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October 10, 2013

The Face of Dan Valentine?

By the mid-1980s, American audiences had accepted the notion of gay men showing up on their screens. Roddy McDowell and Charles Nelson Reilly could be counted on to show up as The Funny Neighbor or The Permanently Bachelor Uncle, all ascot and arched eyebrows. The gloriously camp Paul Lynd had been holding down the Center Square – though one stiff wind would have blown him away, and what he wouldn’t have given for a really stiff wind! – since the late 60s. And Billy Crystal, as Jodie Dallas, came out of the closet on prime time.

These actors and the characters they played had a couple of important similarities. For one, they were almost all on the small screen: Hollywood had not really jumped on the Boys-in-the-Band-wagon, unless you count the gay serial killer in 1980’s Cruising. And second, they shared a distinct lack of sex appeal. Lynd and Reilly projected all the testosterone of someone’s wacky Aunt Selma, and while Billy Crystal may have been in his late 20s, the skinny, nerdish Jodie Dallas looked about 14.

Enter Michael Praed. By 1986 he was both scorchingly hot and a hot commodity, fresh off two years as Robin Hood in a PBS series (called, um, “Robin Hood”) and a run as Prince Michael of Moldavia, on “Dynasty.” He was tipped to play the big screen’s first gay sleuth: Daniel Valentine, in “Vermilion,” No. 1 in the “Valentine and Lovelace” series, with Stockard Channing on hand as his spunky (straight-girl) sidekick. Think “Will and Grace,” a quarter-century ahead of their time, and solving crimes.

Ironically, despite Praed’s lickability – er, likeability – the never-got-made movie would almost certainly have been a gentle PG: Across a span of four books, Valentine and Clarisse are distinctly more interested in trading quips than in trading bed-partners. And though the series is very specifically set in the golden years before AIDS raised its hideous head, we’re seeing not nonstop hedonism, bathhouses and backroom bars, but a sunny world in which clouds have yet to appear.

 

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