Thursday, March 24, 2016
Tommy Kirk: Born too Early
Ultra-conservative readers might want to tune out today, because I don't want to be held responsible for certain people dying when they swallow their tongues from shock. That's right, today we're returning to a subject we visit on occasion -- we're going gay. Forsooth!
A few days ago, tripping across TV channels, I happened upon an older, un-watchable movie whose title I can't even remember now, thank god. Nevertheless, I did notice an adult actor who looked familiar, yet I couldn't place the face. Curiosity forced me to wait for the end credits, and it didn't take long for a familiar name to flash by: Tommy Kirk. Then I remembered.
Most kids growing up in the fifties and early sixties would know his name, for Tommy Kirk (born in 1941 and off to an acting career by age 13) appeared in a number of family-oriented movies produced by the Walt Disney studios. Described as "scrappy," personable and photographically engaging, Kirk the kid must have served as a tremendous boon to Disney bank accounts.
As is my frequent practice when I see a name from my TV or movie-watching past, I brought up Kirk's name at the International Movie Data Base, which you can see here:
Though expecting that Kirk's private life as a teenager might have been difficult -- a fate befalling many a young actor and actress in years gone by -- I was taken by surprise when I read details provided by both mini-biographer Gary Brumburgh and Kirk himself. I had no idea that Kirk's career came crashing down at age 21 when Disney and Hollywood in general discovered he was gay, his status having been revealed when he was found to be having a sexual affair with a 15-year-old boy he met at a public pool.
Now, I realize there are laws -- but I also realize that back "then" there were newsstands and magazines making a good living off photos of naked young boys and girls -- AND local and state governments benefited from what must have been a treasure trove of taxes. It's the money, not the morality.
The only reason I'm focusing upon Tommy Kirk here is the fact that the Disney folks made a business decision to reflect the times, and those times demanded that any actor who came out of the closet was perceived as instant poison to the motion picture industry - though, obviously (yes, OBVIOUSLY) even in those years homosexuals were hardly insignificant to the movie biz, as long as they remained anonymous, gay-wise. Yes, I know, being 21 and caught with a 15-year-old of similar gender didn't help Kirk, either -- but the man/boy relationship thing is another subject in itself, and we aren't going there today. By the way, can you say helo-o-o-o-o-o, Rock Hudson?
The point is, here we are and it's 2016, and I kinda think that to get a job with the new Disney studios and their affiliates, being gay is one fine selling point -- maybe it's almost mandatory!
Tommy Kirk, by his own admission, made some exceptionally bad films as post-coming out years passed, and finally gave up on movies, having embraced drugs and almost dying from an overdose on one or two occasions. We're glad that he eventually cleaned up his life and went into business for himself -- but, darn Tom, you should have been born a few years later. Hollywood would have loved you for yourself, not merely as a movie reviewer's pressbook icon.