12 September 2013 | jf_moran49
"Gay" television pioneers
Actually, the first television series (in 1975) with two, recurring homosexual male characters ("George" & "Gordon") was the Norman Lear-produced "Hot L Baltimore." The gay men resided at the titled locale. This series was based on an off-Broadway play by Lanford Wilson which starred Conchata Ferrell (best known as "Berta" on the CBS-TV sitcom "Two & A Half Men") as the scene-stealing prostitute "April." Norman Lear caught Ferrell in the play and then came up with a TV version of the production, in which Ferrell re-created her off-Broadway role.
"Hot L Baltimore" also starred James Cromwell, who was better known as "Jerome 'Stretch' Cunningham," best workplace (the loading dock, before "Archie" bought "Kelsey's Bar") friend of "Archie Bunker" on the sitcom "All in the Family," and best known as that guy in the "Babe" pig movies.
Coincidentally (or not), Ferrell would also play "Rita Valdez" in the episode of Lear's "Maude" that said goodbye to housekeeper "Florida Evans," when the character and its star (Esther Rolle) were spun-off into "Good Times." Ferrell's "Valdez" was a funny and flippant Spanish-speaking job applicant for the position in which "Maude" ultimately chose the feisty, booze-swilling "Mrs. Nell Naugatuck" (played by the terrific Hermione Baddeley).
And the first TV series to feature a "gay" male as a regular, starring character was, indeed, NBC-TV's "Love, Sidney," which starred Tony Randall and Swoosie Kurtz. The pilot of the series was the film "Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend," which clearly mentioned the sexual orientation of the title character, while in the series that fact was assumed but never mentioned.
Kurtz didn't portray "Laurie Morgan" in the pilot film. That role in the film was played by Lorna Patterson, whose best-known role was as the title character (originated in the film by Goldie Hawn) in the TV version of "Private Benjamin." And the spelling of the surname of the lead character in "Love, Sidney" was changed from "Shorr" to "Shore," perhaps to further create a differentiation between film pilot and series, thus providing a claim to advertisers the two were different characters.
But, come on, we all know Paul Lynde was having himself a fabulous time, whether sitting in the center square trading barbs with Peter Marshall on "The Hollywood Squares," or playing "Uncle Arthur" in the long-running ABC-TV sitcom "Bewitched." As "Uncle Arthur" really was a semi-recurring character, I suppose he may be considered TV's first continuing gay male character. Does it always have to be stated to be so? Aren't some characters' natures implicit? And if one raises the issue of subtext, "Bewitched" and homosexuality were inextricably linked; the witch keeping her supernatural powers a secret from all but one mortal (the Down-Low or gay-friendly "Darrin"), symbolic of many homosexuals (then) remaining in the closet with most heterosexuals.
So, Norman Lear ("Hot L Baltimore"), Witt-Thomas-Harris ("SOAP"), and George Eckstein ("Love, Sidney,"), you may all defer to Sol Saks and William Asher (and Elizabeth Montgomery), as "Bewitched," thanks to "Uncle Arthur," may be considered the first TV series with a regular gay character.
This is also not forgetting Dick Sargent (the second "Darrin Stephens"), Maurice Evans (who played the dad of "Samantha Stephens," and was also a renowned Shakespearean stage actor--a lot of 'em are "light-in-the-loafers," must be those tights), and Lynde, were all homosexual males in real life, and the possibility Agnes Moorhead ("Endora," the mother of "Samantha") was a closeted lesbian (she was coy when specifically asked her orientation). But even in her role on "Bewitched," you just know "Endora" had to be a great fag hag.
The first made-for-TV film with gay characters, at least that I recall watching, was "That Certain Summer," which starred Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen as the gay couple, Scott Jacoby as the Holbrook character's son, and Hope Lang as Holbrook's character's estranged wife. This film debuted on November 1. 1972 as an "ABC Movie of the Week." Do you remember when the broadcast television networks aired originally-produced films on a regular basis?
In conclusion, "official" first television series with regular "gay" characters--"Hot L Baltimore" (debuted January 24, 1975); figurative first TV series with a regular "gay" character--"Bewitched" (1964), with Paul Lynde making his debut as "Uncle Arthur" in the October 14, 1965 episode "The Joker Is a Card." As country-western singer Collin Raye once sang, and stand-up comic Colin Quinn used to say, on the "Weekend Update" segment of "Saturday Night Live": "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."