Brentwood, May 1991
Cesar Romero, the 1940s heartthrob and 1960s Batman villain, is telling me about some of his more memorable hookups.
"I was the go-to guy of Hollywood," he brags. "Gay, bi, closeted, I didn't care, as long as you met my standards."
"Which were....?" I ask.
He squeezes my knee. "Under 40, handsome, nice hair, and hung like an elephant. I've dated or tricked with Johnny Sheffield, Tommy Cook, Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon, Tony Perkins, William Holden..."
"But what about more recent stars, the ones I knew in my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s?"
"Well, you already know about Burt Ward, who played Robin on the Batman series. Then there's Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, Desi Arnaz Jr....."
Desi Arnaz, Jr, one of my biggest childhood crushes!
Born in 1953, Desi grew up in the shadow of his famous parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr. As a teenager he started a boy band, Dino, Desi, and Billy, with his friends Dino Martin (son of famous crooner Dean Martin) and Billy Hinsche. From 1968 to 1972 he starred in his mother's sitcom, Here's Lucy, as she tried to draw young fans.
Later I would see him in The Mambo Kings (1992), playing his father, Desi Arnaz Sr., who takes a professional -- and obviously homoerotic -- interest in two Cuban brothers (Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas).
"You've been with your close friend's son?" I ask. "Did Desi Senior know?"
Cesar laughs. "My boy, not only did he know about it, he arranged it! But that's a story for another time. I'm a bit tired."
It takes a few more visits and a lot more wheedling before Cesar is willing to open up about Desi Arnaz Jr. Why, I wonder, is this memory more troubling than all the others?
In the spring of 1969, Cesar guest starred on Here's Lucy as a handsome jewel thief [the episode, "A Date for Lucy, aired February 10th, 1969]. He hadn't seen Desi Jr. for several years, and he was impressed with how the 16-year old had blossomed -- strong, self-confident, yet androgynous, even fey. Cesar wondered if the boy might be that way, like his father, but to avoid tension with Lucy, he didn't say anything.
Nearly two years later, near Valentine's Day in 1971, Desi invited Cesar out to lunch and said "My son's got a problem. He's not straight."
Cesar laughed. "I've suspected that for some time, but it's hardly a problem if you're discrete."
"Aye, que barbaridad, cabron! He's not discrete at all."
It seems that when he turned eighteen, Lucy and her husband Gary Morton gave Desi permission to move into an apartment with his buddy Dino, not realizing that they were both that way. Now the boys were cruising on Hollywood Boulevard, echando hustlers,or in Griffith Park where undercover cops patroled, or maybe even in the "fag bars" west of San Vicente, that got raided every five minutes. It was only a matter of time until they were arrested,or outed on the front page of The National Enquirer.
"Put the reigns on him." Desi said. "Teach him to be queer the right way. Keep it between friends, like when we were young."
Cesar was intrigued by the possibility of introducing both Desi and the very attractive, wavy-haired Dino to the joys of "a friendly gesture between friends."
So he called Desi, and got an invitation to their apartment off Selma in Hollywood -- rather a sleazy, bohemian neighborhood, full of druggies, radicals, jazz musicians, performance artists -- and queers. Hardly a proper neighborhood for two of the most famous young men in the world! But if you wanted lots of opportunities for same-sex liaisons....
Desi was a little taller than his father, and more muscular, with black hair and deep-set black eyes. He shook Cesar's hands warmly, and sat him on a leather couch with a can of beer and a plate of brownies. Cesar didn't ask if they contained marijuana.
"Your father tells me that you boys may be getting into trouble, hanging out with the wrong crowd, like...for instance, going to fag bars."
"I'm not gay!" Desi protested. "I dig chicks. I just like a little man-on-man action from time to time. What's wrong with that? Your generation's just uptight."
"The famous Latin lover Cesar Romero is a friend of Dorothy?" Desi said with a grin. "I wish I knew that last year, when you were on Here's Lucy. We could have had a lot of kicks." He moved across the couch and grabbed Cesar's knee.
"That's the point," Cesar said, struggling to keep focus, to not get aroused. "You can't trick with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. You have to be cautious, keep it in the family. Just go with friends. Like Dino."
"Oh, we never do each other," Desi said, unzipping Cesar's pants. "He's like a brother to me. Sometimes we share dudes, though. Girls, too...."
Desi went down on Cesar's uncut Bratwurst, and pulled out his own aroused Kielbasa. Cesar moved them into the 69 position on the living room floor.
A few moments later, Dino came in. "Bringing your tricks home?" he asked.
Desi raised his head. "Dino, you remember Cesar Romero, Pop's friend?"
Dino laughed. "You really know how to pick them, bud. Mind if I get in on some of that action?"
Soon Dino and Desi both were working on Cesar while he fondled them. When he finished, he went down on them at the same time. Dino was a little bigger than Desi, and thicker around, but with thirty years of experience, he managed.
He noticed that they didn't kiss or fondle each other.
Desi finished first, and went into the bathroom to wash off while Cesar went down on Dino alone. He shivered all over as he finished with a gigantic load.
Then they all dressed and returned to their beers.
"Cruising in the bars is too risky," Cesar said. "If you're found out, it won't only ruin you, it will ruin your parents. Their careers will be over. Better to keep it among friends."
"That may have been true in the Dark Ages," Dino said, "But it's a new world. We have Gay Liberation now. Nobody cares if you like boys or girls, or both."
Cesar hoped that he and Dino and Desi Jr. would become close and start meeting regularly for "friendly gestures between friends" like those he had with Desi Senior in the 1940s. But they refused lunch invitations, and never had him over for coffee and sex again.
Maybe they only liked it with strangers.
Was Cesar Telling the Truth?
Dino and Desi did share an apartment in the 1970s. Dino's bisexuality is well known, and Desi has been the subject of bisexual rumors (he lived with Liza Minnelli, whose four husbands have all been gay).
But in 1971, Cesar was 65 years old, and a friend of Desi's father. Would Desi really want to hook up with him? Would Dino?
But...Cesar was hesitant about talking about Desi Jr, as if the memory was painful. His hope for an ongoing friendship was never realized. That gives his story a ring of truth.
See also: Cesar Hooks Up with the Entire Male Cast of I Love Lucy.; Dean Paul Martin.