Monday, December 5, 2011
Rant #630: He Laughed In, But Never Came Out
Alan Seus died a few days ago. He was 85 years old.
For many people, the name of Alan Sues means absolutely nothing, but to a generation of baby boomers, he was one of the biggest TV stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Sues was a cast member on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, probably the most irreverent, off the wall show in television history. Changing the way we watched TV, the original show lasted five seasons, helped to make huge stars out of many of its cast members, including Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, and as far as I am concerned, has never been equaled to this day.
Alan Sues was a member of the zany troupe which included Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Joanne Worley, Judy Carne Dan Rowan and Dick Martin themselves, and many others. They brought a youthful zing into our homes in the late 1960s, reshaping the variety show forever--and probably leading that format to its death in its own way just a few years later.
Sues played an integral role in the proceedings. He got under the radar of the censors, somehow, in his playing of the generally effeminate character on the show.
His greatest achievement, and character on the show, was his portrayal of the less than masculine sportscaster, Big Al, where all the wispy posturing came right out to the fore. No one ever said the character was gay, but even in this then young kids' mind, there was something "funny" about this character. He not only made me laugh, but he made me think.
His character was the perfect play on the ultra-masculine sportscasters of the day, and his parody of them is one of the most memorable in that show's history.
He also played Uncle Al, the Kiddie's Pal, which was less successful, but still funny.
And the skits on the show often put him in situations where his "gay" attitude was allowed to shine, even though it wasn't broadcast that he was gay.
Remember, this was the late 1960s. Things started to be lampooned that hadn't been tackled in prior years, but one of the taboos continued to be homosexuality.
There were several actors who appeared regularly on TV who were gay, even though they either didn't admit it for years or never admitted it while alive. That list includes Raymond Burr, Roger C. Carmel, Robert Reed, Paul Lynde and Richard Deacon. They didn't admit it because during those years, it might have meant the end of their careers.
However, in Lynde's case, even younger viewers kind of knew there was something "odd" about this guy, and I think the same thing can be said for Sues.
In his private life, he never admitted to be gay. He was a military veteran, married, and actually had a long-running act with his then wife, who he divorced n the late 1950s but was friendly with until his death.
But there was something with this guy, and as a young kid watching Laugh-In, I thought he was absolutely hysterical. And I mean funny. I probably didn't even know what "gay" was at that time.
After Laugh-In rode its course, Sues continued to be active. He appeared in numerous Peter Pan peanut butter commercials in the 1970s, and again, he played that effeminate-type character. Nobody minded, as long as the peanut butter flowed.
He appeared on Broadway and several films, and at the time of his death, was actually putting together a somewhat autobiographical audio book on his life in show business.
Sues was a definite pioneer on television, but to me, I am able to look past that, and just admire him as a terrific comedian, a guy I really liked on Laugh-In.
And maybe that's the whole point, and the point he was going for. Acceptance comes in many forms, and for Sues, the medium of television was his way to get the word out that he could be as funny as anyone, no matter what skin he was in.
Posted by Larry at 3:31 AM