Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lonesome Cowboys

The release of "Brokeback Mountain" a few years back was apparently a watershed event in America's (the world's?) long, long journey out of psychosexual babyhood, but even so it was met with more than the usual amount of animosity because it involved a supposedly subversive take on a sacred American icon - The Cowboy. But seriously? Aside from sailors and jailbirds, is there any masculine archetype more readily associated with same-sex horseplay than the Horseman of the American West? Macho, rugged, borderline social deviant (can sexual deviant be far behind?), deprived of female companionship for long stretches, with their crotches rhythmically rubbing leather all the livelong day… why would it surprise anyone that those lonesome cowpokes should consider pokin' one another? Willie Nelson wrote a song about Cowboy Love years before "Brokeback" broke, supposedly as a joke - but you gotta wonder whether Willie wasn't just trying to skewer our assumptions about how ramrod-straight some of our bowlegged heroes really were. Whatever happened to Randolph Scott? Oh yeah, he shacked up with Cary Grant.*

But the actual historical reality or even likelihood of cowboy lovers is really kind of irrelevant - it's one of the hottest of same-sex fantasies, and one that seems to be making yet another comeback, if "Brokeback" is any indication. For those of us erotically weaned on B-movies and TV re-runs, cowboy co-hab was a favorite fantasy, because the men were usually painfully handsome (even though, or especially because, they were often unshaven and sweaty), hairy, muscular, and wearing tight jeans and/or chaps - and occasionally they were shirtless and tied up by Indians or bad guys. (Sometimes they were even tortured - but never with any lasting physical or emotional damage, of course.) Cheyenne, Wagon Train, Laredo, Maverick, The Wild Wild West - it seems that in the 50s and 60s Hollywood produced one show after another full of hot stallions, and in the 70s and 80s they re-ran them endlessly.

For me, the quintessential cowboy buddy show was "Laramie", in which the family of goodguy cowboy Slim Sherman, trying to hold on to their ranch, hires on a wiry, handsome dark-haired drifter named Jess Harper, and Slim and Jess, like Cary and Randolph, share a rustic pad. The dark drifter with the troubled past was played by Robert Fuller, one of the best-looking men ever to scorch the TV airwaves, and the goody-goody white-hat rancher was played by boyish bohunk John Smith. (Yes, John Smith. And yes, he looks exactly like you'd expect a "John Smith" would look - big, beefy, blond, and bland.)

While both men filled out their jeans nicely, Fuller also had a nice muscular build (Smith, while not flabby, was undefined and soft looking) and a perfect American hero's mug - a square, chiseled jaw, seemingly permanent five o'clock shadow, piercing blue eyes. He was the quintessential lovable bad boy (who when all was said and done, was not bad at all but simply misunderstood/mistreated/played by his own rules). Even Fuller's substandard dental work - including a big gap between his front teeth - only added to his rugged handsomeness.


It was this supposed wildness of the dark drifter and his subsequent domestication (in one episode he even serves Smith and his younger brother breakfast while dressed in a frilly apron) that provided not just dramatic tension for the series' narrative but erotic tension for those of us watching for more than just a story. Taming a stallion - what young aspiring cowboy doesn't have dreams, wet or otherwise, of doing just that?

* It must be pointed out, however, that Randolph Scott's family has consistently and vehemently denied that he was ever involved in any same-sex activity, and that the famous photos of him living with and cavorting with Cary Grant were probably just some weirdly misguided PR gone bad.


  1. I'm watching this series reair on GritTV. It's so obvious the gay undertones. Jess and Slim are always touching each other in a sensual way. Whether it's touching a face after a cut or gash or using a wet cloth to pat down a bruised chest, they can't seem to get enough of each other.

  2. Oh and also, the crotch bulges are what got me interested. I usually don't watch anything western, but there bulges keep me attention. Not to mention, Jess fills out his pants so lovely front AND back !

  3. Oooohhhh yeah, baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. The strongest undertones where in the episode No Place To Run. A very handsome and sexy guy named Gandy Ross pulls a gun on Jess Harper so he can massage Jess's injured knee.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Families - like politicians - learn to lie at a very early age to fit in so people will "like" us. How in the hell does Randolph Scott's family know what he did behind closed doors? Were they peeping through the key hole? They should have been getting their own freak on instead of worrying about what someone else is or ain't doing.