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Gay Characters in US Soaps


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I believe it was Brian Starcher who played fashion designer Hank Elliot on ATWT.

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Which begs the question on why B&B still to this day hasn't had an openly gay character in its soap......yet we get overload of Liam .....

Edited by Soapsuds
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I think the first few were lesbian/bisexual women in unhappy marriages seeking solace with female friends.

 

Y&R had Katherine Chancellor getting friendly with a woman around 1977 before her son halted their friendship as they were about to leave for a trip. 

 

DAYS had married Sharon Duvall expressing intimate feelings for Julie around the same year. Julie was "sickened" by it. (which, as I've said previously, is why I'd LOVE for them to give a nod to Julie's past in reference to today and how much she loves and supports Will, etc.) 

 

Plus we had Mike Horton (Wesley Eure) in the mid 70's questioning his own sexuality when he couldn't get it up (I think) for someone. 

 

Edited by Gray Bunny
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Katherine Chancellor's brief exploration was with Joann Curtis, who worked for her, I think, and whose husband Jack was a college professor who had raped Peggy Brooks. Joann was slightly overweight and felt bad about herself, and Katherine was still not over her husband's death (and may have been drinking at the time), so the two women became "close."

 

Sharon Duval was, I think, the first woman who said "I love you" to another woman (Julie Williams) and meant it in a lesbian-sort-of-way. Julie said it was "sick" and Sharon and her husband Karl left Salem pretty quickly after that. Oh, and Sharon was a patient of Marlena's,  so of course she was unstable. Also on DAYS, I do vaguely remember Mike's angst about not being able to have sex with Trish Clayton, but again, the dialogue was only some veiled hints about what might be going on, and of course Mike "recovered" eventually.

 

Certainly no characters in the 1970s ever uttered the words "gay" or "lesbian." I remember watching Michael Randolph on ANOTHER WORLD who became fairly prominent pretty quickly. Without actually having a storyline of his own, and most especially without any romantic interest for a long time, he was always looking out for his family members and I wondered what was really going on. It was only years later that writer Harding Lemay revealed that he had intended for Michael to be gay (and had told that to the actor when he was cast) but that after some time the people higher up decided that it couldn't happen after all. Michael got a girlfriend pretty quickly, and then eventually was duped into a disastrous marriage to a golddigging Frame woman (as Aunt Liz would say). After that he left Bay City, never to return.

 

I suspect that even earlier there were some "coded" gay characters, similar to Hollywood's treatment of Addison DeWitt in "All about Eve" or the several roles played by Edward Everett Horton. One possibility that has been suggested is LOVE OF LIFE's bachelor Evans Baker who was Meg's lawyer for several years in the 1950s and who apparently had some rather arch dialogue from time to time, but I doubt there are enough episodes available to make a good evaluation today. Gay headwriters John Pickard and Frank Provo did write the show during some of those years but I don't know whether they created the character.

 

Which leaves us with AMC's Lynn Carson in the early 80s and ATWT's Hank Eliot later in the decade as the first openly gay characters, though neither lasted all that long. There were a few more in the 1990s, but it's not until the children of legacy characters start coming out that we have gay characters who remain on the canvas for several years,

 

Edited by BuckyB12
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I just wrote my master's essay about this (well focusing on AMC and OLTL) so am too bored with it to say more

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But yah, I think Dr. Lynn was really the first major one--she was on for about 6-8 months (I haven't been able to nail down exact dates, because different people have said different things--).  I also came across different reasons for the creation--several involved said Agnes specifically had wanted to tell a gay male story for a while--ABC allowed her a gay story but said that they already had a gay male on their network--Steven on Dynasty--so they should do a lesbian character(I guess one of each gender was all that was allowed).  However Wisner Washam has said that the idea for a lesbian must have came, he assumed, from EP Jacquelin Babbin who was a lesbian.

