Homosexuality - In the early days of TV,
characters could not be openly gay, but they could strut about the stage, talk
with a lisp and act flamboyant as long as they kept up the illusion that they
were still straight. Of course, clever TV viewers could tell the
difference and gave a quiet wink, wink to the situation.
Ernie Kovacs as Percy Dovetonsils
An early example of an effeminate homosexual-like character was Percy
Dovetonsils, a silly, lisping poet created by comedian Ernie Kovacs who frist
appeared on THREE TO GET READY on WPTZ in Philadelphia (the station that is now
KYW-TV) during the
1950s. Percy who puffed on cigarettes through a long black cigarette holder,
sported a mustache, curly bangs, a black
and white striped smoking jacket, and reading glasses with two sleepy eyelids painted on
the lenses. Percy read poems like "Ode to Spring" from his lace covered poetry
book. With few exceptions to Percy Dovetonsils, the appearances of homosexual
characters were virtually non-existent until the 1970s.
The following is a synopsis of some homosexually-oriented movies and TV spots
from the 1970s to the present.
TRIVIA NOTE: In the more tolerant days of the 1980s & 1990s a number of
Hollywood actors came out of the "closet" to reveal their homosexual lifestyle
to the general public.
- The first made-for-television movie to deal candidly with the topic of
homosexuality was the ABC network film That Certain Summer (11/01/72) about a
divorced father whose teenage son was devastated when he discovered his dad was
gay. The movie starred Hal Holbrook, Martin Sheen and Scott Jacoby. (The first
American feature film about homosexuality was Joseph Mankiewicz's 1959 movie
Suddenly Last Summer).
- Other movies on this touchy topic include Sergeant Matlovich vs. The U.S. Air
Force (8/21/78) starring Brad Dourif, Frank Converse and William Daniels based
on the factual struggle of an Air Force sergeant who admitted he was a
homosexual and then attempted to stay in the service; and Question of Love
(11/26/78) starring Gena Rowlands, Jane Alexander and Ned Beatty about a Lesbian
mother who fought for custody of her son from her ex-husband. In 1985, the
horror of AIDS made its way to television on news reports and special movie
presentations such as An Early Frost (11/11/85) which mirrored a family's pain
when their lawyer son (who had kept his homosexuality a secret) announced he had
contracted AIDS. The movie walked the rope between condemning the disease and
romanticizing homosexuality so as not to upset the viewing audience. The film's
message emphasized "This is not a gay movie, it is a family tragedy." Ben Gazzara & Gena Rowland played the parents. Aidan Quenn portrayed their 26 year
old gay son.
- The Truth About Alex which aired on the cable channel HBO (2/23/87) starred
Scott Baio in a story about a teenager who found out his best friend was a
- THE CBS SCHOOLBREAK SPECIAL. What If I'm Gay? (4/2/87) portrayed the dilemma of
high school student Todd Bowers (Richard J. Paul), the captain of the soccer
team with a pretty girlfriend, whose friends find a male pornographic magazine
in his room. Todd told them he only bought the magazine for a "great
weightlifting article." But his friends were not convinced. His confusion leads
him to the school counselor and a discussion of his problem.
- Producer Norman Lear, the creator of the sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY/CBS/1971-83,
dealt with homosexuality during a controversial episode when Archie Bunker
(Carroll O'Connor), a blue-collar bigot discovered that his long-time, seemingly
macho friend and former football star was a homosexual.
- It wasn't until the late 1970s that the first recurring gay character surfaced
in the guise of Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal) on the soap opera spoof
- The first running character in a dramatic series who proudly committed to a gay
lifestyle was Hank Eliot who appeared in November 1988 on the daytime soap opera
AS THE WORLD TURNS.
- In 1990, the topics of homosexuality caused a frenzy of controversy (angry mail
and lost ad revenues) when the ABC domestic drama THIRTYSOMETHING featured a bed
scene with two male homosexual characters. The two male characters later
reappeared during the 1991 News Years episode where they sort of kissed and made
up with out the kiss. Later in the series, Peter (Peter Frechetti) whose bed
scene with his lover, Russell in the prior season sent advertisers running,
discovered he was HIV positive.
