Monday, October 9, 2017

Lane's Friend Hooks Up with Dennis the Menace

West Hollywood, May 1988

"Check out the chub!" Lane's boyfriend Danny exclaimed.  He pointed to the other side of the dance floor at the Rage.  A guy in his late 30s or 40s, short, chunky, with a scruffy beard, drinking by himself and glaring at the crowd.

"Nothing wrong with chubs," Michael said -- he found a little belly rather hot -- "But not in a twink bar.  He should be at the Faultline or the Eagle."

Danny and Lane knew Michael from the gay synagogue.  He was a psychologist, 27 years old, slim, with thick black hair, black eyebrows, and a smooth chest.  A year or so later, when I started dating Lane, we "shared": average sized penis, oral bottom.

"Or he should at least dress for the Rage," Lane said.  The chub was wearing a yellow t-shirt and too-tight blue short that showed no basket. Unbecoming, almost pathetic.

 "Or he should at least work the room," Danny added.  "Joke, flirt, offer drinks.  Being the life of the party can make up for a lot of flaws."

"You know what," Michael said, "I think he's new to West Hollywood, maybe newly out.  Never been with a guy before.  I could be his first!  I'm going to go cruise him."

Danny  rolled his eyes.  "Suit yourself."

Michael made eye contact and approached.  Only when he was within groping distance did he recognize the guy as Jay North!

The first generation of Baby Boomers  remembers Jay North (1951-) from the live-action version of the Hank Ketcham comic strip, Dennis the Menace (1959-1963), but Michael remembered him from Maya (1967-68), about an American boy buddy-bonding with an Indian mahout: his first glimmer of same-sex desire.

"Hi, I'm Michael," he said with a cruisy grin.  "I have to say, I had a big crush on you as a kid.  What have you been up to lately?  Still acting?"

That was the wrong opening line.  "Golly gee, Mr. Wilson," Jay said in a sarcastic falsetto, "Casting agents are battering my door down with simply oodles and oodles of scripts."

Rebuffed, Michael backed off, but Jay grabbed his arm.  "I'm sorry.  I'm a little drunk, and I've already been rejected tonight."

Michael shrugged and returned to him.  They had a short, slurred conversation, and groped a bit --  Jay wouldn't kiss -- and made a date for the next night.

When Michael knocked on the door of the small apartment in the San Fernando Valley, Jay was already naked -- and drunk.  He had a hairy chest, a hairy belly, thick legs, and an average-sized penis.

"This is what you came here for, isn't it?" he said.  "The rocket in my pocket?"  He sat on the couch with his legs spread and held out a small box.  "Want some coke first?"

Michael sat down next to him and put his hand on his knee.  "I don't do drugs.  And I don't suck cock until I get to know the guy."

"Gotcha -- can't be too careful.  Well, I was tested last March, and I'm negative, so go for it."  He tried to push Michael's head down over his crotch.

"Wait -- I meant getting to know the guy for real.  Not just his AIDS status."

Jay looked perplexed, but said, "Sure, if that's your game."

"It's not a game -- it's called real life.  Come on -- get dressed and we'll go to dinner.  My treat."

"Your treat..."  Jay said softly.  "But..."

"I'm paying.  You're my guest tonight."

"Ok...just a minute."  Jay stood, walked shakily into the bedroom, and shut the door -- to get dressed, Michael assumed.  He waited a long time, then knocked.

No answer.  He gingerly opened the door.

Jay was lying on the bed, crying.

They never made it to dinner that night.  They didn't have sex, either.  Instead, Jay told Michael a story.

Jay did not remember his years on Dennis the Menace fondly.  Although his fellow cast members treated him well, he was terrorized by his caretaker aunt and uncle, physically and emotionally abused when he missed a cue or flubbed a line. He was beaten, slapped, burned with a cigarette, locked in a closet.  

He was not allowed to play outside or have friends over, not even Billy Booth, who played his best friend Tommy.  His life was all rehearsal and performance.

"I couldn't be human; I had to be superhuman."

His only relief was hiding on The Donna Reed set next door with his friend Paul Peterson, where he drew pictures of small boys trapped in prisons and getting chased by monsters.

After Dennis, he managed to scrounge a few teenage roles: Maya; a boy trapped in a fantasy world in Here Comes the Grump, a student who has sex with The Teacher (1974).  But mostly he found that Hollywood wasn't interested in him anymore, except as a curiosity.

And as an sex object.  He found himself on the casting couch with everyone from Diana Marshall to Sal Mineo, and often he still didn't get the job.

 (Courtney Burr, Sal Mineo's lover, recalls that Sal invited him to share the hookup, but Jay looked too much like "a vulnerable little boy," so he refused).

Jay described the last ten years as a blur of degradation and despair.  He married once, but it ended in divorce.  He moved from job to job.
He tried every drug imaginable.

He grew chunky and out of shape.

He suffered from violent rages, and had fantasies about becoming a serial killer:  "Former Dennis the Menace discovered with three decapitated heads in his freezer!"

That anecdote should have made Michael very nervous, but somehow, as he was lying on the bed with the nude, sobbing Jay North in his arms, it didn't.

Jay said that he had lots of sex with men and women, not because he was particularly interested in them, but because they momentarily filled the void, made him feel desired.  His usual routine was to look for a woman, and if he struck out, look for a man.

But he was not exactly Tom Selleck, and when he got drunk, he was not exactly pleasant -- besides, during the AIDS crisis most people were into dating, not hooking up -- so most often he ended up going home with a male or female Dennis the Menace fetishist who wanted him to say "Golly gee, Mr. Wilson" while they were going down on him.

"I'm not going to go down on you," Michael said.  "I'm not going to do anything.  You're still a little boy, and no wonder -- no one ever let you grow up.  No one ever let you heal.  But I think, with some help, you can start."

He lay all night with Jay North in his arms, naked but not aroused, talking.

Soon Jay began the slow, painful process of recovery.  He became clean and sober.  He moved to Florida, where he found a new career as a corrections officer.  He started dating a woman, Cindy Hackney, who wasn't a Dennis the Menace fetishist (they've since married).  He started working with A Minor Consideration, the child actor advocacy group.

Several people deserve credit for sticking with Jay through the dark years and helping him turn his life around: Paul Peterson; Jeannie Russell, who played Margaret on Dennis the Menace, now a chiropractor in North Hollywood; and Lane's friend Michael, who picked him up at the Rage one night in the summer of 1988.

See also: Levi's Date with a Star of "The Dick Van Dyke Show"; Jay North's Gay Connection; Lane and His Trophy Boy; Billy Finds a Special Friend

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