My first crushes were cartoons. The very first was Mighty Mouse. His brawls with various feline gangsters excited me as early as age eight, as did Popeye's endless rows with Bluto, or fights I imagined involving Lil Abner and Dick Tracy. Soon live action figures replaced drawings. My first pointedly erotic dream, at age nine or ten, involved me swinging on jungle vines with Tarzan--M-G-M's Johnny Weissmuller in the 1930s--but eventually I was drawn to anyone who could wear a loincloth, wrestle alligators, and fall into quicksand and survive. The Italian Hercules movies were influential, too, as much for their fashion statements (shirtlessness and togas) as for their musclebound stars (who, with the exception of Steve Reeves, were interchangeable in my mind).
I've collected here a few of the men that became archetypes (and architects) of my earliest homoerotic fantasies, pre-sixteen, i.e. pre-1970. None of them were wrestlers, but as a kid I imagined wrestling them, or at least watching them wrestle. Hollywood images of male-on-male violence affected me, even as a child. (I could almost say, like Bard in neverland, that they turned me gay--or at least shaped what "gay" came to be for me.) I now think that this attraction stemmed from the movies' eroticization of male violence--guys stripped off their shirts to fight, and scenes of life-and-death struggle afforded the only examples of extended body contact between men that American culture allowed. This later influenced my interest in professional wrestling, of course.
In most ways Denny Miller was all wrong for the role of Tarzan (in a 1959 M-G-M reboot that did not catch on). He did, however, have the pecs and abs for the role. Later, in the 1960s, he put the jungle-boy loincloth back on for a couple of episodes of Gilligan's Island, which, for reasons I cannot now recall, I found even more stimulating than his initial go at playing the ape man.
Jeffrey Hunter was (and still is) my ideal of the handsome man. He is one third of the reason I love the movie The Searchers (the other two are John Wayne and Monument Valley). I mostly knew him from still pictures in fan magazines. He had a nice body, too, though not at all the cut physique that's popular nowadays. He had a little pudginess around the midsection, which he kept honey tan and which made him even hotter in my eyes.
James MacArthur wrestling his onscreen brother Tommy Kirk in a muddy river in Disney's Swiss Family Robinson and then, immediately after, having to grapple with a coiling python gave me a treehouse in my pants till well into the 1970s, when the film was re-released and I went to see it by myself and found (to my embarrassment) that it still carried the wallop I remembered from childhood. For several years he was Disney's go-to guy for shirtless pulchritude (few other people realized back then how fucking sexy Disney movies were). He made good eye candy in 1963's Spencer's Mountain, as well.
Another Disney sex symbol, Michael Anderson Jr. first caught my eye in In Search of the Castaways with Hayley Mills and Maurice Chevalier--a movie full of Freudian sex dreams (cliffs, avalanches, giant condors, flash floods, primevally huge trees, ropes, cannibals, and a volcano). He became a bigger player in my fantasy life when later, with some hair on his chest and legs, he played the lead on TV's The Monroes.
To this day The Son of Captain Blood ranks undeservedly high on my list of favorite movies because a Spanish film producer chose to cast Sean Flynn in the lead. Flynn had the sexiest torso I had ever seen in a movie. The movie had swordplay, but, alas, no wrestling, or even boxing. Flynn's torso also featured prominently in John Willis's 1963 edition of Screen World, which I checked out of the base library on numerous occasions, until one day I found that the prized pages had been ripped out of the book. The mixture of emotions I felt is hard to describe. I was angry and frustrated because I had been robbed of my window to Flynn's navel. On the other hand, I was thrilled at the idea that somebody else on Yokota Air Force Base valued the sight of that body as much as I--or more, since he (or she) was willing to destroy government property for it.
The hairiest of all the Tarzans, Mike Henry played the jungle lord as a 007-style secret agent. True to the original book series, his Tarzan was articulate and gentlemanly. It was the square jaw, furry chest, and flexing muscles that mainly interested me (though I was a huge James Bond/Sean Connery fan at the time, as well). He also had magnificent long legs (not pictured). The movies were forgettable, but the posters and lobby cards were my pre-adolescent soft-core porn.