- The sitcom ROSEANNE/ABC/1988-97 featured the friend of Roseanne Conner named
Nancy (Sandra Bernhard), who revealed she was a lesbian on the 11/10/91 episode.
Her lover, Marla (Morgan Fairchild) worked as a cosmetics salesgirl at Rodbell's
Department Store. This breakthrough casting was the first instance of a
regularly recurring lesbian character on a sitcom.
- The offbeat drama NORTHERN EXPOSURE/CBS/1990-95 featured two homosexuals (Doug
Ballard as Ron Bance and Don R. McManus as Erick Hillman) who wanted to buy real
estate in the town of Cecily, Alaska owned by Maurice Minnifield, a former
astronaut. However, when Maurice discovered their sexual persuasion, he referred
to them as "two deviants" whom he had "inadvertently let enter his home." He
later talked to the town doctor and stated he never "had a indecent thought
about a man," except for the dream where he was mud-wrestling with David Nivens.
"Nothing, of course happened," he cried. Despite Maurice's personal objections
to the two men, the businessman in him decided to take their money for the
property. In May 1994, the two gay men married in an episode touted to be the
first gay wedding on prime time network TV.
- When two black gay men got married on television on a May, 1991 installment of
THE PHIL DONAHUE SHOW, later that same evening on THE TONIGHT SHOW, talk show
host Johnny Carson joked about the wedding, saying "I don't want to tell you how
they chose the best man." and "There were a few touchy moments when Phil caught
the bouquet". That same night on another channel, the late night talk show host
Arsenio Hall of THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW talked with his audience which included a
group of lesbians who proudly wore tee-shirts proclaiming "Queer Nation."
- SECRET PASSIONS, a gay oriented soap premiered on
leased-access channels in January 21, 1990. Eighty percent of the characters
were gay, but the majority of the cast was not.
- In 1997 ABCs NYPD BLUE Det. Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) was propositioned by
fellow officer Abby Sullivan (Paige Turco) to be the father of a child for her
- In March 1997 the Showtime cable channel aired the made-for-cable movie The
Twilight of the Golds (adapted from a play by Jonathan Tolins) starring Jennifer
Beals and Jon Tenney as expectant parents who learned through prenatal tests
that their unborn son was to be gay.
- On April 30th 1997 Ellen DeGeneres the star of ELLEN ABC/1994-98 played a young
bookstore owner named Ellen Morgan who finally admitted (with the help of a
counselor) that she was a lesbian thus becoming the first lesbian character to
star in a lead role in a prime time series. After accidentally announcing her
gayness (to Laura Dern) over an open airport microphone she declared "It felt so
Great! It felt so LOUD!" Ellen DeGeneras had already announced to the world that
she was a lesbian on the front cover of Time magazine. It carried the simple
declaration "Yep, I'm Gay."
- In 1998 the sitcom WILL & GRACE/NBC/1998-2006 offered the storyline about a
straight female interior designer and a homosexual male lawyer who shared a
life, an apartment and a deep friendship.
- In the summer of 2005, MTV network launched LOGO, the first 24-hour digital
cable network devoted to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
LOGO is targeting viewers 25-to 49-year-olds.
Veteran actor Rock Hudson who played Police Commissioner
Stewart McMillan on the police drama MCMILLAN AND WIFE disclosed his
homosexuality before his death from AIDS in 1985.
Dick Sargent who played Darrin Stephens on the sitcom BEWITCHED publicly
declared his homosexuality in 1991 to protest the veto of a gay rights bill
proposed by California Governor Pete Wilson.
Robert Reed who played the father of six children on the BRADY BUNCH also was
homosexual. He died of AIDS in 1992. See also "Techniques
& Devices - "Lesbian Kissing"
||Tonight, I become a lesbian.
||I think you mean thespian, dear.
-- Married...With Children
||For your information, most people who meet me
do not know that I am gay.
||Jack, blind and deaf people know you're gay. Dead
people know you're gay.
||Grace, when you first met me, did you know I was gay?
||My dog knew.
-- Will & Grace
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