I think theyw ere ambitious--they hired Donna Pescow to play the role who of course 5 years earlier had starred in Sat Night Fever and was considered pretty glamorous (of course her SNFever co-star had left the role of Tara by then).  The thing is she interacted almost only with Devon Shepherd--who was suffering from being left by her husband (I think) and had become an alcoholic--they met at a bar, Lynn was a shrink who had just moved to PV after breaking up with her partner.  Devon begins falling in love with Lynn but Lynn gently lets her down revealing she's just experience transference and isn't really a lesbian.  I've only seen some episodes but I remember one that I had a clip of on an old VHS I was given of 1983 episodes where around Christmas Lynn is lonely, packing up her apartment to move back (strikingly the other characters that episode are all with family, celebrating Christmas--I'm sure the intention wasn't to suggest gays are lonely, but...)  Still they were careful witht he material--making it very clear that gay people are born that way, that it's not an issue, that hey're not predatory.  Here's her coming out scene to Devon which sounds a bit like an afterschool special, but...  (I mean to even have a lesbian on a tv show for six months was quite something in 1983 where on primetime tv gays were almost entirely relegated to "very special episodes" and never seen again).

Here she is coming out (at 4:45).  Significantly she seems to have only one scene in this VERY packed episode. 



 

The problem with gay storylines of course was they were treated like social issue storylines.  However with most social issue storylines the issue would be resolved--for example you had Donna on AMC the teen hooker.  Eventually, Donna's "social problem" is resolved, she is estranged from her pimp, and she is with Chuck and so can live a part of the PV community the idea being that for a character to be sustainable on a soap (this was the belief at the time) they had to be able to be a part of the community.  But homosexuality (if they were telling the story responsibly) is not something that can be cured or change.  And of course romantic pairings are usually the driving force of story and you need another gay character for that, and preferably more than one to create some tension, etc, etc.

In my essay I then cover the Billy Douglas OLTL storyline which is more ambitious and more successful (his storyline affects and is intertwined with the broader canvas) but for a variety of reasons couldn't be sustained past the storyline (also of course they bailed on giving him a romance--Malone talked in an interview I found about a storyline involving a series of awkward double dates between him and his BF, who we saw briefly, and Joey and his girlfriend but ABC balked--also Ryan Phillippe's contract was already up and his agent wanted him on a hot primetime soapy miniseries--forget the name but it flopped--etc etc).

 

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39 minutes ago, BuckyB12 said:

Which leaves us with AMC's Lynn Carson in the early 80s and ATWT's Hank Eliot later in the decade as the first openly gay characters, though neither lasted all that long. There were a few more in the 1990s, but it's not until the children of legacy characters start coming out that we have gay characters who remain on the canvas for several years,

 

Right and famously networks were "wise" enough to forbid that (ie not letting Malone make Joey Buchanen gay on OLTL). 

I do think one gay storyline (and I made it the center of my essay) that gets ignored in a lot of the articles I found about gay storylines (including a number of academic articles) is the 2005-Michael Delaney storyline that moved to the Kevin Sheffield storyline and played out for a good 2 years--mainlyc reated by Lorraine Broderick and Hal Corley.  Of course I was just the right age for it when it aired but often articles jump from the Billy Douglas storyline to Bianca coming out.  Yet the Delaney storyline did a lot of first--he was tied to a core family (the Dillons)--they started it off with a Philadelphia like storyline of Trevor having to face his homophobia (eventually representing him in court against the school board that fires him) was involved with a ton of characters with the school holocaust/gay storyline, introduced Kevin Sheffield (though they hinted Scott Chandler might be gay) , then went to the whole Cutting Edge shooting of Laurel, then went into the Kevin gay stuff, and Kevin remained on the canvas including a gay conversion therapy storyline which I think may have been a first on American tv ever, and his friendship with Kelsey who was in love with him, etc (and just the fact that he remained a part of the youth scene and wasn't phased out was major).  Of course with the writer change at the end of 1997 he literally disappeared from the show, but...

Some clips of the later stuff: 

 

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1 hour ago, BuckyB12 said:

Katherine Chancellor's brief exploration was with Joann Curtis, who worked for her, I think, and whose husband Jack was a college professor who had raped Peggy Brooks. Joann was slightly overweight and felt bad about herself, and Katherine was still not over her husband's death (and may have been drinking at the time), so the two women became "close."

 

Sharon Duval was, I think, the first woman who said "I love you" to another woman (Julie Williams) and meant it in a lesbian-sort-of-way. Julie said it was "sick" and Sharon and her husband Karl left Salem pretty quickly after that. Oh, and Sharon was a patient of Marlena's,  so of course she was unstable. Also on DAYS, I do vaguely remember Mike's angst about not being able to have sex with Trish Clayton, but again, the dialogue was only some veiled hints about what might be going on, and of course Mike "recovered" eventually.

