What’s your EGI? (Earliest Gay Influence) or “The Hardy Boys Made Me Gay”

A gay comedian (whose name I can’t recall, unfortunate because he was HI-larious!) said that his earliest gay influence or role model was C3PO from “Star Wars.” After the laughter, the comic described the droid as “tooling about space, all decked out in gold lamé going ‘Master Luke! Master Luke!’ proving his point. R2D2 was also a lesbian, he said. “Tool belt on wheels!”

My EGI (Earliest Gay Influence – work with me, people, I’m trying to “start a meme” here as my young friend Will puts it) was not a robot, but he was extra-human. You may know him as Paul Lynde from the Hollywood Squares but I’ll always remember him as the warlock, Samantha’s Uncle Arthur from “Bewitched.” “Well, Endora, what are you going to turn Darren into today?” I can still hear him ask. One reason I still have so much lingering bitterness toward Richard Nixon is the Watergate hearings deprived me of my morning “Bewitched” ritual the summer of ’74. Not a nice trick to play on a budding six-year-old homosexual boy. Yes, that’s a lot of bitterness I realize.

But another early gay influence that I wrote about in my memoir was a series of books I read. No, not the Danny Orlis series, that’s another blog post. Here, I’m talking about The Hardy Boys.

Here’s what I wrote in 2003-2004:

“It wasn’t just the boys’ sleuthing that caught my attention. Frank and Joe’s adventures frequently took them to remote destinations in the woods where they had to cross a body of water. Sometimes they swam across a river, other times they might fall into a lake while boating or they might simply find themselves caught in a rainstorm in the middle of a forest. Inevitably the brothers would strip naked and wait for their clothes to dry. They would use this time to ponder the clues they had uncovered or talk about the next step of their investigation. But  I couldn’t get the visual out of my head.

“They were naked!

Forget that they were brothers. I was a nine and ten-year-old boy when I read these books. All I knew was that these images excited me unlike anything I’d ever imagined. When I wrote the memoir it had been 25 years since I’d seen a Hardy Boys book. Afterward, I wondered if my memory hadn’t been playing tricks on me. Well…recently I ran across my old Hardy Boys books and I grabbed two at random.

 Here’s what I found near the beginning of Book 2:

“Of course I don’t want the news broadcast,” Mr. Hardy said, “but I know I can trust your special friends. Call them up.”

“How about Chet and Biff?” Joe consulted Frank. As his brother nodded, he said, “You pack the telescope on your motorcycle. I’ll phone.”

Chet Morton was a stout, good-natured boy who loved to eat. Next to that, he enjoyed being with the Hardys and sharing their exciting adventures, although at times, when situations became dangerous, he wished he were somewhere else. Chet also loved to tinker with his machinery and spent long hours on his jalopy which he called Queen. He was trying to “soup up” the motor, so that he could have a real “hot rod.”

As I read these two books I was disturbed at the rampant racism and misogny but I don’t want to get into that as it’s kind of a downer. I’d rather focus on “Tom of Finland” artwork that passed for pictures in these books.

Another theme is how fat Chet is. Poor Chet. Chet with his Queen, the “hot rod” (I did NOT add those quotation marks, btw, those in the book too!)

Don't you love how they fight in V-neck sweaters and ties? Or...is this fighting? Or hooking up at The Eagle?

Here’s some more stuff about Chet:

Chet put his hands into his trouser pockets and with a grin pulled out a pair of pliers, a screw driver and a wrench. “I was working on the Queen this morning. Good thing I happened to put these in my pocket.”

Joe’s mind was racing with his throbbing motorcycle. In a few minutes he had far outdistanced his brother. Frank did not dare go any faster because of the telescope strapped onto his handlebars.”

Another thing I liked about the Hardy Boys was the absence of women:

“Biff, I’m afraid you’re going to be late getting home.” Frank chuckled. “Who is she?”

Biff reddened a little. “How’d you guess? I have a date tonight with Sally Sanderson. But she’s a good sport. She won’t mind waiting a little longer.”

Again the four boy straddled the motorcycles…

Mr. Hardy – “Fenton” – the boys’ father, is a detective who gives them cases. For a supposedly world-famous investigatory, Fenton Hardy relies on his teenage sons to solve a lot of problems. He’s also getting captured by the bad guys a lot. By the middle of the second book, for example, Mr. Hardy is already a hostage. Mrs. Hardy is your typical Harriet from Ozzie and Harriet. I don’t think she even gets a name until later in the series.

Mrs. Hardy was accustomed to her husband’s comings and goings at odd hours in connection with his profession and she had learned not to ask questions.

