Monthly Archives: February 2011

“His Underwear: an erotic anthology”–Fantastic Fantasies

Gregory, Todd, editor. “Underwear: An Erotic Anthology”, The Haworth Press, 2007.

Fantastic Fantasies

Amos Lassen

If you love to read erotica, “His Underwear” is a book you do not want to miss. Todd Gregory, the editor, of this collection gives us every kind of fantasy dealing with underwear of any kind. The amazing thing is that every one of the twenty-eight stories is wonderfully written. This is one of the best collections of erotic stories I have ever read.

Most gay men have underwear fetishes. Don’t be misled by the title, however, the book is also about the men that wear underwear. The role of underwear in the anthology is that it is the star and the central point of each of the stories. Every kind of underwear is written about here—boxers, briefs, boxer briefs, jock straps, bikinis. And the encounters with underwear are very sexy and very steamy. Just as every kind of underwear is written about here, so is every kind of man.

Some of us may think of underwear as just part of our regular wardrobe. However as we read this book, we learn the role underwear plays in our sexual lives. It is an interesting concept to have an entire book based on underwear stories but it really works and works well. Some of the best gay authors are featured here—Greg Herren, Max Pierce, Trebor Healey, Steve Berman and many others.

If you are looking for something really hot to read, get a copy of “His Underwear”. I guarantee that you will think about long after you have closed the covers.

“The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson”–tarnishing the golden age

Hofler, Robert, “THE MAN WHO INVENTED ROCK HUDSON: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson. Carroll & Graf, 2005.

Tarnishing the Golden Age

Amos Lassen

“The Man Who Invented Rock Hunter” by Robert Hofler was good dish in hardback. The paperback edition due out n October 24 is even dishier because it has some extra gossip from Rock Hudson’s ex-wife. As I reread the book I thought to myself that this is some hot stuff; not that is was news because so much of it had been rumored. Hofler put into words what had been circulated in whispers. Familiar stories always seem more real when you read them in a book.

Henry Willson was a king maker. His vocation and his calling was to turn gay beefcake into “teen-pinup-boy gold”. It was a would of shadows during the golden age of Hollywood. What made those shadows so interesting is that they were the gay men whom women swooned over. Willson “created” beefcake for the movies. In his stable were those gorgeous men like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue and others—he has a yard full of teen idols. If those teenage girls knew then what we know now, teenage crushes would have been shattered and the “boulevard of broken dreams” would indeed have been a highway strewn with the bodies of gay men. Using power as a tool, Willson managed to propel the careers of some of the major male stars of Hollywood. He began in the late 1930s as a talent scout for David O. Selnick of “Gone with the Wind” fame. His career in “pimping” gay man began when he received an unsolicited photograph of an unknown named Ray Scherer. He photo was replete with bad teeth but there was an aura there of a macho character, an extremely handsome stud who would not only cause Willson’s career to take a new direction but give new meaning to the definition of the word “heartthrob. That photo was of the man who was to become Rock Hudson.

Leaving little detail out Hofler chronicles the life of Willson and the men he created. Willson had a great degree of power and he could stop scandal. He successfully foiled an FBI investigation into Hudson’s sordid sex life and used members of the Los Angeles Police Department to ward of anyone who attempted to blackmail his boys. He even orchestrated Hudson’s marriage to his own secretary. He also squelched rumors that Hudson obtained several starring roles by sleeping with the vice president of his studio. But Hudson was just one client and Hofler evidently felt that if he was digging up dirt, he might as well uncover other bodies as well. His other clients, aside from those already mentioned were Robert Wagner (whose dubious past has also been uncovered), John Derek and James Darren, Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun, Clint Walker, John Saxon, and Chad Everett and many others. He also discovered both Natalie Wood and Lana Turner.

As I stated, Wilson was a clever guy. Not only did he keep his men out of the tabloid press, he kept their names on the marquees of the world. His men made him famous as they made him famous. Willson knew what a good looking man meant and he used the formula to get what he wanted. This was not only an interesting book to read but a lot of fun as well. We all love a little dirt; here we have a dump truck full. Hofler has dumped it all in our laps.

“High Risk”– Secrets and Lies

Reed, Rick. “High Risk”, Amber Quill, 2008.

Secrets and Lies

Amos Lassen

Rick Reed is an amazing author and he manages to turn out one good book after another. His newest, “High Risk” is a thriller about Beth Walsh who seems to be a regular housewife. She takes care of her lawyer husband and she does her share of volunteer work. She is demure, the kind of woman that one meets at church socials. But not all is as it seems. She has a secret life—when her husband is at work, she changes into a completely different woman. She puts on her sexy clothes and goes out on the prowl. She becomes totally uninhibited and she has a collection of handsome strangers. Her double life seems to work for her until she meets one very handsome stranger that makes her really sorry for her lies and secrets.