 

Certainly no characters in the 1970s ever uttered the words "gay" or "lesbian." I remember watching Michael Randolph on ANOTHER WORLD who became fairly prominent pretty quickly. Without actually having a storyline of his own, and most especially without any romantic interest for a long time, he was always looking out for his family members and I wondered what was really going on. It was only years later that writer Harding Lemay revealed that he had intended for Michael to be gay (and had told that to the actor when he was cast) but that after some time the people higher up decided that it couldn't happen after all. Michael got a girlfriend pretty quickly, and then eventually was duped into a disastrous marriage to a golddigging Frame woman (as Aunt Liz would say). After that he left Bay City, never to return.

 

I suspect that even earlier there were some "coded" gay characters, similar to Hollywood's treatment of Addison DeWitt in "All about Eve" or the several roles played by Edward Everett Horton. One possibility that has been suggested is LOVE OF LIFE's bachelor Evans Baker who was Meg's lawyer for several years in the 1950s and who apparently had some rather arch dialogue from time to time, but I doubt there are enough episodes available to make a good evaluation today. Gay headwriters John Pickard and Frank Provo did write the show during some of those years but I don't know whether they created the character.

 

Which leaves us with AMC's Lynn Carson in the early 80s and ATWT's Hank Eliot later in the decade as the first openly gay characters, though neither lasted all that long. There were a few more in the 1990s, but it's not until the children of legacy characters start coming out that we have gay characters who remain on the canvas for several years,

 

 

Actually, just for clarification, Jack Curtis did NOT rape Peggy Brooks on Y&R. A sleazeball named Ron Becker did. He was drugging his wife Nancy to keep her disoriented and silent about it.

 

Joann Curtis was pretty overweight when her husband Jack started chasing after Peggy. Actress Kay Heberle had to lose 40 pounds for the show as the storyline developed. She did, and ended up looking fabulous.

 

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Unfortunately, the actress died earlier this year. Here's her obituary.

 

https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/fort-worth-tx/linda-heberle-7818790

 

After Sharon Duvall came out to Julie on DAYS, Marlena Evans and Laura Horton had a conversation about homosexuality, which writer Ann Marcus made quite positive. Marlena and Laura acknowledged that they both had gay friends (none of whom the audience had ever seen). They did use the word "gay" during that scene.

 

Mike Horton was in love with and sexually attracted to Trish Clayton, but he was unable to perform during their initial attempts at lovemaking, and this traumatized him.  He wailed to his father's former mistress, Linda Phillips, "Don't you see what that makes me?" You are right: the show did not use the term "gay" in that episode, but we knew what Mike was afraid of. He ended up going to bed with Linda (eww), and realized that the fears about his orientation were not warranted.

 

If we can count Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (also written by Ann Marcus) as a soap, there was a gay storyline on that show in 1976, in which the characters talked about the hardships face by the homosexual community. And on Love of Life, Ben Harper was the intended victim of a homosexual prison rape in 1977 (I think).

 

As you mentioned, most gay characters on soaps were "coded" for the longest time, and while the audience could figure out (or at least assume) what was going on, the writers left it vague.

 

 

 

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14 hours ago, Edward Skylover said:

Thanks. B&B hasn't had any gay characters?

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The guy who played Caroline Spencer's confidant back in 2013 (?) was also a gay character, as he once said he'd bring a date (a man) to some kind of party. But yeah, he was just a temp character and it never went beyond that one mention, I think.

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It always bothered me how they treated gay characters on Passions, granted they did win GLAAD awards for LGBT representation. The fact they made Simone gay almost felt like it was because they had nothing else for her character to do. Are we supposed to forget the first few years of the show she was madly in love with Chad. It wouldn't bother me so much if they said something along the lines of her being bisexual, liking guys and girls, but her being with Rae seemed out of left field. With that storyline Passions became the first soap to show a lesbian love scene on daytime TV ironically. 

 

Same goes for Mrs. Wallace. Wasn't she man crazy and the show did a montage of the various men shes been with over the years when she was trying to recall Beth's father, and then of all people she ended up with Norma! I'm not gonna lie, Mrs. Wallace and Norma were a hoot together but its the inconsistency that bothers me.

 

Lastly Chad... I feel the show only had him with Vincent as a way to hint at Vincent/Valerie being the same person. Everytime Chad would insist he wasn't gay he would follow it up with there being something different about Vincent (the fact he's also Valerie, the half man/half woman blackmailer.) At the end, is that a good enough excuse or to most fans he was gay?

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