Well, I know. You can’t catch cold getting caught in the rain. At least, that’s what people keep telling me straight to my weather-beaten face. Meanwhile, I got soaked during one of those torrential New York City downpours a few night’s ago and was not up to meeting an old friend for dinner last night, notwithstanding the fact that my days in the city are numbered and I might have to wait another year for another opportunity to see him. I ended up watching television instead; it’s something I rarely do nowadays, especially while vacationing.
Luckily, I was in for a treat at Turner Classic Movies, whose Screened Out series opened last night with “Algie, the Miner” (1912), a one-reeler concerning an effete Easterner getting the Western treatment to prepare him for the challenge of matrimony. Say—and I say this quoting a line from the subsequently presented comedy-thriller The Monster (1925)—have you “dropped in for some pansy seeds” yet?
Hollywood logic has it that those “seeds” may very well yield hardy perennials; in fact, that is the reason for spreading them in the first place. The conversion myth of growing up straight permitted writers and directors to create outré characters that are both likeable and socially acceptable. Judges according to the mores of early-to-mid 20th-century America, the pansy was an aberration that could be shown to suffer for and snap out of its condition of non-conformity by turning straight. In other words, the pansy was a milquetoasts redeemed by hearty helpings of ham and exorcism.
Otherwise, gender transgressive characters were either buffoons or villains, depending on the state of their sexual (in)activity and their willingness to reform. The Monster, you might say, involves a case of rehabilitation in which feeble Johnny Goodlittle (whose very name suggests the both the need for and possibility of redemption) has to prove his manhood not only by trapping a monster, but by demonstrating himself to be far from one.
The buffoon, by comparison, is a sexually unreformed and consequently frustrated male. Exit Smiling (1926), starring the delightful Beatrice Lillie (in a cross-dressing role), features a supporting player whose Hollywood career depended on such roles: Franklin Pangborn, the Queen of Paramount. “This nervous tension will positively slay me!” his irritable stage actor Cecil Lovelace exclaims when his leading lady is late for the show. On the radio, where his queer voice was heard only infrequently, Mr. Pangborn was simply made out to be “Allergic to Love”.
TCM is also sponsoring the multimedia exhibition Celluloid Skyline, currently (25 May to 22 June 2007) on display at New York City’s Grand Central Station (pictured above). I only had a few moments to walk through before catching a train to the Moving Image museum in Queens, my head not being clear enough to say much more on the subject at present.
Come to think of it, I have yet to post my review of the new Broadway musical Curtains starring the Tony nominated and recently de-closeted David Hyde Pierce. Perhaps I need to stay in more; but it sure feels great to be out . . .