Beyond the Beltway: Cartoons pioneer gays on TV

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES – You may think this is a recent phenomenon that the slow arrival of homosexuality onto the TV landscape began when Roseanne made out with a chick from Central Park West. But it started way earlier than that. Or maybe I read a lot into what I watched as a kid, like most media-obsessed gay kids probably did.

While Will and Jack are out, and totally in, I have had gay TV friends since I was in jammies with feet. A ragtag group of animated gay-rights visionaries made their presence known every Saturday morning. Their creators may have painted them a little campy, but they were way ahead of their time.

The following is a tribute to those gay ‘toons who were out and proud even if their audiences were completely in the dark.

Vanity Smurf

Dude, was this guy gay! He filled to a T the 1980s gay male paradigm. Obsessed with his looks, he carried a mirror around like a valley girl keeps a curling iron in her glove compartment. And when the Smurfs marched around like ROTC cadets in their dress whites, Vanity zagged slightly leftward, wearing an oh-so-stylish flower behind his ear, always the Smurfiest dresser.

He surely scoured the local Nordstrom rack searching for something other than white hats and diapers. I am sure he was jealous of Papa Smurf’s fabulous red duds. But he failed to realize the blessing he had. Living in a town with only one eligible bachelorette afforded him an enviably large dating pool, with Handy, Hefty and Brainy lining up outside his toadstool like sailors on shore leave.

Snagglepuss

He was the swingingest cat aboard Yogi Bear’s Spruce Goose. Imagine the Wildean urbanity of Rupert Everett in the wardrobe of a Chippendale’s dancer: starched white cuffs and collar and a perfectly knotted bow tie.

Being stuck on a flying cruise ship with such backwoods bores as Quick-Draw McGraw and Magilla Gorilla must have been a drag for Snag. Too bad Fred – that hunk with the ascot from “Scooby Doo” – was stuck driving the Mystery Mobile and avoiding unwanted advances from Daphne.

Peppermint Patty and Marcy

While Sally was courting Linus and while Lucy was stalking Schroeder, two longtime denizens of the “Peanuts” universe had been living in committed bliss. Peppermint Patty and Marcy were the quintessential cartoon lesbian couple. Peppermint Patty was a genius athletically – a stereotype, but it was the ’60s. Patty could pummel the boys, and she was always ready with a friendly sock in the shoulder and a “Better luck next time, fellas.”

And there was Marcy on the sidelines with a heavy tome. She was Patty’s best bud and the perfect brainy counterpart to Patty’s brawn. Although Patty was a little controlling, Marcy indulged her coyly. She may have called Patty “Sir” in front of their friends, but I am sure they had cuter pet names when reading and rugby were put aside.

Bugs Bunny

No cartoon donned sexier drag and kissed more male nemeses. Bugs was foxy in a dress, and he used his sex appeal to out-savvy Elmer Fudd, disarming him with a big smooch – lipstick perfectly applied, of course. Bugs was a role model for future gay activists, a guy who was not afraid to confront his foes with what they feared most. A bunny in a dress is freaky, but a gay bunny in a dress kissing you? Bugs knew what he was doing.

So thanks to those fearless ‘toons who paved the way. You brought new truth to the stereotype that gay people are animated, and you did it with style and grace.

-Adam Skalman
Daily Bruin (U. California-Los Angeles)

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