him I knew he was going to do great things. But I never imagined he would reach the level of success that he has, but not saying I didn’t think he couldn’t.

 Last weekend, Scarry met Julie Andrews, one of the loveliest voices to ever grace classic and contemporary film. Andrews was awarded a Lincoln Medal in Washington D.C. and Scarry was one of the reporters covering it. Scarry said she was exactly the way that we would all expect her to be.

“She’s everything you’d imagine from watching her in movies,” He said. “She smiles a lot and is so classically English.”

Scarry interviewed Andrews asking which younger actors and singers illustrated what the Lincoln Medal stood for.

“She didn’t name anyone specifically,” Scarry said. “A lot of times celebrities don’t like to speak positively or negatively on any specific person, because they fear that person will either get angry or other people will get angry that they weren’t mentioned.”

After graduating from Winthrop University, Scarry got a job in D.C. and also interns as a reporter for the Washington Examiner’s Yeas and Nays, D.C’s social and gossip column.

Scarry has met several other celebrities such as James Franco, James McAvoy and Jason Biggs.

James Franco and Eddie Scarry

“The only hard thing about interviewing any of them is that they usually don’t want to talk politics, and of course that’s what a lot of people in DC want to know their opinions on,” Scarry said.

“Sometimes there are weird surprises, like David Arquette smells like cigarettes or Angus T. Jones from ‘Two and a Half Men’ wants to go to school to major in still photography. Rising star James McAvoy has strange eyes and he was super nice to fans that were yelling for him at the premier of The Conspirator.”

His favorite interview so far has been with Franco, though sort of awkward, but he has found surprising things about different celebrities.

Though Eddie Scarry is rubbing elbows with celebrities, he still is the fun, friendly, Michael Jackson-loving guy I became close friends with.

Hopefully once he gets becomes a famous political journalist (which I know he will) he will remember back to those days when we all ate pizza in The Johnsonian office, those days I bought him Subway as I tried to use up $500 worth of café cash and listening to Destiny’s Child’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  :)

Also, be sure to check out Scarry’s humorous but insightful blog on how to live cheaply in the D.C. area at Red Line Items.

Myself and Mr. Scarry in Dec. 2009

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D-Day, 6th of June

Today, I started thinking about the star-studded movie “The Longest Day” (1962) since it is D-Day today.

The movie is full of every male star during that era you can think of:
John Wayne
Robert Mitchum
Robert Ryan
Sal Mineo
Richard Burton
Eddie Albert
Sean Connery
Red Buttons
Richard Beymer
Henry Fonda
Jeffrey Hunter
Roddy McDowall
Edmund O’Brien
and the list goes on

But there is one role that really stuck out for me: Henry Grace’s performance as Dwight Eisenhower.

Set designer Henry Grace as Eisenhower

President Eisenhower for appearance comparison

Grace was actually a set decorator. His work dated back to films such as “The Gorgeous Hussy” (1936) and went all the way up into the 1960s with “The Man From Uncle” and “My Favorite Martian.”  “The Longest Day” is the only movie he acted in. He was chosen for the film because of his surprising resemblance to our 34th president.

(Eisenhower was actually considered to play himself, but makeup artists couldn’t make him look young enough, according to IMDB.)

Next time you watch the film, make sure to look out for Grace! It’s a very long, but very good movie.

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Time marches on: Comet’s Anniversary

I’m as bad as a cinema husband. I forgot my own one year anniversary!

“Comet Over Hollywood” turned a year old on May 17.

Technically, it was created in April 2009, as I shared in a post about the blog’s namesake back in April.  However, I only wrote five posts from April 2009 to May 2010.

In 2009, the blog was me reviewing movies I watched . The only problem is that when I give a plot summary, I am terrible about giving a blow-by-blow summary, I also watch way too many movies to catch up.  This turns into a 9,000 word summary that is tiring for me to write and for you to read.

Though forgotten, Comet's anniversary was still better than Ida's 8 year wedding anniversary in "They Drive By Night" (1940)

Last summer I reinvented the blog by trying to think of clever viewpoints on movies and how film has drastically affected my life.

I started “Comet Over Hollywood” to share with others how I felt about movies. I knew there were other film fans that related to my interest. I also hoped in a small way I could help reform the haters of black-and-white movies.

I have to admit, I am really proud of “Comet.” I never imagined that I would meet so many fantastic film fans and get so much support from a community.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make “Comet Over Hollywood” a pleasure to share.

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Beauty Tip #13 **Anniversary Edition**: Lux Soap

Lovely Laraine Day in a Lux Soap ad

A year ago today, I posted my first classic movie tip. It was Lana Turner’s use of Boraxo soap to scrub her skin. I still use it now and find it really effective.

This is the 13th beauty tip and is a special tip for Comet’s beauty tips anniversary.

I sometimes listen to Lux Radio Broadcasts via podcast.  The Lux Radio Broadcasts were weekly broadcasts sponsored by Lux Soap where actors and actresses performed films on the radio. Sometimes the actors who starred in the movies perform them but other times they have to find replacements. For example, Shirley Temple and Herbert Marshall reprised their roles in “Kathleen” but Frances Gifford took over as the Laraine Day role.

Performing film scripts on air was a way the film industries were able to incorporate radio so that it wouldn’t be a threat to films, according to the Movies and Moguls documentary.

Lux Soap commercials would run in the broadcast. During the 1930s and war years, the commercials would talk about housewives using it to cut grease on dishes, keep the snap in their stockings or how it helped keep their complexion clear.

Paulette Goddard looking beautiful with the help of Lux

In the 1950s the commercials get increasingly corny. For example: “I was watching Jeanne Crain on the set of ‘Letter to Three Wives’ and she had to do the country club scene over and over again. At the end of the scene, she was exhausted but she said the one thing that did hold up were her stockings that had been washed in Lux Soap.”

Since the commercials made Lux sound like a miracle soap, I decided to do some investigation.

Most actresses were part of the Lux ad campaign and claimed that it made their skin soft and clear.

I went on Ebay to find my own Lux soap to see how it worked for me.  Lux is no longer found in stores, but is still sold abroad.

I bought a few bars of new Lux (Mild soap with honey) and several old bars of soap. The seller said the soap was from pre-1974 but wasn’t sure of the exact date.

I used both soaps after being particularly dirty after jogging and going to the swimming pool. The new soap smelled nice and was soft but really wasn’t anything spectacular.

The old soap still produced a nice thick, creamy lather and left my skin feeling soft. It did smell very strongly and I had a faint smell on my skin for the rest of the day.

The white packages are the pre-1974 soap and the peach colored is new.

 To review: I didn’t notice my skin looking as beautiful as a movie star, but I certainly felt clean and smooth afterwards. Maybe after using it a little longer I will have the skin of Dorothy Lamour or Cyd Charisse!

Also, Comet’s own anniverary post will be coming soon. It was actually in mid-May and I completely forgot!

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