The greatest crush of my childhood and early adolescence was Robert Conrad as James West in The Wild Wild West. West often found himself shirtless, bound, and stretched out. Then he would escape and fight the bad guys before finding a shirt to put on. Most of the villains on the show were effeminate men with excellent tastes in clothes and henchmen. My earliest erection in the presence of another boy was when my pal Robin and I wrestled on his bedroom rug while watching an episode of TWWW. I mounted and pinned him to the floor, then noticed that my dick was pressing hard against my corduroy trousers, then noticed that Robin's dick was poking against my ass. I have previously recounted the embarrassing tale of my meeting the actor in the flesh when, in my early twenties, I worked as a filing clerk for the US Coast Guard in downtown Miami. During my lunch break at a nearby hotel, I heard a familiar voice behind me and turned around, and there he was, my boyhood crush. The first thing out of my mouth was (I still cringe) "You're short." He smiled and said, "Yeah, I guess I am." I was mortified, and could not speak another word.
I was over Chad Everett by the time he became a TV star in the 1970s. For me his one iconic role was in the B-movie Johnny Tiger (1966), in which he played a young Seminole in Florida. Passionate and violent, he was a challenge for paternalistic white teacher Robert Taylor. The magazine Screen Stories, the closest we North Americans got to fotonovelas, carried pages of black-and-white pictures of Everett shirtless, looking either fierce or smoldering, the two merging in my imagination. (Everett's death this past week is what prompted me to make this list.)
The shot of Peter Tork in a portable bathtub in the opening credits of TV's The Monkees never failed to get me a little stiff. I seem to recall that he wore a jungle-boy loincloth in one shot, as well. The Monkees' hijinks included something approximating roughhouse, too, but without a hint of aggression or, for that matter, testosterone. Tork was the Monkee most likely to be photographed shirtless. He had a nice slim body, full lips, puppy-dog eyes, and the sort of nose I associated with pied pipers and handsome princes.
Franco Nero played Adam and Eve's doomed son Abel in The Bible (the third guy on this list to appear in a biblical epic--Hunter played Jesus in King of Kings and Anderson played the disciple James in The Greatest Story Ever Told). It was Nero's chest (partially on display above) that did it for me. He was on screen longer as Lancelot in Camelot, but way too overdressed. A recurrent fantasy of mine at ages 14 and 15 was that Nero and Robert Conrad were lovers and kept me as a boy slave in a detached gym and workout room behind their Beverly Hills mansion.
Yet another Disney stud is Peter McEnery. He won my heart playing the love interest in The Moon-Spinners opposite Hayley Mills (I loved Hayley Mills; at times I wanted to be her). He was also dashing in the seldom-seen The Fighting Prince of Donegal. It wasn't till years later that I saw him in the breakthrough British film Victim (1961), the first film to deal with homosexuality sympathetically and (if I remember right) the first film to use the word "homosexual." His finest achievement, in my opinion, was as the always provocatively (or barely) dressed protagonist of the 1970 film adaptation of Joe Orton's (brilliant) comedy Entertaining Mr Sloane. In the 1980s I was infatuated with a teaching colleague who was McEnery's near-double, a painter/cyclist/drummer/fencer/sailor/actor, who, though straight, was my best friend for five years and (occasionally) wrestling buddy.
Honorable mentions to Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Stephen Boyd, Dennis Wilson, Sean Garrison, George Maharis, Yul Brynner, Gardner McKay, James "Skip" Ward, Michael Parks, Mark Frechette, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Frank Converse, Tom Adams, Paul Mantee, Ron Ely, Don Galloway, Leonard Whiting, Patrick Wayne, Nick Adams, Sal Mineo, Gary Lockwood, John Richardson, and, um, Dick Cavett.