Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Gay Interest"

Before the drag queen comedy "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" came out, Julie was not a "gay icon."

Her film roles made her an awesome symbol of female perfection...for men. Her first fame with "Stupefin' Jones," in "Li'l Abner." Men's magazines of the day featured her constantly, in "cheesecake" and "bathing beauty" poses from some of the most red-blooded heterosexual photographers of all time, including Bernard of Hollywood, Peter Gowland and Peter Basch.

Of course, she had a percentage of gay fans, but it was "To Wong Foo" that brought more gays (and heterosexual transvestites) to see that there were more women to sigh over and emulate than just Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Carol Channing. Unlike those women, who were almost caricatures of certain types of females, Julie's main distinction was her height. Tall men could become a Julie. Her voice was not ridiculous, like Bette's, Judy's or Carol's. No outlandish frocks. No bitter campiness or "Yellow Brick Road" vulnerability. Just height. But after the movie came out, rumors circulated that Julie was born male.

While Julie, beautiful as ever, continued to pose in lingerie and even ran a campaign to call attention to the fact that older women can still be active in the boudoir, the "To Wong Foo" element gained traction. She was asked to appear at Gay Pride Parades amid the outrageous drag queens and jeering leather boys in their backless outfits. Having a gay brother, she had every reason to be interested in gay rights. She once went to San Francisco to pick up an award at a screening of "To Wong Foo" and it was a gay audience. Gay artists began to draw bizarre caricatures of her.

One of them devised a mocking new character for her to play: "Pussy." This would be a take-off on Catwoman. A premiere of the artwork for this endeavor brought an all-gay crowd screaming with laughter.

While memorabilia shows and comic-con crowds continued to be mostly heterosexual, with their "Catwoman" fascination, the gay element continued to grow, and "gay icon" became a familiar way of describing Julie Newmar. It was certainly not the way her contemporaries, from Brigitte Bardot to Tina Louise were described. Gay photographers photographed her looking ghostly and mourning AIDS victims, and a gay fashion designer dressed her in bizarre outfits. Gay George Michael featured her among the drag queens in a rock video in which she played a jealous older model with jet black hair and anger in her eyes.

Even on Facebook, amid a few nostalgic older photos posed by hetero photographers for hetero viewers, the slant became more and more gay, with promotions of gay photographers and designers. So it wasn't that much of a surprise to note that on eBay, images of Julie now bear the "GAY INTEREST" tag. Sellers use it because gays have come to "surf" for that catch-phrase. "GAY INTEREST" could mean drag items, magazines such as Honcho, or "campy" nostalgia which some think must include Julie Newmar.

Here's an eBay dealer who makes part of his living doing cheap computer print-outs and mailing them to stars so they can autograph them and he can sell them. The gimmick for a dealer is to get bang for his postal buck, and send in a half-dozen different photos, as if he's SUCH a big fan, he needs a whole set for his wall. Another gimmick is to pretend to be a teacher: "Please sign these 8 pictures, as I will give one away each month to the student who has the best reading score." Another gimmick? Well, a dealer at a memorabilia show had a stack of Robert Stack photos for sale, and ALSO was selling the "hand signed letter" he received. The letter to the dealer said: "Here are the photos you asked me to sign. You sure have a lot of cousins."

Stack didn't disappoint. And Julie? One of the half-dozen or more print-outs included a label on the back, noting that she has autographed photos for sale on her website. Just in case the six free autographed ones weren't enough.

Here's a random bunch of the items the dealer has on eBay at the moment. Note the ONLY star with "GAY INTEREST" after her name:

To quote the Seinfeld show's catch-phrase, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!"

When I began Julie's website years ago, and handled the e-mail (before she learned all the Internet ropes herself), I noticed the gay fans mirrored the gay population in general. Maybe one in ten. There was also a transsexual who enjoyed dressing up as Catwoman and even strolling around memorabilia shows while people took her picture, delighted by seeing a Catwoman as tall as Julie herself.

Today, the link between Julie Newmar and "gay interest" is much stronger, and she's affirmed it on Facebook. Why be concerned that this may turn off some who think "gay" means "pervert?" Those types need to be educated. Dropping away, too, are those who are insecure ("why do I like a woman GAYS like? I would never have attended a Judy Garland concert!") With the passing of Carol Channing, Julie is probably THE gay and drag icon for fans of Hollywood glamour.

"GAY INTEREST" as a selling tool for dupe-photo dealers? That's just another example of gay pride.


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