When Beth meets Abbot Lowery a fuse is lit. He is the dream of every woman. He is handsome and built and both men and women want him. He, like Beth, is not what he seems. There is a monster inside of him and when Beth casts her net for him, the monster is unleashed and determined to punish her. When this happens, a tale of terror and desperation ensues and it will destroy anyone that comes near.

“High Risk” is a story of infidelity that goes wrong. Reed takes us on a trip of terror. It is hard for the reader to reach any conclusion about the way they feel about Beth because she is a slut who cheated on her husband yet she truly loves him. She feels guilt about her behavior but she cannot control it. She personifies the classic addict. It is hard to want her to survive and it is hard to want to see her feel the consequences for what she has done. She is out of control and her infidelity is her downfall.  She is a conflicted person and she will dwell with you after you close the covers of the book.

“Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr”– No Secret to Me”

Starr, Michael Seth. “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr”, Applause, 2008.

No Secret to Me

Amos Lassen

Michael Seth Starr has written the “complete” story of actor Raymond Burr’s career which includes his “secret” gay life. However I am not so sure his gay life was such a secret. Burr was a frequent visitor to New Orleans when I was out and about and we all knew him and saw him in the gay bars so it was no surprise to me. In other places he may have covered his steps but in New Orleans he was just another face. With that said let’s have a look at the book.

Burr was a film noir star as well as a television personality. His two shows, “Perry Mason” and “Ironside” were hits and received high ratings and we saw Burr on our small screens for a twenty year stretch. At the time he was popular being gay was a career ender so he had to keep his secret life out of the headlines or he would have committed career suicide. Burr manages to have a convenient life story ready which covered his lifestyle by claiming to be a “heartbroken husband and father” and there were rumors of an affair with Natalie Wood who was two decades younger than him. Here was a man who, on our TV screens, fought for truth but was not honest about who he really was. He lived with another man, an actor by the name of Robert Benevides and they shared their lives for thirty-five years, attempting to keep their secret away from everyone but their inner circle of friends.

The book is a quick and easy read but for me had really nothing new to say. Burr’s sexual escapades are barely dealt with and there is mention of one affair that really was not explicit. Starr does, however, do a fine job of reporting Burr’s life in an easy, readable style but the title on the book leads the reader to believe that he is going to get some really hot and juicy information which is not there. It is fun to read about how Burr tried to his sexuality but that is only part of the story. Burr does come across as a kind, loving and generous man but I had the feeling of “so what”? Does anyone really care?

“VIOLET TENDENCIES”–Two Worlds Almost Come Together

Violet Tendencies

Two Worlds Almost Come Together

Amos Lassen

“Violet Tendencies” stars Mindy Cohn about being “true to oneself. Cohn is Violet, a 40 year old woman who envies the way her gay friend lives yet she also wants a straight romantic relationship. Her gay friends do not want to hear anything about it and the way she speaks with a “cutesy outrageousness”. The lines are funny, the comedy is campy and the film is great fun.

I bet compare this to “The Ugly Ducking” with a gay twist. The plot is simple, the acting is only fair and the script is far from perfect but there is Mindy Cohn is Violet and she saves what otherwise would be only a fair to middling movie (that is an Arkansas expression). She is profane but fun and the movie while silly is a somewhat touching story about the last fag hag in New York.

Violet is a businesswoman in her forties whose friend at work explains to her that because her friends are gay she has few chances of having a meaningful hetero relationship and Violet goes on a manic hunt to find Mr. Right.

I really wanted to like this film and I did enjoy some of the sections of it that showed us gay men and how they live. Markus (Casper Andreas), Zeus (Marcus Patrick), Riley (Samuel Whitten) and Vern (Armand Anthony) are the men but unfortunately their characters are not fully developed and the film becomes a cliché of other romantic comedies. Jesse Archer who wrote the screenplay tries very hard to get laughs and there are some very comedic moments but unfortunately some fall short. An interesting aspect is that the gay men are all beautiful and successful and we know that this is not always the case for many of us. Therefore there is little that rings true here.

I am usually a big fan of Andreas who directed this film but this one just doesn’t quite make it.

“Hero”–Perry Moore Writes of Love, Loss ans Redemption

Moore, Perry. “Hero”, Hyperion, 2007.

Love, Loss and Redemption

Amos Lassen

You may recognize the name Perry Moore from “The Chronicles of Narnia” films of which he was the executive director. The Perry Moore that wrote “Hero” is somewhat different as he looks at adolescence in his young adult novel, “Hero”. He shows that adolescence is “such a bitch…there’s the weird hair growth, the constant hard-ons, the ridiculous squeak and moan of your voice changing, and then there’s the whole coming to terms with being gay thing—not to mention the struggles of figuring out  your superhuman powers!” This is what “Hero” is all about and this is one book you do not want to miss no matter what your age is.