That’s a healthy notion to plant in the minds of young closeted homosexuals – that their wives shouldn’t ask about their comings and goings.

The nakedness in this book actually begins with their olive-skinned (his description, not mine) Italian-American friend, Tony Prito:

“Propeller started to foul up with some wire on that log.” Tony began to peel off his clothes. “Get me some pliers, will you?”

It doesn’t take Frank and Joe long to join in the striptease:

Quickly Frank and Joe took off their slacks, T shirts, sweaters, and sneakers. They rolled them up, and with twine which Tony provided, tied the bundles on top of their heads. They slipped over the side into the water.

Yes, I know there was a television series in the seventies. Don’t even get me started about that. I was NOT a fan. THAT “Frank” and “Joe” didn’t look anything like their pictures on the book covers and I wasn’t having it! Even the South Park episode about The Hardly Boys wasn’t very good.

Back to the books!

Ah, the subtext…

Mr. Tuttle seemed to relish the boys’ attention. “Well,” he went on, “some mighty queer things been happenin’ down there lately.”

More nakedness:

Soon the fire was burning briskly. As its warmth penetrated the cave, the boys took off their drenched clothes and spread them about the blaze, then wrapped themselves in the heavy blankets they had brought with them.

The rest of the afternoon the rain continued unabated. The clothes dried slowly. Chet produced the frying pan and the fragrant odor of sizzling bacon soon permeated their refuge. They ate ravenously, and at last sat back with deep sighs of sheer content.

Later in the same book:

“I have an idea,” Frank said. “We’ll swim out to the sub.” He stripped down to his shorts and Joe did the same. The brothers concealed their clothes behind a rock, then waded into the surf.

 I know what you’re thinking. That I’m applying a twenty-first century understanding of the world to a mid-twentieth century America that was much simpler. Also, that men used to be much more comfortable with being naked around each other and that it didn’t mean anything. I get that. Andrew Sullivan had a lengthy and interesting discussion about it on his blog late last year.

All that’s not my point. What I’m saying is that for me, twenty-five years after reading these book, these are the sections I recalled. And I wasn’t making them up.

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8 Responses to “What’s your EGI? (Earliest Gay Influence) or “The Hardy Boys Made Me Gay””

  1. Elliott Mackle Says:

    We read Hardy Boys books at Camp Cherokee but I was too smitten with my hairy, handsome counselor, a Georgia Tech undergraduate who taught me phototography, to notice mere LITERARY influences. We all got naked every morning before breakfast, hopped into ice-cold (to this Florida boy, anyhow) Lake Burton and soaped up. I still remember the effect his body and manly personality had on me.

  2. Captain Bill Brown Says:

    In 1954, I was a geeky twelve-year old Air Force brat in Arlington, Virginia, when I went to see “New Faces” at a local theatre. It was a filmed performance, in CinemaScope, color, and stereo sound no less, of a successful Broadway stage review. I’m not quite sure why it seems so gay to me now. Its Broadway origin has a lot to do with it, as does the presence of Paul Lynde, but, for me, it was Eartha Kitt purring Santa Baby. My parents thought I was crazy when I went back to see it three more times. Good luck finding a DVD. Amazon says they sell it, but its condition is unknown.

  3. Anthony Bodensteiner Says:

    The comedian that said that R2D2 was a lesbian “toolbelt on wheels is Mark Davis from the Comedy Central “Out There 2” special.

  4. David Says:

    I can remember reading those passages quite vividly as an 10-year-old boy and feeling the illicit thrill of imagining Frank, Joe, Biff and Tony naked, “waiting for their clothes to dry.” (Funny to think how many times I’ve used similar excuses as an adult.) I had a particular thing for Joe — at least the Joe in my imagination, who looked a lot like a boy I knew at school who I had a huge secret crush on. I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist home, so the Hardy Boys was about as close as I got to porn as a kid, but that’s probably the earliest indication to myself that I was gay. Ironic that my ultra-conservative parents unwittingly helped along my sexual awakening!

    • Rich Merritt Says:

      It’s amazing how many of us had this same experience!

  5. leo33wii Says:

    strange. I joined the boy scouts (12yrs old), part of the “Knight’s of Columbus” (Catholic group), I found a Hardy Boys book and was amazed by it. I remember and imagined them taking their wet clothes off too. But for me, growing, I was lucky enough to have friends who liked wrestling, wasn’t my thing and the men were… meh for my preference, but i did see one wrestler who made my jaw drop.

    later on, my friend’s mom had a chippendales bag that had some hot man on it. from then on, i knew 100% that i was gay.

  6. Queer Diction | djgarcia94 Says:

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