It is the story of Thom Creed, the hero of the book and the first gay superhero in his own fictional world. It is the story of being different in many ordinary ways. Thom has the power to heal but keeps his powers hidden from his father who was a superhero himself. He therefore has a double closet—one for being gay and one for being a super teen. The book is about longing to fit in but it’s the things that make one different that makes one great.

Thom knows how to be on his own and finds it comfortable. He is a basketball star that his classmates stay away from. They feel there is something “different” about him. This plus the fact that his dad, Hal Creed, had been one of the greatest superheroes of his time. It was a catastrophic event that left him disfigured, made him a victim of society and caused Thom to lose his mother. Thom does not want his father to feel any worse so he keeps secrets from him. His big secret is that he has special powers and has been asked to become a member of the League—the same organization that threw his father out. But Thom has another secret that he can hardly deal with himself and certainly can’t tell it to anyone else and that is that he is gay. To top everything off, Thom knows that he is being followed by someone who knows everything.

When Thom decides to become a member of the League, things change and a whole new life lies ahead of him. He finds himself among a bunch of other misfits, all of whom have aspirations of becoming heroes. Scarlett cannot control her anger but has no trouble controlling fire, Typhoid Larry has the ability to make anyone ill by a simple touch, Ruth can see the future. All of them have something to hide, like Thom but they also realize that they have to trust each other when they learn of a conspiracy plan to overthrow the League. Thom will face challenges he never knew existed and he will, in some way, have to come to terms with his father’s past in order to discover what kind of hero he really wants to be. Here we see the problems facing those who choose to lead a secret life and that only when necessary are able to accept the truth. Bravo to Perry Moore for such a wonderfully eye-opening novel.

“Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn”–The Lioness in Winter

Mann, William, “Kate: The Woman who was Hepburn”. Henry Holt, 2006.

The Lioness in Winter

Amos Lassen

Katherine Hepburn was a star in every sense of the word; but more than that she was a brilliant actress. Onscreen she played society girls, Spencer Tracy’s sidekick, and the lioness in winter. The greatest role of her career, however, was Kate Hepburn. She was a Connecticut Yankee, outspoken to the nth degree, and she bristled at the glitter of Hollywood. She was authentic and honest, but for all of her authenticity and honesty, who really knew Kate? She was a legend and we wonder if there was a woman behind the legend. Was she vulnerable? Did she triumph above vulnerability? William Mann, the author of “Kate: The Woman who was Hepburn” was an admirer and not just a fan. He seems to have worshipped her as evidenced by this 621 volume. He challenges much of what we have known about Hepburn and he probes her life, looking at stories she left behind and hid, delivering new details gleaned from friends and family and delving into things that only became available after the actress’s death. In doing so he has transformed the star into an icon of monumental standing and discards the talk about a woman who was considered too controversial and too special to fit into any special framework.

This is a not just a biography—it is a story, a beautiful fairytale which is never stiff and never boring. Mann asks the questions that others dared not ask and interwove them with the stories of the old guard of Hollywood. He gives a sober, sincere look at the women who is considered by many to have been the finest American actress.

Hepburn was an enigma—constantly defining and redefining herself. Mann takes a look at what motivated her throughout her life and even though her love life is central to the book, the mystery of Hepburn is what keeps us reading. There have always been stories of Hepburn’s lesbianism and Mann explores this aspect of her life with sensationalizing it. He discusses her intimate relationships and Man maintains that Hepburn’s relationship with Tracy was not sexual but more of a cover up for their bisexual activities. The fact that they never married has always been attributed to the fact that Tracy refused to divorce his wife. Mann maintains that the real reason was his alcoholism and that the lack of sex between the two was due to the fact that Tracy was always so drunk that he was, in effect, impotent.

Hepburn is seen in more depth than ever before and as a woman obsessed with attachment which in turn meant a sacrifice in personal intimacy. She had many lovers, among them Harold Hughes and John Ford but the sexuality fizzled and the personal bond prospered.

This is a stunning book. It is brilliantly researched and beautifully written. It is stylish, compulsive and absorbing. The major revelation I found was of Spencer Tracy’s hiring for hustlers to service his sexual needs. More than anything else, the book shows how attitude has changed toward gays and lesbians. Tracy has lost none of his fame with his posthumous outing, Hepburn remains the grand dame she always was. They were both brilliant at their craft and their private lives did not affect anything they did,

I adore this book—not only for what I learned but for the good it does for the community. Kudos to Mann for writing a literate monument to one of the greatest women to have graced the silver screen, the Broadway stage, and our lives.

“Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in the Disaster Zone”– An Eyewitness Account

Clark, Joshua. “Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in the Disaster Zone: A Memoir”. Free Press, 2007.

An Eyewitness Account

Amos Lassen

If you try to imagine what Hurricane Katrina was like, you cannot possibly come anywhere close to the horror and the anguish that we went through. I lived through it and find it hard to bring those images back into mind. I often think that it is a period of my life that I do not want to remember.

On the other hand, it was Katrina that caused me to land in Little Rock, Arkansas and my life to take an entirely new path.

Joshua Clark did not leave New Orleans during the storm. Instead he stayed and got together with several others and pooled resources and used their energy in an attempt to save the city. At the time that Katrina hit, Clark was working as a correspondent for NPR and began a project of recording the voices of victims of the storm in the Gulf South. It is these voices that are the spine of this memoir which does not dwell on the horror and devastation of Katrina but shows the compassion, the anguish and the kindness, the madness and the mercy of the people of America.

Written in journalistic style but displaying raw emotion and innocence, Clark tells us of loss and renewal and the ability to bounce back with hope.

There are and there surely will be more Katrina stories. Clark’s book is unique in that it is a love story—a paean to the city he loves. The city was destroyed and lives were torn asunder. Yet Katrina also caused an inner impact that Clark so beautifully gives us in this book. What he writes will wrench your heart but it is all true—it all happened. Not an easy book to read, “Heart Like Water” is poignant and evocative and larger than life. Written in the first person, it is the story of one of the most terrible periods of American history and is entertaining but important as well as a look at how people face change, adjust to it and survive.

There were times as I was reading that I felt like I had a pill in my throat that I could not swallow—the emotional experience was that strong. The book is raw and reveals a look at the people affected by the storm from an angle we have not yet had. Clark relates the happenings of the storm as they happened and we get the truth without sermonizing.

Clark moves from an observer to an active rebel to a mystical madman, a victim of trauma and a political activist. He saw the pain and suffering and he lets us see it. We feel for the people who lost everything (I know how it feels because I lost all except what I was wearing) but we also see a new approach to loss-that which is not lost—the love for a place and its people.

Everyone asks what it was like when the levees broke. Look no further, it is all here in this wonderful memoir of a terrible time.

“Haunted Hearths & Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories”– From Eerie to Romantic

Lundoff, Catherine, editor. “Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories”, Lethe Press, 2008.

From Eerie to Romantic

Amos Lassen

All of us love a good ghost story or urban legend. Ghost stories have been with us forever and they terrify or give suspense or resurrect passion or do all three. Ghost stories in many cases are domestic tales and because of that they are relatable and even more fun. But what about lesbian ghost stories? Are they the same as others? Is there a dark side to lesbians or is it because so many ghost stories contain female characters? That is for you to decide as you read the seventeen stories in his volume.

The stories here are universal and cover the world. There is a story for everyone and there are plenty ghosts who make the reader sit up and take notice. I read that because so many ghost stories feature women, that it is relatively easy to look at them as “coded lesbians”—women on the edge of life. With that in mine, lock your doors and steep some tea and have a great read.

“What Do Gay Men Want?: An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity”– Provocative Thoughts

Halperin, David. “What Do Gay Men Want?: An Essay on Sex, Risk and Subjectivity”, The University of Michigan Pres, 2007.

Provocative Thoughts

Amos Lassen

Many think of homosexuals as being sick and this has been the predominant answer since gay liberation has come to fore. Times, like everything else, change and doctors are again looking at the nature of gay men especially as regards their motives in taking risks while the AIDS  epidemic is still ongoing.. Suddenly a rethinking about                                                                                                                                                                                                           the issues of self esteem, “lack of self-control” and “various other psychological “deficits” has become popular.  In his essay, Professor David Halperin gives a new approach to describing the lives of gay men.

Halperin looks at the limits of desire and shows that they cannot be explained through the analysis of each individual psyche and instead proposes a “poetical-philosophical-political exegesis in smooth and sleek language which makes the book a small treasure in the field of gay studies. He looks at the idea of bare backing or unprotected sex and shows that the key to understanding is not in the realm of psychology because it attempts to hide moral assumptions on the nature of sex/ Instead he looks to the various disciplines of queer thought which provide extremely interesting possibilities for the exploration of what gay men really want and uses readings by both obscure and well known queer theorists. In this theory which he provides he shows that gay men use abjection to formulate alternative and non-moralistic models to think about the subjectivity of the modern gay male. What we get are creative and non-judgmental ways to hinder the spread of the AIDS virus as well as news to consider our lives.

I am sure that this sounds like heady stuff but Halperin writes in a way that everything is totally comprehensible and understandable. It’s good to have a voice like this to weigh in with a new opinion.